Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wise Counsel For Preachers

"The year was 1768. A twenty-eight year old preacher by the name of Augustus Toplady, who wrote many of our best hymns, including "Rock of Ages", spent the afternoon in London with Mr. Brewer — an older, veteran Gospel preacher, whom he greatly admired and from whom he learned much. This is what Mr. Brewer said to the young Toplady, as Toplady later recorded in his diary:"

I cannot conclude without reminding you, my young brother, of some things that may be of use to you in the course of your ministry:
1. Preach Christ crucified, and dwell chiefly on the blessings resulting from His righteousness, atonement, and intercession. 
2. Avoid all needless controversies in the pulpit; except it be when your subject necessarily requires it; or when the truths of God are likely to suffer by your silence. 
3. When you ascend the pulpit, leave your learning behind you. Endeavor to preach more to the hearts of your people — than to their heads
4. Do not affect too much oratory. Seek rather to profit your hearers — than to be admired by them.
HT: Grace Gems


  1. The only one of which I'm skeptical is possibly number 3. 1, 2, and 4 are really helpful in my limited experience as parishioner and preacher (especially 1 and 4). I understand to leave learning behind, but the head/heart dichotomy, in our day and age, strikes me as trite.

  2. Hi David,
    I would tend to agree given how heart and head are often understood today. Yet back in Toplady's day, the Church of England preaching was in the grip of moralistic, quaint, and "eloquent" oratory. Far from "head" knowledge that focused on true but yet possibly dry doctrine, preaching appealed to the moralistic "head" of the natural man who saw himself as essentially "good." See Julius Kim's essay "The Rise of Moralism in Seventeenth-Century Anglican Preaching" (Covenants, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry). There was a need for preachers to understand that they needed to preach gospel (Christ crucified) in order to convert the heart of sinful man, not use the pulpit as a platform garner moralistic accolades.

    That said, I still think #3 still strikes a needed note for today, as preaching often is found to be sermons which look to primarily exegete verse by verse as if it were a seminary class essay or a Biblical commentary. That kind of preaching often distills itself into a moralism not that dissimilar in essence from that of Toplady's day.

    Preaching. it seems to me, should have at its core the goal to persuade sinners of their need of Christ and of God's free grace of the offer of Christ to all who come... to the unconverted as well as the covenant believer (Acts 19:8, 20:31, 28:23; 1 Cor. 2:3-5; 2 Cor. 5:11).

    My two cents. Blessings!

  3. Toplady is my favorite Anglican, and very much different in his controversies than J I Packer promoting ECT.

    From whence this fear and unbelief?
    Hath not the Father put to grief
    His spotless Son for me?
    And will the righteous Judge of men
    Condemn me for that debt sin
    Which, Lord, was charged on thee? Complete atonement thou hast made,
    And to the utmost farthing paid
    Whate’er thy people owed;
    How then can wrath on me take place
    If sheltered in thy righteousness,
    And sprinkled with thy blood?

    If thou hast my discharge procured,
    And freely in my room endured
    The whole of wrath divine,
    Payment God cannot twice demand–
    First at my bleeding Surety’s hand,
    And then again at mine.

  4. Lee Gatiss--My buddy Fred says that nasty Mr Toplady was full of spite against Wesley (who, as usual, gets away pretty lightly there it seems to me). But why would Toplady not feel anything but warm and fuzzy about the giant genius of evangelicalism?

    Might it have been because of the Zanchi Tract War, where Wesley re-published (in his own series) a bowdlerised abridgement of one of Toplady’s books, denuded of all its (350+) biblical references and pregnant with infamous Wesleyan additions designed to portray Toplady as narrow and bigoted? Possibly.

    It may also have been because of the rumors being spread about the much younger man as he lay breathless in bed dying an unhappily early death (aged 37). Sanctifying themselves by slander, Wesley and his friends tweeted that Toplady had renounced his faith. Not only that, but apparently he also wanted to recant his Calvinism and personally confess to John Wesley that he was wrong about the doctrines of grace. So they were saying on the circuit.

    Toplady somehow got himself out of bed (against doctor’s orders no doubt) and dragged himself to a pulpit to demonstrate publicly the falsehood of such calumny. Wheezing and emaciated he may have been, but he preached as he always had. He also assured his congregation that, on the edge of eternity as he was, he had no desire to delete so much as a single line from any of his published contributions to “the Arminian controversy.”

    A few days later, a friend wrote to him and said he’d been told by two separate people that Toplady had got up that Sunday and… recanted his Calvinism and opposition to Wesley! I’d be quite annoyed by that — wouldn’t you? So Toplady published his sermon, his “dying avowal”, in another attempt to stop such gossipy aspersions.

    Once he was actually dead, Wesley told people Toplady had passed away uttering foul blasphemies and died in black despair, banning his Christian friends from his bedside. These (entirely fabricated) stories rippled out across the country, and Wesley was at the epicentre. Toplady’s friends attempted to challenge the senior pillar of Methodism to cease and desist. How could he vent such “gross, malicious falsehood against a dead man who cannot answer for himself, in order to support your own cause and party”?

    Sir Richard Hill, who sent a letter to Wesley on behalf of Toplady’s associates, records that Wesley never replied to this challenge. When approached by two of Toplady’s colleagues who wanted to talk to him about his accusations and behaviour, Wesley fobbed them off as he got into his limo, saying “Those that are for peace will let those things alone.”

    The idea that for the sake of “evangelical unity” we must never question the conduct of the big chiefs, however deplorable, is surely anathema to truth-loving Christians. Those that are for truth, must sometimes touch the sore spot.

  5. Toplady, he died too young. That said, he was used of the Lord and made a glorious mark.

    Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England by A. Toplady