Meet the ministers – 50 years of preaching (2)
Peyton Jones discusses preaching with Peter Jeffery.
Peyton: I know it’s a difficult question, but what would be the best advice you could give a young man for securing the anointing of the Spirit on his preaching?
Peter: There are so many things. I always had a fear of God, in the sense that I would fear to offend God by what I’m saying in the pulpit, either by the content of words spoken or by my manner.
God has got to be honoured. We are only little boys trying to be for his glory. I think we should cultivate this fear of God.
But also remember that if God’s real to you in the study when you’re alone with him, that’s what you need when you preach. You can parade in the pulpit and that’s no good to anybody, but you need to be alone with God; you need the power of God, so that when you come into the pulpit, God is there.
Preachers are born, not made. You’ve either got the gift of preaching or not and, if you’ve got the gift, it can be developed. Nothing can be substituted for this sense of God. That’s true in any part of the Christian life you see, whether you’re in the pulpit or not.
Peyton: An old preacher was asked, ‘How long did it take you to prepare that sermon?’ He replied, ‘All my life’. Would you talk about the preacher’s consistent prayer life and walk with God as preparation for service?
Peter: I always felt my prayer life wasn’t anything like what it ought to be, and it wasn’t as consistent as it ought to be. But in my days in the ministry, I would spend from about 8.30am until noon every morning in the study — just me, the Bible and God. Afternoons, I would be out visiting and in the evenings there would be meetings.
But you want to cultivate this sense of God and that’s got to be worked at, it doesn’t come easy. I wish I knew more of God!
I’ve been reading M’Cheyne again. What’s that prayer M’Cheyne prayed — ‘Lord, make me as holy as it’s possible for a sinful man to be’?
That’s a thought, isn’t it? As holy as it’s possible for a sinful man to be. But it’s crucial. M’Cheyne was ordained at 22 and dead at 29, but what he accomplished in those seven years was phenomenal.
I am sure God answered that prayer, just as God answered Solomon’s prayer for wisdom. That’s what made him the man he was. What we are, to any degree, will be governed by that.
Peyton: I’m amazed that you’re talking about holiness, because my next question is to discuss personal holiness in connection with the preaching ministry and the influence that it has.
Peter: Holiness is to be set apart for God, to worship God, to want to please God and to cultivate a life that’s honouring to God. As far as the preacher is concerned, that comes first.
I’m trying to think of the verse in Ezra 7:10. Ezra read the Scriptures, sought to know them and then live them. Only then did he preach them. Those were the three things: he read, lived and preached the Scriptures.
We must know our Bible, but we have to live the Bible too. That’s what holiness is; it’s living the Bible. When you’re living it, then the preaching comes out of that. It should be an overflow, not a scraping of the bottom of the barrel.
Because of my health I have been unable to preach for the past couple of years and I miss that. But even if you can’t preach, you can still know God.
Peyton: Do you ever think ‘If I had the body of a young man and the heart and mind of an old man, I could do some damage’?
Peter: It would do some damage to me, I think! You know, I have been preaching for more than 50 years, and so I can’t grumble. But I wish I had the energy to preach today.
I wish I could get up in the pulpit and, when I hear a man preach, I think, ‘I wish I could do that again’. When I hear one of my own sermons on a recording, I think, ‘If only I could be like that again’. But definitely, one always wishes that one could be better.
Peyton: I once heard Warren Wiersbe say that God wouldn’t allow him to become content with his own preaching, because if he did he would never improve. Do you think the Spirit sanctifies a preacher in his preaching life, much like in his personal life?
Peter: You can’t be content with your own preaching. Lloyd-Jones used to say that he wouldn’t go across the road to hear himself preaching. I think he was wrong. I would go across the road to hear him preach, but what he was saying was that he knew his place.
I think of Wales and my generation of preachers. There was something about us; there was passion and a fire in the belly. Some knew more blessing than others, but that’s God’s business, isn’t it? I don’t think I’m any different from anybody else. I have been privileged in three pastorates to know something of the mercies of God in preaching and conversions, but I still wanted more.
I would sometimes go without conversions for a couple of weeks or even months and that used to worry me terribly. I believe that the gospel was meant to save and it ought to save. If it isn’t saving, the preacher starts by asking ‘What’s wrong?’ not ‘What’s wrong with the congregation?’, but ‘What’s wrong with me?’ It starts there.
Peyton: A lot of people want to point the finger at God, using the sovereignty of God as an excuse. There is a responsibility as a minister to preach the Word with passion and look to his own life. But you’ve mentioned that you’ve had an opportunity to listen to a lot of preaching. What would you say are some of the pitfalls and strengths that you’ve seen?
Peter: Well some of the pitfalls are that there can be too much lightness and glibness about some preachers, as if they are looking for a laugh.
Sometimes a joke in the sermon is okay, but sometimes it seems orchestrated. I don’t think preaching should be orchestrated at all. We need to let ourselves flow with God.
If it’s too orchestrated, too rigid, then it may be right and accurate, but it’s also pointless and cold. I don’t want to hold people’s minds; I want to hold their hearts. And you move their hearts by preaching for their hearts.
After 50 years of preaching, you come across people who have been saved and you meet their children who have been saved, and you praise God for that.
Peyton: You said you preach for their hearts. How can somebody preach to a heart?
Peter: Spurgeon said a man will never be saved until he’s moved in his heart, until his emotions are stirred. Now it’s easy to preach correctly for a man’s mind, but how do you preach to stir his emotions?
Well, it’s not by filling him with some sentimental stories. That’s the work of an actor, not the work of a preacher. It’s by just preaching the Scriptures and letting God speak through them.
I believe in expository preaching and have always been a man of the text. My first words in the pulpit are always, ‘My text this morning is…’ I stick with the text and try to expound it. That will touch people’s hearts, if there’s real power on it.
Peyton: So it’s allowing the Word of God to speak. Would you say that before moving someone’s heart, your own heart must be moved?
Peter: You are not going to move anyone’s heart until your own is moved. This is why that time alone with God in preparation is so important. I believe in the sovereignty of God, but he gives a responsibility to the preacher to be alone with him and to work at it.
I’m quoting Lloyd-Jones again. He said, ‘You men think my sermons come down from heaven on a silver plate on a Saturday night, brought by an angel for me to preach. They don’t; I’ve got to work’. And he did work!
You’ve got to study. There are some writers who help and move you. A. W. Tozer always moved me. If your own heart is moved, you have a chance to reach the hearts of the congregation.
Part 3 follows in July