Standing on the Promises

I have, by strong recommendation, been reading Joel Beeke’s book, “Knowing and Growing in Assurance of Faith.” It is a wonderful treatise on the blessing of assurance of faith, where this assurance comes from, and how we can grow in it.  And it’s short, sweet, and to the point.  At only 200 pages, it is written in a manageable and easily understood manner; this book was written to be read.  (Available for only $14.99 here at Amazon).

After first laying out the importance of Assurance and why so many lack it, including false assurances, the book then begins to show what is the basis for genuine assurance of faith.  Leaning heavily on the Reformers and Puritans, Beeke draws the foundation for Assurance of Faith straight from the Westminster Confession, specifically, 18.2:

“This certainty is not a bare conjecture and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnesses with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.”

The first foundation, then, for our assurance of faith, is not in any experience or feeling or mood, but is wholly grounded in the promises of God.  I thought I’d share here some of the highlights from the chapter:

“First, we do not gain assurance by looking at ourselves or anything we have produced apart from God’s promises, but first of all by looking to God’s faithfulness in Christ as He is revealed in the promises of the gospel.” (77)

“Believers in Christ are assured of salvation in the very first place because their God and their salvation are true, sure, perfect, and unchangeable in Jesus Christ forever.” (79)

“God’s promises are the pathways on which Christ meets the soul.” (81)

“Finally, though subjective phenomena may sometimes feel more real than faith in God’s promises, such experiences give less glory to God than divine promises apprehended directly by faith. Burgess (one of the writers of the Westminster Confession) said, ‘Trusting in God and in Christ when we feel nothing but guilt and destruction in ourselves is the greatest honor we can give to God. Therefore, though living by signs is more comfortable to us, living by faith is a greater honor to God.'” (84)

“The smallest degree of saving faith in God’s promises will prove as effectual as full assurance of faith in God’s promises. Though a spider’s thread connected to a rock is much weaker than a strong anchor connected to that rock, the rock is equally strong. So a weak faith that casts itself on Christ and His promises shall find that the Lord Jesus Christ is just as much the rock of salvation for that trembling soul as He is for one who has full assurance of faith.” (85)

Quoting Michael Barrett, “Assurance of salvation does not result from the power of positive thinking; it flows from the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (86)

All quotes from: Beeke, Joel R. Knowing and Growing in Assurance of Faith. (Christians Focus Pub; Tain, UK, 2017).

How Long Was That Sermon?

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season;
reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching..”
(2 Timothy 4:2)

This week I posted a question on two different Facebook discussion groups to which I belong, asking about the average length of their (or their pastor’s) sermons.  The resulting conversations were interesting, and I thought I would share with you some of my observations.

  • Never ask a Pastor’s Discussion Group a question unless you are prepared for a lot of answers. There is an old adage, “never give a pastor a microphone unless you’ve got 20 minutes to spare.”  That lesson came home this week.  I posted my question about the length of sermons on a Monday morning, and by early that afternoon, I had over 200 responses.  My phone, my tablet, and my computer all kept chirping away to let me know I had received a new message.  It sounded like a flock of birds had moved into my office.
  • Some People really need to Relax. The question I asked was innocent enough, “How long are your sermons?”  Most pastors, and many laypeople, responded just saying approximately how long the sermons lasted.  Others, however, took the opportunity to hijack the discussion forum into a diatribe about how long (or short) a sermon should be.  “If you can’t preach for more than 30 minutes, then perhaps preaching isn’t your gift.”  Yes, that was actually said.  “If you can’t say it in less than 15 minutes, then it doesn’t need to be said.”  That was said, too.  Heated arguments erupted over “catering” to the congregation’s attention span or caving to worldly pressures; snarky comments were posted comparing people’s willingness to sit through a 2 hour movie or game and their rejection of worship lasting more than 1 hour.  It was disturbing to note the lack of humility and graciousness demonstrated in the conversations.  IT’S A FACEBOOK DISCUSSION FOLKS – RELAX!

Now on to the actual question:

  • The responses on sermon lengths were vastly different based on the group responding. The first group I asked is a discussion group of rather conservative PCUSA pastors.  Sermon times reported there ranged from 15 to 30 minutes, with the average being about 20 to 25 minutes, depending on how much is scheduled for the worship service that day (baptism, communion, etc.).
    The other group I asked is not specifically Presbyterian, but is a group of Reformed (Baptist, Presbyterian, etc.) believers from all over the US, pastors and layman alike.  The overwhelming response from this group reported 40 to 50 minute sermons.  Their worship services lasted over an hour, with the sermon being the central part of the service.
    Just to share where I come in – my sermons, on the average, are about 18 to 22 minutes long, including the Scripture reading and prayers.  I don’t intentionally time them, but each week I have to take the recording of the sermon, and edit it down for our 15 minute radio broadcast.
  • One of my favorite comments was this one:
    “When I was a kid, our pastor’s response to people who were chronic complainers, including opinions about sermon length, was this: “Sermonettes make Christianettes.” I guess those folks needed to hear hour long sermons. Anyways, he never caved.  I actually listened to him from about 5th grade on. His sermons were shorter than any class I had in school and about the same length as Gilligan’s Island. I was convicted at an early age that if I complained about sermon length, I would sound stupid.”

The overall lesson is this: Preaching should explain and apply the meaning of the Bible.  The sermon ought to deliver the truth of God, not give the preacher’s opinion on current events, or pass along the latest self-help ideas.  Every sermon should explain the Bible and then apply it to people’s lives.

My preaching may not conclude with an overtly practical application.  You will not often hear “because of this, we need to do this.”  Rather, my hope is that through the sermon I may show and celebrate in the glory of God revealed to us through His Word, that we might grow in the likeness of Christ together.  This may not be immediately practical, but I pray that it is eternally helpful.  Whether my preaching takes 15 minutes, or whether it lasts an hour, the Word of God must be read, taught, and applied to our hearts for our salvation and for God’s glory.

SDG