The Importance of Simplicity in Preaching

by Kevin DeYoung

John Witherspoon, in his Lectures on Eloquence, with wise words on the importance of preaching with simplicity:

“Another character which should distinguish pulpit eloquence is simplicity.

Simplicity is beautiful everywhere; it is of importance that young persons should be formed to a taste for it and more disposed to exceed here than in the opposite extreme, but if I am not mistaken it is more beautiful and the transgressions of it more offensive in the pulpit than any where else. If I heard a lawyer pleading in such a style and manner, as was more adapted to display his own talents than to carry his client’s cause, it would considerably lessen him in my esteem, but if I heard a minister acting the same part I should not be satisfied with contempt, but hold him in detestation.

There are several obvious reasons why simplicity is more especially necessary to a minister than any other.

(1) Many of his audience are poor ignorant creatures.

If he means to do them any service he must keep to what they understand, and that requires more simplicity than persons without experience can easily imagine. It is remarkable that at the first publication it was a character of the gospel that it was preached to the poor. In this our blessed master was distinguished both from the heathen philosophers and Jewish teachers, who confined their instructions in a great measure to their schools, and imparted what they esteemed their most important discourses to only a few chosen disciples.

(2) Simplicity is necessary to preserve the speaker’s character for sincerity.

You heard before how necessary piety is, which is proper parent of sincerity, in the pulpit. Now it is not easy to preserve the opinion of piety and sincerity in the pulpit when there is much ornament. Besides the danger of much affected pomp or foppery of style, a discourse very highly polished even in the truest taste is apt to suggest to the audience that a man is preaching himself and not the cross of Christ.

So nice a matter is this in all public speaking that some critics say that Demosthenes put on purpose some errors in grammar in his discourses that the hearers might be induced to take them for the immediate effusions of the heart, without art, and with little premeditation. I doubt much the solidity of this remark or the certainty of the fact, but however it be, there is no occasion for it in the case of a minister, because preparation and premeditation are expected from him, and in that case he may make his discourses abundantly plain and simple without any affected blunders.

(3) Simplicity is also necessary as suited to the gospel itself, the subject of a minister’s discourses.

Nothing (is) more humbling to the pride of man than the doctrine of the cross; nothing (is) more unbecoming that doctrine than too much finery of language. The apostle Paul chose to preach “not with the words which man’s wisdom teaches” (1 Cor. 2:13)—and again, “not with excellency of speech or of wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:1), which though I admit that it does not condemn study and sound knowledge, yet it certainly shows that the style of the pulpit should be the most simple and self-denied of any other.”

If the choice is preaching in such a way as to be thought intellectually and rhetorically impressive or preaching in a manner as to be understood, we must always choose the latter over the former. In preaching, clarity is king, and simplicity is his servant.

-Kevin DeYoung,

The Great Commission

The Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20; Luke 24:45-49; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8)

A. From Matthew

“Matthew 28:18-20 contains what is commonly called the Great Commission. These are Jesus’ last words recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, although we know from the other Gospels and Acts that these were not Jesus’s final words before His ascension. By ending his Gospel with these words, Matthew draws attention to the importance and centrality of the commission–for Matthew, the Great Commission summed up Jesus’s entire post-resurrection message.

Matthew provides some context for these important words.

Following the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the eleven disciples travel to Galilee to a certain mountain in obedience to Jesus’s instructions. Matthew notes that when Jesus appears to them, they worship him, but some continue to doubt. There on the mountain Jesus communicates the earth-shaking results of his resurrection–Jesus now has all authority in heaven and on earth. As a result, his followers must now go out into the entire world to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them everything that he has commanded.

The central command of the commission is to make disciples, that is, the develop genuine, lifelong followers of Jesus.

Jesus’s command to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Points to a Trinitarian understanding of God and to the deity of Jesus. Jesus affirms his continued presence and empowerment until the end of the age. His followers are not being called upon to embark on this mission alone. Jesus will be with them.

Because of Jesus’s resurrection, the message of God’s kingdom is no longer to be limited to the Jewish nation but must be proclaimed to every nation and every person everywhere in the world.

Matthew makes clear that this is a direct command from Jesus, the resurrected king of the world, to his followers. The Great Commission is not a mere wish or suggestion; it is a command that is just as valid and relevant for Jesus’s followers today as it was when it was first given.

B. From Luke

Luke’s version of the Great Commission is recorded in two places and was spoken near Jerusalem just prior to the ascension. The Lukan Great Commission states that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

You will be witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:47-48), accompanied by Jesus’ promise that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Matthew’s description of perpetual presence is repeated in Luke’s account in terms of supernatural empowerment of the Holy Spirit for the activity of witness to the entire world.

C. From John

The Johannine Great Commission–“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you”–is followed by the symbolic impartation of the Spirit and a description of the forgiveness of sins that will accompany the church’s proclamation of the gospel. The followers of Jesus are sent by Jesus into the world just as God sent Jesus into the world. Jesus’s followers share his mandate and missions and are empowered by the Spirit in their work.

D. Contradictions?

The continual reappearance of the Great Commission motif using different words in different contexts indicates not that the individual Gospel authors mixed up Jesus’s words but that the theme of the Great Commission is a major element of his post-resurrection teaching (Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 24:47-48; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8), which goes on over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3).

Jesus continually emphasizes it in different contexts and with different words. It is imperative that the disciples not miss this important command. They are to go into the entire world in the power of the Spirit, sent by Jesus as witnesses to his resurrection and his kingdom. The centrality of this element of Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances must not be missed or downplayed.

E. Conclusion:

Being a Christian is defined in Jesus’s post-resurrection teaching as obeying the Great Commission. It is the mandate that is to define the very existence of his followers.”

-Andreas J. Köstenberger and Justin Taylor with Alexander Stewart. The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014), 199-202.

Am I a Soldier of the Cross

Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His Name?

Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?

Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.

Thy saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer, though they die;
They see the triumph from afar,
By faith’s discerning eye.

When that illustrious day shall rise,
And all Thy armies shine
In robes of victory through the skies,
The glory shall be Thine.

-Isaac Watts, written for a sermon on 1 Corinthians 16:13, Published 1721-4

The Secret of Effective Service

Someone once asked George Müller:

“What is the secret of your service for God?”

Müller answered, “There was a day when I died, utterly died, died to George Müller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will – died to the world, its approval or censure – died to the approval or blame of even my brethren and friends – and since then I have studied to show myself approved only unto God”

On the first evening of a summer holiday Müller asked, “What opportunity is there here for service for the Lord?”

His companion answered, “But you have just come from continuous work. Isn’t this a time for rest?”

Muller replied, “Now that I am free from my usual labors, I must be occupied in some other way in the service of God; to glorify Him is the object of my life.”

-George Müller, as recorded in Delighted in God by Roger Steer (Christian Focus Publications, 1997), 227.

Revive, O Lord, This Sluggish Soul

Revive, O Lord, this sluggish soul,
And give me back salvation’s joy;
Let grace my sinful lusts control,
And send me forth in Thy employ.
My hands hang down, my feet are slow,
My lips are dumb, my heart is cold;
Let Thy free Spirit on me blow,
Let fresh forgiveness make me bold.

See, Lord, these fields are ripening fast,
And sin and death their sickles ply:
Oh send me forth the net to cast;
Oh stir up men from wrath to fly!
I know that poor and weak I am,
A very babe, with stammering tongue;
Be Thou my helper, gracious Lamb,
And in Thy strength let me be strong.

-John Milne, The Life of John Milne by Horatius Bonar, Banner of Truth Trust, 244.

Fundamentalism and the Word of God

“The honest way to commend God’s revealed truth to an unbelieving generation is not to disguise it as a word of man, and to act as if we could never be sure of it, but had to keep censoring and amending it at the behest of the latest scholarship, and dared not believe it further than historical agnosticism gives us leave; but to preach it in a way which shows the world that we believe it wholeheartedly, and to cry to God to accompany our witness with His Spirit, so that we too may preach ‘in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.’

“The apologetic strategy that would attract converts by the flattery of accommodating the gospel to the ‘wisdom’ of sinful man was condemned by Paul nineteen centuries ago, and that past hundred years have provided a fresh demonstration of its bankruptcy.

“The world may call its compromises ‘progressive’ and ‘enlightened’ (those are its names for all forms of thought that pander to its conceit); those who produce them will doubtless, by a natural piece of wishful thinking, call them ‘bold’ and ‘courageous,’ and perhaps ‘realistic’ and ‘wholesome,’ but the Bible condemns them as sterile aberrations. And the Church cannot hope to recover its power till it resolves to turn its back on them.”

J.I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God, 168.

Evangelism in an Hour

Francis Schaeffer was once asked the question, “what would you do if you met a really modern man on a train and you had just an hour to talk to him about the gospel?”

He replied, “I’ve said over and over, I would spend 45-50 minutes on the negative, to really show him his dilemma—that he is morally dead—then I’d take 10-15 minutes to preach the Gospel. I believe that much of our evangelistic and personal work today is not clear simply because we are too anxious to get to the answer without having a man realize the real cause of his sickness, which is true moral guilt (and not just psychological guilt feelings) in the presence of God.”

-Francis A. Schaeffer, Death in the City, 70-71. As referenced in William Metzger, Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel Wholly by Grade Communicated Truthfully & Lovingly, 4th Edition. 118.

Why Prison Ministry?

by Frank Mastrolonardo

“In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” Whether we obey that command by witnessing to neighbors, co-workers, or strangers, who we evangelize is not important. What matters is that we are evangelizing, because that is how the Lord uses us to build His church.

As a prison chaplain, I have devoted my life to jail ministry. Years ago I discovered that prison inmates are a field ripe for the harvest. Many of them have hit bottom, ruined their families, and wrecked their lives. When I am proclaiming the gospel to someone outside of jail, I often have to start by convincing that person of the reality of sin. Generally that is not the case with inmates. For the most part, they know they have sinned. If they forget that fact, they have an orange jumpsuit to remind them.

Throughout my life I’ve known people who were very successful by the world’s standards, with money in the bank, prosperity, extravagant cars, and all of the “toys” one could imagine. But I’ve also noticed that without Jesus, they are missing true and transforming joy. In contrast, jail ministry has given me the opportunity to meet men behind bars who have lost everything—family, relationships, and worldly processions—but the Lord used their circumstances to humble them and lead them to faith. In the words of one 40-year-old inmate serving a life sentence, “I would rather spend the rest of my life behind bars knowing Jesus than be back on the outside without Him.”

This man understands what Jesus meant in Mark 8:36–37 when he asked, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” This attitude is not unusual behind bars. Inmates have a lot of time to think, and they often ask serious introspective questions like “Why did my life go this way?” or “What is the point of living when jail is going to be my life?” People who ask these kinds of questions often have hearts prepared to receive the good news of the gospel.

The reality is that the world is filled with people who are enslaved to sin. They have chains on their souls, because their lives have been given over to the deeds of the flesh. Just because they manage to keep man-made laws and avoid prison does not mean they are truly free.

John 8:36 tells us that only those who have the Son are “free indeed.” So if the Lord uses prison to get someone’s attention and introduce them to the gospel, then so be it. If a person’s soul is set free from the power of sin and death, it doesn’t matter if their body remains behind bars. This powerful truth is perhaps what motivated Paul to say, “I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned” (2 Timothy 2:9).

While it may seem ironic that jails are one of the most fruitful places for evangelism, it actually makes perfect sense. A traveling businessman may witness to the person sitting next to him on the plane, but the demands of work and the allure of sleep make it difficult. A housewife may strike up conversations with neighbors, but the demands of life can make the conversations rushed and distracted. This is not the case with prison ministry.

Jails are full of people with lots of time and little distraction. They come to Bible study, church services, orFundamentals of the Faith classes curious and looking for answers. They are often desperate and broken, and the Lord has used their circumstances to prepare them to receive the gospel. It seems like every week someone behind bars asks me, “What must I do to be saved?” Answering that question is the biggest joy of my life.”

Frank Mastrolonardo, Senior Chaplain, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

To learn more about jail ministry, visit

10 Foolish Obstacles to the Foolishness of Preaching

by David Murray

“God chose the foolishness of Gospel preaching to save them that believe (1 Cor. 1:21). The Gospel message is foolishness to the world. But so is the Gospel medium – preaching. Who in their right mind would choose a regular 30-45 minute monologue from one sinful man to many sinful hearers to communicate the most important message in the world?

God would and did.

And he did it knowing that this method of communication would upset many people and cause them to find many foolish reasons for not listening. Some of the foolish obstacles I’ve come across (in myself and others) are:

1. Patchy grammar: Thankfully most people’s English education was as bad as mine and don’t notice too many of my grammatical faux pas, but there are always a few Grammar Girls (and boys) in every congregation. One misplaced preposition and down come the shutters.

2. Boring voice: Drone, groan, mumble, stumble, yawn. Is he trying to send us to sleep? Yet even the most attractive and varied voices eventually sound “meh” to regular hearers. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a different voice every week?

3. Pastoral mistakes: Sometimes we can make a blunder in a personal relationship, an email communication, or at a social occasion which prejudices a hearer’s mind against us for a long time or even forever. We could be preaching the best truth in the best way but we’re still the worst preacher they’ve ever heard because we stood on their toes somewhere along the line.

4. Text choices: Why does the preacher never pick my favorite texts? Why does he never preach from my favorite book? Why does he always preach from such simple texts? Why does he always preach from such difficult texts? I’m not going to listen until he preaches on…

5. Preaching style: There are probably hundreds of preaching styles: fast, slow, loud, quiet, teachy, preachy, passionate, reasonable, sad, happy, smooth, jerky, etc. We all have our peculiar preferences and rarely do we find such a peculiar preacher.

6. Pulpit mannerisms: Why does he keep fiddling with his glasses? Does he think spinning his wedding ring will help spin this terrible sermon? Why doesn’t he look at us? Why does he keep staring at us? Has he only got one arm? Hands in his pockets again! Why does he grip the pulpit – is he about to faint or something? I wish he’d quit sniffing/coughing/frowning/grinning…

7. Verbal ticks: How many times did he say “in other words” today? Or “as I was saying” or “literally” or  ”finally.”

8. Christian Cliches: Can he not find another way of saying that? Does he have to use the same phraseology as every other time he preached on this? He says that in every sermon. Where’s his imagination?

9. Too young/old: Yes, before the preacher even opens his mouth, the old people might close him down because he’s so young, or the young people might tune him out because he’s too old.

10. Personality clash: I just don’t like him. He rubs me up the wrong way. He’s too cocky. He’s too defensive. He’s too apologetic. He’s too aggressive, etc.

It’s amazing what obstacles preachers have to overcome.  One slip-up in any of these areas and some people won’t give a minute of attention to the sermon that took you 10-15 hours to prepare. Although we pray every time we preach, that God would prevent anything we say or do getting in the way of the message, yet it will inevitably happen. It’s amazing anyone at all gets saved.

Why did God choose this method? Why not send a perfect angel with a perfect message delivered in a perfect manner? Wouldn’t that have been wiser? More effective?

God chose this method to demonstrate that the Gospel, not the preacher or his preaching, is the power of God unto salvation. He chose one of the most foolish methods and some of the most foolish creatures to reach multitudes of foolish sinners with a “foolish” message. And he did it this way in order to magnify His wisdom and power (1 Cor. 1:22-31).

We get grace. He gets glory.”

-David Murray,