We Need to Hear Preaching Like This

Once when George Whitefield was visiting New England he said, “The reason why congregations have been so dead is because dead men preach to them.” There is a lot of truth in this. Quite often the spiritual condition of a congregation is set by the spiritual condition of its leaders.

Sure, we are all responsible before God for our own spiritual growth, but God does hold leaders accountable for the condition of their flock. If the leaders are not where they should be, then the congregation will often not be where it should be either.

Thus the pastor and/or Christian leader has a very heavy responsibility to be all he or she can be in Christ, and to lead by example. Thus Paul could say, ‘follow me as I follow Christ’ (1 Cor. 11:1). Leaders do need to set the example, and when they are not doing this, the whole Body suffers.

As A. W. Tozer put it, “I trust I speak in charity, but the lack in our pulpits is real. Milton’s terrible sentence applies to our day as accurately as it did to his: ‘The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.’ It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table.”

With all that in mind I want to recommend to you a somewhat older sermon. I must have first heard it over 30 years ago on an audio cassette. I could not recall the name of the preacher, or the title of the message. All I had in my memory bank was a three-word phrase, “monsters of iniquity”.

reidheadWhile that might seem to be a rather strange phrase to harbour in one’s memory all these decades, there is a reason for it. The sermon had to do with the basics of the gospel: the reality of sin and the nature of biblical conversion. It had a lot to do with how we are watering down the message of the gospel, and seeking more to please men than to please God.

Anyway, with the wonderful world of Google, I entered those three words into the search field, and I soon found what I was looking for. The sermon was entitled “Ten Shekels and a Shirt” and the preacher was Paris Reidhead. He was an American pastor, missionary and Bible teacher (1919-1992). This sermon is perhaps his most famous, and for good reason. It is spiritual dynamite.

The audio sermon can be heard here: www.ferventinspirit.com/audio/Ten%20Shekels%20and%20a%20Shirt.mp3

The full manuscript of the sermon can be read here: www.parisreidheadbibleteachingministries.org/tenshekels.shtml

I highly recommend that you utilise both simultaneously. That is, it will be of great benefit if you read the transcript as you listen to the audio. It is a very powerful and moving message, one which will greatly challenge and convict all of us.

After you have listened to/read the sermon, some questions will then be worth asking: When is the last time I heard a sermon like this? When is the last time such a topic was preached on in my church? How does the passion and Holy Spirit unction (there’s an old word which some of you may still recognise) of this speaker compare with preachers I listen to today?

I of course am not asking you to run down your own pastor or church. But I am asking that we all seek to set the bar higher, that we strive to go further with God, and that we do not settle for second best. The great value of hearing such preaching is that it spoils us. It makes us unhappy with the mediocre and the mundane.

To whet your appetite, let me reproduce a few choice paragraphs from this powerful sermon. I do not mean to let these nuggets act as a substitute for the whole message. I strongly urge you all to take the time to read and listen to the full message. But these parts of the sermon will hopefully encourage you to enjoy the entire talk.

His sermon has to do with an Old Testament passage involving a young man, Micah, and a Levite, as recorded in Judges 17-19. You can read those chapters or listen to the sermon to get the background context.

But the point Reidhead is trying to make is that we can do things for God in His way, or in humanistic ways. The former will always bring life, while the latter will always bring death. Much of our preaching today is sadly of the latter variety. We have allowed Humanism to contaminate our gospel, as we preach to men about the benefits they will receive, instead of making our appeal Christocentric.

Thus we offer a man-centred gospel, instead of a God-centred one. It is a pragmatic gospel. Says Reidhead, “The question comes then to this, what is the standard of success and by what are we going to judge our lives and our ministry? And the question that you are going to ask yourself, ‘Is God an end or is He a means?’”

He recalls his own missionary work in Africa, and how he in fact employed a humanistic gospel: “If you’ll ask me why I went to Africa, I’ll tell you I went primarily to improve on the justice of God. I didn’t think it was right for anybody to go to Hell without a chance to be saved. So I went to give poor sinners a chance to go to heaven. Now I haven’t put it in so many words, but if you’ll analyze what I just told you do you know what it is? Humanism. That I was simply using the provisions of Jesus Christ as a means to improve upon human conditions of suffering and misery. And when I went to Africa, I discovered that they weren’t poor, ignorant, little heathen running around in the woods looking for someone to tell them how to go to heaven. That they were monsters of iniquity! They were living in utter and total defiance of far more knowledge of God than I ever dreamed they had!”

He continues, “What about you? Why did you repent? I’d like to see some people repent on Biblical terms again. George Whitefield knew it. He stood on Boston Commons speaking to twenty thousand people and he said, ‘Listen sinners, you’re monsters, monsters of iniquity! You deserve Hell! And the worst of your crimes is in that criminals though you’ve been, you haven’t had the good grace to see it!’ He said, ‘If you will not weep for your sins and your crimes against a Holy God, George Whitefield will weep for you!’ That man would put his head back and he would sob like a baby. Why? Because they were in danger of Hell? No! But because they were monsters of iniquity, who didn’t even see their sin or care about their crimes. You see the difference? You see the difference? The difference is, here’s somebody trembling because he is going to be hurt in Hell. And he has no sense of the enormity of his guilt! And no sense of the enormity of his crime! And no sense of his insult against deity!”

He discusses the great revivalists, and how people fell under the conviction of sin as they heard their preaching. He then mentions this amazing preacher and the remarkable impact that he had:

“This phenomena also happened in America in the 18th century at Yale University during the time of John Wesley Redfield. Outdoor evangelistic meetings were held in the amphitheater at Yale University. Policeman controlling the crowds were cautioned to delineate between the common drunk, whose alcohol breath betrayed him (and he was locked up for drunken behavior). Those who had been smitten by God were diagnosed as having ‘Redfield’s disease.’ They were removed to a quiet place until they returned to consciousness. Lives were transformed – men if they had been drunkards, stopped drinking; cruel persons changed; immoral people gave up immorality. Thieves repented and returned what had been stolen. Men and women had seen the holiness of God and the enormity of their sin. The Spirit of God had driven them down into unconsciousness because of the weight of their guilt. Somehow in the overspreading of the power of God, sinners repented of their sin and came savingly to Christ.”

He closes with a most moving and amazing story of two young Moravian missionaries who paid the ultimate price to save other sinners. You must read or listen to the end of his sermon and see what these two young men did for, and in the name of, Christ.

To be honest, such preaching is so foreign to our way of thinking, and is so rarely heard in our pulpits today, that it may not only sound strange and alien, but many of you might even think it is far too severe and far too harsh. But can I suggest that the problem may well lie with us, not with Reidhead.

We have grown accustomed to a soft and mushy gospel which challenges no one, which makes no demands of us, and which seeks to please men. What is desperately needed today are Christian leaders who will want only one thing: to please God, and to revive a sleeping and comatose church.

As John Wesley pleaded, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth.”

Please have a listen to the entire sermon. We need such preaching today. We need such preachers today. As E. M. Bounds so rightly said, “The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men.”

[1646 words]

26 Replies to “We Need to Hear Preaching Like This”

  1. It is great to hear good preaching.
    One of the preachers I look up to is Jesse Morrell, a young man, newly married with a new baby girl, who visits university campuses in the US preaching to the students. He gets large crowds and preaches repentance and faith in Christ.
    Here is an example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj6OPrE44os
    He was wrongly arrested recently on one campus: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Of3LeQNhHgA
    I understand the University administration apologized to him.
    It’s worth subscribing to his newsletter.
    Tasman Walker

  2. I’m sorry to be brutal, but by and large, from my own experience, today’s preachers have nothing to say and are saying it too loud.

    I thank God that folks had the foresight to scribe Charles Spurgeon’s sermons, which have been a lifeline to me and through which I was ‘set free’ into grace.

    Stuart Mackay, UK

  3. Hi Bill. I agree that much preaching is human centred “come to Jesus and he will make you feel better.” That simply isn’t true in any number of cases. But I’m not convinced that the solution is to return to a model of preaching from another time and culture. If you look at the evangelistic preaching in Acts, rather than the discipleship teaching of the epistles, you see a model that usually starts from where the listeners are and seeks to move them towards faith. The kinds of preaching that you are refering to all come from a time when you could assume some kind of latent Christian culture. I think that still works in many parts of the US. It doesn’t in most of Canada. We are 6% evangelical, and 55% of the Greater Toronto Area was born outside of Canada, many in Muslim, Hindu or Sikh communities. That is also shaping the “anglo” worldview in profound ways.
    Robin Ellis, Canada

  4. Thanks Robin

    You raise some issues that whole books have been devoted to. But as a brief response, I am not sure if I am with you on this one. No one disputes that Paul took a different approach when speaking to pagan Greeks than when he spoke in Jewish synagogues. But he made it clear that the cross of Christ was always his fundamental message.

    I am not sure if you listened to the sermon in question, but given its themes – Jesus, the cross, the glory of God, sin, repentance, etc. – it seems to be the sort of sermon that was preached by the apostles and can be preached today, anywhere, context notwithstanding.

    As to contextualisation, a very simple breakdown is this:

    Same message, same methods = fundamentalism
    Same message, differing methods = evangelicalism
    Differing message, differing methods = liberalism, the emerging church

    I prefer the second. The themes I mentioned above are always needed, whether we are talking to a Muslim, an atheist, or a backslidden Christian. Sure, the delivery may vary, but ultimately the content must always be the same.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  5. Bill, this is not only an indictment of today’s preaching. Consider also the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in Canberra which seems to have become a Trojan Horse for a ‘Different Gospel’.
    Stan Fishley

  6. Two preachers with a lot of good stuff online are Mark Driscoll and Paul Washer.

    I have especially been encouraged by listening to Paul Washer. Granted, his particular theological school oozes out of every pore (as attested by the frequency with which he uses words like “depravity”, etc) but he’s a man after God’s own heart.

    Someone did up a YouTube video that compares Paul Washer to Joel Osteen, and either in that video or elsewhere, Osteen admits that he has eliminated the word “sin” from his vocabulary. He just never uses the word in any church context. Does that not tell you all you need to know about the man and his ministry?!

    While Paul Washer is the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, we need his wake up call desperately in this time.

    Here is the search results page for Paul Washer on YouTube:

    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=paul+washer

    Enjoy! Be shaken and humbled!!

    Alister Cameron

  7. Thanks Stan

    Yes many Christians are becoming quite concerned about the downward direction the National Prayer Breakfast seems to be headed in. The clear Christian gospel is becoming less and less heard, while various ‘feel good’ messages and interfaith foolishness seem to be on the increase. I may soon write up an article on the latest Breakfast.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  8. Thanks Alister

    I certainly know Driscoll and very much appreciate him and his ministry. He of course was somewhat involved in the emerging church movement earlier on, but has now pretty much renounced it. In fact, the three-fold description of contextualisation I mentioned in my above comment I got from Driscoll.

    I am not sure if I have heard Washer before, but I will have to check him out. Thanks for the tip.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  9. Yes! Paris Reidhead was a mighty preacher of the gospel. The world is yet to see what a man fully devoted to Christ can do! If Reidhead could preach so mightily and be so effective, let’s also seek to see God’s Spirit come in power as His Word is preached in truth. Today we need old time preachers in a modern world.
    There is a very powerful video clip that goes for about 30 minutes called the ‘Revival hymn’ which includes parts of Reidhead’s sermon. Please see the link below.

    http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/mydownloads/singlefile.php?lid=10734

    Bohan Johnstone

  10. Hey Bill,

    You have to see the video at http://www.revivalhymn.com if you haven’t already.
    Paris Reidhead, Ian Paisley and a few other preachers are “remixed” with quotes from their sermons to classical music.. its really moving. This is how I came across Ten Shekels and you are right, its such an awesome sermon!

    Should get every christian to listen to the Revival Hymn

    Adrian Cheng

  11. Thanks Bohan and Adrian

    Hey, neat that you both mentioned the same clip at almost the same time. I am listening to it now as I type! Good stuff. Thanks for the tip. (The two links lead to different sites, but the same video. Adrian’s link provides more background and info.)

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  12. Thanks again Robin

    I am still pondering your comment. Even if I fully accept your premises, I can still say this:

    If you refer to the sermon by Reidhead and others as revival sermons (for the church) rather than evangelistic sermons (for the non-Christian), they are still absolutely vital. The church will not become fully evangelistic and missionary until it is first fully revived and renewed. So even if we relegate these sermons just to other believers, they are still desperately needed, are they not?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. Thanks Bill,

    Yes “Ten Shekels and a Shirt” is a sermon that is even more relevant today that even the day he preached it. I am still challenged by it.

    A few people have commented about Paul Washer, and I would highly recommend his “Ten Indictments to the Church” . It goes for two hours, but he preaches a clear message to the Church. He doesn’t think it is a 95 thesis on Wittenberg’s door, but really he is tackling the very same issues. I try to get the message out to as many people as I can get it to.

    David Clay, Melbourne

  14. Just want to agree on what is said about Washer above. I have only heard his “Great sermon” he preached at the Baptist youth conference in the US in 2002 (I think?). I, being sort of a youth myself, was deeply challenged by it and it was definitely a defining moment for me which changed my whole outlook on Christianity and our culture. I actually have the “10 Indictments” on my laptop at home and will definitely listen to it. Thanks guys.

    Servaas Hofmeyr, South Africa

  15. This website is a golden treasury of inspirational reading!
    Jane Petridge

  16. Thanks for taking the time to respond a second time. Yes, there is a difference between preaching to shape a community that sees itself as Christian (which is clearly what Reidhead is doing, and Spurgeon, and probably Whitefield as well) and preaching to engage unbelievers. I taught a series running up to this past Easter that I called “CrossTalk” in which I looked at some of the various metaphors for sin and atonement in the NT (sickness vs health/healing, captivity vs freedom, slavery vs redemption, shame vs honour, guilt vs acquittal). I didn’t cover them all but I did get a few in. In seeking to shape a community by the Word I feel it’s important to give as full a picture as possible. In sharing the gospel with an individual it’s more important to identify what their issue is and address it. As I like to say, “Jesus is the answer, now, what’s the question?” For much of evangelicalism the only permissible question is one of guilt as a lawbreaker. That puts us out of step with Anselm, who saw the question in terms of honour and shame (really useful with Muslims), much of the early church who saw the question in terms of rescue from slavery to powers, and perhaps even Jesus who seems to have really liked the metaphor of sin as a sickness that needs to be healed. I, personally, don’t think that the rebel/lawbreaker metaphor carries much weight with the increasingly narcissistic individualism of western society. We need to mine scripture (and maybe church history as well) for metaphors that connect with the issues of our society or we run the risk of fitting into another version of your definition of fundamentalists; same message – same metaphor.
    Robin Ellis, Canada

  17. Thanks Robin

    But now we have shifted the discussion somewhat onto how the NT describes the atonement. Yes, different metaphors are employed, with all of them describing different aspects or emphases of the work of Christ. And yes different imagery is also used in the biblical description and understanding of sin.

    But regardless of the imagery and metaphors, the point remains that any preaching of the gospel must contain these two elements at least: sin, and God’s remedy for it at Calvary. So the evangelical model remains as the best way to do our contextualising: same message, but differing methods or metaphors.

    Without a changeless gospel to be proclaimed, the whole issue of contextualisation becomes neither here nor there. So we need to keep thinking and praying about how to best deliver this unchanging word in a changing world. But the core elements of the gospel – however they are expressed – still always have to be there.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  18. Bill Said:
    “….the point remains that any preaching of the gospel must contain these two elements at least: sin, and God’s remedy for it at Calvary”

    The problem is of course, that sin speaks of a moral absolutes, which is progressively unacceptable to a morally relativistic generation.

    The Law, when properly taught and received tends to a conviction of sin within man, which is also politically unacceptable nowadays.

    Of course that conviction of sin, should lead to the realisation that, in and of ourselves, we are incapable of not breaking the Law of God, which in turn leads to the cross and the redemptive work of Jesus.

    The power of God’s grace, lies within the power of the Law and conviction of sin, so when the Law is not preached or taught, what need of redemption, salavation or grace does man need.

    In other words, saved from what, when from a morally relative and subjective viewpoint, I am ‘good’ anyway.

    And this to me is the crux of the problem, preachers are being swayed by the spirit of the age, which renders the Gospel impotent.

    Stuart Mackay, UK

  19. Bill said, “But now we have shifted the discussion somewhat onto how the NT describes the atonement.” and “….the point remains that any preaching of the gospel must contain these two elements at least: sin, and God’s remedy for it at Calvary”

    I’m not sure what you’re saying here. It sounds like you’re saying we can have an idea of what sin is, and what God’s solution is, apart from the metaphors used in scripture.

    There is a problem in the Western church that we tend to take our systematic theologies and objectify them, as if they are timelessly *true*. (Compared with *contextualised* theologies which are somewhat true for a given time of place; African theologies, Asian theologies, etc. see Chris Wright “The Mission of God”) What we end up doing is restating the problem and the solution in terms that were relevant for 16th century Geneva, or 18th century England, or 19th century America, depending on our denominational loyalties.

    I think Stuart is right in his assessment, that preaching the law (why the capital letters?) falls on deaf ears in western churches, but wrong in his solution; preach it louder.

    The law was given as the mark of covenant with people already saved (Ex 19 & 20). Paul’s argument in Romans 2 is that law-keeping is the true mark of continuing in covenant, not circumcision. Thus the law is very useful for shaping people of faith, including the backsliden and nominal, not so useful with those not yet in covenant.

    The gospel is about the glory of God which has, at its core, his steadfast love, faithfulness, and forgiveness (Ex 33.22-34.7) that issues in him acting to save people out of their terrible situation (Ex 1-14). All of that comes before the law, not after it.

    Robin Ellis, Canada

  20. Thanks Robyn

    But now you are starting to get me a bit worried, if I am reading you correctly. Are you really suggesting that we can somehow tell our lost friends a gospel which makes no mention of sin – that is, the very reason why Jesus came in the first place? “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13); “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15); and so on.

    You say, “I’m not sure what you’re saying here. It sounds like you’re saying we can have an idea of what sin is, and what God’s solution is, apart from the metaphors used in scripture. “

    No, I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that the reality of sin and our alienation from God is a fundamental and basic starting point of the gospel, regardless of what metaphors or imagery we choose to use to describe this. Without the bad news of our lost, sinful condition, the good news of the gospel (what Jesus did at Calvary to deal with our sin and alienation) makes no sense whatsoever.

    If you must, forget all your concerns about systematic theology and various periods of church history. Simply read the New Testament. The reality of sin, and the need to deal with it, is at the heart of the gospel message, and cannot in any way be avoided. I would have thought this is a most elementary and basic of Christian beliefs.

    John the Baptist, Jesus and the early disciples all preached a gospel of repentance. That assumes people have something to repent of. It is called sin, and the law manifests this, as Paul so clearly argues. Admittedly there is much discussion about how the NT understands the law, especially Paul.

    But among other things, the law is a schoolmaster, showing us our need of what Christ has done for us. Indeed, as Paul argues in Romans 1-2, the law is already written in our hearts, condemning all of us. It is not just trendy postmodern Westerners who scoff at the law. Paul said this was true of his listeners two thousand years ago.

    If you do not regard the reality of sin, our sinful alienation from God, and the work of Christ at Calvary to deal with this as fundamental doctrines which are “timelessly true” as you put it, then I am I quite concerned about what we have left to tell people.

    If the gospel is stripped of its very centre, then it does not matter at all how we deliver the message, or what methods we use. It is the message we must get right. If we get the message wrong, then the methods and delivery will be of no consequence at all.

    But possibly – and hopefully – we are both woefully misreading each other here. Sorry if I am not getting your drift. If I am, well then I am worried still!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  21. Hi all, I have not been on this site for some time now but all I can say is, I am encouraged.
    Two years ago we left a medium sized “Church” that never preached the Gospel proper, to one that never stops preaching it. In eleven years attending our previous church we had not heard a single sermon that came close to those we now receive on a weekly basis, it is a joy to behold.
    Small numbers are added regularly, those that remain have a love for the Word and rejoice in hearing it.
    Two years ago we found this small and relatively new Rose among many thorns, it is tragic that there are so few.

    Thank you for your article Bill and to those who have contributed the many links, praise God, we certainly need more sermons that are willing to teach the truth and separate the wheat from the chaff, thank you again.

    Edi Giudetti

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