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Some Thoughts on Preaching - from Ben Franklin??

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is one of those books that I have read parts of a number of times over the years. It is currently one of the books I have on my Kindle, so at times I find myself reading from this interesting book.

Benjamin Franklin was a moralist, but not a Christian. His book, however, has some interesting comments in various places in his Autobiography about preaching and preachers. Perhaps the most famous of these are the ones where he discusses the preaching of the great evangelist George Whitefield, who Franklin had the privilege of knowing personally.

It is in another spot, however, that I read recently that is the subject of this post, for it serves as a warning to preachers and it also serves as an illustration that some errors are not new.

In discussing his relationship with the "only Presbyterian minister or meeting we had in Philadelphia" he mentions that he once attended five Sundays in a row and follows that comment with the following:

Had he been in my opinion a good preachers, perhaps I might have continued... but his discourses were chiefly either polemic arguments, or explications of the particular doctrines of our sect, and were all to me very dry, uninteresting, and unedifying, since not a single moral principle was inculcated or enforc'd, their aim seeming to be rather to make us Presbyterians than good citizens.


Now, I take his comments with a grain of salt, since what he would have been looking for in a message would be "moral principles" rather than necessarily faithfulness to God's Word, but I do find it interesting that the specific example he gives would indicate that there is good reason for Ben Franklin's concern.

The very next paragraph he mentions a specific sermon that this pastor allegedly preached on Philippians 4:8

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.


Here are the points that Dr. Franklin says the preacher got out of that passage:

1. Keeping the Sabbath day holy
2. Being diligent to read the Holy Scriptures
3. Attending duly the publick (sic) worship
4. Partaking of the Sacrament
5. Paying a due respect to God's ministers.


Assuming that Franklin presents this accurately, I agree with his comment after giving this summary of points.

These might all be good things; but, as they were not the kind of good things that I expected from that text, I despaired of ever meeting with them from any other, was disgusted, and attended his preaching no more.


Preachers, we need to be careful that we preach God's Word clearly and carefully. One of the great early leaders of our country was turned away from the hearing of the Word of God because a pastor chose to seemingly ignore the text of Scripture and instead proclaim what seems to have been his personal pet peeves.

It is one thing if it is the faithful preaching of the Word that offends and drives off folks - and the Word, when faithfully preached, will likely do that at times. It is another thing entirely to offend by preaching our opinions.

Let us be careful in the proclamation of God's Word - and pray for me that I would be careful in my proclamation of God's Word.

Just my thoughts,

Frank

3 comments:

Andy Efting said...

Good post, Franklin, I mean Frank.

When a preacher strays from the intent of the text, he can't help but become a moralizer/philosopher. For Ben Franklin, no preacher was going to out-moralize him or out-philosophize him. Why should he listen to someone do something that he can do better?

Franklin, like everyone else, needs something more, namely the life-giving words, thoughts, reasoning, and commands of God. He might have rejected that, too, like he did the preaching of Whitefield, but at least Franklin was willing to listen to Whitefield.

Barbara H. said...

Amen, Frank. I have sat with people who were offended, not by the truth, but by the preaching of opinions that were not related to the text. It's His Word that is Spirit and life.

Frank Sansone said...

Andy and Barbara,

Thank you for your comments.

It is sad that 1) this has been going on a long time and 2) some think that this type of "take a text and harp on side issues" is "good preachin' "

Frank