Great Preaching as a Great Present

I don’t easily find books for spiritual reading. So I’m always glad when someone recommends a book that he or she has found helpful.

One such book I’ve just finished is a collection of sermons by the late James S. Stewart, formerly the Professor of New Testament Language, Literature, and Theology at Edinburgh University (the post now held by a friend of mine, Larry Hurtado). The publishing arm of Regent College recently released a reprint of this fine anthology, Walking with God, edited by Gordon Grant.

Stewart has been lauded by many fine preachers, including such disparate pulpiteers as Lloyd John Ogilvie (former chaplain to the U.S. Senate), Gardner Taylor (dean of African-American preachers), and William Willimon (former chaplain to Duke University and now a Methodist bishop). His sermons are couched in the elegant language of a bygone generation, replete with aphorisms from his wide reading in classical and British literature (I would say “English literature,” but he was a Scot, and quoted Robbie Burns as often as Shakespeare, it seems). His messages are always directed to both piety and practice, and I have found many a passage to be provocative–whether to compunction or to comfort.

Herewith a bouquet of quotations plucked from these pages:

“We think of ourselves–ourselves who get so worried, so hectic with life’s load of care; who carry our fever with us, and wince at pin-pricks, and get flurried and fussy and nervous, and can’t relax; who feel that everything is getting on top of us, and life is too much for us, and quite lose our interior peace. There is no real remedy for that condition but this–a closer walk with God” (16-17).

“An ordinary Sunday morning service, we say, treating rather cavalierly our citizenship in Zion. Ordinary? How could it ever be that, with the risen Christ quite certainly there? How eagerly we should welcome every returning Lord’s Day, like those excited folk of Galilee lining the roads where they knew Jesus was to pass” (34).

Pray regularly. Have set seasons for it, and stick to them. I know my own heart, and you know yours, well enough to say that the day is not safe without the morning prayer, nor the mind at peace without the prayer of the evening hour” (44).

“What a valley of dry bones it was that Jesus had to wake! And how easily Jesus might have flung up the commission in sheer despair. Is there anything more amazing in the world than just Christ’s dogged, stubborn hope for men, and you see it in the Gospels, His refusal to acquiesce in their deadness and worldliness and lostness, His almost reckless confidence–standing there on the ancient battlefield of sin, where souls that might have walked in light were just heaps of ghastly corpses and rotting bones–his reckless and defiant confidence, ‘Something can be made of these if God wills–even yet’?” (81).

“The children of the world…pursue the trivial as though it were eternal; the Christian too often pursues the eternal as though it were quite trivial” (155).

“When I sing hymns about the sweetness of the divine Presence, and fail to consider whether there aren’t things in my life which that Presence would burn to shreds–that is being unreal, in fact, just insidious trifling” (159).

“As long as a man is self-assured, and strong, and independent and conscious of no need, he is really living in a terribly narrow world, limited by his own human strength and natural resources. But as soon as you have got that same man with his self-assurance gone, and conscious of nothing so much as that he is a poor, broken reed, then God can come in with the limitless reserves of the supernatural” (207).

Good stuff, and a good gift for someone you know this Christmas….

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