Legalism And Preaching

By Peter Mead on Feb 4, 2021

Defining legalism carefully is vitally important. It is important for each follower of Christ. It is a serious business to discount a restriction as legalism when it actually is displeasing to the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.

Legalism is an easy word to throw around, but a challenging term to define. For many of us, legalism seems to refer to whatever restrictions others might feel that I personally do not feel. But defining legalism carefully is vitally important. 

It is important for each follower of Christ. It is a serious business to discount a restriction as legalism when it actually is displeasing to the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. Equally it can be stifling to the life He has given us to overlay unnecessary restrictions and thereby misrepresent Him to ourselves and others. 

The issue of representing Christ to others means that defining legalism accurately should be a concern for every preacher. People look to us for guidance, both in clarification of the Gospel and in instruction for living. Every preacher treads a minefield in every sermon – preach legalism, or preach license, and damage will be done. 

However, many of us never really think about the definition of legalism. I think part of the reason for this is that we have been lulled into a false sense of security by an inadequate definition. 

Many definitions are essentially similar to this: “Legalism is about trying to merit salvation by obedience.” 

But there is a significant problem with this definition. Too easily we will hear this to be referring to the heresy of salvation by works. That is, the idea that we have to behave in order to be saved. And the problem with that understanding of legalism is that once we are saved (by grace, not works), then we are effectively immune from any charge of legalism. After all, doesn’t every born again believer in Jesus know that salvation is based on grace, not works? 

Surely a definition of legalism that rules out any Christian from being a legalist must be flawed.  It concerns me because I am sure I have met a few legalists.  I have probably been one too. 

So perhaps it would be better to define legalism as “trying to merit God’s favour by obedience.” After all, God’s favour is not just about getting into the family in the first place, we also value God’s favour in our ongoing relationship with Him. 

Next time I would like to wrestle with this idea more and identify one big reason why believers can fall into legalism so easily.

Peter Mead is involved in the leadership team of a church plant in the UK. He serves as director of Cor Deo—an innovative mentored ministry training program—and has a wider ministry preaching and training preachers. He also blogs often at and recently authored Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus, 2014). Follow him on Twitter

VIDEO Piper: What’s The Best Tone For Your Preaching? Authority For Preaching?

“The question I have for preachers is: What tone should you aim at in preaching? This is an urgent question because, if you don’t answer it, your listeners will answer it for you.”

By Sermoncentral on Mar 18, 2020

Phillips Brooks who died in 1893—and who along with Jesus, Paul, John Stott, Dick Lucas, and other preachers never married—most famously said that preaching is “truth through personality.”

This personality factor raises the question of preaching tone. What should a preacher aim at in the tone of his preaching?

By “tone” I mean the feel that it has. The spirit it emits. The emotional quality. The affectional tenor. The mood.

Personalities Are Like Faces

Every personality has a more or less characteristic tone. That is part of what personality is. Some personalities play a small repertoire of emotional instruments, while others play a larger repertoire. Nevertheless, whether a personality plays a two-piece band or a symphony of emotional tones, there is a typical tone. A kind of default tone for each personality.

This has a huge effect on peaching. And there is no escaping it. Preachers have personalities, like they have faces. They can smile, and they can frown. But they have one face. It was given to them.

The question I have for preachers is: What tone should you aim at in preaching? This is an urgent question because, if you don’t answer it, your listeners will answer it for you.

The Tone of the Text

Over my 31 years in the pulpit, I have received a fairly steady stream of affirmation and criticism related to the tone of my preaching. The very same sermon can elicit opposite pleas. “More of that, pastor!” “No, we already get too much of that.”

This is totally understandable. Listeners have personalities too. Which means they have default tonal desires. They have preferences. They know what makes them feel loved. Or encouraged. Or hopeful. Or challenged. And some people feel challenged by the very tone that makes another feel angered or discouraged.

So I ask again: What tone should you aim at in preaching?

My answer is: Pursue the tone of the text. But let it be informed, not muted, by the tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles and by the gospel of grace.

Ten explanatory comments:

  1. Texts have meaning, and texts have tone. Consider the tonal difference between, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden . . .” and “Woe to you, blind guides . . .You blind fools!” The preacher should embody, not mute, these tones.
  2. Nevertheless, just as the meanings of texts are enlarged and completed and given a new twist by larger biblical themes, and by the gospel of grace, so also the tones of texts are enlarged and completed and given a new twist by these realities. A totally dark jigsaw-puzzle piece may, in the big picture, be a part of the pupil of a bright and shining eye.
  3. The grace of God in the gospel turns everything into hope for those who believe. “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that . . . we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32). Therefore, all the various tones of texts (let them resound!) resolve into the infinitely varied tones of hope, for those who believe in Jesus.
  4. If there is a danger of not hearing the tone of gospel hope, emerging from the thunder and lightening of Scripture, there is also a danger of being so fixed on what we think hope sounds like, that we mute the emotional symphony of a thousand texts. Don’t do it. Let the tone grip you. Let it carry you. Embody the tone of the text and the gospel dénouement.
  5. But it’s not just the gospel of grace that should inform how we embody the tone of texts. We are all prone to insert our own personalities at this point and assume that our hopeful tone is the hopeful tone. We think our tender is the tender. Our warmth is the warmth.This is why I said our capturing of the tone of the text should be informed by the tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles. We may simply be wrong about the way we think tenderness and hope and warmth and courage and firmness sound. We do well to marinate our tone-producing hearts in the overall tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles.
  6. Tonal variation is determined in part by the nature and needs of the audience. We may well shout at the drowning man that there is a life preserver behind him. But we would not shout at a man on the edge of a precipice, lest we startle him into losing his balance. Jesus’ tone was different toward the proud Pharisee and the broken sinner.
  7. But audiences are usually mixed with one person susceptible to one tone and one susceptible to another. This is one reason why being in the pulpit week in and week out for years is a good thing. The biblical symphony of tones can be played more fully over time. The tone one week may hurt. The next it may help.
  8. There is a call on preachers to think of cultural impact and not just personal impact. In some ways our culture may be losing the ability to feel some biblical tones that are crucial in feeling the greatness of God and the glory of the gospel. The gospel brings together transcendent, terrible, horrific, ghastly, tender, sweet, quiet, intimate, personal realities, that for many may seem utterly inimical. Our calling is to seek ways of saying and embodying these clashing tones in a way that they sound like the compelling music.
  9. In the end, when a preacher expresses a fitting tone, it is the work of God; and when a listener receives his tone as proper and compelling, it is another work of God.
  10. So we pray. O Lord, come and shape our hearts and minds with the truth and the tone of every text. Let every text have its true tone in preaching. Shape the tone by the gospel climax. Shape it by the tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles. But don’t let it be muted. Let the symphony of your fullness be felt.

 “What Bible passages do you use to base your claims about how we should preach?”

2 Timothy 3:16-4:2


Revivals, Universities, & the preaching of Jonathan Edwards

How revivals formed major universities and shaped early America.

Religious revivals have a long history of preaching out of doors.

The great London preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote:

“It would be very easy to prove that revivals of religion have usually been accompanied, if not caused, by a considerable amount of preaching out of doors, or in unusual places.”

For two thousand years, out of doors preaching by gifted evangelists resulted in the founding of religious orders, movements, denomination, charity organizations, colleges and universities.

Examples include:

  • Apostle Paul preaching to the Gentiles,
  • St. Patrick and the Irish missionaries,
  • Peter Waldo and the Waldensians,
  • St. Francis and the Franciscans,
  • St. Dominic and the the Dominicans,
  • John Wycliffe and the Lollards,
  • Savanarola, Dominican Friar,
  • John Knox and the Presbyterians,
  • George Fox and the Quakers,
  • John and Charles Wesley and the Methodists,
  • George Whitefield and innumerable revival preachers,
  • William and Catherine Booth and the Salvation Army, and many others.

Charles Spurgeon added:

“Open-air preaching … is the very backbone of the movement to win the non-churched …

Glorious were those great gatherings in the fields and commons which lasted throughout the long period in which Wesley and Whitefield blessed our nation.

Field preaching was the wild note of the birds singing in the trees, in testimony that the true spring-time of religion had come …

It was a blessed day when Methodists and others began to proclaim Jesus in open air; then were the gates of hell shaken, and the captives of the devil were set free by hundreds and thousands.”

Open air preaching meetings in Scotland were called “holy fairs,” which stirred revivals which immigrants brought to America.

Scottish minister William Tennent migrated to Pennsylvania in 1718 and together with his son Gilbert Tennent began the Log College in 1726.

It was the first American Presbyterian theological seminary in North America, which led to the formation of the College of New Jersey.

The College of New Jersey, was renamed PRINCETON UNIVERSITY.

An original trustee of the college was the “New Light” preacher, Rev. Samuel Finley.

This revival caused Calvinist denominations to split between:

  • traditional “Old Lights” who emphasized structure and ritual;


  • revivalist “New Lights” who emphasized personal experience and commitment.

The religious enthusiasm spreading through America became known as The Great Awakening Revival.

The fiery Dutch Reformed preacher Theodore Jacobus Frelinghuysen arrived in New Jersey in 1720.

Preaching about divine outpourings of the Holy Spirit and conversion, Frelinghuysen’s efforts led to formation in 1766 of Queen’s College in New Brunswick, which became RUTGERS UNIVERSITY.

The Great Awakening Revival inspired Puritan Rev. Eleazar Wheelock to help found Moor’s Charity School in 1754, (re-established as DARTMOUTH COLLEGE).

The Great Awakening inspired Anglican Rev. Samuel Johnson to help found King’s College in 1754 (renamed COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY).

The Great Awakening inspired Baptist ministers Rev. James Manning, Rev. Isaac Backus and Rev. Samuel Stillman to help found the College of Rhode Island in 1764 (renamed BROWN UNIVERSITY).

During this time the Pietist revival movement spread within Lutheran Churches.

It reshaped Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed Churches, and it strengthened evangelical Baptist and Methodist-Anglican Churches.

Revival preachers held to two predominant views:

  • Calvinists emphasized that God had a plan for your life, marriage, family, church and government, and its was a person’s responsibility to study Scripture to find out what God’s plan is and put it into practice.

  • Pietists emphasized that each person needed to have a personal experience with Christ and when this happened their life should change, causing them to no longer go to worldly places, like bars, brothels, theaters, or worldly government.

This attitude, taken to its extreme, led to an abandonment of civic responsibility and neglecting to vote in elections.

The Great Awakening Revival brought large numbers of African slaves to Christianity, being led by Presbyterian preacher Samuel Davies, who later became Princeton’s fourth president.

African Americans were welcomed into active roles in many white congregations, even as preachers.

The first black Baptist churches were founded at this time in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia.

Beginning in 1738, Rev. George Whitefield arrived in Savannah, Georgia. Traveling the Colonies, he preached 18,000 sermons in the next 32 years.

The Great Awakening Revival helped unite the Colonies prior to the Revolutionary War.

Ben Franklin wrote of Rev. Whitefield:

“Multitudes of all denominations attended his sermons … It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants.

From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”

The Great Awakening Revival had a profound effect, as noted by Sarah Pierrepont Edwards, wife of Jonathan Edwards, who wrote to her brother in New Haven regarding effects of the preaching of George Whitefield:

“It is wonderful to see what a spell he casts over an audience by proclaiming the simplest truths of the Bible …

Our mechanics shut up their shops, and the day laborers throw down their tools to go and hear him preach, and few return unaffected.”

A noted Great Awakening preacher was Jonathan Edwards, born OCTOBER 5, 1703.

He entered Yale College at age 13 and graduated with honors.

He became a pastor and preached with amazing conviction.

In his Narrative of the Surprising Word of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls, 1737, Jonathan Edwards wrote:

“And then it was, in the latter part of December, that the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to … work amongst us.

There were, very suddenly, one after another, five or six persons who were, to all appearance, savingly converted, and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner.

Particularly I was surprised with the relation of a young woman, who had been one of the greatest company-keepers in the whole town.

When she came to me, I had never heard that she was become in any ways serious, but by the conversation I had with her, it appeared to me that what she gave an account of was a glorious work of God’s infinite power and sovereign grace, and that God had given her a new heart, truly broken and sanctified …

God made it, I suppose, the greatest occasion of awakening to others, of anything that ever came to pass in the town …”

Jonathan Edwards continued:

“I have had abundant opportunity to know the effect it had, by my private conversation with many.

The news of it seemed to be almost like a flash of lighting upon the hearts of young people all over the town, and upon many others …

Presently upon this, a great and earnest concern about the great things of religion and the eternal world became universal in all parts of the town and among persons of all degrees and all ages.

The noise of the dry bones waxed louder and louder …

Those that were wont to be the vainest and loosest, and those that had been the most disposed to think and speak slightly of vital and experimental religion, were not generally subject to great awakenings …”

Edwards added:

“And the work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner and increased more and more; souls did, as it were, come by flocks to Jesus Christ …

This work of God, as it was carried on and the number of true saints multiplied, soon made a glorious alteration in the town, so that in the spring and summer following, Anno 1735, the town seemed to be full of the presence of God.

It never was so full of love, nor so full of joy … there were remarkable tokens of God’s presence in almost every house.

It was a time of joy in families on the account of salvation’s being brought unto them, parents rejoicing over their children as new born, and husbands over their wives, and wives over their husbands.

The goings of God were then seen in His sanctuary, God’s day was a delight and His tabernacles were amiable …”

Rev. Edwards went on:

“Our public assembles were then beautiful; the congregation was alive in God’s service, everyone earnestly intent on the public worship, every hearer eager to drink the words of the minister as they came from his mouth.

The assembly in general were, from time to time, in tears while the word was preached, some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for their neighbors.

There were many instances of persons that came from abroad, on visits or on business…that partook of that shower of divine blessing that God rained down here and went home rejoicing.

Till at length the same work began to appear and prevail in several other towns in the country …”

Jonathan Edwards concluded:

“In the month of March, the people of South Hadley began to be seized with a deep concern about the things of religion, which very soon became universal …

About the same time, it began to break forth in the west part of Suffield … and it soon spread into all parts of the town. It next appeared at Sunderland …

About the same time it began to appear in a part of Deerfield … Hatfield … West Springfield … Long Meadow … Endfield … Westfield … Northfield …

In every place, God brought His saving blessings with Him, and His Word, attended with Spirit … returned not void.”

Edwards wrote:

“There is no leveler like Christianity, but it levels by lifting all who receive it to the lofty table-land of a true character and of undying hope both for this world and the next.”

On July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.”

The underlying theme was that God is a just God, and as such, He must judge every sin.

If God does not judge a sin, His silence would in effect be giving approval to the sin, which He would never do.

Therefore, to be true to His own nature, He must judge even the smallest sin.

To ask God to overlook a sin is asking Him to deny His just nature, – in essence, asking Him to deny Himself.

But God is also a God of love, and as such, He, Himself, provided the Lamb to take the judgement for our sins.

This is foreshadowed by Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac.

Genesis 22:8 “And Abraham said, My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.”

The Book of Isaiah foretold the suffering Messiah in chapter 53, which foretold Jesus offering Himself as the Lamb of God, to stand in our stead and take the punishment for all of our sins.

In this way, God is both completely just and completely love.

God is just, in that He judges every sin, and God is love in that He provided the Lamb to take the judgement for our sins.

Revival preachers were motivated to start colleges and universities to teach youth.

This motivation can be illustrated by an analogy using computer terminology, highlighting the differences between hardware and software.

Hardware refers to the computer’s physical hard drive and memory chips, and software refers to the programs that run on the computer.

Applying this to students, a child’s physical brain is like the computer hardware.

A person’s body is like the computer case. It does not matter what a person’s skin color, race, or heredity is. That is irrelevant. What matters is, what software is running in their minds?

The software is the belief system and values taught to a child, which guide their actions.

Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, rather than being preoccupied with the “hardware” of race, genetics, heredity or skin color, focused instead on instilling Bible “software” onto their children’s minds – godly thoughts, values and the Christian belief system – which had a documented ripple effect.

A.E. Winship’s A Study in Education and Heredity (1900) listed that Jonathan and Sarah Edwards descendants included:

1 U.S. Vice-President,

3 U.S. Senators,

3 governors,

3 mayors,

13 college presidents,

30 judges,

65 professors,

80 public office holders,

100 lawyers and

100 missionaries.

A.E. Winship’s study also examined a family referred to as “Jukes.”

In 1877, while visiting New York’s prisons, Richard Dugdale found inmates with 42 different last names all descending from one man, called “Max.”

Born around 1720 of Dutch stock, Max was a hard drinker, idle, irreverent, a recluse, and uneducated.

Following the computer analogy, Max’s children had been infected with corrupted files and software viruses.

Max’s immoral example was equivalent of programming malware into his descendants, which included:

7 murderers,

60 thieves,

50 women of debauchery,

130 other convicts.

310 paupers, who, combined spent 2,300 years in poorhouses, and

400 physically wrecked by indulgent living.

The “Jukes” descendants cost the state more than $1,250,000.

Jonathan Edwards stated:

“I have reason to hope that my parents’ prayers for me have been, in many things, very powerful and prevalent, that God has … taken me under His care and guidance, provision and direction, in answer to their prayers.”

In A History of the Work of Redemption, 1739, Jonathan Edwards wrote:

“Those mighty kingdoms of Antichrist and Mohammed … have trampled the world under foot..(and) swallowed up the Ancient Roman Empire … Satan’s Mohometan kingdom swallowing up the Eastern Empire.”

In his work, The Latter-Day Glory Is Probably to Begin in America, Jonathan Edwards proposed that since the Old World had hosted Christ’s first coming, the New World would be given the honor of preparing the earth for His second coming.

This idea that the “Sun of Righteousness” traveled from East to West contributed to the concept that America had a “Manifest Destiny,” as he wrote:

“When the time comes of the church’s deliverance from her enemies, so often typified by the Assyrians, the light will rise in the west, till it shines through the world like the sun in its meridian brightness …

And if we may suppose that this glorious work of God shall begin in any part of America, I think, if we consider the circumstances of the settlement of New England, it must needs appear the most likely, of all American colonies, to be the place whence this work shall principally take its rise.”

Jonathan Edwards, who became President of Princeton College, resolved:

“Never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.”

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Died: Warren Wiersbe, Preachers’ Favorite Bible Commentator

The prolific author and pastor taught Christians how to “Be” in the Word.

May 3, 2019 by CALEB LINDGREN

Died: Warren Wiersbe, Preachers’ Favorite Bible Commentator

Bible teacher, pastor, and preacher Warren Wiersbe died Thursday at age 89, leaving an impressive legacy of teaching, preaching, and mentoring countless pastors. Through his lessons, broadcasted sermons, and over 150 books, he resourced the church to better read and explain the Bible.

In a tribute, grandson Dan Jacobsen recalled how pastors often tell him, “There’s not a passage in the Bible I haven’t first looked up what Wiersbe has said on the topic.”

Wiersbe described himself as a bridge builder, spanning the gap “from the world of the Bible to the world of today so that we could get to the other side of glory in Jesus,” according to Jacobsen.

Of all his many writings his “Be” commentary series is his most well known and well loved, including books like Be Loyal (Matthew), Be Diligent (Mark), Be Compassionate (Luke 1–13), Be Courageous (Luke 14–24), Be Alive (John 1–12), and Be Transformed (John 13–21). Wiersbe sawhis love of expounding the Scriptures as a gift that God had given him for the sake of others:

Writing to me is a ministry. I’m not an athlete, I’m not a mechanic. I can’t do so many of the things that successful men can do. But I can read and study and think and teach. This is a beautiful, wonderful gift from God. All I’m doing is using what He’s given to me to teach people, and to give glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.

His wisdom and teaching has left an indelible mark on countless pastors and Christian leaders.

Jerry Vines, Baptist minister and two-time past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, remarked on Twitter that “so many things I did were birthed by Warren Wiersbe.” Remembering his “great mentor and friend,” Vines said Wiersbe “is the man who taught me how to expound the Word of God.”

Daniel Darling, vice president for communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also spoke of Wiersbe’s influence: “Wiersbe had a formative influence on me as a writer and pastor. A long full life of service to the church.”

“Giving thanks for the life of one of the great preachers of our century, Warren Wiersbe,” tweeted Barry McCarty, professor of preaching and rhetoric at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “So many close friends who have influenced me deeply were mentored by Wiersbe. We owe him much.”

In addition to a prolific writing career, Wiersbe—who came to faith after hearing Billy Graham preach at an early Youth for Christ rally—was also involved in parachurch and pastoral ministry for much of his life.

Wiersbe served as director of Youth for Christ’s literature division and editor of Campus Life magazine, in addition to his work with groups such as the Slavic Gospel Association, Child Evangelism Fellowship, National Religious Broadcasters, Christian Booksellers Association, and Back to the Bible.

He received ordination from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, in 1951 and held pastorships at Central Baptist Church in East Chicago, Indiana (1951–1957), Calvary Baptist Church in Covington, Kentucky (1961–1971), where his Sunday sermons were broadcast over the radio as the “Calvary Hour,” and the historic Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, IL (1971–1980), where his sermons were broadcast on Moody Radio as part of Moody’s “Songs of the Night” national radio program.

While at Moody Memorial, Wiersbe was a regular contributor for Moody Monthly, writing the “Insight for the Pastor” column giving practical ministry advice as well as brief biographies of famous individuals from church history. He also taught classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School during his time in Chicago and developed curriculum for a DMin preaching course titled “Imagination and the Quest for Biblical Preaching.”

Another important aspect of his time in Chicago was mentoring young pastors, among them an up and coming preacher named Erwin Lutzer, who would succeed Wiersbe as the senior pastor at Moody Memorial after Wiersbe left in 1980. In a tribute to his mentor, Lutzer recalls that Wiersbe was always gracious with his time and cared deeply for the ministries of the pastors he was mentoring and the city where God had placed him:

He always had time for us; he always made us feel as if we were the important ones in the room; it was never about him but always about us. How I still remember him closing his books on his desk when we entered, sitting back, welcoming us, eager to discuss how our ministries were doing. We talked about the challenges of the city, the challenges of shepherding people, and the pressures of time for sermon preparation, etc. Then we would find some hidden room in the church and intercede for the needs of the city and the great need for a revival such as was experienced during the ministry of D.L. Moody.

In 1980, Wiersbe and his wife Betty and their family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where Wiersbe took a teaching post at Back to the Bible Radio Ministries and from 1984 to 1990, he served as General Director of Back to the Bible. During this time, Wiersbe also wrote regularly for CT and its sister publication Leadership Journal (read an excerpt here).

Wiersbe amassed a prodigious library during his lifetime, so much so that when they were house-hunting in Lincoln in 1980, ahead of their move to Back to the Bible, Betty told the realtor, “We are looking for a library with a house attached.” Wiersbe chose to leave his collection of around 14,000 books to Cedarville University as a part of the Warren and Betty Wiersbe Library and Reading Room.

Wiersbe became writer in residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1995, where he also was appointed Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

Author and pastor Michael Catt said of his friend via Twitter: “My heart breaks but heaven rejoices in the homecoming of this great man of God.”


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