How much should a preacher rely on the thoughts of others when preparing a sermon?

All pastors are not tempted to preach someone else’s sermons, but most rely on the opinions, insights, and scholarly wisdom of others by way of commentaries, language tools, and theological writings.   Let’s face it: we live in a blessed day as pastors.  We have easy access to the thoughts of some of the most brilliant theological minds in history and can find them addressing just about any passage in the Bible.  The temptation with access to these kinds of scholars is to seek their thoughts too soon before we have formulated our own thoughts about the passage we seek to preach.  When should a preacher consult the insightful words of these scholars?

I think the wisdom of nineteenth century English Pastor Andrew Fuller given over 200 years ago is still just as sound in our commentary-saturated time today as it was in his day when the resources were much more sparse.  Here are Fuller’s words when he wrote them in a letter to a young pastor:

The method I pursued, was, first to read the text carefully over, and as I went on, to note down what first struck me as the meaning.  After reducing these notes into something like a scheme of the passage, I examined the best experts I could procure, and, comparing my own first thoughts with theirs, was a better able to judge of their justness.  Some of them were confirmed, some corrected, and many added to them…But to go first to expositors is to preclude the exercise of your own judgment.[1]

Pastors need to be grateful for the abundance of commentaries and theological writings about most any passage we would set to preach to our congregations.  Allow them to confirm, even correct our own thoughts we have formulated in our own study, but guard from relying too much on them.  Busy pastors can be tempted to laziness and preach these great men, instead of doing the hard work that allows the Spirit of the living God to work that text in us as a word that would speak specifically to our flock, and thus bring us to the place where we would preach it to our unique congregation in the power of Christ.  Authentic, Biblical, Spirit-filled preaching where the preacher has been deeply impacted by the passage he preaches is just as needed today as it was in Fuller’s day.  I am convinced Fuller’s counsel will take us and keep us on the right path to get us there in our own pulpits as he calls us to preach our own material.

[1] Fuller, Andrew. The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller with a Memoir of His Life by Andrew Gunton Fuller. 3 vols. Edited by Joseph Belcher. Philadelphia American Baptist Publication Society, 1845 Repr., Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle, 1988. 3:201

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