By: Thomas F. Booher
Here is an example of sermon outlining. I find it to be incredibly spiritually enriching.
Samuel Davies’ Sermon: 1 Corinthians 3:6-7
Intro: God is sovereign over all things, and He uses secondary means to glorify His name
Need: There is spiritual lethargy in the land despite full pews and sound preaching. What is lacking?
M.P.: Without the divine agency to render the gospel successful, all the labors of its ministers will be in vain.
I. The present degeneracy of human nature is so great that the gospel, apart from divine grace, cannot remedy it
A. The seed of the gospel dies on barren soil (Matt. 13 parable)
B. Scripture indicates that man is spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1) and blind (2 Cor. 4:4)
C. The gospel apart from the work of God on the heart cannot give spiritual life/sight
D. Experience confirms Scripture’s representation of man’s degeneracy
E. Only divine power from God can sway the will.
II. The declarations and promises of the Word of God assign all gospel success to God alone
A. The means of grace do not of themselves convert sinners nor edify believers
B. Israel had means of grace yet still needed heart circumcision (Deut. 30:6)
1. Faith, repentance, and regeneration are all works of God, not man.
2. Sanctification is also an ongoing work of God (Phil. 1:6)
C. The saints in Scripture earnestly pray for divine aid, indicating its necessity
D. Application: Though God promises blessings for us, this does not absolve us from vigorously endeavoring to obtain them
1. God tells us to circumcise our own hearts (Jer. 4:4), and yet He promises that He will do this for us.
2. It is our duty to obtain the graces promised, because it is through our endeavors that we can expect divine influences, though our endeavors do not earn grace. (Seedtime and harvest analogy)
III. Varying success of the means of grace throughout church history indicates the necessity of divine grace to make means of grace efficacious.
A. Examples are Noah, who could only save his family; Moses, who could not persuade the people to follow God because the Lord had not given them a heart to understand (Deut. 29:4); also Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.
B. Christ Himself converted few, but waited to pour His Spirit out
1. After the Spirit was poured out, Peter preached one sermon in which 3,000 souls were converted!
2. Over time, this gospel, empowered with the Spirit on high, has toppled nations and destroyed the strongholds of Satan (2 Cor. 2:4)
IV. Personal experience and observation indicate the necessity of divine grace in order for the gospel to convert.
A. Sometimes more gifted ministers see fewer converts and less spiritual growth than less gifted ones.
B. Sometimes a clear and convicting sermon doesn’t touch the heart, but a less clear and convicting sermon by the same minister to the same congregation does!
C. Sermons dully read have converted sinners when livelier and more polished ones have not.
D. The same sermon brings some to faith and strong conviction, and upon others it has no such effect.
E. The very same Scripture truths have different effects on you at different times
F. It is God’s grace that accounts for these occurrences.
A. The doctrine of divine influence is essential and important to the church of God
1. Total depravity must be taught
2. If this doctrine is lost, men will look to their own strength, rather than God’s, to be righteous.
B. When the gospel comes with power, we should trust wholly in the influence of divine grace for the success rather than ministers or the will of man
C. Learn to look to God for grace to render the gospel successful
D. Whatever external privileges a church enjoys, it is really in a miserable condition if the Lord has withdrawn His influence from it.
Conclusion: The Spirit is quiet and not moving in the hearts of men because of spiritual lethargy. Therefore, cry out mightily to God, that He would pour out His Spirit upon you.
In this sermon, Davies immediately begins discussing God’s design for all creation. He does not begin with anecdote or a story, but theology. He develops the overarching message of God’s sovereignty and His plan for all creation – to glorify His own name – in order to focus on God’s purpose in using secondary means in the arena of grace, which is to bring about His desired end of salvation. As the gardener is God’s instrument in the natural world to cultivate the earth, and yet God is the one who causes the ground to be fertile, the sun to shine, and the rain to fall so that the seed takes root and forms a healthy plant, so it is with salvation. Ministers take the “seed” of the gospel and spread it all over the world, but the receptivity of the gospel seed, the “fertile” soil of the regenerate heart, is produced by God, who gives the increase and causes the seed to take root by sending the Holy Spirit. Yet, if God does not give this grace, the minister’s labors will be in vain, just as the gardener’s labors would be in vain. This goes both for those who seek the conversion of sinners (the planters), and those who, in preaching the Word, hope to nourish and spiritually cultivate the converted sinner (those who water). Davies says this is Paul’s point in the passage.
The Corinthians, however, rather than growing in unity and responding to the different teachers they have received with thankfulness, have instead viewed each individual member as the leader of factions rather than promoting the one true gospel. Paul is admired as a scholar, Apollos as an accomplished orator. Paul urges the Corinthians to realize that neither he nor Apollos, or any minister, are anything apart from the grace of God working with the gospel message. Davies’ urges that we turn to God alone and praise Him for our salvation and joy in our salvation. This cannot be attributed to man, but the one who truly gives the increase, God Himself.
Davies then asks what is lacking in the church of his day. While there may be some powerful preaching, there seems to be little fruitfulness. As we would wonder what is lacking if we cultivated our soil from year to year without yielding much harvest, we should wonder what is lacking when the gospel is going forth, and yet few are being converted or growing spiritually. Why is there such spiritual lethargy (use of interrogatory)? Why is God not pouring out His grace and giving great increase? With this in mind, Davies’ gives his main proposition: Without the divine agency to render the gospel successful, all the labors of its ministers will be in vain (or, as he also states it, using exclamation, “the success of the ministry of the gospel with respect to saints and sinners, entirely depends upon the concurring influences of divine grace!”
Davies defends this assertion in a variety of ways. He references Scripture which states that man is born spiritually dead, so that the gospel of itself cannot make one willing to trust in Christ. Israel had means of grace at their disposal, but because their hearts were not circumcised, they did not obey God and remain faithful to Him. God has circumcised the heart of the NT church. Ephesians 2:1-10 indicates that salvation is all a work of God, and faith, repentance, and regeneration are all gifts from Him. Even our sanctification is by the power of the Spirit (Phil. 1:6). Davies states that only the work of the Spirit can persuade the sinful will of man to receive the gospel message, because man’s will is in opposition to the message of the cross. Man wants to glorify Himself, but the gospel glorifies Christ alone. Davies argues that Scripture ascribes all gospel success to God alone, and that the means of grace do not of themselves convert sinners nor edify believers. The saints in Scripture earnestly pray for divine aid, which indicates that divine grace is a necessity.
Davies makes some applications at this point. He says that, though God promises blessings to us, this does not absolve us of the responsibility to lay hold of the promised blessings. Jeremiah 4:4 commands that God’s people circumcise their own heart, even though He promised that He Himself would do this for us. It is through our endeavors and earnest desire to receive the promised blessings, then, that God is most apt to grant them to us. If we are slothful, disobedient, and nonchalant regarding God’s divine graces, then the Spirit is less inclined to give us these things. Our endeavors do not earn grace, but they do please God and encourage Him to grant us grace, which we desperately need. As God has promised that seedtime and harvest will not cease (Gen. 8:22), yet we must continue to cultivate the land, so too God has promised spiritual blessing to His people, yet we must continue to pursue holiness and mortify sin (Phil. 2:12-13).
Davies notes that the same means of gracious has experienced various degrees of success throughout church history. The only explanation for this is that divine grace is necessary to make the means of grace efficacious. The means of grace do not contain power of themselves. Examples of this are seen from Scripture itself. Noah could only persuade his family of the coming flood due to sin, yet he ministered for 120 years. Moses could not convince the people to turn from idols and serve the God who delivered them from Pharaoh because the Lord had not given them a heart to understand (Deut. 29:4). The prophets Elijah, Isaiah, and the weeping Jeremiah are other examples of those who, though mighty in word and passion, could not convince many to heed the things of God. Christ Himself converted few to His way during His earthly ministry, and yet, when He ascended on high and sent out the promised Spirit on all flesh, the apostle Peter preached one short sermon in which 3,000 souls were converted! Over time, the gospel, empowered by the Spirit, has toppled nations and destroyed the strongholds of Satan (2 Cor. 2:4).
Not only does church history bear out the need for divine grace, but personal experience and observation indicate that the Spirit must be at work if the gospel is to convert sinners and sanctify believers. This is exhibited when more gifted ministers see fewer converts and less spiritual growth than the less gifted ministers. At times, a clear and convincing sermon touches the heart, but a less clear one does not, even though the same minister is preaching the same message to the same congregation. Sermons read in a monotone have converted sinners when livelier and more polished ones have not. The same sermon will bring some in the congregation to tears of great conviction, yet upon others it has no visible effect whatsoever. In our own individual experience, we can testify that the same Scripture truths have differing effects on us at different times. In all these examples, it is God’s divine grace, given through the Holy Spirit, which accounts for these occurrences.
Davies finishes with application, which essentially serves as a conclusion. He stresses that the doctrine of divine influence is necessary if the church is to be healthy. Otherwise, men will trust in their own strength and not turn to God for strength. When we do see the gospel come in power, we should ascribe the efficacy wholly to the influence of divine grace. The success has nothing to do with the minister or the willing of the person being influenced. In fact, if the minister becomes puffed up in his own efforts, or the congregation trusts in the persuasion of the minister rather than the irresistible persuasion of the Spirit, the Spirit is likely to withdraw His grace, and both the minister and the congregation will see just who it is that is worthy of the praise and admiration. In light of this, we must learn to look to God for grace to render the gospel successful. Whatever external privileges a church enjoys, it is really in a miserable condition if the Lord has withdrawn His influence from it.
Davies warns the sinner who is in a helpless state because the Holy Spirit has shut up His divine grace from him. Davies believes that each man can hardly think of one or two people in the last several years who have been seriously affected by the gospel. Men are not pressing into the kingdom because the Spirit is not moving with the message. Davies finishes with imperatives, calling for believers to cry out to God, that He would pour out His Spirit upon them and upon unbelievers as well.