That which I now considered the best mode of preparation for the public ministry of the word, no longer adopted from necessity, on account of want of time, but from deep conviction, and from the experience of God’s blessing upon it, both as it regards my own enjoyment, the benefit of the saints, and the conversion of sinners, is as follows:
First, I do not presume to know myself what is best for the hearers, and I therefore ask the Lord, in the first place, that he would graciously be pleased to teach me on what subject I shall speak, or what portion of his word I shall expound.
Now, sometimes it happens that, previous to my asking him, a subject or passage has been in my mind, on which it has appeared well for me to speak.
In that case, I ask the Lord whether I should speak on this subject or passage. If, after prayer, I feel persuaded that I should, I fix upon it, yet so that I would desire to leave myself open to the Lord to change it if he please.
Frequently, however, it occurs that I have no text or subject in my mind, before I give myself to prayer for the sake of ascertaining the Lord’s will concerning it.
In this case, I wait some time on my knees for an answer, trying to listen to the voice of the Spirit to direct me.
If, then, a passage or subject, whilst I am on my knees, or after I have finished praying for a text, is brought to my mind, I again ask the Lord, and that sometimes repeatedly, especially if, humanly speaking, the subject or text should be a peculiar one, whether it be his will that I should speak on such a subject or passage.
If, after prayer, my mind is peaceful about it, I take this to be the text, but still desire to leave myself open to the Lord for direction, should he please to alter it, or should I have been mistaken.
Frequently, also, in the third place, it happens that I not only have no text nor subject on my mind previous to my praying for guidance in this matter, but also I do not obtain one after once, or twice, or more times praying about it.
I used formerly at times to be much perplexed when this was the case, but, for more than twenty years, it has pleased the Lord, in general at least, to keep me in peace about it.
What I do is, to go on with my regular reading of the Scriptures, where I left off the last time, praying (whilst I read) for a text, now and then also laying aside my Bible for prayer, till I get one.
Thus it has happened that I have had to read five, ten, yea, twenty chapters, before it has pleased the Lord to give me a text; yea, many times I have even had to go to the place of meeting without one, and obtained it, perhaps, only a few minutes before I was going to speak; but I have never lacked the Lord’s assistance at the time of preaching, provided I had earnestly sought it in private.
The preacher cannot know the particular state of the various individuals who compose the congregation, nor what they require, but the Lord knows it; and if the preacher renounces his own wisdom, he will be assisted by the Lord; but if he will choose in his own wisdom, then let him not be surprised if he should see little benefit result from his labors.