Take Your Choice

Spencer Cone was a popular Baptist pastor in New York City between 1785 and 1855. This was his advice to young preachers:

“There are two courses before you as a preacher: make yourself familiar with classic authors, study the popular taste, bring forth well-written essays, use the Bible as a fine collection of texts, and fill up your sermons from other sources; or give yourself chiefly to the study of the Bible, bring forth the whole counsel of God, whether men will hear or forbear, ‘Present the Word.’ In the first course you will make yourself popular; in the other you will be useful to the souls of men, and please God. Take your choice.”

(Quoted in Mark Dever, Polity, p8)


  1. I think this applies to the Christian masses, as well— in the first course I may make myself well-informed on Christian matters; in the other I will be well-conformed to the image of Christ. I choose the latter.


    1. I know what you mean, but hopefully we don’t have to choose between those two 🙂 Although if by “Christian matters” you mean extra-biblical stuff, I tend to agree.


      1. I mean that though devotionals, spiritual books, seminars, etc. can be helpful to the Christian (and in proper balance can do much for the depth and breadth of love for / knowledge of Christ), nothing can replace actual time in Scripture. Want to know God? Read His Word. Books about Him don’t accomplish nearly as much the Word itslef.

        But as you said, hopefully things are in proper balance we do not have to choose between. 🙂


  2. Is it possible that there are three courses? The two mentioned above & a third which is about reading the Bible as independently as possible of traditional interpretations of scripture which have been passed down as the ‘only way’ of understanding Scripture & which in all fairness have often been (& some still are) politically, socially, or otherwise determined? I wonder … :O)


  3. I don’t know if there needs to be a choice. Having been a Christian for just over a year only, forgive me if this is ignorant…wasn’t Jesus’ style a combination of both? Popular stories and ‘presenting the word’? I hope I’m right in thinking he was the greatest preacher of all and therefore perhaps the only style to emulate….


    1. Hello Anon. I know what you mean – there’s certainly a place for using illustrations, as Jesus did in his parables. But what Cone is talking about here is a bit different, I think. He’s going after preachers whose main focus is studying popular culture rather than giving themselves “chiefly to the study of the Bible”, those who would rather fill their sermons with quotes from sources other than God’s word.

      Wonderful to hear you’re part of the family!


      1. Hi Barry – sorry I forgot to log in first! I have only heard a couple of preachers (that are fantastic) and this is such a new world to me I am unaware of all the popular culture preachers that must be out there! And thank you for the DVD’s you have produced – we used both at our home groups and they were just brilliant….especially the discipleship explored one, it really helped me to get started on my journey through the books of the bible. I hope there will be some more!


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