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Preaching (1)

A Borland

The principal method God has adopted for the spread of the gospel is by preaching. He uses the lips and words of men. These words, of course, must be corroborated by lives consistent with the truth they teach. Discrepancies between what is declared and the practices of him who declares necessarily draw forth the contempt of all thoughtful listeners. The preacher of the gospel of God must be, both in intent and in purpose, a bold man, whose character is based upon whole-hearted acceptance of the doctrines and duties of the Bible. Failure in that respect brings not only disgrace upon the preacher but also dishonour upon the God whose words are being preached. It is the first essential in everyone who assays to carry the "Good News" to his fellow men that his own life has been radically affected by the message he brings. Effective preaching can be done only by such as have been gripped and transformed by the power of God unto salvation. If good preaching is divine truth mediated through personality, then the more completely that personality is dominated by the truth the more passionate will be the endeavour to make the message live.

After years of preaching Paul maintained that "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Cor 1.21). In such a declaration several truths are embedded.

First, there is the assertion that the intention of God is to save them that believe. God is a Saviour God. He has always been since He sought erring Adam immediately after the Fall in Eden.

Second, there is the disclosure of the method He has adopted, namely preaching. Religious systems originating with man have devised other methods that do not have the same commendation. There are religions that, when faced with possible failure in proclaiming the message, have used recourse to the sword for the conversion of those who would not be convinced by other means. Others build themselves on the credulity of subservient people who are denied the right to decide for themselves. The New Testament method gives to the individual the liberty of deciding whether it is worthy of his acceptance.

Third, the statement announces that the opinion of man often is that the method is foolishness. Notwithstanding this verdict, it has pleased God to save men and women by that method. If that is God’s intention and that is God’s method then the closer preachers of the gospel keep to the divine method the more likely it is that there will be results to follow. Men make a practice of teaching their philosophies, whereas God insists that the gospel message should be proclaimed. The word frequently used by New Testament writers for this method means "a public announcing of news". In the gospel the news comes from God with divine authority.

Successful Methods of Witnessing

Three methods of witnessing have been successful for centuries.

By our ways

Here value is placed upon Christian character. The power of Christ to save is demonstrated in the life. That is the potent form of witnessing. We in our day are not beyond the need of this reminder.

By our ordinary talk

Of the early disciples it is written that after the death of Stephen they were scattered abroad and went everywhere telling the good news. There was a method that was free from every semblance of officialese and which all need adopt. Every Christian becomes under such compulsion a potential missionary and it is to our shame when we miss opportunities afforded us in the discharge of our routine duties to bear witness for Christ. Was it to this that Paul referred when he reminded saints of his day that it was part of their duty to redeem the time (Eph 5.16; Col 4.5)?

By public declaration

The idea in the word kerugma is that of announcing as a herald does. It occurs in the following senses, and from these we may learn lessons which evidently need to be enforced with recurring emphasis today.

First, "we preach not ourselves" (2 Cor 4.5). The gospel message is not a man-made scheme for the betterment of mankind by the introduction of ameliorative legislation which does not touch the root of evil. It is a divine revelation which proceeds from the fact that man’s primal need is a radical change wrought by a power external to itself. Men’s philosophies forget that man is wicked as well as weak, and before he can improve he must be converted.

Nor is the gospel platform a place where a man can parade himself, airing his knowledge and exhibiting his desire to impress others with his ability to command attention. Verily, they who do so have their reward! The objective of the gospel preacher should not be to draw forth from an admiring audience the praise, "What a splendid preacher!", but rather to have them exclaim, in their need and admiration for God’s provision in Christ, "What a wonderful Saviour". It is said that Michelangelo wore a light attached to his head so that when he was working no shadow of himself might, by any chance, fall upon canvas or marble. He is a good preacher who keeps himself out of sight by being himself absorbed in his message about the Saviour.

Second, "Go ye unto all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16.15). The message is the gospel, and because of faulty apprehension thereof men have been preaching an unbalanced conception of its meaning. Every sermon should be complete within itself. Perhaps no generation more than our own has been guilty of snippety, bodiless, anecdotal preaching which aims at nothing and never misses that mark. A preacher can only preach what he has been mastered by. He must be assured of the sinfulness of sin.

Here young preachers often err. There is no deep sense of sin in themselves and, as a consequence, there is no insistence upon the utter depravity of the human heart despite its seeming culture. One of the outstanding characteristics of Alexander Whyte of Edinburgh was his ability to make even the most self-complacent of his respectable congregation wince under his exposure of the corruptness of the unregenerate heart. He was a true surgeon of souls who diagnosed the disease before he administered the remedy. There is an urgent need to adopt that procedure today. A man must be convicted of his sin and his need before he can realise the value of the good news the gospel brings to him.

The Love of God

That leads to another matter - the reality of the love of God. Men will not preach with fervour the glowing reality of the love of God who have not themselves been thoroughly overcome by its warmth. Preachers like Moorhouse literally consumed themselves in their endeavour to convey to their hearers something of their experience of the kindness of God. Men without a passion begotten by a sense of the overwhelming goodness of God cannot convince others of the meaning of the Cross as an exhibition of the love of the heart of God. How counsels in the law courts plead before the judge and jury on behalf of their clients! What fervour they display to create a favourable verdict for an unworthy person! And there many of us fail. We do not preach for a verdict. If we read the Acts of the Apostles we cannot but discover that these men always had in view the forcing of a decision for Christ based upon a proper apprehension of all that was included in the historical facts of the message.

Preachers cannot but take to heart the words of David Garrick during a conversation with the contemporary Bishop of London. "Why is it", enquired the clergyman, "that we who have the truth to announce do not command the attentive audiences that you actors have who deal in make-believe?" "Because", answered Garrick, "you treat the real as if it were unreal, whereas we treat the unreal as if it were real". It was passion that made all the difference.

Our business, then, is to preach the gospel, and to do so effectively we must first know it ourselves. Every address will contain, either explicitly or implicitly, reference to those fundamental facts that Christ died for our sins, that He was raised from the dead and that this is an assured event. The need of today is that a theological gospel should be preached with an evangelical passion.

To be continued.

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