Gospel Preaching: the Message, Motive and Method
E W Rogers, Oxford
We may well thank God for the large number of brethren among us who so regularly render self- sacrificing service in the Gospel. May this searching message be a stimulus to their zeal.
THE first gospel preachers were men with a message. It was not second-hand, but one which they had obtained direct from their Lord. It was, therefore, His word to the people with which they were sent. It was received as the result of immediate contact with Him. While it is true that, as Apostles, they stood in a unique position and possessed unique authority, yet the principle is the same to-day. There is no reason why the preacher of the Gospel should not now also have immediate contact with the Lord Jesus and receive his message direct from Him. He speaks now in the written word which is living and abiding, and is capable of adaptation to the varied modern needs and conditions met with among men and women. The message given to the apostles was vocal; that given to us is written but, in each case, the source is the same and its vital nature is identical. The first essential then to effective preaching is that the preacher should be in touch with the Lord. There should be “nothing between.” His life should be so ordered that it should be free from witting indulgence in all that is contrary to the mind of the Lord. Sin separates from God; it breaks communion; it destroys contact; and puts the ear out of tune so that it cannot receive the word from His lips.
Perhaps the next thing in importance is that the preacher’s motives should be able to bear the test of divine examination. “As of sincerity, as of God, in the sight of God,” is how he should speak in the cause of Christ (2 Cor. 2: 17). God, Himself, must be known as One of his audience; He not only listens to the words of the preacher but He reads his heart and motives. There must be no tickling of the ears. There must be no trimming the sails to the public whim. There must be no mere platitudes which soothe but do not disturb. The message received must be the message transmitted without addition or subtraction. It must not be alloyed for any reason whatsoever. By no means must other considerations be allowed to influence the preacher. How many messages have been distorted because the preacher has endeavoured to save, as he thinks, his reputation or to please his audience, or has had his eye on money. This latter is the bane of organised Christendom and the servant of the Lord is not immune from this danger.
The method adopted is simple: it is as old as Enoch: it will bear no improvement. It is “preaching” or “heralding.” Who could imagine Enoch entertaining his audience so as to make his message more attractive! A band of sympathetic helpers is most useful as Peter found when he “stood up with the eleven"; if eleven are not available one other fellow worker is a source of comfort and strength as Paul often found. “Preaching” is itself no foolish thing (1 Cor. 1: 21 refers to the thing preached, not to the method). The prophets of old and the Lord Himself employed this method of reaching the people. It is admittedly old-fashioned, but it is in every way best. No better vault can be found than that which has the sky as its ceiling. No better place can be found than the market square, or the public park, or the equivalent of a Mar’s Hill, or the usual public rendezvous. The preacher himself is a living witness of the truth of his message. He is one of like passions with his audience from whom any of them may expect a sympathetic understanding. There is nothing to be compared with the living voice of the person who comes into immediate contact with the people. Other methods of approach are altogether inferior; they lack so much that the good which is left is seriously handicapped. Not that they are altogether useless—by no means,—but they are not the best. There is nothing to excel the preaching of a saved sinner who has received a message from the Lord. No wonder he bursts out singing thus:
“I’ve a message from the Lord, Hallelujah.”
The preacher thus stands between God and the people and has dealings with both. From God he first receives the message. To men he thereafter gives it.
If anything should be permitted to prevent the reception by the preacher of the word of the Lord what can result but barren talking? As the audience changes from time to time so it is necessary for the message to be suitable to the particular people for whom it is intended. It is only by constant and unbroken fellowship with God, Who knows the hearts of all men, that the preacher can learn from Him in what manner to clothe each message which, at heart, is always the same in that it has to do with God’s Son and the Cross.