Peter Jeffery With contributions from John MacArthur, Owen Milton, Peyton Jones
GOSPEL PREACHING Peter Jeffery I realize that many who read these words will not be preachers, but these chapters are nevertheless relevant to all believers. Whether we are preachers or hearers, we need to re-examine what we expect from the ministry of the Word. What should we look for? What do we need to hear from the pulpits of our churches? True gospel preaching will not only fulfill the preacher's ministry, but will revive the desire of every believer to make Christ known. Spurgeon said, 'Soul-winning is the chief business of the Christian minister.' He did not say it is the only business of the minister, but that it is certainly the chief business. To dispute this would be to deny the whole thrust of the New Testament regarding the work of the church of Christ. For a preacher to neglect his chief business is a denial of his calling, yet many good biblical preachers openly admit that they feel more comfortable teaching saints than evangelizing sinners. And because there are few unconverted people attending their churches they have ceased preaching the gospel altogether. If soul-winning is our chief business, and we are not winning souls, where does that leave our calling to preach? To quote Spurgeon again, 'Now, in the last place, the man whom Christ makes a fisher of men is successful. But, says one, "I have always heard that Christ's ministers are to be faithful, but that they cannot be sure of being successful." Yes, I have heard that saying, and one way I know it is true, but another way I have my doubts about it. He that is faithful is, in God's way and in God's judgement, successful, more or less. For instance, here is a brother who says that he is faithful. Of course, I must believe him, yet I never heard of a sinner being saved under him. Indeed, I should think that the safest place for a person to be in if he did not want to be saved would be under this gentleman's ministry, because he does not preach anything that is likely to arouse, impress, or convince anybody ... he that never did get any fish is not a fisherman. He that never saved a sinner after years of work is not a minister of Christ. If the result of his life work is nil, he made a mistake when he undertook it.' Spurgeon preached that in 1886 just a few years before he died. It is not, therefore, the intolerant judgement of a young man, but the mature conclusion of an old one. 3
To those of us who may go several years without seeing a conversion, it can sound daunting and devastating. Was Spurgeon revealing an unfair lack of sympathy with preachers less able than himself? It is not my business to defend the renowned Baptist, but I would urge all preachers to seek the answer in his book The Soul Winner. I shall use several quotes from this book, because I believe it will help us to understand and share his thinking. What is the real winning of a soul for God? Spurgeon asks this question and then proceeds to answer it. He says fIrst of all that the sinner must be instructed so that he may know the truth of God. He cites Matthew 28: 19-20: 'Go ... and teach all nations ... teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you,' (AV) and concludes that teaching is the heart of gospel preaching. All too often we seem to accept as a fact that there will be less content in a sermon for sinners than a sermon for saints. Spurgeon would strongly disagree with that. He argues that the gospel is good news and that, 'There is information in it, there is instruction in it concerning matters which men need to know, and statements in it calculated to bless those who hear it. It is not a magical incantation, or a charm, whose force consists in a collection of sounds; it is a revelation of facts and truths which require knowledge and belief. The gospel is a reasonable system, and it appeals to men's understanding; it is a matter for thought and consideration, and it appeals to the conscience and the reflecting powers.' This point is emphasized by Paul's example at the jail at Philippi. The great question is asked: 'What must I do to be saved?' The answer is given: 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.' But Paul did not leave it at that. What exactly was the jailer to believe? Who was Jesus Christ? Acts 16:32 is crucial: 'Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him. and to all the others in his house.' It was as a result of that preaching of the gospel that the jailer and his family were saved. Spurgeon goes on: 'And, do not believe, dear friends, that when you go into special evangelistic services, you are to leave out the doctrines of the gospel; for you ought then to proclaim the doctrines of grace rather more than less. Teach gospel doctrines clearly, affectionately, simply, and plainly, and especially those truths which have a present and practical bearing upon man's condition and God's grace. Some enthusiasts would seem to 4
have imbibed the notion that, as soon as a minister addresses the unconverted, he should deliberately contradict his usual doctrinal discourses, because it is supposed that there will be no conversions if he preaches the whole counsel of God. It just comes to this, brethren: it is supposed that we are to conceal truth and utter a half falsehood, in order to save souls ... This is a strange theory and yet many endorse it. According to them, we may preach the redemption of a chosen number to God's people, but universal redemption when we speak with the outside world; we are to tell believers that salvation is all of grace, but sinners are to be spoken with as if they were to save themselves ...We have not so learned Christ. He who sent us to win souls neither permits us to invent falsehoods, nor to sppress truth. His work can be done without such suspicious methods. ' John Elias makes the same point: 'There is a great defect in the manner of many preachers. It can scarcely be said that the gospel is preached by them ... Though these preachers may not be accused of saying what is false, yet, alas, they neglect stating weighty and necessary truths when opportunities offer. By omitting these important portions of truth in their natural connection, the Word is made subservient to subjects never intended. The hearers are led to deny the truth which the preacher leaves out of his sermons. Omitting any truth intentionally in a sermon leads to the denial of it.' Spurgeon and Elias were soul-winners so we must listen to them. They were not advocating heavy theological sermons that the unconverted will not be able to understand: they were stressing the need to preach the full gospel. If sinners are to be saved they must hear the truth, and all the truth. It is our failure at this point that produces the sort of wishy-washy conversions that give churches so many pastoral problems. We owe it to men and women to tell them all the gospel - to speak of God's eternal purposes in Christ, of election, calling, justification and redemption; of both God's love and wrath; of both heaven and hell; of both grace and human responsibility. Spurgeon says, 'The preacher's work is to throw sinners down in utter helplessness, that they may be compelled to look up to him who alone can help them. To try to win a soul for Christ by keeping that soul in ignorance of any truth, is contrary to the mind of the Spirit... The best attraction is the gospel in all its purity. The weapon with which the Lord conquers men is the truth as it is in Jesus. The gospel will be found equal to every emergency; an arrow which can pierce the hardest heart, a balm which will heal the 5
deadliest wound. Preach it, and preach nothing else.' / Spurgeon's second answer to the question: 'What is the real winning of a soul?' is that we need to impress the sinner so that he feels his need of Christ. In this he keeps the balance between content and presentation. He says, 'A purely didactic [teaching] ministry, which should always appeal to the understanding, and should leave the emotions untouched, would certainly be a limping ministry.' He then proceeds to make the powerful statement that â€˜A sinner has a heart as well as a head; a sinner has emotions as well as thoughts; and we must appeal to both. A sinner will never be converted until his emotions are stirred.' For most of us who love the Bible, it is relatively easy to preach the truth and give a faithful exposition of Scripture. The difficult thing is to preach the truth in such a way that we stir the hearts and prick the consciences of sinners. An easy way out is to say that only the Holy Spirit can do this. That is true, but is it the whole truth? We must not use this as an excuse to avoid our responsibilities and reduce preaching to mere lecturing. How can we preach so that sinners' hearts are stirred? It is not by filling the sermon with sentimental stories and heart-rending illustrations. That may well stir emotions but it will not lead to salvation. That is the method of the actor, not the preacher. Neither will we succeed by filling the service with gimmicks and working up an atmosphere. So how do we do it? We do it in three ways. Firstly, by having regard to the content of our message. What should that content be? We preach, said Paul, 'the unsearchable riches of Christ' (Eph. 3:8). If Christ is not the heart of every sermon, then these riches will be missing and our hearers will go away impoverished. We may use the Bible to preach morality, judgement, history, ecc1esiology, eschatology, and so much else. But unless we unveil Christ 'in all the Scriptures' (Luke 24:27) we shall leave men forlorn and shut the door to grace. Secondly, we shall affect our hearers by preaching to them and for them. This means plenty of application all the way through the sermon, pointing the truths, pushing them home, and showing their relevance to the everyday affairs of life. In this way we will guard against being heavy and boring. Sadly, according to many of God's people who listen to sermons every week, a lot of preachers are simply 6
dull. Their content may well be biblical, but their presentation is so dry that their hearers soon 'switch off' . Our application of Scripture truth must be such that every sinner who hears us knows that God is speaking about, and to, him or her. Sinners are great wrigglers and they must not be allowed to wriggle out of conviction of sin. Furthermore, our application must be appropriate. For instance, if we go on and on about AIDs, the vast majority of unregenerate men and women in the congregation will totally agree. They will be comfortable, even enjoying our tirade, because we are preaching about a sin of which they are not guilty. We must point up the ordinary sins of ordinary people. We should not confuse application with illustration. A well-chosen illustration can help enormously in bringing home a point, and in lightening our presentation. But some preachers go overboard in their attempt to be interesting. lllustrations should be neither too lengthy nor so frequent that they destroy the train of thought and logic. If they are to listen well, people must be able to follow the preacher's argument and line of reasoning. Thirdly, we must give attention to the manner in which we preach. Richard Baxter said, 'I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men. ' In other words, he had a sense of urgency, of deep concern, of warmth and passion. Speaking of pathos, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, 'A special word must be given also to the element of pathos. If I had to plead guilty of one thing more than any other I would have to confess that this perhaps is what has been most lacking in my own ministry. This should arise partly from a love for the people. Richard Cecil, an Anglican preacher in London towards the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, said something which should make us all think, "To love to preach is one thing; to love those to whom we preach is quite another." The trouble with some of us is that we love preaching, but we are not always careful to make sure that we love the people to whom we are actually preaching. If you lack this element of compassion for the people you will also lack the pathos which is a very vital element in all true preaching.' If we do not feel for the people, and do not feel the power and significance of what we are preaching, they will never feel their need of the gospel. It will come across to them as mere words and nothing more. The gospel has to grip our hearts both in our preparation and in the pulpit. 7
It ought to excite us and this will be conveyed to our hearers. Are we afraid of emotion in the pulpit? Lloyd-Jones, having distinguished between emotion and emotionalism, complains, 'Emotion is regarded as something almost indecent. My reply to all that, once more, is simply to say that if you contemplate these glorious truths that are committed to our charge as preachers without being moved by them there is something defective in your spiritual eyesight.' We are not to preach as lecturers, detached from their subject. Neither are we to preach with the silly excitement of actors doing a TV commercial. Our business, according to Spurgeon, is to 'continue to drive at men's hearts till they are broken; and then we must keep on preaching Christ crucified till their hearts are bound up; and when that is accomplished, we must continue to proclaim the gospel till their whole nature is brought into subjection to the gospel of Christ.' The preaching we need today In his biography of Jonathan Edwards, lain Murray has a remarkable chapter entitled 'The Breaking of the Spirit of Slumber'. In this he deals with the type of preaching needed in the 1730s because of the spiritual condition of the day. He says, 'It has sometimes been assumed that the preaching of the eighteenth century leaders in the revivals in North America was simply continuing a well established tradition. That, however, is not the case. The commonly accepted preaching was not calculated to break through the prevailing formalism and indifference, and the preaching which did bring men to a sense of need and humiliation before God was of a very different order.' What was this different preaching that God so richly blessed? Edwards said, 'I know it has long been fashionable to despise a very earnest and pathetical way of preaching, and they only have been valued as preachers who have shown the greatest extent of learning, strength of reason, and correctness of method and language. But.. an increase in speculative knowledge in divinity is not what is so much needed by our people as something else. Men may abound in this sort of light, and have no heat... Our people do not so much need to have their heads stored as to have their hearts touched, and they stand in the greatest need of that sort of preaching which has the greatest tendency to do this.' We are facing people today, in and out of the church, who have little sense of the evil of sin and little love for God. Preaching that merely fills their heads with facts 8
but does not touch their hearts is not going to change anything. Edwards described the people of his day as 'stupidly senseless to the importance of eternal things' . Therefore they needed preaching which would ensure that 'their conscience stares them in the face and they begin to see their need of a priest and a sacrifice'. Note the emphasis on Christ. Such preaching starts with the preacher's apprehension of Christ in his glorious person and saving power. It continues as he feels the urgency of the task and is satisfied with nothing less than the glory of God in the salvation of sinners. Finally, it requires an experience of, and dependence on, the Holy Spirit, who will honour a Christ-centred ministry. lain Murray says, 'True heart-searching, humbling and convicting preaching requires an experimental acquaintance with the Spirit of God on the part of the preacher.' Murray concludes the chapter with these words: 'The preaching through which the spirit of slumber was broken in the 1730s was searching and convincing. A band of men was being raised up for whom the gravity of sin, the possibility of an unsound profession of Christ, and the carelessness of a lost world were pressing burdens. Behind their public utterances was their vision of God an of eternity.'
PREACHING THE GOSPEL AND THE LAW Peter Jeffery
To evangelize is to make known to sinners the good news of the gospel. It is to tell them that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to die upon the cross, that those who believe in him should not perish for their sins, but instead receive everlasting life (John 3:16). Gospel preaching properly focuses upon the death and resurrection of Christ, because without these there is no atonement for sin, no justification, and thus no gospel. It was the love of God that made the cross possible. But it is the holiness of God that makes the cross necessary. If God were not holy he could treat sin as casually as we do, but his holiness demands that sin be punished legally and fully. The character of God demands that he must be just as well as the justifier (that is, the one who justifies the ungodly). 9
The law that God gave to Israel at Sinai, by the hand of Moses, is a verbal expression of the holiness of his character. It puts into words what God is, and what God expects. Thus when the law says, 'You shall have no gods beside me,' it is not evidence of petty resentment on the part of God, but of holy jealousy. God demands our sole obedience because all other gods are false gods and will lead us astray. The law, then, is restrictive only in order to be protective. It is for our good, or to put it another way, it expresses both God's holiness and his love. It is impossible to preach a full gospel without both these ingredients being present. The aim of evangelism is to bring sinners to a saving experience of Christ. But how are sinners saved? The answer to that will determine whether or not there is any relationship between evangelism and law. If salvation is only a decision that the sinner makes in response to the offer of salvation; if it is simply 'deciding to accept Jesus as my Saviour', or merely 'giving my heart to Jesus' - then there will be no place for preaching the law, because there will be no place for either conviction of sin or repentance. Much of modem evangelism has bypassed the call for repentance because it has reduced salvation to an act of human will. It couches the offer of the gospel in language such as, 'To be happy you need Jesus' ; 'You need Jesus to mend your marriage', and so on. In such 'preaching' the law of God would be an inappropriate intrusion. But if salvation is impossible without conviction of sin and repentance, then the law is crucial. For it is the very purpose of the law to convince us of our sin, and only such conviction leads to repentance. What is conviction of sin? It is not 'conviction of sin for a man to feel bad because he is drinking too much or generally making a mess of his life. Sin is not just a violation of socially accepted standards. To see sin only in social or moral terms will not lead people to conviction. Sin must be seen in the light of the law and holiness of God. The gospel is not an aspirin for the aches of life, to soothe and comfort man in his misery. It is a hoIy God's answer to the violation of divine law by human beings whose very nature is to rebel against Him. So, says Dr Jim Packer, we are not preaching the gospel, 'if all we do is to present Christ in terms of a man's felt wants. (Are you happy? Are you satisfied? Do you want peace of mind? Do you feel you have failed? Are you fed up with yourself? Do you want a friend? Then come to Christ...... To be convicted of sin 10
means ... to realize that one has offended God, and flouted his authority,and defied him, and gone against him, and put oneself in the wrong with him. To preach Christ means to set him forth as the one who through his Cross sets men right with God again. To put faith in Christ means relying on him, and him alone, to restore us to God's fellowship and favour.' Most people think salvation is the product of morality and religious observance. In spite of the clarity of the New Testament message, they still cling to their own efforts to save themselves. But salvation by works never creates conviction of sin because it fails miserably to take into account the holiness, purity and justice of God. It sees sin only as a moral or social blemish and not as an affront to the Word, law and character of God. It is the law of God which produces conviction because it shows us our sin in relationship, not to society and people, but to God. It shows us that we have failed to meet God's requirements. Salvation remains impossible as long as God's demands remain unsatisfied. What are God's demands? God requires from us a righteousness equal to his own. We may think that is unreasonable, but it is not. God created man sinless, and he wants us to be the way he intended us to be. That is not unreasonable, but it is impossible! Our sin makes it impossible. We cannot satisfy God's reasonable demands. So where does that leave us? It leaves us unable to save ourselves and needing a Saviour. And this Saviour will have to provide for us a righteousness as good as God's. Where can such a righteousness be found? In Christ, says the Bible. 'God made him [Christ], who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God' (2 Cor. 5:21). And it is this righteousness, Christ's own perfect righteousness imputed to the sinner, that is revealed in the gospel 'I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of every one who believes ... For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed ... ' (Rom. 1:17). Thus the gospel makes known to us God's solution to the problem: in Christ, God provides for us the very righteousness that He demands. That is the gospel. There is a righteousness from God that comes to us through faith in Jesus Christ. A sinner can hear all this and not make head or tail of it unless he is convinced of sin, unless he first sees his own helplessness and hopelessness. He must see that he is not meeting God's demands and that he can never meet them. He must see his sin in relationship to God and the function of the law is to show him just that. The law 11
makes no attempt to compare one man with another; it takes us allto the yardstick of the holiness of God and there we all fail miserably.
The purpose of the law Writing to the Galatians, Paul asks, 'What, then, was the purpose of the law?' (Gal. 3: 19). A few verses later, he answers his own question: 'The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ' (Gal. 3:24). This is the role of the law in evangelism. When we are talking of evangelism and the law of God it is the moral law we have particularly in mind, that is, the Ten Commandments. This is not to say that other parts of the law of Moses have no application in preaching the gospel. For example, the death of the animal sacrifices reminds us that death is the penalty for sin. It also foreshadows the substitutionary work of Christ. But the Decalogue has a particular place in evangelism, because it is through these commandments that men are made aware of their sinful state. That being the case, we have to ask, what is the relationship of man to the moral law? The answer is twofold. Before Adam sinned, he had a wholly positive relationship to the law of God. But after the Fall, that relationship changed dramatically. W. G. T. Shedd, in his Sermons to the Natural Man, says, 'The moral law in its own nature, and by the divine ordination, is suited to produce holiness and happiness in the soul of any and every man. It was ordained to life. So far as the purpose of God, and the original nature and character of man, are concerned, the ten commandments are perfectly adapted to fill the soul with peace and purity. In the unfallen creature, they work no wrath, neither are they the strength of sin. If everything in man had remained as it was created, there would have been no need of urging him to "become dead to the law", to be "delivered from the law", and not be "under the law". Had man kept his original righteousness, it could never be said of him that "The strength of sin is the law." On the contrary, there was such a mutual agreement between the unfallen nature of man and the holy law of God, that the latter was the very joy and strength of the former. The commandment was ordained to life, and it was the life and peace of holy Adam. There is nothing wrong or lacking, therefore, in the law. The fault lies in ourselves, that we are sinners. It is our sinful state that puts us under 'the curse of the law' (Gal. 3: 10) and makes us rebel against it because we are sinners the law of God is obnoxious to us, and that for two reasons. 12
The first reason is that the law is law, and the sinner does not like being told he is wrong. He does not like absolutes; he prefers standards that are relative, because he can manipulate such standards to serve his own convenience. The absolutes of God's law defy such human ingenuity: they will not appease his conscience and they leave him forever uncomfortable in the presence of God. The second reason is that it is the law of God. There is a holiness about the law that will not yield an inch to man's sinfulness. It makes no allowances and accepts no plea in mitigation. It is the unchanging law of an unchanging God and is thus as holy and pure as God himself. There are two ways in which man could come to terms with God's law. The fIrst is if the law could be altered so that it could agree with man's sinful inclination. He would then be happy in his sin because the law would become like his own heart and there would be no conflict between man and law. The second is if man could be changed so that the inclinations and desires of his heart would be in accordance with divine law. Then again there would be no conflict. The first of these two 'options' is not on. The second is made possible by the gospel of God's grace. But if the gospel is to have this effect, it must be presented in a way that makes clear where man's problem lies. The prime purpose of the gospel is not to make men happy, but to make them righteous in the sight of God. Therefore there is no way the gospel can be preached without the law also being preached. It is only the preaching of the law that shows man what his problem really is, since it is through the law that we become conscious of sin (Rom. 3:20). The law presents us fIrmly and forcibly with the fact of our own personal sin and guilt (Rom. 3:20; 4:15; 5:13) and having done that, it can lead us in repentance and faith to Christ. Shedd asks, 'Of what use is the law to a fallen man?' He answers, 'It is preached and forced home in order to detect sin, but not to remove it, to bring men to a consciousness of the evil of their hearts, but not to change their hearts.' In other words, there are limits to what the law can do for us. It forgives none of the sin it reveals; it cannot change the heart it convicts of vileness and depravity; it saves no lost sinner. Therefore the gospel preacher's responsibility is to use the law for its prescribed purpose and then move on quicky to the grace of God in Christ to heal the wound the law has exposed. The purpose of the law is to lead us to Christ. 13
Misuses of love and law in gospel preaching There is a preaching of the love of God that can encourage people to continue in their sin. A woman who had been having psychological problems, and was being treated by a psychiatrist, began to attend an evangelical church. She came under conviction of sin as, through the preaching, she saw her sin and guilt. She told her psychiatrist and he was angry and told her to stop attending that church. She did so, and attended another so-called evangelical church. She told them of her experience and of her psychiatrist's anger at her feeling guilty. They said that would not happen in their church because they would surround her with the love of Jesus. To be surrounded with the love of Jesus sounded very spiritual but sadly, in reality, it meant in this case that that church never preached sin or repentance and sinners were never confronted with their real need. If we are not guilty of this mistake, consider something else that we may well be guilty of. There is a preaching of the law that can discourage sinners from ever seeking Christ. The law is meant to expose the wound so that the balm of the gospel can be applied, but many preachers use the law not so much to expose the wound as to mutilate the body. What I mean is that too often our gospel preaching lacks balance. It is 95% sin, judgement and hell, while the element of good news becomes a two-minute postscript added at the end. You cannot preach the gospel without the law, but the law cannot save. The purpose of preaching the gospel is to save; therefore gospel preaching should be pre-eminently a preaching of Christ and the cross. To reduce that to a postscript is not to preach the gospel at all. In preparing a gospel sermon we should give a great deal of thought to its balance. It needs both law and grace, and the balance between these is very important. What is the correct balance? It may be that in our days there needs to be a stronger emphasis on God's holiness and law than is common. This aspect has been neglected for so long that men no longer blush at their sin. But having said that, our purpose is not to leave men with a sense of guilt. It is to lead them to the Lord Jesus Christ who in his love and mercy can deal with that guilt. 14
The correct use of the law in gospel preaching How, in conclusion then, should we use the law in preaching to the lost? What is the correct use of the law in evangelism? By correct I mean biblical. Romans 3:20 and Galatians 3:21 tell us clearly that the law cannot save, bÎźt it is essential in turning a sinner to Christ for salvation. This is because it teaches three things that a man must understand if he is to be truly converted. 1. The law must be used to teach the sinner the holiness of God One of the basic problems with man is that he does not take sin seriously and this is because he does not take God seriously. There is always the tendency to reduce God to manageable terms. Every system of religion apart from biblical Christianity does this. Tozer wrote, 'Among the sins to which the human heart is prone hardly any other is more hateful to God than idolatry, for idolatry is at bottom a libel on his character. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than he is - in itself a monstrous sin - and substitutes for the true God one made after his own likeness. Always this god will conform to the image of the one who created it and it will be base or pure, cruel or kind, according to the moral state of the mind from which it emerges.' It is this thinking that lies behind the saying: 'The God I believe in would never send people to hellâ€™ The only answer to such unbiblical nonsense is to see and appreciate God as the Holy One. As we understand more of God's holiness, we shall inevitably also understand more of man's sinfulness and the necessity of Christ's atoning death. God's holiness is revealed gloriously in the law and the cross. God is holy and everything he does and instigates is holy. This is seen clearly in the law; its commandments, says Romans 7:12, are 'holy, righteous and good'. The law forbids sin in all its forms, whether it be the vileness of idolatry, murder or adultery, or sin in its more subtle forms of pride and covetousness. God forbids sin because it is repugnant to his holiness and it pollutes and harms his creation. If the law cannot restrict sin then God will destroy sin. God's wrath and justice are direct consequences of his holiness. God hates sin, as a mother hates a disease that is killing her child. In preaching the law we must not put before the sinner vague and tentative suggestions as to what God thinks, but clear and precise statements of his attitude to the issues that confront men every day. The law leaves us in no doubt as to the 15
holiness of God, and this confronts the sinner with a huge dilemma. What can he do? His sin condemns him and the holiness of God leaves him with no escape. The law has pushed him into a corner and kicked away the crutches he was depending on. He feels useless and hopeless. But this is the point at which he must arrive if he is to embrace by faith what Christ has done to redeem lost sinners such as he. As Spurgeon said, 'A man is never so near grace as when he begins to feel he can do nothing at all.' 2. The law must be used to show the sinner the reality of his sin Sin was a fact long before the law was given by God and it reaped its grim harvest of death from Adam to Moses. It was while mankind languished in that terrible condition of sin, condemnation and death, that God added the law (Rom. 5:20). 'It was not', says Leon Morris, 'concerned with preventing sin (it was too late for that). Nor was it concerned with salvation from sin (it was too weak for that). The law can only condemn (Rom. 4:15). It was concerned with showing sin for what it is, and it certainly showed magnificently that there was much sin.' The law shows up sin and prevents man justifying it with pathetic excuses. So when a man excuses his temper as a temperamental weakness, the law of God says, 'No, it is sin.' When a man excuses his sexual lusts as being natural in any red-blooded man, the law says, 'No, it is sin.' Thus the law defines and pin-points sin. The meaning of 'You shall not commit adultery,' cannot be misunderstood. Men can wriggle all they like in discomfort under such a command, but they can never say it was not clear. They can argue all day that such teaching is old fashioned, and that we must be modern, but they know in their hearts that the commandment is right, especially when it is their own spouse who commits adultery . The function of the gospel preacher is to use the law to make people see their sin as God sees it. It is to make the sinner think in terms of God's absolute standards, not the ever-changing whims of society. The preacher is always up against fluctuating standards of morality and changing views of what is right and wrong. This fluctuation makes the sinner feel comfortable because what he was doing wrong ten years ago may well now be considered right in the eyes of society. What he is doing wrong now may well be acceptable in five years time. So he thinks, 'What is the problem? I am free to make my own rules.' We must show him that his problem is 16
with the unchanging standards of God; that he will be judged by God, not by trendy TV producers or the editors of tabloid newspapers.
3. The law must be used to point sinners to Christ We often quote Romans 3:23: 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.' But Paul does not put a full stop after this statement. He continues, 'and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus' (Rom. 3:24). The whole point of bringing the sinner to a realization of his sin is that he might forsake his works and flee to Christ for deliverance. Thus we should never preach the law without also preaching the redemption that is in Christ. This work of redemption, says the apostle, justifies the sinner in the sight of God. Christ has borne the curse of the law, 'becoming a cursefor us' (Gal. 3:13), that we might be declared righteous before God. This imputed righteousness, Paul continues, is free. It cannot be obtained by anything we are or do, for Christ has already paid the whole price. He has 'bought [the church] with his own blood' (Acts 20:28). He has purged our sins 'by himself'; that is, without our aid or cooperation (Heb. 1:3, NKJV). Any attempt to tender our good works or religious offerings to secure our salvation is a negation of the gospel and a rejection of Christ's finished work. Finally, this redemption is by grace. It is the outcome of God's eternal purpose, motivated by God's eternal love and carried to certain fruition by God's eternal Son. Grace is God's propensity to give eternal riches to those who deserve eternal condemnation, that he might receive eternal glory. The law exposes our devastating poverty so that we might find unsearchable riches in Christ. Let us be warned, therefore: if the law of God is on our lips, the love of God must be in our hearts and the compassion of Christ in our minds. This is how we should preach the law, for only thus will God be honoured.
TRUE PREACHING Peter Jeffery Preaching should confront men and women with God and eternity. In order to do this, it has to be biblical. It has to tell people what God is saying in his Word. From the preacher's point of view, this does two things. It helps to give him an authority that is far more than his own ability and gifts of oratory. People need to know that God is speaking through his servant. Secondly, it gives the preacher an endless source of material to preach. He is not dependent upon current events for his sermon topics, but has a huge reservoir of biblical teaching to draw upon. Great preachers varied in nationality, temperament and sometimes in doctrine but they all sought to bring God to the people. This is why they made a difference. They set out not merely to inform people, but to transform them. The most drastic and radical transformation that a man can know is that from spiritual death to spiritual life. These men preached for this. They knew that the sinner's greatest need is for regeneration, so they preached to reach his heart and soul. This governed how they preached and created in them a great desire to preach Christ, the cross and his redeeming blood. They preached to create a conviction of sin in the unbeliever. It is not conviction of sin for a man to feel bad because he is drinking too much or generally making a mess of his life. Sin is not just a violation of socially accepted standards. To see sin only in social or moral terms will not lead people to conviction. Sin must be seen in the light of the law and holiness of God. The gospel is not an aspirin for the aches of life, to soothe and comfort people in their misery. It is a holy God's answer to the violation of divine 18
law by human beings whose very nature is to rebel against him. Most people think salvation is the product of morality and religious observance. In spite of the clarity of the New Testament message, they still cling to their own efforts to save themselves. But salvation by works never creates conviction of sin because it fails miserably to take into account the holiness, purity and justice of God. It sees sin only as a moral or social blemish and not as an affront to the Lord, law and character of God. It is the law of God which produces conviction because it shows us our sin in relationship, not to society and people, but to God. It shows us that we have failed to meet God's requirements. A common feature of all great preachers is a longing for success-to see souls saved. Andrew Bonar says of Robert Murray McCheyne, 'He entertained so full a persuasion that a faithful minister has every reason to expect to see souls converted under him, that when this was withheld, he began to fear that some hidden evil was provoking the Lord and grieving the Spirit. And ought it not to be so with all of us? Ought we not to suspect, either that we are not living near to God, or that our message is not a true transcript of the glad tidings, in both matter and manner, when we see no souls brought to Jesus? Bonar continues. 'Two things he seems never to have ceased from - the cultivation of personal holiness and the most anxious efforts to win souls., How McCheyne links these two things is highly significant. He wrote to William Burns in September 1840, 'I am also deepened in my conviction, that if we are to be instruments in such a work, we must be purified from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. Oh, cry for personal holiness, constant nearness to God, by the blood of the Lamb. Bask in his beams - lie back in the arms of love - be filled with his Spirit-or all success in the ministry will only be to your own everlasting confusion ... How much more useful might we be, if we were only more free from pride, self conceit, personal vanity, or some secret sin that our heart knows. Oh! hateful sins, that destroy our peace and ruin souls.' McCheyne believed that 'In the case of a faithful ministry, success is the rule and the lack of it the exception.' And when there was no success, no souls saved, he did not blame the people but looked first at his own heart. BORN NOT MADE Preachers are born, not made. Was Jeremiah the only preacher set apart by God before he was born (Jeremiah 1:5)? Was he an exception or the norm? 19
Preachers are not the products of education and training but are men set apart by God and equipped by the Holy Spirit for their life's work. This does not mean that they do not need training, but above all there needs to be the call of God. Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones and Moody had no formal theological training but it was obvious that they were prepared by God and that his hand was upon them. Preaching is a special gift from God and those who have it need to guard it carefully and seek to nurture it for use to God's glory. Many evangelicals today have lost confidence in preaching. We may lament this and mourn the fact that in some churches music and drama have replaced preaching. But why has it happened? Is it not the fault of preachers themselves? Is it not because gospel preaching too often lacks authority, relevance and power, and consequently fails to save souls? It has been said that the most urgent need in the Christian church today is true preaching. Most preachers would agree with that but many Christians in the pew do not. That is not surprising if the preaching they hear is so sentimental as to have no substance, or so intellectual that they cannot understand it. What is true preaching? What constitutes true gospel preaching? It involves both a proper content and a correct presentation. The gospel must be preached in a language that people can understand. In the last century, Spurgeon was pleading, 'We need in the ministry, now and in all time, men of plain speech. The preacher's language must not be that of the classroom, but of all classes; not of the university, but of the universe ... "Use market language," said George Whitefield, and we know the result. We need men who not only speak so that they can be understood, but so that they cannot be misunderstood.' Plain speech is not slang but simple language and concepts that people can understand. Preachers will only make a difference when their preaching clearly shows to people the Lord Jesus Christ. The only difference that is of any significance is the one Christ makes in the hearts of men and women. It is possible for a preacher to make a difference to his hearers that is only temporary. He comes and preaches and makes a great impact but if you passed that way in a year's time, you would see that there is now no longer any difference to be seen. It was only temporary and this is because it was not the gospel, not Christ, that made the difference but the preacher himself. Such preaching is only a form of entertainment. It does not confront sinners with God, but merely holds their attention for a while until something else comes along. 20
A SERIOUS RESPONSIBILITY Preaching is not a hobby but should occupy a man's whole life and thinking. The preacher sees everything in relationship to his ministry. In this sense he is never on holiday. His mind is continuously taken up with the next sermon and the next congregation. The seriousness of the matter causes what Paul calls in I Corinthians 2:3-4 a 'trembling'. What do we know of this trembling? Why did Paul with all his great abilities preach in weakness, fear and trembling? Surely it must have been because he felt the awesome responsibility preaching puts upon a man. Preachers who make a difference know something of this trembling. It was said of McCheyne that when he entered the pulpit, people would weep before he opened his mouth - to quote Lloyd-Jones, 'There was something about his face, and in the conviction which his hearers possessed that he had come from God; he was already preaching before he opened his mouth. A man sent from God is aware of this burden. He trembles because of the momentous consequences, the issues, that depend upon what he does. Preaching is the most exciting and uncertain activity a man can partake in. The preacher never knows what is going to happen when he steps into a pulpit. In fact, anything can happen when the power of the Holy Spirit comes and divine unction dominates the ministry. Thomas Olivers was antagonistic to the gospel and went to hear George Whitefield preach in the open air with the intention of disrupting the meeting. But when the preacher started, he was unable to interrupt and was compelled to listen. Whitefield had a bad turn in his eye and his enemies called him Dr Squintum, but Olivers said that it did not matter which way Whitefield's head was facing, 'his eye was always on me.' He was saved and went on to write that great hymn 'The God of Abraham praise'. Preaching is also a battle because the devil hates it. He does not mind men who get into a pulpit to give a nice, gentle homily, but he hates it when Christ is uplifted and sinners are confronted with the holy God. This battle takes many forms. Sometimes it is in the heart and mind of the preacher as he grapples with his own unworthiness. Sometimes the devil attacks him before he leaves home for church with tensions with his children. Sometimes the attack is frontal. One of the greatest preachers I have ever heard was the late Douglas MacMillan of Scotland. Douglas was preaching for us at Rugby in a series of evangelistic meetings. I was ill in bed and unable to attend. After the service Douglas came into my bedroom to 21
see me, and I could see by his face that the service had not gone well. Some of the young men of the church had gone into the streets to try to get passers-by to come in. They persuaded two twelve-year-old boys to come. The boys came in and were quiet throughout the service but Douglas told me that he felt evil coming from one of these boys which bound him in his preaching. Douglas MacMillan was a strong man physically, intellectually and spiritually, yet this twelve-year-old boy so affected his preaching that he felt bound. That has to be the attack of Satan. Preaching is no cosy chat but a taking on of hell in preaching the gospel to sinners. The best of sermons can be left flat and lifeless. The greatest sense of expectancy can be dashed. But the opposite is also true, and such power can come from God on to the preaching that is inexplicable in terms of anything merely human. Heaven and hell are locked in battle when the gospel is preached. Great preachers are so only because God is pleased to bless their preaching and use them in remarkable ways. They will have other things going for them, such as natural abilities, but it is God who makes the difference. They are aware of this and are continuously sensitive to the hand of God on them. To them, this is the only thing that matters. They will prepare their sermons diligently and seek to prepare themselves spiritually, but they do not depend on these and all the time they look for divine unction
GOSSIPING THE GOSPEL Peter Jeffery You do not need a pulpit to preach the gospel though the pulpit is the more conventional way. But God has given his church many ways to make known his love in a dark world. God may not have given you any of the gifts necessary for preaching but he has given you all the gifts you need to gossip the gospel to friends and neighbours. When we are willing to use these gifts it is amazing how many opportunities are given us to do so. This informal witness is not a substitute for pulpit preaching but a supplement to it. It is a means of bringing folk to church to hear a fuller account of gospel truths. The most effective evangelism is unorganized where ordinary believers tell people about Jesus. If your church wants to organize a gospel campaign there is no need to import a big name evangelist to preach for you, just motivate your own people to get out among their friends and speak about Jesus. Several years ago I was preaching in California and the church organizing my itinerary told me that they had arranged a BBQ at the home of one of the Christians. This woman had been converted a year before through listening to a sermon of mine on tape and now she wanted all her neighbours to hear the good news so she invited them to her home to hear this British preacher. That night I spoke to about 70 unbelievers at her 23
home. They came because obviously they respected this woman and wanted to hear what had so changed her life. The last recorded words of the risen Christ to his apostles before his ascension were, 'you will be my witnesses ... ' Every Christian is called to be a witness. Witnessing begins with caring It begins, firstly, with caring about the glory of God. God is not glorified and honoured in this world because the vast majority of people do not know and love him. His truth is trampled in the mud and his name taken in vain. The only way for this to change is for people to become Christians. Look at how different your attitude to God is now, compared to what it was before you were converted. If you care enough about God's glory, you will tell people the good news of the gospel. Witnessing begins, secondly, with caring about people caring about unbelievers in their bondage and spiritual blindness. Without Christ, men and women are going to hell. Do you care? Then witness to them of the only way of salvation. Many Christians are timid about witnessing. To counteract this a great many different methods and schemes of personal evangelism have been devised. This is all done with the best of intentions, but it does not provide the answer to the problem. It makes witnessing too mechanical and artificial, so that instead of being a natural overflow, it becomes rather like scraping the bottom of the barrel. Witnessing flows out of worship If witnessing begins with caring, it is also true to say that witnessing flows out of worship. Too many older Christians tell new converts that the first thing they need to do is to learn how to witness. This is wrong. The prime need of the new convert is to learn to worship. Witnessing will always be difficult unless the heart of the believer is absorbed in God. My heart is full of Christ, and longs Its glorious matter to declare! Of Him I make my loftier songs, I cannot from His praise forbear; 24
My ready tongue makes haste to sing The glories of my heavenly King. Charles Wesley is perfectly correct. Fill your heart with worship of Christ, and witness will inevitably be the overflow of your experience of God. Read Acts 2:4147. God may never call you to be a preacher or a missionary, but if you are a Christian he has already called you to be a witness for him in this world. In Acts 11, where we read that the gospel started spreading into all the world, God did not only use great preachers. Ordinary timid believers were used: 'Some of them, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord' (vv.20-21). Take heart from this, and follow the example of those nameless saints. In word and deed You must never forget that once you are known as a Christian, everything you do is a witness. It may be a good witness or a bad witness. Your behaviour is every bit as important as your words. People will quite rightly dismiss all you say if they do not see the gospel having an effect upon your life. Witnessing, therefore, is not an occasional happening, but a twenty-four hour business. Your life will show where you stand with God, but it is your words, more than anything else, that will show unbelievers where they stand. The gospel must be spoken (Romans 10:14). The people in your home, school, factory or office need to hear of God's love and offer of salvation. If you do not tell them, it may well be that no one else will. You must never confine your witnessing merely to giving a testimony of your own experience of God. This can, of course, be included, but your purpose must be to present people with the gospel. They must be shown that they are sinners (Romans 3:23), under the wrath and judgement of God (Romans 1:18) and already condemned by God (John 3:18). You must tell them that God demands repentance (Acts 3:19; 17:30) so that they can then turn in faith to Christ for salvation (Ephesians 2:4-9; John 1:12). In your witness, do not be arrogant or aggressive. On the other hand, do not be timid or apologetic. Speak naturally and warmly of the things of God. Do not be 25
over-concerned about proving a point and winning an argument. Be patient and loving. Do not be surprised if you are ridiculed for your strange beliefs (Acts 26:24; 1 Corinthians 4: 10). Keep pointing people to Jesus. Let his name be the word most frequently upon your lips, that people may see you are Christ's servants. Be concerned for individuals. ‘If you had one hundred empty bottles before you, and threw a pail of water over them, some would get a little in them, but most would fall outside. If you wish to fill the bottles, the best way is to take each bottle separately and put a vessel full of water to the bottle's mouth. That is successful personal work. C. H Spurgeon
The Sinner Neither Willing Nor Able John MacArthur The world’s only hope is the Gospel. It is therefore critical that we understand the nature of our message and the foundations of our Gospel. That’s what prompted me to address the subject of total depravity—fallen humanity’s unwillingness and inability to love God, obey Him, or please Him in any way. This is a major Gospel theme. In John 5:39-40 our Lord says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” He was saying that those who search the Scriptures with a view toward eternal life—Scriptures which bear 26
unstinting testimony to Christ as Savior and Lord—are nonetheless unwilling to come to Him. Why? Because of their depravity. Depravity the Most Despised Doctrine Jesus also said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44, emphasis added). He is presenting here the doctrine of human unwillingness and inability, which is perhaps the most thoroughly despised doctrine in all the Bible. The idea that sinners are completely helpless to redeem themselves (or even make any contribution to their redemption from sin and divine judgment) is a distinctively Christian doctrine, contrary to all non-Christian views of man or humankind. All the major religions in the world apart from biblical Christianity are based on the notion that righteousness is gained by good works. At their core is the idea that people can be good enough either to merit the favor of some deity or at least to enjoy a happy afterlife. Therefore, in one way or another, all false systems of religion teach that redemption hinges on human ability, human works, human willpower, self-atonement, or the supposed basic goodness of humanity. Naturally, then, all of them are compelled in one sense or another to deny the totality of mankind’s depravity. One of the inevitable features of universal human fallenness is self-deception about one’s true condition, based on the dominating reality of human pride. Practically every sinner is convinced (to some degree) that he is fundamentally good—or at the very least, that he isn’t quite as bad as someone else. Of course, most people are apt to admit, casually, that they’re not perfect. A few might even acknowledge that they actually sin against God. But hardly any will admit that they are truly evil. They have no ability to see any evil in their good, and they especially tend not to acknowledge any evil in their religion. They therefore cannot admit—even to themselves—that they are incurably evil, hostile to God, and utterly incapable of any true good. People will go to almost any length to try to obscure or paper over their depravity. Many even invoke the name of the one true God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and claim to love Him, while in reality they detest Him. They may have a genuine but sentimental affection for some god of their own making, suited to their own preferences—and often they will even call that imaginary god by the name of the true God—but they actually hate and cannot love the God of both the Old and 27
New Testaments. Their refusal to acknowledge the true extent of their own wickedness is proof of their unbelief. In fact, no sin could possibly be more heinous than such a refusal to love God as He truly is. It entails a breach of both the first and second commandments— starting with a failure to love the Lord our God with a whole heart and have no other gods before Him, and then compounding the error by worshiping one’s own imaginary image instead of bowing to the true God of Scripture. The tendency to invent false gods and insist they are the true God—the sin of idolatry—is another universal trait of fallen humanity, and it is one more vivid proof of how utterly depraved the human heart really is. Even when people have flagrant sins that are exposed in undeniable ways, or when they are otherwise compelled to confess some specific evil in their lives, they still will usually steadfastly deny that they are so thoroughly evil as to be unable to redeem themselves (or at least contribute something of merit to their redemption). Even the most grotesque sinners often blithely imagine that God will never actually judge them or hold them eternally accountable for their sins. They’ll often insist they really aren’t so bad after all. Conversely, the godliest people are invariably those who are most aware of their own depravity. The most humble and spiritually minded saints are actually more conscious of the sin in their hearts and lives—and more ready to confess it—than some of the most wicked evildoers the world has ever seen. John Bunyan, for example, author of the classic The Pilgrim’s Progress, said in his spiritual autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, “The best prayer I ever prayed had enough sin in it to damn the whole world.” The prophet Isaiah, using unusually strong language in Hebrew, wrote, “All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6). Isaiah was describing a kind of defilement so vile it’s not normally mentioned in polite society—an uncleanness so thoroughly defiling and so permanently staining that garments contaminated in such a way needed to be destroyed rather than being laundered And notice: that’s the biblical appraisal of the good things we do—our righteous deeds, not our most sinful ones. I am deeply concerned, because many evangelical spokesmen today seem to hate the truth of total depravity. They often bend over backward to avoid it. You’ll sometimes hear preachers simply echoing worldly notions about self-esteem and positive thinking, as if those were biblical and spiritual ideas. Nothing could be 28
further from the truth. The view that people are fundamentally good actually betrays a hatred of the God of Scripture—because such a message deceives sinners about their sinfulness, and it hides the true God behind a benign, domesticated god of some worldly psychologist’s making. In fact, depravity is often most minimized in the very contexts when it should be proclaimed with the utmost clarity. Remember, the notion that man has enough goodness in him to contribute in some way to his salvation is one of the foundational errors of all false religion. Of all the errors that need to be most clearly refuted today, at the head of the list is the popular notion that the sinners’ real problem is low self-esteem—so his perspective of himself simply needs to be pumped up. In major segments of evangelicalism, that idea has been adopted, baptized, and blessed with spiritual-sounding benedictions. It has even become the basis of manipulative church-growth strategies. This is no minor problem. Those who reject, despise, minimize, or ignore the doctrine of depravity have done as much to impede the advance of the Gospel as open enemies of the Cross. (That is not to say they’re all not Christians, but it is to say they’re profoundly confused at best.) To grasp the truth of human depravity is to begin understanding all the other doctrinal components of salvation. One you grasp the significance of human depravity, all the other major principles of grace and redemption soon become obvious. Most of all, if you see the reality of depravity, you must then see that true Gospel ministry transcends all forms of manipulation and is purely a divine work. The doctrine of human depravity therefore honors God completely like no other truth, because it leaves absolutely no honor for man in regard to salvation.
The Biblical Truth Regarding Human Depravity When the Bible speaks about the condition of the sinner, what does it say? The terminology is stark. The Bible often employs the language of death; sometimes darkness, blindness, hardness, slavery, incurable sickness, and alienation. The Holy Scriptures are clear that depravity is a condition that affects the entire body, mind, emotions, desires, motives, will, and behavior. It is a condition of total, helpless bondage. No sinner unaided by God can ever overcome it.
Despite that obvious truth, pragmatism dominates the professing church. Theology has been replaced by or subverted by methodology. Throughout history, denominations have been established and defined in terms of doctrine, but today the stress is on style and technique. Much of current evangelical strategy merely aims only to identify what people most desire, and then tells them Jesus will give it to them if they would but choose Him. God is portrayed as sitting in heaven, wringing His hands and loving everyone intensely, yet frustrated when people won’t come to Him for the things they desire. Few seem to consider that what the unconverted sinner actually desires is the last thing God wants to give him—and what the gospel actually says about fallen humanity is the last thing sinners want to hear. Some very familiar texts deal with this. Let’s start with Ephesians 2: “You were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (vv. 1-3). The prepositional phrase “by nature” in verse 3 can also be translated “by birth.” We have inherited a corrupt nature from Adam. Paul’s epistle to the Romans is clear that “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (5:12). First Corinthians 15 is rightly called the Resurrection Chapter, and here is a clue why: “Since by a man came death, by a man came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (vv. 21-22). We have all literally inherited death; and death epitomizes the corruption Adam’s sin passed to his progeny. We are sinners by nature from birth. That explains why you don’t have to teach children to disobey; that comes naturally to all of us. The human condition is a profound state of depravity, driven by “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16). If anything is to change us, it must be the grace of God. That is why Ephesians 2:4-5 is such good news: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” This is a divine miracle in which God makes the dead alive! 30
Ephesians 4:18 describes unbelievers as “being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.” It is a condition from which the sinner cannot recover on his own. Colossians 2:13 declares, “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive.” God commands, and life comes. This is analogous to the resurrection of Lazarus, who was dead for four days before the Lord called him to walk out of his tomb. There was no residual spark of life in Lazarus that contributed to his resurrection. Without the living Christ, he was as helpless as any other corpse. We are a race of Lazaruses, dependent upon the grace of God for new life. This is foundational truth. It’s also a truth that permeates Scripture—including some familiar texts you may never have associated with the doctrine of depravity. John 1:12-13 declares, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of … the will of man, but of God.” No one is born a child of God, but must become one. That is precisely what Jesus tried to explain to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus picks up on Jesus’ word picture and asks, “How can a man be born again when he is old?” He understands that man has no capability to bring birth to himself, but the truth that he was fallen and in need of a new birth was as hard for Nicodemus as it is for you and me. (In fact, Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and the doctrine of depravity was especially odious to Pharisees, because they had more personally invested in trying to earn divine favor through good works than anyone.) So Jesus responded, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit”—a reference to Ezekiel 36:25-27 about spiritual cleansing and regeneration—“he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” so the flesh cannot produce spiritual life. “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Nicodemus, however, was both amazed and confused, saying, “How can these things be?” Now, notice what Jesus doesn’t say: He doesn’t say, “Here are four steps,” or , “Pray this prayer after me.” But what He does say in verse 8 is absolutely shocking to anyone whose confidence might be in human free will: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.” What kind of answer is 31
that? Our Lord is saying, “Spiritual birth is not up to you; it’s up to the Holy Spirit, and you have no control over where or when the Spirit moves.” Salvation is a divine work. It has to be, since flesh just produces flesh. Dead people can’t give themselves life. The Spirit gives life to whom He will. You can see when it happens, but you can’t make it happen. Jesus, in John 5:21 declares, “Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.” The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in agreement that this is a work of divine power. Perhaps nowhere does Jesus make that clearer than in John 6:44: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” The Good News from our Lord’s own lips is that “if the Son makes you free [from sin], you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). In none of those texts, by the way, did Jesus ever defend the sinner’s ability. Yes, the sinner has a kind of free will—in the sense that we aren’t compelled to choose by any external force or compulsion. But as Luther clarified in Bondage of the Will, the sinner will always choose according to his own strongest desires. In other words, his choices don’t determine the state his heart; but the state of his heart determines how he will choose. What is the fallen human heart like? Jesus said, “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23). Here is an Old Testament summary of the same truth: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). The King James Version gives an even more forceful rendition: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Is there anything we can do to heal ourselves? “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil” (Jeremiah 13:23). One’s skin color or an animal’s pelt design are morally neutral, but the human heart is not. None are changeable apart from divine intervention. Along with the heart, the human mind is corrupt every way possible. It also is unwilling and unable “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8). Perhaps that’s the most definitive text of all regarding the sinner’s absolute inability and unwillingness to acknowledge the true God on his own. The sinner is unable also to acknowledge the Gospel on his own: “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand 32
them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The truth is, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Sadly, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). What can remedy that? The Apostle Paul answers that question in the next verse: “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bondservants for Jesus’ sake” (v. 5). What happens when we’re faithful to do that? “God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness’ on the first day of Creation, will shine a light in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (v. 6). Again, it’s a divine miracle. The heart and the mind are affected and infected by depravity, but God is willing to bring healing through the Gospel. Human beings are naturally religious, but not in the good sense of the word. In Romans 1:23, the apostle Paul explains the same phenomenon we discussed earlier—how we tend to blaspheme by substituting the true God with a false one of our own invention (or we blindly go along with someone else’s false god). None of us is excluded. The bottom line is this: “There is none righteous, not even one, there is none who understands … none who seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11, citing Psalm 14:1-3). Both the Old and New Testaments make it crystal clear that we have no potential, no capability, no hope on our own. The sum is that man is evil and selfish, unwilling and unable because he is dead. He loves his sin and attempts to soothe his conscience by meeting the low standards of his invented god. Because man is made in the image of God, he may occasionally recognize sin for what it is, but only in its grosser forms. Meanwhile, he will miss a world of damning subtlety. We have been referring to this doctrine as “Total Depravity.” That expression can be somewhat confusing, because it might seem to suggest that every sinner is as thoroughly vicious or twisted as it is possible to be. Yet clearly, that is not the case. Not all sinners are rapists or serial killers. Some manage to seem pretty good by comparison. Some are philanthropists and some are great artists. We were made in the image of God, and that image is still indelibly stamped on us—damaged but not utterly eradicated. We all have talents and abilities and human affections that can look very good and make us seem admirable. Furthermore, the principle of common grace restrains the full expression of human depravity. So the world itself, for the most part, is in some state of order, not complete anarchy. Obviously, then, 33
we’re not as bad as we could be when it comes to the manifestation of our fallenness. Many people therefore insist that there must be some residual good left untainted in the sinner that can help bring about his or her salvation. Surely there is some divine spark in us that can redeem us. If we would simply refuse to think of ourselves as bad, there’s no limit to the good we might do. That’s the theme of countless self-help books and metaphysical seminars. It’s the religion of Oprah and Norman Vincent Peale. That same kind of thinking is also all too prevalent in the contemporary church. But Scripture is clear about the extent of our depravity: “The whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head there is nothing sound in it” (Isaiah 1:5-6). The word total in the expression “total depravity” refers to the fact that sin has so thoroughly infected us that no part of our being—neither mind, affections, nor will—is free from the taint of sin. We’re totally dead spiritually. Like an array of corpses ranging from freshly dead to thoroughly decomposed, some may be in a more advanced state of putrefaction than others, but all are equally dead. Our inability is total, too—because there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn our salvation. If we are to be awakened from that death and redeemed from our sin, God must do it, and God alone. The Bible plainly and repeatedly teaches that the sinner is both unable and unwilling to make the first move, because he is a hardened rebel lacking any spiritual life or any godly desires. At best, he will make a false move toward God based upon his own fallen desires and motivated by some self-aggrandizing incentive. When Christians try to tell people God wants to give them whatever they want if only they will come to Him, they are actually hiding the truth about God’s glorious, sovereign nature and compounding the sinner’s own selfdeception. Regeneration is not synergistic (a two-way cooperative effort) but monergistic (a one-way act of God). If it were not a work of God alone, we would be doomed, because the Fall has rendered us totally unable to cooperate with Him or contribute anything of saving value to the work God does for us. In regeneration we neither resist nor cooperate. We are acted upon. We are changed by the Holy Spirit, not apart from our will but through our will by His illuminating our minds so we understand and believe the Gospel. We believe not because we had more sense than the people who refuse the Gospel but because God graciously made the first move and opened our hearts to heed His Word and 34
believe it (cf. Acts 16:14). There’s nothing for us to be subtly proud of, but only profoundly grateful for. I wonder how this text would go down at the next revival or evangelist training meeting: “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26). That is the historic doctrine that has been affirmed through the centuries. Titus 3:3-7 explains that we all start life foolish, “disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Amen! What can we do in response but praise Him for His grace and live for His glory? The Implications Behind the Doctrine of Depravity Flat denial of total depravity has been a staple of America’s religious culture for well over a century. It is at the heart of both modernism and theological liberalism, which de-emphasized theology and exalted philanthropic deeds. Churches that went that way wanted the fruit, but severed the root—so they withered and died. Witness the condition of mainline denominations that embraced modernist thinking. All of them are spiritual wastelands today. The Emergent movement is currently positioning itself to repeat the same mistake. Its foundation is neo-liberalism, so its leaders say things like, “We don’t know what the Bible means—nobody does, so let’s just be like Jesus in the world and help the poor and disenfranchised.” They are not preaching the same Gospel He preached, but they are shrewd enough not to jettison the “evangelical” label because they want access to the churches old-line liberalism has not already utterly dissipated. The term evangelical is quickly becoming meaningless, so instead of depending on it or any other label, remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit…. 35
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:17-20). The gurus of the Church Growth Movement who canonized pragmatic methodologies for attracting unchurched people were the middle modernists, between the old and the new, bearing the same bad fruit: a plethora of church programs and preaching styles designed to ape the world and feed sensual appetites. All of these movements have de-emphasized theology, but there’s still an incipient Arminianism underlying all of them—inherent in the belief that somehow sinners will respond better if our methods change. We have to be careful of that. Because people think salvation is a result of sinners’ own free-will decisions for Christ, they tell sinners what they want to hear to try to get them to like Him—and that in turn has obscured the gospel rather than unleashing it to do the true work of salvation. We must recognize that the fallen sinner hates the true God and fatally loves himself. Of course he wants a god who will give him what he wants! The Gospel, however, assaults the sinner’s self-worship, self-assurance, self-esteem, and smugness, shattering his confidence in his religion and his spirituality. It crushes him under the full weight of God’s Law with a verdict of guilty. The only way he can be set free is if he comes to loathe himself and all his ambitions, repent of his sins, and love the one true God, whom Holy Scripture reveals to be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the message under which God awakens the sinner and leads him to repentance and faith. Never appeal to that which enslaves the sinner—materialism, sex, pleasure, personal ambition, a better life, success, or whatever—in an effort to convince the sinner of his need to be rescued from the very enslavement you’re appealing to! Instead, call the sinner to flee from all that is natural, all that so powerfully enslaves him, and urge him to come to the Cross to be saved from eternal judgment. Soft preaching makes hard people. You preach a soft Gospel and you’ll have hard, selfish people. You preach hard truth and it will break hard hearts, like when the Apostle Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost to the very people who crucified Christ and “they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). If you want to see people respond like that, never change the essential Gospel message from group to group. 36
Shifting contexts do not identify reality. Reality is not on the outside; it’s on the inside, and all hearts are the same: desperately in need of salvation from sin. Paul’s Gospel message never changed from Jew to Gentile. The starting point was often different—for with Jewish people he could start with the common ground of the Old Testament but with the Gentiles he started with God as Creator. But the Gospel message itself always remained the same. Paul went from country to country, people group to people group, preaching the same message. That was an era without mass media or globalization: not only were cultures highly defined and restricted, but different societies were also unique at the local, city, town, and even village level. Paul, however, was not paralyzed by any of that; he had no preoccupation with “contextualization.
What about 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some”? Verse 19 makes clear what he meant: “I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.” It wasn’t that he changed the Gospel message, but that he made any necessary personal sacrifices to preach the Gospel to as many people as he could. God help us to be as faithful in our outreach to the lost. I’ve seen enough different cultures and preached the gospel in enough contexts and through enough interpreters to know that it is sheer folly to try to change the content of the gospel to suit each one. The gospel isn’t our message to adapt. We are ambassadors, tasked with delivering a very simple message accurately. There’s nothing more important than getting that message right. It doesn’t matter how “cool” you are; what really matters is how clear you are in proclaiming God’s truth. Wherever I have gone in the world, I have endeavored to preach the same Gospel according to Jesus, and God has been faithful to save souls. Those of us who preach can take no credit for what we do—except for what we mess up! We’re the only ones in the world responsible for all the failures and none of the successes. Our attitude, therefore, is “all humility and gentleness” (Ephesians 4:2). We’re never to parade ourselves as if we’ve accomplished some great thing if God, in His mercy, saves sinners under our preaching. We carry the treasure of the Gospel in our lowly selves, likened in Scripture to “earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Remember that the goal of the Christian, well summarized in 1 Corinthians 10:31, is whether “you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
PREACHING ABOUT THE GOSPEL Owen Milton The word ‘about’ is a very useful and respectable member of the English language. Like all words it performs very valuable functions, and the language would be the poorer without it. The problem with it is that it intrudes, and when it does it confuses and misleads. Let me explain what I mean. I have a friend who, when asked how many people were in the congregation, used to reply (I don’t know if he still does), ‘About 87’, or some such figure. Someone else I know, if asked how long something would take, would reply, ‘About four minutes.’ Now there is nothing wrong with those answers. They are perfectly correct grammatically. My argument is that they conveyed the wrong impression. The first led me to believe that 87 was a rough guess, when in fact it was an accurate number, and was the result of careful counting. I maintained that the reply should have been either, ‘about 85 or 90’, or ‘87’. As for the second it seems to be a very specific attempt to be unspecific. The answer is either ‘about five minutes’, or ‘four minutes’. All this serves to show in a frivolous manner the effect of introducing the word ‘about’. In a far more serious manner preaching about the gospel is very different from preaching the gospel. It is not necessary here to go into the question of what constitutes the gospel. There is an abundance of material on this in various articles, magazines and books. For our purpose it will be enough to say that it is the good news that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came from heaven to take the punishment for our sins by dying for us on the cross. Much more remains to be said but this will serve as a basic, minimal statement. And arising from this is the alarming observation that it is possible to attend evangelical (i.e. ‘gospel’) churches without hearing the gospel. And equally this is not because the preachers have become ‘liberal’ or compromised belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. It is because, in part, they have confused preaching about the gospel with preaching the gospel. They have become content with preaching things that have to do with the coming of Christ rather than preaching Christ. Preaching doctrine is not preaching the gospel. A colleague of mine declared from the pulpit that he had ‘a passion for doctrine’. Such a claim may be worthy and noble, but it must not pass for a passion for Jesus Christ.
Preaching the sovereignty of God in creation is certainly of great value in days when the baleful effects of the assault of evolution are increasing about us, but it is not preaching the gospel. Preaching the knowledge and presence of God to be observed in nature is highly regarded by the authors of the Bible (the heavens declare the glory of God) but it is not preaching the gospel. Preaching the providence of God and his care over the whole of his universe, as well as in the life of the individual, is an essential in the work of the minister but is not to be equated with preaching the gospel. Preaching the need to live upright, moral, even holy, lives is of untold value, but it is not preaching the gospel. Preaching the importance of the gifts of the Spirit directs us to our need of the third person of the Trinity, and reminds us that without him all our gifts and abilities are nothing, but it is not preaching the gospel. In one of his great hymns to the Holy Spirit Charles Wesley cries out to him, ‘Preach his gospel to our heart.’ Preaching revival and our great need, and the encouragement and benefit it has brought to the people of God, can be heart-warming, but it is not preaching the gospel. When we preach about the gospel we are in the realm of defining, describing, informing. When we preach the gospel we are in the realm of directing, commanding, persuading. While Paul and the other apostles were perfectly at home in the first domain, it was in the second that they found their true element. Here was the air that they loved to breathe. We need to step out of the shallows of preaching about the gospel into the deep and demanding waters of preaching the gospel. What is it that inhibits us? Allow me to make some suggestions. When we preach about the gospel we are moving in a comfort zone. We have discharged what we feel to be our responsibility, and to put it starkly we are preserved from the necessity of looking for results. Of course this is not to say that we judge the ‘success’ or effects of a gospel sermon by who or how many or if any were converted, but it is to say that we have set before men the way of life, and have exhorted them to choose that way. It is true that doing this may well land us in another comfort zone, but the distinction between the two zones remains. D.L.Moody said, ‘We are out for a decision.’ It is impossible to preach about the gospel and claim that. To preach about the gospel allows us to indulge our intellects. This is a danger today with what we are led to believe is a better educated society. No one would be so churlish as to complain about the higher standards of learning in our congregations, and the reflection of this in our pulpits is to be applauded. A lady in a Sunday School class I led years ago used to sum up the fault of all that was wrong in our communities with the one 40
word, ‘education’. Nevertheless to address and aim at the minds of people, and halt there is to wrong them, as indeed it is to address and aim at their wills and emotions while by-passing their minds. It was an eighteenth-century Calvinistic Methodist who spoke of the need for the message to ‘ascend’ (notice the verb) from the head to the heart. Is there not also a fear of offending, or being known as a certain kind of preacher? Now it is no part of a preacher’s calling to set out to wound and hurt people by his remarks. But we do remember that Jesus’s death was and is a ‘scandal’, and there is such a thing as the ‘offence of the cross’. It is for the preacher to be wary of confusing the offence of the cross with the offensiveness of the preacher. We are not aiming to upset people, but we are aiming to save them. To achieve this we must preach the gospel: to avoid displeasing people, preach about it. That way you will break no bones. What has been said above must not be mistaken to mean that every sermon must be primarily evangelistic. Obviously Christians must be fed and built up. (‘All the folk in our church are already Christians.’ So what? I know of nothing that will build a Christian more effectively than being told over and over that God’s love for him was so great that he sent his Son to die for him. They who know the story best ‘seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest’.) At the same time I have come increasingly to the conclusion and conviction that every sermon should contain a word to the unconverted. Men must be told, often again and again, how to be saved. Who knows whether the sermon they are listening to will be the last they ever hear? Some years ago I was with a group attending church on Sunday morning. After the service was over we went for lunch, and there, barely an hour after hearing a sermon, one of the group died. F.W.Robertson was a well-known preacher in Brighton during the middle of the nineteenth century. He was so vague in his preaching that it was said of him that he believed that Christ had done something or other that somehow or other had something or other to do with salvation. It is unlikely that anyone reading this article will identify with that situation. But preaching about the gospel is not so far removed in its effects, or lack of them. In an excellent article on preaching Iain Murray uses the word ‘ignite’. Preaching about the gospel is not going to start any fires. A quick look at my concordance confirmed what I had suspected. In the New Testament the word ‘preach’ may be used in three ways. The first is on its own, ‘Jesus began to preach’. The second is something like ‘preach that they should repent’. In the vast majority of instances it is followed by what grammarians call a direct object such as ‘repentance’, ‘deliverance’, ‘baptism’, ‘the resurrection’, ‘the gospel’, ‘the kingdom’. In other words there was no instance that I could find of preaching about anyone or 41
anything. The snare into which many have fallen is that they are, unknown to themselves, doing what is never found in the New Testament, and what the apostles would never have dreamed of doing, and what appears to be impossible. They are preaching about. Why are our pulpits filled with formality, preciseness, dryness? Why are they devoid of warmth, passion, urgency, tears even? It is because we have lost sight of him who is our glorious theme and text. We have been deceived into preaching about Christ rather than preaching Christ, ‘and my people love to have it so’. And so does our enemy. God give us again apostolic hearts, that say, ‘We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.’ In this way let us divorce the evangelical intruder ‘about’, repent of our clever, deceitful unfaithfulness, and return to our first and only love.
PREACHING TO A POST MODERN GENERATION PEYTON JONES
Paul said, “I became all things to all men” because he was a missionary at heart. He knew that his audience needed the same gospel truths, but in different wrappers. Like any good missionary, he knew how his target audience reacted to both the message and the messenger. Preaching goes straight to the mind and heart. It is not philosophical in nature, although it has the potential for turning somebody's thinking upside down. It can rip their worldview inside out. Only a few things actually penetrate down to the depths of our soul. Perhaps a childhood memory; a fantastic skyscape, or the birth of a child. In a world where so few things actually move us to the core of our being, preaching stands out as the greatest potential force for dislodging humanity's wheels out of it's dark morass. That doesn't mean it's going to be easy. If you've been called to be a preacher in these strange days, you're not facing bigger spiritual barriers to the gospel, but perhaps bigger cultural ones. Although the mandate to preach the gospel may not have changed, the people we're to preach to have...massively. Lloyd Jones once said, “We must diagnose ourselves and our people. If we cannot assess the condition of our people we have failed as preachers.
HUMILITY: First off, the post-modern generation immediately sees your exclusive priviledge of proclaiming anything with authority as a sign of arrogance on the part of the preacher. Therefore, it's important that we always make it very clear that we aren't important in our own right, and that the purpose is for them to hear God speaking to them through a very weak and foolish person. They need to be told that often. Ironically, it will not only gain you respect, it will also serve to disarm people a lot. Showing yourself, like Paul, to be in weakness, fear, and much trembling opens the way for the Holy Spirit to really take charge.
As you step out of the limelight, and point to Jesus, they recognize that you're not "preaching ourselves" as so many do. Because they don't believe in the inspiration of scripture, their first mental reaction when you begin to preach is "why should I listen to this joker?". But it's not our job to convince them. It's the job of the Holy Spirit. As we come to them in much weakness, fear, and trembling, not confident in our abilities, God seems to swoop down right on cue, and saving the day, and saving souls.
SINCERITY This generation needs to see sincerity, because it values that almost more than anything. Gone are the days when people were wowed by power points. This generation distrusts anything that is too polished or formal. They want somebody who will be real with them. The performance aspect of preaching must be guarded against, and the preacher must be genuine at all cost. In contrast to acting (which is based on deceiving the crowd into believing we are somebody we’re not), preaching at its core is based upon transparency and sincerity, and without that, our credibility is shot.
UNCTION Call it unction. Call it anointing. Call it Spirit-Empowered preaching. Call it whatever you want. The real question is, do you have it? Lloyd-Jones once asked “do I know anything of this fire, and if not, what am I doing in the pulpit?” (Lloyd-jones p105). Lloyd-Jones also said, "There is nothing more distressing than to be in the pulpit and to realize that you are utterly alone." Because preaching is a spiritual gift, I must seek the Lord's anointing upon my preaching, otherwise, it's merely lecturing. Preaching however is accompanied by soul searching, sin convicting, life giving power. This generation needs to come before us and fall under the power of preaching Christ in the Spirit of God. They desperately need to hear from him, and not us. People should be leaving church the question asking, "What just happened to me in there? Why did I feel God?". The Spirit will give unspeakable force to what a preacher says. Witherspoon noted "There is a piercing and a penetrating heat in that which flows from the heart, which distinguishes it both from the
coldness of indifference, and the false fire of enthusiasm and vainglory.” (John Witherspoon – works, vol 7, pp 274-7.) The key to the anointing of the Spirit in preaching is to spread yourself out before the Lord in prayer. Once, when Seth Joshua couldn't be found at the church where he was expected to be preaching at that very moment, they sent somebody to look for him. Approaching the door to his study, his daughter heard him telling somebody, 'Unless you go with me, I'm not going'. In the end, we need to give credit where credit is due. Whitefield summed up the gravity of the calling for every preacher. "I wonder how I ever dared to engage in such a work. Yet when I am labouring to speak a little , I am frequently so much overpowered with the sense of the divine presence, that I would not leave my work for all the world." (Whitefield – Dallimore, vol 1. Pg. 400)
APPLICATION If we preach well, the natural response of our hearers will be the need to respond. Because Peter hadn't told them what to do, the crowd asked, "How shall we then live?". I wonder how many people leave our churches every week asking themselves the same question. The difference is, we haven't told them. The hardest thing for a young preacher to get hold of is the application. A mature preacher will have bored himself so many times that he has begun to realize the importance of applying what he says. When trying to incorporate application into a sermon, many preachers often tack it in during the final five minutes. However, if you want to follow the Master in his masterful delivery, read the Sermon on the Mount. I'm sure that Jesus hit the ball out of the park every time, but they sat there stunned on that occasion. Part of the reason was that they’d been gripped by the relevance of what he was saying. In the Sermon on the mount, Jesus not only taught doctrine, he powerfully applied it. Repeatedly he gives imperative exhortations, "Do not lay up...", "Do not be like the pharisees", "Do not do your charitable deeds before men to be seen by them", but do them before the father. "Build your house upon the rock". The application is woven throughout the whole sermon. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones used to introduce almost every subject he was speaking on by saying it was one of the most important things
for a christian to understand. Sometimes, people criticized him for this, but of course, if it weren't important, he'd not have wasted his time or theirs with it. Nor would the Holy Spirit have written it down; but it's the preachers task to make sure that they understand why it's important. CLARITY: Today’s unchurched are biblically illiterate. Their parents did not take them to Sunday School and they have almost no biblical knowledge. Therefore, the preacher finds himself having to spell out words like “covenant”, “atonement”, and “holy” by illustrating. Illustration is one of the keys of preaching to the postmodern, and the material of movies, t.v. shows, and popular books all provide ample material. Jesus and Paul constantly illustrated as have many of the greatest evangelists to follow in their footsteps. Illustration for the sake of clarity has been indispensible in reaching souls.
PREACHING THE TOUGH STUFF: What kind of mailman would only deliver the coupons, but never the bills? A fired one. We've got to preach on things that make people squirm. We've got to say hard things, disagreeable things, and things that will get people to hate you. The current trend is to water down the powerful message of the gospel to the point that it no longer has anything to say. When Paul stood before Agrippa and reasoned with him regarding the righteousness of God and the unrighteousness of man. Agrippa was "extremely afraid and trembling", to the point where he said, "I will hear you more on this matter". Paul knew that the gospel had teeth, so he didn’t try to gum them into heaven. He allowed the gospel to bite!
THE NEXT GENERATION OF PREACHERS Here is an encouraging thought. God kills his preachers. It's true. He doesn't let even the best of them live forever. He takes them, but they've passed the baton on to younger men who themselves are able to teach others. The generation that went before us did
an awesome job. Praise God for those men, and for the fellow faithful workers who are out there now. But it's your time now. God kills off the previous generation because they get past their sell-by date. So will I, and so will you...but not today. Preach the word! In season and out of season, says a dying Paul to a living young man with all the world laying before him. You will put modern fashion on the unfashionable gospel, because ultimately, the gospel never changes and never goes out of fashion. The needs of men and women have been the exact same since Genesis three. Nevertheless, language, style, and culture haven't. We have no idea what the Spirit has planned for this generation, only that his plan has not changed any more than the great commission has, that we should preach the gospel to every creature. The foolishness of preaching may seem foolish to some, but it's here to stay. And as long as there are men to preach it, who will say with Whitefield, â€œThe whole world is now my parish. Wheresoever my Master calls me I am ready to go and preach his everlasting Gospel. My only grief is, that I can do no more for Christ", then the lost of this world still have chance. (Whitefield, Dallimore vol. 1 pg. 400)
PREACHING FOR CONVERSIONS Peyton Jones Preaching is the primary means of firing the heart piercing gospel bullet into the heart of man. Paul elevates preaching as the chief means used to save men’s souls “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21). Charles Spurgeon linked preaching and conversion so close together that he remarked that if after preaching we should “mourn if it (conversion) does not appear in due time”. There have been many books written by veteran pulpiteers regarding successful gospel preaching. A man may preach the solid gospel truths, much like a man sowing, watering, and reaping seed, but ultimately God gives the increase. Therefore, a dependence upon the Holy Spirit is the first preoccupation that any man should have if he desires to be useful in saving souls. Nonetheless, there is skill involved in fishing, just as there is a technique to successful sowing and harvesting of crops. Jesus taught that certain types of soil will respond in certain ways, but even the best of soils won’t respond if a man doesn’t know how to farm effectively, wisely, and patiently. Paul tells Timothy to “look to the hard working farmer” as an example in plying his trade as a gospel preacher. In the same way, every young man who wishes to reap an abundant crop, must learn from those who pull in bumper crops year by year. Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, Dwight Moody, and many others were used by God to bring in abundant harvests for the kingdom of God. There are principles that these veteran cultivators of the kingdom passed down to us. The first thing we should do is pray. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s wife, Bethan once remarked “If anybody would know anything about my husband as a preacher, he should first know that he was a man of prayer.” Prayer is the work before the work. If dependence upon God is tantamount to gospel success, then prayer is an outworking of dependence upon God’s power. Prayer is the preachers confession that he’s inept, and unable to “give the increase” and therefore he pours himself out to God, pleading for souls before he pleads with them. As E.M Bounds remarked, “Heaven’s work 48
requires heaven’s power”. Where else is this gained but on our knees? Secondly, a man should study to show himself approved. The word of God is the preacher’s tool. If a man would master the whole revelation of God, he would begin to think the Spirit’s thoughts after Him. Our thinking is transformed from being conformed to being transformed. It is the transformed thinking that gives the preacher his “prophetic” edge and enables him to speak things that are deeply spiritual, penetrating to bone and marrow, rather than merely tickling the ears. Spurgeon said “spare neither labour in the study, prayer in the closet, nor zeal in the pulpit”. He spoke as one having authority, because he lived it, and the results are legendary. Spurgeon once stood up on the platform in the Surrey Gardens Music Hall to test the acoustics, and proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world!”. At that very instant, a man repairing a chair in the gallery was struck by the gospel bullet, and brought by the Holy Spirit into the flock of the Lamb. Thirdly, we must look to the people to whom we’re preaching. Paul emphasized that we must be “all things to all men”. Similarly, Lloyd-Jones observed that preaching was “a relationship between the pulpit and the pew”. A preacher must never forget the people that are put in front of him because he is so intent on his notes, or a particular line of thought. If speaking to unconverted church goers, the preacher will speak much differently than he will to a gang of unconverted youth who’ve wandered into the church for the first time. There is a dynamic element in preaching the gospel that a preacher must be careful not to miss. It involves being open to His leading, and even at times, a willingness to abandon a carefully prepared study. The author can attest to this being the means of conversion to many unreached people on multiple occasions. Fourthly, we must learn to preach the gospel in a way that does not compromise the character of God, or mute the fullness of God’s revelation of Himself. To present God as only loving, gracious and compassionate, may seem the best way to reach people according to human reasoning, but it negates the just, righteous, and holy attributes of God, thus negating the need for his former attributes. As Daniel Rowlands observed, “the needle of the law should pull the thread of the gospel”. The gospel has 49
teeth, and sometimes we must let it bite people. For far too long have young men sought to “gum” people gently into the kingdom of God. There was a reason that “sinners and prostitutes” were violently leap frogging over the Pharisees to get into heaven under Jesus’s ministry. Jesus preached hell, judgment, and the justice of God more than he did heaven. John Wesley used to always start by preaching the love of God, then the terrors of the law, and finally, sowing the hope of the gospel in contrast to the certainty of judgment. Over the past 2000 years, all of God’s most powerful preachers have preached the timeless message of the gospel. In many cases, it’s been against the popular methods of their contemporaries. Nonetheless, faithful gospel preaching has always sounded an alarm and brought man into a place of destitution, desperation, and humble submission and surrender before a holy God. Fifthly, a gospel preacher should familiarize himself with passages that pertain to salvation. Learn these well. Have them always on hand. A gospel minister who is able to effectively apply passages of scripture to an afflicted conscience will be like a master marksman able to strike a bullseye on various targets. Certain scriptures, like certain arrows will have different tips, making them able to accomplish various things. The Old Testament tells us that the word of God will accomplish what God has sent it out for. Some are meant to afflict the comfortable; others are intended to comfort the afflicted. A gospel preacher who has mastery over these texts, such as in Jeremiah, or Isaiah, as well as the gospels, will be like a man bringing out of his storehouse treasures both old and new. Sixthly, we must aim for the whole man. A man is not all mind, nor is he all heart. He is intellect, emotion, and will. Lloyd-Jones used to teach that you started by reaching the mind. If you could convince someone intellectually, you hadn’t gone far enough. Nonetheless, if you could move him emotionally, you had gone further, but you still hadn’t reached the soul. The soul was the seat of the will. Once the will had been penetrated, then a man was ready to respond to the gospel. Therefore, Spurgeon urged his ministry students to use clear arguments in order to convince their minds like Apollos and Stephen in the book of Acts, pushing people into a corner. Then, Spurgeon emphasized the need for emotional persuasion by way of pleading. He called this “heart argument – which is logic on fire”. This is where zeal enters into 50
the picture. A man who is truly moved himself is said to have come under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It’s the Spirit who then is speaking, convincing minds “when the leading mind has ceased to have power over itself”. All ministers count this as their greatest moments in preaching, when they stood besides themselves, and the Spirit pleaded with men through them to “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). When should we aim for conversions? Always. Even if it is at the end of the sermon, we should not close a single sermon without giving our hearers the opportunity of hearing the good news. Spurgeon used to dedicate every February to special efforts at reaching the lost, and he reported spectacular results. The old saying goes, “Be careful when you aim at nothing, because you might hit it”. Gospel ministers should always aim for conversions. Aiming for conversions implies faith in a sovereign God who is always working to draw men to himself. Not aiming for conversions often comes from slovenliness, discouragement, unbelief. Spurgeon said that our people should not marvel when people come to faith, but should find it remarkable when they don’t. The more we find ourselves leading others to Christ, the more addicted to it we become. The more addicted to it we become, the more that we aim for it, to see God glorified through Jesus Christ. Soli Deo Gloria.
THE SOUL WINNER Charles Spurgeon This chapter is extracts taken from Spurgeonâ€™s book The Soul Winner.
Men need to be told that, except divine grace shall bring them out of their enmity to God, they must eternally perish; and they must be reminded of the sovereignty of God, that He is not obliged to bring them out of this state, that He would be right and just if He left them in such a condition, that they have no merit to plead before Him, and no claims upon Him, but that if they are to be saved, it must be by grace, and by grace alone. The preacher's work is to throw sinners down in utter helplessness, that the may be compelled to look u to Him who alone can help them. *******************
True conversion is in all men attended by a sense of sin, which we have spoken of under the head of conviction ;by a sorrow for sin, or holy grief 52
at having committed it; by a hatred of sin, which proves, that its dominion is ended; and by a practical turning from sin, which shows that the life within the soul is operating upon the life without. True belief and true repentance are twins: it would be idle to attempt to say which is born first. All the spokes of a wheel moved at once when the wheel moves, and so all the graces commence action when regeneration is wrought by the Holy Ghost. Repentance, however, there must be. No sinner looks to the Saviour ,with a dry eye or a hard heart. Aim, therefore, at heartbreaking, at bringing home condemnation to the conscience, and weaning the mind from sin, and be not content till the whole mind is deeply and vitally changed in reference to sin. ************************* Dear brethren, I do beg you to attach the highest importance Âˇto your own personal holiness. Do live unto God. If you do not, your Lord will not be with you; He will say of you as He said of the false prophets of old, "I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the Lord." You may preach very-fine sermons but if you are not yourselves holy, there will be no souls saved. The probability is that you will not come to the' conclusion that your want of holiness is the reason for your non-success; you will blame the people, you will blame the age in which you live, you will blame anything except yourself; but there will be the root of the whole mischief.) ******************** Read McCheyne's memoir, read the whole of it, I cannot do you a better service than by recommending you to read it; there is no great freshness of thought, there is nothing very novel or striking in it, but as you read it., you must get good out of it, for you are conscious that it is the story of the life of a man who walked with God. Moody would never have spoken with the force he did if he had not lived a life of fellowship with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ. The greatest force of the sermon lies in what has gone before the sermon. You must get ready for the whole service by private fellowship with God, and real holiness of character.
************************** Open your mouth, brother, with a full expectation, a firm belief, and according to your faith so it be shall it be unto you. That is the essential point, you must believe in God and in is gospel if 53
you are to be a winner of soul; some other things may omitted but this matter of faith must never be. It is true 'that God does not always measure His mercy by our unbelief for He has to think of other people as well as of us; but, looking at the matter in a common sense way, it does seem that' the most likely instrument to do the Lord's work is the man who expects that God will use him, and who goes forth to labour in the strength of that conviction. When success comes he not surprised, for he was looking for it. He sowed living seed, and he expected to reap a harvest from it; he cast his bread upon the waters, and he means to search and watch till he finds it again. *******************************
It may happen that some of you do preach very earnestly and well, and sermons that are likely to be blessed, and yet you do not see sinners saved. Well, do not leave off preaching; but say to yourself, " I must try to gather around me a number of people who will be all praying with me and for me, and who will talk to their friends about the things of God: and who will so live and labour that the Lord will give a blessed shower of grace because all the surroundings are suitable thereto, and, help to make the blessing come. I have heard ministers say that, when they have preached in the Tabernacle, there has been something in the congregation that has had a wonderfully powerful effect upon them.' I think it is because we have good prayerÂˇ meetings, because there is an earnest spirit of prayer among the people, and because so many of them are on the watch for souls. ****************
A dying man is needed to raise dying men. I cannot believe that you will ever pluck a brand from the burning without putting your hand near enough to feel the heat of the fire. You must have, more or less, a distinct sense of the dreadful wrath of God and of the terrors of the judgment to come, or you will lack energy in your work, and so lack one of the essentials of success. I do not think the preacher ever speaks well upon such topics until he feels them pressing upon him as a personal burden from the Lord. "I did preach in chains," said lohn Bunyan, "to men in chains.:' Depend upon it, when the death that is in your children alarms, 54
depresses, and overwhelms you, then it is that God is about to bless you **************************
THE PRAYER OF FAITH Peter Jeffery Repentance and faith cannot exist without each other. True repentance involves seeing sin for what it really is; not just a character defect, but a permanent attitude of rebellion against the love and care and righteous authority of God. It is this new understanding of God and of one's own sin that leads to true repentance. There will also be a great desire to break with the past and to live in future only to please God (Acts 26:20). That is repentance. Faith is an unwavering trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Saviour to deal with sin (Acts 20:21; Romans 3:25). It is not merely an intellectual assent to a set of doctrines, but a coming to Christ in repentance, crying for mercy. Faith hears the truth of the gospel, believes it and then acts upon it. Saving faith progresses from a belief in certain facts to a real trusting in Christ and what he has done on our behalf and for our salvation. Faith is a response of the mind and heart to the Saviour of whom the gospel speaks (1 Peter 1:21). Conviction of sin, repentance and faith are the biblical way and are far removed from an easy believism or a mouthing of the so called prayer of faith. In the last 150 years or so the sinnerâ€™s prayer has become an indispensable part of evangelism. It has been made popular by the 55
ministries of Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. Before that it was almost unknown and certainly it is not found in the New Testament. There when sinners were confronted with the gospel two things were necessary to lead to salvation, conviction of sin and repentance. In Acts 2 the gospel was preached with the result that sinners ‘were cut to the heart’ (deep conviction of sin), they were then told to repent. No prayer was given them to repeat but 3000 were saved. Today if a man shows an interest in the gospel he is urged to repeat the sinner’s prayer and on the strength of that is told he is now saved. The prayer will vary but basically it is, "Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Saviour and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be." There is nothing wrong with the words but what is wrong is the emphasis put upon them as a means of salvation. As a means of salvation they are about as useful as a bag of chips. The chips may look good, smell good and taste good. They will temporarily fill a hunger gap but tomorrow you will have to get another bag because the chips effects soon wear off. There is no lasting value. That is not the salvation of the New Testament and that is why so many who pray the sinner’s prayer do not last long in the Christian life.When this happens we are told that the follow up was poor, and they fell from grace, instead of the more obvious reason that they were not saved in the first place. Consider the following scenario that is all too often seen today. A man attends church fairly regularly on a Sunday morning. He never comes to the evening service or the mid week prayer meeting and he never reads the Bible or prays on his own. He is not a Christian. He knows it and everyone in the church knows it. One Sunday he shows more than a passing interest in the gospel and this thrills the Christians in the church. One of them eagerly encourages him to pray the sinner’s prayer and he is told he is now a Christian. He still does not attend the Sunday evening service or the prayer meeting, and still never reads the Bible or prays, but he has prayed the sinner’s prayer and that is enough for most Christians. But it is not enough for God who demands conviction of sin and repentance as essential to conversion and a changed life as evidence of it. The whole system speaks of an impatience on our part with God’s way. It is as if we say to God, “Lord, you have made the way of salvation too hard by your insistence on conviction and repentance so we will devise an easier and quicker way’. The sinner’s prayer will certainly give you results but what about the fruit? Warren Wiersbe makes the strong point that 'There is a difference 56
between "fruit" and "results". You can get "results" by following sure-fire formulas, manipulating people, or turning on your charisma; but "fruit" comes from life. When the Spirit of life is working through the Word of life, the seed planted bears fruit; and that fruit has in it the seeds for more fruit (Genesis 1:11-12). Results are counted and soon become silent statistics, but living fruit remains and continues to multiply to the glory of God (John 15:6).' How did Jesus deal with a man who appeared to be searching for God? The Rich Young Ruler had all appearance of a genuine seeker and if he was given the sinner’s prayer he would have gone away believing he was now a Christian. But Jesus took him to the law, to the Ten Commandments, in order to show him his sin. This young man had no awareness of sin let alone a conviction of personal guilt. If he had, then perhaps the sinner’s prayer might have been of some use to him, but no conviction means no repentance and this means no salvation. When seeking to evangelise, stick to God’s ways. In his book God Sent Revival Thornbury says that Charles Finney in his use of the anxious put God up for vote. If this is true, and I believe it is, then we have to say that today’s use of the prayer of faith by-passes God’s essential in salvation of repentance. It is noticeable how the emphasis on conviction and repentance has all but disappeared from evangelical preaching today. They have been replaced by phrases like, open your heart to Jesus or make a decision for Jesus. In the matter of salvation God has to be kept as sovereign if not we will end up filling the church with chaff and not wheat. Dallimore says of Charles Wesley, “During 1743 and 1744 certain of Charles's views and practices were beginning to change. For one thing, he came to recognize that everyone who professed faith in Christ was not necessarily converted. He stated, 'We have certainly been too rash and easy in allowing persons for believers on their own testimony; nay, and even persuading them into a false opinion of themselves.' And to 'a young son in the gospel', he declared, 'Be not over sure that so many are justified. By their fruits ye shall know them. You will see reason to be more and more deliberate in the judgement you pass on souls. Wait for their conversation. I do not know whether we can infallibly pronounce at the time that anyone is justified. I once thought several in that state, who, I am now convinced, were only under the drawings of the Father. Try the spirits, therefore, lest you should lay the stumbling-block of pride in their way, and by allowing them to have faith too soon, keep them out of it for ever.' God’s way of salvation is very clear in the New Testament
Hear the word of God. (Romans 10:17) Believe it. (Acts 4:4) Conviction and repentance. (Acts 2: 37-38) Receive Christ as saviour. (1 John 5:11)
WHAT IS TRUE CONVERSION? Peter Jeffery
Like all preachers, I have had the sad experience of seeing people making a profession of faith only for them to fall away in a few weeks or months. It is obvious by then that they were never saved. No one wants this, but how can it be avoided? What is a true conversion? Are we making two basic errors in our evangelism? Are we, on the one hand, making salvation seem too difficult, and on the other hand, making it seem too easy? We make it too difficult with a wrong understanding of the sovereignty of God in salvation. It is true that only God can save, but that does not remove a person’s responsibility to seek the Lord. Do we encourage sinners to seek the Lord? Do we preach for this? Then we make it too easy with a glib ‘easy believism’ which removes conviction and repentance and makes salvation a simple nod of approval on the sinner’s part. It is this that produces the false professions of faith. The fruit of evangelism is saved souls. But how are we to know if someone is genuinely converted? Warren Wiersbe makes the strong point 58
that ‘There is a difference between “fruit” and “results”. You can get “results” by following sure-fire formulas, manipulating people, or turning on your charisma; but “fruit” comes from life. When the Spirit of life is working through the Word of life, the seed planted bears fruit; and that fruit has in it the seeds for more fruit (Genesis 1:11–12). Results are counted and soon become silent statistics, but living fruit remains and continues to multiply to the glory of God (John 15:6).’ It is obvious both from the New Testament and our own experience that not all who profess faith in Christ are truly converted. In Acts 8 we are told of a man who believed and was baptized. Yet soon after, the apostle Peter tells him that his heart is not right before God and he is full of bitterness and captive to sin. Earlier in the New Testament, in his parable of the sower, the Lord Jesus himself had warned of the possibility of false professions. Some people receive the gospel warmly but they last only a short time because there is no root in them, that is, no real experience of Christ (Mark 4:17). A SERIOUS PROBLEM False profession of faith is a very serious problem. It is serious for the people who make a profession of faith that is not real. They may be told they are Christians but it is soon obvious that they are not. Often such people become so disillusioned with the Christian faith that they become almost impossible to reach with further evangelism. Several years ago, I was preaching in an open-air meeting in the local market. All the time our meeting was going on a young man stood nearby selling Communist Workers’ newspapers. After we had finished I went to speak to him and during our conversation he firmly told me that Christianity was a fraud, because it did not work. He was convinced of this, he said, because he had once been a Christian. He had been ‘saved’ by going forward at a large crusade meeting and he had a decision card to prove it. But after a short time he realized, so he said, that he had been deceived. Becoming a Christian (as he thought) had changed nothing in his life so he had become a Communist instead. Nothing I could say to him touched him. He was hard and unyielding in his opposition to the gospel. It is also serious for the church, which may be thanking God in prayer and praise for a person’s supposed conversion one day, only to find that within a short time the ‘new convert’ is back in the world and rarely if ever seen in church. This sort of experience can easily demoralize and discourage believers in their evangelistic efforts. It is serious, too, for nominal Christians, those good churchgoers who are always in church but have never been saved. They are actually encouraged in their nominalism when they see false professions. What
happens is this: someone in the church is claimed to have been saved. He or she is encouraged to give a testimony but, before long, stops attending the Sunday services. The nominal Christian sees this as showing how meaningless is all this business of being saved. He or she says, ‘I have never had a saving
A SOLUTION False professions of faith are a serious problem in all sorts of ways, but the worst thing about them is that they bring dishonour to the name of God. So how do we solve this problem? First of all, we must acknowledge that the problem will never disappear altogether. If it occurred during the revival in Samaria described in Acts 8, it will also occur in our less spiritually enlightened days: That is a fact but it is no excuse for indifference. We must try to reduce drastically the number of times it happens. One way to do this is to examine biblically our methods of evangelism. If we substitute an ‘easy believism’ which only requires an intellectual agreement with certain gospel truths and ignores the New Testament demand for repentance and faith, then shallow, superficial ‘conversions’ will abound. The decision system practised in much modern evangelicalism aggravates the problem. For many people, this system, which was unknown until the early nineteenth century, has become an indispensable part of evangelism. Indeed, many people think that they become Christians merely by ‘going forward’ at an evangelistic meeting. To be fair, some evangelists are careful to say this is not so, but because of the widespread use of the practice, people still think it is the only way to be saved. (For a more detailed study on this subject see the little booklet, The Invitation System by Iain Murray, published by the Banner of Truth Trust.) In recent years, amazing claims have been made of the thousands who are alleged to be saved through mass evangelism. Everyone knows that not all who go forward are truly converted, but it is argued that if only a fraction prove to be genuine, then the method is justified. I can understand the sentiments behind this argument, but the New Testament will not allow us to forget the others, namely those thousands who were wrongly told they were Christians, thought they really were Christians, but soon became disillusioned because, in reality, they were nothing of the kind. The damage is enormous and unnecessary. It is caused not by the gospel, but by a system of evangelism that has no biblical foundation. This kind of thing is not confined to mass evangelism. It also happens at
summer camps and in local churches. How do we deal with it? We should be more careful about publicly labelling a profession of faith as a conversion. Professions can be the result of several things: emotionalism,pressure from friends, sincere desires, or even just being deceived. True conversion is always and only produced by the convicting and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, in which the gifts of repentance and faith are imparted to the soul. Our spiritual forefathers used to make a distinction between a ‘soul awakened’ and a ‘soul converted’. Profession of faith is sometimes the premature response of a heart that has been awakened to sin and its dangers. Of course, if God begins a work in someone’s heart, he will surely bring it to completion. However, impatient for results, we may mistake mere concern or interest for the work of the Spirit, and so encourage a profession from one who is not regenerate. In Acts 11 we see marks of true conversion. 1. THERE WAS A GREAT CHANGE IN THEIR LIVES In Acts 11:23, Barnabas saw the grace of God made evident in people’s lives. But grace is abstract and cannot be seen or touched, so what did he see? You cannot see electricity, but you can see the difference it makes when a light is switched on in a dark room, and if you touch a bare wire you will feel its power. So it is with the grace of God. There was a difference in the people Barnabas met and a power in their lives that had not been there before. ‘If anyone is in Christ,’ Paul tells the Corinthians, ‘he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). When a person is converted certain things change. Some happen immediately and some gradually, but either way there will be a change. It is bound to happen. John Newton continued in the slave trade for a time after he was saved, but eventually fought for its abolition. Desires, ambitions and longings all change. Matthew Henry makes the point that if your ‘salvation’ has done nothing for your temper, then clearly it has done nothing for your soul. 2. THEY LOVED THE LORD JESUS CHRIST In Acts 11:26, we read that the disciples were called Christians for the first time at Antioch. This was not a title they took upon themselves but was originally a name of scorn given to believers by the world. However, it demonstrates that unbelievers saw something in them, and heard things from them, that could only be explained by their new relationship to Christ. People who once worshipped idols with them, got drunk with them and cursed with them were now renouncing all these things and
talking about their love for Christ. So they were called ‘Christians’. Love for Christ is a prime evidence of grace, and if anyone does not give evidence his new affection, we have no right to call such a person a Christian, whatever he or she professes to believe doctrinally. Of this love John writes, ‘We love [him] because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). Anyone who does not love Christ has not understood the love of Christ for sinners, and cannot therefore be a believer. 3. THEY LOVED THE WORD OF GOD These new believers were teachable and had a hunger for Scripture. So they submitted themselves willingly to the things taught by Paul and Barnabas. Spiritually newborn babes ‘crave pure spiritual milk’ so that by it they may grow up in their salvation (see 1 Peter 2:2). Why should they have this desire? Because the Scriptures testify to Christ and reveal him both in his glorious person and his saving work. Those who love Christ will also love his Word, the Bible. 4. THEY LOVED ONE ANOTHER The believers met together as a church, not because it was a rule but a desire. All true Christians love fellowship in the gospel with their fellowbelievers (Philippians 1:5) and will always seek it out. It is also clear in Acts 11:29 that they even had love for Christians they had never met. A new convert does not have to be coaxed to go to church: such a person longs to join with other believers in the worship of God and the service of Christ. 5. THEY LOVED THE LOST In Acts 11:24 we read that a great number believed and came to Christ. This was after the initial blessing of verse 21, and came about through the ministry of Barnabas. But it was also, no doubt, the result of the converts’ concern for others. The new Christians were not slow to evangelize. These, then, are some of the evidences of grace we look to look for when someone makes a profession of faith. But remember we are dealing with newborn babes and the evidence will not always be there in a fullyfledged way. When dealing with tender new life, we must guard against being naïve and gullible on one hand, and too critical on the other. It is fruit we want to see, not mere results. Results may bring praise to us but only fruit will bring glory to God.
UNCTION IN THE PREACHING OF MARTYN LLOYD-JONES Owen Milton
Recently I asked a friend of mine if she had ever heard her husband preach with unction. She immediately replied, â€˜Yes, yesterday.â€™ A few seconds later, and without telling him of the previous exchange, I asked him if he had ever had that experience. He took some time to answer, thought, and replied in the negative. When I further inquired as to whether he had ever heard anyone preach with unction he replied that he had, and gave the impression that this had happened on more than one occasion.
I believe that if I repeated this experiment, for I was testing a theory I hold, it would yield broadly the same result. Preachers long to preach with unction, have heard sermons preached with unction, but are reluctant to own (or sure to deny) that they have ever preached with unction. Why is this? How was it possible for my friend to forget so recent an occasion, indeed could not recall any occasion when this had occurred? Allowing for her natural and commendable eagerness, and his equally natural and commendable unwillingness, what is to account for such contrasting if not contradictory responses? Everything depends, of course, on the definition of terms. For our purpose here it will be helpful to agree that what we mean by unction is particularly an experience that happens to a man while he is preaching, and that this experience is more generally known as the baptism with or by the Spirit. Dr Lloyd-Jones speaks of the ‘ effect of the “Baptism of the Spirit” upon the speech of men, by which I really mean preaching.’ Then we may ask, what do we mean when we speak of unction or anointing? Again, can a man preach and be unaware of it? Can it be recognized by some of his congregation and not by others equally godly? What are the effects of such preaching? These and similar questions cry out for an answer the moment we begin to discuss the subject. At this point, readers of this article must be reminded of its title. It is not, ‘All you ever wanted to know about preaching with unction but were afraid to ask.’ And like heaven and many other biblical themes it is easier to say what unction is not than what it is. It is likely that two related reasons account for the present continuing debate on the matter. One is the rise in the mid-twentieth century of the charismatic movement, and its accompanying emphasis on the baptism of the Spirit. The other is the response of Dr. Lloyd-Jones to this situation and the inevitable perplexity it conceived. Obviously when whole chapters, whole books, and probably whole conferences have been devoted to such a controversial issue, this essay makes no pretension whatsoever to solving any burning question. Its purpose is simply to attempt to help readers in a short space to understand what is involved in coming to terms with Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s teaching and preaching. The obvious place to begin is in understanding what Lloyd-Jones himself meant by unction, and happily there is no shortage of material here. 64
Whether we agree with his understanding is irrelevant. It is beyond dispute that many respected evangelical preachers and scholars have taken a completely different stand on the question, but it must be repeated that we are not considering the merits of different opinions but rather what was his opinion. His sermons, lectures, writings are replete with his uncompromising statements on the subject. It is to these that we now turn. For the most part we shall let him speak for himself. Probably the least helpful thing he ever said about unction is that it was ‘a kind of “divine afflatus”‘ on a man’s ministry. Not very helpful because the expected response will be, ‘A divine what?’ and a reaching for the dictionary. The word simply means inspiration, and clearly is to be distinguished from the inspiration that results in the revelatory and infallible character of the Bible. It is, nonetheless an ‘effusion of power’. The Doctor realized that there would be what we inevitably discover to be the case, namely that there would be confusion about the way the Scriptures describe the various activities of the Spirit. In ‘Joy Unspeakable’ he says, ‘We read about the unction of the Spirit, the enlightenment, and the anointing, and the sealing. There are different terms used to describe his various activities . . .’ For all that, in ‘The Fight of Faith’ Iain Murray summarizes the sermons which were preached in 1964-65 as teaching that the baptism with the Spirit gives the ‘full assurance of faith’, and is the experience described in Ephesians 1:13. To unravel any such confusion lies beyond the purpose of this summary, and readers must look to the various other volumes (amongst others) that will be referred to. Related to this is the view he held with regard to prophesying. He was not a cessationist in this respect (or any other) and declared that prophesying was a gift that could be exercised in modern days. In ‘The Puritans’, when speaking of the work of Howell Harris and his ‘exhorting’, he asks, ‘Was not this what the New Testament calls “prophesying? Was this not the prophesying that we read of in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14? I would venture the opinion that it is . . . It is not revelation, but inspiration.’ He went further than even this when he said, ‘I think I know just a little about this. I think I know something of what it is to be preaching or teaching and suddenly to find myself prophesying.’ In a similar vein, Tony Sargent in ‘The Sacred Anointing’ draws attention to an occasion 65
when Lloyd-Jones was preaching in Canada on 1 Thessalonians 1:5. He portrays the Apostle Paul as saying, ‘I knew that it was not merely I, Paul, that was speaking. I knew that the Spirit was using me. I knew that I had got the power of the Holy Ghost. I knew that he had clothed himself upon me. I knew that I was nothing but the vehicle, the channel, the instrument. I knew that I was being used. I was preaching with much assurance. I knew something was happening, I knew that he was working (and this is important) in you.’ The inference is clear – Dr Lloyd-Jones believed that this should be the experience of all preachers. What is the place of eloquence and oratory in all this? Certainly he did not deprecate the natural speaking ability of a man, and in ‘Preaching and Preachers’ he describes preaching as ‘eloquent reason’. He came second to none in his admiration of George Whitefield, surely one of the greatest evangelical orators ever. He also encouraged liveliness in the pulpit and was little short of scathing in his denunciation of men who were dull in their delivery, believing them to be unworthy of the name ‘preacher’. He spoke with approval of the great Greek orator Demosthenes who, when asked what was the first requirement in oratory replied, ‘Action.’ On being asked for the second essential the same reply was given. When the question was put regarding the third essential Demosthenes replied again, ‘Action.’ Nevertheless Dr. Lloyd-Jones pointed to Paul’s admission in 2 Corinthians 10:10. Elsewhere in the epistle he speaks of natural fear and lack of self-confidence. So that it is evident that unction is not the exclusive preserve and possession of the accomplished public speaker. Similarly solid preparation of the sermon is no guarantee of anointing on its delivery, and dependence on unction is not to be regarded as an excuse for lack of preparation in the sermon. Unction does not follow necessarily on preparation, but neither does justifiable failure to prepare preclude the granting of unction. Gilbert Tennent and Samuel Davies on a visit from America to London were determined to hear George Whitefield and went eagerly to a meeting where he was to preach. Davies confided to his diary that he thought Mr. Whitefield must have been very busy that week because what he had to say betrayed very little evidence of preparation. It was, he says, ‘a very poor sermon’. ‘But,’ he concluded, ‘the unction that attended it was such that I would gladly risk the rigours of shipwreck in the Atlantic many times over in order to be there just to come under its gracious influence.’ 66
It is important to stress the consistency of Dr. Lloyd-Jones when considering this matter. Pro- and anti-charismatics have been anxious to get him ‘on-side’. Anyone who can quote him with approval gathers kudos and can claim bragging rights. There are those who assert that he changed his opinion as the new Pentecostalism showed signs of growth and vigour which caused some alarm to more traditional Christians. We may trace the beginnings of the Charismatic Movement to the opening of the sixties in the U.S.A. and a few years later to Anglican clergymen like John Collins, David Watson and Michael Harper, who went to consult Lloyd-Jones regarding their spiritual experiences. Was he influenced by them to the extent that he changed his standpoint? Let him speak for himself. Preaching in 1964 he affirmed, ’I am more or less repeating from this pulpit what I was saying nine years ago. People seem to think that this is some strange new doctrine.’ It remains to ask how can unction, anointing, be recognised. It is not often that Martin Luther (or indeed any of the Reformers) are used as illustrations of what today is called the baptism with the Spirit, yet Dr Lloyd-Jones has no hesitation in referring to him as a man ‘baptized and filled with the Spirit’. It is by no means certain that Luther would have used the term, and probably would not have used it in the same sense as many do today, but it is hard to think of him as accomplishing what he did without some such supernatural endowment as that described by the Doctor. In answering the question Lloyd-Jones points us in two directions. Firstly, ‘The first indication is in the preacher’s own consciousness.’ The Apostle ‘knew something was happening, he was aware of it. You cannot be filled with the Spirit without knowing it . . . It gives clarity of thought, clarity of speech, ease of utterance, a great sense of authority and confidence . . . an indescribable sense of joy.’ Secondly, the people ‘sense it at once; they can tell the difference immediately. They are gripped, they become serious, they are convicted, they are moved . . . They know at once that something quite unusual and exceptional is happening.’ So why did my friend and his wife arrive at such different conclusions? Perhaps I was unfair in asking them separately. No doubt I should have
explained to them what I meant. Their response indicated a general difference in our understanding of and approach to the whole realm of preaching with power and authority. Without vainly chasing after definitions of technical terms, it is blindingly obvious that there is a sad deficiency in our pulpits, and preachers are the first to admit it. Addressing the students at Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr LloydJones appealed, ’This “unction”, this “anointing”, is the supreme thing. Seek it until you have it; be content with nothing less. To which we may add the desire that we may be favoured once more with preaching ‘with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven’.
THE UNCTION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT DR. MARTYN LLOYD-JONES This is taken from the doctor’s book Preachers and Preaching. After dealing with the need for Spirit power on our preaching he concludes with these words.
What then are we to do about this? There is only one obvious conclusion. (Seek Him! Seek Him! What can we do without Him? Seek Him! Seek Him always. But go beyond seeking Him; expect Him. Do you expect anything to happen when you get up to preach in a pulpit? Or do you just say to yourself, 'Well, I have prepared my address, I am going to give them this address; some of them will appreciate it and some will not?'
Are you expecting it to be the turning point in someone's life? Are you expecting anyone to have a climactic experience? That is what preaching is meant to do. That is what you find in the Bible and in the subsequent history of the Church. Seek this power, expect this power, yearn for this power; and when the power comes, yield to Him. Do not resist. Forget all about your sermon if necessary. Let Him loose you, let Him manifest His power in you and through you. I am certain, as I have said several times before, that nothing but a return of this power of the Spirit on our preaching is going to avail us anything. This makes true preaching, and it is the greatest need of all today-never more so. Nothing can substitute for this. But, given this, you will have a people who will be anxious and ready to be taught and instructed, and led ever further and more deeply into 'the Truth as it is in Christ Jesus'. This 'unction', this 'anointing', is the supreme thing. Seek it until you have it; be content with nothing less. Go on until you can say, 'And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.' He is still able to do 'exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think'.