Do you want to be a great preacher?
You can be, on one condition. It’s all very simple, You have to take dynamite with you into the pulpit when you are about to preach.
Not literally, of course. One hears strange things these days about all the trinkets, the gadgets, and the whatnots that clutter up some pulpits to be used for the object lessons the minister has in mind. Needless to say, let no one be so addlebrained as to suppose that he ought now to add a stick or two of dynamite to that whole caboodle. You never know what some show-off in the pulpit might try next.
Paul’s Example – Well, what about this dynamite that it takes to make a great preacher? What I have in mind is the same dynamite Paul carried with him wherever he went to preach. This is what he says about it in Romans 1:16:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth . . . .” The Greek word for “power” here is dunamis from which we derive our words dynamic and dynamite. Always carrying this dynamite of the gospel with him to every pulpit and place where he found an opportunity to preach, never being ashamed of it—there you have the secret of Paul’s greatness that once called forth this well–deserved tribute from John Lord in his Beacon Lights of History:
“Paul is the most prominent figure of all the great men who have adorned, or advanced the interest of the Christian Church. Great pulpit orators, renowned theologians, profound philosophers, immortal poets, successful reformers, and enlightened monarchs have never disputed his intellectual ascendency; to all alike he has been a model and a marvel. The grand old missionary stands out in history as a matchless example of Christian living, a sure guide in Christian doctrine. No more favored mortal is ever likely to appear; he is the counterpart of Moses as a divine teacher to all generations. The popes may exalt Saint Peter as the founder of their spiritual empire, but when their empire as an institution shall crumble away, as an institutions must which are not founded on the ‘Rock’ which it was the mission of the apostles to proclaim, Paul will stand out the most illustrious of all Christian teachers” (Vol. I, pp. 450, 451).
The fear of man – To cater to the wishes and whims and the demands of the pew because of fear so easily this becomes the preacher‘s besetting sin.
The dunamis (dynamite) of the Word often ruffles the feathers, it rocks the boat, and frequently it creates painful tensions between the pastor and the members of his flock. No one but the Lord fully understands the loneliness of the preacher who dares to say, “Thus saith the Lord!” when he is confronted by those who reply by their lives, if not by their lips, “But this is what we say!”
But why shouldn’t we be bold as a lion if we are confronting men with the dynamite of the Word? Yes, why not? Well, don’t forget that even the most outstanding preachers are still human and that at times their faith falters.
Take the case of a preacher so great as Paul himself. In Corinth Paul encountered bitter opposition and blasphemy. Well aware of his own limitations, Paul tells the Corinthians, “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). Mind you, that was Paul, the great preacher whom, as we have seen, John Lord once extolled to the skies as one of the beacon lights of history.
And because Paul himself knew what it meant to be fearful, he could feel for and also encourage his spiritual son Timothy who evidently also knew what it meant at times to get butterflies in his stomach. To bolster Timothy‘s morale and courage, Paul wrote him, “These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth . . . . Take heed to thyself and to thy teaching. Continue in these things; for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:11, 12, 16).
Fellow preachers, if those illustrious preachers, Paul and Timothy, were at times afraid, why should we think it strange if we too should at times be in the grip of fear?
The important thing is to hear and march to a different drumbeat than that to which the enemies of the Word give their allegiance. While he was plagued by fear at Corinth, this is what happened to Paul:
“And the Lord said unto Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak and hold not thy peace; for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to harm thee; for I have much people in this city. And he dwelt there a year and six months, teaching the Word of God among them” (Acts 18:9–11).
In Westminster Abbey one find s a brief but striking tribute to Lord Lawrence. In addition to his name and the date of his death, the epitaph reads: “He feared man so little, because he feared God so much.” As often as we mount the pulpit with the dynamite of the Word we do well to remind ourselves of this tribute and pray fervently that this may be true of us also.
First things first! – The priority of preaching the Word may never be lost out of sight. Nothing may ever usurp the place of that as the number one requirement of a minister. The pure preaching of the Word is still the first mark of the true church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
One hears strange things at times when people tell you about their ministers. They seem at times to have their priorities sadly confused. Take the case of the clothing salesman who left no doubt in my mind that he believed his young minister to be second to none. What he ready appreciated was that this minister is a fellow just like all the rest of them; and to get the point across he added, “He puts his pants on just the same as you and I do, one leg at a time.” Does it follow that some of us might be stuffed shirts who try both legs at once and so fall flat on our face?
Take another case. As well as I recall, the minister under discussion was entertaining a call at the time. He was a rapid–fire preacher who would cut the service short at a time several years ago when in the CRC that was not yet the accepted thing as it seems more and more to be today. This member‘s comment about his minister that day seemed significant. He said, “I like Rev. , he’s short and . . . ”—and that was it.
Well, that minister did read and speak a lot faster than most of us, and you do have to make allowances for that. Of course, endless repetition is no virtue in the pulpit either. But it is puzzling, to say the least, when a minister, with a real message and no redundancy, exceeds the prescribed one hour or one hour and five minutes is left to feel that he has committed the unpardonable sin. How strange, to be a bit facetious about it, that when others work overtime they get time and a half, and when the minister works overtime he gets it in the neck.
Piffle and pip-squeaks in the pulpit – It‘s a sad day when so-called Christian pulpits are no longer occupied by experts in handling the dynamite of Scripture and churches are willing to tolerate pipsqueaks to dispense their homiletical piffle that is of no more worth than stones instead of bread.
The well–known Wilbur M, Smith (one-time faculty member at Moody Bible Institute and from 1947 until his retirement in 1963 on the faculty at Fuller Theological Seminary) reports his own experience with these disasters in the pulpit as follows:
“Oh, the tragedy of hundreds of our pulpits today, in revealing a mysterious, determined avoidance of the proclamation of the truths of Holy Scripture. I love my fellow ministers, and listen to them preach, I trust in the most sympathetic mood, but I must say that I have come out of the house of God again and again and again with a sad and bewildered heart, wondering what some men are doing all week, and what they believe in their hearts, and what they think will satisfy the hearts of men, when on Sunday morning they stand up before eternal souls, without a shred of divine truth, nothing related to this holy revelation, nothing concerning the great, and powerful, the satisfying and transforming truths of the Christian religion.
“This book is not a place for recording personal experiences, but I hope Tam forgiven for one illustration that comes before me as I write. A short while ago I went into a church of my own denomination, to hear one who has a congregation of over two thousand members. That morning he must have had at least twelve hundred people before him. He preached a sermon on the subject ‘Indebtedly Yours,’ because we were indebted to our government, and indebted to our parents, and to this and that. Neither the name of God nor the name of Christ was mentioned in the whole sermon, nor anything from the Word of God, until about the next to the last sentence, when something was said about Jesus in Gethsemane. There was no evening service in this church, and no prayer meeting: that was all those twelve hundred people had to live on that week sawdust” (Quoted by permission of Baker Book House from Therefore, Stand – Christian Apologetics, p. 489, by Wilbur M. Smith).
Sawdust instead of the milk and meat of the Word!
Is it any wonder that souls are not being saved, that church attendance and contributions dwindle, that the church is increasingly disregarded as being irrelevant, that sheep and lambs are starving, that God’s people “are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6), and that the church is not where the action is?
Swinburne. the British poet. is reported to have described a certain preacher with the remark. “For their tender minds he served up half a Christ.”
Swinburne’s own record, so unsavory in part, makes plain that he needed a whole Christ as does everyone bound by the shackles of sin. Nothing but the dynamite of the Word can break those bonds that hold the sinner in the service of the flesh, the world, and the devil.
Where the action is – Do you want to be a great preacher, right in the middle of where the action is? Then there may be no substitute for the preaching of the Word. By the working of the Holy Spirit, that Word goes forth with a power far greater than the mightiest bulldozer, tons of dynamite. or an arsenal filled with nuclear weapons.
Frightening and awesome as dynamite and all the rest of these may be. the physical power they exert is puny compared to the dunamis of God‘s Word. [Is not my word like fire? saith Jehovah; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29).
An automobile dealer told me recently that one thing that he had learned so well from the Heidelberg Catechism is the answer to Question 65: “Since. then, we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only. whence comes this faith?” Answer: “From the Holy Spirit, who works it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel (that’s where he put the emphasis) and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.” It was obvious that he was deeply disturbed by all those other things that are being smuggled into the pulpit where they have no right to be.
Do you want to be where the action is? Do you bewail the fact that while you preach, and preach, and preach, nothing ever seems to happen? The question is: what arc you preaching? Do you agonize in your study to know the Word, to have it take hold of your own heart and mind and soul and then to be used of God to pass it on to others?
Do that, and then things are bound to happen. That was the secret of the powerful preaching of Paul, Calvin, Luther, and a host of others. And the key to the secret of the amazing growth and history of the Church and the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ is also found right there.
Do we honestly want to be great preachers, not in the sight of men but in the sight of God? Let’s take a cue then from Apollos who receives honorable mention in the Bible as follows: “Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race. an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24).
Mighty in the Scriptures—that‘s what it takes!
If you have that, preacher—then right on!
But if you are not interested, then please stay out of the pulpit! So if this is what you want, you also will come to know what Richard Baxter experienced in the pulpit when he made this his ideal of preaching:
“To preach as though he‘d never preach again, And as a dying man to dying men!”
ONCE AGAIN – A THANKSGIVING DAY SUGGESTION
What will your Thanksgiving Day offering be for? There is a real temptation to keep it for ourselves: possibly for a new organ, for carpeting, for blacktopping the church parking lot, for upholstered pews. or for some other convenience for ourselves.
Let’s be careful!
Good as all those things are in themselves, they do not rate being on the list for which our Thanksgiving Day offerings are to be set aside. Let’s beware that we do not turn our affluence into a curse instead of a blessing.
Think of the millions in our world today who go to bed hungry every night. Think of Honduras where hurricane “Fifi” lashed in unbelievable fury and left 6,000 or more dead and 600,000 homeless. If we could be transported to get just a glimpse of drought-stricken and parched lands where starving parents look on helplessly and with a blank stare at their emaciated babes who cry for Food and milk they do not have to give, chances are we might be ashamed of ourselves for grumbling about inflation that may put a bit of a crimp in our sumptuous Thanksgiving Day dinners.
Let’s be careful! Surely, our Lord is speaking to us when He says: “But whoso hath the world’s goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).
“Oh,” someone may say, “but how can we possSibly share with those suffering and dying people so far away? How can we even get close to them?”
The CRWRC (Christian Reformed World Relief Committee) is the answer. Anyone who comes into contact with the work of the CRWRC will soon discover what a tremendous job this denominational agency is doing to show compassion to the needy in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, once again, why not take up this year’s Thanksgiving Day offering for just one cause, the CRWHC? Some churches have little envelopes handed out to every member ( the children also) on the previous Sunday. Let’s tell the children also what the needs are, and let’s teach them as soon as they are able to understand the call for Christian charity and that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
“Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom … for I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat . . . .” (Matt. 25:34, 35).
Let’s not deprive ourselves and our children of hearing our Lord say this to us and to them on that great day when nothing else will really matter.