PREACHING IN DEMONSTRATION OF THE SPIRIT.
In the salvation of souls and their purification and enlargement preaching must always be the most important human agency. The only rival is the press. This lacks personality, one of the two cardinal elements of preaching. The other is truth. Phillips Brooks defines preaching as the communication of truth through personality. Christian truth embodied in a book held in the utmost reverence is not preaching. It lacks the vital element of personality. Truth written across the arches of the sky in letters of flaming fire might inspire sublimity and awe, but it would not attain the purpose of preaching. There can be no substitute for a personal presence endowed with the gift of speech and with the subtle magnetism of an earnest soul fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit as an organ of His suasive Power. "On the other hand, if men speak to other men that which they do not claim for truth; if they use their Powers of persuasion or entertainment to make other men listen to their speculations, or do their will, or applaud their cleverness, that is not preaching either. The first lacks personality. The second lacks truth." It must be evangelical truth; not its pleasant elements only,, such as the love of God and the bliss of heaven, but its alarming verities also. The highest style of preaching is the tender yet earnest and courageous proclamation of "the whole counsel of God, sin, retribution, atonement, repentance, faith, pardon, purity, judgement, heaven and hell."' Both of these elements of successful preaching are brought to perfection through the indwelling fullness of the Holy Ghost. What we call unction, that contagious, indefinable state of the speakers sensibilities; combining deep conviction of the truth uttered, strong, emotion, religious fervor and melting tenderness, reaches its climax of persuasive energy only under the inspiration of the Spirit of God. This can never be simulated. Vociferation, boisterousness and physical vehemence are clumsy and disgusting counterfeits of genuine spiritual unction, easily detected by an intelligent audience. The arts of the perfect elocutionist, when completely naturalized, may help, as in the case of Whitefleld, to widen and deepen the channel through which the warm, liquid stream of power may flow forth into all hearts, but they can never originate that power. It was a capital offence to counterfeit the "holy anointing oil" (Ex. xxx. 33) in the Mosaic dispensation. Can it be a venial sin in the more glorious dispensation of the Spirit to stand up in the name of Christ and pour out upon a multitude of immortal souls needing impulse heavenward a wretched counterfeit unction, a mixture of fine prose rhetoric garnished with scraps of poetry and seasoned with the grimaces and gestures of an actor? Did not our Lord Jesus have such preachers in view when He said: "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out demons? and in thy name done many miracles? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity"? (Matt. vii. 22, 23). Meyer, the exegete, describes the distinguishing feature in these preachers as "an impure, often fanatical, boldness in the faith, which, though enabling them to perform acts of a marvelous nature, yet fails to exercise any influence upon their own moral life — just the sort of thing described by Paul in I Cor. xiii. 2 and the manifestations of which are to be met with in every age, especially in times of great religious excitement." These solemn words of warning of our Lord should be written in large letters over the study table of every preacher, to be pondered in the preparation of every sermon. They are never read by the writer without awakening him to self-distrust and self-examination. This is especially true since reading again and again Stalker's fifth lecture of his Yale lectures, 1891, entitled "The Preacher as a False Prophet," in which he shows
that the true prophets had to face the opposition, not of heathen and not of the openly irreligious among their own countrymen only, but of those who had the name of God in their mouths and were publicly recognized as His oracles. To us these are now false prophets, because time has found them out and the Word of God has branded them as they deserve; but in their own day they were regarded as true prophets; and doubtless many of them never dreamed that they were not entitled to the name. They must have been a numerous and powerful body.
This is an appalling fact, that the public representatives of religion should ever have been the worst enemies of religion; but it cannot be denied that even in Christendom, and that not once or twice, the same condition of things has existed.
1. The Holy Spirit stands by all the truth that He has inspired. If any vital truth is unaccepted and unpopular and has largely dropped out of your sermons, you may know that your preaching is not prompted by the Spirit of truth. You have no valid reason for thinking that your proclamation of such generally accepted truth as you do preach is a proof that you are thus far submissive to the dictation of the Spirit, for you may be actuated by motives entirely impure and selfish. He is not a herald loyal to his king who proclaims only such commands as please him and neglects every disagreeable order. This would be the ruling of every jurist. A young curate in England was asked what were the favorite themes of his preaching. He replied, "Free trade and the pleasant parts of Christianity." He probably uttered some kind of ethical or economical truth in every sermon. Does this prove that the Holy Spirit a anything to do with his preaching? "How often we ask with real sadness, whence the remarkable impotence of preaching in our time? It is because we concoct our gospels too much out of the laboratories of our understanding; because we preach too many disquisitions and look for effects correspondent only with the natural forces exerted."
2. The Holy Spirit inspires only that ministry which is subordinate to Jesus Christ, whom He glorifies. He cannot be the soul of that ministry which exalts self above Christ. The Spirit's oneness of nature with Him forbids it. There are only two themes of preaching, Christ and self. Most evangelical preachers begin with the exaltation of Christ. But many come to an imperceptible switch from Christ to self, and from that point in their history they use the ministry of the Son of God as a ladder up which they climb to grasp the object of selfish ambition, ecclesiastical promotion, literary excellence, oratory, a college professorship, an editorship, money, social standing, or some other soap bubble. Many are using the gospel ministry as a stepping-stone to something better in their estimation. The Holy Ghost does not dwell in stepping-stone preachers. A true minister filled with the Holy Ghost feels a repugnance to a college presidency or professorship, and he yields to the call only when he is convinced that he can be more effectively preaching Christ in teaching others to preach. It was this that reconciled Dr. Chalmers to the chair of theology in the Edinburgh University. He came to see "that while many were called to catch and salt fish, some men are called to make salt."
3. The Holy Spirit, the successor to Christ in presiding over His Church, has a special sympathy with those whom He designates as His representatives — the poor to whom He preached. He sent to John, His forerunner, this crowning proof of His Messiahship towering above His miracles, "and the poor have the gospel preached unto them." Here is the criterion. You have two ministerial calls; you are free from debt, and have a fair outfit. One call is to a rich and fashionable church with a large salary; the other is to a congregation of laboring people in "a shoe town" on half the other salary. The size of the two congregations and of the two cities is the same. I do not say that the Holy Spirit does not call eminently spiritual men to rich city churches. Edward Payson was called to such a church, where he thundered and lightened like another Sinai for twenty years against every form of iniquity. The Holy Ghost evidently dwelt in him, and prompted his utterances. When called to more lucrative salaries in Boston and New York he declined, and refused an increase in his salary in Portland. This spirit of self-sacrifice is sufficient proof of his freedom from self-seeking and his willingness to follow whithersoever the Spirit might lead.
What we do say is that men of great gifts are needed among the poor, and when they are called to minister to them, and gladly accept a call to the rich instead, we are inclined to say that the Holy Spirit does not prefer the rich to the poor, but rather the reverse. A preference of that call which evinces the greatest self-sacrifice, and which brings the preacher into closer sympathy with the least of Christ's brethren, is an evidence that the preacher is a temple of the Holy Ghost.
Says Austin Phelps of the true ideal of a Christian minister: "He should be able to go, without a ripple of difference in his sense of personal distinction, to the Fiji Islands or to the Fifth Avenue in New York." Robert Hall says: "If God should send two angels down from heaven, one to sweep the streets of London and the other to be lord mayor, there would be no dispute between them as to which is the more honorable calling." What in this respect is possible in angels is possible in the entirely sanctified men and women, hundreds of whom are choosing the wretched abodes of heathenism in which to spend, in the name of Christ, lives of uncomplaining privation and toil. When Lorenzo Dow was told of a preacher who had a call to two churches, offering the same salary, and was in doubt which to accept, but finally decided that he was called by the Holy Ghost to the church which added his firewood to the salary, that eccentric but keen evangelist irreverently said: "It was a wooden Holy Ghost."
We are frequently asked whether the preacher should seek after the induement of power as a special gift.
If you are conscious of the indwelling of the Spirit as purifying and ruling with supreme authority, it is very appropriate to pray as Paul did, for utterance and boldness in the proclamation of truths distasteful to the unregenerate and to the unsanctified. If you have not such a consciousness of the presence of the Holy Spirit, it would be more complimentary to Him to ask for Himself first, and for His gift afterwards. The Spirit rarely intrusts His power to those who do not completely intrust themselves to His cleansing and guidance; He does not give His power separate from Himself. Ask for Him for His own sake, if you wish to show Him proper respect as a person. His permanent indwelling is in itself the noblest end at which you can aim; to aim at something beyond Him is derogatory to Him as divine in His nature and equal to the Father and the Son in glory and majesty. Everybody wants power, few want God. It is not a proof of a high state of grace to ask for power, even the power of the Holy Ghost; this is what Simon Magus wanted; the secret motive may centre in the glory of self on the top round of the ladder of ministerial ambition. There is a chance for mixed motives even in a preacher of undoubted piety. Many pray earnestly for power in their work and receive it not, because they do not assume the only posture in which the power can work; they want to get possession of the power of the Spirit and use it as they please. God wants the power of the Spirit to get the mastery of them and use them as He pleases. If they would surrender to the power of the Spirit to rule through them. "God gives the Holy Spirit to them who obey Him," and in His abiding fulness to them only. His wisdom cannot intrust power to the disobedient. The more perfect the obedience the larger the power of the Spirit. "If thou wouldst have this power work in thee, bow very low in reverence before the holy presence that dwelleth in thee, which asks thy surrender to His guidance even in the least things. Walk very humbly, in holy fear lest in anything thou shouldst fail in knowing or doing His holy will."
Moreover, remember that the power of the Spirit is never bestowed as a premium to indolence. There is sound Christian theology in the fable of pagan AEsop about Hercules helping the mired teamster only when he put his own shoulder to his wheel. Asking for the Holy Spirit for our own enjoyment may not be a vicious motive. Certainly it is not the highest; this sways you only when your purpose is to glorify the adorable Son of God. God is constantly seeking men and women of such a purpose to clothe them with power, "for the eyes of Jehovah run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong (strongly to hold with, Hebrew), in behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him" (II Chron. xvi. 9).
The power of the Spirit may be in exercise while the preacher is unconscious of it. He may not feel it, though sometimes the speaker is aware that a power outside of him has descended upon him, endowing with spiritual might. To this Spurgeon often gave testimony. But ordinarily the Spirit's power, like gravitation, magnetism and electricity, is silent and unseen, giving a penetrating energy to the speaker's words, even when they seem powerless to himself. Dr. Stephen Olin had a marvellous experience of this sort in his ministry in Charleston, S. C. Several persons dated their conversion from an evening sermon of which he was so ashamed that he dared not meet any of his hearers, but retired from the church through a back door into a dark graveyard, and with difficulty found his way to his lodgings. It is to be noted that in God's chosen order of sequences weakness and power coexist in a wonderful way. "When I am weak, then am I strong." This is Paul's testimony, who also declares that God takes weak things to confound the mighty. This parable disappears when we assert that the weakness is only the human side of strong faith in God. It was a favorite remark of one of God's modern sons of thunder, that "there are two persons in the universe to whom all things are possible: one is God, and the other is he that believeth." It has been well said that faith grows strong in the dark. "The Holy Spirit hides Himself in the weak things that God has chosen, that no flesh may glory in his presence."
If there is any sight especially painful, it is that of a professed minister of Christ destitute of power in a world over which Satan has usurped dominion. He ought to be the most wretched man on earth, who knows how wicked and miserable is a world of sinners lost, but has no power to bring any of these palsied souls to Christ, the Healer and Giver of life. "He lays a kind but helpless hand upon the wound. He tries to relieve it with his sympathy and his philosophy. He is the source of all he says. There is no God behind him."
The preacher needs the fulness of the Holy Spirit to make him an open and wide aqueduct for the water of life to flow to every soul with whom he comes in contact. This implies large faith, the door through which God comes into the human soul, and the door of the communication of grace from the believer to the unbeliever. It implies also what John calls "perfect love", with its kindred graces, meekness, gentleness and patience. The altruists of our generation have made the great philosophic discovery that the way to induce love or any other virtue in our neighbor is to exhibit it in ourselves, a principle embodied in Christ's precept, "love your enemies," and in Paul's "heap coals of fire on his head," not to burn him up but to melt him down. Only the indwelling Holy Spirit can transform a man naturally selfish into such a personality.
But the preacher needs the Spirit of God also for the other element of ministerial success, the truth. He can appropriate its inmost essence only as he is quickened and transformed by "the Spirit of truth." It is one thing to have an intellectual knowledge of Christian theology, but quite another to have Christ, "the truth and the life," incorporated into your inmost self, and "formed within, the hope of glory." The difference between these two kinds of knowledge, the theoretical and the experimental, is the difference between theology and religion, the body and the soul of Christianity. No preacher can have the truth thus wrought into the very texture of his being except by the abiding presence of the Spirit of truth giving reality and vitality to gospel truth. It is because of a lack of this presence that doubt obscures the inward vision, substitutes nebulous language for clear-cut, positive enunciation of saving truth, and makes the sermon a barren literary achievement in the presence of immortal souls fainting and dying of spiritual hunger. "Even spiritual truth is robbed of its power when held, not in the life of the Spirit, but in the wisdom of man. Where truth enters into the inward parts as God desires, there it becomes the life of the Spirit." Many a preacher satisfies himself with the imagination that truth which only touches the surface of the soul, the intellect and reason, will in some way strike its roots into the rock beneath and produce a spiritual harvest. The effect of such preaching is nothing more than that of human argument and wisdom, that never pierces the hearer's heart as with a sword, revealing the sinful spirit to itself.
When several Unitarian theological students came to Father Taylor after one of his mighty sermons in the Seamen's Bethel, and asked him to teach them to preach, the preacher replied: "You must first have the preach in you, then the preaching will take care of itself." We interpret this advice as meaning that gospel truth in its reality and divine substance must be received in the inmost soul and held as an actual possession, the life of the things which others regard as only shadows. The Spirit is the inner life of divine truth. In His teaching He does not employ symbols, words, thoughts, impressions and images like a human teacher or writer. He has the ability to enter the very roots of our life and to secrete the truth of God there as a seed of divine life. Received by faith and watered by prayer, it becomes a banyan tree overshadowing the whole being. Such a preacher will become a Wesley, a Finney, a Moody or a Payson, not in the extent, but in the kind of spiritual success. All we have said about the inability of the unspiritual mind to be a medium of vital truth is sustained by Paul, Who says: "No man can say Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit" (I Cor. xii. 3). If I had the ear of every young preacher and of every student of theology, I would endeavor to convince them of the utter incapacity of human wisdom in its very highest development to grasp the real inward spiritual meaning of a divine revelation without the internal illumination of the abiding Paraclete. It is only as both speaker and hearer are spiritual, under the rule of the Spirit, that there can be a successful communication of gospel truth.
The Holy Ghost, who is in essential and perfect communion with the Father and the Son, reveals unto us eternal realities. He alone knows the infinite love of God with which He has loved us, for He alone can fathom the depth out of which this love proceeds. Thus what the Holy Ghost reveals and imparts is the knowledge of realities which are eternal in God. It is the Spirit Himself who teaches and enlightens. The truth itself, the preaching of the gospel, the reading of the Scriptures, has no inherent power to bring knowledge into the soul. These are only the instruments, the Spirit is the agent; they are only the sword, the Spirit is the energy, the hand that wields it. They shall be taught of God. God causes the light of the gospel to shine into our hearts. How little we realize this truth, so comforting and full of encouragement! How apt are we to forget the living Spirit in the gifts and channels Which He uses! How fond we are of placing ourselves in God's place; if not in the Father's, in Christ's; if not in Christ's, in that of the Spirit.1
What an audience looks for, before everything else, in the texture of a sermon, is the blood streak of experience; and truth is doubly and trebly true when it comes from a man who speaks as if he had learned it by his own work and suffering.
True preaching is a testimony; it offers not things reasoned, in any principal degree, but things given, supernatural things, testifying them as being in their power, by an utterance which they fill and inspire. It brings new premises, which, of course, no argument can create, and therefore speaks to faith.2
We live in a time when a section of Protestantism is fascinated by ritualism with its gorgeous ceremonial, robed priests, vested choirs, lighted candles, smoking censers, stately processions, intoned prayers, pronounced absolutions, and genuflections before the cross. This is a bad sign, indicating a desire to substitute something visible and sensuous for that which constitutes the healthful attraction, the true charm and glory of Christian worship, the presence and power of the invisible Spirit in believing hearts. It betokens an interior vacuum which the ritualist is trying to fill with external shows and sounds and shams. The Spirit of truth abhors these substitutes for Himself. Every mind in which the Holy Spirit dwells instinctively turns away in disgust from the chaff of ritualism.
In all manner of Christian work — not embroidering altar-cloths and arranging pulpit nosegays — the first thing and the essential thing is that we shall be continually receiving renewed induements of the Holy Spirit, styled by the seraphic Fletcher "the quintessence of our holy religion." It might be truthfully styled the Magna Charta of the Church instead of "the myth of apostolic succession" as Phillips Brooks aptly called it. It certainly is "the everlasting sign which shall not be cut off," the only continued miracle, the converting power on earth, instantaneously changing bad men into good men, the thorn into a fir tree, a transformation above the power of nature. The measure of this supernatural power in any local church is not determined by the caprice of an arbitrary sovereignty, but by the human fulfilment of divinely appointed conditions, the utter abandonment of the soul to the Holy Ghost as the Sanctifier and a hearty co-operation with Him as the Reprover and Regenerator. There is no effectual substitute for the Holy Ghost as the Transformer, neither eloquence, nor personal magnetism, nor philosophy, nor even the energy of a purified human spirit, unless it is interpenetrated by the divine Spirit.
There should be a careful study of revival preaching. There can be no genuine revival unless the conditions are fulfilled. The fallow ground must be broken up by driving the subsoil ploughshare of repentance through and through it. Begin at the house of God; there is much fallow ground in God's field, the Church. There are many nominal Christians who do not realize that they are sinners in the sight of God. They are resting in church membership, promptly paid pew rents and weekly offerings, attendance upon preaching and the Lord's supper, and the same general interest in the prosperity of the church to which they belong that is exhibited by liberalists and Romanists. They also contribute their share to the great charities of the denomination. But all these things a person backslidden in heart may do from other motives than pure love to our dear Lord Jesus. It may be the effect of habit. He may desire to retain the good opinion of the Christian public for purely personal ends. He may be making an ostentatious display of some virtues to compensate for some vices or to cover them up. Professors of Christianity are prone to sophisticate conscience when they are out of the strait and narrow way. They try to make their crookedness seem to be undistorted. Men spiritually dead have been known to simulate great fervor if called on to pray in public. Sometimes an excessive bustling activity in the externals of Christianity is prompted by the consciousness that the inner life has become extinct and the uneasy moral sense must have something to lean upon. What all these characters need is plain and fearless preaching which uncovers their sins and drives them out of all their false refuges. Their sins should be specially detailed. Their sins of omission, which are most frequently overlooked, should be enumerated and dwelt upon. What a catalogue of neglects the faithful preacher might set in array before the members of his church — neglect of the Holy Scriptures, which do not feed them now as they once did, but they appear dry and chaffy. Once they fed upon the Word with great delight; it was sweeter than honey. Now the daily paper is sought first in the morning, and on Sundays the Sunday newspaper with all its trash and flummery. Preach a sermon on the Bible so long neglected that damnation could be written on its dusty cover. Then, what a fearful neglect of family religion is prevalent in our churches. In many of our families the altar stones have fallen down. The morning and evening sacrifice is no longer burned thereon. Business and the railroad train are put in place of God in the morning. The lodge, the club, the social party, the evening newspaper are instead of God at night. What will become of the children who hear not the voices of their parents in home worship?
"Just as the twig is bent the tree is inclined."
Let me testify to the praise of my heavenly Father that the twig of my childhood was bent heavenward by the voice of prayer about my cradle. Two of the four sons of my father were called to preach, and two of my own. Rebuild the family altars and rekindle the fires, and Methodism of the next generation will feel the effect in the conversion of millions of her children.
Preach on neglected communion with God in the closet, where all unworthy motives, such as the praise of men, are excluded. How common is the neglect of that indispensable condition of discipleship — self-denial! The term is rarely used. Many professors know its meaning by the dictionary only. They never have denied themselves a ribbon or a cigar for Christ and for His gospel. They are quite active in the pleasant parts of religion, but they shrink from anything that requires self-denial. This is too humiliating to pride. What they can do as well as not — flowers for the pulpit or a bookmark for the Bible — they are willing to do, but they are not willing to sacrifice any comfort or any convenience for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ. They seem to think that God ought not to ask them to do disagreeable duties, and that He should feel that He was specially complimented by their condescending to take the name of Christians when there were so many high-toned and fashionable people outside the Church for them to associate with. How few the deniers of self at the contribution box! Here and there a widow with two mites, who gave not her surplus but her capital. Preach self-denial as absolutely essential to salvation. Many are utterly negligent of the highest well-being of their fellow-men, a point on which we have been forewarned that the final judgment will turn. They should be convicted of this sin by the faithful preacher. Says Dr. Finney: "If your soul is not agonized for the poor benighted heathen, why are you such a hypocrite as to pretend to be a Christian? Why, your profession is an insult to Jesus Christ."
Preach repentance for the great sin of not believing God, great because it makes Him a liar. This sin, existing wholly in the invisible realm of the spirit, is by the world and the worldly part of the Church deemed to be destitute of any moral quality. The preacher should put forth his whole strength to tear this destructive falsehood out of men's minds, especially out of the minds of professed Christians. These frequently negative God's promises by their failure to believe, while sinners throw away God's threatenings. Thus the whole Bible is rejected.
Preach repentance for sins of commission, setting forth specifications of transgressions of the moral law as Christ did in His sermon on the mount. Read Wesley's discourses on that sermon as a part of your preparation. I have been painfully observant of the decline of this kind of preaching in the modern pulpit. It is a bad sign of the times. It indicates that a soft theology is superseding the Biblical doctrines of our fathers. In addition to the miasma of liberalism that is in the air, a doctrine is prevalent in certain circles which negatives the law as binding on believers, and substitutes faith for repentance and holiness. Its teachers emphasize the fact that St. John does not speak of repentance either in his Gospel or in his Epistles. Negations prove nothing. He does not mention hell either. Both of the causes named tend to weaken the motives to repentance. But it is quite certain that it is absolutely essential to the genuine revival is preceded by faithful preaching on this duty.
Preaching should aim at definite results. We know of none more significant than radical conversions with a date, although a dateless conversion may be genuine. Yet it is very desirable that the Christian should be able to look back upon a definite emergence into newness of life, and to name the day of his espousals unto Christ. This is a great safeguard against the two doubts in respect to fundamentals: Is Christ the true Saviour? and does He save me? A sudden transition from darkness into the marvelous light by a pardon attested by God's seal, the Holy Spirit, the agent of regeneration and initial sanctification, is a type of Christian experience quite difficult for scepticism to assail with success. It is a monumental proof of the divinity of the gospel.
Such experiences were frequent in early Methodism because the type of preaching was such as to promote them. Clear-cut statements of saving truth produce sharply defined experiences. Hazy preaching makes nebulous conversions. When you stand under an arc-light and look at your shadow how surprised you are at the sharpness of the outline! Every stray hair is individualized. Why? Because every ray of light streams from one point. Our figure hints at pointed sermons. What would come to pass if Methodism had an arc-light in every pulpit? We do not predict that every conversion would be Pauline. They would be more numerous and more genuine, but they would not all be striking. God has a great variety of operations in the kingdom of grace.
Young preachers who have had a signal conversion are apt to forget this. They begin their ministerial life with a distinct view of the mode in which souls come into the kingdom of God, and of the spuriousness, of course, of all incomings which had not all the peculiarities of that mode. But when such preachers have in their pastoral work listened to the experience of some of their very best members, most spiritual and most active, they will find that their regulation mode of conversion is altogether too narrow for the wideness of God's mercy. They will find persons full of faith and the Holy Ghost on whom the Sun of Righteousness arose in a period so cloudy that they cannot tell the day, and hardly the week, when His rays first shone into their hearts. The truth is that God works in the realm of grace as He does in nature, along certain established lines, as that summer shall follow spring, with fixed general features, but in such a way as to admit of a vast and beautiful diversity sometimes more surprising than the uniformity.
Christianity faithfully applied to childhood results in frequent conversions without a date. It is natural that the transition of a little child of eight years from the world to Christ should be without a memorable struggle. Several of my most intimate friends who are adult believers, remarkable for their devotion and about as steadfast in their Christian career as the sun in the heavens, were converted when children, and are unable to celebrate any spiritual birthdays. There would be more of these in the Church today as shining lights if the contrast between the quiet mode of their conversion and the marvellous glare of some adults' experiences had not induced them to throw away the little taper which the Spirit had lighted in their hearts. This is one of the evil results of conceiving that God works in only one way. We must respect dateless commonplace conversations, and give the subjects of them our confidence and a warm welcome to the Church, the fold of Christ.
What we have said of conversion is in a less degree true of entire sanctification. This does not usually occur in immature age, and is generally a more signal event in the consciousness of the recipient. Yet there is even here an infinite variety. As to the space of time after justification, God has given us no almanac. While we know the agent, the Sanctifier, we know not the way He will take in any individual case. Many, especially outside of Methodism, have been wholly cleansed from depraved inclinations, and have not known it by the name given by John Wesley. They were athirst after God's fulness, and they received the baptism or successive anointings of the Holy Spirit. They find themselves strong, joyful, victorious over every temptation, and having full assurance of faith. They have all the marks and concomitants of entire sanctification.
In all preaching to believers the aim should be to make the feeble to become as David in strength, and the house of David as the angel of Jehovah.
The relation of this subject to the various moral reforms and attempted social reconstructions is a theme of practical interest on which we would like to dwell. Some preachers of the gospel are preaching sociology. There are well-meaning people who wish to abate and suppress evils which prey upon human society by ignoring the only radical and effectual cure by the new birth. Many of these are philanthropic, but not Christian. They answer very well Father Taylor's description of one of his sons-in-law, when, in reply to the question whether he was a Christian, the old man eloquently replied. "No, but he is a very sweet sinner." The failure of all such reformers arises from their beginning with the mass and not with the individual, and their cleansing of the outside of the cup and platter, and their stopping at the rectification of the outward conduct, leaving the heart, the innermost seat of character, unchanged. They suppress the symptoms without curing the disease. This may not be a blessing, but rather a damage. It has been said that God shows His great wisdom in attaching outward very unpleasant sequences to the evil in men's hearts, sequences in the shape of vices, gusts of anger, pains of body and mind and "woes that follow at the heels of sin." If men could get all their misdeeds out of sight and still keep sin in their hearts shut in from every human eye, it would be the greatest obstruction to their highest well-being. We have all heard of the street angel and the home devil. He is further from the kingdom of heaven than the street devil and home angel. The external purgation of the world by a grand sweep of outward reform without implanting new springs of action in a regeneration of the natural man, if such a reform were possible, would give the race a paradise restored, but a paradise of hypocrites, heavenly in behavior but satanic in principle. This is the aim of all the naturalistic reformers. But the true preacher, who imitates his Master in his method of doing good, perceiving the folly of smoothing up the world in its sin and alienation from God, boldly cries to sinners as well bred as Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again, born of the Spirit." The new birth is the only effectual safeguard of society. This is taught in Old Testament prophecy. "Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks" (Isa. xxvi. 1).
If Christianity is going to regenerate society, its heralds must not stop when they have portrayed its vices and crimes. They must lay bare their fountain, the sin of men's heart, the sin of unbelief toward Jesus Christ, and insist on the new birth as the only cure. The Spirit's great office is to "convict of sin, because they believe not in me."
The gospel has a style or address peculiarly its own. It is not the stately and ornate oration of the Grecian rhetor or the Roman orator, but the unpretending utterance of the herald. It is to proclaim words put into the mouth by a higher authority. Hence Jesus Christ does not call His ministers dialecticians, advocates or orators, but simply preachers, proclaiming that the Messiah has come, and exhorting to the reception of His gospel. One of the first evidences of departure on the part of the Church from the simplicity of Christ is seen in the popular favor shown to those who have ceased to be preachers heralding the world's Saviour, and have become orators, using Scripture texts as convenient staples to hang a chain of brilliant periods upon. That is a false and fatal refinement which takes offence at the plain and earnest preaching of Christ. It always indicates that the godless spirit of Grecian culture, which regards Christ crucified as foolishness, has infused its subtle poison into the Church. There is a widely prevalent mistake respecting the nature of sacred eloquence. But here are only paste diamonds. When your preacher is taking to himself wings and soaring to the empyrean on some grandiloquent passage, and you mentally exclaim or whisper to your neighbor, "O, how eloquent! "real eloquence has not been reached, because you are not swayed by the thoughts and melted into penitence, or lifted out of yourself into the life divine. You are still a critic. True eloquence will always lift you above the critical attitude. You cease to think of the man, his diction, voice and action; you think only of the burning truth which pours forth a molten stream from the furnace of the preacher's glowing heart.
When you look at a picture, if you are thinking of the paints and how they were laid on, you are gazing at a mere daub, and not at the work of a great master. He does not permit you to think of the coloring or of the artist. He allows you to see nature only, so perfectly has he mastered the art of concealing art. When you retire from the church admiring the preacher instead of crying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner," or, "Create in me a clean heart," you have been listening to a journeyman and not to a master of sacred eloquence. Do you think that Felix sat in wonder at the diction of St. Paul as he waxed warm arid his imagination caught fire as he reasoned of righteousness, and Mount Sinai was thrown upon the canvas, and the awful darkness settled upon its summit, and the lightnings and thunderings, and the voice of the trumpet, waxing louder and louder, were portrayed, while Felix feels the earth quaking beneath the tread of Jehovah? Do you suppose that he nudged his Jewish wife at his elbow, exclaiming, "How sublime! What a graphic imagination this countryman of yours has"?
Then when St. Paul portrays the tragedy of Calvary, the darkening skies, the rending rocks, the opening graves, and the Son of God bowing His head in death, praying for His enemies do you think that the Roman governor felt like clapping his hands in applause as at a well-acted drama? When the bold and faithful preacher spoke of temperance to the tippling and licentious sinner on the tribunal, portraying the drunkard's grave of shame and hell of torment, it is not supposable that the royal toper cried out to Lysias, the chief of his staff, "Splendid! splendid! What excellence this Jew might have attained, even rivalling Hortentius and Cicero, if he had been schooled at Rome!" Instead of this, Felix, conscience-smitten at the vivid picture in the gospel mirror of his own dissolute career, is vainly endeavoring to stanch the tears welling up from eyes unused to weep, as Paul, by the dark Ghost of what Felix is, flings upon the canvas the bright ideal of what he might have been. When Paul reaches the thirdly of his sermon, the judgment to come, Felix is sitting with downcast eye, and forehead resting on his hand. We may easily imagine what was the course of that high argument. The materials would be chiefly drawn from the moral and religious ideas of the pagan sinner before him: first, an appeal to his own moral sense, the finger point within, directing him to the hour when justice will mount her tribunal and adjudicate the affairs of men; then a corroborative reference to Roman mythology, involving the judicial scrutiny of the shades in the infernal World; and, lastly, the grand concluding argument used on Mars Hill: "But now God commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead."
Here follow the infallible proofs of Jesus' resurrection, confirming all His claims, especially that of the future judgment of the world. Then the fearless preacher makes Felix see the great white throne, and the awful Judge, attended by myriads of angels, in majesty sweep down from the skies, and hear the trump of Gabriel calling the slumbering dead from land and sea, and the cry of the wicked for the rocks and hills to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb, and the sentence to the company at the left hand, "Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire." Felix is no longer the cool critic that he was when he took his seat on the tribunal. Under a tide of religious emotions awakened in his bosom by the faithful presentation of God's truth, be has lost sight of Paul; he has forgotten his Hebrew brogue, his violation of the rules of oratory, or his conformity to them. Matters of greater importance occupy his thoughts. "My sins, my sins: the judgment, the judgment." This is eloquence. Felix does not say it is. Paul may not think that he has been eloquent. But the end of preaching has been attained: a hardened sinner has been awakened and made to tremble before God. This is preaching, "not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power."3
There is much preaching which the Holy Ghost cannot use for the conviction and conversion of the unregenerate and the sanctification of believers. It is generally true that the sermon which has most of the Holy Scriptures appropriately quoted in proof of the argument will be used by the Spirit to the best effect.
The themes of the preacher should be the truths which the Holy Spirit enforces upon the world — sin, righteousness and judgment. These momentous doctrines, of which the Paraclete was to convince the world, most intimately pertain to the whole human family and every individual member thereof. To herald these truths is the great mission of the Church till the end of the world. To withhold them is treason to Christ, and a robbery of the Holy Spirit of His own sword, and concealment of the only medicine that can heal a leprous and perishing race.
Do not tone down God's awakening truth. Do not dilute it. Do not destroy its pungency by your modifications. Do not obscure it by your philosophy. As Ann Phillips said to her husband, "Don't shilly-shally, Wendell." Says Channing, "No man is fit to preach the truth who is not ready, to be a martyr to the truth." Says the same great preacher of Christian ethics:
One great reason of the inefficacy of the ministry is the want of faith in a higher operation of Christianity in the higher development of humanity than is now possessed. As long as the present condition of the Christian world shall be regarded as ultimate, as long as our religion shall be thought to have done already its chief work on earth, as long as the present corruptions of the Church and the State shall be acquiesced in as laws of nature, and shall stir up no deep agonizing desire of reform, so long the ministry will be comparatively dead.
1. Dr. A. Saphir, "Christ Crucified," page 109.
2. Dr. Horace Bushnell.
3. See Appendix Note H