By Larry Ray Hafley
Brother Connie W. Adams will not remember this, but a few years ago he gave me a kind admonition and some great advice. After services one evening, brethren were very generous in their remarks about a sermon I had preached, so I was feeling unduly and unjustly proud of myself. Quietly, brother Adams came to me and said something like this, “Your sermon was fine, but your invitation could have been stronger. You need to emphasize the need for folks to obey the gospel; tell them what they must do and exhort them to do it!”
Well, I thought I had I Besides, a number of people had just assured me how much they “enjoyed the lesson,” so I was,ready to dismiss his gentle reproof. However, as I reflected on it, I could see that he was correct. Rarely do I preach without brother Adams’ words echoing in my heart.
So, preacher friend, how strong is the invitation you deliver? Ladies cap off a meal with a tasty dessert. Comedians end their routines with their funniest lines. How do you conclude your sermons? Brethren, do you listen to bland, weak, feeble, half-hearted appeals for people to obey the gospel? Should not sermons conclude with agressive exhortations and direct invitations for dying men and women to believe and obey the gospel?
I recently listened to several tapes of sermons by Harold. Hazelip, president of David Lipscomb College. His invitations were not designed to tell people how to obey the gospel. He simply said, “If we may help you in your obedience, come as we stand and sing.” He said nothing about how to obey the gospel, nor did he indicate that they needed to do so. He said nothing to exhort and encourage one to obey the gospel. Is this typical? Is it practical? Is it true, scriptural gospel preaching?
I am not an authority on the preparation and delivery of sermons. I dare not set myself up as an advisor or speech instructor. Perhaps, though, there is a need to evaluate and critique the effectiveness of the invitation made to those who need to obey the gospel.
First, the answer is not to be found in eloquence or flowery oratory. One’s words may soar to the heavens, borne aloft on the tongues of angels; they may dive and descend into the fiery abyss of the demons’ den; they may charm, exult, exalt and stir the emotions; they may please the ear and entertain the heart; however, if they do not convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, they are whispers of wind whistling through a ghost town.
Second, the solution is not to be discovered in “death bed tales and grave yard yarns.” Tears and emotional reactions may accompany gospel preaching, but they are the result of convicting truth, not the end in itself (Acts 2:37; 16:29,30). Yes, Felix trembled, but that was not Paul’s goal. It was a consequence of a reasoned appeal to righteousness, temperance and judgment to come (Acts 24:25).
Third, the success of a sermon is not determined by the “amens” it evokes nor by the applause it provokes. Compliments and commendations are not guarantees of success. If so, then Stephen stumbled and Paul was appalling (Acts 7; 13:16-50).
What, then? Consider Acts 2:36-41 and Acts 3:13-26. Peter told the audience the specific things they needed to do. He referred to faith, repentance and baptism, the process of conversion. He told them of the consequences of refusal and unbelief (Acts 3:22,23). “And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. ” He urged them to be obedient. He did not simply, casually say, “If you desire to obey the Lord, let us know how we may assist you,” as’ some men do today. No, he spoke plainly and directly and exhorted them to obey certain terms or conditions in order that they might be saved. He told them they would be damned if they did not (cf. Mk. 16:16; Acts 24:25).
Sinners need to know the awesome consequences of refusing to obey the gospel. Felix knew. A lame, limp-lipped invitation will never cause a sinner to tremble, to depart in anger, nor to be truly converted. There is power and terror in the gospel. Preachers will be held accountable who do not present both with fearless faith and firm forthrightness. If the world wants to bear a mushy mouthed, tear-jerking appeal, send them to a Methodist altar call., It is not a soft, short, vague, general invitation that will lead souls to respond to God’s saving grace. Build faith in Christ and in his word. Convict men of sin and tell them of its remedy and retribution. Strongly urge them to obey the direct demands of obedience – faith, repentance, confession and baptism (Acts 8:12,35,36; 16:32,33). Tell them what awaits them if they do not obey the truth (2 Thess. 1:8; Rom. 2:6-9; 1 Pet. 4:17,18).
Could it be that thoughtless, mindless, aimless invitations are the ruin of sermons that would otherwise be good and profitable? Do not assume that everyone already knows what to do to be saved. Preach the truth. Press it into the hearts of men and lovingly insist that they obey it. God will give the increase, and you will be pure from the blood of all men.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 8, pp. 227-228
April 20, 1989