By Lindsay A. Allen
As God in his wisdom ordained, the world failed to find him by its wisdom, and he chose to save those who have faith by the folly or the gospel (1 Cor. 1:21 N.E.B.).
If there were no other passage in the Bible on preaching, this passage alone would impress upon all of us, especially those who preach, the great need or preaching the gospel of Christ. The need for preaching the gospel never changes. The need remains constant in all ages under all circumstances and conditions. It may appear that in certain periods and places in history the need for gospel preaching was much greater and urgent than at other times. When the forces of evil are wide-spread and Satan seems to be in the saddle exercising control over the passions of men, there seems to be a much greater need for gospel preaching. However, it must be recognized that sin is sin, transgression of God’s law, whether it is a violation of moral or spiritual law, and if persisted in, it will bring eternal death (Rom. 6:23). The sins of immorality appear to be more serious than so-called doctrinal sins because the former bring social disorder and discord. But this is not the way God views the matter. While those who practice the works of the flesh come under divine condemnation, those who teach for doctrine the commandments of men will also be lost (Matt. 15:6-9,13; Lk. 7:29-30). The gospel must be preached to the good moral man who has not obeyed the gospel as well as to the immoral. Thus Paul instructed Timothy to “preach the word. Be urgent in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:1-2). The N.E.B. renders this passage “press it home on all occasions.” There is never a time to soften or let up in preaching the gospel. As long as sin and false doctrine are in the world, the gospel must be preached, for there is no other remedy for sin.
History, secular and divine, is a silent witness to man’s need in every age for the gospel of Christ. For four thousand years man carried on a persistent and continuous search for God apart from divine revelation. Philosophers, theologians, and scientists (the scholastic cream of the ages) carried on a relentless search for the true knowledge of God with dogged determination, under the most favorable circumstances, and utilizing the best resources available. Yet, in spite of all the skills of learning applied with diligence and industry, the search always ended in a blind alley. As Adam Clark has so well said, “No wisdom but that which came from God could ever penetrate and illuminate the human mind.” This failure to find God through human learning and wisdom may appear strange in the light of man’s accomplishments in other fields of endeavor. Man has been able to unlock doors to many of the secrets of the universe and reveal secrets thus far unknown to bring material comfort and satisfaction to his fellows. However, no man or group of men, ancient or modern, have been able to lift the veil that clouded man’s understanding of God. So it shall ever be, for as the above passage states, “As God in his wisdom has ordained.” Man seems slow to learn that God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordered and arranged the plan of salvation to make it impossible for man to come to a true knowledge of God apart from divine revelation. Moreover, history shows that the more man searches for God through human devices, the farther he wanders from God. Sin is added to sin until the lowest level of moral degradation and corruption is reached. In Romans 1, Paul gives a horrible, yet vivid, picture of the sad plight of the Gentile world because they refused to have God in their knowledge and launched out on their own wisdom. The only remedy for such conditions is the gospel of Christ. The need today is the same. Nor will the time ever come when the gospel will be out of date. The gospel is God’s power to save in every age and every clime. The gospel has been “once for all delivered” for man’s salvation. No other revelation will be forthcoming.
Now it is in order to inquire, What is gospel preaching? No man is prepared to preach until he knows what the gospel is. Far too many are attempting to preach who have little conception of what the gospel really is. This writer is in agreement with the late Curtis Porter when he said, “We have entirely too much preaching that means nothing, and the need of the hour is for men who have the courage to preach a distinctive message” (Truth Magazine 24:46). Another worthy preacher has said, “All preachers need a check-up once in a while.” Every preacher who loves the truth and the souls of men will run a check on himself examining his attitude toward God and his word, and the manner and content of his preaching. Too much is at stake to treat preaching lightly. Now, what are some of the features of gospel preaching?
1. Gospel preaching is Bible preaching. The Bible, the word of God, is the one and only textbook. While the preacher may consult dictionaries, commentaries, histories, etc., as aids to a better understanding of language, etc., such aids should never overshadow the word of God. He must remember that he is a messenger delivering the word of truth. The following excerpt is taken from Ministry, a Seventh Day Adventist publication, and is given here to show that even among some denominations there is an understanding of preaching even though misapplied: “A sermon idea, then, is of no value unless it is Biblically oriented. A Biblical preacher will keep in mind, first of all, that the only truth he can or will preach is Bible truth. Every idea that he uses must have a solid foundation in the word of God. There is no exception. If you cannot find scripture that will match the idea, you can perhaps give a good talk, but you can’t preach a Biblical sermon, because sermons are based only on the word of God.” The late H. Leo Boles often told the preacher-boys, “Boys, there is a great difference in preaching the gospel and making a talk on a Bible subject.” Let the news media take care of the social and economic problems, and let the preacher be about his business of preaching the gospel.
2. Gospel preaching is Christ centered. The very heart and core of the gospel is good news about the Savior. The coming of Jesus into the world to save a recreant and ruined race through the offering of himself upon the cross is the theme of the Bible. This is what gospel preaching is all about. To fail to point men to the Lamb of God is to fail to preach the Gospel. Men must be made to understand that Jesus “gave himself for our sins.”
3. Gospel preaching is distinctive preaching. The story of the cross and the plan of salvation God devised to save man is a very distinctive message. Gospel preaching identifies these truths and thus draws a sharp line of distinction between the gospel and the vagaries of denominationalism. The great difference between the truth of the gospel and false teaching must be set forth with clarity so that those who hear may understand the difference. There is something wrong when those who are steeped in sin and false teaching can listen and go away feeling comfortable. All who hear may not obey the gospel, but at least they know what the Bible teaches. Again, we quote from the same article by brother Porter, “Preaching that is not distinctive enough to make the lost realize they are lost is not the kind of preaching it takes to save men. Whenever an unfaithful brother, one guilty of sin against high heaven, or with an ungodly attitude toward the work of the Lord can sit under a man’s preaching without feeling any discomfort or alarm, there is probably something wrong with his preaching.” Preaching that does not disturb those in sin could hardly be called gospel preaching.
4. Gospel preaching identifies and separates. Gospel preaching identifies and brings to light the different classes of hearers. The value of the gospel depends not only on the preaching but also on the condition of the heart of the hearer. Those who are insincere and do not love the truth will soon be identified and weeded out. These who are living ungodly lives will either repent or separate themselves from the Lord’s people. Those who love God and his word and have an honest heart will be strengthened and thus make strong disciples. This kind of preaching keeps the church pure and by so doing will prevent many church problems. Brethren, encourage the preacher where you worship to “lay it on the line” and tell it as it is written. This is the only kind of preaching that will save souls and build up the Lord’s church.
5. Gospel preaching is kind and compassionate. There is the mistaken idea that gospel preaching that draws a sharp line between truth and error is caustic and unkind, driving people away. This is certainly not true. A review of preaching in the New Testament will show that gospel preaching was firm, straightforward and uncompromising, yet with kindness and compassion. Brethren, let us be firm, but with kindness.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 5, pp. 131-132
March 5, 1992