How is a man most likely to affect his hearers by the presentation of truth? Unquestionably by being deeply affected himself. It is easy to see when a man feels what he is saying. There may be a very clear and clever exposition of doctrine, but if it be cold and heartless then it will fall powerless on the ears of the audience. In order to speak to hearts on any subject, the heart of the speaker himself must feel it. What was it that gave such power to George Whitefield’s discourses? It was not the depth or the range of truth contained in them. No, the secret of their mighty efficacy lay in the fact that the speaker felt what he was saying. Whitefield wept over the people, and it is no wonder that the people wept under Whitefield. He must be a hardened wretch indeed who can sit unmoved under a preacher who is shedding tears for his soul’s salvation!
Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean to say that anything in a preacher’s manner can, of itself, convert a soul. Tears cannot quicken, earnestness cannot regenerate. It is “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith Jehovah of hosts” (Zech. 4: 6). It is only by the powerful action of the Word and of the Spirit of God that any soul can be born again (see John 3: 5). However, at the same time, I also believe that God blesses earnest preaching and that souls are moved by it. We have far too much mechanical preaching––too much routine work––too much of what may justly be called ‘going through the motions’. We want more earnestness, more depth of feeling, more intensity. We want more power to weep over the souls of men––a more influential and abiding sense of the awful doom of impenitent sinners, the value of an immortal soul, and the solemn realities of the eternal world. We are told that the famous Garrick was once asked by a bishop how it was that he produced far more powerful results by his fiction than the bishop ever did by preaching truth. The reply of the actor is full of force. ‘My Lord’ he replied ‘the reason is obvious: I speak fiction as though it were truth, whereas you speak truth as though it were fiction’. Sadly, it is much to be feared that many of us speak truth in the same way, hence the poor results. I am convinced that earnest and faithful preaching is one of the special needs of the day. There are a few here and there, thank God, who seem to feel what they are at: men who stand before their audience as those who know themselves as channels of communication between God and their fellow–men, men who are really bent on their work––bent not merely on preaching and teaching but on saving and blessing souls. Oh let us not be merely those who can speak at the pulpit, but be men who can speak with genuine feeling, imbued with a deep sense of working for God, and filled with a passion for souls!
The spirit of the Evangelist
Paul had a burning desire for souls. In him we can trace the qualities which a divinely gifted evangelist will surely in some measure possess. The Acts give an outline of his labours, but it is in the epistles we learn more of the spirit which motivated him.
Writing to the Thessalonians, the apostle says “For ye know yourselves, brethren, our entering in which [we had] to you, that it has not been in vain; but, having suffered before and been insulted, even as ye know, in Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the glad tidings of God with much earnest striving” (1 Thess. 2: 1, 2). At Philippi, he and Silas had been scourged on the instruction of the praetors, and had then suffered imprisonment, their feet bound fast in the stocks (Acts 16: 22–24), yet this did not in anyway dampen their ardour. True love for souls continued to burn fiercely in their hearts. They might have just endured a dreadful ordeal at Philippi, but they were still bold in their God to speak to the men of Thessalonica. Could they be silent when they had such a message as they had to deliver? Impossible! Love for souls demanded that they speak. Neither the past, nor the probable consequences of their boldness for the future, could shut their mouths. Where natural courage would have given way, they were bold in God to preach the Gospel.
With much earnest striving the truth was proclaimed at Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2: 1–12). Paul and Silas addressed themselves to neither the mind nor the flesh of the natural man. Had they done that, no doubt much of the opposition they met with would have been avoided. Nor did they approach the Thessalonians with guile to cloak over their real object. With Paul and Silas all was open. They had a message to deliver, and they delivered it. Cost them what it might, they were determined to preach––not what man would receive, but what God had committed to them. The message of the preaching might be unpalatable to some, but they had been entrusted by God (and not man) with the Gospel, and hence they spoke, not as pleasing men, but God. As pleasing God, Paul and Silas could not act with any thought for themselves either. Neither flattery by which to find acceptance with others, nor covetousness to further their own ends, would they resort to. Entrusted with God’s truth they could not be anything but truthful. As stewards they could not seek their own things, and whatever others might think of them, Paul and his co–labourers could call on God to witness to the sincerity and simplicity of their desires among the Thessalonians. In no form was self allowed a place when preaching the Gospel––never would they stand on their rights as apostles seeking glory and distinction from their converts. On the contrary they were gentle in the midst of them, as a nurse would cherish her own children. What real feeling this describes! They were men of heart whose tender affection could stand a great deal of trial from their converts. Paul was not content merely to preach “the facts” of the Gospel and to leave it at that––he and the others would throw themselves wholeheartedly into the work, labouring earnestly and tirelessly for the eternal welfare of souls. Not only did they delight to impart the glad tidings of God to the Thessalonians, but, because they had become beloved to Paul and his fellow workers, their own lives as well. To show this they supported themselves working night and day not to be chargeable to any one of them. Freely they would preach the Gospel––even if it cost them much in physical toil to supply their wants.
If as a nurse he had tended them, as a father with his own children Paul exhorted each one of them, comforting and testifying that they should walk worthy of the God who had called them to His own kingdom and glory. What care for their walk this displays! Paul could not rest satisfied with a shallow superficial work. He could not accept from them simply an assent to the truths he had preached. The work must be deep, the change in their lives crystal clear, before he could rest contented. Called to God’s own kingdom and glory, they must walk here worthy of it if they were to gladden the heart of their spiritual father. Thus when writing to the Galatians, who seemed to be slipping away from the truth, he said “my children, of whom I again travail in birth until Christ shall have been formed in you” (Gal. 4: 19). It was a person he presented––not a mere scheme of doctrine. Paul desired nothing less than that Christ should be formed in them––and he would labour at personal cost until this was so. What true evangelist would rest short of such an objective?