Preaching is heaven's ordained means of saving men and women from the power of sin and death. If ever a program was divinely sponsored, the program of Christian preaching is! "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Cor. 1:21).
Christ came as a preacher. Again and again we read of His "preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matt. 4:23). His disciples were ordained to be preachers. "And as ye go, preach," was the command of Jesus to them (Matt. 10:7). Later, in the gospel commission, He authorized them to "preach the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15, Centenary translation). Preaching was the means whereby multitudes in the first century came to a knowledge of salvation. The effectiveness of preaching, as a saving agency, was not limited to the apostolic era.
The Protestant Reformation was, among other things, a revival of preaching. The Reformers put the sermon in the place of the mass, and by the public proclamation of the Word of God thousands retrieved an evangelical faith from the traditions and superstitions of the Roman system. The Wesleys and Whitefield and their associates were powerful, persistent preachers. It is not too much to claim that the preaching of the Evangelical Revival saved England from a fate similar to that which overtook France in the bloody days of 1789. Preaching let us never forget it! has always been one of the foremost strengths of the Ad vent Movement.
Our work advances in the wake of the preacher. The pioneers were preachers. Long before we possessed a conference office, or a college, or a sanitarium, or even a printing press, the fathers of our faith were advancing the cause of present truth by their voices and their pens. God pity us if we ever see in our work a diminution of preaching eidier by our neglecting it or by our putting other things in its place.
Take away preaching and what would we have left? A splendid organization! Magnificent institutions! A loyal membership! Yes. But how long would the organization endure, the work advance, and the hearts of the membership beat true without the continuance of preaching? That is the test; and it reveals the vital contribution preaching makes to the onward progress of the work.
Preaching is such an effective means of soulsaving endeavor because it provides the Holy Spirit an opportunity to speak to the hearts of men. Preaching is quite a different thing from lecturing. The preacher is a messenger for God, and in all his public efforts, as a mouthpiece of the Divine, he is delivering a message from heaven. He speaks, not in his own name, but by the authorization and in the power of Him who has called him to be a preacher. He is a man possessed by the Spirit of God, a man through whom the Spirit speaks and works. This was the experience of the prophets and the testimony of the apostles.
There is a sense, therefore, in which the preacher speaks under the inspiration of God. His mind is enlightened by the Spirit of God. His task is to interpret the Word of God to the immediate need and circumstances of the hour. His duty is to proclaim the vision as he sees it; it is the privilege of the Holy Spirit to convict the souls of those who hear as to the truth of the message that has been proclaimed. Hence, through preaching, the Spirit is able to break down the strongholds of sin in the human heart and to win its allegiance to Christ. And it works! Thousands of people the wide world over rejoice in the truth of God brought to them by the living preacher. Visit our churches. Hear the testimonies of God's people as they witness to the part that the preacher has played in turning them "from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God" (Acts 26:18).
Now we cannot gainsay the fact that far too frequently preaching appears to go disappointingly hard. Often the preacher is forced to eat the black, bitter bread of neglect! How then are we to account for the apparently meager results that too often crown our public efforts?
Are we, for instance, justified in explaining the seeming ineffectiveness of our preaching in terms of the age in which we live? It is true, admittedly, that we are living in times that parallel the days of Noah and of Sodom and Gomorrah. The antediluvians scorned the preaching of Noah, "a preacher of righteousness," and only eight were saved in the ark. Lot was reviled for his earnest entreaties, and but three members of his family escaped. It is also true that our Lord suggested He would find but little faith upon the earth when He returned. We can expect, therefore, that as we approach His coming there will be a decreasing interest in spiritual things on the part of many.
But we must never overlook the fact that the heart of man has not changed. As the psalmist declares, "He fashioneth their hearts alike" (Ps. 33:15). Men today are basically the same as in the days of Wesley, and Luther, and the apostles. The modern man needs the gospel as much as anyone has ever needed it in ages past. And the fact is that he will listen as men have always listened when he is rightly approached, and when the Word is proclaimed with convicting power. Let its message carry the genuine note of authority, and the common people will listen gladly.
"A Firmament of Chosen Ones"
Furthermore, do we not have the assurance, both of the Scriptures and of the Spirit of prophecy, that the Lord still has a firmament of chosen ones who will accept the truth, and that before the close of probation thousands will be converted in a day? "Notwithstanding the spiritual darkness and alienation from God that exist in the churches which constitute Babylon, the great body of Christ's true followers are still to be found in their communion." The Great Controversy, p. 390. "All in the world are not lawless and sinful. God has many thousands who have not bowed the knee to Baal. There are God-fearing men and women in the fallen churches." Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 110. "The Lord has His representatives in all the churches. . . . Many there are who have faithfully walked in the light that has shone upon their pathway. . . . All over the world, men and women are looking wistfully to heaven. Prayers and tears and inquiries go up from souls longing for light, for grace, for the Holy Spirit. Many are on the very verge of the kingdom, waiting only to be gathered in." Ibid., vol. 6, pp. 70, 71. "Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from heaven. By thousands of voices, all over the earth, the warning will be given. . . . Notwithstanding the agencies combined against the truth, a large number take their stand upon the Lord's side." The Great Controversy, p. 612. The best days of preaching, it would seem, are not in the past, but yet to be! Indeed, we have very good cause to anticipate a revival of preaching that will not only confound the enemies of truth but astound us as well.
The ministry of the Word is not going to fade out as this age comes to its end. The Christian dispensation came in with a glorious wave of preaching and the end is to be better than the beginning. Ought we not, therefore, to accept the modern situation as a challenge to us, as preachers, to match the demands of the hour with a spiritual experience and a Spirit-filled ministry?
What a privilege it is to be a preacher! What an honor to be invested with authority as ambassadors for Christ! Let us magnify our calling. Let us, with resolution and purpose, pursue it to the very end.