During the Christian centuries the Christian ministry has been subjected to the persistent temptation to substitute other things in place of the Word of God in its preaching. This temptation to make the Word subordinate to other things is as strong now as it was at any former time, if not stronger.
It is of momentous importance for us to recognize that the Christian pulpit and the Christian church have never been such powerful forces for good in the world, and have never advanced so energetically and successfully the great purposes of God, as when they have kept most closely to the function of expounding and proclaiming the majestic truths of the Word of God. When Christianity has been at its best it has always been marked by powerful Biblical preaching. It was so marked at its beginning. The apostles were Bible preachers. The Word of God was central in all their labors. And, as a significant result, the truth of the gospel was carried into all the world.
Then other things crowded the Bible from its place of centrality in preaching, and the great apostasy followed. The result was a millennium and more of darkness and the grossest superstition—and the loss of millions of souls.
It was a revival of Biblical preaching which brought about the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers preached the Bible. To them it mattered little what the pope said, and less what the ante- and post-Nicene fathers said. But it mattered much what the Bible said. Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin presented the ablest, soundest, clearest expositions of the Bible that had been known for a thousand years. The other Reformers worked in the same way.
The Reformation waned only as the Bible was again pushed aside. It recovered its power only as the Bible was restored to its rightful place.
It was Bible preaching that characterized and gave power to the Second Advent Movement when it began, and that spread it with such impressive force around the world. It is Bible preaching that has enlarged our movement, built our churches and institutions, and resulted in our success. It is Bible preaching, energized by the divine Spirit, that will culminate in the triumph of the threefold message and the glorious appearing of our Saviour.
Having mingled with our ministry for more than a half century, I have not failed to observe that some have gained a conviction that the scope of the pulpit is too narrow. If this means that the Bible alone in preaching is not sufficient to do what God has designed it to do, and something needs to be added to it, or substituted for it, then such a conviction is filled with positive danger. If it means that preachers ought to give up preaching the old doctrines of the message forthrightly from the Bible, and turn the pulpit into a kind of popular platform, from which everything interesting in science, exciting in politics, beautiful in art, spectacular in current events, theatrical in presentation, and even amusing in light literature ought to be freely dispensed, then I have no hesitation in saying that our mission in the world is headed for disaster and ruin.
I do not mean to decry the use of anything that can be properly used to make plain the Word of God. I do mean most positively to discourage anything, of whatever nature, that takes the place of the Word of God.
The Bible is old, but it has not grown feeble and weak. Its power grows as the years go by. Kingdoms perish, but it remains. Its words are spirit and life. How different that is from every human product! Milton's Paradise Lost is poetry. Shakespeare's writings are drama and tragedy. Cicero's writings are eloquence. But Christ's Word is LIFE. "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63).
I put it to you: When our ministers have at their command such an all-powerful instrument for the accomplishment of the objectives and purposes of the gospel ministry, the most powerful instrument that can be obtained, why, in the name of everything reasonable, would any minister of the closing gospel message ever, under any circumstances, be willing, or be induced, to use any other, or to replace it with any other, or even associate any other with it? Could it be because he is not proficient in using it, does not know how to wield it, and finds it easier to use lantern slides, motion pictures, little playlets and dialogues, than the Word of God?
Let me show you the difference between preaching centered in the Word of God and preaching that manipulates all things to center in the preacher. Some years ago I attended a meeting conducted by a well-known evangelist among us who had achieved an outstanding reputation, and whom many of our younger workers were consulting for suggestions to improve their own ministry. Some were even copying this man's methods of presentation and manner of working. I had been out of the country for five years in mission work. Reports of a varied nature had come to me concerning this worker, who was looked upon as a successful winner of souls; and his methods which were certainly innovations among us, were the subject of much discussion, some of it approving and some of it otherwise.
Eager to get a firsthand acquaintance with this man and his work, I attended one of his meetings. His specially built tabernacle was well lighted and decorated. On the platform were papier-mâché beasts, with horns, multiple heads, wings, and cruel-looking claws and feet, horrible and fantastic things, which nevertheless drew all eyes and created much conversation. On the rafters above the platform were many lights, and at each side of the platform two spotlights centered on the preacher.
On the singing of a theme song the preacher entered, and certainly attracted attention. Everything had apparently been done with that in mind. He was dressed in spotless white—white tie, white socks, white shoes, and the Bible he carried was bound in white. A woman back of me exclaimed breathlessly to her companion, "Isn't he a honeyt"—which was the effect apparently intended. And I had to agree. He was indeed "a honey." His words were little noticed, but no one could remove his eyes from the speaker. I neglected to listen, but I certainly looked. It was an impressive performance, and held me spellbound. When I returned to my hotel room and endeavored to recall what he may have read from the Bible, for the life of me I could not remember whether he had opened that beautiful white Bible at all. The lasting impression that stayed in my mind was the man, not the Word.
As I traveled about the country for some months after that I ran into a considerable number of white suits and spotlights. They broke out like an epidemic everywhere. And the epidemic ran its course, as epidemics do, and then subsided.
I mention this experience only because I desire to contrast it with another that took place a little more than a third of a century ago. For a number of years I had been hearing reports about the ministry of a great British expositor, G. Campbell Morgan, pastor of London's Westminster Chapel. The things I heard about this man greatly intrigued me. In his younger days he had been rejected for ordination because of the poor quality of his preaching. It was considered that he would be unable ever to qualify for or measure up to the requirements of a preacher. He had been unable to obtain a formal theological or seminary training. Notwithstanding this, he gained a great following, was finally ordained, and as pastor of the world-famous Westminster Chapel in London his expository skill drew enormous crowds for a third of a century. He became known in the English-speaking world as "the prince of expositors."
Among the things I learned about this man that impressed me favorably was that he was the father of four sons, all of whom followed in their father's steps and entered the Christian ministry. You can readily understand that when I learned Dr. Morgan was coming to New York to carry on a two weeks' series of studies, I was delighted. At the first meeting, which was on Monday night, there were twenty-five hundred people present.
The pastor of the church and Dr. Morgan came in quietly and seated themselves. I subjected the famous preacher to a close scrutiny. I never saw a more unprepossessing man in the pulpit. He was tall, lanky, awkward; his clothing was plain; and there was not a conspicuous thing on or about him.
He walked to the pulpit, opened the Bible, and in a pleasing voice, but entirely without any dramatic effect, read the Scripture passage, and immediately began to explain it. Afterward I was glad I had taken occasion to examine him before he began speaking, for I never saw him again during that whole hour. I could not get my mind on anything else but the utterly absorbing and entrancing meanings he was bringing out of the treasure house of the Word of God. It became one of the most thrilling hours of my life. I had never before known anything like it. And it was repeated nightly for two whole weeks.
Dr. Morgan had no graces of gesture, no spectacular delivery; he was not eloquent in the sense that that is usually understood. He made use of no charts, blackboard, pictures, screen, no gadgets of any kind. There was nothing in his talk, or movements, or dress, or manner, to attract attention to himself or divert attention from the Bible. His tremendous power was in what he did with and by the Word of God.
In five minutes I was in another world, and not at all because of any elocution or charm of speech. He talked quite casually, and in a conversational tone. He read the passage he was to explore, read it with deep reverence and impressive feeling. I forgot the people about me, forgot the church, forgot the speaker, forgot everything but the wonders of the world into which I had been led.
It was as though I had been taken down a deep shaft into a mine reputed to be rich in precious ore and an incalculable treasure of jewels, and my guide had pointed to the strata of rock and said: "Strike your pick in that lode. Take that nugget of pure gold in your hand. Now dig here. Notice that gleam of solid metal. And now in that hidden strata there are enormous jewels. Loosen this one, and see what you have. Come along now to this untouched place. Let down your pick gently; pry that shale to one side and look at what you have. It is yours. Cherish it and keep it always by you."
I went home dazed with wonder at the effectiveness of the Bible alone as the source of great preaching. I exposed myself to that preaching again and again at every meeting held, and on every occasion available to me later to sit at the feet of this man of God.
Dr. Wilbur M. Smith has called Dr. Morgan's preaching "the greatest Biblical preaching of the twentieth century." I agree with that verdict. What I would impress on you is that such preaching is accessible to every one of you, is wholly within your reach. Moreover, it is the most powerful preaching any man can ever use. Throw away your accessories, discard your gadgets and pictures, discontinue your shows and plays, stop relying on entertainment and theatrical displays, and get back to the simple, plain, and powerful preaching of the Word of the living God.
In my room that night, after this first study by Dr. Morgan, the prayer burst from my deeply moved heart, "O God, make me a preacher of thy divine Word, and help me never to rely on anything else."
I commend that prayer to you. Let me appeal to you in serious earnestness to make sure that in your training here or elsewhere, no matter what else you may be compelled to miss or neglect, do not miss or neglect the training in the use of the most powerful agency God has given to the ministry for the salvation of men, the use of the Holy Bible in preaching.
[EDITORIAL Note.—The forthright appeal of this Seminary chapel talk by Carlyle B. Haynes touches a fundamental issue. We think no misunderstanding need arise from the white-suit illustration or his discussion of visual aids. There are countries where white suits are in order, and we all know that certain subjects can be clarified by the use of visual aids. MINISTRY readers will understand that the burden of this article is their misuse when contrasted with the unfailing strength of expository preaching.]