In former articles I have concentrated attention on the importance and nature of preaching the Word. Now my purpose is to turn from the preaching to the preacher. I would consider with you what sort of man is required to effectively preach the Word of God.
"Preaching," inquires Bishop Quayle, "is the art of making a sermon and delivering it?" And he answers his own question: "Why, no, that is not preaching. Preaching is the art of making a preacher and delivering that. . . . It is no trouble to preach, but a vast trouble to construct a preacher."
You are already aware, without doubt, and need not be told, how very delicate is a preacher's sense of spiritual perception, and how carefully it must be guarded if he is to preserve true vision and apprehension of "the deeper things" of God. You are not unaware, I am sure, how a flare-up of temper can come between you and a clear understanding of the mind of God; how intemperate words can blind your eyes to the lights of heaven; how a thoughtless and needless misunderstanding or quarrel in the home creates an earth-born cloud between you and God when you go into the preparation of your sermon.
You have discovered, too, when you enter your study to handle and prepare the great things of God, that your moral and spiritual condition requires your first attention. You cannot just sit down at your desk and engage in holy pursuits, and do an effective piece of work at it, if something has broken your fellowship with God.
When there is something between you and God that is impairing your spirit, and the heavens have become. brass, then turn where you will in your study of the Word, and you find it a wilderness, with neither verdure nor dew. Your lexicons, your commentaries, your classroom notes, and all your theological aids become just eyeglasses with no eyes behind them. It is possible for a man to get so busy preparing his sermon that he neglects to prepare himself.
It is easy for men in the ministry—who proceed under the conviction of being in a holy calling, and who give themselves and all their time to the things of God—to arrive at the conviction that somehow all this operates to immunize them against both temptation and sin. They appear to have gained the impression that being in the ministry places them in a different category from the rest of humanity, lifts them out of the reach of ordinary human frailties, and throws about them an extra coat of protection against the allurements and enticements of worldliness and sensuality, to which the ordinary run of humanity commonly fall victims.
You are not, I hope, among those who so think. No man in any station or profession is in greater peril of moral ruin than the Christian minister. No man lives so dangerously as he. He is a man constantly surrounded with perils and constantly subjected to temptations. And these sometimes to the very grossest immoralities. Pitfalls and snares are prepared for him at all times and on every side, even while he is engaged in the holy duties of his high calling. The principalities and powers of evil pursue him as they pursue no other. His life is one of high adventure for God. And it lacks no thrills to which men are susceptible. Of all men on earth, the Christian minister needs most to be constantly vigilant and on guard against the lurking enemies of his soul and his mission.
Paul uses a startling word when he points to the possibilities of his becoming a castaway. He sees the danger that any man who is busy about holy things may become stripped of his holiness and become profane. A man may lead others on the way to heaven and lose the way himself. He may preach to others and himself be a castaway.
Paul foresaw that peril. He did more; he studiously and prayerfully prepared against it. The men in this room have been chosen to walk along the same road. You will encounter the same perils. None of you is immune to the be:setments of sin. How are we to avoid the perils which surround us? More than that, how can we -make the perils that beset us contribute to a Ticher, stronger, and more effective ministry?
I offer you no new discovery, and no new system of immunization do I have to propose. Only the old, but supreme, commonplaces of the spiritual life. We must diligently attend to the cultivation of our souls. We must sternly and systematically make time for prayer and the devotional reading of the Word of God.
You are extremely busy, I know. In this ministry you always will be. I would impress upon you that we are not always doing the most business when we seem to be the most busy. It is possible to consider ourselves intensely busy when really we are only restless. A little planned retirement is likely to enlarge greatly the results of our activity. We arc great in service only as the Spirit is using us. Carefully kept appointments with God will prepare us for the toil and hardships of the most strenuous campaigns.
Moreover, do not allow yourselves to think that soul culture is going to be easy. It is a positive chore, not a pastime. It is of extreme difficulty. A minister of high soul culture, with great ability and a most fruitful ministry, not long ago, looking back over the years of his activity, wrote:
"I have not failed to study; I have not failed to visit; I have not failed to write and meditate; but I have failed to pray. . . . Now, why have I not prayed? Sometimes because I did not like it; at other times because I hardly dared; and yet at other times because I had something else to do."
Such words draw aside the veil from a man's soul and expose the fact that prayer is costly, even at the expense of blood. We learn this when we are permitted to look at Jesus when He prayed: "In the days of his flesh . . . he . . . offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears" (Heb. 5:7). "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22: 44).
Some years ago I became acquainted with the private diary of Dr. Andrew Bonar of Scotland, who labored in the ministry a generation or two ago. He lived a saintly life, all the while carrying on a highly successful preaching ministry. He kept a private diary from 1828 to 1892. His daughter made this valuable diary available to the world, though its regular entries were prepared only for his own eyes. I bring to you brief extracts taken from separated places in it:
"By the grace of God and the strength of His Holy Spirit I desire to lay down the rule not to speak to man until I have spoken to God: not to do anything with my hand until I have been upon my knees: not to read letters or papers until I have read something of the Holy Scriptures."
"In prayer in the wood for some time, having set apart three hours for devotion: felt drawn out much to pray for that peculiar fragrance which believers have about them, who are very much in fellowship with God."
"Yesterday got a day to myself for prayer. With me every time of prayer, or almost every time, begins with a conflict."
"It is my deepest regret that I pray so little. I should count the days, not by what I have of new instances of usefulness, but by the times I have been enabled to pray in faith, and to take hold upon God."
"I see that unless I keep up short prayer every day throughout the whole day, at intervals, I lose the spirit of prayer."
"Too much work without corresponding prayer. To-day setting myself to pray. The Lord forthwith seems to send a dew upon my soul."
"Was enabled to spend part of Thursday in the church, praying. Have had great help in study since then."
"Last night could do little else but converse with the Lord about the awakening of souls, and ask it earnestly."
"Passed six hours to-day in prayer and Scripture-reading, confessing sin, and seeking blessing for myself and the parish."
The Christian message you are called to preach does not consist in an outward conformity to practices and observances which, though wholly right in themselves, may be adopted and complied with from human motives and to answer secular purposes. It is not a religion of forms and modes and decencies, though these are an important part of it. It is not something that is put on externally. Rather, it is the being transformed into the image of God, the whole inner man made over into the likeness of the Divine. It is in actuality being like-minded with Christ.
Genuine Christianity, therefore, demands not merely an outward profession of allegiance to God, and an external conformity to His commands, but an inward life devoted to His adoration and service.
I cannot emphasize it too strongly, and it cannot be repeated too often, that a mere historical faith, the bare evidence of fact, accompanied by the most skillful analysis, together with the soundest reasonings and deductions, is not Christianity.
The finest and truest theory never yet carried any man to heaven. A religion of ideas, of notions, of teachings, which occupies the mind without affecting the heart, without transforming the life, may obstruct, but can never advance, the salvation of man. If such notions and teachings are false, they are, of course, positively pernicious, but if they are true and not in actual operation in life, they but aggravate the guilt of the one who holds them.
The religion of Christ that we preach to men is something more than mere correctness of intellect, justness of conception, and exactness of judgment. It must be infused into the life as well as govern the understanding. It must regulate the will as well as direct the belief. Not only must it cast the opinions into a new frame, but also the heart into a new mold. It is a transforming, as well as an intellectual, principle. It changes the tastes, gives activity to the inclinations, and, together with a new heart, it produces a new life.
I emphasize, therefore, and would have you think deeply about it, that practical Christianity is the actual operation in human life of Christian doctrine. The preacher of Christian doctrine, even though he preaches these doctrines from the Word of God itself, is just uttering words and beating the air, who does not at the same time exemplify the doctrines he teaches, in the life he lives.