As the spokes in the wagon wheel must be centered in the hub, so we must learn to preach every doctrine as it is centered in the Lord Jesus. We are admonished:
In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God . . . must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary.—Evangelism, p. 190.
This principle holds good for the minister when he is engaged in Bible study for his own soul as well as when he is preaching to others. Would you like to have every truth you preach rightly understood? Do you want every truth you preach to be appreciated? Of course you do, for unless truth is rightly understood and really appreciated, it availeth nothing. How much we need to pray and study, that we may present the truths of the gospel in the light that streams from Calvary. When truth is rightly understood and appreciated people are much more inclined to act on it.
All true doctrines are highways that lead to Jesus Christ. In the days of ancient Rome there was in the city of Rome a golden milestone from which highways went out to the then-known world. Regardless of what road a man followed, if he kept on, it would bring him to that golden milestone in Rome. So regardless of what doctrine we expound, it must be presented in a way that will bring men to the golden spiritual milestone of "Christ in you, the hope of glory."
The Sermon a Highway to Christ
A fundamental principle of preaching is stated in Evangelism, page 188. It reads:
There should not be a sermon given unless a portion of that discourse is to especially make plain the way that sinners may come to Christ and be saved.
When we are gathering material for a sermon, when we arrange the sequence of thought, we need to be praying, "O God, help me to make this sermon a highway that will bring people to Christ."
It is of course proper at times for Adventist ministers to lecture on subjects that are not connected with the gospel's threefold message. We have men among us who are qualified to lecture on psychology, family relations, writing for the press, health, diet, and varied subjects of social value. But when they do, we should not make the mistake of calling it preaching. It is not preaching. Preaching is the spoken communication of divine truth with the view to persuading men and women for God. In the case of sinners, it is persuasion to accept Jesus as their Saviour; in the case of those who are already Christians, it is persuasion to undertake more for Christ, to give Christ a larger place in their lives.
Think again of this figure of the wheel. Any spoke, even though of solid silver or pure gold, is out of place in the wheel unless it is centered in the hub. So any doctrine, any sermon that does not center in Christ has no place in preaching. Do you know what this will mean? If we follow through on this principle, we will leave off some subjects that now appear on our evangelistic advertising, or at least present them in a different setting.
How to present the doctrines of the faith to secure the best results is a matter of prime importance. One vital aspect of the answer is: "Let the truth be presented as it is in Jesus."—Gospel Workers, p. 326. One of the greatest evangelists who ever lived, the apostle Paul, answers this question on how to present the doctrines, in Ephesians 4:21. Paul tells us to present the truth as it is in Jesus. Did Paul get results by his method? Look at the record in the New Testament. Paul went from city to city and raised up church after church, and they became towers of strength in the Christian cause. If we had a hundred Paul’s today, how quickly this work would be finished. Jesus said: "I, if I be lifted up . . will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32). These words are just as true today as they were then. "The truth, as it is in Jesus, will subdue the most powerful opponents, bringing them into captivity to Jesus Christ."—ELLEN G. WHITE, General Conference Bulletin, Feb. 25, 1895. I would like to preach God's truth in a way that would subdue the most powerful opponents, and so would you. Only as we preach the doctrines as they are in Jesus will they subdue the heart and bring even powerful opponents into captivity to Jesus Christ.
Do you know how to present the fundamentals of Adventist beliefs as listed in the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook? Certainly you do. There isn't a man among you who could not quickly cite proof texts for the items of belief as listed in the Yearbook. But do you know how to present those truths as they are in Jesus?
A Clear, Simple Manner Needed
One of our great needs is that "ministers need to have a more clear, simple manner in presenting the truth as it is in Jesus."—Evangelism, p. 188. Think again of the figure of the wheel. Little boys who do not have money and want a wagon, sometimes take a soapbox as a wagon bed and for wheels they cut disks from a log. Sometimes in making holes in these disks they fail to strike center. What happens? The wagon wobbles as it goes. So we wobble in our preaching when we fail to strike center in Christ. The serious part about this is that men may wobble in their preaching and not know it. It is bad to wobble and know it, but it is still worse to wobble and not know it. We need to strike the Christ center in our preaching so that our sermons do not wobble.
Christ-centered preaching does not mean less emphasis on the distinctive doctrines of the faith. There is no place in the counsel we have received through the servant of the Lord where we are told to preach the Sabbath less forcefully or less publicly. On the contrary we are informed that in the closing movements when we are filled with the Holy Ghost under the latter rain, we will go forth and preach the Sabbath more fully. This portrayal is a plea for us to preach Christ in the Sabbath, to preach the Sabbath as it is in Christ. Preaching Christ does not do away with preaching the Sabbath or with preaching the great prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation. The appeal is to preach Christ in those themes.
We should not conclude that Christ-centered preaching as generally understood is all that is needed today. If that were true, Adventist preaching would not differ from the preaching of other evangelicals. We must admit that there are thousands of preachers in other churches who preach splendid Christ-centered sermons. If this is all that is needed, then our preaching need be no different from theirs. But in this mighty closing hour according to Revelation 14:6-12, God calls for Christ-centered, cross-concentric preaching to meet the specific spiritual needs of man, which can only adequately be met in the setting of God's great threefold message for this hour.
The Third Angel's Message
Let us look again at the preaching wheel. The spokes of doctrine must be fastened in the outer rim of the threefold message just as they need to be fastened in the inner hub, Christ. The third angel's message, we are told, must be presented as the only hope for the salvation of a perishing world.
The third angel's message, embracing the messages of the first and second angels, is the message for this time.—Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 197.
We have no time for dwelling on matters that are of no importance. Our time should be given to proclaiming the last message of mercy.—/bid., p. 36.
No watered-down message will have the effect that is needed. Truth must not be removed from its God-appointed setting. Christ-centered preaching does not mean soft-pedaling distinctive Christian doctrines and practices. It is only as the threefold message is given in a Christ-centered, cross-concentric setting that the work will be finished.
We have been warned that it will be the consistent effort of the enemy to remove our distinctive truths from their setting.
As a people, we are to stand firm on the platform of eternal truth that has withstood test and trial. ... The principles of truth that God has revealed to us are our only true foundation. They have made us what we are. The lapse of time has not lessened their value. It is the constant effort of the enemy to remove these truths from their setting and to put in their place spurious theories. He will bring in everything that he possibly can to carry out his deceptive designs. But the Lord will raise up men of keen perception, who will give these truths their proper place in the plan of God.—Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 2, p. 51.
When you buy a ticket for a long railroad journey, such as going from coast to coast, you generally pass over several lines of railways, and there will be a coupon in your ticket for each of these respective lines. Have you noticed when you get one of these tickets there is a notation "not good if detached"? Brethren, your preaching ticket has a notation "not good if detached from Christ, not good if detached from the threefold message."
Progress has been made in a long overdue recognition of the evangelical Christian nature of Seventh-day Adventism. This has been done without any toning down of the truths that separate us from others, as is evidenced by the book Questions on Doctrine. But let none anywhere conclude that agreement with the evangelicals on certain fundamentals of the gospel means that we are now to soft-pedal any of our distinctive doctrines. The devil would like nothing better than to take the rim off our preaching wheel by tempting us to let the threefold message fade out. The devil tries to keep us from striking center in Christ. He also endeavors to take the rim off our preaching wheel and to cause us to minimize our distinctive doctrines.
Preaching the Sabbath
A Seventh Day Baptist minister may present the Sabbath with Jesus in the center, but would that be an adequate presentation of the Sabbath for an Adventist minister? No, it would not. We must not only preach the Sabbath with Jesus in the center, but we must preach the Sabbath in the setting of the threefold message. Christ-centered preaching apart from the setting of the God-ordained threefold gospel message for this hour is the disarrangement of traveling on a wheel without a rim. The Seventh Day Baptists are a good people. They have stood nobly for the Sabbath. They had the light on the true Sabbath two hundred years before there was a Seventh-day Adventist. This gave them a great advantage over Seventh-day Adventists. But today they number only a few thousand. In fact, they are actually decreasing.
The Adventist Sabbathkeeping Christian movement arose in weakness and poverty on an obscure mountainside in New Hampshire in 1844. Now it has girdled the world with more than a million Sabbathkeepers. Tell me, what has made this vast difference in the growth of Seventh Day Baptists and of Seventh-day Adventists? This significant answer has been penned by Ellen G. White:
Separate the Sabbath from the messages, and it loses its power; but when connected with the message of the third angel, a power attends it which convicts unbelievers and infidels, and brings them out with strength to stand, to live, grow, and flourish in the Lord.—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 337.
In the decline of Seventh Day Baptists and in the growth of Seventh-day Adventists, you have the results of the difference of preaching the Sabbath in the setting of the threefold message, rather than holding the Sabbath as a detached truth. The Seventh Day Baptists have the Sabbath as a spoke in the preaching wheel, centered in the hub—Christ, but their wheel does not have the rim of God's threefold message. The Seventh-day Adventists have the Sabbath as a spoke centered in Jesus Christ, anchored in the rim of the threefold message. This is what makes the difference. It is the difference between keeping the Sabbath as a detached truth and of observing the Sabbath in its God-appointed setting for the last days.
Never forget that every doctrine you preach comes into its power only as it is Christ centered, cross concentric in the setting of the threefold message. In THE MINISTRY of February, 1937, our late beloved brother W. A. Spicer, an Adventist of Adventists, wrote:
In this time of the dosing judgment hour, any doctrine that we preach comes in the fullness of its power only as we give it its place as a very part of the advent message. . . . Every truth is to come from within the message, a very living, vital part of the one whole system of truth that is "to make ready a people." The spiritual life blood of this advent message circulates through every Bible truth today, vitalizing it.......................... No truth stands by it-
self in our movement. . . . In our time, even these essential doctrines of the Christian life—of faith, righteousness by faith, holiness, sanctification, and all experience of the power and grace of Christ in the soul—derive their fullness of power when they come to the advent people as a very part of the message of the judgment hour.
Preaching Repentance and Justification
When it comes to preaching on faith, prayer, repentance, conversion, the atonement, justification, sanctification, and kindred themes, some of our men think they have to go outside our message to preach on such subjects. This is a wrong idea. The spiritual lifeblood of God's special message circulates through every gospel truth, just like your heart sends the life current to every tissue. So the life current of the everlasting gospel is to circulate through every sermon we preach.
When I insist on the vital importance of preaching in the setting of the threefold message I do not mean that you should actually include a phrase from the threefold message in every sermon. I mean that every sermon you preach will be in the urgency of that mighty message, men will sense in it the urgency of these closing days, the significance of the judgment now going on, and the call to get ready for the coming of the Lord. The urgency to prepare to meet God will filter through every sermon we preach whether to Adventists on the Sabbath day, or to non-Adventists in the evangelistic campaign. All our sermons ought to have a tag on them. "Every discourse should be given under a sense of the awful judgments soon to fall on the world." —Testimonies, vol. 8, pp. 36, 37.
In preaching the doctrine of repentance, the Adventist minister must preach it in the setting of the judgment hour.
Noah preached repentance. Jonah preached repentance. Isaiah and all the prophets preached repentance. John the Baptist preached repentance. Jesus preached repentance. The apostles preached repentance. Did they all preach it in the same way? No. The basic principle of repentance never changes, but its application must be in the setting of the time, in relation to the particular sin that needs to be put away and of the kind of life that is to be lived.
May God help us as ministers of the gospel to preach Christ-centered, cross-concentric, message-pointed sermons. Today we need to achieve larger and quicker results for the finishing of the task. We need to go places for God with His Christ-centered, message-rimmed preaching wheel.