“His throne is his pulpit; he stands in Christ’s stead; his message is the word of God; around him are immortal souls; the Savior, unseen, is beside him; the Holy Spirit broods over the congregation; angels gaze upon the scene, and heaven and hell await the issue. What associations, and what vast responsibility!” -Matthew Simpson
In the next two weeks we are teaching our students on the subject, “How to Preach Biblically.” The Kingdom of God marches forward by the preaching of the Word. That is why Paul wrote this solemn challenge to Timothy:
“In the presence of God, and of the Lord Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word, be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage- with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:2-3)
I believe it is true, that the strength and the vitality of the Church is dependent upon a Word-saturated, Christ-honoring, truth-proclaiming, devil-defeating, preacher. Men of God, who have heard God speak through his Word and are convinced of its truth, who fear nothing but God and want nothing but his name glorified, who preach the Word without fear! They will see hearts and minds of people, who were once blinded and controlled by the devil’s lies, wonderfully transformed- if they refuse to be intimidated into compromise.
I would also add, that it is also true that where preaching is faithfully and powerfully delivered, it has a direct and revolutionary effect upon the nation blessed by it. In the United States, I think you can trace the health and vitality of our nation to the times where men of God boldly declared God’s truth from pulpits throughout the land, and did so without the fear of men or devils. They declared God’s Word. It was their passion. It was their Christ-honoring duty. And their preaching altered the course of history.
That tribe has decreased, greatly. Too many men who step into the pulpit today sound a muddled message, which is more about seeking compromise rather than speaking unfettered truth. They are more concerned with finding accommodation with the spirit of the age rather than pushing back the darkness of the day.
Several years ago, I visited a Church service on the campus of an American university. At one time it was a staunch defender of the truth of God’s Word. When it came time for the sermon, the pastor shared more of his doubts than he did of his convictions. He was dealing with a passage I had preached many times before. I knew it well and loved the wisdom Jesus taught there. But, he didn’t see it! “I am not sure what that means, he confessed.” “I am not sure why that follows. I admit, I do not fully understand this passage.” I was remined of Geothe’s response: “Give me the benefit of your convictions. Keep your doubts to yourself. I have enough of my own.” In this church you were proud of your humility. Instead of declaring the truth, you dialogued about your doubts. So, it was no shock to me when they announced that communion was opened to all, as long as you were “looking for God. (whatever that meant)” The church even hosted a special service offered to a group of people who practiced a life style clearly condemned in Scriptures. They were proud of that too.
That was twenty-five years ago. It is much worse today. Every age will have to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3) The Christ-honoring preacher today will have to take his stand on the Word of God and be willing to be seen by many as out of step, cruel, divisive and even dangerous. Even within his church, there will be complaints coming from those whose ears he refuses to itch. “Why are you so negative?” “Why aren’t you more inclusive?” “Why are you so rigid?” “Why do we always leave feeling bad?” “Can’t we all just get along?”
Hugh Latimer was a preacher during the English Reformation. He pointed out that the spiritual darkness of England was to be laid at the feet of the bishops. They neglected the ministry of the Word and were taken up in “Ruffing in their rents, dancing in their dominions, munching in their mangers and moiling in their gay manors and mansions.” His counsel to them was to follow the example of the one preacher in all of England who never stops preaching and does so without fear, the devil! Then, he made this appeal: “For if you will not learn of God, nor good men, to be diligent in your office, learn from the devil.”
That same evil one has been preaching in Malawi for a long, long time. The darkness is thick. It is a different kind of resistance here. Malawi claims to be a Christian nation. Churches fill the landscape. But, darkness still prevails. I constantly hear stories of wives being beaten and killed by their drunken husbands; or robbers stealing from the hardworking village farmers; or clergy committing adultery. The devil has been holding a revival here. That is why we are asking God to raise up fearless, confident, Word-saturated preachers in the villages of Malawi.
I want each preacher to see their calling as Jesus intended. The preacher is not one voice crying in the wilderness. He has all heaven with him. When he stands in the pulpit it is his throne and authority. His audience are men and women facing an eternal destiny. He preaches in the name and authority of Jesus. What he proclaims is not his ideas but God’s Word. It has power in itself. It will not return void but will accomplish what God intends. (Isaiah 55:11) Nor does he stand alone. Jesus, the Lord, his Master, stands at his side. The Holy Spirit hovers over the people as he did at creation. He is there, to use the Word He inspired to create cosmos out of chaos in the minds and hearts of the hearers. Angels look down from heaven, with some envy, at the miracle God is bringing about by one simple man, a preacher, and by one simple means, preaching. Heaven and hell are in the balance. What an awesome reality! What a weighty responsibility!
So, we pray. “God, give my students a vision of your divine calling upon their lives. May they echo the words of Amos: “The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord has spoken. Who cannot prophesy?” (3:8) They speak your Word. It has power to change the most darkened heart or demonic culture. It is the message for all times and for all places. Convince them, O God, that they speak your very words. (1 Peter 4:11) May they reveal your glory and conceal their face. May You be glorified in Malawi, and even in the United States, by a new tribe of preachers, confident, bold, unafraid and faithful to the end.