When our Lord Jesus Christ had ascended on high He gave gifts to men. These gifts varied. He gave some apostles; some evangelists; some pastors and teachers, while God set others in the assembly (1 Cor. 12:28). The apostles have passed away, but their inspired writings remain, and form part of the Word of God. Evangelists, pastors and teachers remain; the first to form the assembly by the call of the gospel, and the others to instruct, edify, comfort and feed those thus called. Let us consider:
1. The Theme of the Preacher—for such is the evangelist—is GOD! The God who has deigned to make Himself known. Here we make our start; but let us remember what we are in His sight, let us own the awful fact of sin as our natural condition, with the inevitable result of personal guilt, so that, ere the preacher unfolds the truth as to God, he should insist on the lost and guilty condition of the sinner, and his consequent doom under eternal judgment, if he remains impenitent. Let him press on his hearers the fearful issues of “the great white throne” that dread tribunal, before which all the guilty must appear to be judged out of the books, for their sins and impenitence. He must lay this foundation deeply, after the model given in the Epistle to the Romans. Thus he will insist on the rights of God—His authority and holiness. Then he will unfold the immense truth of “the righteousness of God,” as wholly distinct from all human merit, and how that God can, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, be “just and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus.” At the same time he will proclaim—and this is his evangel—the love of God, as announced by the greatest Evangelist in John 3:16, and also the grace of God, which is the chief feature of the present dispensation. Moreover, he will delight in presenting the person and work of the Son of God, what and who He is, the value and necessity of His death, the power of His resurrection, and its wonderful fruits, as in 1 Corinthians 15. This, at least, is his glorious Theme. He will seek to preach not about himself—for self may well be obscured by subjects so infinite. The Spirit of God will seal such a ministry with divine blessing; and, if the preacher counts on help from on high his illustrations, etc., will be carefully guarded and made subsidiary to the life-giving Word of God. It is that Word which the Spirit loves to own. I remember quoting, in a small meeting, John 3:16 five times over in succession, till I was almost ashamed of my constant repetition; but that repetition was used of God in conversion. Let the preacher never suffer from such shame; but rather recall how the great foe was silenced by the Word alone—“the sword of the Spirit.” “Preach Christ” was the last advice given me by Duncan Matheson shortly before his death in 1868. The advice was good.
“I began by preaching Christ,” said another servant of God, “but I dropped down to the preaching of principles; now I have returned to my old theme, for I am persuaded that we have never discovered all His fullness.” Surely, for Christ embraces all divine principles, and illustrates all right practice. The world of today needs not an idolized civilization, but a purified and scriptural Christianity. “There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
2. He is responsible to his Lord and Master alone, whose servant he is, though he has relations with his fellow saints and servants which he is bound to observe; but he obeys the Lord. “What wilt Thou have me to do?” is his constant prayer, for, if right with the Lord, he is clearly right every way. If he owns Christ as Head of the assembly he will endeavour to walk in the divinely ordered path, be the difficulties of the day what they are. If he also acknowledges Christ as Head of the body, he will strive, as a member of that mystic body, to be in true articulation. He is not the servant of men, though in love he would serve all men. He takes his orders from Christ. He refuses the control of an organization or a society. He is not beholden to man but to the Lord. In proportion as he is governed and sustained by man so is he diverted from the free governance of Christ. He is not then absolutely Christ’s servant. The case of Philip is very helpful in this connection (Acts 8). He held himself entirely at the Lord’s disposal and that with the happiest results. Philip is the only one called an evangelist, though Timothy was enjoined to do the work of one. Alas, present-day methods have not only clipped evangelistic wings, but have largely taken His servants out of their Master’s hands, appointing their spheres of service, it may be, where He never intended them to go. No doubt His grace may overrule as, thank God, it does; but we can see how miserably man, with his methods, has succeeded in making a deplorable maladministration of the house of God. All very humbling; nor can things be put on their original footing. Reconstruction is hopeless. We cannot go back. Our comfort is that the living Lord remains, and that He can make Josiah’s Passover as blessed as that of Samuel, and Philadelphia as bright as Ephesus. The Spirit of God abides. Hence, today, as ever, the true-hearted evangelist must lean, as must all of us, on the Lord alone, as our only but all-sufficient Resource. And what an honour thus, by personal love for Him and faith in His Word, to bear witness that He is the same yesterday, today and for ever!
3. These are both personal and relative. The evangelist is a private Christian as well as a public preacher, and this brings him under the public eye. If therefore any one should zealously guard his conduct it is he. He holds his Master’s credit in his life and ways. He is an ambassador of the Courts of Heaven. No angel, thence, ever held such an honour. He is a sinner rescued at infinite cost, gifted and sent into a God-hating world, to make known the nature of God and the joys and glories of his celestial home. He should be, in very deed, a light in darkness, and a son of God, shining amid a crooked and perverse generation. A Nazarite of old would be his type. And thus Paul laid stress on his own “manner of life,” as the first and chief part of his testimony. “Ye know,” he said to the elders, “what manner of men we have been among you at all seasons” (Acts 20). A preacher whose “manner of life” is unworthy of Christ is not fit to be His servant. How few preachers would remain if this test were generally applied. The private life is the great criterion. The preacher must give himself to prayer ere he attempts to minister the Word, and that continually. By the study of the Word he will become efficient, helpful and instructive, but if he desires to be a successful fisher of men, he must be most prayerful. This will produce the charm of real humility, sobriety, and self-concealment, as opposed to the accursed pride and vanity which, so frequently, degrade the popular preacher. Before the Lord, and in His holy presence, there is no place for pride. Moses was the meekest man on earth, and Paul served the Lord with all humility of mind and many tears. His “manner of life” is his duty. Let it speak more loudly than his tongue, and let him aim at nothing but the true presentation of Christ by both, whether to the many or the few, in his home circle or amid strangers. A keen lynx eye is upon him, and a tongue of unsparing criticism likewise. Moody is reported to have said: “I will take care of my conduct and God will take care of my character,” a saying worthy of publication. His duty is just to be a “man of God,” like Timothy of old.
4. It has been said that the evangelistic is the greatest of all the gifts. This may be so; but it is perhaps the happiest, and, at the same time, the most strenuous. The evangelist has few of the many trials, sorrows, and disappointments that befall the true pastor and teacher. “If you want to be happy,” said one of the foremost of Christ’s servants, “preach the gospel, but if you want a broken heart minister to the saints.” True, but grace is needed for both, and without it there could be nothing but dire disaster. Each shall have a plenteous reward when the Master says “Well done.”
A reward! Can a reward by and by suffice as a stimulus now? Hardly. As the Apostle laid his head on the block he surely anticipated “a crown of righteousness,” but he added that the same crown would be given by the Lord to all who love Him.
That is the secret—love for the Lord! My brother, it was His love that first affected your heart; that led you to understand and value the deep meaning of Calvary; that has kept you perhaps over half a century (as it has kept the writer) by a constraining power that baffles comprehension; and that will present you faultless before His glory, on that day, with exceeding joy. To that love you and I would respond, not in expectation of material reward, but in the long-cherished hope of seeing Him “Who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, making us kings and priests to God,” and allowing us the thrice-sacred honour of serving Him in the gospel, while seeking to follow Him here below.