The Gospel and Its Preachers

Our English word gospel has come to us from the Anglo-Saxon Godspel — God's story. It is good news, but it is more than good news, it is God's news, and it is concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 1:3). God is the source of it, Christ is the subject of it, and to all mankind it is sent. The true gospeller is sent of God, for "how shall they preach except they be sent?" (Rom. 10:15). He is like the Baptist of we read, "There was a man sent from God whose name was John." God was the source of his mission. He spoke of the Lord Jesus and pointed souls to Him; Christ was the subject of his preaching and the Object of his mission. Those that "heard him speak followed Jesus;" that was the result of his mission, and be said, "This my joy therefore is fulfilled, He must increase, I must decrease;" that was the reward and crown of his mission. A happy man and a pattern servant was John the Baptist!

Those who are to stand up to preach the gospel must know it, which means they must know Him who is its subject, the Lord Jesus Christ; if they are to preach truly and well they must preach with conviction, "as it is written, I believed, therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak" (2 Cor. 4:13): and they must be sincere men, and not all who preach are this, alas; even in Paul's day he had to write, "We are not as many which corrupt the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God, speak we in Christ" (2 Cor. 2:16). Who are they who corrupt the gospel? Those who preach another gospel — which is not another, which is neither God's news nor good news, for Christ is not its theme — who are the ministers of Satan and pervert the gospel in order to turn souls from Christ (2 Cor. 11). God's curse and not His blessing rests upon them and their efforts (Gal. 1:6-9).

The disciples of the Lord knew Him as their risen Lord, for He showed Himself to them alive from the dead by many infallible proofs. In their eagerness and ignorance they hoped that He would abide with them, and set up the throne of David in Jerusalem and make them great men in a glorious kingdom; but they had to learn that no place on earth was good enough for Him at that time, He had to go to the right hand of the Majesty on high, to His Father's throne; the most glorious place in the universe of God was the only place worthy to receive Him. They saw Him go up; their eyes followed Him as He ascended into heaven, and until the cloud of glory received Him out of their sight. They were witnesses not of His resurrection only, but of His ascension to glory, and they were filled with great joy thereat. They grasped the fact that their Lord and Master was infinitely greater and more glorious than had been their best thoughts of Him.

The last words that came from His mouth as He left the earth were, "Ye shall be witnesses to Me… to the uttermost part of the earth." What amazement must have filled the Jewish hearts of those disciples as they considered this commission; they were to witness on the earth of His glory in the heavens, and the sphere of their witness was to reach out to the uttermost part of the earth. They were eager to tell of His glory to Israel, for hitherto their hopes and affections had been confined to that narrow sphere, but now their hearts were to be enlarged at the coming of the Holy Ghost to embrace the world. They were to speak of the most blessed Person, exalted to the most glorious place, to the greatest possible number of men; for not a needy sinner beneath the sun had to be denied the favour of hearing the word, and upon all had to be pressed the rightful claims of Christ; He is Lord of all.

What a rebuke are these last words of our Lord to our narrow selfish and unmissionary hearts! What a challenge they are to us and our indifference to all but a very confined circle, and the way we have of limiting the gospel and its preachers! Let everyone who is interested in the gospel consider them afresh in the light of the Lord's ascension into heaven to be the centre of blessing for all, the great Mediator between God and man. Being the Lord's last words they ought to profoundly impress us. In them we learn the extent of His claims: His power for blessing: the immensity of the grace that is in Him, as well as its suitability to the needs of men even to the uttermost part of the earth. Here also we learn the breadth of the love of God, who gave His only-begotten Son for the world, and will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. "Unto the uttermost parts of the earth."

These disciples were obedient men. Their Lord had told them to tarry in Jerusalem until they received power from on high, for a divine mission could only be carried out in divine power. He also told them to love one another, and they did as they were told, for they gathered together of one mind and with one accord to wait and pray for the fulfilment of His word. The power that was to carry their witness for their wonderful Saviour to the uttermost part of the earth was the Holy Ghost; for His coming they had to wait; without Him they were not to move a step or speak a word. "Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you." They were to receive POWER; but this power was inseparable from the Person of the Holy Ghost, it was in Him, and not in them apart from Him; it was His coming that was to make them effectual witnesses for Christ. A great many would like to have that power that would give them a place among their fellows and distinguish them; in this the devil will help them, but not the Holy Ghost; He has come solely and only in the name of Christ and for His glory.

These men did not wait in vain, they speedily proved that "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams, " for the Holy Ghost came upon them and filled them every one. They were not only commissioned by their glorified Lord, but empowered by the Holy Ghost who had come from Him, to give them utterance.

Being God, the power of the Holy Ghost is unchanging power, it is the same today as then; the growing corruption of Christendom may make it impossible for Him to give the same manifestation of His presence as He did at Pentecost, nevertheless there is no other power for God on earth. All the vast organizations and the machinery that men have created, who depend upon the arm of flesh and upon the wisdom of the schools and upon money gathered from any quarter, tainted or otherwise, for the carrying on of so-called religious work, are a hindrance to God's work and no help. They make much show and noise as they build their wood, hay and stubble, and outstrip the world in self-advertisement and self-laudation; but the Holy Ghost is not in it, and when the trial by fire comes the work will not stand.

Happy is the servant of Christ who has no confidence in these carnal weapons; who in faithfulness to his Master will stand apart from that which does not glorify Him; who pursues his true mission of witness for Christ, and places himself at the disposal of his Lord to be filled with the Holy Ghost to this end.

It is necessary in these days in which even true servants of Christ make the blessing and uplifting of men the primary matter, to insist that WITNESS TO CHRIST IS THE PREACHER'S MISSION. Blessing to men will follow this as effect follows cause, but "Ye shall be witnesses to Me" is the commission, and it is for that that the Holy Ghost gives power. A man may talk of the blessing of men with great eloquence and leave them still self-centred and consequently unblessed; but if he bears witness to Christ, all who are affected by his message will change their centre; they will turn from self to Christ and "magnify God." This is the work of the Holy Ghost.

What a glorious witness it was that these disciples had to bear. They had seen their Lord nailed upon a cross as a common felon, thieves on either side; hatred and mockery around; and darkness and silence above, from whence they expected that succour would come to Him. It was a sight of most awful dreadfulness to them; it had filled them with unspeakable sorrow; it had broken their hearts, shaken their faith, and scattered them like sheep attacked by wolves. But His resurrection had gathered them, removed their sorrow and stabilized their faith; and now the Holy Ghost had come to indwell them and to teach them the meaning and necessity of that cross, and to tell them that it had been exchanged for the throne; that their Lord had been crowned with heavenly glory and honour; that God had "highly exalted Him and given Him a name above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

The Holy Spirit had come upon them directly from the enthronement and coronation of their Lord, from the scene of exultation in heaven at His triumph, and from the Father's delight in Him; and filling them as He did, they bore witness as though their very eyes beheld it all, for the Spirit's witness to them as to it, made it real to faith's vision.

Thus they spake when the time came, and this was their theme, and this is still the true theme of the preacher. Sad that those who have so glorious a subject should be caught by the spirit of the world and find other themes more congenial, and spend their energies upon many schemes for the betterment of the world, instead of uplifting Christ as the great magnet who draws men out of it to Himself. But the Holy Ghost will not depart from His mission, no matter how the servants of the Lord may fail, and none shall seek His help in vain whose purpose is to bear witness to Christ.

To those who believed the witness of the Apostles the Holy Ghost was given. This was part of Peter's message in his first recorded sermon. "Repent, " he said to them, "and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and YE SHALL RECEIVE THE GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST." Two things at least were involved in this. Firstly, when the Holy Ghost came upon any one it meant that the Lord was thereby taking possession of that which was His by right of purchase. The Lord's rights were involved in it. We must give a greater place to this in our preaching. So often we dwell upon what men will get; but what will the Lord get? He will get all who believe the gospel concerning Himself, and He takes possession of them as His own when the Spirit seals them. The Spirit comes to make good the Lord's claims in those who believe.

Secondly, the gift of the Holy Ghost gives to those who receive it the power and capacity to enter into a sphere of blessing entirely outside the range of the natural man; for the natural man receives not the things of God, they are spiritually discerned. Our preaching is poor in this respect, we dwell largely upon what men will be delivered from — their sins will be forgiven, and they will be saved from the judgment those sins deserved; all very true, but all negative. But the gospel brings what is most gloriously positive: it opens the door to the things of God, gives these things to the saints as their inheritance, gives the Holy Ghost so that those who believe might have a present knowledge and enjoyment of these things, and a well of water within them fully satisfying the deepest yearnings of the soul; a power transforming every part of the life; a capacity for entering into communion with God. The gift of the Holy Ghost meant the translation from the world, disappointing, bankrupt and condemned, into the kingdom of God, the head and centre of which is the victorious Lord and Saviour, and the power of which is the Holy Ghost thus received, and the joy of which is God Himself.