A Thought on Preaching.

1866 108 It must be a subject of deep interest to the labourer for God to ascertain the divine method of drawing souls after Christ. We all understand what is commonly meant by influence, and nothing oftentimes is more dangerous than personal influence; for, led on by it, fascinated by the individual exercising it, the soul may find itself, like one under the charm of the rattlesnake, approaching each step unconsciously nearer and nearer to its destruction. We all likewise know that there is a great deal in what is called natural gift. There are some men in whose company we cannot be for long without discovering that they are people of weight; their words have a weight, which we feel not in the words of others: they are born, as men say, to lead. Others have that natural gift of arresting the attention of their fellow-creatures, placing truths perhaps in a new light, and interesting the understanding. So souls are drawn to hear the gospel of God's grace, who would not otherwise turn aside to listen to it. They attend their ministry, it may be, from the charm of their eloquence, the power of their language, the originality of their thoughts, or the aptness of their illustrations. Even personal appearance exercises no inconsiderable power over some. The natural man is attracted. He admires the gifts displayed. They appeal to something within him; they stir up his feelings, they excite his emotions. He is affected for the time. But the all-important question remains: is his heart really reached? Is the man, not his feelings, really laid hold of and brought a captive to the feet of Jesus? For surely nothing less than this is the aim of all faithful evangelizing efforts, that, if the instrument be removed, the souls may stand steadfast, because they have been brought into living communion with the Lord Himself.

Where shall we turn to get the answer we seek, but to Him by whom at the first salvation "began to be spoken." As Son of God, He knew what man was, for He had created him. As Son of man He must have had power to act on man's heart, and appeal to that within him, more surely and more powerfully than any of the fallen children of Adam; and He could have used that influence which sways the hearts of a multitude, and bows them as the heart of one man. How then did He act? How did He attract souls to Himself?

In Luke ii. we get a glimpse of what He must have been amongst men before He began His public ministry. At the age of twelve years He is found in the temple among the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions. He did not teach them, for that would not have been comely in a child of twelve years of age, but His power of entering into all they said, and the questions He asked, evinced an intelligence of no common order, "for all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers." From this He went to Nazareth, and was subject to His mother and Joseph. And we read, "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." Surely He must naturally, as men would say, have attracted all who knew Him during His childhood, youth, and manhood; and till He began His ministry, He must have prepossessed all in His favour. And all that in man appeals to man He must have possessed in no common degree, as beauty of character, power, weight, influence, wisdom. That He had power which could make itself felt, and overawe those opposed to Him, is only a matter of history. See Him at the commencement of His ministry in the temple at Jerusalem (John ii.), driving out with the scourge of small cords which Ho made, those who traded within the precincts of His Father's house, with their sheep and oxen, overthrowing the tables of the money changers, and pouring out their money on the ground. Will it be said they richly deserved this treatment, for desecrating the courts of that house which they owned was the temple of Jehovah? Granted. But how loath are men to acquiesce quietly in any measure however right, when it touches their self-interest? Yet here, whatever the feelings of the people most concerned may have been, we do not read of one who ventured to strive with or resist Him. There was that clearly seen in Him which made all submit to this strange and unexpected act of the reputed son of Joseph of Nazareth. Could this submission have arisen from a strong prepossession in His favour, the result of many years' intercourse? See Him at the close of His ministry, when the passions of the rulers and chief priests had been fully aroused, and they had even attempted several times His death; in the same place, and in a similar way, He cleared the traders out a second time; and on that occasion spoke of it as His house, declaring that He was Jehovah of Hosts, the God of Israel (Matt. xxi.; Mark xi.; Luke xix.) The chief priests when they heard it sought how they might destroy Him, but not one of all who witnessed it ventured to oppose Him. They felt a power they could not resist. Again, shortly after in the garden of Gethsemane, a great company of officers, with swords and staves, came to apprehend Him in the midst of His disciples. Eleven men with Him, with only two swords, ready to run away when He was apprehended, what had that company, strong in numbers and weapons, to fear? Yet we read at the words, "I am he," they went backward and fell to the ground. There was something in Him which overawed the natural man; but did Ho ever use this power to overcome the opposition of the heart to His teaching?

He could also by His acts excite enthusiasm in the minds of those who followed Him. We can understand this. Some noble generous deed, a spirit of true philanthropy, the desire for the temporal welfare of others, calls forth the enthusiastic admiration of mankind. We have instances of this. Nor can we be surprised that He, who went about doing good, should, by His acts for the welfare of others, excite this spirit in those who received of His bounty. He feeds the multitude in the wilderness, multiplying the few loaves till all are filled. They desire to make Him king, convinced from this miracle that He is the prophet that should come into the world. (John vi. 14, 15.) Does He foster this spirit of enthusiasm? Does He use it to advance His claims, His just claims to the kingdom? They were bent on taking Him by force to make Him king. He departed again into a mountain Himself alone. In Matthew viii. 19 we have recounted the history of a scribe, apparently attracted by what he had seen, in all the fervour and enthusiasm of a new convert, declaring he will follow Jesus wherever He goes. Does the Lord forthwith enroll him among His disciples? He speaks a word to damp the ardour of nature, and dispel all illusion of the mind. But at the close of His ministry Ho does allow the multitude to hail Him as king. He enters Jerusalem the centre of an admiring crowd, the observed of all observers. The Pharisees say among themselves, "Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold the whole world is gone after him." Had they a deeper perception of the heart of the people than He had? Impossible. He was God. He knew the heart. He knew how fervid was the enthusiasm in His favour which then prevailed. But when the evening was come, He left Jerusalem and departed to Bethany with the twelve. (Mark xi. 11.)

Many people are drawn to an individual by his gift of speech. There is a power in speech which rivets the attention; it may be wisdom of words, aptness of expression, readiness of response, or felicity of illustration. This not only interests for the moment, but exercises a mighty influence over the human mind. The Lord Jesus was not deficient in all this In the synagogue at Nazareth all bare Him record, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. But He spoke a little more, and they led Him to the brow of the hill to cast Him down headlong. A second time He visits the city, and teaches in their synagogue. They were astonished at His wisdom. Yet He could do no mighty works there, and had to depart to the villages to teach. (Matt. xiii., Mark vi.) Again, in John vii. many, hearing Him, marvel at His knowledge. "How knoweth," they say, "this man letters, having never learned?" His words impress the people, and many said, "Of a truth this is the Prophet. Others said, This is the Christ;" and the officers sent to apprehend Him return, unable to execute their orders, for they said, "Never man spake like this man." So at the close of His life He answers the questions of the Sadducees, the Pharisees and Herodians, and the scribes, in such a way, that none durst after that ask Him any more questions. Perfect master of the art of reply, He does not, however, by this draw them to swell the train of His followers.

Another means of arresting attention is the power of miracles. Men are attracted by any appearance of the supernatural. Witness the Samaritans (Acts viii.), whom Simon Magus had a long time bewitched with his sorceries. Herod rejoiced when he saw the Lord, because he had heard many things of Him, and hoped to have seen some miracle done by Him. (Luke xxiii. 8.) Many at Jerusalem believed on Him when they saw the miracles which He did (John ii. 23); but Jesus did not commit Himself to them. At Nazareth the people in the synagogue were evidently on the tip-toe of expectation for some display of supernatural power (Luke iv. 23), but He made none. At Capernaum all were amazed when they saw the devil cast out in the synagogue; "and they glorified God being filled with fear saying, We have seen strange things to day," when the paralytic man walked out of the house carrying with him that whereon he had lain. (Luke 4:86; Luke 5:26.) So many were His miracles that men questioned whether, when the Christ came, He would do more miracles than Jesus had done. (John vii. 31.) Holding John high in estimation as a prophet, they drew a contrast between him and Jesus in favour of the latter, saying, "John did no miracle: but all things that John spake of this man were true. And many believed on him there." (John x. 41, 42.) The raising of Lazarus from the dead attracted many to Bethany; and, as the Lord entered Jerusalem in triumph, the people who had witnessed it bare record of it, and for this cause many more swelled the royal procession. (John xii. 9, 17, 18.) Here again was something which appealed to the natural man, an argument in favour of the Lord it must be confessed of no mean power. By the exhibition of supernatural power on the part of the magicians of Egypt Pharaoh's heart was hardened to disobey God. (Ex. vii. 22.) By miraculous power, to be exercised in a future day, the second or two-horned beast will deceive them that dwell on the earth. (Rev. xiii. 14.) Miraculous power has a voice for all classes; yet we never find the Lord using it to draw disciples after Him. On the contrary we find Him retiring from observation, desiring that the miracle should not be made known, or working it outside the city, and before the multitude could collect. (Mark 1:34-38, 44, 45; Mark 5:43; Mark 7:33-36; Mark 8:22-26; Mark 9:25.) In a word, whilst the Lord could use all that influence which appeals irresistibly to the natural man, He did not use it to make disciples of the multitude. And why? Because He aimed at the gaining of the heart, not the moving merely of the feelings; the conscience, and not simply the intellect. He desired the welfare of the souls around Him, and not mere personal popularity, however great or lasting. And is not this what labourers in the work at the present day should aim at? How are they to accomplish it? The Lord has shown us.

If the Lord did not use any of those means, commonly called lawful, by which to draw disciples after Him, He yet had a plan most successful, more potent than any man could devise, by which the heart was reached, and the confidence of His hearers gained. He was presented, and presented Himself, as supplying in Himself just what they wanted. Those who, like the Church at Laodicea, thought they had need of nothing would not be attracted by this. The Pharisees, who were covetous, might deride Him as He spake of a life beyond death to be thought of; but those whose hearts told them of the need of something more satisfying than this world could give, would have an ear open for His words as He spake of the well-being of the soul, and adjusted before their eyes the relative importance of temporal and eternal interests. As meeting what man needs, the Lord met those in need.

Whether in Galilee, Judea, or Samaria, it is always the same. He stands forth as the depositary of all man wanted. Was it rest, food for the soul, refreshment for the way, divine guidance for the sheep, light in darkness? He was all this. To the weary He offered a rest which He could give. To the hungry He presented Himself as the living bread, the true manna. To the thirsty He spoke of a stream of which all who believed on Him could drink — nay, more — never thirst, because the well of water should be in themselves. The sheep had only to follow Him, the Shepherd; and He was the light for all who desired it. And if death, the dread enemy, should overtake them, in Him they had the perfect answer to it, for He was the resurrection.

But how did this act on those who were brought into contact with Him? If we turn to John i. we read of John's testimony to Christ before his two disciples, "Behold the Lamb of God." Hearing this they followed Christ, and abode with Him that night. What was it that attracted them to Him? We read of nothing He said, no reply He made to John; we read of nothing about some powerful influence which His presence exercised over them. But these words were spoken by John, and they followed Jesus, for they met their need Baptized with the baptism of John, they had owned complete failure under the law. A sacrifice was needed; He was the Lamb, God's Lamb, just what they wanted. The next day, Andrew, one of the two, finds his brother Simon. He desires to bring him to Jesus. What is the inducement he holds out to attract his brother? "We have found the Messiah." There were godly souls looking for Him to appear, and accomplish salvation for Israel. (Luke ii. 38.) Simon is drawn by the announcement that Messiah had appeared; and he comes to Christ, the commencement of nearly forty years' ardent attachment to the person and cause of his Lord. Philip is called by the Lord Himself. Was it something in the manner of His call which irresistibly impelled him to follow? We are not told, but we do know what He said to Nathanael to induce him to come after Christ. It was nothing about the charm of the Person, but the discovery of who the Person was: "We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Nathanael comes to Christ full of prejudices: all go like the morning mist before the sun, and he owns Him as the Son of God, but also as the King of Israel just what the remnant looked for and expected. Again, when the Lord called Matthew the publican, who arose and followed Him, if it be maintained that there was something in the manner of utterance of these words, "Follow me," which forbad disobedience, we see he has understanding of the Lord, and what Ho can do, by his gathering sinners to the feast; and the Lord vindicates his selection of the company before the face of the Pharisees by saying, "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." It was such as these he had collected, who needed the remedy the Great Physician alone could supply.

If we take the case of the woman of Samaria, we find the same principle. Jesus had spoken to her of the gift He could bestow. Ignorant of her need, she cannot understand His words. The conversation proceeds. He reaches her conscience. She perceives He is a prophet, and shortly after gives Him her confidence. She expects Messias to come, who will tell them all things. The Lord then declares He is the one she has waited for. Thereupon she runs to her people, and urges them to come to Christ, saying, "Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did. Is not this the Christ?" She does not say, A nether prophet has come, but announces the presence among them of the Christ. Was this mere enthusiasm on her part? Men are not wont to be enthusiastic on behalf of the one who unveils their life of iniquity. Surely it was the consciousness that the Great Teacher stood before her that impelled her to act as she did. And the people responded to her call, and came to see the Christ. At their request He abode with them two days. The Samaritans find for themselves that He has what they need, as they say to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world." Was not this what they required? The Saviour of the world, not the Saviour of the Jews only, but of the world; then, whatever the Jews might say, He could save them. He was their Saviour.

What kept the apostles steadfast when many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him? His word had stumbled them. The words He had spoken kept the apostles. Whatever may have been the power felt by some as He said to them, "Follow me," Peter tells what kept them from turning away with the others: "Lord, to whom shall we go: thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe and are sure that thou art the Holy One of God" (for so the chief authorities read). His words satisfied the cravings of their souls.

And once more in John xii. we read of many among the chief rulers who believed on Him, but, afraid of being put out of the synagogue, did not confess Him. How does He meet these? In the synagogue they worshipped, as they believed, the Lord Jehovah, and there they heard the Old-Testament Scriptures, which revealed to them His mind. The Lord Jesus then, to strengthen them to confess Him, tells them that all they looked for in the synagogue He could give. "He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. He that seeth me, seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness." And further, if they feared the wrath of man and the consequences which might come from it, hearkening to him there was to be obtained everlasting life. (Ver. 50.) So that in Him they had the full answer to all that the Jews could do, and if put out of the synagogue, they could find, when outside, God, light, and eternal life.

If such was the way the Lord acted in the midst of Israel to draw hearts to Himself, how did those who came after Him attempt to spread the faith? Did they try to create enthusiasm for Him as the victim of Jewish malice, by expatiating on His goodness, acts of kindness, and mighty works? Peter at Jerusalem, and Paul at Antioch and elsewhere, preach Christ, but a Christ for sinners, and what, believing on Him, the soul can receive from God. At Pentecost, at the Beautiful gate of the temple, before the council (Acts 5), in the house of Cornelius, in the synagogue at Antioch, or at Corinth, the plan pursued was always the same. Successful then, it will be successful still; and, whatever people may say of the beautiful moral picture exhibited in the life of the Lord on earth, and however they may endeavour to account in their own way for the spread of Christianity, what Scripture sets before us as the grand secret of engaging the heart, and drawing disciples after Christ, is just simply to preach as Peter and Paul preached, and imitate His example, who proclaimed that He could meet the deep necessities of fallen man; and that in Himself they had what nowhere else could be found, the answer to death and judgment — all that man dreaded, and that inexhaustible fountain which quenches for ever the thirst of the soul.