The Power of Evangelising.

1887 252 Preaching the gospel is either a weak, strange, and contemptible thing, or the divinely given and honoured means of salvation to man, unto God's glory. To preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified might appear an occupation well worthy of ridicule, were not Christ both "the power of God" and "the wisdom of God." In men's eyes foolish, it nevertheless achieves success where man's profoundest wisdom utterly fails: for, paradoxical as it may seem, the word of God declares, "After that in the wisdom of God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe."

However, blessed as it undoubtedly is, to consider the dignified position of an evangelist as an ambassador of Christ, it is at present beside my purpose. Rather let us ask what is the power of an evangelist? For if the servant of God is not divinely intelligent as to this, a survey of the opposing forces will surely be discouraging; and probably unscriptural alliances will soon be sought to meet the supposed need. Is not the natural man in direct enmity with the truth of God? It is not only foolishness to him, but it stirs up his ungodly passions, as it did notably against our Lord Jesus Christ — the Truth — who was first envied, hated, despised, and then crucified. But, further, the unbeliever in his associations with the world finds there everything that ministers to his carnal appetites, and tends to make him settled down in his alienation from God. Again, Satan the god of this world is actively opposed to the Lord Jesus, using his consummate subtlety to hinder the work of the gospel and to drag souls to hell. And what power has the evangelist to overcome the man's indwelling antagonism to his theme, added to which are the withering influences of the world and Satan? Verily, in himself none; he is powerless; still, in the grace and wisdom of God, he does not go a warfare at his own charges. The Lord Jesus, before His departure in bodily presence from His own who were to be His witnesses in the world, promised to send the Spirit of God who should be in the saints, and work through His chosen vessels. To what end? When He shall come, He will convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John xvi. 8). "Not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power" (1 Cor. ii. 4).

Accordingly at Pentecost a Galilean fisherman, filled with the Holy Ghost, charges the Jews with crucifying Jesus of Nazareth, the approved One of God. The result of that testimony was the conversion of three thousand stiff-necked and hard-hearted Jews. Commencing thus, the testimony of Jesus in the mouth of the simple and unlettered is owned as the power of God unto salvation by Jewish priests and Roman courtiers, Ethiopian eunuchs and run-away slaves, imperial deputies and common gaolers. What was the secret? Simply, that men spake by the Holy Ghost given unto them (Acts v. 32).

But there is another consideration. While the Holy Spirit is the great personal witness and the power of testimony for Christ in the world (John xiv. 26), the written word is the revelation of God to man, which shall judge him at the last day (John xiv. 48). Coming as it does from God, it is fraught with divine authority and power. And to despise its unique characteristics is as calamitous for the preacher* as it is for the hearer. "The word of God" says the Holy Spirit of God, "is alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. iv. 12). Nor is this power lost in the day in which we live. Rather, in contrast to the ephemeral things around us, the "word of the Lord endureth for ever." And "this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" (1 Peter i. 25). Let then the servant of God take heed lest he too lightly esteem that which is the Spirit's sword (Eph. vi. 17), and which alone can effectually work in those that believe (1 Thess. ii. 13).

[*Nothing but immediate results are in question here.]

Thus it is evident that the power of testimony for Christ in the gospel must be the Holy Ghost operating through the word of God. Truly "we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us" (2 Cor. iv. 7). By prayer the servant of Christ confesses this and finds his sufficiency to be of God. See a remarkable summary of these elements in an honoured testimony for God. "And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost: and they spake the word of God with boldness" (Acts iv. 31).

This fundamental principle of evangelisation — that its power is ever of and from God, and never of or from man — can never be too frequently before our minds. For to supplement this power by any human device, modelled either from the elements of the world, or from the wit or taste of man, is to impugn the sufficiency of that power and to ignore the solemn warning in 2 Cor. vi. against the mixture of light and darkness. That the great apostle of the Gentiles acted in entire dependence on the power of God is unmistakable from 1 Cor. ii. When Paul visited Corinth, he knew he had to do with people who were easily persuaded by gracefully worded sentences or impassioned orations, entirely apart from the truth or untruth of what was uttered. And if some mazy speculation or subtle abstraction of "thought" were presented in a philosophical manner, attentive and admiring hearers would quickly be gained. Here then were the means both to attract the Corinthians to his preaching and to make the gospel palatable and popular. How did the servant of God proceed? Let him speak himself: "And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing (persuasive) words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (1 Cor. ii. 1-5). Paul knew that if they were drawn to Christ simply by his eloquence or reasoning, that is, by the world's "wisdom," they would be building on a foundation of sand. There must be a divine work to produce a divine faith; and therefore the apostle carefully abstained from the use of anything that might become under Satan a false basis for their souls.

Has this principle no application today? Are the evangelists to adopt pleasant things of man, novelties of the age, or ought else to make the gospel of God attractive to the world? The gospel is indeed said to be powerful — the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth (Rom. i. 16); but is it ever to be made "attractive"? The heart of man that rejected, not only the words and the works of Christ, but moral goodness and divine glory in His Person, is not one whit more disposed today to accept the grace and truth of God in the story of His love and shame on the tree. Men still lurk in darkness and hate the light. How then shall the truth be made "attractive" to them without perverting its character? Shall the preacher cleave to the truth of God in its holy power and simplicity to awaken man's conscience? or is he, in this nineteenth century of ours, to use means by which the carnal man shall be attracted, gratified, mollified, argued, and talked into an acceptance of the gospel? Surely, thus to compromise the truth of God is rather seeking to please men than fidelity to Christ and the gospel. How dare one so to trade with the testimony as to soften it down to suit the prejudices of the unconverted (2 Cor. ii. 17)? It is not even dealing honestly with the men to whom we speak, much less before the God whom we serve.

But while this false principle underlies "attractive preaching," it equally leavens what may be termed the "attractive accessories" of the gospel. Music and singing have indisputably no small influence on very many people. Good, however, as they may be in their places, the greater the need of scripture warrant for their use. The Cainites, when driven from the presence of God, made themselves contented in the land of Nod with the harp and pipe, (if not "organ") (Gen. iv. 21). See also Job xxi. 12. It may be urged that in the history of Israel, musical instruments played a by no means unimportant part religiously. This however was during the period when man in the flesh was invited to devote his best as man to God; therefore a beautiful house, beautiful decorations, beautiful music, and beautiful singing had their places. But have not these things, as before God, passed away? Are they not among the beggarly elements of the world, being but types and shadows of that Antitype, which has long since come and alone abides with us? Worship now is in Spirit and truth, not in the flesh or form. Melody is not in wind or stringed instruments, but in the heart, "Singing and making melody (psallontes) in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. v. 19).

Whether believers sing in the assembly, or at gospel meetings, are not their hymns the expression of their hearts to God? If saints do not sing to God, to whom do they sing? Is it really meant that they should sing to attract the unconverted? What is it to debase the praises of God as a bait to entice natural men to halls or meeting-rooms? Is it reverence and godly fear? Or shall we endeavour to combine the praise of God with the attraction of men in the same action? To state such a mixture of motives is really to condemn it; yet is it, or is it not, the fact? Is it to imitate the apostles and his companions? or are preachers wiser now-a-days? No! the principle of singing is, and must be, that it be to God. What room then for instruments and choral effects, or even solos? Leave them to such as preach little or no truth. It is a sin and a shame to bring into preaching the elements of the world and of Judaism, from which we have been delivered by the death of Christ (Col. ii.). I distrust the utilitarian argument, that is, of success in divine things, when our prime call is to obey God alone. But if music and cultured singing work powerfully on the feelings and imaginations of many, how often do they not supplant Christ in the soul! There were some in a bygone day, who came to the Lord out of mere nature in mind or sentiment. The word concerning them is solemn: — "Now when He was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in His name, when they saw the miracles which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man" (John ii. 23).

Some may set up the plea that, their object being the glory of God in the salvation of souls, the manner or the means becomes an indifferent thing. Is not this too like the petulant excuse of the sinner in Romans 3? "If the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto His glory, why am I also judged a sinner?" Is this ground for mortal man to take? It is indeed the old fallacy of Satan, "Let us do evil that good may come."

Let then the servants of God beware lest they underrate the power of the Spirit and the word. And surely none will deny that there is much in this day that tends to lower the character of God's truth. so that we slight and forget the power of God in the gospel. Appealing in various ways to man's carnal nature makes the testimony of the great apostle of the Gentiles unheeded. "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the falling down of strongholds): casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringeth into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. x. 3-5). W. J. Hocking.