How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
I have been accused of not believing in the power of preaching by a great friend over the years, although I believe it is a disagreement on what the meaning of preaching really is. I believe in the power of preaching as the Bible uses the term but not in preaching as it is understood in the church today. And I am not sure Paul would approve either.
A little historical understanding may be in order, in the days of the New Testament there were two classes of people who spoke for a living, orators and heralds. Orators were mostly lawyers and politicians in Greek culture they impressed people with rhetoric and skill. Heralds delivered a message just as it was given to them to remain faithful. The word used for preaching in the New Testament is heralding proclaiming a message.
Paul makes this clearer in his first letter to the Corinthians:
17For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel-not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
When we read preach in the Bible, we must read it not as we may be inclined due to our preconceived notions; as a televangelist will “Preach” with fire and brimstone. But, preaching in biblical terms is like a herald announcing a message, in this case the Good news. Orators need to use their skills as speakers to win the audience. They were awarded points for presentation in the arena of audience opinion. Heralds were not judged on their skill of delivery but on their accuracy for if they delivered a message other than they were told they may be executed.
The Gospel doesn’t make sense unless you have been given the grace of God to understand it. It is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. So, it seems that trying to convince people who are not given that grace is a wasted effort.
Have you ever written something only to read something written so much better that you are almost embarrassed of your own creation? Here is a greater man than I making similar points:
Peter was no doubt a man of considerable natural abilities, he was also a warmhearted, fervent man, the kind of person that would have power over his fellowmen, because of the enthusiasm within him; but for all this Peter had never seen three thousand persons converted until he had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. After the tongue of fire had sat on Peter’s head, he became another man from what he had ever been before. If, dear brethren, we are to see large multitudes converted, the power of the preacher must lie in his being filled with the Holy Spirit. I fear that many churches would not be content with a ministry whose power would lie solely in the Holy Spirit. What I mean is this, that they judge a minister by his elaboration of style, or beauty of imagery, or degree of culture; and if he is a man of such refined speech that only a select few can understand him, then he is a favorite with what is considered to be “a respectable church.” Some despise a preacher whom the common people hear gladly, who uses great plainness of speech, and discards the words which man’s wisdom teaches. They complain that he is only fit to address the most common among people, and for this they turn their backs on him. They don’t want the fire of the Spirit, but rather the flash of rhetoric; not the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit, but the perfumed wind of “high culture.” The jingle of rhetoric has more attraction for them than the clear sound of the trumpets of the sanctuary. May God have mercy on the church that has got into such a miserable state, and is so lacking in true education, for where a church is educated by the Lord she understands that salvation is not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of God. Plainness of speech is the perfection of gospel utterance, for that is how the Master himself spoke. Men of studied elocution, who can build up a climax, and cap it with a dainty piece of poetry, are not the men whom God the Holy Spirit honors to be soul-winners. Haven’t you heard fine sermons, which have perfectly charmed you by their beauty, and yet after you have heard them you have felt that if the Lord did bless such sermons to the conversion of anybody it would be a novelty on the face of the earth, for there was such little of Christ in them, and none of the power of the Holy Spirit? Great sermons are often great sins, and “intellectual treats” are frequently a mess of savory mush made from unclean meats.
A Holy Spirit ministry, if Peter is the model, is one which is bold, clear, telling, and persuasive. One which tells men that Jesus is the Christ, and that they have crucified him, and calls on them to repent and turn to the Lord. The truly sent preacher speaks out straight and plain, and home to the conscience, whether men will hear or whether they will refrain. The Holy Spirit minister chooses Jesus for his main theme, as Peter did. He did not speak to them about modern science and the ways of twisting Scripture into agreement with it. He cared nothing for the ramblings of the Rabbis or the philosophies of the Greeks; but he went right on preaching Christ crucified and Christ risen from the dead. When he had preached Christ, he made a pointed personal appeal to them and said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you.” He was not afraid to give such an exhortation; he was not like some who say, “We must warn sinners and then leave them; we may preach Christ to them, but may not request them to repent;” but he boldly preached the gospel and left it to his Master to send it home by the power of the Holy Spirit. That was the sort of sermon which God blesses. The man was full of God, and God shone through the man, and worked with him, and forgiveness of sins was sought for and was found through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ by a vast number of souls. May God send to all his churches a Holy Spirit ministry!
Charles H. Spurgeon
Additions to the Church
April 5, 1874