This article is about true gospel preaching (evangelistic preaching). Gospel preaching must always center around the Person and work of Jesus Christ (Christ-centred preaching).

Source: The Monthly Record, 1997. 5 pages.

Evangelistic Preaching

Preaching is nothing if it is not evangelistic. It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save. All preaching, in all con­texts, must have as its aim the salvation of sinners. There ought never to be in our ministries such a thing as a non-evangelis­tic sermon. Timothy is exhorted in 2 Timothy 4:5, to do the work of an evangelist, not as some adjunct to his pulpit ministry, but as part of that very ministry itself.

At the same time, we must appreciate that overtly evangelistic preaching does have certain characteristics that set it off against other kinds of preaching. Lloyd-Jones' view, as expressed by Iain Murray in the introduction to Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons was that "evangelistic preaching ought to exist as a special category of preaching" (p.xi). The believer, by definition, has a vested and a marked interest in truth. The unbeliever does not. Evangelistic preaching seeks to make such a presentation of truth as will, by the grace of God, kindle a new interest and yield a new sense of things to the unregenerate man.

The Nature of Evangelistic Preaching🔗

The Directory for Public Worship lays down the following principles regarding the way "the servant of Christ, whatever his method be, is to perform his whole ministry":

  1. Painfully, not doing the work of the Lord negligently.

  2. Plainly, that the meanest may understand.

  3. Faithfully, looking at the honour of Christ ... not at his own gain or glory.

  4. Wisely, framing all his doctrines in a manner as may be most likely to prevail.

  5. Gravely, as becometh the Word of God.

  6. With loving affection; and

  7. As taught of God, and persuaded in his own heart, that all that he teacheth is the truth of Christ.

The one thought I wish to isolate out of the Directory's principles is that preaching looks to the honour of Jesus Christ. For evangelistic preaching is nothing if it is not Christ-centered preaching. Let us explore the implications of this.

a. Evangelistic Preaching finds it's Warrant in the Commission of Christ🔗

Christ was the great evangelist, who went about "preaching and chewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God" (Luke 8:1), and who commis­sioned His disciples "to preach the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:2). These disciples "departed and went through the towns preaching the gospel and healing everywhere" (Luke 9:6). The reason that they preached was because they had a mandate. This was of supreme importance to the apostle Paul in the infancy of the New Testament church: "none of these things move me", he said to the Ephesian elders at Miletus, referring to his unknown future, — "neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).

b. Evangelistic Preaching finds it's Impulse in the Experience of Christ🔗

Paul tells us that he had two supreme motivations in preaching – first, the love of Christ constrained him, and, secondly, he knew the terror of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:11, 14). In other words, his work as an evangelist found its impulse in his own personal experience of gospel power. So he en­courages Timothy in the work by reminding him that Christ Jesus the Lord put him into the ministry, "Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy ... Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief" (1 Timothy 1:15). The man who has tasted the power of the Gospel in his own life has the supreme motivation and impulse to evangelise.

George Whitefield preached a sermon in Glas­gow in 1741 entitled The duty of a Gospel Minister. "It is absolutely necessary", he thundered, "before a minister undertakes to preach the gos­pel, that he should have an experimental ac­quaintance with the Lord Jesus Christ... It is true a man may study a scheme of divinity, and in order to get into a place, to please a patron or some great man, he may get Calvin's scheme, or any other scheme of religion. What is all this, if it doth not come from the heart? ... It is poor preaching to preach an unknown Christ..." (The Revivals of the Eighteenth Century, Appendix. p.5).

Jeremiah described this as having the word of God as a 'fire in his bones', so that he could not but declare that Word (Jeremiah 20:9). We are to derive our motivation to pulpit evangelism from our own experience of Christ in the Word. Does He still motivate us, irrespective of circumstances, feelings or discouragements, to proclaim His own unsearchable riches? John Owen says that a man "may preach every day in the week, and not have his heart engaged once. This bath lost us powerful preaching in the world" (IX. p.455).

c. Evangelistic Preaching finds it's Substance in the Glories of Christ🔗

Evangelistic preaching is informative. It presents Christ as He is to men as they are. Paul did not go running with a sign to the Jews, though they wanted one; nor did he go with philosophy to the Greeks; we, he said "preach Christ crucified" (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Let your sermons be full of Christ, urges C.H. Spurgeon; from beginning to end crammed full of the Gospel (The Soul-Winner, p. 79). People have often asked me, he continues, What is the secret of your success? I always answer that I have no other secret but this, that I have preached the gospel — not about the gospel, but the gospel — the full, free, glorious gospel of the living Christ who is the incarnation of the good news (ibid.).

Dr. Kennedy of Dingwall, according to his son's biographical memoir, often began his sermons by picturing the state of the sinner by nature. "But”, — we are told, "he did not, as a rule, linger long on the awe-inspiring terrors of the flaming mount. He soon turned with delight to speak, from the fulness of his heart, of the glorious remedy provided in Jesus Christ ... his style be­came telling and instinct with life when he exhibited Christ crucified and invited sin­ners to believe and be saved. Christ was the centre and the sun of his preaching" (The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire, p.cxiv).

It follows, therefore, that evangelistic preaching must be expository preaching. It was our Lord who said of the Scriptures in John 5:39 that they testify of Him.

d. Evangelistic Preaching Finds it's Fulfilment in Pointing the Way to Christ🔗

There is a Puritan concept of preaching as a 'subversive' activity, which throws a man's life upside down, into complete chaos, by drawing him out of himself and away to Christ. Evangelistic preaching engages with the hearer with the supreme end in view that the listener will know how to get to Christ and find the Saviour. Such preach­ing must have four supreme features.

It must come with authority, authority which follows from the mandate. The am­bassador is not the king, but when he speaks in the king's name, his words have royal authority and power. So Paul declared to the Athenians that now God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).

It must also come by way of invitation. Jesus Christ invites sinners to come to Himself. The sinner must hear in the preach­ing of the truth the voice of God in Christ saying, "If any man thirsts, let him come unto me and drink" (John 7:37); "whoso­ever believes on Him will not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

The Gospel must come by way of ear­nest pleading. Christ's ambassadors are to 'beseech', to plead as God's advocates of mercy. Paul's first words to the Ephesian elders at Miletus highlight this for us: "You know," he says, "from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons. Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears..." (Acts 20:18-19). For three years, he continues, "I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" (Acts 20:31).

This was what John Angell James called An Earnest Ministry. We cannot, he argues in that superb volume, do without an edu­cated ministry, or a pious ministry, or a holy ministry; but, he argues, "there is something else wanted in addition to natu­ral talent, to academic training, and even to the most fervent, evangelical piety, and that is intense devotedness" (An Earnest Ministry, p.10).

And there must also be a call to deci­sion. However suspicious we may be of decisionism, there is no conversion with­out free decision. No man was ever forced to close in with Christ. The rejection of the Gospel is free, because of the power of sin on the will; the acceptance of Christ is free, because of the power of grace on the will. Evangelistic preaching presses home the need to make choice of the Saviour. By its very nature, it is preaching which calls to action. To be sure, it is preaching which shows men that they can do nothing for themselves - all their salvation must be in Christ's action; but preaching also which leaves them saying — 'Except we repent, we shall all likewise perish'.

Some Difficulties with Regard to Evangelistic Preaching🔗

a. Is this A New Arminianism?🔗

There exists the notion that it is a compro­mise of Calvinism, which has given such high ground over to the sovereign work­ings of God in salvation to preach the Gospel in these terms. Only the elect will be saved; only they will experience trans­forming grace in their souls; only they will come to Christ. How can we preach such a wide and open invitation and entreaty without modifying our Calvinism radi­cally?

Klaas Schilder, the famous Dutch theo­logian, reminds us that "in the arena of preaching the covenant idea has reserved all seats" (Always Obedient, p.20); mean­ing that preaching derives all its efficacy from the sovereign God of the covenant. Evangelistic preaching can be effective only because through it God has purposed to save those who from all eternity were the objects of His discriminating, electing love. We are to preach evangelistically not in spite of but because of God's sovereign, covenantal, prevenient grace, which searches out and comes to seek and save the lost.

There have been few in the church more zealous for the doctrine of the sover­eignty of God than Arthur W. Pink. For all his idiosyncrasies he is a first-class expo­nent of the Calvinistic scheme. His biogra­phy contains excerpts from a sermon in Australia in 1926 on Luke 24:25, in which he says this: "There are Arminian who have presented the 'free-will' of man in such a way as to virtually dethrone God, and I have no sympathy whatever with their system. On the other hand, there have been some Calvinists who have presented a kind of fatalism (I know not what else to term it) reducing man to nothing more than a block of wood, exonerating him of all blame and excusing him for his unbelief. But they are both equally wrong, and I scarcely know which is the more mischie­vous of the two ... O may God help us to maintain the balance of truth!" Pink ends his sermon with this powerful appeal: "Why not believe in him for yourself? Why not trust his precious blood for yourself and why not tonight? Why not tonight, my friend? God is ready, God is ready to save you now if you believe on him. The blood has been shed, the sacrifice has been of­fered, the atonement has been made, the feast has been spread. The call goes out to you tonight, 'Come, for all things are now ready"' (The Life of A.W. Pink, pp. 51-53).

The examples could be multiplied. In the 1927 edition of The Free Church Pul­pit, there is a sermon by the late Rev. Kenneth Macrae, author of The Resur­gence of Arminianism, on Everlasting Love (Jeremiah 31:3 is the text), in which He explores the great theme of God's sover­eign love for His people. Kenneth Macrae ends his sermon with these words: "Is it nothing to you that you are outside Christ's love? ... Can you face eternity without it? Can you face judgement without it? Oh be wise, and in a day of grace and while strength and reason remain, knock at the door of mercy and your errand cannot be in vain, for His promise is, "Him that cometh unto Me, I will in nowise cast out" (The Free Church Pulpit, p.201).

What is the connection between the covenant and the call? Hugh Martin an­swers: "That relation is very intimate. The gospel call comes forth from the covenant, and summons sinners into it. It is a voice from within the covenant, addressed to those that are without... Of course, there­fore, it is a universal call" (The Atone­ment, p.24).

Let us disabuse ourselves of the notion that Calvinism is no friend of evangelistic preaching. It is only as Calvinists that we can preach a full Christ in a full Gospel and be assured that our preaching is not in vain.

b. Is There a Gospel Offer?🔗

That evangelistic preaching is a call is beyond debate; but some have argued that it does less than justice to the self-revela­tion of God to argue that God makes a sincere offer of pardon and salvation to those whom He does not intend to save. So, for example, the British Reformed Journal of July-September 1994 stated that "It is impossible for the defenders of the free-offer to maintain that the Gospel is the power of God especially in the case of the reprobate to whom the Gospel is preached" (p.5).

It was this very point that forced the Marrow Controversy in the eighteenth cen­tury, when Thomas Boston and the Erskines were called to defend and explain the free offer of the Gospel. The Marrow theology had been rejected on the grounds that only those sinners convicted and contrite had a warrant to believe. This, the Marrow-Men argued, was to conditionalise an uncondi­tional and free offer of salvation. "God's whole heart and soul," declared Ebenezer Erskine, "is in the offer and promise of the Gospel" (quoted in the Banner of Truth, Vol. 11 (July 1958), p.10). They quoted approvingly from Samuel Rutherford that "reprobates have as fair a warrant to be­lieve as the elect have" (ibid.). These men were neither Arminian nor universalists. They believed in limited atonement, un­conditional election and total depravity. But they also saw in the Word of God a direct, unconditional offer of salvation to all who would come to Christ. And they were not afraid to preach it. "Let Arminians maintain at their peril their universal re­demption," said Ralph Erskine, "but we must maintain at our peril the universal offer" (ibid., p.12).

It is precisely on this ground that John Murray reasons that "if we have any re­serve or lack of spontaneity in offering Christ to lost men ... it is because we have a distorted conception of the relation which the sovereignty of God sustains to the free offer of Christ in the Gospel. It is on the crest of the wave of the divine sovereignty that the full and free overtures of God's grace in Christ break upon the shores of lost humanity" (Collected Writings of John Murray: Vol 1, p.146-7).

Some Practical Points with Regard to Evangelistic Preaching🔗

a. Preparation🔗

There is no preaching without preparation; and there certainly is no evangelistic preach­ing without adequate preparation. Such preparation must concern itself with two questions - WHAT am I going to preach? and HOW am I going to preach? The demands on a minister's time are such as to intrude on the time that he can devote to preparation for preaching; but it is time that must be regarded as sacred and prime.

After conducting his painstaking re­search into the teachings of the Reformers, William Cunningham concluded that "their strength and success ... arose very much from their familiar and intimate acquaintance with the word of God" (The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, p.606). And, as J.W. Alexander reminds us, "Each instance of present labour is to be graciously repaid with a million ages of glory" (Thoughts on Preaching, p.108).

b. Application🔗

Dr John Ker of last century states that "A difficulty in preaching is to individualise without personalising - to point out the man to himself pointing him out to others" (Thoughts for Heart and Life, p.198). Yet that is precisely what the evan­gelist must do, to individualise the Gospel so that the hearer applies it to himself, and hears the Gospel invitation saying to him, as if it said to no other - here is good news for you.

c. Passion🔗

"God," says R.B. Kuiper in a bold state­ment, "has a passion for souls" (God-Centred Evangelism, p.108). It is inexcus­able, if not impossible, to preach evangelistically without preaching passionately. Lloyd-Jones in one place quotes Samuel Coleridge who described one preacher as a "ghost in marble" (The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors; p.383-4); too much so-called evangelistic preaching has no substance and no life. We need, more than ever before, a Bible-centred, theologically articulate ministry, godly and learned, that shares God's passion for the souls of men.

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