In our continuing series on the preaching of the gospel, articles are presented which deal with the practical and vital issue of preparation of the message and messenger.
Disappointment in communication is often every preacher's frustration. Crying to God for help while alone in His presence creates determination for better preparation to preach "the gospel of the glory of God" (I Tim 1:11).
Preaching is indispensable to the character of the gospel and God's purpose for its use (I Cor 1: 17&18). "Jesus came... preaching," (Mark 1:14), and "He that heareth my word and believeth Him that sent me" (John 5:24) is the supreme example to "Preach the Word" (2 Tim 4:2).
A lack of exercise to fulfill the responsibility to publicly preach the Word leads to diminishing support and erratic attendance at gospel efforts. Preaching has been called an "outmoded form, an echo of tradition, a dying art," but God says "How shall they hear without a preacher" (Rom 10:14).
Preparation for this responsibility requires commitment because preaching is receiving a message from God's Word and delivering it to others. Let us consider the preparation of the preacher and the preparation for his preaching.
Preparation of the Preacher
The preacher is the channel, not the source of the message; it is from God. Because of this honor of being entrusted with the gospel, the preacher's personal exercise must be to be clean and "meet for the Master's use" (II Tim 2:21). In Paul's counsel to Timothy in chapter 2:3-15, the preacher and teacher require disciplines of heart; mind, body and soul.
A Stirring Love for Souls is generated in the heart by personal exercise before Cod in prayer With hands and feet and voice active in assembly gospel outreach, love for the needs of perishing souls is cultivated within us. May we increasingly drink of the warmth and love of our Lord! He walked miles, shed tears and selflessly labored in His undying love for the lost, who wilt eternally praise Him for having crossed their path with the gospel. George Whitfield, a preacher of unusual zeal and effectiveness, often prayed, "0, Lord, give me a warm heart." This love shows in the preacher, and the hearts of others are open to listen to and trust him.
A Sensible Evaluation of Self (Rom 12:3). We should improve and sanctify our natural gifts for God. For example, think orderly, speak thoughtfully, annunciate clearly and feel deeply. Peter and John were fisherman. Amos was a shepherd, Matthew an accountant and Paul a university graduate. Yet in their writings, each is evidently self-effacing, Christ-exalting, God-glorifying and audience-edifying.
Study of The Word is inventory work for preacher preparation. Enlargement of knowledge is necessary, but personal appropriation of truth is the ballast and anchor of your sermon. "Preaching beyond your experience is like froth on a freshly-poured glass of soda pop," is what an older preacher advised me. Study prayerfully the four gospels and the epistles to the Romans and Galatians. While these have no substitutes, I suggest the following books for young men to read for doctrinal grounding in the gospel "Foundation Truths of the Faith" by J. Ritchie, "Studies in Bible Doctrine" by Wm. Hoste, "The Gospel and Its Ministry" by Sir R. Anderson and "Grace" bv L. S. Chafer.
Sensitivity to The Holy Spirit is the ultimate requirement for effective preaching. He is the author of the Word, the enabler of effectiveness, the producer of repentance and faith and the indweller of every believer. He burdens the preacher and stirs his love within his heart, guides him as he studies and selects his text. He empowers preaching and He alone can give eternal results in salvation. I have a note on my desk which reads, "When John Calvin approached a pulpit he prayed a prayer which every preacher should pray with earnestness of soul, Come, Holy Spirit, come." In prayer and yielding to this glorious person, the preacher is taught, trimmed, tested and trusted.
Preparation of His Preaching
Every preacher, in keeping with his personality and commitment, has to work out a method of preparation. Do not make the mistake of imitating another's style or criticizing him for not preparing as you do. Irrespective of style, there are basic steps most will find necessary for preparing a gospel message. Remember we are reaching for the conscience and the heart of sinners.
I have written at the front of my Bible. "We are sent, not to preach sociology but salvation; not economics but evangelism; not reform but redemption; not culture but conversion; not progress but pardon; not a new social order but the new birth; not revolution but regeneration; not renovation but revival; not a new organization but a new creation; not civilization but Christ; we are ambassadors not diplomats."
The Selection of a Text. Developing the habit of making notes of texts observed during daily readings of the scriptures, helps to store the same for future use. These personal applications enjoyed are the best messages we will ever preach to others. Read and re-read the passage, and as an esteemed gospeller now in glory said to me, "Try to sink deeply into it so when you preach it, others will sink under it." The apostles in the Book of the Acts chose as texts, Old Testament prophecies, our Lord's words and the doctrines revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. All were relevant, simple and presented in an orderly manner.
The Statement of The Subject. While seeking the message of a text we must allow the passage to open to us its own structure. Do not apply the text to a statement you have decided to make. The Word of God is the focal point, the thrust of the message, the answer to the sinner's needs. Prepare your text prayerfully, carefully and perceptively.
To title a subject is important, not only to be orderly but instructive and interesting. The gospel determines man's eternal destiny, so avoid titles of flippancy or novelty. Be sincere, sympathetic and straightforward. The ideal is to have a subject or text learned in the sanctuary of the Lord's presence which requires no title for emphasis.
It is a great honor of our stewardship of the gospel to stand before a congregation and deliver a message as from the living Cod, in the Name of our glorious Lord and Redeemer. May each preacher be characterized as is written of an old Puritan pastor, "His pulpit is his home and his throne; He draws his message from the Book of Books, for there he drinks and lives; His main characteristic is not that he is witty but holy and earnest as he often cries, "0 Lord, save my people and teach them Thy will."