By: Harry A. Ironside
It is the business of servants of Christ to proclaim the Word of truth to a lost world. But the mere statement of gospel truth, apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, is not likely to bring many results. It is true that God in His sovereignty may use His Word, no matter who proclaims it, or even if it is found on the printed page; He has often done so effectively.
New Testament Preaching
However, His general method is to empower devoted men to set forth the Word with clearness and the energy of the Holy Spirit. The results are assured. Speaking in the power of the Holy Spirit is something that should never be ignored. To mistake human eloquence or oratory for preaching in the power of the Spirit of God is a great mistake. Someone has well said that, “Preaching is eloquence touched with fire.” It was in this way that Paul and his companions proclaimed the gospel as they went from place to place, and the result of such a proclamation was not only that people were led to trust in Christ, but that they also received “much assurance.” It is a lamentable fact that a great deal that passes for gospel preaching today would never give assurance of salvation to anyone. Sermons may be theologically correct, but they make no true application to the needs of the hearers, and are, as someone has said, “clear as crystal, but cold as ice.” When the Word is preached in simplicity and in the energy of the Holy Spirit, those who believe it receive the full assurance of faith.
The grand end of preaching is edification. An earnest heart is better than a clever head. A fervent spirit is better than an eloquent tongue. In preaching it is essential to remember the following simple rule, “Do not set about looking for something to say because you have to speak, but speak because you have a message from God.” This is very simple. It is a poor thing for a man to be merely collecting information to fill up a certain space of time. This should never be. Let the teacher or preacher attend diligently upon his ministry. Let him cultivate his gift; let him wait on God for guidance, power and blessing; let him live in the spirit of prayer and breathe the atmosphere of Scripture; then he will be always ready for the Master’s use. Then his words, whether “five or ten thousand,” will assuredly glorify Christ and do good to men. In no case should a man rise to address his congregation without the conviction that God has given him something to say and the desire to say it as to bring blessing.
The Soul and the Book
There are two ingredients that are essential in every minister of the gospel—an accurate acquaintance with the Bible and a due sense of the value of the soul. To possess only one of them will leave a man a thoroughly one-sided minister. I may be deeply read in Scripture; I may have a profound acquaintance with the contents of the Book but if I forget the soul, my ministry will be lamentably defective. It will lack point, pungency, and power. It will be ministry from the Book, but not to the soul. True and beautiful, no doubt, but deficient in usefulness and power.
On the other, hand I may have the soul and its needs before me. I may long to be useful. It may be my heart’s desire to reach to the heart of my hearer, but if I am not acquainted with my Bible, I shall have nothing to give the soul, nothing with which to reach the heart, nothing of which to convict the conscience. My ministry will prove barren and tiresome. Instead of teaching souls, I shall tease them. Instead of edifying, I shall irritate them.
These things are worthy of consideration. You may sometimes listen to a person preaching the Word who possesses a great knowledge of the Word of God, but never applies it to the heart of the hearer. He is so occupied and engrossed with Scripture – so engrossed as almost to forget that he has souls before him. There is not a pointed and powerful appeal to the heart, no fervent grappling with the conscience, no practical application of the contents of the Book to the souls of the hearers. It is very beautiful, but not as useful as it might be. The minister is deficient in the second quality. He is more a minister of the Book than a minister to the soul.
Then again, you will find some who, in their ministry, seem to be wholly occupied with the soul. They appeal, they exhort, they urge. But from lack of acquaintance and regular occupation with Scripture, souls are absolutely exhausted and worn out under their ministry. True, they ostensibly make the Book the basis of their ministry, but their use of it is so unskillful, their handling of it so awkward, their application of it so unintelligent, that their ministry proves as uninteresting as it is unprofitable.