volume 13, number 52, December 25, 2014
They spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord who was testifying to the word of His grace, Acts 14:3.
I very well remember in 1976, while working with Dr. Jim Baird at the First Presbyterian Church, Macon, Georgia, reading for the first time Arnold Dallimore’s marvelous biography on George Whitefield, perhaps the greatest preacher since the Apostle Paul. No other book, besides the Bible, has impacted me as much as Dallimore’s two volumes on Whitefield. Dallimore gave me a vision for evangelistic preaching and revival which has never left me. Indeed, this vision and hunger has only increased over the last four decades. Dallimore referred to the preaching of Whitefield as that which startled a nation. Without question, the preaching of Whitefield and his contemporaries-men like Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, William and Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Davies, Howell Harris, and Daniel Rowland wrought a dramatic societal impact in England, Scotland, Wales, and Colonial America. This Great Awakening resulted in thousands of conversions in each of these countries and was remarkably used of God to bring these nations up out of debauchery and to spare them from the ravages of the atheistic Eighteenth Century French Revolution.
Revival, evangelistic preaching, however, has fallen on hard times in the western world. The theological liberalism of the early Twentieth Century, the neo-orthodoxy of the 1940’s to the 1960’s, the church growth movement of the 1970’s, the seeker friendly movement of the 1980’s and 1990’s, the emerging church movement of the first decade of the Twenty-first Century, the present emphasis on “hipster” Christianity and hyper-grace, and the Insider Movement in the Muslim world (which has been propagated by western missiologists) all point to the dearth of Spirit anointed revival and evangelistic preaching. How so? Without confidence in the supernatural work of the Spirit to convict and convert sinners, it is only natural for church leaders to look elsewhere for societal impact. The neo-liberal hermeneutic is also at play in today’s western church. In a desire to reach the secular unbeliever who rejects Biblical authority out of hand, in order to gain a hearing from “un-churched Harry,” in order to appeal to the new atheist who embraces every manner of sexual perversion, in order to bring back into the church the de-churched millennial generation, pastors are interpreting the Bible differently. Some are saying that without an emphasis on social justice then we have no gospel message at all. Some are conveniently overlooking the clear teaching on the roles of husband and wives in marriage, the prohibition against women’s ordination to church offices, and the abomination of homosexuality and same sex unions.
God, however, has always used powerfully and persuasively the Spirit anointed preaching of Christ crucified. We see it clearly in the teaching of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. We see it in the early church fathers-men like Ambrose, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Chrysostom. We see it in powerful pre-Reformation preachers like Savonarola of Florence and John Hus. We see it in the great Reformers-Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox.
Why should today be any different? Some are saying that times have changed, that we now live in a post-Christian world that is driven by entertainment. The United States is altering the definition of marriage, something no nation has ever done. The crime, poverty, perversion, corruption in business and politics, the outrageous deficit spending by the United States government, the growing threat of fundamentalist Islam, and the weakening of America’s presence in the world all make living in the Twentieth-first Century a debilitating and frightening reality for many.
The Apostle Paul, however, faced a very similar situation when he entered Pisidian-Antioch on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:13ff). The people were hard-hearted Jews and pagans, but Paul preached Christ crucified to them. He first preached to the Jews in the synagogue, reminding them of their glorious history as Yahweh’s covenant people. He told them how God had fulfilled His promise and raised up Jesus. He proclaimed to them that Jesus had died for sinners, that He had been raised from the dead, that through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which they could not be freed through the Law of Moses. The Jews begged to hear more on the next Sabbath. A greater crowd gathered the next week to hear the word of the Lord, and many of the Jews became jealous and turned people away from Paul and his message. Many of the Gentiles, however, who were appointed to eternal life, believed. Consequently persecution arose but these new disciples of Jesus were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
My friends, we need Spirit anointed, revival and evangelistic preaching more than ever. The greatest gift you can give your pastor or street preacher friend is to pray for him. And what should you pray? Ask the Holy Spirit in 2015 to inspire, instruct, challenge, and send him forth into the world and pulpit with Holy Spirit power. Pray that he will have convicting and converting power like Samuel Davies, the Eighteenth Century Presbyterian evangelist used so powerfully by God in the Richmond, Virginia area. Pray that he will seek to develop his skills as a preacher, that he will realize, no matter how gifted he may be, that he can always improve. Ask for the Holy Spirit to ignite an even stronger zeal to go deeply with Jesus, to love to be in His presence, praying, studying, meditating, having his heart stirred up to preach the unfathomable riches of Christ. I am presently writing a book on evangelistic preaching, and in it I will not deal with preaching in general. There are many fine books on the art of preparing and delivering sermons to a congregation. Instead my focus will be on the necessity and methodology of evangelistic preaching. This book is meant to instruct and challenge any man who is called to herald the unfathomable riches of Christ-whether or not he is an ordained pastor or a street preacher. So please pray for me as I seek to write it.
In 2015 please pray for your preacher, that he may catch the vision and hope Arnold Dallimore had when he wrote his book on Whitefield. I quote the following words from Dallimore prior to preaching and these capture vividly this burden for powerful, Spirit anointed preaching.
This book is written in the desire-perhaps in a measure of inner certainty-that we shall see the great Head of the Church once more bring into being His special instruments of revival, that He will again raise up unto Himself certain young men whom He may use in this glorious employ. And what manner of men will they be? Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace. They will be men who have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions; men who are willing to be ‘fools for Christ’s sake’, who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labor and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain earth’s accolades, but to win the Master’s approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat. They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear-filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness ‘signs and wonders following’ in the transformation of multitudes of human lives.
2. These include Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell, The Imperative of Preaching by John Carrick, Between Two Worlds by John Stott, and Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
3. George Whitefield, Volume One Dallimore, page 16.