The Preparation for a Gospel Message
E. L. Lovering, Ilfracombe
There are three essentials for every would-be preacher of the Gospel.
1. Seek the Mind of God
This is both the preacher's motive and incentive. He must know, if he is to make known, the mind of God; he must see men and things as God sees them. Above all men he must emulate God's pity and compassion for the lost and perishing. Thus it was with our Lord: 'when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd', Matt. 9. 36. In the synagogue on the sabbath day He said: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised', Luke 4. 18. We learn from this that our Lord had, first, a vision of men. He saw them 'as sheep having no shepherd'; he saw them 'poor', 'broken-hearted', 'captives', 'blind and bruised'. This is how the preacher must see men, for 'where there is no vision, the people perish', Prov. 29. 18. Second, our Lord had a passion for men. He 'was moved with compassion on them'. The measure of our power with men will be determined by the measure of our pity and compassion for them. Third, our Lord had a mission to men. He was anointed to preach the Gospel to the poor. Preacher, 'Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus'; all God's messengers must have a vision, a passion and a mission. It is by the 'foolishness of preaching' in contrast to the 'wisdom of men' that God is saving souls, and for the preacher the compelling, controlling and constraining power is the love of Christ.
2. Search the Word of God
This is the subject and basis of the preacher's message. He must know, if he is to make known, the Word of God. If he is to preach the Word he must be familiar with it. In the words of Solomon: 'because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth', Eccles. 12. 8-10. We note here, first, the selection of the subject. The preacher 'sought to find out acceptable words', 'even words of truth'. The facts of the Gospel as stated by the apostle Paul are these: 'For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures', 1 Cor. 15. 3-4. The preacher must present with no uncertainty the facts and the faith of the Gospel. The Gospel must be asserted, delivered and preached, for 'it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth', Rom. 1. 16. It is not our commendation or proof of it, but the Gospel itself which is the power of God. Individual salvation docs not come about by human persuasion but by divine power. Secondly, consider the suitability of the subject. The preacher weighed with discrimination the nature of his subject, choosing words and expressions most suitable to his hearers and pertinent to the matter in hand. He 'gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs'. For the preacher this will need careful thought and thorough preparation. He will need to be 'a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth', 2 Tim. 2. 15. The sermons of our Lord were never haphazard but pointed and plain. Never let your hearers be lost in a maze, set before them a straight path. Mark the aim of the subject. This is not merely to impart knowledge but to stir the soul. To quote Solomon again: 'the words of the wise are as goads, and as nails', Eccles. 12. 11. True preaching will hurt before it heals, it will convict before it converts.
3. Speak the Truth of God
This is the object and character of the preacher's message. He must know, if he is to make known, the truth of God. He must speak the truth of God lovingly; he must speak the truth and speak it in love. The preacher must avoid criticism of others or other groups of Christians. To entice a hungry dog from a bone offer him more meat. We must speak the truth of God sincerely. This should characterize every Gospel message. A careful use of hands, voice and eyes can be helpful here. The apostle Paul made good use of these on more than one occasion. At Jerusalem when facing a hostile crowd he 'beckoned with the hand unto the people', Acts 21. 40; when he began his noble defence in the court of Festus he 'stretched forth the hand' to Agrippa, Acts 26. 1; at Lystra he rent his garments and 'fixed his eyes on the man'. While there is no need to remain static, there is no reason to become a windmill. We must speak the truth of God simply. The most powerful words and expressions are often the simple ones. This does not mean that sermons must be childish, for no one likes to be 'talked down to'. Avoid vague and long-sounding words and expressions; why say: 'We would suggest or commend to your consideration' when 'I have something to say' would do; or why use 'felicity' for 'happiness' or 'subsequently' for 'afterwards'. It is the quality that matters, not the quantity. Someone has said that the Lord offered 'strong prayers' not 'long prayers'. Try to make things simple by suitable illustrations, anecdotes and parables. What a wonderful use our Lord made of these! Lastly, we must speak the truth of God reverently. Reverence always becomes the things of God, and lightness in preaching the greatest message known to man, is to be strongly deprecated and avoided. Let your hymns be relevant to your subject and the music suitable to the theme. Finally, however successful you may become as a preacher, remember that the power is in the seed and not in the sower.