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Passion





There is a page in Tyerman's monumental "Life of George Whitefield,"
which illustrates, as few pages do, the quality of that essential of
true and effective preaching in regard of which we are now to speak.
It is that page in which are described the last hours of the great
evangelist.

On Saturday morning, September 29th, 1770, being exceedingly weak and
ill, but bent upon the continuance of his preaching work, Whitefield
set out from Portsmouth (U.S.A.) to ride to Boston. Fifteen miles from
Portsmouth, at Exeter, he was stopped and persuaded to preach. A
friend said to him, "Sir, you are more fit to go to bed than to
preach." "True, sir," replied Whitefield, and then, clasping his hands
and looking up to heaven, he added, "Lord Jesus, I am weary in Thy work
but not of it. If I have not yet finished my course, let me go and
speak for Thee once more in the fields, seal Thy truth, and come home
and die." At the commencement of his discourse he was unable for some
time to speak, but recovering himself he preached for two hours.

At Exeter, to pursue the story, the Rev. Jonathan Parsons, who, for
twenty-four years, had been Presbyterian minister at Newbury Port, met
the preacher. The two friends dined together at Captain Oilman's, and
then started for Newbury Port, a few miles further on. "On arrival
there," says the biographer, "Whitefield was so exhausted that he was
unable to leave the boat without assistance, but in the course of the
evening he recovered his spirits."

Let us give the rest of the story in the words of Mr. Tyerman:--"While
Whitefield partook of an early supper, the people assembled at the
front of the parsonage, and even crowded into its hall, impatient to
hear a few words from the man they so greatly loved. 'I am tired,'
said Whitefield, 'and must go to bed.' He took a candle and was
hastening to his chamber. The sight of the people moved him; and,
pausing on the staircase, he began to speak to them. He had preached
his last sermon, this was to be his last exhortation. There he stood,
the crowd in the hall gazing up at him with tearful eyes, as Elisha at
the ascending prophet. His voice flowed on until the candle which he
held in his hand burned away and went out in its socket! The next
morning he was not, for God had taken him."

Now, surely, here is a picture worth the painting, if only one could
catch the true spiritual significance and lesson of it all. Imagine
the scene: the listening multitude crowded into the spacious entrance
hall; the preacher, wearied and worn by disease, and still more by his
restless and sublime labours in preaching the word in field and temple
for many a wondrous year. The candle flickers and fails as the
glorious voice, which has made heavenly music for tens of thousands of
seeking souls, becomes weaker and weaker. The feeble flame, at last
goes out, and leaves the preacher still pleading the cause of the Lord,
whose face he is so soon to behold. History has no nobler scene to
show in all its gathered years!

We have appropriated this story because it appears to us to hold an
explanation of the meaning of the word at the head of this chapter.
Possibly there has never been, in all the years of the Church, a
greater preacher than this same Whitefield, and Whitefield's greatness
has, to a large extent, its explanation in this, the last scene of his
ministry. How many he led to God eternity alone can reveal. His
spiritual descendants are numbered by multitudes as the sand on the
sea-shore, the stars in the firmament, for number. When he died
millions in both the old world and the new wept the going of one who to
them had been the prophet of a great deliverance. To this day the
little New England village where he sleeps is the object of pious
pilgrimage to numbers to whom the echo of his voice still comes across
the breadth of intervening years. The secret is largely hidden in
"this last scene of all." In this mighty passion to preach the word,
a passion which neither persecution nor betrayal nor disappointment nor
disease nor even the icy breath of approaching death could cool--in
this lies the explanation of a ministry that shook the world!

And without this passion even Whitefield's gifts of oratory would have
left no record for our reading, for it is absolutely essential to
effective preaching; absolutely essential to success. Without it the
choicest gifts, the profoundest learning will achieve but little.
With it, even humble qualifications and limited scholastic equipment
will accomplish--have often accomplished--great things for God and the
lives of men.

And this passion for preaching will be a passion for preaching for its
own sake. To the true preacher preaching, and everything connected
with preaching, will be things in which his soul delights. He will
glory in sermon making and sermon preaching more than in any of his
life's other activities. It is not implied that he will always
approach his task without fear, or even without shrinking, or, at
times, a passing desire to shun the duty devolving upon him. There may
be hours when, as he truly realises the purpose of his work, a sense of
his responsibility will so surge through his spirit as almost to unman
him. Other times, again, may come, when even "nerves" may get the
better of him, for every preacher worth the name has "nerves," and
should thank God for them. There may be days in which, seeing as in a
vision something of the mighty issues dependent upon his faithfulness,
he will tremble lest he be, indeed, one of those fools who "rush in
where angels fear to tread." All these experiences may be--most likely
will be--his, and yet he will find in the exercise of his art, both in
preparation and performance such a pleasure, and such a sense of mental
exaltation, as nothing else can bring. A born artist loves to paint
for painting's sake; to such an one there is something almost
sacramental in the very mixing of the colours. The true sculptor hears
music in the tapping of the mallet upon the chisel as he shapes the
marble into grace and beauty. There is no drudgery in the calling that
is yours by ordination of nature, by right of true heartfelt affection.
The kind of preacher we mean would rather talk about preaching than
about any other subject, providing he meet with one like-minded with
himself. He is happy to the glowing point when he can discuss with
some sharer of the call the latest homiletic creation of his mind or of
the mind of his friend. When his creation comes to the stage of
delivery he is conscious of that perfect pleasantness which is always
felt by a man when engaged in the labour which, of all others, he loves
best to perform. "I'd rather preach than be King of England," he will
tell you sometimes; and though, on occasion, he may have his "hard
times," a form of discipline sent upon him for his soul's good, he will
generally be found within a single circling of the Sun as eager as ever
to return to the place of his humiliation. Many a preacher who has
felt, on Sunday evening, that the only thing left for him to do was
immediately to send in his resignation to the proper quarter, has,
before Monday evening, known what it was to hunger again for the
Sabbath's sweet return. A strange thing is this preaching madness when
it possesses a man, as it often will, body, soul and spirit; which no
place can satisfy save the preacher's place, no task save the
preacher's task, no honour save the honour of telling men about Jesus
Christ. Without it there can be no grand success. He who is not thus
possessed should decline to be drawn for this duty. Of such as he
there are more than enough already in the pulpit--in it, but not at
home in it, not glad, gloriously glad, to be there--slaving to make a
sermon because "in three days Sunday will be here;" taking with them at
service time this so-called sermon, strong with the smell of books and
of midnight oil; speaking it in pain of utterance, and delighted when
the ordeal is over, with a delight most certainly shared by many who
neither came to scoff nor remained to pray. Heaven help the man whom
fate in the shape of foolish friends, or parents, or mistaken
church-officials has sentenced to hard labour in the pulpit; who is
condemned to preach without possession of that love of preaching which
makes for him in whose heart it dwells the business of declaring the
Gospel the noblest and most rapturous occupation in all the great, wide
world! If preparation be invariably irksome--invariably, we say, for
all men have their moods and no mere passing spell of depression is
worth more than a little special prayer; if preaching be always a pain
and a cross--always, we say--for God may cause the chariot wheels to
run heavily for reasons of His own, and the difficulty may not point to
retreat, but to supplication; if preparation and preaching be
invariably irksome and painful, the fact ought to make the preacher ask
whether a mistake has been made in his choice, which ought to be
rectified as soon as possible. The true preacher will be in love with
preaching for its own sake. This love will be part of the great
all-conquering passion of his life.

A "part," yes; but only a part. May we call it the human, the
temperamental, dispositional part? The passion we desiderate for the
present-day pulpit includes something almost infinitely higher than
this. It must include the passion for Christ. It is the hunger to
preach because Jesus Christ is the chief theme of preaching; because it
is in His honour; because out of the fulness of the heart the mouth
would speak; because the soul's deep reverence for the Redeemer must
extol its object. He is to be obeyed, too, in preaching. It is a
form of service rendered to Him. The truth is His truth, "the
truth as it is in Jesus," and He gave the command which is honoured
in its publication. By this act of preaching He is pleased. It is
an evidence of the preacher's glad surrender to His will. It moves
others, too, to the same surrender. It extends His kingdom;
increases the number of those who "bear His name and sign." It helps
Him to see "of the travail of His soul and be satisfied." It pushes
further back the bounds of His empire; widens the area of His
sovereignty. It "crowns Him with glory and honour." So the preacher
"makes his boast in the Lord," and is "glad."

Thus it can be said that all true preaching is worship, which is always
the expression of awe, reverence and love. We sometimes speak of
worship, and preaching. To the true preacher this distinction does
not exist. No act in all the service is more truly an act of adoration
than is the preaching of such a man, because it is the pouring out of
his inmost heart's affection. With the spirit with which he prays and
sings; with the spirit of the Te Deum and the Magnificat, will he
preach; and out of the same emotions toward Him whom thus he serves.
Such preaching is a bringing of the fruits of the mind and the spirit
to the altar of sacrifice. The whole Doxology is in it!

Yes, preaching is worship. We Free Churchmen need to emphasise this
truth. Again and again have we heard the criticism that in our
churches there "is much sermon and little worship." We have not only
heard this criticism from the quarter whence it might be expected, but,
also, sometimes even from some of our own fellowship. There is an
answer to this complaint which proceeds from a misunderstanding of what
true worship really is, as well as from an underestimation of the true
sacredness of the preacher's work. It is this:--That preaching is
worship when offered in the spirit of worship, and that neither song
nor prayer becomes worship except upon the same condition. Further we
would say that hearing is worship, too, when the hearer listens as in
the spirit. The hearer to whom song and supplication are worship,
indeed, will also make an act of adoration of his hearing of the word
which is sent unto him.

Behind such preaching as this, and producing the passion out of which
it will proceed, there must be high experiences of grace. Such passion
can only proceed from a personal knowledge of Christ and from that full
surrender which such knowledge at once brings to pass. Love has caught
the preacher in the way and led him to Calvary, where his heart has
been set on fire. He does but preach because he must, the Lord having
done for him such mighty things. As the memory of that divine arrest
on the road to Damascus abode with Paul, and so sustained a sense of
the mercy of his Lord that he could not help but preach the gospel, so
the recollection of the preacher will ever linger around the glad hour
when the Master met him in the path, having come down from heaven to
seek and to save even him. In these remembrances has the passion of
the preacher its origin and its reinforcement. It is the first fruit
of a melted heart. The true preacher is--the word is not a pleasant
one, but it is the only form of expression that, at the moment,
occurs--the devotee. He is the slave of love to Christ.

And without this whole-souled devotion--we say again--there can be no
great moving and saving preaching. Eloquence there may be,
intellectualism, sublimity of conception and description, pathos--all
the qualities which are needed in high public address, but something
will be lacking. None can speak of a maiden as can her lover, though
others may describe her with a choicer diction than he. None can speak
of a child as can his mother, to whom the little life is more precious
than her own and every childish way of significance and beauty.
"Lovest thou Me?" said the Lord to Simon Peter on that grey morning
on the sea-shore. "Lovest thou Me?" He asked again, and yet again.
"Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee," cried the disciple, his
soul aflame with a living passion never more to be extinguished or
bedimmed, "Thou knowest that I love Thee." Then said the Saviour,
"Feed My sheep," "Feed My lambs." Peter's preaching hour was come now
that this fire had been kindled in his soul. In that confession rang
the promise of all the after years, of the ministry in Jerusalem, of
his declaration of the Christ in many a heathen city, of the death he
was to die in Rome. Lack this flame of affection and preaching will be
a task, a penance, a weary iteration and reiteration of things so often
spoken as to render them threadbare and hackneyed to the speaker.
Possess this all-consuming love and preaching will be as "a song of the
Well-Beloved!"

But the passion of preaching has in it another ingredient--if in this
way the matter may be expressed. To be effective and successful the
preacher must have in his heart the passion of humanity. True
preaching is the supreme effort of a man burning to bless and save his
fellow-men. Precious to him are the souls before him; terrible to him
the thought that any one of them should come short of the salvation he
has been sent to proclaim, that one life should wither and be wasted.
He is "kindly affectioned" toward them. He loves, therefore he
preaches. As long as there are souls to be warned and invited,
penitents to be enlightened and led into the peace of God, hearts to be
comforted, powers to be taught a better way--as long, in short, as
there are men to whom his message may bring help and hope and life he
cannot hold his peace. He will be "all things to all men that
peradventure" he "may save some."

Now this is a harder thing--this passion for men, as that man must
possess it who aspires to preach the gospel with power and full
accomplishment of the purposes thereof. For the love he must feel must
be a love not only for such as of themselves inspire it, but for those
whose life and character are hateful. Of what is called "affinity"
between the man to be loved and sought and the preacher there may be
none. How can the ambassador of Jesus Christ, who has looked upon the
face of the Son of Man and in that look caught a conception of humanity
in its fairest beauty,--how can he be in love with men and see, as he
must see, their meanness and wrong-doing? The lawyer and the preacher,
it is said, see the seamy side of life, and there is no need for wonder
if, as has been reported, the lawyer often becomes a cynic. The wonder
is if the preacher do not become a cynic too. Seeing what he must see,
knowing what he must know, how is he to preserve that longing after the
souls of the very vilest which alone can sustain him in his search for
them "away on the mountains cold?" Can it really be done?

The answer to this question is, and must be, No. It cannot be done if
the preacher look at man only through his own eyes and try to love him
for himself alone. It will be found impossible to love one man because
we do not know him. It will be found even more impossible--if
impossibility admit of degrees of comparison--to love another because
we do! Our hearts have neither power to conceive nor life to sustain
an universal affection.

And yet this love of man as man must be realised before ever we can
hope helpfully to lift up Christ and goodness for his acceptance. The
secret thereof must come as came the message itself; as came our call
to declare it,--through another love warming our hearts into living
heat. The passion for humanity comes to the preacher as a result of
his passion for Christ. His love for Christ goes beyond its divine
object to all who are precious to his Lord. The worst of men is, by
right of redemption, Christ's man, dear to the preacher, because bought
by the blood which is more precious than silver and gold. The heathen
are His inheritance and the uttermost ends of the earth are His
possession. Urged, sustained and comforted by this reflection, the
missionary crosses stormy seas, ready to find, if need be, a grave in a
foreign land far from home and friends that, so going, he may speak to
His Lord's beloved concerning His wondrous grace. Here, and here only,
is the true missionary motive, the one missionary argument. We do
not seek to save the heathen because of an eschatology which would
consign them to the outer darkness. We cannot receive as true any
conception of God which includes belief in a doctrine involving so
terrible an injustice as that men should be eternally punished for
refusing that which has never been offered for their acceptance. We
think, rather, of the Lord as robbed of the love of hearts He died to
win, hearts made precious by His death, and in the passion kindled by
our vision of the Master looking from His cross away over tossing seas
to those far-off lands and including every son of savagery to the last
moment of time in His dying petition, "Father, forgive them, they know
not what they do." We perceive upon every soul the sign of the cross;
and this sign makes every man a brother to the ends of the earth. So
the preacher is lifted by his love for his Master into a love for all
for whom He agonised and died.

And this, from the beginning of his preaching to its end, and in
relation to all the experiences into which his labours shall bring him,
must be the true preacher's way of looking at his fellow-men. The
social reformer has his way, too, the politician his, the scientist
his. This is the preacher's way. Each and every man is sanctified to
him by the sprinkling of blood. So he, also, will bear a cross for the
saving of men; so he, too, will carry the sorrows and sins of humanity.
He will have a Gethsemane of his own, be led to a Calvary waiting for
him, for every saviour of men must tread this appointed way. Every
shepherd who is not an hireling "giveth his life for the sheep."

One word more. We have named the preacher's passion for his Lord. We
have also named his passion for those upon whom his Lord has set the
mark of His love. There is something more needed ere the flame of
passion burn with its fullest intensity. It is the passion of the
dream--the dream that is not a dream excepting to those who have only
heard of it by the hearing of the ear. To the preacher it will be a
vision. It is the vision of which we have already spoken, and may
speak again in pages yet to come--the vision of the divine ideal at
last triumphant. In this vision the preacher must live. To lose it is
despair. No one has so many disappointments as the idealist; but it is
the glorious fact that no one cares about his disappointments less.
Not that he does not see them, but because he sees beyond them. The
true preacher--he is your incorrigible optimist. Some men form their
expectations of the future out of material supplied in tables of
statistics, ecclesiastical Blue Books, censuses of church attendance,
returns and percentages. Not so the true preacher. He has "seen the
King in His beauty and the land that is far off." Columbus like, he
steers his barque toward the new world his faith has gazed upon, and,
as with Columbus, the passion of the coming victory holds him, heart in
tune and head erect, while others mournfully prophesy the disasters
always by shortsighted people seen.

So by the power of his passion the preacher declares his message and
this passion gives power to every word thereof. In that same passion
is his own sustenance in all the divers contradictions that preaching
may bring upon him. He needs it for his own preservation. Often the
preacher who accomplishes the most is, more than those who accomplish
less, rewarded with ingratitude, misjudgment, scorn. "The carnal mind
is at enmity against God, and is not reconciled to the law of God,
neither, indeed, can be." This means suffering for the preacher as it
meant suffering for the Lord. What can keep him in countenance among
it all? Love and the passion of the vision. In these will he conquer
ever! The prodigality of the younger son had long worn out the
patience of the elder brother. Love kept the father waiting on and
vision saw the lad's return while still he was far away. In this love
and vision he went forth the door; in this love and vision he returned
leading the late returning child back again to home and rest and peace
and purity. The parable is for preachers as well as prodigals. Oh,
for the passion, the far, far sight of this old history! They are our
greatest need to-day!

Passion! How is it with us now? Have we this absolutely essential
possession in our hearts, in our preaching, as we have had it
aforetime, as our fathers had it? Are we so set upon giving glory to
Christ that we long for the opportunity to come to speak His name in
the congregation? Are we so given up to the enterprise of saving men
that we rest not day nor night for very longing for their salvation?
Are we so full of the sense of the triumph drawing nearer that our
hearts are already rejoicing with the joy of Harvest? These are
questions for us all, and we may discover the quality of our preaching
from their answers, if only we will whisper them to ourselves with
faithfulness to God and men and our own souls.





Next: Theory Of The Message Chapter

Previous: Concerning Understanding



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