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.





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