"Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.'
'WHERE is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? ' asks Paul. And then he declares: 'After that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe (I Cor. i. 2o, 21).
What kind of preaching is this? He does not say, 'foolish preaching', but the foolishness of such a way as that of preaching. It is not the moral essay or the intellectual, or semiintellectual, kind of preaching that is most generally heard throughout the world today, that is to save men; for thousands of such sermons move and convert no one. Nor is it a mere noisy declamation called a sermon-noisy because empty of all earnest thought and true feeling; but it must be the kind of which Peter speaks when he writes of ' them that have preached the gospel . . . with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven' (I Pet. i. 12).
No man is equipped to preach the gospel and undertake the spiritual oversight and instruction of souls, till he has been anointed with the Holy Ghost.
The disciples had been led to Jesus by John the Baptist, whose mighty preaching laid a deep and broad foundation for their spiritual education, and then for three years they had listened to both the public and private teachings of Jesus; they had been ' eye-witnesses of His majesty', of His life and death and resurrection, and yet He commanded them to tarry in Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit. He was to fit them for their ministry. And if they, trained and taught by the Master Himself, had need of the Holy Spirit to enable them to preach and testify with wisdom and power, how much more do you and I need His presence!
Without Him they could do nothing. With Him they were invincible and could continue the work of Jesus. The mighty energy of His working is seen in the preaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost. The sermon itself does not seem to have been very remarkable; indeed, it is principally composed of testimony backed up and fortified by Scripture quotations, followed by exhortation, just as are the sermons that are most effective today in the immediate conversion and sanctification of men. 'True preaching is a testimony,' said Horace Bushnell.
Peter's Scripture quotations were apt, fitting the occasion and the people to whom they were addressed. The testimony was bold and joyous, the rushing outflow of a warm, fresh throbbing experience; and the exhortation was burning, uncompromising in its demands, and yet tender and full of sympathy and love. But a divine Presence was at work in that vast, mocking, wondering throng, and it was He who made Peter's simple words search like fire, and carry such overwhelming conviction to the hearts of the people.
And it is still so that whenever and wherever a man preaches ' with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven there will be conviction.
Under Peter's sermon, ' they were pricked in their heart '. The truth pierced them as a sword until they said, 'What shall we do?' They had been doubting and mocking a short time before, but now they were earnestly inquiring the way to be saved. The speech may be without polish, the manner uncouth, and the matter simple and plain; but conviction will surely follow any preaching in the burning love and power and contagious joy of the Holy Spirit. A few years ago a poor black boy in Africa, who had been stolen for a slave and most cruelly treated, heard a missionary talking of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and his heart hungered and thirsted for Him. In a strange manner he worked his way to New York to find out more about the Holy Spirit, getting the captain of the ship and several of the crew converted on the way. The brother in New York to whom he came took him to a meeting the first night he was in the city, and left him there while he went to fulfil another engagement. When he returned at a late hour, he found a crowd of men at the Penitent-form, led there by the simple words of this poor black fellow. He took him to his Sunday-school, and put him up to speak, while he attended to some other matters. When he turned from these affairs that had occupied his attention for only a little while, he found the Penitentform full of teachers and scholars, weeping before the Lord. What the black boy had said he did not know; but he was bowed with wonder and filled with joy, for it was the power of the Holy Spirit.
Men used to fall as though cut down in battle under the preaching of Wesley, Whitefield, Finney and others. And while there may not be the same physical manifestation at all times, there will surely be the same opening of eyes to spiritual things, breaking of hearts and piercing of consciences. The Spirit under the preaching of a man filled with the Holy Ghost will often come upon a congregation like a wind, and heads will droop, eyes will brim with tears, and hearts will break under His convicting power. I remember a proud young woman who had been mercilessly criticizing us for several nights smitten in this way. She was smiling when suddenly the Holy Spirit winged a word to her heart, and instantly her countenance changed, her head drooped, and for an hour or more she sobbed and struggled while her proud heart broke; she found her way with true repentance and faith to the feet of Jesus, and her heavenly Father's favour. How often have we seen such sights as this under the preaching of the Founder! And it ought to be a common sight under the preaching of all servants of God; for what are we sent for but to convict men of their sin and their need, and by the power of the Spirit to lead them to the Saviour?
And not only will there be conviction under such preaching, but generally, if not always, there will be conversion and sanctification. Three thousand people accepted Christ under Peter's Pentecostal sermon. Later five thousand were converted, and a multitude of the priests were obedient to the faith. And it was so under the preaching of Philip in Samaria, of Peter in Lydda and Saron and in Caesarea, and of Paul in Ephesus and other cities.
To be sure, the preaching of Stephen in its immediate effect only resulted in enraging his hearers until they stoned him to death; but it is highly probable that the ultimate result was the conversion of Paul, who kept the clothes of those who stoned him, and through Paul the evangelization of the Gentiles.
One of the greatest of American evangelists sought with agonizing prayers and tears the baptism with the Holy Spirit, and received it. He said he then preached the same sermons, but where before it had been as one beating the air, now hundreds were saved.
It is this that has made Salvation Army officers successful. Young, inexperienced, without special gifts and without learning, but with the baptism, they have been mighty to win souls. The hardest hearts have been broken, the darkest minds illuminated, the most stubborn wills subdued, and the wildest natures tamed. Their words have been with power and have convicted and converted and sanctified men, and whole communities have been transformed by their labours.
But without this Presence great gifts and profound and accurate learning are without avail in the salvation of men. We often see men with great natural powers, splendidly trained, and equipped with everything save this fiery baptism, who labour and preach year after year without seeing a soul saved. They have spent years in study; but they have not spent a day, much less ten days, fasting and praying and waiting upon God for His anointing that should fill them with heavenly wisdom and power for their work. They are like a great gun loaded and primed, but without a spark of fire to turn the powder and ball into a resistless lightning bolt.
Men need fire, and they get it from God in agonizing, wrestling, listening prayer that will not be denied; and when they get it, and not till then, will they preach with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven, and surely men shall be saved. Such preaching is not foolish.
I. It is reasonable. It takes account of man's reason and conforms to the dictates of common sense. We read that Paul reasoned with the people in the synagogues (Acts xvii. 2; xviii. 4, 19). His preaching was not a noisy harangue, nor a rose-water essay of pretty, empty platitudes, but a life and death-eternal life and deathgrapple with the intelligence of men. God is the Author of man's intellectual powers, and He endowed him with reason. The Holy Spirit respects these powers, and appeals to reason when He inspires a man to preach to his fellows.
2. It is persuasive. ' Come now, and let us reason together, saith 'the Lord' (Isa. 1. 18). He takes account of man's feelings, sensibilities, fears, hopes and affections, and persuades them. It appeals to the whole man. Man is not all intellect, a mere logic machine. He is a bundle of sensibilities as well; and true preaching -the kind that is inspired by the Holy Ghost-appeals to the intelligence of men with reasons and arguments. But they are penetrated through and through with such a spirit of compassionate persuasiveness, that wholesome fears are aroused, shame of sin is created, conscience is unshackled, desires for purity and goodness are resurrected, tender affections are quickened, the will is energized, and the whole man is fired and illuminated by a flame of saving emotions, kindled by the fire in the preacher's heart, that enables him to see and feel the realities of things eternal, of God and judgment, and of Heaven and Hell, of the final fixedness of moral character, of the importance of immediate repentance, and acceptance of God's offer of mercy in Jesus Christ.
3. It is scriptural. The gospel is not opposed to natural religion and reason, but it has run far ahead of them. it is a revelation from God of facts, of grace and truth, of mercy and love and of a plan of redemption that man could not discover for himself. And this revelation is recorded in the Scriptures. So we find that Paul ' reasoned with them out of the Scriptures '. The truths of the Bible cover man's moral needs as a glove covers his hand; fits his moral nature and experience as a key fits its lock; reveals the condition of his heart as a mirror reveals the state of his face.
No man can read the Bible thoughtfully without, either hating it or hating his sins.
But, while it reveals man's sin and his lost condition, it at the same time declares God's love and His plan of redemption. It shows us Jesus Christ and the way by which we come to Him, and through Him get deliverance from sin and become a new creation. It is in the Bible, and only there, that this revelation can be found. And it is this the Holy Ghost inspires men to preach.
' We preach Christ crucified,' wrote Paul (I Cor. i. 2 3) ; and again, We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord (2 Cor. iv. 5). And he exhorted Timothy to 'preach the word' (2 Tim. iv. 2). It is ' the unsearchable ', but revealed, ' riches of Christ' that we are to preach (Eph. iii. 8).
The Holy Spirit makes the word alive. He brings it to the remembrance of the preachers in whom He abides, and He applies it to the heart of the hearers, lightening up the soul as with a sun until sin is seen in all its hideousness, or cutting as a sharp sword, piercing the heart with resistless conviction of the guilt and shame of sin.
Peter had no time to consult the Scriptures and prepare a sermon on the morning of Pentecost; but the Holy Spirit quickened his memory, and brought to his mind the Scriptures appropriate to the occasion.
Hundreds of years before, the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of the prophet Joel, had foretold that in the last days the Spirit should be poured out upon all flesh, and that their sons and daughters should prophesy (ii. 28-32). And the same Spirit that spoke through Joel now made Peter to see and declare that this pentecostal baptism was that of which Joel spoke.
By the mouth of David He had said: 'Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption' (Ps. xvi. 10); and now Peter, by the inspiration of the same Spirit, applies this Scripture to the resurrection of Jesus, and so proves to the Jews that the One they had condemned and killed was the Holy One foretold in prophecy and psalm.
And so today the Holy Spirit inspires men who receive Him to use the Scriptures to awaken, convict and save men.
When Finney was a young preacher, he was invited to a country school-house to preach. On the way there he became much distressed in soul, and his mind seemed blank and dark, when all at once the words spoken to Lot in Sodom by the angels came to his mind: 'Up, get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city' (Gen. xix. 14). He explained the text, told the people about Lot and the wickedness of Sodom' and applied it to them. While he spoke they began to look exceedingly angry, and then, as he earnestly exhorted them to give up their sins and seek the Lord, they began to fall from their seats as though stricken down in battle, and to cry to God for mercy. A great revival followed; many were converted, and a number of the converts became ministers of the gospel.
To Finney's amazement, he learned afterward that the place was called Sodom because of its extreme wickedness, and the old man who had invited him to preach was called Lot, because he was the only God-fearing man in the place. Evidently the Holy Spirit worked through Finney to accomplish these results. And such inspiration is not uncommon with those who are filled with the Spirit.
But this reinforcement of the mind and memory by the Holy Spirit does not do away with the need of study. The Spirit quickens that which is already in the mind and memory, as the warm sun and rains of spring quicken the sleeping seeds that are in the ground, and only those. The sun does not put the seed in the soil, nor does the Holy Spirit without our attention and study put the word of God in our minds. For that we should prayerfully and patiently study.
'We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word,' said the apostles (Acts vi. 4).
' Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth,' wrote Paul to Timothy (2 Tim. ii. 15)
Those men have been best able rightly to divide the word, and have been most mightily used by the Holy Spirit, who have most carefully and prayerfully studied the word of God, and most constantly and lovingly meditated upon it.
4. This preaching is heating and comforting. Preaching with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven' is indescribably searching in its effects. But it is also edifying, strengthening, comforting to those who are wholly the Lord's. It cuts, but only to cure. It searches, but only to save. It is constructive, as well as destructive. It tears down sin and pride and unbelief, but it builds up faith and righteousness and holiness and all the graces of a Christian character. It warms the heart with love, strengthens faith, and confirms the will in all holy purposes.
Every preacher baptized with the Holy Ghost can say with Jesus: '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 brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord' (Luke iv. 18, 19).
Seldom is there a congregation in which there are only those who need to be convicted. There will also be meek and gentle ones to whom should be brought a message of joy and good tidings; brokenhearted ones to be bound up; wounded ones to heal; tempted ones to be delivered; and those whom Satan has bound by some fear or habit to be set free; and the Holy Spirit who knows all hearts will inspire the word that shall bless these needy ones.
The preacher filled with the Holy Spirit, who is instant in prayer, constant in the study of God's word, and steadfast and active in faith, will surely be so helped that he can say: 'The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary' (Isa. 1- 4) and as with little Samuel, the Lord will ' let none of his words fall to the ground' (I Sam. iii. 19).
He will expect results, and God will make them follow his preaching as surely as corn follows the planting and cultivating of the farmer.
'HAVE YE RECEIVED THE HOLY GHOST SINCE YE BELIEVED?
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