Aprominent American clergyman, concerned at the increasing number of semi-secular demands on a pastor’s time, said recently: “The time has come to remind ourselves that preaching is the Lord’s work too.” Thus oriented, the pulpit will flash its holy message in truer and sharper perspective.
Three centuries ago, when the Scottish Covenanters were fighting for religious liberty, passions were stirred to white heat. One minister stood aloof from it all. Finally, some of his colleagues asked Robert Leighton why he did not “preach up the times.” “Who does?” he asked. “We all do.” “Then,” replied Leighton, “if all of you are busy preaching up the times, you may forgive one poor brother for preaching up Christ Jesus and His eternity.”
Even a quick glance at week-end church notices shows no lack of preaching up the times. Eye-catching titles guarantee to set the worshiper straight on the fatal folly of pacifism or the ethical problems posed by fall-out shelters. While we may need guidance on such subjects, steady preoccupation with them betrays a certain Neronic detachment at a time when men desperately need the words of eternal life.
To whom shall they go, when with secular progress has come an international flair for sowing tares in neighboring fields, when a state of near-war seems normal and inevitable, when life may be short and death sudden? That the pulpit has lent itself to so many “fringe” subjects and to the spell-binding flights of men whose trade is fooling around with words, is not the least component of our bedeviled world.
Convinced that the modern situation spotlights deep needs and limitless opportunities, CHRISTIANITY TODAY begins in this issue a series of sermons by men whose public proclamations have been greatly blessed. This is a time when the preacher must show himself indeed a faithful steward of God’s mysteries, one who rightly interprets his commission and fully understands life’s terms of reference.
“We are sent,” Hugh Thomson Kerr once pointed out, “not to preach sociology but salvation; not economics but evangelism; not reform but redemption; not culture but conversion; not progress but pardon; not the new social order but the new birth; not resuscitation but resurrection; not a new organization but a new creation; not democracy but the Gospel; not civilization but Christ. We are ambassadors not diplomats.”
The true preacher feels an apostolic compulsion to preach each sermon as though it were his last, and in divine singlemindedness rejects the lure of deceptive contemporary byways in order to set forth the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not the Gospel for this or that age; not the Gospel for a completely unparalleled world situation, half-hinting that God has momentarily been caught off his guard but that all will yet be well; not the Gospel to combat this or that bogey, whose greatest ultimate danger is its obscuring of the real issues—these concerns are not the distinctive hallmark of the Evangel. Man needs rather that Gospel which not only pierces his very soul and shows him his pitiable inadequacy, but which offers also unique rescue when he is on the brink of despair. “When all my hope in all men was gone,” cried George Fox, “nor could I tell what to do; then, oh then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is One, even Christ Jesus, can speak unto thy condition.’ ”
This, then, is the Gospel which alone can pluck us from the depths, alone can steel us to look long and incisively at the crumbling cosmos, and alone can send us out with an eternally relevant message to a world that fell many centuries before the nuclear age. Such a Gospel continually projects new vistas of Christian living where we may apprehend untried horizons of the breadth, the length, the height, and the depth of Christ’s love, and its meaning for the redeemed. The Gospel is for such a time as this, because it is the Gospel for every time. It is the only Gospel, because in no other is salvation. The Gospel is for all, because Jesus invited all.
This confidence calls for preaching, then, which is, as even Adolf von Harnack felt constrained to picture it, “in the midst of time, for eternity by the strength and eye of God.” We need preachers who believe in the Gospel’s power, who will speak with authority, and point a distracted but still skeptical world to the one true God, and to Jesus Christ whom He has sent.
He touches the sightless eyes,
Before Him the demons flee;
To the dead He saith, “Arise!”
To the living, “Follow Me!”
And that voice still soundeth on
Through the centuries that are gone
To the centuries that shall be.
Living truths for dying times! Is the preacher’s task under God anything else essentially than bringing together a needy world and a God who cares?
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