Someone has suggested that those who do not believe in ghosts should visit Washington. Ghosts abound there—busy ghosts who write speeches for almost everyone whom the people send to the Capitol. It is further said that sometimes those who deliver the speeches not only do not write them but do not even read them before delivery. While this may be an exaggeration, many a speech does sound as if it had never been seen before.

History might have missed something if Patrick Henry had had a ghostwriter. In the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln wrote his Gettysburg Address on two small sheets of paper. It is reported that Churchill labored hard over his speeches, even while alien planes dropped destruction. But these days, we hear, leaders are too busy to write their own speeches.

Pulpits also have their ghosts. A clergyman need not sweat over his Sunday sermon; ghostwritten messages are not hard to come by. True, much of this material in these sermons is pretty weak stuff theologically; and even when it is biblical, where is the power in warmed-over doctrine? (If the truth be told, by no means all preachers who profess evangelical doctrine resist the ghostwriters.)

Such human ghost writing evidently was not the kind Jesus had in mind when he ordered his disciples to go into all the world and preach. Those disciples were influenced by a Ghost; but he was not a scribe turning out stuff to suit a materialistic world. This Ghost is also called Holy, and he is not a professional speech-maker. He is “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive” (John 14:17), who issues from the Father and bears witness to Christ (John 15:26), and who guides men into all truth, even showing them the future (John 16:13). He is the source of Scripture.

The man in the pulpit is not his own messenger but God’s. He has not been delegated the right to declare any message but the Lord’s. The whole idea of man’s redemption is God’s, not the preacher’s. Not only are ministers commanded to speak; they are also told what to speak and through what dynamic to speak it. They are to preach the Word through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the week people listen to words on radio and television, words put into the mouths of men and women by unseen scribes, the words of songs, dramas, comedy acts, commercials, news—earthy words of this world. On one day a week would it not be refreshing for them to attend God’s house and hear a different Word from another higher world?

This has been called the age of the atom. It is also the age of cynicism. We are being conditioned to unbelief. Many religious writers and speakers, evidently having surrendered their own faith, hammer at us with their unscriptural biases, slowly shattering hope. God is dead; the great birth was not really different from other births; the cross was not an atonement for sin; the resurrection of Christ did not happen; the Church should be a secular institution, or a political and social system; the Bible is largely myth.

Article continues below

Cynicism washes on the pulpits, and many are covered by its waves. Those pulpits that still sound the Word of God with conviction and power are islands in a noisy ocean of unbelief. A national newscast states that 75 per cent of the American people will steal, but nothing is said about those who steal the truth from congregations assembled in the house of the Lord.

The inspiring journal of the primitive Church known as the Acts of the Apostles affords us a look at believers, under the order of Christ, getting on with their mission to the world. Gamblers would have given odds that the apostles’ mission would fail. All publicity was against them. Their organization and administration were faulty. They had no political power, no social status, no financial rating. They were a handful of believers in an unbelieving world. The legalists of Israel, the intellectuals of Greece, the forces of Rome, were against them. Yet they not only survived; they prevailed. Their exploits still haunt history.

Their secret certainly was not that they had the material to please a sophisticated and secularistic audience. The learned chronicler who told their story noted that their enemies marveled at their being “men with no special knowledge and no special qualifications” (Acts 4:13, Barclay).

However, they had two things: the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. Again and again it is reported that they “took the Word of God” to the people. A divine dynamic backed their actions. They were never alone when they faced the world. Someone was with them as they went, fulfilling the Master’s pledge, “I will send him to you. When he comes, he will confute the world, and show where wrong and right and judgment lie” (John 16:7, 8, NEB).

No man who stands in the pulpit has a sermon good enough for any occasion—without divine help. He is not running for office, or making an after-dinner talk at a club. To him has been committed the awesome word of reconciliation; he has come to direct men out of the ways of death into eternal life. His listeners are weary of speeches, appeals, histrionics. Words in themselves are inadequate for the moment, especially when they are given with less passion than that of a street-corner huckster selling souvenirs.

Article continues below

Only one Word is fit for that time when a mortal faces other mortals in the temple of the Lord. “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear ye the word of the Lord.… Thus saith the Lord of hosts …” (Jer. 7:2, 3). Only one influence will enable the speaker to move men Godward: not writings produced by men who themselves lack biblical faith, but the living Spirit who is God. He stands behind eternal truth. It is not worth a man’s time to attend church and hear anything less than this truth.

The Bible keeps insisting which message should issue from the sacred desk. “… he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully.… Is not my word like a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:28, 29). “If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20b). More than we need architecture, administrators, full treasuries, ecumenical dialogue, or facile sermon-makers, we need an outpouring of the Holy Ghost on pulpits that sound the Word of redemption.

The Apostle Paul explained what his ministry had been in Corinth: “My brothers, when I came to proclaim to you God’s secret purpose, I did not come equipped with any brilliance of speech or intellect.… It was my secret determination to concentrate entirely on Jesus Christ himself and the fact of his death on the cross. As a matter of fact, in myself I was feeling far from strong; I was nervous and rather shaky. What I said and preached had none of the attractiveness of the clever mind, but it was a demonstration of the power of the Spirit of God! Plainly God’s purpose was that your faith should rest not upon man’s cleverness but upon the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1–5, Phillips). Paul and the other apostles possessed an indwelling Ghost who empowered their missionary thrust. They were Word-people, faith-charged and flame-touched; and the eagles of Caesar would flap in the dust before what they gave the world would fail.

In this fateful and tormented time, may the pulpit again communicate to mankind the mighty tidings of the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection, and the second advent of Christ. May it waken again with the ancient and authoritative message found in the First Epistle of Peter: “You are born anew of immortal, not of mortal seed, by the living, lasting word of God; for all flesh is like the grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass; grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of the Lord lasts forever—and that is the word of the gospel for you.”

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.