Many years ago a young seminarian in his first pastorate became disturbed about the complacency of his congregation and decided to do something about it. He prepared a very assertive sermon and stood up to deliver it. But he felt intimidated by the presence of certain ones in his audience — Mr. So-and-So, the financier, chairman of his official board; Mrs. Uppity-Up, soloist and socialite; Miss Prissy, leader of the younger set; and so on. He was tempted to change his sermon. He had not time to prepare another sermon, so he decided to give his originally-planned sermon with certain softening modifications.
He said, “You are all sinners, more or less. And if you do not repent to a certain extent, and be converted, in a measure, you will all be damned, to a degree.” That was not dogmatic preaching; that was puppymatic!
We are suffering today from a weak pulpit and pointless preaching. We have clever speakers but few prophets; we have too few fearless speakers for God and Truth. We have the best paid and best educated ministry but too much of it is popular, flabby and insipid and stirs neither Heaven nor Hell.
“If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?” When the Church simply echoes contemporary philosophy, it never attracts a needy world. When it is confused about the person of Christ, who will turn to Him for salvation? When its theology reflects a pagan culture, who will be convicted of his sins?
To be effective the Church must have a sure message. It must have an authority greater than the finite mind of the latest theologian. It must have a message that is changeless and timeless. In our desire to be relevant we must realize that the Christ of the Scriptures is always relevant. We must be able to say, “Thus saith the Lord,” and “I know in whom I believe.”
Christ did not preach so as to offend none. A holy life and ministry, by virtue of their nature, antagonize sin and stir the devil. John Wesley’s rule for determining a successful sermon was, “Is anybody made angry?” Many of his sons repudiate this rule and seem to think the more they please the people the more successful they are. Jesus offended His hearers. They sought to kill Him, leading Him out to the brow of the precipice to cast Him down, after one of His searching messages.
“Speak unto us smooth things.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ is to assert what is right, and to assail what is wrong; and for doing this Isaiah lost his life. Rabbinical tradition says that Isaiah, when ninety years old, was sawn asunder in the trunk of a crab-tree by order of Manasseh. That is, he was placed in the trunk of a hollow tree, and the whole sawed in two. Now, let us see what it was that Isaiah said to his people that was so obnoxious. Isaiah 30:1: “Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin.” No sinner cares to hear this, nor is it popular to talk about these things today. But, thank God, there are yet a few Isaiahs left.
“The world is sick of little buttoned-up clergymen mumbling the canned creeds,” John R. Ewers said. “It wants real men — men who believe something enough to sacrifice for it.” But not all the “buttoned-up” men are behind the pulpit. The pews are filled with them, too. People who refuse to take risks in real Christian discipleship; who fail to lay their religion on the line; who don’t want to be disturbed on the level of life they are now living; men and women and young people who are sickly, spindly specimens of the robust, vigorous, daring Christians they were meant to be and that Christ called them to be.
No wonder that names like Savonarola and Luther and Wesley and Bonhoeffer challenge us and inspire us and shame us. They refused to play it safe. They risked all to gain all, and in so doing not only found Christian living thrilling and adventuresome but made an enduring contribution to the cause of Christ.
Preacher! Where do you stand in this test of acceptable preaching? Will lost souls have just cause to blame you for withholding the truth from them? God has been faithful in giving us the truth. His word is full of solemn admonitions to holiness and separation. He warns, “The soul that sinneth it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). Better never to have been born than to fill a pulpit and fail to clearly deliver God’s message. As one of God’s called prophets, be faithful in the eternal task of heralding the whole counsel of God.
Where are those with holy passion in their hearts, and the coal of fire from heaven on their lips who will, like the prophets of old, show God’s people their sin and call them to repentance? If, as God’s Watchmen we fail to warn, and they die in their sin, their blood will be on our hands.

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