D. L. Moody once was invited to preach at New York’s sophisticated Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. Many of its more intellectual parishioners didn’t want him to, but he came anyway.
He decided to preach on Daniel, except he couldn’t pronounce “Daniel,” so he said “Danel.” He had a high nasal twang, and he not only said “ain’t,” he said “hain’t.” At that time, Moody weighed almost 300 pounds, and his beard came almost up to his eyes.
He lost his audience. People were embarrassed; some snickered. But Moody kept on going.
About halfway through his sermon, people began to sit on the edge of their seats. They were no longer hearing Moody; they were listening to another voice, the voice of the Holy Spirit.
No man is preaching the gospel until the people are conscious of that other voice. Where are the preachers today? All over this country, churches are desperately trying to find a preacher. They want a pastor, yes, but they want him to be able to preach the gospel. The apostle Paul says it’s by the foolishness of proclamation, the foolishness of preaching, that God has chosen to save those who believe (I Cor. 1:21).
As Paul walked into pagan, immoral, intellectual Corinth, he determined to know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He determined to declare it and to live it, and the rest was up to the Holy Spirit. He was talking to the intellectual Greeks, putting wisdom aside, putting everything else aside except the power of the cross, the resurrection of our Lord, and man’s need to repent and believe.
There’s a power in preaching of the cross. How do we reach this modern, materalistic, scientific, affluent, cynical, and disillusioned generation? By preaching the gospel.
There are areas of life that are not met by social improvement or material affluence. Our Lord said, “A man’s life consists not in the abundance of things which he possesses” (Luke 11:15 KJV). I know that when I’m preaching to an audience today, there’s emptiness. There’s also loneliness, guilt, and fear of death. The therapy for each is the same — the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and His blood shed on the cross.
How do we communicate that message? First, by proclamation.
Proclaim it with authority. As Moody discovered, the great communicating agent is the Holy Spirit. When the gospel is proclaimed, no matter how crudely, the Holy Spirit can apply it. So proclaim it with authority.
I remember the first sermon I ever preached in a church. I was scared to death. I had prepared four sermons, and I thought each one would last forty to fifty minutes. I’d even practiced them. I stood up in front of thirty-two people in that little Baptist church in Florida and preached all four sermons in eight minutes.
But there was a boy there who was converted. I didn’t know it at the time; nobody came forward when I gave the invitation. But he was converted. He’s now a deacon in a nearby church, and several years ago he told me that story.
Peter Schneider, who became a great evangelical leader of Germany, was visiting here just after World War II. A student grabbed him, said, “You ought to know Christ,” then stood there and prayed for Peter. Peter was incensed; he’d been in the Hitler youth movement. But three days later, he received Jesus Christ.
There came a time about 1948 to 1949 that I went through a period of doubt — the only time in my life. I had to settle it; my heart and my whole being were bursting. I remember going high up in the Sierras of California and saying to God, “I don’t understand certain things in this Book. But, by faith, from this moment on, I accept this as Your infallible Word.”
From that moment, I can say before God, I’ve never had a doubt. And when I quote Scripture, I know I’m quoting the living Word of God. It has power. My ministry changed because I could speak with authority. I knew this was God’s Word; I knew it wouldn’t return void.
Proclaim the gospel with simplicity. You don’t have to be profound. You can say profound things in simple ways. Read Moody’s sermons. He had one story after another: a lot of deathbed stories, simple language. But Britain and America listened, and they’ll listen today if it’s preached with authority and simplicity.
Proclaim it with urgency. Witness with urgency. If it’s true there is a hell and people are lost and going there, and if it’s true we’re under the command of the Lord Jesus, and if it’s true we love people, we ought to have an urgency.
Then proclaim it to a decision. When we held a crusade in Honolulu, the afternoon newspaper asked psychiatrists and psychologists to attend our meetings and write up their impressions. Their comments filled two pages of the newspaper.
But there was one point they all agreed on that surprised me. Nobody criticized the invitation. They said, for example, if you go to a theater and watch the motion picture, it builds you up, but there’s no release. Psychologically, at the crusade, there’s a chance for release. So even from a psychological point of view, there’s a reason for the appeal.
Second, we communicate the gospel by a holy life. Several years ago, some people thought that to reach young people, you had to act like a teenager yourself. Or that if you wanted to reach people, you had to do the things they did, to adapt to the patterns of this world.
But Paul said, “I keep my body under, and bring it into subjection” (I Cor. 9:27). If you’re to be used of the Lord, you have to learn self-discipline; discipline in study, discipline in prayer, discipline in devotions — discipline in every area of your life.
When I entered evangelism, Dr. Mordecai Ham, an old Southern evangelist who won me to the Lord, wrote me a letter and listed ten mistakes he had made in evangelism. He said, “I don’t want you to make them.” He said there are three areas that the devil gets young preachers: pride, money, and morals.
I remember H. C. Morrison, that great man who was president of Asbury for so long, telling about his conversion. He said he was converted to Jesus Christ while plowing corn.
There was a Methodist circuit rider who came riding by on his horse. Morrison said there was something about the way he sat on that horse, something about the radiance of his face, and something about the way he lived. Morrison was two hundred yards from him, but when he passed by, he dropped to his knees and gave his life to Christ — the radiance of a holy life.
Nothing will substitute for a life of separation unto God. Jesus mingled with publicans and sinners, but He didn’t participate in their evil deeds. One of the greatest needs in evangelical Christianity is a new teaching on being separated from the world: “Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing” (2 Cor. 6:17). “The friendship of the world is enmity with God” {James 4:4). Those things need to be proclaimed once again.
Third, we communicate the gospel by our love for people. “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
One of our evangelists was in Costa Rica speaking at the university. A student came up to him afterward and said she was a Marxist and wanted nothing to do with his religion. He tried to witness to her, but she just laughed and scorned. A group of students gathered around, making fun of him.
But before he left, he said, “Do you mind if I pray for you.” She was a little taken aback, and she said, “Well, I guess it wouldn’t do any harm.” As he prayed, the tears began to trickle down his cheeks.
When he finished praying, he looked up and the student was in tears. “No one has ever cared for me enough to shed a tear for me,” she said. “Ill listen to what you have to say.”
My friend led her to Christ that day. What his preaching and persuasion couldn’t do, his tears had done.
Where are the tears today? How many of us really weep over souls? I ask myself that. When Moody preached the gospel, tears used to flow down his cheeks.
Fourth, we communicate the gospel by our compassionate social concern. The Lord Jesus was interested in man’s social problems. How would you feel if you’d been the leper, ostracized from society, who was touched by Jesus?
I don’t suppose that Moody ever preached a sermon on social concern, except perhaps on the YMCA. But so much of the social work in America and Britain comes from the life and ministry of D. L. Moody.
I was playing golf one day with the president of a liberal seminary. He said, “You know, I think the world of your father-in-law, but he’s such a fundamentalist. He has no social concern.”
“Now wait a minute,” I said. “He was a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles. Then he was converted. He went to Virginia and got his medical degree, took his family to the heart of China, and spent twenty-five years building a hospital, working in the dirt with his hands — doing the thing you preach about from your air-conditioned pulpit. Don’t tell me he didn’t have social concern.”
He said, “You know, I hadn’t thought about that.”
Fifth, we communicate the gospel by our unity in the Spirit. We are to be of one mind.
How do we do that? I believe Count Zinzendorf did it correctly. When the Moravians were all split apart, he called them together in prayer. And on their knees with tears streaming down their cheeks and repenting of their sins, there developed a unity of the Spirit.
Sixth, we communicate the gospel by our contagious excitement about Christ. Look at Pentecost; onlookers thought the disciples were drunk. In the average church today, you’d never think that.
I remember watching on television in 1965 the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., led by Martin Luther King Jr. Several marchers were clergymen, and one of them I knew. His church was very cold, formal, and ritualistic. But here he was dancing and singing “We Shall Overcome.” I thought to myself: “The thing that’s making him do that is he really believes in civil rights.” It excited him. He’d caught fire over something.
Wouldn’t it be great if we’d catch fire over the Lord? I don’t mean we’d dance around, but that might not hurt — as David did unto the Lord. We need to be a burning bush for God.
The fields are white for the harvest. The grain is thick. Our instruments are sharp. God is searching for men and women who will be workers in His harvest fields. This is the hour. The people are sheep without a shepherd. They’re waiting to hear God’s message.
“By the Foolishness of Preaching” by Billy Graham. From February 1986 Moody Monthly: (c) 1986 Moody Bible Institute of Chicago.

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