The Militant Preacher
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 2 Timothy 4:1-2.
What a command given!–“Preach the word.” Paul here adjures Timothy to opportunely and inopportunely preach the gospel. “Just as the fountains,” says Chrysostom, “though none may draw from them, still flow on, and rivers, though none may drink from them, still run, so we must do all on our part, though none give heed to us.”
If there is a mission in heaven or on earth that calls for militancy, it is the God-given mission of preaching. Preaching holds within its powers the destiny of mankind. It is a mission of life unto life, or, of death unto death. It transcends all other callings, as the Alps transcend the foothills over which they stand sentinel. It is an imperial business with imperative demands and eternal consequences. The militant preacher is earth’s most militant and meaningful personage.
This discussion is to center around three main thoughts: first, The Militant Preacher Is Apostolic; second, The Militant Preacher Is Needed Today; third, The Militant Preacher Is Challenged.
I. The Militant Preacher Is Apostolic
Apostolic preaching dynamited the strongholds of wickedness in the early days of Christianity, conquered formidable evils, blessed individuals, and flashed its rays across the world. Preachers in that day could not be confined to one nation. They took to the oceans as they carried the “good news” to all lands. They could say with the poet:
I know a land that is sunk in shame,
Of hearts that faint and tire;
And I know a name, a name, a name,
That can set that land on fire.
1. The militant preacher is apostolic in his zeal. His zeal is blazing. Paul was such a preacher. His eating, drinking, and whatsoever he did was done for the glory of God. He preached the Word everywhere. “Woe is me,” he declared, “if I preach not the gospel.” “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Christ.” Jesus was zealous, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,…how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The apostolic preachers preached as if their very lives, as well as the lives of others, depended upon it. They were girded with zeal for divinity. They believed their message and proclaimed it. Their souls were on fire; their lips blazed, they believed souls out of Christ were lost, eternally, irreparably lost. They saw the multitudes in outer darkness; they saw myriads down in the gloomy regions of hell in unutterable torture. Too many have slackened on their belief concerning the awful plight of the lost; thus they eased up on preaching the fact that souls are lost.
An infidel once met a Christian and said: “I know you do not believe your religion.” “Why?” asked the Christian. “Because,” said the other, “for years you have passed me on my way to my place of business. You believe, do you not, there is a hell into which men’s spirits are cast?” “Yes.” “You do not, I am sure; because, if you did, you must be a most inhuman wretch to pass me, day by day, and never tell me about it or warn me of it.”
A Quakeress once said to a visiting clergyman who applied for the pulpit and who announced the “Large Hope”: “If what thee say is true, we do not need thee, and if what thee say is not true, we do not want thee.” A preacher is great only as he is God-possessed. When a preacher is God-possessed, he will be militantly zealous.
2. The militant preacher is apostolic in spirit. Spurgeon put these words into the mouth of the missionary: “I am come to tell you something which the one God of heaven and earth said, and I tell you, before I announce it, that if you believe it you shall be saved, and if not, you shall be damned. I am come to tell you that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became flesh to die for poor unworthy man, that through his mediation and death and sufferings the people of God might be delivered. Now, if you will listen to me, you shall hear the Word of God: if you do not, I shall shake the dust off my feet against you, and go somewhere else.” A message with a spirit like that, brought by those who believe it, will have its desired effect. One has expressed it thus: “Everything from mechanism to humanism has come in to seek to work mischief in the ministry. The high value of preaching and what we preach have been modified. At least the old confidence is gone and with it the joy of preaching, and the power to bring people to God.” Our spirit must be more than wistful; it must be dynamic. Surety again will guarantee militancy again. Much preaching enfeebles instead of frees. Spiritless preaching deals with surface sentiments; militant preaching deals with verities and causes God’s people to live venturesome and sacrificial lives. We may disagree about the methods of our preaching, but we simply must not disregard the message.
The spirit of self-denial was dominant in apostolic living and preaching. This spirit is marked in all effective living and powerful preaching. It seeks to lift the needy out of a poor environment into higher realms of blessedness. A missionary’s widow with her very small son returned from Persia for a furlough. After a few years the two returned to Persia, but in the meanwhile the boy had learned to love the United States and to weigh its advantages. At the end of the long journey they paused and looked down from a hill-top upon the brown mud huts of the village and the dreary location of the mission compound. Presently the child said: “Mother, this isn’t half as nice as America.” The first realization swept his soul like a tempest as he stood there disconsolately appreciating all they had left. His wise mother waited a moment and then she said: “I know it, laddie; that is why we’ve come.”
Men and women in other realms often outsoar and outdistance us Christians in self-denial. Sam Houston led the Texans in their struggle for independence. After terrible marching and a fight against odds, he defeated the Mexicans and captured their leader. Under the nose of that leader he thrust a gnawed ear of corn, saying: “Do you ever expect to conquer men who fight for freedom, when their leader marches four days with one ear of corn for his rations?” No wonder that intrepid personality led his men into the dawn of freedom!
Calls to serve from any voice other than that of self-denial lacks in dynamics. Foche sent his memorable telegram: “My right wing is broken, my left is shattered, my center is retreating, the situation is excellent; I shall attack.” Invincible foes could not defeat a spirit like that. Christians call out:
The Son of God goes forth to war,
A kingly crown to gain;
His blood red banner streams afar;
Who follows in his train?
3. The militant preacher is apostolic in power. Paul expresses it in I Thessalonians 1:5: “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.” The fact and demonstration of power marked apostolic preachers. When a preacher’s power is dominant in his life, the proclamation of his message has more emphasis than does the preparation of the message. God’s power can take the broken words and ungrammatical utterances of a preacher and accomplish marvels. On the other hand, a preacher may have the polish of a Mullins or a Conner, the logic of a Paul and the thunders of a Chalmers; but unless he has God’s power, the humblest, most uncultured preacher, with God’s power upon him, would be far more successful. Mentality may please; only spirituality can save.
In the wonderful biography of Dr. George W. Truett, the fact is brought out that his grandfather, on his mother’s side, and his great uncle, Elijah Kimsey, his grandfather’s brother, were both Baptist preachers in Clay County, North Carolina. Uncle Elijah had great evangelistic zeal and fervor. The story is there related concerning a Methodist camp meeting in Clay County. It had been in progress for several days and not a soul had been saved. The fact that there were so many unsaved people in the county and no one had been saved got on the heart of Uncle Elijah. He spent a whole night in prayer. Next morning before sunrise he was on the campground having a conference with the Methodist preachers who had the meeting in charge. He said to them: “I, a Baptist preacher, have come to make an unusual request of you Methodist preachers: I have come to ask you to let me preach today. You have been going on for days now and not a soul has been saved. Many are lost and going down to hell. I prayed all night last night. My soul is on fire. I must preach.” They were deeply impressed with his earnestness. They told him that they had four preaching hours each day: eight, eleven, four, and seven o’clock. They asked him which hour he preferred. He replied: “Brethren, the sooner the better for me.” They gave him the eight o’clock hour in the morning. The presence of God was in such evidence that wonders happened that day. The people were moved, souls were saved. The news, though there were no telephones in those days, of the marvelous service went out over the mountains and through the coves. People came from adjoining communities and counties. The service did not stop for the eleven, the four, nor the seven o’clock hour. No one seems to have known at what hour of the night it did close. Hundreds of souls were saved. That one service meant the transformation of northwest Georgia, southwest North Carolina, and eastern Tennessee. That is what God’s power can and will do. That was not a demonstration of learned, eloquent preaching; it was a demonstration of enduement from God.
“In hearing my orations,” says Cicero, “the people admire my intellect and my art, and interrupt me with applause.”
Demosthenes replies: “True indeed! you employ the audience for yourself; I occupy it only with the things of which I speak. Your hearers admire you. My hearers forget me, attentive to my purpose. They praise you; they are too absorbed in what I say to praise me. You are ornate, but there is little ornament in my speeches. They are composed of precise, strong, clear reasoning which are irresistible. You make the audience cry out, `Ah, how eloquently he speaks!’ I make my audience exclaim, `Come on, and let us march against Philip!'” The latter is the type of preaching we need.
The militant preacher is filled with the validity and vitality of God’s message. Such a message puts fallen men on their feet. Someone expressed it this way: “The whole power of God; the power which makes worlds and drives them along their orbits, aggravated, tremendous, is rushing like an ocean flood along and down the channel of gospel truth for the redemption of sinners. The gospel is emphatically the power of God; and it will sweep every vestige of iniquity from the world, rend from turret to foundation every citidel of iniquity, demolish all the strongholds of Satan, and upon the ruined ramparts of his kingdom uprear a theocracy as imperishable as God himself.”
II. The Militant Preacher Is Needed Today
1. Militant preachers are needed to cope with the times in which we live. Dr. Frederic Lewis Donaldson says: “This is a day of policies without principles, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, industry without morality, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice.” What a discerning diagnosis this is! We are in decadent times. Ease and pleasure are paramount in the thinking of many. Moral decay is in bold evidence. We have many ideas, but we are woefully lacking in ideals. Our day is rife with glaring evils, bleeding with hurts and staggering blindly onward to an awful precipice. Stark and tragical results impend. Pride, envy, gluttony, lust, and covetousness are rife; obduracy lifts its ugly, icy head on all sides. Sin in all its multiforms subtly gnaws at the foundations of all good. Lust flames and reprobate instincts have the right of way. The whole age seems crazed. If any day ever needed bold, militant, self-denying preachers whose voices give no uncertain sound, this one does.
In addition to these things, whole areas of Christianity are morbid. Moffat’s translation of Matthew 5:13 reads: “If salt becomes insipid, what can make it salt again?” Our danger today is not that Christianity will die, but that it will become insipid. Our concern should not be to keep Christianity alive, but to make it living. A sad commentary on Christianity today is the fact that the world is not expecting anything much to happen. We are too placid to be powerful; too comfortable to be courageous; too dull to be dynamic; too satisfied to do anything amazing. The world is not impressed with our brave assertions, because it knows too much about our feeble efforts and unworthy achievements. We often talk in terms of pyramids, while our programs and achievements are more like molehills. Our present-day Christianity has so conformed to the world that it is powerless to transform the world. We are better compromisers than crusaders. This is because the world has injected its poison into the blood stream of the church to benumb and paralyze it. If we had Paul, Huss, Wycliffe, Wesley, Spurgeon, Whitefield, Rowland Hill thundering their voices through the lands, things would change.
Many pulpits today are little more than sentry boxes with the sentinel asleep. Many preachers want to be good fellows. They substitute policy for principle: they have no note of virility and insistence in their message. “We are geniuses at compromise, but not so good at adjustments.” We need to be so in love with God and the people that we can speak hard truths so effectively that people will become offended at themselves rather than at the preacher. The time-serving preacher develops a complacent, apathetic, soulless, insipid church. The militant preacher grows a virile, evangelistic, missionary, conquering church. He points people to sun-kissed summits, and loyally strides forward to lead the way; even though countless numbers are content to wander in the marshes of mediocrity. Dr. Dolloff truly says: “The great and effective preachers of the ages have not been `good fellows’ in the shallow sense. Those who have been supremely and lastingly popular never sought popularity–it comes as a by-product of their lives. In the crises of life a person wants a preacher who knows and serves God.” In the ministry we can afford to die that we may live. Bishop Coke in his day said: “I would rather be dead on the shores of India than to be alive in Europe!” What intrepidity! What profligacy with life! What a careless recklessness! Incessant insistence should compel us onward. Unless we regain the lost militancy of Christianity, a bankrupt civilization will result.
2. Militant preachers are needed to meet the tests to which we are subjected. To seek to meet the tests of today is courageous; to evade them is cowardice. To meet them is strength; to fail is weakness. To meet them is militancy; to shun them is morbidness. These tests take on various forms. There are the fad of unionism, the tendency to compromise, adulterated conceptions and lowered standards, the spirit of materialism, the bane of extravagance, the tendency to localize our work for the Lord instead of evangelizing the world. No weakling can stand up and meet such tests. Ezekiel met the tests in his day as he prophesied amidst the darkness, fires, and whirlwinds. Daniel met the tests of his day as he prayed and foretold the fate of kingdoms as they were to crumble and crash. Elijah met the extreme test of bold idolatry in his day by his challenge to the false prophets which resulted in the splendor flashes of God on Carmel’s heights. Jonah, though fearful and rebellious to begin with, met the wicked conditions of Nineveh by boldly walking the streets and prophetically pronouncing the impending doom of God. Hosea, Joel, and Amos coped with wickedness in their times by pointing out the destructive and disintegrating influences assiduously undermining Israel’s very foundations. Savonarola, Lattimer, and Ridley boldly, militantly met the persecution of their day by dying as martyrs.
Shall we throw up our hands and surrender to conditions, or shall we seek to cope with these conditions! Oncken lived in testing times, did he not? He never gave up. Think of the corrupt conditions of Luther’s age! Did he flinch? Bunyan withstood the storms of his day. He stayed in jail twelve years to do it, but he did it. The test that Christ met was the Cross. He did not falter. We need the militancy of the preacher’s wife who said to her useful husband as he was leaving the home to speak for some righteous but unpopular cause: “Go on, do your duty, and don’t shilly-shally.” Courageous, faithful preachers are dreaded men in iniquitous days. They attack wickedness, drive back darkness, and “serenade the world with the music of heaven and earth’s fallen and thirsty millions are cheered.”
In order to meet the tests of our day, we must have the militancy of Paul, who said: “My mind is made up to tackle certain people” (2 Corinthians 10:2, Moffatt). With Paul, Christianity was no arm-chair affair; it was a holy warfare. Some preachers never tackle anything. They are only guards, and sleeping guards at that. In tackling the enemies of Christ and the entrenched evils of his time, Paul never one time asked: “Is this safe for me? Is this good diplomacy? Will this raise opposition to me?” Paul was not a policy man; no wonder he was a powerful man! Dr. Luccock describes us: “We can side-step live questions or delve into antiquarian researches which are eminently safe. We can and frequently do straddle controversial issues and flee to the safety zones of fervent reiteration of obvious platitudes. Or we can occupy ourselves with the mere cranking of ecclesiastical machinery and shrink from the more dangerous business of prophetic leadership.”
The early church turned the world upside down because it faced and combatted the putrid conditions prevailing. The church was militant in that day.
3. Militant preachers are needed today to accomplish the tasks entrusted to us. The tasks entrusted to the preacher are manifold. He must preach, win the lost, comfort the sorrowing, strengthen the weak, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, succor the poor, build institutions of mercy. Preachers who fail in seeking to accomplish such tasks are like a man who poses as a doctor, but who makes no diagnosis, prescribes no remedies, perfects no cures. Billy Sunday said: “Every day I stand and see men, women, and little children threatened with more than death. I see them on the way to hell. I call out to them as best I can…and God helping me, I will keep on calling, and calling, and calling, so long as I can speak.”
III. The Militant Preacher Is Challenged
1. He is challenged to kneel down and pray. This is a matter so important that it cannot be neglected without irreparable loss. Can you think of a preacher undertaking to carry on his work without praying, and praying much? Nehemiah was powerful because he was prayerful. Hear him: “We made our prayer to God.” No wonder the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt! The psalmist said: “I give myself to prayer.” Hear the apostolic preachers: “But we will give ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Behold Peter and John as they go up to the temple at the hour of prayer. No wonder they could perform miracles! Christ prayed all night long. He had power with both God and man. John Knox prayed: “O God, give me Scotland or I die.” Dr. E. Stanley Jones says that he spends as much time in prayer immediately before preaching as he plans to spend in speaking.
An old Scotchman told the story of McCheyne standing in his pulpit in his young manhood; how he leaned over his pulpit and said: “I cannot go on”; how he broke down and wept like a child. Then he lifted his eyes to God and said: “O God, take my people yourself, and tell them what I cannot tell them and fill them with yourself.” After telling this incident the old Scotchman leaned back against the monument of John Knox and said: “Do you know, friends, this man Knox did great things for Scotland, but young McCheyne’s prayers touched a chord in Scotland and in Scottish hearts that even this great man never touched, with all his power. …Young McCheyne called down the power of God upon Scotland and it is with us yet.”
The news of the unusual power of a certain humble preacher spread far and near. Many noted preachers visited him to inquire where he got his power. He invariably led them to his study and pointed to a worn place in the carpet near the window and said: “There is where I get my power, on my knees.”
2. Militant preachers are challenged to stand up and preach. What a privilege it is to be saved and called to preach the glorious gospel of the Son of God! What a calling! What a mission! What a destiny-laden responsibility! How militantly we should stand up and preach! If we are to be powerful preachers, we must have the trumpet note in our message. Our message is the proclamation of the one born in Bethlehem, reared in Nazareth, baptized in Jordan, preached and performed miracles in Galilee, Judea, and Samaria, cried over Jerusalem, prayed in Gethsemane, died on Calvary, ascended back to God from Olivet, and who is coming back again. We are to preach militantly this message opposed by hell and by philosophy, theories, creeds, ignorance, infidelity, atheism, governments, false religions, and all the devils. It is a message by which the mountains are crested with a new radiance, the hills laugh under its power, and the islands of the sea clap their hands. It converts the wilderness into a rose garden and the desert into bubbling fountains of joy. It should be proclaimed in an earnest, high-hearted fashion. Back of it should be the zeal such as men and women possessed who fought for religious freedom against human slavery.
There is the temptation in our day to be more tolerant than militant. We should all be tolerant when tolerance means conciliation. On the other hand, had someone not become intolerant, there would still be slavery; had someone not become utterly intolerant and greatly excited, we would still be under autocratic kings in America; had Luther not become intolerant, we would not have had the Reformation. How revolutionary true preaching is and how romantic! Timely has one put it: “The real romance of history is the romance of the preacher. …This man stands supreme. This is the world’s irresistible hero. …It is he who year after year and generation after generation in spite of rebuffs, defeats, and disappointments, has planted the banner of the kingdom of justice, freedom, and humanity on the conquered and dismantled fortresses of oppression, selfishness, and wrong.” We are challenged to stand up and preach.
3. The militant preacher is challenged to reach out and serve. As the noiseless feet of time march on their ceaseless course, there comes the insistent call to service. The preacher’s opportunities do not stop nor do his responsibilities lift when he has preached his message from the pulpit. He is called and privileged to restore the erring, to lift the fallen, to rescue the perishing, to defend the weak, to put heart into the hopeless. He is to reach out and serve.
Some years ago a young Methodist preacher decided he wanted to move from the small field where he had been for only a year or two. He went to the annual conference asking for and expecting a change. The Bishop, in a stirring message in the early part of the conference, challenged him by saying: “There is not a preacher here but who can win a hundred souls to Christ this coming year.” It got hold of him. He decided to accept the challenge, though he was thinking that he would make his effort on a new field. When the assignments were read his name was called for the same field. But his soul was challenged. Upon arriving home, he walked down the street. The banker said: “Well, I see you are back, let’s hope that it is for the best.” The banker was not a Christian. The members of his family were. The preacher said: “May I have a private talk with you?” It was granted. He said: “I want to apologize to you for not having spoken to you about your soul. I am resolved to do better and do more. I want you to accept Christ.” He did accept Christ, phoned home for his wife to have the son and daughter at home for lunch, that he had good news to tell them. At the noon hour he told them how he had, at the earnest insistence of the young preacher, accepted Christ and how happy he was. When only nine months had passed, the preacher had won eighty-five persons to Christ; most of these were won outside the pulpit.
There is no limit to the service a militant, faithful preacher can render. No wonder Paul said to Timothy, “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ,…Preach the word, be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”
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