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The Message And The Man by J. Dodd Jackson

CHAPTER VI. Passion.

There is a page in Tyerman's monumental |Life of George Whitefield,| which illustrates, as few pages do, the quality of that essential of true and effective preaching in regard of which we are now to speak. It is that page in which are described the last hours of the great evangelist.

On Saturday morning, September 29th, 1770, being exceedingly weak and ill, but bent upon the continuance of his preaching work, Whitefield set out from Portsmouth (U.S.A.) to ride to Boston. Fifteen miles from Portsmouth, at Exeter, he was stopped and persuaded to preach. A friend said to him, |Sir, you are more fit to go to bed than to preach.| |True, sir,| replied Whitefield, and then, clasping his hands and looking up to heaven, he added, |Lord Jesus, I am weary in Thy work but not of it. If I have not yet finished my course, let me go and speak for Thee once more in the fields, seal Thy truth, and come home and die.| At the commencement of his discourse he was unable for some time to speak, but recovering himself he preached for two hours.

At Exeter, to pursue the story, the Rev. Jonathan Parsons, who, for twenty-four years, had been Presbyterian minister at Newbury Port, met the preacher. The two friends dined together at Captain Oilman's, and then started for Newbury Port, a few miles further on. |On arrival there,| says the biographer, |Whitefield was so exhausted that he was unable to leave the boat without assistance, but in the course of the evening he recovered his spirits.|

Let us give the rest of the story in the words of Mr. Tyerman: -- |While Whitefield partook of an early supper, the people assembled at the front of the parsonage, and even crowded into its hall, impatient to hear a few words from the man they so greatly loved. 'I am tired,' said Whitefield, 'and must go to bed.' He took a candle and was hastening to his chamber. The sight of the people moved him; and, pausing on the staircase, he began to speak to them. He had preached his last sermon, this was to be his last exhortation. There he stood, the crowd in the hall gazing up at him with tearful eyes, as Elisha at the ascending prophet. His voice flowed on until the candle which he held in his hand burned away and went out in its socket! The next morning he was not, for God had taken him.|

Now, surely, here is a picture worth the painting, if only one could catch the true spiritual significance and lesson of it all. Imagine the scene: the listening multitude crowded into the spacious entrance hall; the preacher, wearied and worn by disease, and still more by his restless and sublime labours in preaching the word in field and temple for many a wondrous year. The candle flickers and fails as the glorious voice, which has made heavenly music for tens of thousands of seeking souls, becomes weaker and weaker. The feeble flame, at last goes out, and leaves the preacher still pleading the cause of the Lord, whose face he is so soon to behold. History has no nobler scene to show in all its gathered years!

We have appropriated this story because it appears to us to hold an explanation of the meaning of the word at the head of this chapter. Possibly there has never been, in all the years of the Church, a greater preacher than this same Whitefield, and Whitefield's greatness has, to a large extent, its explanation in this, the last scene of his ministry. How many he led to God eternity alone can reveal. His spiritual descendants are numbered by multitudes as the sand on the sea-shore, the stars in the firmament, for number. When he died millions in both the old world and the new wept the going of one who to them had been the prophet of a great deliverance. To this day the little New England village where he sleeps is the object of pious pilgrimage to numbers to whom the echo of his voice still comes across the breadth of intervening years. The secret is largely hidden in |this last scene of all.| In this mighty passion to preach the word, a passion which neither persecution nor betrayal nor disappointment nor disease nor even the icy breath of approaching death could cool -- in this lies the explanation of a ministry that shook the world!

And without this passion even Whitefield's gifts of oratory would have left no record for our reading, for it is absolutely essential to effective preaching; absolutely essential to success. Without it the choicest gifts, the profoundest learning will achieve but little. With it, even humble qualifications and limited scholastic equipment will accomplish -- have often accomplished -- great things for God and the lives of men.

And this passion for preaching will be a passion for preaching for its own sake. To the true preacher preaching, and everything connected with preaching, will be things in which his soul delights. He will glory in sermon making and sermon preaching more than in any of his life's other activities. It is not implied that he will always approach his task without fear, or even without shrinking, or, at times, a passing desire to shun the duty devolving upon him. There may be hours when, as he truly realises the purpose of his work, a sense of his responsibility will so surge through his spirit as almost to unman him. Other times, again, may come, when even |nerves| may get the better of him, for every preacher worth the name has |nerves,| and should thank God for them. There may be days in which, seeing as in a vision something of the mighty issues dependent upon his faithfulness, he will tremble lest he be, indeed, one of those fools who |rush in where angels fear to tread.| All these experiences may be -- most likely will be -- his, and yet he will find in the exercise of his art, both in preparation and performance such a pleasure, and such a sense of mental exaltation, as nothing else can bring. A born artist loves to paint for painting's sake; to such an one there is something almost sacramental in the very mixing of the colours. The true sculptor hears music in the tapping of the mallet upon the chisel as he shapes the marble into grace and beauty. There is no drudgery in the calling that is yours by ordination of nature, by right of true heartfelt affection. The kind of preacher we mean would rather talk about preaching than about any other subject, providing he meet with one like-minded with himself. He is happy to the glowing point when he can discuss with some sharer of the call the latest homiletic creation of his mind or of the mind of his friend. When his creation comes to the stage of delivery he is conscious of that perfect pleasantness which is always felt by a man when engaged in the labour which, of all others, he loves best to perform. |I'd rather preach than be King of England,| he will tell you sometimes; and though, on occasion, he may have his |hard times,| a form of discipline sent upon him for his soul's good, he will generally be found within a single circling of the Sun as eager as ever to return to the place of his humiliation. Many a preacher who has felt, on Sunday evening, that the only thing left for him to do was immediately to send in his resignation to the proper quarter, has, before Monday evening, known what it was to hunger again for the Sabbath's sweet return. A strange thing is this preaching madness when it possesses a man, as it often will, body, soul and spirit; which no place can satisfy save the preacher's place, no task save the preacher's task, no honour save the honour of telling men about Jesus Christ. Without it there can be no grand success. He who is not thus possessed should decline to be drawn for this duty. Of such as he there are more than enough already in the pulpit -- in it, but not at home in it, not glad, gloriously glad, to be there -- slaving to make a sermon because |in three days Sunday will be here;| taking with them at service time this so-called sermon, strong with the smell of books and of midnight oil; speaking it in pain of utterance, and delighted when the ordeal is over, with a delight most certainly shared by many who neither came to scoff nor remained to pray. Heaven help the man whom fate in the shape of foolish friends, or parents, or mistaken church-officials has sentenced to hard labour in the pulpit; who is condemned to preach without possession of that love of preaching which makes for him in whose heart it dwells the business of declaring the Gospel the noblest and most rapturous occupation in all the great, wide world! If preparation be invariably irksome -- invariably, we say, for all men have their moods and no mere passing spell of depression is worth more than a little special prayer; if preaching be always a pain and a cross -- always, we say -- for God may cause the chariot wheels to run heavily for reasons of His own, and the difficulty may not point to retreat, but to supplication; if preparation and preaching be invariably irksome and painful, the fact ought to make the preacher ask whether a mistake has been made in his choice, which ought to be rectified as soon as possible. The true preacher will be in love with preaching for its own sake. This love will be part of the great all-conquering passion of his life.

A |part,| yes; but only a part. May we call it the human, the temperamental, dispositional part? The passion we desiderate for the present-day pulpit includes something almost infinitely higher than this. It must include the passion for Christ. It is the hunger to preach because Jesus Christ is the chief theme of preaching; because it is in His honour; because out of the fulness of the heart the mouth would speak; because the soul's deep reverence for the Redeemer must extol its object. He is to be obeyed, too, in preaching. It is a form of service rendered to Him. The truth is His truth, |the truth as it is in Jesus,| and He gave the command which is honoured in its publication. By this act of preaching He is pleased. It is an evidence of the preacher's glad surrender to His will. It moves others, too, to the same surrender. It extends His kingdom; increases the number of those who |bear His name and sign.| It helps Him to see |of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.| It pushes further back the bounds of His empire; widens the area of His sovereignty. It |crowns Him with glory and honour.| So the preacher |makes his boast in the Lord,| and is |glad.|

Thus it can be said that all true preaching is worship, which is always the expression of awe, reverence and love. We sometimes speak of worship, and preaching. To the true preacher this distinction does not exist. No act in all the service is more truly an act of adoration than is the preaching of such a man, because it is the pouring out of his inmost heart's affection. With the spirit with which he prays and sings; with the spirit of the Te Deum and the Magnificat, will he preach; and out of the same emotions toward Him whom thus he serves. Such preaching is a bringing of the fruits of the mind and the spirit to the altar of sacrifice. The whole Doxology is in it!

Yes, preaching is worship. We Free Churchmen need to emphasise this truth. Again and again have we heard the criticism that in our churches there |is much sermon and little worship.| We have not only heard this criticism from the quarter whence it might be expected, but, also, sometimes even from some of our own fellowship. There is an answer to this complaint which proceeds from a misunderstanding of what true worship really is, as well as from an underestimation of the true sacredness of the preacher's work. It is this: -- That preaching is worship when offered in the spirit of worship, and that neither song nor prayer becomes worship except upon the same condition. Further we would say that hearing is worship, too, when the hearer listens as in the spirit. The hearer to whom song and supplication are worship, indeed, will also make an act of adoration of his hearing of the word which is sent unto him.

Behind such preaching as this, and producing the passion out of which it will proceed, there must be high experiences of grace. Such passion can only proceed from a personal knowledge of Christ and from that full surrender which such knowledge at once brings to pass. Love has caught the preacher in the way and led him to Calvary, where his heart has been set on fire. He does but preach because he must, the Lord having done for him such mighty things. As the memory of that divine arrest on the road to Damascus abode with Paul, and so sustained a sense of the mercy of his Lord that he could not help but preach the gospel, so the recollection of the preacher will ever linger around the glad hour when the Master met him in the path, having come down from heaven to seek and to save even him. In these remembrances has the passion of the preacher its origin and its reinforcement. It is the first fruit of a melted heart. The true preacher is -- the word is not a pleasant one, but it is the only form of expression that, at the moment, occurs -- the devotee. He is the slave of love to Christ.

And without this whole-souled devotion -- we say again -- there can be no great moving and saving preaching. Eloquence there may be, intellectualism, sublimity of conception and description, pathos -- all the qualities which are needed in high public address, but something will be lacking. None can speak of a maiden as can her lover, though others may describe her with a choicer diction than he. None can speak of a child as can his mother, to whom the little life is more precious than her own and every childish way of significance and beauty. |Lovest thou Me?| said the Lord to Simon Peter on that grey morning on the sea-shore. |Lovest thou Me?| He asked again, and yet again. |Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee,| cried the disciple, his soul aflame with a living passion never more to be extinguished or bedimmed, |Thou knowest that I love Thee.| Then said the Saviour, |Feed My sheep,| |Feed My lambs.| Peter's preaching hour was come now that this fire had been kindled in his soul. In that confession rang the promise of all the after years, of the ministry in Jerusalem, of his declaration of the Christ in many a heathen city, of the death he was to die in Rome. Lack this flame of affection and preaching will be a task, a penance, a weary iteration and reiteration of things so often spoken as to render them threadbare and hackneyed to the speaker. Possess this all-consuming love and preaching will be as |a song of the Well-Beloved!|

But the passion of preaching has in it another ingredient -- if in this way the matter may be expressed. To be effective and successful the preacher must have in his heart the passion of humanity. True preaching is the supreme effort of a man burning to bless and save his fellow-men. Precious to him are the souls before him; terrible to him the thought that any one of them should come short of the salvation he has been sent to proclaim, that one life should wither and be wasted. He is |kindly affectioned| toward them. He loves, therefore he preaches. As long as there are souls to be warned and invited, penitents to be enlightened and led into the peace of God, hearts to be comforted, powers to be taught a better way -- as long, in short, as there are men to whom his message may bring help and hope and life he cannot hold his peace. He will be |all things to all men that peradventure| he |may save some.|

Now this is a harder thing -- this passion for men, as that man must possess it who aspires to preach the gospel with power and full accomplishment of the purposes thereof. For the love he must feel must be a love not only for such as of themselves inspire it, but for those whose life and character are hateful. Of what is called |affinity| between the man to be loved and sought and the preacher there may be none. How can the ambassador of Jesus Christ, who has looked upon the face of the Son of Man and in that look caught a conception of humanity in its fairest beauty, -- how can he be in love with men and see, as he must see, their meanness and wrong-doing? The lawyer and the preacher, it is said, see the seamy side of life, and there is no need for wonder if, as has been reported, the lawyer often becomes a cynic. The wonder is if the preacher do not become a cynic too. Seeing what he must see, knowing what he must know, how is he to preserve that longing after the souls of the very vilest which alone can sustain him in his search for them |away on the mountains cold?| Can it really be done?

The answer to this question is, and must be, No. It cannot be done if the preacher look at man only through his own eyes and try to love him for himself alone. It will be found impossible to love one man because we do not know him. It will be found even more impossible -- if impossibility admit of degrees of comparison -- to love another because we do! Our hearts have neither power to conceive nor life to sustain an universal affection.

And yet this love of man as man must be realised before ever we can hope helpfully to lift up Christ and goodness for his acceptance. The secret thereof must come as came the message itself; as came our call to declare it, -- through another love warming our hearts into living heat. The passion for humanity comes to the preacher as a result of his passion for Christ. His love for Christ goes beyond its divine object to all who are precious to his Lord. The worst of men is, by right of redemption, Christ's man, dear to the preacher, because bought by the blood which is more precious than silver and gold. The heathen are His inheritance and the uttermost ends of the earth are His possession. Urged, sustained and comforted by this reflection, the missionary crosses stormy seas, ready to find, if need be, a grave in a foreign land far from home and friends that, so going, he may speak to His Lord's beloved concerning His wondrous grace. Here, and here only, is the true missionary motive, the one missionary argument. We do not seek to save the heathen because of an eschatology which would consign them to the outer darkness. We cannot receive as true any conception of God which includes belief in a doctrine involving so terrible an injustice as that men should be eternally punished for refusing that which has never been offered for their acceptance. We think, rather, of the Lord as robbed of the love of hearts He died to win, hearts made precious by His death, and in the passion kindled by our vision of the Master looking from His cross away over tossing seas to those far-off lands and including every son of savagery to the last moment of time in His dying petition, |Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.| We perceive upon every soul the sign of the cross; and this sign makes every man a brother to the ends of the earth. So the preacher is lifted by his love for his Master into a love for all for whom He agonised and died.

And this, from the beginning of his preaching to its end, and in relation to all the experiences into which his labours shall bring him, must be the true preacher's way of looking at his fellow-men. The social reformer has his way, too, the politician his, the scientist his. This is the preacher's way. Each and every man is sanctified to him by the sprinkling of blood. So he, also, will bear a cross for the saving of men; so he, too, will carry the sorrows and sins of humanity. He will have a Gethsemane of his own, be led to a Calvary waiting for him, for every saviour of men must tread this appointed way. Every shepherd who is not an hireling |giveth his life for the sheep.|

One word more. We have named the preacher's passion for his Lord. We have also named his passion for those upon whom his Lord has set the mark of His love. There is something more needed ere the flame of passion burn with its fullest intensity. It is the passion of the dream -- the dream that is not a dream excepting to those who have only heard of it by the hearing of the ear. To the preacher it will be a vision. It is the vision of which we have already spoken, and may speak again in pages yet to come -- the vision of the divine ideal at last triumphant. In this vision the preacher must live. To lose it is despair. No one has so many disappointments as the idealist; but it is the glorious fact that no one cares about his disappointments less. Not that he does not see them, but because he sees beyond them. The true preacher -- he is your incorrigible optimist. Some men form their expectations of the future out of material supplied in tables of statistics, ecclesiastical Blue Books, censuses of church attendance, returns and percentages. Not so the true preacher. He has |seen the King in His beauty and the land that is far off.| Columbus like, he steers his barque toward the new world his faith has gazed upon, and, as with Columbus, the passion of the coming victory holds him, heart in tune and head erect, while others mournfully prophesy the disasters always by shortsighted people seen.

So by the power of his passion the preacher declares his message and this passion gives power to every word thereof. In that same passion is his own sustenance in all the divers contradictions that preaching may bring upon him. He needs it for his own preservation. Often the preacher who accomplishes the most is, more than those who accomplish less, rewarded with ingratitude, misjudgment, scorn. |The carnal mind is at enmity against God, and is not reconciled to the law of God, neither, indeed, can be.| This means suffering for the preacher as it meant suffering for the Lord. What can keep him in countenance among it all? Love and the passion of the vision. In these will he conquer ever! The prodigality of the younger son had long worn out the patience of the elder brother. Love kept the father waiting on and vision saw the lad's return while still he was far away. In this love and vision he went forth the door; in this love and vision he returned leading the late returning child back again to home and rest and peace and purity. The parable is for preachers as well as prodigals. Oh, for the passion, the far, far sight of this old history! They are our greatest need to-day!

Passion! How is it with us now? Have we this absolutely essential possession in our hearts, in our preaching, as we have had it aforetime, as our fathers had it? Are we so set upon giving glory to Christ that we long for the opportunity to come to speak His name in the congregation? Are we so given up to the enterprise of saving men that we rest not day nor night for very longing for their salvation? Are we so full of the sense of the triumph drawing nearer that our hearts are already rejoicing with the joy of Harvest? These are questions for us all, and we may discover the quality of our preaching from their answers, if only we will whisper them to ourselves with faithfulness to God and men and our own souls.

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