The Holy Spirit as Essential to
Effective Gospel Preaching
By Rev. F. B. Meyer, B.A., D.D., London, England.
Key Thought: “It was in the proportion that such men of God sought and obtained the special anointing of the Spirit that they produced those effects on vast audiences of men, which are totally unlike anything resulting from the appeals of the mere thinker or orator, because they touch the life of the spirit, causing it to seek reconciliation with God, and to open to the reception of the divine nature.”
Holy Spirit As Essential
That the Holy Spirit is essential to effective Gospel preaching is attested by the fact that even our Lord did not essay to preach the Gospel to the poor, liberty to captives, the opening of the prison to them that were bound, or to announce the acceptable year of the Lord, until He had stood beneath the opened heaven and been anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power. It was only as He returned in the power of that Spirit from the scene of His temptation that He undertook the burden of ministry, saying: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, and he hath anointed me to preach."
The utter dependence of the Gospel ministry on the Holy Spirit is still further attested by the arrest placed by our Lord on the proclamation of the Gospel until the apostles had been endued with the Holy Spirit. "Tarry," He said, "in Jerusalem until ye be endued with the Spirit from on high."
These facts are very significant. Surely the Son of Man, who, tho born of the Virgin Mary, had been conceived of the Holy Ghost, might have opened His divine commission during the latter part of the thirty years of His life at Nazareth! Was there ever an epoch in the history of mankind when the proclamation of the kingdom of heaven was more peremptorily needed than then? The winds, as they swept the uplands around Nazareth, were laden with the cry of the world for the divine message, which, however, the Word of God forbore to utter because the divine unction had not been bestowed. And later, tho the work of the cross had opened the way into the Holiest, ten days were allowed to elapse because the Holy Spirit tarried for the ascent of the divine Head of the church to His throne.
The Necessary Equipping of the Holy Spirit
Surely there is enough here to make us pause! If our Master awaited the special anointing of the Holy Spirit before He took up the work of His forerunner, and if He solemnly charged His Church to await a similar equipment, is there not a function of the Holy Spirit in the equipment and endowment of the preacher of the Gospel which is altogether additional to His work in regeneration and sanctification? As there are distinct offices in the Son, so that at different times in our experience we regard Him as Priest, Prophet, or King, are there not equally distinct offices in the Holy Spirit, as Regenerator, Sanctifier, and the Anointing Power for the holy office of ministering to men the good tidings of the Gospel?
It may be that the apostle refers to this same equipment of the Holy Spirit for service when he describes his own interview with Ananias, where the charge to be filled with the Holy Spirit was expressly connected with the declaration that he was to be God's witness unto all men of what he had seen and heard (compare Acts ix. 17 and xxii. 14). It was as tho he must not do so simple a thing as bear witness to the Christ until the divine equipment had been received.
The same truth is probably referred to in the last two letters which have come to us from his hand, in each of which he reminds Timothy of the precious gift which had been communicated to him at his ordination, in answer to believing prayer and simultaneously with the laying on of his own hands and of those of his copresbyters (1 Tim. iv. 14 and 2 Tim. i. 6).
Should a Pastor Tarry for the Spirit’s Anointing?
Thus much to establish the contention that the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the preacher was expressly insisted on in the earliest days, and the most solemn inquiry is suggested as to how far the preachers of our time are admonished in this direction. Are our young ministers advised to postpone the opening of their heaven-given commission until they have obtained by faith and prayer their portion in the gift of the divine Savior, who gives the manifestation of His Spirit to each of His servants to profit withal, so that prophecy (i.e., the utterance of the divine message) is wrought in them by that one and self-same Spirit who divides to every man severally as He will?
Power in Proportion to Earnest Seeking
This Scriptural teaching is abundantly confirmed by the testimony of the ministers of Christ in every age of church history. In the case of some there have been distinct epochs, when they have become acquainted for the first time with the vast increase of spiritual power which was within their reach by the definite search after and appropriation of the anointing of the divine Spirit, and witness has been borne by those who knew them that there had come to them a new refinement of spirit, a brokenness of heart, a tenderness of appeal, a power in wielding the sword of the Spirit, and in producing the profoundest sense of conviction of sin. It is only necessary to read the diaries of a Jonathan Edwards, a Brainerd, a Baxter, a Christmas Evans, a Burns, or a McCheyne, to be convinced that it was in the proportion that such men of God sought and obtained the special anointing of the Spirit that they produced those effects on vast audiences of men, which are totally unlike anything resulting from the appeals of the mere thinker or orator, because they touch the life of the spirit, causing it to seek reconciliation with God, and to open to the reception of the divine nature. Probably the reason is not far to seek. The ultimate goal of Gospel preaching is not the emotional or the intellectual, but the spiritual; not the psychical, but the pneumatical; not the faculty by which we are conscious of ourselves and the universe around us, but that by which we may become conscious of God and the Unseen, and may receive the germ of the Eternal and the divine. If that be granted, it is certain that only spirit can effect spirit. Just as a light-reflector must be impinged by light, rather than by sound, or as the graphophone will register only the waves of sound and not of light, so the spiritual in man can be touched and influenced by the spiritual only. The spiritual may operate through the intellectual or through the emotional, through the imagination or the conscience, but it is always the final and only source of power over the spiritual nature of those whom the preacher is called on to address.
Spirit-Enabled Brings Spirit-Compelling
In order to affect the supreme change in others, our spiritual force needs to be raised to the nth degree, and this can be realized only through our reception by faith of the Spirit of Christ, which has resided evermore in the Deity, but which could be communicated only to human nature after Jesus Christ had borne it through death and the grave and raised it to the right hand of God. When the nature which Jesus received of the Virgin had passed through all the experiences of His mortal life and had been transfigured, rarefied, absolutely purified and subjugated, it was fitted to ascend where no created thing had ever gone, and was capable of receiving unto itself "the fullness of the Godhead bodily," to transmit it in turn to the spirits of all those who were united to His divine-human nature by the affinity of a living faith. If the Spirit of God is received into the spirit of the Gospel preacher, it is not difficult to see how spirit-compelling His words will become. We are told that Stephen was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and we are not surprised to be told that his enemies could not resist the spirit by which He spake (Acts vi. 5, 6).
It is when the spirit of the servant of God is infilled with the Spirit of the risen and exalted Savior that it becomes resistless. It is no longer he that speaks, but the Spirit of the Father, and the Son speaks in him. He is conscious of agonizing, according to the energy of another, which energizes in him mightily. We go back to the Book of Judges for an even more complete illustration of our meaning, where we learn that the Spirit of the Lord "clothed Himself with Gideon," so that He became the motive and energy of his lifework. Oh, that each servant of God might be permitted to experience that interfusion of the divine Spirit with the human, through which his nature might be raised to its maximum of efficiency!
The old method of obtaining this interfusion, so that the atmosphere of the inner life shall become interpenetrated with the fullness of Him that filleth all in all, is by faith. "Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith?" "He that ministereth the Spirit—doeth he it by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith?" "That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Gal. iii. 2, 5, 14). Faith is essentially the power of receiving from God the wealth of His unsearchable riches. "To those that received him he gave . . . even to them that believe on his name," proves that believing is identical with receiving; and that to the believing, recipient heart Jesus gives to an extent which is limited only by its ability to assimilate; and this is always growing as we act after what we have already received.
But there is another aspect from which we may show how essential to the Gospel preacher is the special assistance of the divine Spirit of which we treat. It is an axiom with us all, that (to use the expression of one of the most beautiful collects of the Episcopal service) God hates nothing that He has made; or, transferring the statement from the negative to the positive, there is no soul of man over whom the Spirit of God does not brood with a divine eagerness and longing. From childhood and upward each child of the family of Adam is the subject of the loving solicitude of Him who desireth not that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
The Holy Spirit Always Works with Cooperative Prepared Vessels
We are accustomed to believe that the Holy Spirit does not work apart from some human agent in the conversion of the rebellious will to the obedience of Christ. Of course, we do not touch here on His work with the great masses of the heathen world, where Gospel preaching has never been heard. That He does work with them seems undeniable; but, so far as we know, the revelation of Christ, regeneration which imparts the germ of the Christ-life, sanctification and renewal into the likeness of Christ, are wrought only by the Holy Spirit in conjunction with and by the instrumentality of some other regenerated spirit. Take, for instance, the case of Saul of Tarsus, who always insisted that his commission was as much the result of Christ's direct call as the summons to the rest of the apostles had been; is it not certain that "the pricks" of the Holy Spirit were supplied by the tears, and prayers, and dying confessions of the martyrs of Jesus, and specially of Stephen? It is on this account that the minister of the Gospel is described as "a fellow laborer with God," and that Christian converts are reminded that they are God's husbandry, God's building (1 Cor. iii. 9).
But if the Spirit of God seeks the cooperation of man in His approach to the human spirit, is it not obvious that such a man must be cleansed and sanctified by His special indwelling, must be sensitized to detect every movement and suggestion of His divine confederate, must be prepared to sink his own aims and schemes for those toward which the Spirit is moving? In a word, the man who is to cooperate with God for the salvation of others must be preeminently prepared for his part in the great copartnership and fellowship. There must be the increasing elimination and subordination of the selfish and carnal; and the submission of will, intellect, emotion, speech to Him who, like the wind, breatheth where He listeth. The ordinary man cannot tell whence He cometh or whether He goeth, but he who is born and taught of the Spirit knows and keeps in unbroken touch.
As the minister of the Gospel broods in his study on the subject of his next appeal, how little he knows of the case of those whom he is to address, or the precise stage which they have reached in the divine Life, or the next step to which they are to be urged. But, if he has accepted the position outlined in the previous paragraphs, he is not dismayed, but opens his ear in secret for that which he is to proclaim on the housetops; and if there is but one soul to whom his message seems specially applicable, it is enough for him to feel that he has not failed the Spirit of God in His ministry to that individual.
As the minister of Christ's Gospel anticipates the near approach of the hour when he is to stand before the people, he desires that there should be nothing in Him to prevent the Spirit of God having free passage through his being. He realizes that the vessel which is to bear the water of life to others must itself be clean and pure. But where can that condition of meetness for the Master's use be gained save in fellowship with the Spirit of burning? Do we read, for instance, of the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit which, through Jesus Christ our Savior, may be shed on us abundantly?
And when the minister of Christ's holy Gospel stands in his pulpit, pleading with men, what is it that induces that self-restraint, yet intensity, that curbing of the flowers of mere rhetoric, yet heart-oratory, that faltering of tone through inexpressible emotion, yet boldness in denouncing sin—save a very special and all-pervading sense that he is united with the very Spirit of God, and that they are not more twain, but one? Of old the question was asked, Can two walk together unless they are agreed?—a question which is capable of but one reply. And the minister cannot cooperate with the divine Spirit in His work on the human spirit, apart from those qualities which the Spirit alone can induce.
The Holy Spirit Directly Influencing a Congregation.
Lastly, there is another range of the subject that must be considered. We have seen the necessity for the interpenetration of the spirit of the preacher with the mighty power of the Spirit of God. We have also seen that the qualities which are essential in the human agent can be imparted only by the very direct grace of the Comforter. We must now, as a final word, touch on the direct influence which the Holy Spirit exerts on a congregation. This is referred to by the Apostle Paul when he says: "My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power " (1 Cor. ii. 4). And again: "Our Gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance" (1 Thess. i. 5). The Apostle Peter also speaks of those "who preached the Gospel with the Holy Ghost, sent down from heaven" (1 Peter i. 11). And the Evangelist Luke, describing the first great missionary journey, preserves to us some very notable expressions in the same direction. He tells us that "the Lord gave testimony to the word of his grace"; "they rehearsed all that God had done with them; and how he had opened a door of faith unto the Gentiles"; "Barnabas and Saul declared what God had wrought by them" (Acts xiv. 3, 27; xv. 12).
In all these cases there was evidently a very blessed agency exerted by the Holy Spirit on the minds and hearts of those who were being addressed. What else can be the demonstration of the Holy Spirit? In most chemical laboratories students sit face to face with two persons, the lecturer and the demonstrator, and while the former proceeds thoughtfully with his prepared address, the latter gives optical and appreciable demonstration of his statements. If, as the lecturer asserts that the gases oxygen and hydrogen mingled in certain proportions will produce water, his assistant mingles them in that proportion and water is the result, do not the words of the speaker come to the audience with demonstration and power? This is an inadequate illustration of the work of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the preacher of the Gospel, but in direct effect on his audience. He demonstrates with convincing and convicting might! When the preacher speaks of the dying Lamb of God, the Spirit sets Him forth evidently crucified. When he insists on the fact of His resurrection on the third day, the Spirit of God asseverates that fact, in which He was declared to be the Son of God with power. When he insists on the ascension and eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God is also a witness (Heb. x. 15). When the voice is heard which proclaims in heaven that the dead who die in the Lord are blessed, the attesting confirmation of the Spirit immediately follows: "I heard a voice . . . yea, saith the Spirit."
All this is in distinct and blessed accord with the Lord's own anticipation, when He said that the Spirit whom He would send would bear witness to Him, and that there should be the further witness of His Church. Thus in the mouth of two witnesses every word would be confirmed (John xv. 26, 27; Acts v. 32).
Going Forth into Battle
Throughout the Old Testament we are familiarized with the conception of God's hosts going into battle in alliance with those of Israel. Often we read such phrases as these: "They were destroyed before the Lord and before his host." "As captain of the Lord's host am I now come." "Stand still and see the salvation of God which he will show to you." The quick ear of faithful hearts could detect the goings forth of the heavenly squadrons; their footfalls were like the stirrings of the breeze in the mulberry-trees; and sometimes Israel hardly needed to fight. Similarly, when the servant of Christ is facing his congregation, if his subject and state of heart are in direct accord with the divine Spirit, he is conscious, and often others are conscious also, that a victory is being won, not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord; and that high imaginations, which had raised themselves against the Gospel, were being leveled by the impact of the power of God. It was this that gave point to the words of the old Welsh preacher, who was discovered by a listener at his door to be in conversation with some one to whom he said: "I will not go, unless Thou wilt go, too."
All these considerations press upon us as ministers of the Word of Christ to make more room for the Holy Spirit in our own spiritual lives, in our meditation upon the themes on which we are about to speak, and in our presentation of them to our people. It is told by W. P. Lockhart, whom God greatly used as an evangelist, that he was wont to spend as long on his face on the carpet before God as he would be probably spending in his pulpit before men. Now we know that the revivals of the Kirk-o-Shotts and Kilsyth followed on whole nights of prayer. These are examples that need no word of enforcement or illustration.
F. B. Meyer, Homiletic Review, Vol. XL, July-December 1900, (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1900), pp. 292-297