Call to Preach

The notion of preacher often invokes images of days gone by. Wesley, Finney and Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, are characters from a bygone era, doing something that fitted that generation, but which we do not see as so relevant today.

The idea of a preacher standing in an open field or marketplace, with thousands of people listening and being transformed by the message, as revival fire sweeps a nation, is not something we think of in today’s western church.

Of course we have preachers today. Christian TV channels are crammed with fancy speakers, each with their own style and emphasis. We also have some exemplary preachers in our modern world.

However, the value of a preacher is not so well recognised today as it was in previous generations. Yet I believe we are approaching a revival of Preaching and Preachers, because the day of Preachers has not passed.

The Place of Preaching

The New Testament church was built on preaching.  Jesus Christ commissioned His followers to preach.

“And he (Jesus) said to them, Go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone.” Mark 16:15

“And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Luke 24:47

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” 1Corinthians 1:17

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” 2Timothy 4:2

The Apostle Paul recognised that God has given a special place to preaching as a tool to bring transformation.

“God, in His wisdom, determined that people would not find or know God by pursuing human wisdom, but God would use the ‘foolishness of preaching’ to save those people who believe.”

1Corinthians 1:21 (paraphrased)

Proclaiming the Truth

Preaching does not need a crowd or a pulpit.  What we call witnessing is the same a preaching.  Telling the truth of the gospel to a person is preaching.  We see this where what was said privately to one person is still said to be “preached” to them.

When God gave promise to Abraham, privately, God was preaching to him.

“And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached the gospel to Abraham in time past, saying, In you all nations will be blessed.” Galatians 3:8

When Phillip the Evangelist had a private session with the Ethiopian eunuch he “preached” to him, even though we would call it explaining the gospel, or witnessing.

“Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” Acts 8:35

Every time you proclaim the truth, to thousands, or privately and quietly to one person, you are preaching. And preaching is what we are called to do.

The Power of Preaching

We see in the New Testament that by Christians simply going out and telling others about Christ multitudes of lives and even whole cultures were transformed.  The Apostle Paul, one of the most active preachers, was hated by the Jewish religious leaders because he turned so many to Christ.  Even those who made idols to a heathen goddess in Ephesus attacked Paul because he was destroying their business.

The simple process of talking to people, individually and in groups, about the gospel released tremendous transforming power, called “Salvation”.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God to salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (non-Jew).” Romans 1:16

Historic Role of Preaching

World history reveals that preaching is so significant that those who preach actually direct society.

The English king Charles 1 wrote about preaching back in 1646, recognising the influence held by the preachers from the pulpits.  He said, “people are governed by pulpits more than the sword in times of peace.”

For centuries English culture was shaped by the simple process of men standing up to preach the truth from God’s word.

A similar testimony comes from Herman Melville’s 1850 novel, Moby Dick, in chapter 8, titled The Pulpit.

“…the pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favorable winds. Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.”

Too Many Voices

The significant place of the pulpit, celebrated for centuries, has now declined.  This is due in large part to the abandonment of Christianity and the decline in church attendance, where most people get to hear preaching.

Another influence is the sheer abundance of voices clamouring for our attention.  The influence of the Christian pulpit has been replaced with other voices that are not sympathetic to Bible truth.

Secular education provides a pulpit for every teacher to preach the approved social values into the hearts and minds of their captive congregation.  The press and printed material also preach the populist message.  Radio and television, songs and movies all capture our attention and preach their preferred values into our culture.

Instead of Bible truth and the gospel bringing transforming power into society and steering us to godly living and the blessings of Almighty God, we are now turned every which way, and left to languish in our confusion and defeat, without godly direction and God’s power.

Popular media has become the pulpit of modern day culture.

Preachers as Kingdom Technology

We now need a fresh release of preachers into our culture.  This is the main technology used in history to expand God’s kingdom, and it is still the principal Kingdom technology today.

The New Testament church thrived where ever preaching took place.  When the Jerusalem church was persecuted and believers were dispersed to other cities and nations the church grew wonderfully.

As Paul and others took the gospel to places, the church grew in those new locations.  History reveals that the Ethiopian eunuch, taking back what he learned from Phillip, prompted the growth of the church there.  And people in southern India can trace their church connection back to the arrival of the disciple Thomas almost two millennia ago.

John Wycliffe, a professor at Oxford, was the first to translate the Bible into English, way back in 1380.  But what gave his translation and life greater impact were the many people who read his translation and preached from it across the English countryside.  These Lollards opened the word of God to their generation.

Almost four centuries after Wycliffe, John and Charles Wesley, also based at Oxford, instigated a preaching program which came to be known as Methodism.  The heart of this movement was the circuit riding preacher.  These men were expected to preach multiple times on a Sunday, walking or riding on horseback around their circuit.

The great Wesleyan revival started the 1700’s continued long past the deaths of these men of God, because of the preaching system (method) they created.  At its heart, apart from the message of personal encounter with God and the truth of God’s word, the Methodist revival was based on preaching.

Preaching Through Opposition

Preachers are not usually welcome in a society that needs God.  Paul was opposed across the many nations and cities to which he took the gospel.  Revivalists through history have been at times violently opposed by angry audiences.

While we expect Christian preachers to be opposed in heathen lands, note that John Wesley was driven from many places when he started preaching in Christian England.  His Methodist preachers had to face rocks, roof tiles and mud, among other abuses.

Today’s new generation of preachers will also face opposition and trials.  While many will gain prominence and have popular ministries, others will have to struggle through opposition.

Releasing Preachers

In every generation and in every culture there is always primary place for preachers, great and small.  Each nation and culture needs more preachers, from those who quietly inform their small circle of friends, to those who draw vast crowds in stadiums, halls and fields.

I have always delighted in the role of preacher, but am all the more convinced today than ever that God is seeking a new generation of labourers in the harvest field, who preach the good news of Jesus Christ into their culture, whether the hearers are resistant or not.

William Patteson Nicholson the Rough Evangelist

William Patteson Nicholson was born on April 3, 1876, in Ulster, Northern Ireland, to a godly mother and an evangelistic Presbyterian preacher. William was named after the minister of his home church, William Patteson, who faithfully preached at Trinity, Bangor for fifty years, including ministry to the Nicholson family.

At the age of 16 Nicholson followed his father’s earlier profession and became a merchant seaman on his father’s cargo ship.  He traversed the globe and was, on one occasion, shipwrecked.  Many of these days “before the mast” became anecdotes in his sermons years later.

Back home in Bangor, as he sat at the breakfast table, at about 8.30 a.m. on 22 May, 1899, God met him.  His spiritual condition bore in upon him and he realised that it was “Christ or Hell.  I came to Jesus as I was,” he writes, “guilty, worn and sad, and accepted Him as my personal Saviour.  All my guilt and gloom vanished like the early dew and the morning cloud … I was born of God.  Hallelujah!”  (The Evangelist, by W P Nicholson, page 12).

‘W P’ became one of Christendom’s most unique evangelists.  After some training at Glasgow Bible Training Institute, and joining the Chapman-Alexander evangelistic team, he was ordained as an evangelist by the Carlisle Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church at the age of 38 years, although, as one writer has it, “he began to weep and sing and rejoice like any old-fashioned Free Methodist!”

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Sometimes unconventional in his pulpit style, he nevertheless preached the old-time gospel with a powerful anointing of the Holy Spirit. He was at times referred to as the ‘tornado’ of the pulpit. He travelled the world 10 times, including a visit to Australia, sharing the Upwey Convention platform with Dr Graham Scroggie, during Christmas/New Year 1934-35.  “That man,” said Dr Scroggie, “is filled with vulgarity and the Holy Spirit, and how a man can be filled with both at the same time I don’t know.”

“Neither do I,” adds A Lindsay Glegg.  “‘W.P.’ shocked many with his rough tongue, but it was no use trying to change him.  My wife and I did our best with, I’m afraid, no success, but still the people came and many were converted.”   Lindsay Glegg remembers the time ‘W P’ stayed in his home for 10 days.  “He was up at 6 a.m., but rarely appeared before noon; he spent hours wrestling with God in prayer.  My wife would take up his breakfast and leave it outside his bedroom door, but it was rarely taken in” (Four Score … and More, by AL Glegg, page 40).  On one occasion, “unconsciously, agonizing in prayer, he ripped the sheets into shreds”!  (page 41).

Truly a remarkable evangelist!  Ian Paisley has penned a 30-page booklet concerning this “unpredictable man.”  He tells of a drunk who disturbed a meeting where ‘W P’ was preaching.  The evangelist left the pulpit, grabbed the fellow by the scruff of the neck, and pitched him out the church door.  A woman criticised his action:  “Mr Nicholson, the Saviour would not have done that.”  “No,” said Nicholson, “He would have cast the devil out of the man.  I cannot do that, Madam, so I did the second best thing.  I cast the devil out – and the man as well…” (Nicholson, by I. Paisley, pages 24-25).

Just one quote from ‘W P’ himself, from his book On Towards the Goal, a series of messages given at the Bangor Easter Convention, 1925: “I do not know anyone in the world that I know better than the Lord.  I do not know my wife or mother the way I know the Lord.  I do not know the best friends I ever had the way I know the Lord.  We walk together, my Lord and I, because we are in fellowship, and there is nothing I have but is His.  All my sins were made His one day, and all my joys are His now.  Glory to God, we laugh together …” (pages 24-25).

He wasn’t exaggerating.

Most wonderful of all, Nicholson was an effective evangelist. His messages cut to the heart and changed the lives of those who heard him. He often preached to meetings for ‘men only’, where he would challenge the hearts of men. In the Belfast shipyard they had to erect a special shed to house stolen tools which converted workers returned as revival swept through the country. They called it the ‘Nicholson Shed’ as testimony to the power of the gospel and the power of God through Nicholson’s ministry.

Edwin Orr recorded of the 1921 Ulster Revival and Nicholson’s ministry that “‘Nicholson’s missions were the evangelistic focus of the movement: 12,409 people were counselled in the inquiry rooms; many churches gained additions, some a hundred, some double; … prayer meetings, Bible classes and missionary meetings all increased in strength. … Ministerial candidates doubled”.

W P Nicholson died in 1962.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

Catherine Booth one of the Army’s Best Men!

This is the day that … Catherine Booth died, in 1890.

Catherine Booth (nee Mumford), was born to a coachbuilder in Derbyshire, in 1829. She read the Bible eight times by the age of twelve, but was converted at the age of 15, when the words of a hymn led her to assurance of salvation.

At fourteen she developed spinal curvature and four years later, incipient tuberculosis. While ill in bed she began writing magazine articles against alcohol.

Catherine met William Booth, a Methodist minister in 1852. Catherine was impressed with both the sermon and the young preacher.

William believed ministers should be “loosing the chains of injustice, freeing the captive and oppressed, sharing food and home, clothing the naked, and carrying out family responsibilities.” While keen on social reform, Catherine, an avowed feminist, disagreed with William’s views on women. She objected to William describing women as the “weaker sex” and she argued that women should preach, while William opposed the idea. Despite their disagreements about the role of women in the church, the couple married on 16th June 1855.

Catherine first preached in1860 when a strange compulsion seized her and she felt she must rise and speak. The sermon so impressed William that he changed his mind about women preachers. Catherine Booth soon developed a reputation as an outstanding speaker but many Christians were outraged by the idea. Lord Shaftesbury regarded William as the antichrist for his promotion of women preachers. Booth later wrote, “some of the best men in my Army are women”!

When William created the Salvation Army she took her place as the beloved mother of the movement. She particularly inspired young ladies to preach and evangelise, including her own daughters. She journeyed to Paris to help her daughter Catherine and a handful of other young ladies set up the Salvation Army there.

Some said that Catherine’s sermons were as good as her husband’s. Certainly many were converted under her ministry.

For 30 years she and her husband waged war on sin and reached out a loving hand to England’s poor and needy.

She also took social action including the Food For A Million Shops, where poor could buy an inexpensive three-course meal. She was angered by the sweated labour that many women were subjected to, working 14 hours a day for a pittance. Bryant and May matches also used yellow phosphorous that poisoned the women working with it. She began a campaign that her husband completed after her death, to end the use of yellow phosphorous.

Eventually she found herself on the banks of ‘chilly Jordan’. She writes from her deathbed – to the 20,000 gathered in the Crystal Palace:

“My dear Children and Friends, My place is empty but my heart is with you. You are my joy and my crown. Your battles, sufferings and victories have been the chief interest of my life these 25 years. They are still. Go forward … live holy lives … love and seek the lost; bring them to the blood … I am dying under the Army flag; it is yours to live and fight under. God is my salvation and refuge in the storm. I send you my love and blessing. Catherine Booth.”

On Saturday, 4 October, 1890, the old General and his family gathered around Catherine’s bed. They prayed. They sang. Such grand old hymns as:
Calvary’s stream is flowing so free,
Flowing for you and for me.

“Go on,” Catherine said … and they sang some more –
Jesus, my Saviour, has died on the tree,
Died on the tree for me! Hallelujah!

Eventually, unable to speak, Catherine Booth pointed to the text hanging upon the wall, which read, “My Grace is sufficient for thee”. “That”, writes her biographer, “was her last testimony to God’s faithfulness.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Henry Moorhouse Teaches Moody How to Preach

This is the day that … Henry Moorhouse was born in 1840, in Manchester, England.

For the first 20 years of his life he was constantly in trouble and in prison more than once. But at the age of 21 “in the engine room of a warehouse,” a young Christian pointed him to Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

The biographer tells of the outcome. Henry Moorhouse “saw, he believed, he rejoiced, he confessed, and he was ready from that hour to bear witness for Christ…” Before long he was preaching the gospel, on street corners and in packed halls.

And he is best remembered as the “man who moved the man who moved millions.” In ‘Life of D.L. Moody’ by his son, a whole chapter is devoted to the influence of Henry Moorhouse: “Moorhouse taught Moody to draw his sword (of the Spirit) full length, to fling the scabbard away and enter the battle with a naked blade” (page 140).

Henry had become a preacher with the Plymouth Brethren and had learned the importance of expository preaching. When Moody visited Dublin in 1867, he was told of the preaching of a zealous young Brethren evangelist named Harry Moorhouse. By this time, Moorhouse had established the reputation of being one of the leading evangelists in England. Initially, Moody was not very impressed with young Moorhouse. To Moody, Moorhouse appeared to be so young and frail. Moody, however, did invite Moorhouse to visit him in Chicago, not expecting him to come.

Moody’s wife, Emma, upon hearing Moorhouse, told her husband, “I like Moorhouse’s preaching very, very much. He is very different from you. He backs up everything he says by the Bible.”

On one occasion, young Moorhouse challenged Moody, “You are sailing on the wrong tack. If you will change your course, and learn to preach God’s words instead of your own, He will make you a great power.”

When Moorhouse first arrived in Chicago, Moody was unexpectedly called out of town and asked Moorhouse to preach for him at Farwell Hall. Moorhouse preached nightly for one solid week on the love of God using the text of John 3:16. When Moody returned, he was greatly surprised to find Moorhouse still preaching. As he listened he discovered Moorhouse was still on the same text, and that souls were being wonderfully saved. Moody confided to a friend, “I never knew up to that time that God loved us so much. This heart of mine began to thaw out; I could not keep back the tears. I just drank it in. So did the crowded congregation. I tell you there is one thing that draws above everything else in the world and that is love.”

Not only was there an emphasis on more use of Scripture in Moody’s sermons (“Stop preaching your own words and preach God’s Word,” Moorhouse had said to him), there was also a new emphasis on God’s love for the sinner. “Moody’s evangelistic preaching was to take on a different tenor than that of so much previous revivalistic preaching in the American tradition.”

Henry Moorhouse died on 28 December, 1880, at the age of 40. Among his dying words were these: “If it were the Lord’s will to raise me up again, I should like to preach more on the text, ‘God so loved the world’.”

He seemed to pass away, but means employed by the attending physician revived him.

“Why have you brought me back to such dreadful suffering?” he asked of those at his bedside, “I was in heaven …”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

William Holmes McGuffey Teaches Morals to a Nation

This is the day that …William Holmes McGuffey was born in Pennsylvania, USA, in 1800.

Much of his early schooling came from his mother – he “irregularly attended rural schools” – but eventually he was to become president of Ohio University (1839-1843). His mother prayed that he would become a preacher, which he most certainly did, although the fact pales against his greater claim to fame.

An intelligent lad, keen to be well educated, he was taught Latin by a minister and entered a life of academics. Professors were expected to preach and McGuffey prided himself in not needing notes to achieve that end. He had actually been licensed to preach by the Presbyterian Church (1829), but never accepted a pastorate.

“He took pride in the fact that he spoke extemporaneously, later declaring he had preached more than 3000 sermons without a single note…” (Dictionary of Christianity in America, page 688).

McGuffey always told his students that country preaching was the best of training. It was in the country churches that he improved extemporaneous speaking and learned to put his ideas into simple words that even the illiterate could understand.

On one occasion a committee told him they liked his preaching but they thought he was too stylish. He drove a horse and carriage, they said, and wore a silk coat. The suave professor showed them that his “silk coat” was made of cheap shiny bombazine. He further explained that he needed his horse and carriage so his wife could attend church with him. The committee retired ashamed.

At Oxford he met and married the beautiful Harriet Spining (April 3, 1827). She gave birth to two sons and two daughters, but both sons died early. When she died in 1850, McGuffy married again, to Laura Howard, who bore him one son who died at the age of four.

His fame lies in the famous “Readers” he published (from 1836-1857) “which sold an astronomical 122 million copies (!!), and helped shape the 19th century American Mind.”

These “Readers” were used in public schools and majored on “industry, honesty and loyalty; as well as warning against strong drink.” This extemporaneous preacher taught Christian morals to a whole nation through his written works.

McGuffey died at Charlottesville, May 4, 1873, and is buried there.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.