Preacher John the Baptist

John the Baptist had an important ministry, in the footsteps of the great prophet Elijah, preparing his generation to receive Christ.

John impacted the nation of Israel and far beyond.  Decades after John’s death Paul met a group of devout followers of God at Ephesus who had been baptised with “John’s baptism” of repentance.  At the same time an orator named Apollos travelled through many nations preaching John’s messages.

Both the Ephesian believers and Apollos had to be brought up to date with the revelation of Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of John’s preaching.  Yet for John’s message to have gone so far and wide we see that the impact of his preaching is quite impressive.

What John Preached

The Bible gives several insights into John’s preaching.  First mention is in Matthew’s history of the life of Christ.

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, And saying, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Matthew 3:1-3

Matthew tells us that John preached in the wilderness and the summary of his message is “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand”.  Matthew also tells us John came in fulfilment of a prophecy from Isaiah.

Matthew’s assertion that John fulfilled a prophecy from Isaiah is confirmed by Dr Luke, who did his own research into the life and Christ and recorded his findings in the gospel of Luke.  Luke discovered that John’s father saw an angel which foretold John’s birth and said John would fulfil the very same prophecy Matthew records, see Luke 1:13-17 and also Luke 3:2-6.

Dr Luke summarised John’s preaching as Matthew did, with a simple sentence, but adding detail Matthew did not mention.

“Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” Luke 3:2,3

Isaiah Summary

Six hundred years before John the Baptist the prophet Isaiah spoke about him and what he would say.  Matthew declares that John is the fulfilment of a prophecy by Isaiah found at Isaiah 40:3-8.

“The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley will be exalted, and every mountain and hill will be made low: and the crooked will be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together: for the mouth of the LORD has spoken it.  The voice said, Cry. And he said, What will I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withers, the flower fades: because the spirit of the LORD blows on it: surely the people are grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades: but the word of our God will stand for ever.” Isaiah 40:3-8

Isaiah gives a rich insight into John’s message, summarised by Matthew’s simple account.  We see that John was to preach in the wilderness, which Matthew recorded happening.  John would also “prepare the way of the Lord”, by getting the people ready to receive Christ, which the gospels record taking place.

The preparation for Christ was to involve making a straight path, lifting up the lowly, humbling the proud, removing the deviations and the bumps.  John’s simple and direct message levelled the field, directing all the people, great and small to take the same step of repentance.

All Flesh Is Grass

I love the prophetic account given by Isaiah about John the Baptist’s ministry.  The New Testament historians don’t give any insight into how this prophecy was fulfilled, so let me bring it to life for you as I see it.

“The voice of the Holy Spirit directing John said ‘Cry’! And John the Baptist said, ‘What will I cry?’ The Spirit told John to cry out ‘All flesh is grass and will wither, no matter how beautiful it looks, but God’s Word will never wither or fail.’”

At this point I see John standing in the wilderness, alone.  How many other people are going to be in the wilderness?  None.  Only lost shepherds and crazy people are hanging out in the wilderness, unless maybe someone is on their way to the Qumran community at the top end of the Dead Sea.

So John shouts at the top of his voice, into the barren hills, “All flesh is grass. Whatever you are doing it is a waste of time.  You need to be listening to God, because He is real and what He does lasts.”

John’s voice echoes across the scrubby landscape.  And off in the distance one or two lonely souls hear him preach and are immediately gripped by the Holy Spirit.  They are cut to the depths of their heart and hurry home to get their friends and family to come and hear this voice.

So powerful was the message, given in obedience to the Holy Spirit, that an audience quickly grows as people hungry for God are gripped by this simple, humbling message.

Malachi Prophecy

Isaiah was not the only one to prophesy about John the Baptist.  Four hundred years before John the prophet Malachi spoke of one coming in the spirit of Elijah to impact the hearts of the people.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he will turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, otherwise I will come and smite the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:5,6

We know that John is connected to this prophecy because of the angel that spoke with John’s father.

“But the angel said to him, Fear not, Zacharias: for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elisabeth will bear you a son, and you will call his name John. ….. And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:13-17

You will note in that angelic message that John fulfilled the prophecy given by Malachi.

Putting it Together

Recognising that each description of John’s preaching and ministry is in itself a summary, but that each should be complimentary, we can now put them together to create a picture of John’s preaching.

John was a voice crying in the wilderness, so he did not start with a big city crowd.  He had to build an audience in a place where an audience was hard to come by.  And he did.

He did it by preaching what the Holy Spirit told him to preach.  The message humbled man, exposing man’s temporary and meaningless existence.  The message also exalted God, by showing that God’s Word endures and cannot be changed.

John’s message called for repentance by levelling all humanity before God, all with the same need to repent before God.  John introduced a new expression of humility, that of baptism by immersion to testify to a change of heart.

John’s message focused people on the Kingdom of God, which has two points of significance.  The presence of God challenges our sinfulness before Him, calling us to repent and seek forgiveness for our sins.  For those who have found that forgiveness, the presence of God promises God’s blessing and grace in their lives.

The depth of repentance called for by John prepared people to accept Christ.  It also changed their heart, not just to God, but toward those in authority and those they are responsible for.

Modern Day Equivalent

A modern day John the Baptist would still preach the same message.

“Repent before God, because God is at hand.  God will judge your sin and is also ready to bless your obedience.  Stop living for personal agendas and recognise the temporariness of your life.  God’s purposes are profoundly more wonderful than all those other things that consume you.  Turn around and start living for God, in the fear of God.”

A modern day John would not start out with a big audience, but with a Spirit anointed message.  He would speak with such destiny that the message would do the job.  He would not buy and audience or rely on marketing hype to get heard.

And a modern day John would expose in people’s hearts their pride, rebellion, selfishness and independence.  He would call them back to living the way God wants them to, rather than for their selfish, secular agendas.

John Baptist’s preaching moved a nation. His message was “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand”. Today that would be “Repent, for God is right here, so fear God and expect God’s blessings”.

Jesus Preached the Same Sermon

The significance of John’s sermon is endorsed by the fact that Jesus Christ took up that same message when He began to preach.

“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17

This is the message destined to prepare hearts for Christ.  This is the message that Jesus preached.  And this is the message that the early church preached as well.  Paul the Apostle reminded the church leaders in Ephesus about his preaching that had built that church years before.

Acts 20:21 “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Just as John called people to repent, so did Paul.  The Kingdom of God being at hand was the basis for repentance.  Because God is real and is present to deal with us, we must have repentance toward God, but we also have great reward in our faith in Jesus Christ.

As I summarised it above, the message is, “Repent, for God is right here, so fear God and expect God’s blessings”.

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.

Power Preaching

With so many preachers with their “hot” sermons all trying to make an impression across the western world one could get quite confused about what makes a powerful message.

In view of that, let me take you back to basics and get you looking at what the Apostle Paul declared was pretty powerful preaching.

The Right to Speak

Paul has the right to tell us what works, since his own preaching was claimed to have “turned the world upside down”.  Paul was hunted from city to city through sheer hatred from those who knew the power of his preaching and who didn’t like what he was achieving.

Paul seemed to have a way of getting his message through in city after city and culture after culture. He was able to birth church after church in places where he simply preached his basic message.

In view of the power of Paul’s preaching we ought to pay attention to what Paul instructs.  And it is worth noting that Paul instructed the early church to imitate him.  I suggest we are well advised to do that in this day, almost two thousand years later.

Paul’s Power Preaching

Paul tells us quite directly that the “Gospel of Christ” is his power message.

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

Paul then explains the two basic truths of his gospel message as he continues his letter to the church in Rome.  Those two basic truths are simply that man is a sinner facing judgment and that faith in Christ saves us.  Paul was not ashamed to declare those truths.

Sinners Facing Judgment

Paul states the first basic principle of the gospel of Christ just two verses after declaring that the gospel is powerful.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” Romans 1:18

Paul uses the rest of chapter 1 and all of chapter 2 to expand on the fact that man is sinful and thus God’s judgment rests on him.  Several verses that state that truth are well known among Christians.

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one.” Romans 3:10-12

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23

We later have Paul advising that the penalty for our sin is a death sentence from God.

“For the wages of sin is death” Romans 6:23a

Paul did not shrink from revealing to people that they had a sin problem and that sin brought God’s judgment on them.  This is the starting point of Paul’s gospel message.  The good news of Christ (the gospel of Christ) is not good news if you don’t first understand the “bad news” of our sin.

Faith in Christ Saves Us

Having established that all mankind is ruined by sin and that God’s wrath rests on the whole human race because no-one can reach God’s holy standard, Paul then testifies to the wonder of forgiveness and salvation we have through faith in Christ.

“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference” Romans 3:21,22

“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” Romans 3:24

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1,2

It’s a pretty simple message.  Our sin separates us from God and brings God’s judgment upon us.  Our faith in Christ saves us and brings God’s grace upon us.

Ashamed of the Gospel

The way some preachers preach you could think they are “ashamed” of the gospel Paul preached.  Many preachers avoid giving the simple, clear gospel message Paul found so effective.

I talked about this with a Chinese Christian today who admitted that in his youth he heard people preach the simple gospel Paul preached.  But today, he said, he does not hear people preach so directly.

He asked me why I thought that was so, and I suggested that many modern preachers are more interested in pleasing their audience than in pleasing God.  They preach what they think people want to hear, rather than what Paul says will transform the hearers.

Maybe, too, modern preachers don’t want to risk the opposition and challenge Paul received when he preached that simple gospel.

Fear God of Man

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom but the fear of man brings a snare.

So who you give respect to impacts who and what you are.

This is important for preachers.  If you fear God you will preach God’s truth, no matter whether the audience likes it or not.  Some will reject what you say and others will be transformed by the message.  The gospel of Christ will release the power of God into their lives to save and transform them.

If you fear man, you will preach what people want to hear, but you will have no impact on their lives.  You will also offend God and have none of His blessing and fruit in your ministry.  In fact, you will get trapped (a snare is a trap) and maybe mess up the rest of your life.  That’s what the fear of man does to you.

“The fear of man brings a snare: but whoever puts his trust in the LORD will be safe.” Proverbs 29:25

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10

Let us hear again the simple gospel that transforms lives.

Streams of Ministry

God has multiple ways of doing the same thing. The River of God flows in a variety of streams, making room for much diversity and for different types of ministry to work in divergent ways.

Yet Christians fail to understand this and think that their own pet expression of God’s grace is the best, or main way that God operates. So I have had to prompt various ministry people at times with an understanding of the “Streams of Ministry”.

I’m sharing this message with you, in the hope that you will not become blind to God’s great grace and the multiple ways He can and will move in the earth.

Diversity

Preachers love to extol preaching. Prayer warriors see the importance of prayer. Administrators are offended when they see others who do not value good organisation. Teachers tend to elevate teaching over other ministries.

Chris Praying

Those who see visions and dream dreams feel the value of those experiences. Evangelists can easily see that as the main ministry. And so it goes.

There is great diversity in Christian ministry, not just in modern practice, but in Biblical principles too. And this is not a problem. It is God’s way of making sure there are multiple streams of ministry available to address our needs.

Preaching or Prayer

We know that “the prayer of faith” heals the sick.

“And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” James 5:15

We know that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much”.

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:16

Jesus told us that if we ask for things in His name He will do them for us.

“And what ever you will ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” John 14:13

So, there is no doubt that prayer is a vital ministry. This is so much so that many people are totally committed to the ministry of prayer. Great testimonies, such as Praying Hyde in India, attest to the awesome effectiveness of a prayer ministry.

But prayer is not the only way God gets things done. God has chosen to use preaching too.

Preaching Does the Job

God has chosen the foolishness of preaching to do important ministry work.

“For when in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” 1Corinthians 1:21

Faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the preaching of the Word of God. We are asked how people will “hear” unless there is a preacher.

“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how will they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” Romans 10:14

Not only did the preaching of Paul birth churches in hostile places, but great preachers through history, including Spurgeon and Wesley, proved by their efforts that preaching is a powerful stream of ministry.

What is it to Be?

Now, which is it? Do we elevate prayer or preaching?

Can we do without both?

Some people seem to get by with only one or the other. Some people swear by one or the other. You can buy books that push one instead of the other. Which is God’s favourite? Which is best? Which should you pursue and which one should you neglect?

Obviously both are effective streams of ministry. There are people who make one or other work extremely well in their hands. But that does not mean that the other ministry is invalid, less important or lower in spiritual value.

Other Streams

Truth is a stream of ministry. Some people can see breakthrough in the lives of others, through speaking the truth to them, or helping them come to terms with reality. That’s because the truth is an effective ministry tool in itself.

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:32

Laying on Hands is a stream of ministry. This was not only practiced in the New Testament church but it was clearly described by both Jesus and the Apostle Paul. There are spiritual and practical outcomes which spring directly from the ministry of the laying on of hands.

“They will take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Mark 16:18

“Neglect not the gift that is in you, which was given you by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” 1Timothy 4:14

Binding and Loosing is another stream of ministry. Jesus instructed His followers that they could exercise the ministry of binding and loosing. This includes binding the enemy’s work and releasing God’s grace.

“Truly I tell you, Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven: and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 18:18

Yet More Streams

Faith is another powerful ministry stream. If we have faith even as a grain of mustard seed we can move whole mountains.

“And Jesus said to them, Because of your unbelief: for truly I tell you, If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it will remove; and nothing will be impossible to you.” Matthew 17:20

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit provide yet another important ministry stream. The Holy Spirit distributes gifts so that we all benefit.

“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit with.” 1Corinthians 12:7

Humility brings powerful results. God gives grace to the humble and if we humble ourselves that leads to us being exalted by the Lord in due time.

“Likewise, you younger, submit yourselves to the elder. Yes, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” 1Peter 5:5,6

Confession also has a powerful ministry value. We are told to confess our faults one to another.

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:16

Spiritual Warfare, involving the armour of God, is clearly a powerful ministry process, protecting us from the enemy’s attacks.

“Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Ephesians 6:11

And what about praise, comforting one another, giving, fellowshipping together, visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, exhortation, and helps? There are other streams not even mentioned here.

Got the Picture?

I have met people who are totally committed to just one of those streams of ministry, thinking that God can only be effective by that particular emphasis. But the Bible reveals that God has multiple streams of ministry.

Pentecostals may emphasise the operation of the gifts of the Spirit, while evangelicals may steer away from that. Evangelists and preachers may feel that the more ponderous teachers are failing to be effective. Men and women of prayer may be upset by those who don’t spend as much time in prayer. Those who give may be upset by those who won’t. And so it goes.

Our God is an awesome God, who can use each one of us in meaningful ministry, even though we are all doing something different.

Don’t despise those who God uses differently to you. You do not have the exclusive franchise on God’s ministry. Only He has that. So flow with Him, in the stream He leads you to work best in. But don’t stop others from flowing in the way God is best using them.

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.

History Faces Bar

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