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.

Ada Habershon the Hymn Writing Theologian

Ada Habershon was born in London, England, on January 8, 1861, the youngest daughter to “earnest, uncompromising parents”. She devoted her life to the Lord’s service and became a keen student of the Bible.

As a schoolgirl she sat under the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and in 1884 found herself helping in the Dwight Moody/Ira Sankey meetings, when that American duo arrived in England. “On several occasions she sang with Mr Sankey”! (The Romance of Sacred Song, by D. Beattie, page 61).

Whilst not being able to testify to a specific date for her conversion, she knew that she had passed “from death unto life”, and sought to lead others to that life-changing experience.

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Her wealth of Biblical insight is evidenced in the books which she wrote, with an emphasis on Biblical types and such themes as “How the New Testament is Concealed in the Old Testament”. It is said of her that “Few women have made a contribution to the cause of biblical scholarship equal to that of Ada Habershon”.

Following her meeting with Moody, he invited her to the USA to deliver lectures on the Old Testament.

Her first hymn was written in 1901 at the suggestion of Charles M. Alexander, and in the following twelve months 200 Gospel songs flowed from her pen. From that time on, until her death seventeen years later, there came a steady stream of over 1000 Gospel songs. Charles Alexander, famous for the Alexander Hymn Book, once described her as the “best Gospel song-writer in the world.” He continued, “She was an invalid all the time, but those who suffer best know how to touch the heart. Miss Habershon is well read, too; she has the Bible in her head as well as in her heart, and all her songs have a Scriptural foundation.”

Among those great hymns is …
I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m climbing every day,
Still praying as I onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on Higher Ground!”

Also from her pen came such Gospel songs as:
He will hold me fast, and
Come to the Saviour, make no delay.

Besides her hymn writing Miss Habershon also penned some helpful volumes … The Study of Types, Outline Studies on the Tabernacle, Studies in the Parables, .. and others.

This remarkable Bible student/hymn writer was called Home on 1 February, 1918.

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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

John Gill the Baptist Theologian

John Gill was born on November 23 in 1697. The place was Kettering, Northamptonshire, England.

Gill grew up in a good Christian home, where his parents, Edward and Elizabeth Gill, were God-fearing Calvinistic Baptists who had been ministered to by William Wallis; his father serving as a deacon in the Baptist work in Kettering.

Gill’s early years were spent studying in the local grammar school where he was an outstanding student and excelled in languages. At the age of 11 his school master insisted that all students attend church with him each day, as a deliberate challenge to the dissenters in the community. This was the end of Gill’s formal education but he spent his time wisely teaching himself and not only excelled in Greek and Latin but was quite adept at Hebrew by the age of nineteen, for which he was completely self taught.

John’s love for Hebrew became a life-long theme, amplified in later life by immersion in the rabbinic writings as a source of insight into the scriptures. He later wrote a worthy treatise on “The Antiquity of the Hebrew Language”. Latin and Greek likewise were mastered by this profound scholar.

John was so diligent in attending the bookseller’s shop when it was open on market days that it became a local proverb, “as sure as that John Gill is in the bookseller’s shop”. In later life Gill’s studious life prompted a revised proverb, “as sure as Dr Gill is in his study”.

Gill came to faith at the age of 12 but declined baptism (a key focus on the Baptist tradition to which he had been raised) out of respect for its seriousness, but also to protect himself from being called into Christian ministry too early. The eyes of the Kettering church were upon him as a prime candidate to assist the minister who was falling behind in his duties.

“Gill’s thirst for knowledge was insatiable”, writes one biographer – and it was no surprise that after his baptism, at the age of 19 (1716), he began to preach.

He married Elizabeth Negus in 1718 and they raised three children beyond infancy: Elizabeth, John, and Mary. In 1719 he became pastor of London’s famous Horselydown. Benjamin Keach had preceded him as pastor and in time C. H. Spurgeon would pastor this church.

For over 50 years he pastored the same congregation, and wrote voluminously. Of his Commentary on the whole Bible, Spurgeon writes: “For good, sound, massive, sober sense in commenting, who can excel Gill?” (Commenting on Commentaries, page 9). His portrait hung in Spurgeon’s vestry.

But it needs to be added that Gill was a hyper-Calvinist, so zealous to emphasise the sovereignty of God that “he denied preachers the right to offer Christ to unregenerate sinners” (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 413).

As a Particular Baptist Gill elevated the role of predestination and so did not consider preaching to the doomed un-regenerates as a worthy exercise. General Baptists, on the other hand, appeal to the free will of all. Those who decline to celebrate Gill mostly do so over this Hyper-Calvinism emphasis.

Some see Gill as the first systematizer of a Baptist Hyper-Calvinist theology while others argue that he is not of that persuasion. Particular Baptist Churches began their decline into Hyper-Calvinism at that time as so Gill is seen as a likely influence to that trend.

Gill was keen to systematise theology even though creeds and systematic doctrines were in disrepute at that time. His stands as the first major Baptist theologian and his works retain their influence even to this day. Ed Reese comments that Dr Gill “may be the greatest scholar the Baptists ever produced” … but that would probably depend upon one’s theological leaning!

Gill wrote pamphlets in challenge of John Wesley’s publications, contending topics related to predestination, grace and free will. Gill respected Wesley’s piety and impact but saw him as shallow in theological insights, thus able to present his poorly defined arguments in good faith.

Another matter of grave importance to Gill is that of the Trinity and the true nature of the persons of the godhead. His final word on that matter was published after his death.

Gill recognised his impending death and declared his enduring trust in the Lord, with absolutely no reliance on his own efforts or achievements for merit in his salvation. Thus he gloriously terminated his mortal career, without a sigh or groan, on the 14th day of October 1771, at about eleven o’clock in the forenoon, at his house in Camberwell, Surrey, aged seventy-three years, ten months, and ten days.

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.

Richard Baxter Preaches with the Puritans

Richard Baxter was born on November 12, in 1615. The place was Shropshire, England.

Born to parents who had little regard for education, Baxter was largely self-educated, suffered with various bodily infirmities, and knew the reality of persecution in his lifetime … but nevertheless he was to become “one of the foremost Puritan spokesmen within the Church of England”.

Richard Baxter has been described as “one of the most successful preachers and pastors of the Christian church” (Who was Who in Church History, by E. Moyer).

During his education at a free school and then the royal court he became disgusted at the frivolity he saw around him. He left to study divinity and was ordained into the Church of England ministry at age 23. There he found common ground with the Puritans, who at that time were a faction within the church who opposed the church’s form of government. The Puritan movement was at that time splintering into factions.

Baxter did his best to avoid the disputes between Anglicans, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and other denominations, promoting cooperation between local ministers where he could. He was fond of saying, “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity”.

However Baxter held strong personal convictions, even being opinionated in his theology.

Ordained by the Presbyterian Church, he served as minister at Kidderminster from 1641 until 1660. But “The Act of Uniformity” of 1662 put an end to his official ministry. This Act demanded that every clergyman must give “unfeigned consent and assent” to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and accept ordination by a bishop, among other issues.

Suffice to say Baxter – and something like 2000 others – refused to bow the knee to this attack on religious freedom and were ousted from their parishes. He stood for liberty of conscience in worship and church government. And it cost him his freedom. Twice, in 1685 and again in 1686, he was imprisoned for continuing to preach although ‘unlicensed’ to do so – this latter time for two years.

He penned over 160 books – many of them best sellers in his day, and some still being re-printed more than 400 years later … and he had 60 written against him! (Heroes of the Faith, by F. Ballard, page 24).

Because of his moderate stand he became a peacemaker during the English Civil Wars, believing in the monarchy but wanting their powers limited. He was chaplain to the Parliamentary army, but then helped to restore the King.

Several classics came from his pen. The Saints’ Everlasting Rest was one of the most widely read books of the century. A Call to the Unconverted later influenced the young Spurgeon, as he tells us in his autobiography. Reformed Liturgy was written in a mere two weeks in response to a question about what deviations should be permitted from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. His Christian Directory contains over one million words. The Reformed Pastor is his autobiography and his pastoral guide, and is still widely read today.

Theologically Baxter is described as, wait for it, Latitudinarian! He saw society as a large family under a loving father, and in his theology, he tried to balance the extremes. He eventually registered himself as “a mere Nonconformist“, which was a technical term for those who were “not Anglican”. He broke with the Church of England mainly due to disempowerment of parish clergy.

One of his most famous sayings bears repeating – “I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man pleading with dying men.”

On 8 December, 1691, Richard Baxter went home to “the Saints’ Everlasting Rest”.

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.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon The Star Preacher

This is the day that Charles Haddon Spurgeon resigned from the Baptist Union of Great Britain!! It was 1887.

History refers to it as the ‘Downgrade Controversy’, a sorry spectacle of modern theology creeping into the denomination he loved.

He wrote in The Sword and the Trowel his reason for his withdrawal:
“Believers in Christ’s atonement are now in declared union with those who make light of it; believers in Holy Scripture are in confederacy with those who deny plenary inspiration; those who hold evangelical doctrine are in open alliance with those who call the fall (of Adam) a fable, who deny the personality of the Holy Ghost, who call justification by faith immoral, and hold that there is another probation after death … yes, we have before us the wretched spectacle of professedly orthodox Christians publicly avowing their union with those who deny the faith…”

Spurgeon came from a lineage of independent ministers (his father and grandfather) and was converted in a primitive Methodist chapel. In 1850 he was baptised as a Baptist, due to the influence of his employer, and formerly joined a Baptist congregation.

That same year he gained a place at Cambridge, joined a Baptist congregation there and preached his first sermon at age 16. His gift for oratory was immediately recognised, and by 1852 he was a Baptist pastor.

In April 1854 he was ‘called’ to the pulpit of the Baptist congregation at New Park Street, Southwark. Within a few months of his call his powers as a preacher made him famous. The chapel had been empty yet within a year the crowds that gathered to hear this country lad of twenty forced the enlargement of the building. At twenty-two Spurgeon was the most popular preacher of the day.

The Metropolitan Tabernacle in Newington Causeway was opened for service in 1861, accommodating six thousand people. There Spurgeon ministered until his death, and, fully maintained his popularity and power as a preacher until illness disabled him.

Spurgeon found increasing distance with fellow Baptists, due to his strenuous and unbending faith in Calvinism. He saw their indifference to orthodoxy. He thought they laid too little stress on Christ’s divine nature, and that the Arminian views which were spreading among them tended to Arianism. He keenly resented the ‘down grade’ of modern biblical criticism. Conviction grew in him that faith was decaying in all Christian churches. Consequently he announced his withdrawal from the Baptist Union, which declined to adopt his serious view of the situation.

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.