If you are going to preach, you want to preach with enthusiasm, with power, with authority—not the varying authority of personal experience but the authority of heaven itself. In that most searching book, Mark Rutherford's Deliverance, Rutherford tells how his friend McKay had an idea that he could regenerate the submerged masses by quick spiritual means instead of by teaching and progress, and wished that he might speak from a pulpit. Rutherford asked him what he would say, and then told him how he himself had once been in St. Paul's Cathedral, excited at the thought of speaking to three or four thousand of his fellow men, but in a minute or two discovered that his sermon would be very much as follows: "Dear friends, I know no more than you know; we had better go home." Without a "Thus said the Lord," the preacher knows no more in about it than anyone else.
His great English contemporary Charles Haddon Spurgeon called Beecher the "most myriad-minded man since Shakespeare." Whoever reads the sermons or speeches of Beecher is amazed at the spontaneous discharge of his mind and soul. As Theodore Parker said of him, "Other preachers have tanks, barrels of rain, well-water, but on their premises is no spring, and it never rains there. A mountain spring supplies Mr. Beecher with fresh living water." In this respect America has never produced a preacher like him. Perhaps in all its ages the Christian Church has never produced a preacher of such spontaneous and overwhelming power as Henry Ward Beecher.
One of the most solemn and tender parts of a church service is when the benediction has been pronounced and the congregation starts for the door. Standing in his pulpit and looking over the throng, the minister may wonder what has been accomplished. Where has God's Word not returned unto him void? How many lives have been impressed, but only for a moment, and tomorrow will go back to their old ways and to their old sins? Where are the hearts which are like the stony ground upon which the seed has fallen, and tomorrow the birds of the air, the thoughts and pleasures of the world, will gather up the precious seed. And where are the hearts to which the seed has fallen only to be choked tomorrow by the cares of this world? And where are the hearts which have been permanently impressed and will obey God's voice and bring forth fruit unto Eternal Life? God only knows. Like the great Preacher and the great Sower himself, the best the preacher can do is to scatter far and wide his seed.
A young English preacher speaking one day to the celebrated Dr. Dale was telling him how necessary it was that ministers should preach to the times, meaning by that that he should serve the ordinary menu of social and ethical discourses. Dale responded, "Go thou, young man, and preach to broken hearts, and you will preach to the eternities."
Bourdaloue was the court preacher of Louis XIV. Wishing to rebuke the king for his profligate life, he drew in general terms a picture of a great sinner and the doom upon such a trangressor, hoping that the king would recognize the portrait. But perceiving that the pleasure-loving monarch was undisturbed, Bourdaloue suddenly cried out in a voice of thunder, as Nathan had once done to King David, "Thou art the man" (II Sam. 12:7)! Afterward he said to the startled monarch, "Your majesty must not be angry, for in the pulpit I have no other master than the King of Kings."
In Confessions of an English Opium Eater Thomas De Quincey describes the preacher to whom he listened as a boy in Manchester as "sincere, but not earnest."
Sincere, but not earnest! How could a man be sincere, but not earnest? De Quincey did not manhandle words but used them to express a very definite idea. What could be the idea that lay back of this distinction between a sincere preacher and an earnest one? Light was thrown on the subject by what he said about this preacher's starting from the low ground of such themes as the benefits of industry, the dangers of bad companions, the importance of setting a good example, or the value of perseverance. More light shone on the matter when one takes the time to read the following:
"By mere accident I heard quoted a couplet which seemed to me sublime. It described a preacher such as sometimes arises in difficult times, or in fermenting times—a son of thunder that looks all enemies in the face and volunteers a defiance even when it would have been easy to evade it. The lines were written by Richard Baxter. As a pulpit orator he was perhaps the Whitefield of the seventeenth century—the Leucononmos of Cowper. And thus it is that he describes the impassioned character of his own preaching—
"I preached as never sure to preach again,
"(Even that was telling; but then followed this thunder peal):
"And as dying man to dying men.
"This couplet, which seemed to me equally for weight and for splendor like molten gold, laid bare another aspect of the Catholic Church, revealed it as a church militant and crusading."
David Livingstone was sent one Sunday evening to preach in the village of Stanford Rivers, where the tradition of Livingstone's first effort at preaching is still cherished. The raw, somewhat heavy-looking Scotch youth, to whom public speech was always a difficulty, gave out his text "very deliberately." That was all the congregation got—the sermon composed on the text had fled, owing to the nervous embarrassment produced by a handful of people in a village chapel. "Friends," said the youth, "I have forgotten all I had to say"—and, hurrying out of the pulpit, he left the chapel.
The center of the preacher's message is always Christ. St. Bernard said that one Sabbath he preached himself, and all the scholars came forward to praise him. The next Sabbath he preached Christ, and all the sinners came up to thank him. To be worthy of the thanks of sinners, not the praise of men, is the ambition of the true minister.
On the northwest tower of St. Paul1 in London hangs the great bell known as "Great Paul." The bell bears this inscription from the Vulgate (I Cor. 9:16) "Vae mihi si non evangelisavero"—"Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!"
A young preacher went to David Swing, the poet-preacher of Chicago, many years ago and asked him what he should do to get a congregation on Sunday. He said, "I have tried history, biography, literature, poetry, book reviews, politics—but the people won't come. What shall I do?"
Swing responded, "Suppose now you try the gospel!"
A noted Russia musician and composer visiting in England was taken by his host to churcl where he heard a little sermon on a little subject. When the next Sabbath came around his host asked him if he wished to go again. He said, "Yes, I will go if the preacher will ask me to do something great."