In part One, Dr. Minnick urges on us the notion that preachers who live their message have more power for spiritual influence than men who are more gifted and skilled in speaking without the power of the devoted life. In part Two, he warned that men without spiritual power are destined to pulpit failure. In this concluding part Three, he offers us testimonials of influential preachers of the past who can serve as models for preachers of the present.
What Sort of Preacher?
For more than 25 years now it has been my priceless privilege to have part in the training of future preachers. If I were asked to state my single greatest burden for their growth, it would be the awakening of spiritual desire.
If I can make the observation without seeming to be harsh, some men, even some already in ministry, seem to be barely awake spiritually. Their lights are not on and burning brightly. Their attitude toward even the most absorbingly sacred subjects is disinterested and dull. One wonders if they have ever once opened their eyes to the dawning of some bright truth, ever once stretched or stood up to grapple with something great.
Young men training for the ministry need to be roused—startled, if necessary—out of this drowsiness. They need, desperately need, to come alive to the exquisite soul satisfaction of going hard after God. Their spirit needs to be awakened to the glories of the Lord Jesus Christ—His infinite person and redeeming work, His unswerving obedience to the Father, His unexpected graciousness, His comforting and abiding presence, His trustworthiness, His unfailing faithfulness, His truthfulness, His loving kindness, His sympathetic intercessions, His high and lofty place at the Father’s right hand. I’m trying to describe here just a sampling of our abundance in Christ. Anyone who has really awakened to it develops an appetite for more and more and yet more of the same heightened sense of divine things over and over and still over again.
I realize that it’s God’s own choice as to how ravishingly He reveals Himself to any one soul. But we can pursue Him. I was reminded of this just this morning while reading portions of The Journals of Jim Elliot. He’s barely a senior in college, but he writes passionately,
Nothing satisfies—not nature, or fellowship with any, but only my Eternal Lover. Ah, how cold my heart is toward Him. But “our eyes are upon Thee” (v. 12). … Is not Christ enough, Jim? What need you more—a woman—in His place? Nay, God forbid. I shall have Thee, Lord Jesus. Thou didst buy me, now I must buy Thee. Thou knowest how reluctant I am to pay, because I do not value Thee sufficiently. I am Thine at terrible cost to Thyself. Now Thou must become mine—as Thou didst not attend to the price, neither would I.
Here’s another entry in which he seems to wrestle with God. “Great struggles of soul last night and this morning, especially over Psalm 73:25: ‘There is none upon the earth that I desire beside thee.’. . . Lord Jesus! Counselor! Mighty God! How could I desire aught upon earth but Thee? Savior, Thou dost know my heart; let me love Thee.”
And here is one almost too sacred to read.
“At thy right hand are pleasures. . .” (Ps. 16:11). Prayed a strange prayer today. I covenanted with my Father that He would do either of two things— either glorify Himself to the utmost in me, or slay me. By His grace I shall not have His second best. For He heard me, I believe, so that now I have nothing to look forward to but a life of sacrificial sonship (that’s how thy Savior was glorified, my soul) or heaven soon. Perhaps tomorrow. What a prospect!
It was 1948. Jim would see God in less than eight years, released into eternity by the sharp wooden points of Auca spears.
My purpose for quoting these excerpts is to illustrate what awakened spiritual desire is like. The things it sees in the Scripture. The way it prays. The sound of its struggles. Its pulse. Its passion. Oh that I knew it more and more myself and could somehow be used to ignite it in others.
Happily and soul-satisfyingly, God shows Himself to us if we cry out after Him. Here is another example of what it can be like for us.
The first instance that I remember of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things that I have lived much in since, was on reading those words, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory forever and ever, Amen.”
As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before. Never any words of scripture seemed to me as these words did. I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be rapt up in him in heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in him forever!
I kept saying, and as it were singing over these words of scripture to myself; and went to pray to God that I might enjoy him, and prayed in a manner quite different from what I used to do; with a new sort of affection. …
From about that time, I began to have a new kind of apprehensions and ideas of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. An inward, sweet sense of these things, at times, came into my heart and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. …
The sense I had of divine things would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul, that I know not how to express.
This is the testimony of a very young man. Yet he knows—often—a sweet burning in his heart from the sudden kindling up of his sense of divine things. His name was Jonathan Edwards. He was not yet 18. Here is another young man’s satisfying experience.
My mind being now more open and enlarged, I began to read the Holy Scriptures upon my knees, laying aside all other books, and praying over, if possible, every line and word. This proved meat indeed, and drink indeed, to my soul. I daily received fresh light, light and power from above. …
Oh, what sweet communion had I daily vouchsafed with God in prayer. … How often have I been carried out beyond myself when sweetly meditating in the fields! How assuredly have I felt that Christ dwelt in me, and I in Him! and how did I daily walk in the comforts of the Holy Ghost, and was edified and refreshed in the multitude of peace! Not that I was always upon the mount, sometimes a cloud would overshadow me; but the Sun of Righteousness quickly arose and dispelled it, and I knew it was Jesus Christ that revealed Himself to my soul.
The young man who wrote these words in his journal in 1770 was George Whitefield. He was scarcely 21.
My space is nearly gone. There’s so much more that should be said. But this has been enough to get these truths out into the open for any earnest preacher’s consideration.
To put it into a sentence, the state of our own personal lives has everything to do with whether or not we carry with us into the pulpit a quickening sense of the presence of God that irresistibly comes to pervade the whole atmosphere of our services. Without this we are nothing. Our preaching is scarcely more, except for what little Scripture it contains. The glory has departed.
O brethren, watch therefore over your own hearts: keep out lusts and passions, and worldly inclinations; keep up the life of faith, and love, and zeal: be much at home and be much with God. If it be not your daily business to study your own hearts, and to subdue corruption, and to walk with God—if you make not this a work to which you constantly attend, all will go wrong. … Above all, be much in secret prayer and meditation. Thence you must fetch the heavenly fire that must kindle your sacrifices. . . . Therefore, go then specially to God for life: read some rousing, awakening book, or meditate on the weight of the subject of which you are to speak, and on the great necessity of your people’s souls, that you may go in the zeal of the Lord into his house. Maintain, in this manner, the life of grace in yourselves, that it may appear in all your sermons from the pulpit—that every one who comes cold to the assembly, may have some warmth imparted to him before he departs (Richard Baxter).
Dr. Mark Minnick is the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary.
(Originally published in FrontLine • November/December 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)