Articles, Tracts and Letters

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On Preaching the Gospel

by Rev. John Elias

Elias (1774-1841) was a minister of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, the body established following Whitefield's preaching but now sadly overrun by modernism. Born in Caernarfonshire he served in Anglesey and is buried in Llanfaes churchyard near Beaumaris. This essay is from a collection of his letters and essays arranged by Rev. E. Morgan and published in 1847.

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 12, October-December 1998.

M UCH at present is said about preaching the Gospel. It would not, therefore, be unprofitable for preachers and hearers to examine themselves, and see whether they understand what is the nature and end of preaching the Gospel. Not everyone who is called a minister of the Gospel, preaches it. What he delivers may not be the Gospel, though so called. It may not be good news to a sinner, who sees his miserable state before God. Let us consider then,–

1. What it is to preach the Gospel; it is to declare and publish good tidings respecting the way of saving sinners from their sins and the wrath of God: shewing that salvation springs out of the sovereign grace and love of God. Luke 2:10,11; Acts 20:24; John 3:16. It is to preach Christ, in his person, offices, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and intercession; it is to "preach Christ crucified." 1 Cor. 1:23. It is to preach the blessings that are to be received, through Christ's merits, reconciliation, forgiveness, justification, sanctification, full salvation. It is to publish Christ as everything which a sinner needs. It is, indeed, "the Gospel of our salvation." 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:13. It is to invite lost sinners to Christ, to urge them to believe in him, to receive him, and to make use of him. Acts 10:36,43; 16:31; Rom. 3:22; 10:9,10. It is only by the Gospel the Holy Ghost works savingly on the souls of men. It is the ministration of the Spirit: he works powerfully by it. If we expect him to work on the souls of men, we must preach it purely and fully.Gal. 3:2,5; 2 Cor. 3:8; 1 Thess. 1:5; 2:13; Rom. 1:16.

2. Let us next consider who are to preach the Gospel: doubtless those whom Christ hath called and sent for that purpose: he received gifts for men; and he gives shepherds and teachers to the church: the body of Christ is not made up by any but by those who are sent by him. Those whom he sends to preach the Gospel, have themselves been brought to understand, believe, and experience its truths. He does not send any persons to warn sinners of their danger and their ruin, but such as have known their own miserable and lost state by nature, and the terrors of the Lord. 2 Cor. 5:11. He does not send enemies as messengers of peace; but those that are able to say, "We have peace with God, – who hath reconciled us to himself, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." Rom. 5:1; 2 Cor. 5:18,19. He does not send any to commend and exalt Christ, who are ignorant of his greatness and saving excellencies, but such as have seen his glory in some degree, and have tasted that the Lord is gracious. John 1:14; 1 Pet. 2:3. Those who are sent by God to preach the Gospel do not set forth themselves but Christ. They seek not their own glory, nor wish for the praise of men, on account of their gifts, skill, and eloquence or anything else. John 7:18; 2 Cor. 4:5; 1 Thess. 2:6. They are examples to the flock; they are patterns in soberness, godly sincerity, simplicity, humility, and self-denying and every holy virtue. 1 Pet. 5:3; 1 Thess. 2:10; Phil. 4:8,9; 2 Cor. 6:6.

3. Let us next observe what are the ends of preaching the Gospel. It is to exalt and magnify the sovereign grace and love of God. The chief end he has in view in all his works, is to glorify himself, and to glorify his grace in the salvation of men. Therefore we preach among the Gentiles the "unsearchable riches of Christ," shewing the wonders of divine love, the abundance of mercy, and the riches of grace. As it is the chief end of God to glorify his grace in man's salvation, it should be the end of those that preach the Gospel of peace, to exalt the grace of God. They exalt and glorify Christ, preaching him, his cross, and death, – shewing forth his excellencies, and suitableness as a Mediator and Saviour of sinners. Christ shall be exalted, when the Holy Ghost works by the ministry of the Gospel. We cannot preach the Gospel, leaving the Saviour out of the question, or making him some secondary thing in the sermon. 2 Cor. 4:4; John 16:14. Another end is saving sinners. It is called "the Gospel of our salvation;" publishing salvation. It was intended as a means to save souls. When the Spirit works by it, the Gospel becomes the power of God unto salvation, "God by the foolishness of preaching, saves them that believe;" Eph. 1:13; Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:21.

4. As it is one end of the Gospel to save souls, ministers should preach in a very sober and earnest manner. They should shew their hearers that they are guilty, vile, and lost sinners. Then they should preach Christ as a complete and willing Saviour to such. They should invite lost sinners, sensible of their misery, to flee to him, and shew that none who believe in him, shall be lost. They should also declare that it is a great sin and folly to reject Christ; that the Spirit overcomes the obstinacy of men, and makes them willing to believe in Christ. Ministers should also shew that faith works by love, produces obedience, and brings forth every good work.

There is, however, room to fear that every speaker in the pulpit, though very fluent and respectable, does not preach the Gospel and that many who intend entering the ministry do not consider its nature and great importance. Many think that if they can speak boldly and fluently on some religious subjects, they may then preach the Gospel; when perhaps they knew but little of it themselves. They may take pains to deliver their speeches well and in an acceptable manner to the people, without any sincere aim or desire to set forth the excellencies of Christ, and the grace of God in the salvation of sinners.

Ministers should preach the Gospel in a clear, intelligent manner, in plain expressions, easily understood by the people; words taught by the Holy Ghost; – speaking them as the words of God, in the manifestation of the truth, and in the demonstration of the Spirit. If so, there will be no mixing it with philosophical reasoning and tales, or curious perplexing expressions, contrivance of the flesh or the wisdom of the world. 1 Cor. 2:4,13,14,19; 2 Cor. 4:2.

They should preach it experimentally. It is true that none but God can teach them to preach in that way. It is possible to please the curious and the wholehearted, with a dry human harangue. But in order to "speak a word in season to the weary," there will be need for the teaching which is from above. The speaker must be acquainted with the misery of man by the fall, and his conviction of sin, dying to the law, fleeing to Christ for life and acceptance, – and also with the succour of grace and joy of the Holy Ghost; being able to speak to the people the things he has seen and experienced. Isa. 54:13; 50:4.

Ministers should preach in a practical manner : indeed all the doctrines of the Gospel should be preached so; things relating to man's salvation should be known and possessed, to benefit him. They never were intended to be discussed and argued as curious points. It is a useless work for a minister merely to please, though it be as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, amusing his hearers without bringing them to believe and to act. But let us teach them to do everything which the Lord hath commanded, and exhort them to attend to duties on evangelical principles. Ezek. 33:32; Matt. 28:19,20.

Ministers should preach in the way of application, speaking to the people, not only concerning them, but also questioning them in such a manner as this, "Did you see your ruined state, and the value of the Gospel and its treasures? Do you believe the Word of God? Do you receive Christ? Have you experienced the virtues of the Gospel, and imbibed them? Do you bring forth good fruits to God, conducting yourself becoming the Gospel of Christ?" Tit. 2:10-12; Rom. 7:4; Gal. 2:19; Phil. 1:27.

Ministers ought to distinguish their hearers, appropriating to each his own portion, thus "rightly dividing the word of truth," and separating the precious from the vile; giving their own share to believers, the ungodly, and hypocrites, yea to the people of God in various circumstances and trials. Preachers should not address any of their hearers as reasonable creatures that are not very sinful; if so, they would be like men beating the air, addressing such persons as are not to be met with: but they should accost their hearers as fallen and lost sinners, totally corrupt, shewing them their misery, and the way to escape. They may address other persons as those that had been lost, but now are found, – that had been far off, but were made "nigh by the blood of Christ;" yea now as in Christ, having received the reconciliation, being born of God; they should shew the great happiness of such, and their obligation to set forth the goodness of him that called them, and to walk as the children of light.

Oh! that every preacher would consider the unspeakable greatness of his work; then levity, frivolity, and pride, would no more appear in them, and the conceit of being some great personage would cease. They would exclaim, "who is sufficient?" None, we are sure, but those whose sufficiency is of God. Oh! that God would be pleased to raise up powerful ministers, each like the "angel that fled through the heavens, having the everlasting Gospel."

5. There is a great necessity that the hearers should consider the nature and end of preaching the Gospel: without this, they cannot understand how they should hear. It is to be feared that many have but poor ends in going to hear, and an unsuitable and unbecoming manner in hearing the Word. Though there are great deficiencies and even wretchedness in ministers, yet, it is painful to say, "the people love to have it so." Many "turn away their ears from the truth, and are turned unto fables." Many delight in hearing carnal preachers, that use "enticing words, according to man's wisdom." Jer. 5:31; 2 Tim. 4:4; 1 John 4:5. Many go to the house of God as matter of custom, hearing nothing to profit; others come to admire the talents and eloquence of the preacher. Others come from some carnal curiosity; expecting something new and extraordinary. Few come with a view to hear and know "what the Lord says;" hearing the servant of the Most High, declaring the message of his Lord to them.

Oh! that God would be pleased in mercy to draw near to us, pouring his Spirit upon us, that his Word may be preached, heard, and received as the Gospel of his grace, and experienced as the "power of God unto salvation," by many sinners.