Christ"s Qualifications As a Preacher. The Necessity of Character—Christ"s Intellectual Resources—What We Owe to the Enemy—the Variety of Christ"s Method
Almighty God, we come to thee in the name of thy Song of Solomon, Jesus Christ our Saviour, and not ours only, but the Saviour of the whole world, who by his precious blood answered all the accusation of thy law. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life, and there is none other, and we now accept him as thy gift, the very utterance and expression of thine own infinite love. We rejoice to know that there is one God and one Mediator between God and Prayer of Manasseh, the Man Christ Jesus; we come therefore to thee, through him alone: in him is our worthiness, in him is our strength, and if we are dumb before thee, it is that he himself may pray for us.
We thank thee that we still have an interest in the affairs of thy kingdom. Time doth not charm us, and all the earth with its fulness and all the sea with its music cannot content us. We declare plainly that we seek a country; our eyes are lifted up, and we seek a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Thou hast stirred us by a Divine ambition, thou art moving us by heavenly impulses, the unrest which disturbs our heart is itself a blessing, calling upon us to arise and work and serve and wait and suffer until the end, which is full of light, shall come.
Wherein we have done wrong in thy sight do thou now exercise thy mercy, that the miracle of thy forgiveness may exceed the marvel of our guilt. Thou hast an answer to us in Christ Jesus: he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. Lo, this is thy gospel, to our heart when it smites itself with accusation, and to our conscience when it rises threateningly and demands our life. Help us to find rest in Christ, refuge in the cross, and peace in the holy blood—then let thy word dwell in us richly as a new life and a new light, the very glory of Heaven, the very peace of God. So shall we have an answer to every tempter, a refuge in the time of every tempest, and our peace shall be complete, because it is of the nature of the tranquillity of God. Help us to use our time well: may no talent be wrapped up and laid aside, may we be living at every point of our character, yea, may there be no death in us at all; even now may we lay hold upon our immortality and bring to bear upon the things of the dying day the power of an endless life.
Where there is sorrow of heart this day, surprise the sorrowful with new joys: where there is a sense of blankness and emptiness because of the visitations of thy bereaving providence, do thou fill up such blankness with thy presence more fully than ever thou hast yet done. When the tears are in the eyes and the sob is suppressed in the heart, bring thy gospel in all its tender solaces and infinite consolations to bear upon the bruised and heavy laden. Interpret unto us the meaning of the grave that is dug under our own hearthstone—show us why death is a continual guest at our table, and do thou thus interpret unto us the mystery of life and give unto us the piety which sees the bright view, the far and celestial outlook, that anticipates the resurrection, the utter and lasting destruction of death. Then shall our voices mingle with the sweet hymn in thy house that gives thee praise for all thy dispensation, and the psalm that adores thee shall have in it the utterance of our love.
Text: "The Lord hath anointed me to preach."— Isaiah 61:1
Christ"s supreme qualification as a preacher was that he himself was the Word made flesh, was both the text and the sermon, the doctrine and its exemplification. That must be the qualification of his ministers: in such degree as is possible to them they must be incarnations of the very spirit and perfection of God. They will not, of course, succeed in this, but they will press towards the mark for the prize of their high calling of God in Christ Jesus. I am not aware that any promise is given to genius or learning, in the matter of expounding the Divine word, but exceeding great and precious promises are given to modesty, humility, trust, childlike love, transparent, ingenuous simplicity. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. The Lord resisteth the proud, but he giveth grace unto the humble. You will find at the basis of Christ"s ministry what must be at the basis of every ministry that is divine, true, and beneficent—solid character. This is the character of Jesus Christ:—Without sin; a just man; innocent blood; no fault in him; he did no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. That is the basis of all vital and lasting influence in every man. In the long run character goes for most. Tongues cease, prophecy fails, eloquence is dumb, and music is silent, but character, charity, love, abideth forever.
You mistake Jesus Christ if you think of him as a miracle-worker only. He made nothing of his miracles, except as means to ends. He was never intoxicated by the eulogiums of the people who said, "Never man spake like this Prayer of Manasseh," who wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth like rich, deep rivers running in green pastures. He was not stopped in his course by being applauded as the most perfect, graceful, and eloquent speaker of his time, a magician in the use of words and a master in their application. All those trivial compliments he despised: he was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners—with us, above us, here, yonder, on earth, in Heaven—that weird mystery that eternally frightens all wickedness. He was more than a merely good man—that, being a very doubtful description, may mean much that Jesus Christ would have resented. He was holy, he was in deep sympathy with God, he dwelt in the secret place of the Almighty, he made his habitation in the Lord, whereas in our case the temple may have a thousand pinnacles flashing in the sun, and on every pinnacle a thousand marble gods, but the temple itself is on the sand, and the wind will carry it away.
First of all, there must be in all Christian teachers, public or private, high or obscure, solid, indestructible character. But there will be imperfections? Certainly. Mistakes, failures in judgment, sometimes actions that seem to mock the very first suggestions of common sense? Truly. These things do not touch character. You may fall a thousand times a day, and still there may be in you that seed of the divine sonship which the devil cannot steal, and which winter cannot bind up in more than temporary frost. When I speak of character, I do not speak of what is termed outward and visible perfection—a mechanically-wrought contrivance of expediencies, which challenge the most jealous and critical human eye—but of an inner kingdom of spirit, conviction, sympathy, purpose, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. Peter fell: Peter was not lost. All men have fallen, yet man shall be saved. This is a great mystery, but I speak to those who understand it by many a suffering, by many a grief, by many a tragedy too sacred for words.
Not only was Christ holy, he was called. It is not every good man that is called to preach. Jesus Christ was distinctly called to this high work of the ministry. "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek. He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound." "Behold my servant whom I uphold, mine elect in whom my soul delighteth. I have put my spirit upon him." "God giveth not the spirit by measure unto him." God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power. Thus, then, Jesus Christ was a holy Man—I now take the merely human view of the case—distinctly and specifically called of God to preach a certain gospel. It is beautiful to think that almost every Prayer of Manasseh, when he is converted, wants to be a minister. Do not ridicule the young ambition. There is an element of grandeur—shall I say of divinity?—about it. Have I ever received a young man into the church who did not come to me soon after and say that he felt as if he would like to be a minister, a preacher of the truth which has made him what he is in his new life? Yea, in that first love, in that early passion of consecration, he is willing to be a missionary—an enthusiasm which often dies out too soon. He says he will be a home missionary, he will even be an evangelist; his love is so simple, large, and pure, that he will be a door-keeper in the house of the Lord. Well, it is morally beautiful, it is spiritually pathetic, exquisite in the perfectness of its delicacy, and in the subtlety of its deepest meanings, yet every man is not called to be a minister. I gently discourage all I can from being preachers. My gentle discouragements will do them no harm: if God really means to have them in this work, he will know where to find them and how to call them. You cannot mistake fire—was fire ever mistaken for anything else? It is a baptism of fire with which God anoints his chosen ones. It is fire that makes the difference between one man and another; it is not intelligence, it is not the mere use of words. The most copious speakers I have ever heard in my life have been to me the most inane and pointless. What was wanted? Fire. Who can despise it? None. Who can feel it? All. Be quiet, then, for the time, my neophyte; see whether it is really God"s fire that is under thee, and in thee, and round about thee—it cannot easily be put out, and there will be no mistaking it by-and-by.
Men are called to be what they are. Every musician is called of God. Do you suppose that every man who has ten fingers can play the organ? Do you suppose that every man who has large lungs can play upon a trumpet to the instruction and edification of those who hear him—to their lifting up and their resurrection? Every poet is called to make his verse: he is anointed of God. Herein is that saying true which a Frenchman spoke, to whom it was said, "It must be very difficult to make epic verses." Said Hebrews, "No: easy, or impossible." Every tradesman is called to his employment, if he be in the right sphere. A tradesman cannot be made any more than a poet. I know how to account for all the failures in commercial life; either the men are not in their right places, and were never meant for those places, or there is that necessary want of energy and genius, tact and perseverance, which comes out of antipathy to the pursuit. Train up a child in the way he should go, catch God"s idea concerning him, interpret the Divine idea in the creation of his life, and then you will have a natural, symmetrical, and happy development of faculty and energy and love, and at the last you will have a life beautiful for its completeness and utility.
I am not sure that any man has yet made enough of Christ"s intellectual resources as a preacher. I do not remember any essay upon the intellect of Christ. We, of course, as Evangelical Christians, believe him to have been God the Son—that is the central fact in my Christian faith. But speaking of him now as a historical character, merely as a preacher, a speaker, a teacher of men, I feel that we have not dwelt sufficiently upon the intellectual virility, fecundity, and majesty of Christ. Only this morning the idea occurred to me how his intellectual power is displayed in the hell which he described in the lesson I have just read. Thinking of my service this morning, that conception of hell came before me as one of the finest exemplifications of the intellectual power of Christ, and therefore I determined to read to you, as I have now done, that solemn and mysterious parable concerning the rich man and Lazarus. I will risk my whole contention as to Christ"s intellectual supremacy upon that one parable. I read Dante"s hell till I became familiar with it: it is a poet labouring to kindle a hell with fagots of words, and the trick is well done. But you may multiply words till you work in the hearer a familiarity which makes him a critic upon the very hell you meant him to fear. What a hell is this, in the passage we have just read! "Have mercy on me,"—the man is in a place, for the first time in his being, where mercy never came,—"send Lazarus"—the humiliation that forms part of the final penalty—"that he may dip the tip of his finger in water"—the very least blessing magnified into a redemption—"and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame." He made that hell who made the parable of the Prodigal Son! These colours are thrown on with a master"s touch: there is no labour here. Dante"s hell is a perdition which the poet has dreamed, Christ"s hell is a pit which he has seen.
All the parables indicate the supreme intellectual majesty of Christ. There was no end to his inventiveness. All his parables are original. To-day we have books of anecdotes, thick books, sold for ministerial use, that the minister may feather his arrows with anecdotes imagined by other men. If I told you twenty anecdotes, I should have borrowed them from various sources. Christ made his anecdotes, invented his parables, elaborated, out of an inexhaustible genius, all the beauteous pictures which he hung up before the eye and the fancy of his hearers. Gather them altogether into one gallery, mark their contrasts, their varieties—hardly any two of them alike—why, he who made the flowers made these paradisal plants; they bear the same signature, they have about them the same mystery—alike, dissimilar, identical, separate—all the widest contrasts possible to imagination. The parable of the Sower and the parable of Dives and Lazarus came out of the same mind. The parable of the Good Samaritan, and the parables by which the kingdom of heaven is illustrated in twenty different shining lights, all came out of the same mind; and that mind had never been at school, that mind was an untrained peasant"s mind, that mind never knew letters in the rabbinical and scholastic sense of the term, and yet it grew those flowers, like a garden tilled by an invisible hand, of which God was the husbandman. Collect these things, dwell upon them, and see how they add up to—Deity!
But the instantaneousness of the speech was as remarkable as its inventiveness. Christ"s was not the art that conceals art, not the trick of a preacher who can have a long written sermon before him, and yet be so reading it as to appear not to be reading it at all. Jesus Christ knew nothing of our homiletic tricks. He had no time to prepare some of his sublimest utterances; they were retorts How long would it take me to make the parable of the Good Samaritan? Would you begrudge me three days if I asked that time in which to make the parable? I believe you would willingly grant me that space for preparation. How long did Christ take? An immeasurable moment. The tempting lawyer said, "Who is my neighbour?" And Hebrews, answering, said—. Then came that beautiful utterance: not a three days" thinking, not a week"s preparation, but an answer out of the abundance of the heart. The heart that could give such utterances every day was not a peasant"s heart only, it was—God"s.
All the most beautiful parables of Christ were spoken in reply to the enemy. "Then drew near to him the publicans and the sinners to hear him. And he said, "A certain man had two sons."" Then came the parable of the Prodigal Son. Look at Christ"s knowledge of human nature. He needed not that any should testify of Prayer of Manasseh, for he knew what was in man. That was one of his supreme qualifications as a public expounder of Divine mysteries. He knew his audience; he knew his material. A great musician says, "I must know my organ." One of the greatest musicians in our land says, that before you can play any organ you must get out of your memory every other organ you ever touched, and must make the particular instrument to be played upon a separate and independent study. Jesus Christ knew every string in the instrument he had to play. Socrates says the orator must be all man. Jesus Christ needed not that any should testify of Prayer of Manasseh, for he knew what was in man.
This must be the secret of our power as preachers and teachers and private expositors of the Divine mysteries. Not to know human nature is to be ignorant. To know human nature is to speak all languages. Some men have the spirit of burning who have not the spirit of judgment in this matter. What shall we say of a young man who, in the excess of his zeal, was giving away religious tracts, and to two acquaintances of my own, two very respectable citizen-mothers, two ladies of the highest character, this young man gave a tract, each on the subject of profane swearing? You could hardly believe any such idiocy: you could scarcely believe that any man could perpetrate so foul an irony. If thou dost not know human nature thy ministry will be a pitiful failure. Know how to speak to every man. If he is a weakling who comes to thee, chaffer like a weakling, and make him feel like a hail fellow well met, and he will go away saying, "Well, really, he is not such a great man as I thought he was: I felt as if we were just standing on a level." That"s right. That is genius. And when the great man comes to talk to thee, speak in another language—take him on his own level, and he will say as he is going away, "I did not expect to find so superior and distinguished a man." That is genius. To the weak, weak; to the strong, strong; to the shrewd, shrewd; to the simple, simple; to all men, all things. So was Christ. A ruler among the Jews could talk to him till his flesh crept as if ghosts were tormenting him all over, and a woman at a well could talk to him and ask him questions, and little children could go up to him and toddle about him as if they had the right to do Song of Solomon, and kings and procurators turned pale in his presence, and were made silent by his silence. He looked at them till they were afraid of themselves. He knew what was in Prayer of Manasseh, yet he was a peasant, a carpenter, a Nazarene—whence had this Man this wisdom? And echo answers, "Whence?" And the answer only comes from eternity.
Then consider what an eye he had for the suggestiveness of the material world. A sparrow falling to the ground, a lily growing, a ship sailing, the fields whitening unto the harvest, the sky lowering, red at night, red in the morning—all things helped him to make his ministry clearer, fuller, stronger. The whole heaven and earth became to him a great gallery of illustration; every star was a teacher, every flower had in it the power of suggesting to him deeper and ever deeper truth. Lift up thine eyes and behold; seek not in thy worm-eaten books for new Revelation, seek for them in God"s lights and God"s flowers, old as immemorial time, new as the dew that was made out of the viscid vapours last night.
Jesus Christ availed himself of every method. What was Jesus Christ"s method of preaching? You cannot tell. The chariots of God are twenty thousand. He taught; then his voice fell into a conversational tone; he was expository, communicative, illuminative; he took words, and terms, and phrases to pieces; he went back upon the old writings, and put them into new forms—set them so that they could catch the light at angles hitherto unillumined. He solemnly, quietly taught the people, spoke with infinite dignity, scarcely seemed to move a finger or a feature; in the deepest sense of infinite quiet and peace, he taught the people. His words were light, his sentences were baptisms, his expositions were revelations—the quietness overawed and soothed the auditors.
That was one method. Was he always the same? No. He cried. I should like to have heard the uplifting of his voice. "And Jesus stood—on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood"—usually he sat to teach the people, but on that day he stood, full height, expanded to the utmost of his dignity, "And cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." Not a note lost, every tone alighting upon every man as if the whole of it belonged to him, an entire gospel for his thirsting soul. So it is this day—the thirst is here, it burns our heart, it scorches our tongue, it dries up our whole life, and still that sweet, resonant voice is lifted up in its cry of welcome, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink."
Was that his only method—of teaching and crying? No: he entreated. "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, beautiful as a sister, tender as a mother, city of cities, how often would I have gathered thee and thou wouldst not be gathered. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man open the door I will come in."
These were the methods of Christ: he taught quietly as a sage, cried loudly like an evangelist, wooed, entreated, persuaded, warned—like one whose whole life was love, and who lived in the pain and agony of his affection.
These were Jesus Christ"s qualifications: a solid, holy character, a specific, Divine call, an intellectual power more than equal to every occasion, an inventiveness never rivalled in its fecundity, an instantaneousness that outran the lightning, a knowledge of human nature that looked into every vein and fibre of our life and soul, an eye for the beautiful and grand in physical creation, and a method diversified, so that to have heard him once was to have known nothing about him. He taught, he cried, he entreated, he came in all ways that he might bring us to God.
In which way will you come? Do you yield to teaching? Jesus taught. Do you answer appeal? Jesus appealed. Do you say you are not to be driven, you are to be led? Jesus entreated, and yearned, and persuaded, and waited for, till a mother would have tired and a father would have died. "What more could I do?" saith he. He has been to us Father and Mother, Sister, Shepherd, and Nurse and Friend, a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation? How can your genius for escape exceed his genius for redemption? It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 61". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent