Jerry C. Brewer
Jesus’ preaching elicited opinions from His hearers that He was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets (Matt. 16:13-14). To understand why they thought that, one needs to look at the preaching of those men. John was beheaded because of his devotion to the truth (Matt. 14:1-12). Elijah boldly opposed Baal’s false prophets on Mount Carmel (1 Ki. 18:20-40). In the face of hostility and danger to his own life, Jeremiah thundered God’s awful warnings to a wicked and backsliding Israel (Jer. 26:8-11; 37:15-16), and Jesus was ultimately crucified because He spoke the truth (Matt. 26:1-4; 27:23-26). All of these were men of deepest conviction and devotion to the word of God. Fearing no man, they preached His message and were willing to suffer persecution and/or death for their preaching.
Amid cries for “change” that are raised by those who disdain a “thus saith the Lord”, the church across the world is in the throes of apostasy. That has resulted from watered-down preaching by weak-kneed appeasers who have neither conviction nor courage. They have sold out to Satan and his denominational servants, perverted the gospel to their own ends, and would rather climb a tree to preach sectarian lies than stand on the ground and preach the truth. Having more concern for “unity-in-diversity” than the “faith once delivered,” they have rejected the devoted spirit that animated Jesus, John, Elijah, and Jeremiah.
But the spirit of those men burned intensely in the late 18th and early 19th century restorers. They turned the world upside down with their clarion call to return to Biblical principles, to reject human creeds, and to speak where the Bible speaks (1 Pet. 4:11). Without today’s material advantages, they willingly, and wholly, gave themselves to the cause of the Lord. Earl West presents their magnificent portrait:
They loved liberty and were willing to sacrifice everything for what they believed to be true…At first their views were peculiar to most hearers. Consequently, they invoked study. Moreover, with the clergy of the day they were greatly abhorred. Nobody accepted then the gospel message because it was popular, for it wasn’t. There was that courageous love for the liberty of the gospel, free from human creeds and from the authority of council that gave the impetus for men to submit to the living oracles. Once converted, they worked intensely to convert others. They were convinced they were right and would have others to be. The whole restoration movement soon took on the color of belligerency and aggressiveness. These pioneers believed in their cause, and they pressed on, wilting before no tribunal, but with the profound conviction that they had the truth and that the truth, under God, would triumph (127)
While we do not place the pioneers of the restoration on the same level as inspired men, we admire their fervor and its consequent results. Like Jeremiah, God’s truth burned in their souls and they were not able to contain it (Jer. 20:9). West’s observation offers great lessons on the kind of preaching that remains necessary in our time. The gospel they preached, which swept the frontier like a prairie fire, consumed the hearts of its hearers. Their message was not one of compromise and they who proclaimed it were willing to sacrifice for it. That should be the conviction of every man who mounts a pulpit today.
The pioneers’ preaching was “peculiar” and invoked study by their hearers. What is distinctive about our preaching today? Do hearers leave the assemblies and search the scriptures after hearing our preaching? There is no need for them to do so when much of what is called “gospel” preaching today is designed to soothe the psyche, instead of pricking the heart. There is no need to study the scriptures when preachers deliver entertaining, “feel-good” sermons that could be preached in any denominational pulpit in town with the approval of its auditors. Sermons of flattery, praise and public relations offer no incentive for Bible study.
True gospel preaching will always bring opposition from many who hear it. Jeremiah suffered opposition (Jer. 26:8-11). Ahab accused Elijah of troubling Israel because of his preaching (1 Ki. 18:17), and Jesus incurred the wrath of the Pharisees, but did not shrink from His scathing denunciation of their ungodliness (Matt. 23). How unlike those who strike hands with denominational error today! Jesus was ignorant of the oxymoronic concept of “unity-in-diversity.” So was Paul, whose preaching resulted in a Jewish plot against his life (Acts 23:1-12). Like Jeremiah, Elijah, and Jesus, the pioneers and their message were “abhorred” by the clergy of their day.
A sterling example of courageous preaching that is sorely needed today is the Old Testament account of Micaiah. Israel’s king, Ahab, and Judah’s king, Jehoshaphat, allied to make war against the Syrian king at Ramoth-Gilead. But before he would consent to the plan, Jehoshaphat asked Ahab to inquire of the Lord about the matter. When Ahab produced 400 false prophets who told the kings wanted they wanted to hear, Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we may inquire of him” (2 Ki. 22:2-7). Ahab’s answer could have been spoken of most faithful preachers today. “And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the Lord: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil” (2 Ki. 22:8)
When Jehoshaphat insisted on consulting Micaiah, the messenger who was sent to fetch him gave him some stern advice about the message he should deliver, but Micaiah was true to his calling:
And the messenger that was gone to call Micaiah spake unto him, saying, Behold now, the words of the prophets declare good unto the king with one mouth: let thy word, I pray thee, be like the word of one of them, and speak that which is good. And Micaiah said, As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak (1 Ki. 22:13-14).
Micaiah could have stood before the kings, clasped hands with the false prophets, raised them above his head, and given his blessing to their smooth words. Having done so, he would have received the praise of the false prophets and the blessings of the kings, and achieved “unity-in-diversity” with them. But that was not the message of God. Micaiah was not only bold in proclaiming God’s message, but called the false prophets liars as well (2 Ki. 22:15-23). What he spoke incurred Ahab’s wrath and resulted in his imprisonment (2 Ki. 22:26-27). Micaiah was a man of deep conviction, in whose soul burned a love for God’s word, and he was willing to suffer rather than compromise that word.
The ancient gospel will still bring not only the same salvation today that it brought when first preached; it will also bring vitriolic opposition from the secular and religious world toward those who have the courage to preach it. When the heat of battle bears down upon us, we must never falter or compromise. With our faces steadfastly set toward Jerusalem, and our souls set for the defense of the gospel, God’s servants must always,
…preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come [has come, JCB] when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables (2 Tim. 4:2-4).
All Scripture quotations are from the King James Version
West, Earl Irvin, The Search For The Ancient Order, Gospel Advocate Co., Nashville, 1964, Vol. 1