How to convict and convert sinners...

Preaching Christ

"And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." 1 Cor. 2:1-2

Henry Ward Beecher: The New Testament teaches, in the most unequivocal manner, that Jesus Christ is very God. He may therefore be conceived as dwelling in the majesty and supernal glory of heavenly government. Or we may follow faintly in imagination all the rounds of creation, and conceive of his creative acts; for all things were made by [means of] him, and without him was not any thing made that is made. Or we may consider his administrative life, and reflect upon his power in renewing, sustaining, and enriching the natural world. Or we may conceive of him as the head of a government over mankind, administered through natural laws, with special divine volitions and purposes which we call providential. In either case our conceptions will be profitable and ennobling; but they will benefit us just in proportion as we are advanced in moral culture, and have begun to be ourselves in some measure like God.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" Matt. 5:8.

But ah! how many, then, can see him? Without holiness no man shall see the Lord. But the whole world lieth in wickedness; and how shall we arouse them, inspire hope in them, and bring them, imperfect, sinful, and guilty, to be influenced of God? The reply is already uttered in these words:

"The Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" John 1:29.

Those traits and attributes which lead God to pardon sin and to heal sinners are manifested in Christ Jesus, and it was this pardoning aspect of Christ as God that the apostle so much dwelt upon and so insists upon here. For he does not merely declare, "I determined not to know any thing among you save Jesus Christ." He might know him as Creator, and even as Administrator. He declares, "I determined not to know anything among you save Christ, and him crucified." It is a crucified Savior, and not merely the Savior Christ as God, that the apostle was determined to know. And in the chapter preceding this he says, "The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). Not the presentation of Christ as God that is often made, but that peculiar presentation of Christ as God which the cross symbolizes - it is this that the apostle declares to be the foundation of his ministry.

The very reliance which he had for success was this - that he believed in such a Savior, and was determined to draw from the consideration of such a Savior all those influences by which he hoped to effect the renovation of men and of society.

This is the reason, then, why Paul so much emphasized the cross, the crucifixion, and the death of Christ. It is God under material conditions, suffering unto bodily death for sinful men, that furnishes the most stimulating and subduing influences that can be brought to bear upon the human soul. Therefore, in going forth upon his apostolic mission, he relied upon the influences that there were in a crucified Savior to revolutionize the human soul and transform the life.

It is said that Christ crucified was unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23). The Jew had a conception of the Messiah, but it was an intensely worldly conception. It was altogether sensuous - physical. It contemplated empire; earthly wealth; political power; palaces, and thrones, and armies, and dominions. When, therefore, a broken Jesus was presented to them, humbling himself, and becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, lower than the lowest, and less than the least, he was indeed a stumbling-block to the Jews.

He was foolishness to the Greeks. There was no part of their nature that could understand him. There was no part of their nature that could understand the suffering of the Divine Being for the sake of his creatures. In all their mythology there was no record of any gods that had any trait or attribute which would lead them to suffer in behalf of inferior beings.

But Paul had felt the power on his own heart of a broken Christ. The presentation of such a Christ had done its work upon him. He knew what it had done for him. He had seen, too, what influence it had upon others; and it was the very power by which he hoped to change the world.

There is a great scale of motives which influence men, and which may, in their own rank and place, be addressed to men for the production of right conduct. We may attempt to dissuade men from evil by the intrinsic hatefulness of evil. We may attempt to persuade men to a course of holiness on account of the beauty of holiness. We may teach men to leave off things that are wrong, and to revolt from them because they are wrong. We may teach men to follow that which is good because goodness is attractive to every right-minded and noble nature. In this intrinsic hatefulness of evil and attractiveness of good there is a power which we may properly employ.

We may appeal to the self-interest of men, and teach that "godliness is profitable in all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (1 Tim. 4:8). There is a degree of power in that presentation to many minds.

There are motives that may in some measure touch every faculty of the soul. But in its nature the soul responds most, not to those collateral motives which are drawn from the things which exist about us, but to those which bring upon us the influence of God's own personal presence. The sense of his being, of his eternity, and of the immortality in which he dwells - this is that to which the soul most responds.

It is true that men are so shut out from these views that they are, as a matter of fact, more powerfully influenced by worldly considerations; but the nature of the mind is such that when you can fairly bring to bear upon it these higher motives, they are capable of producing greater changes in it than can any secular, sordid motives whatsoever.

But when divine and infinite things are brought before the mind, some things are more apt to stimulate men than others. Those views which impress the mind with its own weakness, and want, and imperfection, and guilt, and dreadful danger, are very apt to be influential. The impression of these things upon the mind is the result of preaching Christ crucified; of calling attention to the stupendousness of the offering that he made when he gave himself for the world; of pointing out all the steps accompanying his mission on earth, that were afterward declared to be necessary on account of the sinfulness of every human creature, from which sinfulness, without the atonement, men could never have been saved. It is impossible, it seems to me, to produce a rational and realizing sense of man's sinfulness unless you make sin to consist in violations against a living person. When you preach to men that they have broken the law of God, they do not seem to be brought very near to the Divine Majesty; but when you hold up before them not only the justice of God, but his generosity as manifested through Christ, recounting to them the history of his sufferings and the story of his love, you bring them to a sense of their offense against the Most High, which wakes up in the soul, if there is a spark of love in it, a generous sorrow. If you desire to bring to men a view that shall convict them of their sinfulness, you must spread before them the sufferings and death, as well as the love and everlasting beneficence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

You may measure human conduct by law, and represent the issues of conduct as wise or foolish; but, after all, though there is a certain measure of truth in this direction, that which seizes the soul, and fills it with enthusiasm of emotion, is that truth which brings before the mind the character of Christ as the Savior of sinners.

Those views which represent God as profoundly concerned for man, as attempting to rescue him, and as willing himself to bear the pains and penalties of sin, rather than that we should suffer, have in their very nature a remarkable power and tendency to arouse and affect the whole human soul.

Those views which represent the attractive love of God, burning in his deep soul toward sinful beings while yet in sin, and working out endlessly in endeavors to build them up in beauty and holiness, are admirably adapted to influence the minds of men.

Those views which represent the intimate love of Christ for his disciples, and his familiarity with them, and the spiritual communion which is begun here and is to be consummated hereafter, disclosing the whole economy [nature] of God's saving grace as manifested in Christ Jesus, have a constitutional [inherent], and, I might almost say, an everlasting relation to the understanding, to the feelings, to the will, to every part of the human soul.

This revelation of God in Christ is a power compared with which there is no other power worth naming. It is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). It is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). Above all other known influences it controls the human heart, inspires it with love, and with purity through loving.

Therefore, when the apostle said, "I determined not to know any thing among you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified," he avowed his faith that, in the presentation of the divine nature as represented by Christ, there is more moral power upon the heart and the conscience than in any other thing, and his determination to draw influences from that source in all his work.

In view of this, I remark,

1. The personal influence of Jesus Christ upon the heart is the first requisite for a Christian preacher. We may preach much about Christ, but no man will preach Christ except so far as Christ is in him. No man can set forth the soul's need of Christ who has not felt that need in his own soul. No man can urgently plead the joy of salvation through Christ who has not experienced that joy in his own heart. It is not enough to have a knowledge of theology, though that is not to be despised. It is not enough to know the mind of man, though the philosophy [psychology] of the human mind is not to be disregarded, and is, in its place, almost indispensable. The secret of success in the preaching of the Gospel is that the preacher himself shall have felt the power of that Gospel.

There are many men that by natural gifts are qualified to stand eminent and preeminent above their fellows, who, though they have a certain kind of personal influence, exert but little religious influence; and, on the other hand, there are many men that are comparatively of slender stature and small endowment, whose life is like a rushing, mighty wind in the influence which it exerts. The presence of Christ in them is the secret of their power. The poorest man, the most ignorant man, is mighty through God. If his soul is aroused and inspired by the hope, by the faith, and the love which are in Christ Jesus, he has a power that others can not derive from mere learning, from wisdom, or from any other source.

It is not learning, nor eloquence, nor flow of natural enthusiasm, but that stir and glow which a genuine experience of love, and faith in Christ give, that make a man an efficacious witness and teacher of the Lord Jesus Christ. And I do not mean merely in the pulpit.

There is to be professional preaching, but every disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ is, in his own way, to be a preacher. Every parent is to be a preacher to his children. Every schoolmaster or schoolmistress is to be a preacher to his or her pupils. Every man is to be a preacher to those that are subject to his influence. There is not a Christian who has not a parish in which he is bound to preach. Where there is a palpitating love of holiness, where there is a zealous fear of offending God, where the soul yearns and longs for Christ Jesus, it is strange with what a witching power it is endowed.

2. A man's success in preaching will depend upon his power of presenting before men the Lord Jesus Christ. I have said that the experience of Christ's presence in one's own soul was the first requisite. This requisite being possessed, he will have most success in selecting topics for discourses who has power most effectually to present to the minds of his congregation the nature of God as set forth in Christ Jesus. There is a great deal of useful didactic matter that every minister must give to his congregation. There is a great deal of doctrinal matter that he must introduce into his preaching.

I do not dissuade from doctrine. It is only the despotisms of doctrine that I would discountenance. No one is fit to instruct his congregation who can not present, with some logical coherence, the great truths of which he speaks. Doctrines have their place in preaching, though not the chiefest place.

There is also much of fact, of history, and of description that belongs to the ministerial desk. The Bible is full of material for these things. Ethics should occupy an important place in every minister's teaching. The nature of the human mind; the methods by which it acts; the analysis of character; men's occupations; all the sinuous channels in which our thoughts and feelings run - these are things that it is proper to take up and explain in the pulpit.

But high above all these topics; high above abstract propositions; high above facts of history; above all descriptions; above all teaching of what is right and duty - high above them all is the fountain of influence, Christ, a living person who gave himself a ransom for sinners, and now ever lives to make intercession for them. Though one preaches every other truth, if he leaves this chiefest one out, or abbreviates it, he will come short of the essential work of the Gospel. Put this in, and you have all, as it were, in brief.

The power of the Christian ministry is in the presentation, not simply of great truths, but of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. In that will be the measure of its real and lasting influence.

3. There can be no sound and effective method of preaching ethics, even, which does not derive their authority from the Lord Jesus Christ. The motives derivable from the secular and human side of ethics are relatively feeble. Even if one chose to preach the great moralities of life, it were wise to ground them in God.

Morality, without spirituality, has no roots. It becomes a thing of custom, changeable, transient, and optional. The dispute sometimes waged between doctrine and practice would never be allowed if high doctrines reached forth to practical results, and if precepts and morality reached back to divine authority. There is no need of controversy any more than between science and art, between pure mathematics and mathematics applied, between analytic chemistry and organic chemistry.

There may be a practical mistake in the proportionate administration of the one or the other element - the abstract or the concrete; but the dynamics and proportions of teaching must be largely left to the judgment and the original nature of each teacher. Men work by different mental instruments. Each man has a right to his own genius; but, whatever method is pursued, the indispensable connection between the spiritual element and the practical development should be maintained.

Morality without spirituality is a plant without root, and spirituality without morality is a root without stem and leaves.

The great mistake which men make in regard to the introduction into the pulpit on the Sabbath-day of what are called secular topics, is, that they do not conceive that such topics are to be discussed in the light of higher truths, and that they are to derive their influence and authority from the considerations which flow from the nature of Christ, and his claims upon us.

I have a right to speak upon agriculture here - not as agriculture alone, but in the relations which it sustains to religion. "Ye are God's husbandry" (1 Cor. 3:9), saith the apostle. Many men are in that calling. It has an influence upon their thoughts, and feelings, and acts, and is working all the time in one way or another upon their souls, and it is my business to draw from it lessons for their instruction and benefit.

Are you called to be a mariner [seaman]? Then there are a thousand lessons that it is my business to draw from the life of a mariner, because they touch you.

Are you called to be a tradesman? Then there are multitudes of lessons that it is my business to draw from the vocation of a tradesman, because it is taking hold of your tastes and habits, and is framing and fashioning something of your immortality.

I am bound to discuss financial questions - not for the sake of money, as a banker would discuss them, but because they have an influence upon the life and destiny of those whom they concern.

I have a right to introduce into my sermons all secular topics as far as they are connected with man's moral character, and his hopes of immortality. If I discuss them in a merely secular way, I desecrate the pulpit; but if I discuss them in the spirit of Christ, and for Christ's sake, that I may draw men out of their peculiar dangers, and lead them into a course of right living, then I give dignity and nobility to the pulpit.

4. All reformations of evil in society, all civil and social reformations, should spring from this vital center. It seems to me to be a very dangerous thing to preach Christ so [in such a way] that your preaching shall not be a constant rebuke to all the evil in the community. That man who so preaches Christ, doctrinally or historically, that no one takes offense, no one feels rebuked, no one trembles, is not a legitimate and faithful preacher of Christ.

On the other hand, it is a dangerous thing for a man to attack evil in the spirit of only hatred. To arouse evil feelings against evil, to contend against malignant mischief by malignant passions, is surely not Christian! The sublime wisdom of the New Testament is this: "Overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21).

The fundamental rule for a reformer is that he shall not only hate evil, but cleave to that which is good. A man's love of that which is good should be more powerful, if possible, than his hatred of that which is evil; for if a man attempts to reform evil because he hates it, he brings himself into one of the most dangerous states of mind. It is demoralizing to a community to have reforms spring from hatred of evil; but those reforms which spring from the love of Christ are regulated, tempered, restrained. That man only is truly a reformer who is a Christian reformer.

Was Christ not a reformer? Did he not come to save the world? Did he not come to save the intemperate, the unjust, the dishonest? And when he lived, did he not hate evil? Did he not abhor it? Was he not that God before whose sight no evil could be allowed? And yet with what wondrous pity, and with what sweetness of love did he dwell in the midst of these things, so that the publicans [tax- collectors] - those men that were debauched and corrupted with the handling of public moneys, learning every trick of iniquity in consequence of it - so that the publicans and the sinners (for that is the term by which those fallen creatures that even to this day swarm our streets are known in Scripture) took heart, became inspired with hope, and drew near to him in strong faith and confidence that there was pity for them in him.

Christ reformed men by inspiring the love of goodness as well as by hatred of evil, and he drew men from their sin as well as drove them from it. All hatred of evil is unchristian which is not mingled with compassion for the evil-doer.

The passions are to be controlled by the inspiration of moral sentiments. The sweetness of that which is good, the beauty of that which is right, the majesty of that which is just and true, are to work along with the hatred of evil, and to work in double measure. Evil is to be abhorred, but abhorrence must not overtop benevolence!

The cleansing of the immoral, the liberation of the enslaved, the restraint of sultry lusts, the detection of criminals and their punishment, the mitigation of selfishness, the humiliation of pride, the resistance of greed and avarice, are pre-eminently labors of love, and not of wrath. Hatred will never reform any thing. It may destroy, but Love is the only architect.

5. Hence all philanthropies are partial and imperfect that do not grow out of this same root. As all hatred of evil is dangerous that is not inspired and accompanied by the love of Christ, so that philanthropy, or the attempt to organize positive good in human life, is lacking, which does not spring from the same organizing center, and which is not inspired by the same influence. But when philanthropy springs from this center, and is inspired by this influence, it becomes, not a mere sentimentalism, but a vivid and veritable power in human society.

There are no true philanthropists, it seems to me, but those that take man in his whole nature; that look upon him as a creature of God's just government, as a child of immortality, a subject of divine rewards and penalties; and that attempt to build up in him that which is good, according to the largest pattern of spiritual truth. Philanthropy without religion becomes meager. It is the love of man uninspired by the love of God!

6. All public questions of justice, of liberty, of equity, of purity, of intelligence, should be vitalized by the power which is in Christ Jesus. There are other motives that may press men forward a little way, but there is nothing that has such controlling power as the personal influence of the Lord Jesus.

When, therefore, in such a time as this, we are crowding along great subjects, or, rather, when they are crowding us along, and we are swept onward in the current of great national agitations, let us remember that there is but one way in which we can deal with all such subjects, and be thorough, and at the same time certain and safe, namely, by making every one of them religious subjects, Christian subjects, inspired by direct contact with the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ. When we bring secular matters into this relation, there is wholesomeness introduced into them, as well as into us in the management of them.

And now, my dear Christian friends, are not these views in accordance with the repeated teaching of the whole New Testament Scriptures - that every thing which belongs to human life must in some way be connected with the grand redemptive center of moral government, Christ Jesus?

"Because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again." (2 Cor. 5:14-15)

"Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord's." (Rom. 4:18)

"Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor. 10:31)

In our personal character, in our enthusiasms, in our imaginations, in our enjoyments, in all the amenities of social life, there is to be the presence of this divine love. In all that we attempt to do to abate evil, in all that we attempt to do to establish good, in our sympathy and concurrence with the great movements of the age in which we live, our power to do good will be in proportion to the strength and purity of our spiritual life.

Jesus Christ, and him crucified, is still the wisdom of God, and the power of God unto salvation, not only of the individual heart, but of civil societies.

If there be those, then, that are ambitious, and that have felt with reference to themselves substantially as the mother did respecting her two sons, of whom she said, "Lord, grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left, in thy kingdom;" (Matt. 20:21) if there are any that have been desirous of obtaining influence and power, I would say to them: Beware of the up-swelling of natural pride; beware of an over-active vanity. Remember that the road to power is not through self-elevation and self-aggrandizement, but through humiliation. You are to come to power by the abasement of yourself; by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ; by having your life hid with Christ in God; by learning to look at all things in the light of eternity.

Power and goodness are synonymous. The secret of true power is in self-denial, disinterestedness, an unwearied love, a faith that pierces the invisible, and a hope that appropriates it! But those that go hither and thither, seeking a great name, and place, and influence; wishing to do great things; seeking their own good and not another's, and still less God's glory - all these must needs come short of the highest power. The burying of self; the enthroning of Jesus; the living, not for the visible and the transient, but for the invisible and the eternal; the might of God manifest in Christ, and made known to us through our own experience - these are the ways and methods of power - the secret of power not alone in the individual, but in the ministry, in the Church, in communities, and in the world.

Whether we know it or not, God, blessed be His name! is overruling our ignorance, and guiding our very mistakes. He is pressing forward this wonderful moral power to its consummation. The day lingers, but shall not linger forever, when He shall take to himself His almighty power, and come and reign in myriads of now darkened hearts; in churches that are now Christian only in name; in institutions that, though they were established under the benign influences of Christianity, no longer represent it; in civil councils and in warlike camps; and then the whole earth shall see the salvation of our God. Even so, Lord, come quickly!

And now, ye praying, weeping, pleading Christians, that seem to have but a small sphere, remember that every single Christian aspiration which you have, every vital and God-inspired Christian experience that is wrought out in you, no matter when or where, becomes a part of the riches of God in the world. Money is money, and, though locked up in the deepest and darkest vault, every coin is one more coin of the world's wealth. The heart is God's mint, and every single evolution of true Christian feeling is an addition to the greatness of God's power in this world.

Do not think that you must be in some public position. Fulfill in secret the will of Christ Jesus. Let the mind that was in Christ be more and more completely in you. Let the spirit of Christ dwell in you richly in all things; and thus you will be preachers of Christ, and faithful witnesses; and ere long you shall hear that voice, sweeter than all conceivable music, saying, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." (Matt. 25:21)

Preached by Henry Ward Beecher, Plymouth Congregational Church, New York, Sept. 22, 1861.

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