IF I YET PLEASED MEN, I SHOULD NOT BE THE SERVANT OF CHRIST!
During the last two or three generations the pulpit has given less and less prominence to doctrinal preaching, until today—with very rare exceptions—it has no place at all. In some quarters the cry from the pew was, We want living experience and not dry doctrine; in others, We need practical sermons and not metaphysical dogmas; and yet others, Give us Christ and not theology.
Sad to say, such senseless cries were generally heeded: “senseless” we say, for there is no other safe way of testing experience, as there is no foundation for practicals to be built upon, if they be divorced from Scriptural doctrine; while Christ cannot be known unless He be preached (1 Cor. 1:23), and He certainly cannot be “preached” if doctrine is shelved. Various reasons may be given for the lamentable failure of the pulpit: chief among them being laziness, desire for popularity, superficial and lop-sided “evangelism,” love of the sensational.
LAZINESS. It is a far more exacting task, one which calls for much closer confinement in the study, to prepare a series of sermons on say the doctrine of justification, than it does to make addresses on prayer, missions, or personal-work. It demands a far wider acquaintance with the Scriptures, a more rigid disciplining of the mind, and a more extensive perusal of the older writers. But this was too exacting for most of the ministers, and so they chose the line of least resistance and followed an easier course. It is because of his proneness to this weakness that the minister is particularly exhorted, “Give attendance to reading . . . take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them” (1 Tim. 4:13, 16); and again, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed” (2 Tim. 2:15).
DESIRE FOR POPULARITY. It is natural that the preacher should wish to please his hearers, but it is spiritual for him to desire and aim at the approbation of God. Nor can any man serve two masters. As the apostle expressly declared, “For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10): solemn words are those. How they condemn them whose chief aim is to preach to crowded churches. Yet what grace it requires to swim against the tide of public opinion, and preach that which is unacceptable to the natural man. But on the other hand, how fearful will be the doom of those who, from a determination to curry favor with men, deliberately withheld those portions of the truth most needed by their hearers. “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it” (Deut. 4:2). O to be able to say with Paul, “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you. . . . I am pure from the blood of all” (Acts 20:20, 26).
A SUPERFICIAL AND LOP-SIDED “EVANGELISM.” Many of the pulpiteers of the past fifty years acted as though the first and last object of their calling was the salvation of souls, everything being made to bend to that aim. In consequence, the feeding of the sheep, the maintaining of a Scriptural discipline in the church, and the inculcation of practical piety, was crowded out; and only too often all sorts of worldly devices and fleshly methods were employed under the plea that the end justified the means; and thus the churches were filled with unregenerate members. In reality, such men defeated their own aim. The hard heart must be ploughed and harrowed before it can be receptive to the gospel seed. Doctrinal instruction must be given on the character of God, the requirements of His law, the nature and heinousness of sin, if a foundation is to be laid for true evangelism. It is useless to preach Christ unto souls until they see and feel their desperate need of Him.
LOVE OF THE SENSATIONAL. In more recent times the current has changed. A generation arose which was less tolerant even of superficial evangelism, which demurred at hearing anything which was calculated to make them the least uneasy in their sins. Of course, such people must not be driven from the churches: they must be catered to and given something which would tickle their ears. The stage of public action afforded abundant material. The World-war and such characters as the Kaiser, Stalin, and Mussolini were much in the public eye, as Hitler and Abyssinia have been since. Under the guise of expounding prophecy the pulpit turned its attention to what was styled “the Signs of the Times” and the pew was made to believe that the “dictators” were fulfilling the predictions of Daniel and the Apocalypse. There was nothing in such preaching (?) that pricked the conscience, yet tens of thousands were deluded into thinking that the very hearing of such rubbish made them religious; and thus the churches were enabled to “carry on.”
Now if doctrinal preaching generally be so unpopular, the doctrine of election is particularly and pre-eminently so. Sermons on predestination are, with very rare exceptions, hotly resented and bitterly denounced.
“There seems to be an inevitable prejudice in the human mind against this doctrine, and although most other doctrines will be received by professing Christians, some with caution, others with pleasure, yet this one seems to be most frequently disregarded and discarded. In many of our pulpits it would be reckoned a high sin and treason to preach a sermon upon election” (C. H. Spurgeon).
If that was the case fifty years ago, much more is it so now. Even in avowedly orthodox circles the very mention of predestination is like waving a red rag before a bull. Nothing so quickly makes manifest the enmity of the carnal mind in the smug religionist and self-righteous pharisees as does the proclamation of the divine sovereignty and His discriminating grace; and few indeed are the men now left who dare to contend valiantly for the truth.
Fearful beyond words are the lengths to which the horror and hatred of election have carried even avowedly evangelical leaders in their blasphemous speeches against this blessed truth: we refuse to pollute these pages by quoting from their ungodly speeches. Some have gone so far as to say that, even if predestination be revealed in the Scriptures it is a dangerous doctrine, creating dissent and division, and therefore it ought not to be preached in the churches; which is the self-same objection used by the Romanists against giving the Word of God to the common people in their own mother tongue.
If we are to whittle down the truth so as to preach only that which is acceptable to the natural man, how much would be left? The preaching of Christ crucified is to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23): is the pulpit to be silent thereon? Shall the servants of God cease proclaiming the person, office and work of His beloved Son, merely because He is “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2:8) to the reprobate?
“For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.”