Rev. D. K. Macleod
Moderator’s Opening Address, General Assembly, 1998.
Last Summer, my wife and I were in Toronto for two months. We had a blessed time there, but, while we saw nothing of the so-called Toronto blessing, I was given a magazine which contained articles about it, which showed me that, over here, we were only hearing of mild manifestations of what is also called the ‘Laughing Revival’.
One pastor of a new church around which new homes were being built was very concerned that his congregation was not growing. At a service in Toronto, he went to the front and said he was wanting prayer. The official to whom he spoke said, “Sir, you have really been hurt bad. Your heart is full of darts ..... let me pull them out.” He took his hand and began to pull invisible darts out of him. Next, he told him that he was covered with dust and began to dust him down. Then, he said, “You have been cursed with a curse ... the curse is broken.” Then, he prayed and, as he did, the pastor declared, “I felt strength leave my legs and I was on my way to the floor as the power of God hit me on the top of my head and went ripping through my body until it hit my legs and they flew up on the air.” Fifteen minutes later, it happened again and again - six times in all. Then, “suddenly the joy of the Lord fell on me and I laughed until I thought I would explode, rolling back and forth into chairs.”
He could not drive home, nor even walk soberly down the road.
At the next service, the speaker said that he had a very serious sermon and did not want any distractions, but “I felt a wonderful warm feeling on my head that flowed down my body .... I felt laughter bubbling inside me. Then I began to laugh softly and slide down in my chair ... All of a sudden I did a flip and found myself with my head on Steve and my legs flopping in the air.” These and stranger manifestations took place. We are not told if or how his congregation grew, but the man himself was convinced that what he had experienced was from the Lord.
As I read, I thought of the way Paul tells of the way his countrymen required a sign while the Greeks sought after wisdom, but he says, “We preach Christ crucified; unto the Jews a stumbling block and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
We Preach Christ
Preaching, says Dr Lloyd-Jones in his book, Preaching and Preachers, is the primary task of the Church and justifies that statement on the evidence of Scripture, and the supporting and confirming evidence of the history of the Church. He speaks, also, of the romance of preaching! “There is nothing like it. It is the greatest work in the world, the most thrilling, the most exciting, the most rewarding and the most wonderful. I know of nothing comparable to the feeling one has as one walks into one’s pulpit .... especially when you feel that you have a message from God and are longing to give it to the people.”
He goes on to speak of the uncertain elements in a service; of the way we can be moved to alter, adapt, add to or subtract from that which we have prepared. “You are reminded that you are not the sole person in control; you are ‘under God’.” O that we might all know much of this as we seek to preach Christ!
We Preach Christ. Our aim, says Charles Simeon, should be to humble the sinner, to exalt the Saviour, to promote holiness. For this, we must prepare ourselves; for we are offering “Truth mediated through personality”, and this will involve prayerful study of ourselves and the Word, which we must apply to ourselves before we dare to proclaim it.
Then, we must consider carefully how we shall present it. Dr Packer, in an address he gave at Rutherford House some years ago on ‘Authority in Preaching’, declared that much of what happens in a pulpit is not preaching at all. Some deliverances have no doctrinal content; just a giving of one’s views on all sorts of topics. While no doubt we would agree with that statement, would we with his next one - that some have too much doctrinal content? He adds - and whether he comments on the British or Canadian scene or both, he does not say - many of us with 30 minutes to preach will give doctrine for 28, with 2 minutes of application. Is this right? In the sense that it is an accurate description of our preaching? Or in the sense that it is a good practice? Is it right?
Dr Packer’s description or definition of preaching was given thus: “an event of God bringing to an audience a Bible based Christ exalting life imparting message of instruction and direction from Himself through the words of a spokesperson.”
And what a privilege and thrill it is to be used as such.
Remembering the title of his address, he goes on: “Preaching is marked with Authority, when the message is relaying what is taught in the text; when active response to it is actively sought; when it is angled in a practical applicatory way which involves hearers’ lives and when God Himself is encountered through it”.
How Are We to Preach?
Charles Simeon gave this advice to his students: “True, you are not to keep back the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, but there are different way of stating them and you should adopt that which expresses kindness and love and not that which indicates an unfeeling harshness.”
Fathers and Brethren, who is sufficient for these things? Our sufficiency is of God who has made us ministers of the New Testament and to whom we look for the endowment we need to fulfil the ministry so given, for we remember the solemn words of the Apostle, “If our Gospel be hid it is to them that are lost.”
We Preach Christ; not all of us from pulpit or platform, but we all preach Christ. How do we give a reason for the hope that is in us? What is that hope? How do we express it? In a multi-faith society and a non-faith society these questions are most important. We are ambassadors for Christ, and our answers to these and similar questions, and the way we present them, can be of vital importance. Some may raise issues just for the sake of an argument; some may have real concern. Can we always spot the difference? And who can tell when the idle questioner may be arrested when we explain why Jesus Christ is supreme?
We are ambassadors sent by the Lord Jesus, but not in our own strength. Has He not promised to be with us for ever? The way may be hard - it often is; the opposition strong - it often is; the questions put very hard - they often are; but He has promised to be with His people all the way.
“If any of you lack wisdom,” says James, “let him ask of God .... and it shall be given to him.”
We Preach Christ: in a sense, it is true to say that we are doing that all the time, whether conscious of it or not.
We are watched by young, and perhaps not so young, interested ones to learn from us. How much will they benefit from what they see and hear?
We Preach Christ in our dealings with people. We are called to show forth the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvellous light.
What do we show as we visit the people who are our particular responsibility? Do we show anything of the loveliness of Christ who always showed a concern for the whole person and his needs?
What do we show as we meet their neighbours and others around, interested or not?
What do we show when we fail to visit them and appear unconscious of their needs: or, worse still, uncaring?
“Inasmuch as you did these things unto the least of my brethren you did it unto Me: inasmuch as you did not do these things you did it not to Me.”
We are watched by the world - interested yes! Interested to be able to criticise and condemn the Church at large, and the Lord we are professing to serve. As someone has put it: We are the only Bible the careless world will read; We are the sinners’ Gospel; we are the sinners’ creed; We are the Lord’s last message even in deed and word. What if the type is crooked? What if the print is blurred? What a responsibility! What sort of message are we giving? Are we showing the world that it is a joy, as well as an honour and privilege, to serve the King of Peace who has spoken peace to our own souls, as He has forgiven us so much?
How much do we, who have been adopted into the family of God, show of a family likeness? Or are we just as everyone else; living by the same standards?
Some years ago, I read a book entitled What would Jesus do?. It was the story of a congregation’s experiment. The members agreed to ask themselves that question whenever they were faced with a decision to be made. As they went about their normal lives, they soon found that there had to be many changes from what had been normal for them. Some lives were changed quite drastically, but not so much as their conversations. They had been given to complaining, criticising and gossiping about others. What would Jesus do? What would Jesus say? As they put these questions to themselves, they found that many things had to cease or be changed.
I would strongly recommend that we should all so exercise ourselves, asking ourselves these questions: What would Jesus do in this situation? What would He say?
Francis Schaeffer in The Church Before the Watching World reminds us that we are called “to show forth the Love of God and the Holiness of God simultaneously. If we show either without the other we exhibit not the character but the caricature of God for the world to see. If we stress the Love of God without the Holiness of God it turns out only to be compromise. But if we stress the Holiness of God without the Love of God we practise something that is hard and lacks beauty. And it is important to show forth beauty before a lost world and a lost generation. All too often young people have not been wrong in saying that the Church is ugly. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we are called upon to show to the watching world and to our own young people that the Church is something beautiful.”
Is this what they see as they see one-time friends and colleagues refusing to meet, and speak together?
Fathers and Brethren, I have been attending Assemblies for over fifty years and have listened to many heated debates; sometimes heard things that ought not to have been said, but there has not been a time when the watching Christian Church has had so much to wonder at and, indeed, mourn over; and the watching unbelieving world so much to ridicule as they see a branch of the Body of Christ apparently trying to tear itself to bits. I earnestly pray that the self-destruct stage has not been reached and never will be reached.
I have not taken any part in the debate, discussion, argument. What is the best word to use? And I certainly am not taking any sides here, but I would say this: I have read things, written from different viewpoints, in the correspondence columns of some newspapers that I would hope, on reflection, would have been expressed in different language, if at all! I do not believe that that is the place for criticising each other. But at least these letters were signed. Some correspondence has been sent anonymously. Surely this is not the way to conduct the business of the Church of Jesus Christ.
If write you must, please, please, take to heart the advice given by John Newton in a letter on ‘Controversy’. “As to your opponent, I wish, that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write. If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab, concerning Absalom, are very applicable: ‘Deal gently with him for my sake.’ The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in Heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ for ever.”
Dr Campbell Morgan said somewhere that the Devil’s master stroke is that of dividing forces that ought to stand together and, sadly, we know only too well the misery that follows.
The other day, I was talking to someone who had seriously thought about transferring to the Free Church. Our standards and our worship attracted him, but our conduct was off-putting and, so, for the time being, he was taking no action.
Some are leaving the Church disenchanted, discouraged and disappointed.
How are we preaching Christ?
What is to be seen of the love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control we are supposed to exhibit?
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement!”
It needed to be said to the Corinthians for, as he goes on, there were those who said, “I am of Paul” and “I of Apollos”, “I of Cephas” and “I of Christ”. Sadly, it seems necessary to have to be said loud and clear to us today.
What then? One man had a drastic solution. He is Elias Chacour (pronounced Shahkoor), a Palestinian Christian leader in Galilee. He is working to try and bring about reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, Christians and Moslems. There was a great deal of bitterness and hostility, even among the believers in his own community. At the end of a special service where there was a large attendance, when the people rose for the Benediction, he dropped his hands and strode to the large double doors at the back of the church. He drew them shut and, taking a chain from his pocket, laced it through the handles and fastened it with a padlock, and said, “You are a people divided. You argue and hate each other, gossip and spread malicious lies. What do the Moslems and the unbelievers think when they see you? Surely that your religion is false. If you can’t love your brothers that you see how can you say you love God who is invisible? You have allowed the body of Christ to be disgraced.” He spoke of failed attempts to bring them together. “But,” he added, “there is someone else who can bring you together in true unity. His name is Jesus Christ. He is the one who gives you power to forgive. So now I will be quiet and allow Him to give you that power to forgive. If you will not forgive we can stay locked in here.”
IT WORKED. I long and pray for a similar result, though the method is not one I can employ.
If the Irish, starting from such widely-opposed stances, can meet and come to an agreement, which we hope will last, surely members of the Body of Christ, friends and colleagues, can settle differences amicably in the spirit of Jesus Christ who has spoken very specifically on the subject, “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee: leave there thy gift and go thy way: first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”
We are called to preach the forgiving grace of Christ. How can we if we do not forgive? How can we pray for forgiveness in the light of our Lord’s solemn rider to what we call The Lord’s Prayer: “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”?
Fathers and Brethren, Mothers and Sisters too, for we are all involved, I beseech you in Christ’s Name: do all in your power to heal breaches. It will take courage and grace, but don’t we profess to have received grace upon grace, and are promised grace sufficient for every time of need?
I quote the Prime Minister, speaking about the outcome of the recent talks in Ireland: ‘If the people put pressure on the politicians and the politicians show leadership, it can work.’ I leave you to make the necessary application for our situation.
My friends, if someone of a different persuasion offers their hand, will you take it? If asked to a Communion, will you go? Will you be the first to offer or invite? If not, why not?
What is the world seeing and believing as it watches us? One has said, “His disciples will have to look more saved if I am to believe in their Saviour.”
How are we preaching Christ? How are we showing concern for those around us? As we squabble among ourselves, we have no time or energy to face up to the problems on our doorsteps.
Whose lips will plead for the people of Scotland?
Who’ll stand in the gap and who’ll build up the wall?
Before the long day of God’s patience is over
Before the night comes, when His judgment will fall?
Whose eyes will weep for the dry eyes of Scotland?
Whose heart will break for the hearts made of stone?
For those who are walking out into the darkness
Away from God’s love, without Christ, so alone?
Whose ears can hear what the Spirit is saying?
For those who are willing to watch and pray?
Pray on till God’s light fills the skies over Scotland
The light of revival, that brings a new day.
(Rev. A. Muir)
Above all, how are we responding to the desire expressed in our Lord’s own prayer, in which we are included? He prayed that “They all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou has sent me.”
Where is the oneness seen? What sort of testimony are we making? Are we hindering some from seeing the loveliness of the Saviour we profess to love and obey? How shall we answer in the Day of Judgement? What a need we all have of repentance and a crying unto the Lord to have mercy upon us; to anoint us with the spirit of prayer and supplication, and to use each one of us individually and corporately for His glory, and the good of those around us.
Fathers and Brethren, co-heirs with me of the grace of God in Christ, met in His Name about the business of His Church, can we, like the apostle, go on to serve Him together, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus?
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things and may the God of peace be with us all. AMEN.
Rev. D. K. Macleod has retired. but was formerly minister of Kingussie & Newtonmore.