The central figure of Scripture, for our present purpose as in all other respects, is the Saviour himself. We can but touch a few of the many points that here present themselves. Our Lord as a Preacher, is a topic that has waited through all the ages for thorough treatment, and is waiting still.
(1) Every one observes that as a preacher our Lord was authoritative. You know that the tone of the ordinary Jewish teachers at that time was quite different from this. If some question was under discussion in synagogue or theological school, an aged man with flowing white beard and tremulous voice would say "When I was a boy, my grandfather who was a Rabbi often told me how R. Nathan Bar Tolmai used to say - so and so." For them nothing was weighty till sanctified by antiquity, nothing could be settled save by the accumulation of many ancient opinions. But here came a teacher who spake 'as one having authority,' who continually repeated, 'Ye have heard that it was said to the ancients, but Isay to you;' in a way which no one could think of calling egotism, which all recognized as the tone of conscious and true authority. Of course our Lord was unique in this respect,
but in truth every preacher who is to accomplish much must, in his manner and degree, speak with authority. And do you ask how we may attain this? For one thing, by personal study of Scripture. What you have drawn right out of the Bible, by your own laborious examination, you will unconsciously state with a tone of authority. Again, by personally systematizing the teachings of Scripture, or at any rate carefully scrutinizing any proposed system in every part before accepting it, so that you feel confident, as a matter of personal conviction, that it is true. Further, by personal experience of the power of the truth. And in general, by personal character. And the authority drawn from all these sources will be every year augmented by the usefulness already achieved, for the French proverb is here profoundly true, "There is nothing that succeeds like success."
(2) I shall not dwell upon the originality of our Lord's preaching. This has been sufficiently treated by various popular writers. In fact, I think they have insisted too much on this point, and I prefer to urge,
(3) That although so original, he brought his
teachings into relation to the common mind. He did not startle his hearers with his originality, but employed current modes of thought and expression. E. g., The Golden Rule was not wholly new to the world. Confucius, Isocrates and others had taught the negative side of it; our Lord states it as a positive precept, thus making the rule much more comprehensive, and more widely important. Moreover, the essential principle was really contained in Leviticus xix, 18. So the Golden Rule was not presented as something absolutely new. Again, the thought of the Fatherhood of God was not alien to the heathen mind, and was sometimes taught in the Old Testament. Christ brought it out clearly, and made the thought familiar and sweet. Furthermore, he taught much that had to be more fully developed by the apostles; since men could not understand any full account of certain doctrines till the facts upon which they were to rest had taken place - for example, atonement and intercession. And he acted upon the same principle in his mode of stating things. He used proverbs and other current modes of expression. He drew illustrations entirely from things familiar with his hearers. And what they
could not then understand he stated in parables, which might be remembered for future reflection.
I repeat, then, that our Lord tempered his originality, so as to keep his teachings within reach of the common mind. If you are teaching a child, you do not present thoughts entirely apart from and above the child's previous consciousness; you try to link the new thoughts to what the child has thought of before. Thus wisely did our Lord teach the human race. But unreflecting followers have felt bound to insist that his ethical as well as his theological teachings were absolutely original; and superficial opposers have imagined they were detracting from his honor when they showed that for the most part he only carried farther and lifted higher and extended more widely the views of ethical truth which had been dimly caught by the universal human mind, or had at least been seen by the loftiest souls. What they make an objection is a part of the wisdom of our Lord's preaching.
(4) His teachings were to a great extent controversial, polemical. He was constantly aiming at some error or evil practice existing among his
hearers. You remember at once how this principle pervades the entire Sermon on the Mount. His strong words as to wealth and poverty were addressed to the Jews, who believed that to be rich was a proof of God's favor, and to be poor was a sure sign of his displeasure. "No man can come to me except the Father which sent me draw him," was said to the fanatical crowd who imagined they were coming to him and following him because they were gaping at his miracles and delighted to get food without work. Like examples abound. In fact, there are very few of his utterances that have not a distinctly polemical character, aimed at his immediate hearers; and we, must take account of this, as affecting not the principles but the mode of stating them, or we shall often fail to make exact and just interpretation of his teachings. The lesson here as to our own preaching is obvious, though very important. Truth, in this world oppressed with error, cannot hope, has no right, to keep the peace. Christ came not to cast peace upon the earth, but a sword. We must not shrink from antagonism and conflict in proclaiming the gospel, publicly or privately; though in fearlessly maintain
this conflict we must not sacrifice courtesy, or true Christian charity.
(5) Our Lord's frequent repetitions are remarkable and instructive. I shall mention some examples, of course not giving mere parallel accounts from the different Evangelists of the same occasion, but cases in which the same saying is recorded as repeated on different occasions.
The Son of man is come to save that which was lost, was spoken twice, Matthew xviii, 11; Luke xix, 10. If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, etc. (3), Matthew xvii, 20; xxi, 21; Luke xvii, 5. Whosoever shall confess me, etc. (3), Matthew x, 32; Luke xii, 8; ix, 26. He that finds his life shall lose it, etc., (4), Matthew x, 38-9; xvi. 24-5; Luke xvii, 33; John xii, 25. Take up his cross and follow me (4), Matthew x. 38; xvi, 24; Luke xiv, 27; Mark x, 21. Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased, etc. (3), Matthew xxiii, 12; Luke xiv, 11; xviii, 14. Except ye become as little children, etc. (2), Matthew xviii. 3; xix, 14; and other modes, besides these two, of inculcating the same lesson of humility (2), Matthew xx, 26; John xiii, 13 ff. (compare. Luke xxii, 24, ff.)
The servant is not greater than his lord (4), Matthew x. 24; Luke vi. 40; John xiii, 6, and xv, 20, where he refers to the fact that he had told thorn this before. In two other cases, John xiii, 33 (compare vii. 34; viii. 21), and x, 26, he speaks of having before told them what he is now saying again.
Where I am, there shall also my servant be (3), John xii, 26; xiv, 3; xvii, 24.
To these examples of short sayings (and there are others) add the fact that considerable portions of the Sermon on the Mount, as given by Matthew, are also given by Matthew and the other Synoptics as spoken on other occasions. E. g., The remarkable exhortation to take no thought, etc., ten verses of Matthew vi, is reproduced with slight alteration in Luke xii, the former in Galilee, the latter probably long afterwards, and in Judea or Perea. The Lord's Prayer, Matthew vi, 9-13, was given on a later occasion, Luke xi, 2-4, in a greatly shortened form (according to the correct text), but with all the leading thoughts retained. So likewise the instructions to the 70 disciples (Luke x, 1, ff.) closely resemble those previously given to the twelve apostles
(Matthew x, 5, ff.) The lament over Jerusalem was made three times, and our Lord foretold his death to his disciples five times. The parable of the pounds (Luke xix.) was reproduced a few days afterwards in the parable of the talents (Matthew xxv.), with only some special features omitted.
There are numerous other examples. And that SO many should occur in the four extremely brief memoirs we have, the fourth, too, being almost entirely different from the others, is very remarkable. These repetitions may for the most part be classified as follows: (1) Different audiences, being similar in condition and wants, needed some of the same lessons. (2) Some brief, pithy sayings would naturally be introduced in different connections. (3) Some lessons were particularly hard to be learned, as humility, cross-bearing, etc.; and so as to the great difficulty the twelve had in believing that the Messiah was really going to be rejected and put to death.
And what instruction do we find for ourselves in this marked feature of our Lord's preaching? Here was the wisest of all teachers; in him was no poverty of resources, no shrinking from mental exertion.
He must have repeated because it was best to repeat. Freshness and variety are very desirable, no doubt; but the fundamental truths of Christianity are not numerous, and men really need to have them often repeated. And many preachers, carried away by the tendencies of the present age, our furious 19th century, when the chief reading of most people is newspapers and books called emphatically novels, and the Kaivbrepbv tl of the lounging Athenians pales before the eagerness with which we rush to bulletin boards to catch the yet later news that has just girdled the world, - many preachers go wild with the desire for novelty and the dread of repetition, and fall to preaching politics and news, science and speculation, anything, everything, to be fresh. Let the example of the Great Preacher be to us a rebuke, a caution, a comfort. A preacher should be a living man, and strive to get hold of his contemporaries; yet nearly all of the good that preachers do is done not by new truths but by old truths, with fresh combination, illustration, application, experience, but old truths, yea, and often repeated in similar phrase, without apology and without fear.
(6) There is no real conflict with all this when we add: Consider the wonderful variety of our Lord's methods of teaching. Variety as to place. He preached in synagogues, courts of the temple, private houses; in deserts, on the mountain side, by the lake shore, from the boat; to crowds, or to single persons; anywhere, everywhere. Variety, too, as to occasion. Some of his discourses were deliberately undertaken, it would seem, with reference to certain conjunctures in his ministry, as the Sermon on the Mount, the instructions preceding the Mission of the Twelve (Matthew x), the discourse on the Mount of Olives, the Farewell Address to his disciples, etc. But most of them appear to have been suggested at the moment, by particular events and circumstances, as the visit of Nicodemus, the woman coming to Jacob's well, the message of John the Baptist, the application of the rich young man, the story of the Galileans whom Pilate had slain, etc.
And variety as to modes of stating truth. He employed authoritative assertion, arguments of many kinds, explanation, illustration, appeal and warning. He also used striking paradoxes and hyperbolical
expressions to wake up his hearers, and make them listen and remember and think, e.g., "Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." Let us pause a moment, and consider. Many persons have been perplexed by this saying of our Lord, many have misunderstood it, but one thing is certain, no one ever forgot it, when once read or heard, and no one ever failed to reflect that it stands in the strongest antagonism to our natural feelings of resentment and revenge. Now remember. Our Lord was for the most part a street preacher and a field preacher. He had to gather his audiences and hold them, to awaken their minds, to lodge some leading and suggestive truths permanently in their memory. When we recall these conditions of his teaching, together with the fact that many of his hearers were indifferent and not a few were hostile, we may perceive why he should have somewhat frequently used what we may fairly call extravagant hyperboles, sayings which will mislead if taken literally, but which understood as they were intended are in an unrivalled degree instructive and suggestive, sure to be remembered, weighty and mighty.
In thus using pithy, and paradoxical or hyperbolical statements, our Lord was suiting himself to the customs as well as the wants of his hearers. There are scores of the Proverbs of Solomon, that are really of the same character. E. g., what does this mean? 'When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, mark well what is before thee; and put, a knife to thy throat if thou art given to appetite' (Proverbs xxiii, 2). Better cut your throat than eat greedily before his excellency. And so with many other sayings of the uninspired Jewish teachers, as recorded in some of the Rabbinical books.*
"But are not such expressions hard to interpret, and likely to be misunderstood?" Yes, they require care, breadth of view and sound judgment to interpret them. And I think it absolutely necessary, if we would interpret aright the teachings of our Lord, to remember that he spoke not as a scientific lecturer but as a preacher, a preacher for the most part to the common people, an open-air preacher, addressing restless and mainly unsympathizing crowds. In fact one will be all the better
* My attention was called to this last fact by my colleague Dr. Toy.
prepared to interpret these discourses if he has himself had experience of practical preaching under similar conditions. Some of our Lord's paradoxical and hyperbolical sayings have been often and grievously misunderstood. Interpreting them literally, some good people have tried, for example, to refrain from all self-defence, to give to all beggars, etc.; and other good people, seeing that these things were impracticable, have sadly despaired of living in any respect up to the requirements of him who has so earnestly urged us to hear his sayings and do them; while many opposers have sneeringly said that the morality taught by Jesus is impossible, and therefore really unwise. Misunderstood - yes, I suppose our Lord has been worse misunderstood than any other teacher that ever spoke to the human race. But what of that? All powerful things are very dangerous if improperly handled. That which can do no harm though misused, can it do any good? Our attempts at usefulness in this world may always be represented as to their results by this simple algebraical formula: + So much good done - So much harm done = So much. It is our duty, as far as possible,
to diminish the harm as well as increase the good; but can we ever reduce the harm down to zero, without reducing the good to zero too? If we are too painfully solicitous to avoid doing harm, we shall do nothing.
The notions of our "sensation preachers" contain an element of truth. And to find that true and good and mighty something which they grope after in darkness and do not reach, we have but to study the preaching of Jesus Christ.
(7) I add but a word as to his tone and spirit. These cannot be fully analyzed, but we must seek to imitate them as far as we can apprehend, or can catch by sympathy. We must meditate on his perfect fidelity to truth, and yet perfect courtesy and kindliness; his severity in rebuking, without any tinge of bitterness; his directness and simplicity, and yet his tact - wise as the serpent, with the simplicity of the dove; his complete sympathy with man, and also complete sympathy with God - bringing heaven down to earth, that he might lift up earth to heaven.
And so in him we see, as we see in all his more worthy followers, that materials of preaching are important, and methods of preaching are important, but that most important of all is personal character and spirit.
[From John A Broadus, Lectures on the History of Preaching, 1902, pp. 22-35. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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