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Thou Art the Man
Or, The Preaching that Identifies the Transgressor

By J. B. Hawthorne (1837 - 1910)

And Nathan said to David, “Thou art the man” (II Samuel 12:7).
“Ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23).

      In reading ethical philosophy I have been impressed by the fact that nothing in it is personal. It deals with man rather than persons, and with nations, races and ages rather than individuals. This accounts for its unproductiveness. The men who read it never imagine that it is addressed to them. They do not measure themselves by its standards and therefore have no sense of condemnation.

      The men of the Bible, whom God anointed to teach morality, addressed themselves to individuals and classes more than to the world at large. Nathan identified the perpetrator of the double crime of adultery and murder when he said to David, “Thou art the man.” Peter located the parties responsible for the murder of Christ when he said to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, Whom “ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.”

      Jesus Christ was the ideal preacher. “Never man spake like this man.” He always addressed the conscience, and the closer we follow His example in this respect the more we shall find ourselves dealing with individuals in our applications of divine truth. No man could hide himself in any multitude to which Christ preached. He was made to feel that the eye of the preacher was upon him and that His words, whether of promise or condemnation, were addressed directly to him.

      I have heard sermons against Mormons when there was not a Mormon in a thousand miles of the preacher. I have heard sermons to young women where the youngest woman present was scarcely under forty-five. I have heard sermons to agnostics where there was scarcely a human being who had the faintest conception of what Agnosticism was. Christ’s preaching was always suited to the occasion. His sermon on the Sadducees was preached to the Sadducees; His sermon on the Pharisees was preached to the Pharisees; His sermon on covetousness was preached to the covetous.

      There were some who heard Jesus on many occasions before they began to see and feel the personal bearing of His preaching. When He spoke of wolves in sheep’s clothing and whited sepulchers, the Sadducee said within himself, “That’s a true picture of the Pharisee”; at the same time the Pharisee said to himself, “What a terrible arraignment of the Sadducee.” The Jews imagined that His fierce denunciations were aimed at the Romans, and the Romans were delighted because they supposed them to be hurled against the Jews.

      It is just as true now as it was in the days of Christ that many people hear the gospel for years before they awake to the fact that it is addressed to them. You hear a sermon on the tale-bearer, or the scandal-monger, and take no part of it to yourself, but look across the congregation at your neighbor and smile as you think of its fitness to him. You hear a sermon on the love of money and are reminded of the old mammon-worshipper who lives next door to you, when the truth is that there is nothing on the earth or above the earth so precious in your own eyes as silver and gold. When the man in the pulpit is depicting the moral coward, you think of all the weak-kneed church members in the community, but never of your own cowardice in failing to antagonize the worst social evils of your day. You applaud him when he smites the hypocrite, without having one pang of conscience for your own hypocrisy in hiding from the world your real character.

      You are a poor judge of your own moral portrait and very slow to recognize it when it is especially accurate and lifelike. The truth is you have no sincere desire to know yourself. You are a Baptist and delight in seeing held up to public gaze the superstitions and vices of the Romanist, but you have no relish for a sight of your own. Your eyes are clear and keen when the faults of your neighbor are depicted, but they are absolutely blind when your own moral obliquities are set before you. Hearing, you do not hear, and seeing, you do not perceive that God has a controversy with you.

      I have shot my weight in lead at game which I never killed. A Baptist deacon once loaned me his gun for a deer hunt, which he said had killed ninety-six ducks at one shot. I was put on a stand with that gun, which carried eight drams of powder and fifty-six buckshot. When the deer appeared I fired, but in what direction I know not. I only remember that when I had partially recovered from the rebound of the gun and brushed the blood from my face the deer was invisible.

      I stand here today to plead guilty to the charge that I have done much shooting from the pulpit that was just as indirect and ineffective as that. Have we not come to a time when very few of the messages of God’s ministers reach the hearts and consciences of the people who hear them? The Lord knows that in these closing years of my ministry it is my heart’s desire and prayer that my preaching may be so direct and personal that every man and woman who hears me may cry out as each of the disciples did at the Last Supper, “Lord, is it I?”

      My friends, the conviction sinks deeper and deeper into my soul that the worth of any sermon depends upon the application which we make of it to ourselves. Oh, let us rescue ourselves from the mass; let us disentangle ourselves from our social environment; let us shake off the tyranny of the crowd and realize our personal relation to God, His truth and His kingdom.

      It is a fact which our observations and experiences will not permit us to deny, that occasions come in the life of every man when the personal bearing of truth is realized. While David was king of Israel and was so conscious of his regal power, popularity and glory, he was overtaken by sin. He was caught in the snare of the tempter. In yielding to temptation he despoiled a bright home of its purity and happiness. Then, to avoid detection, he added to that sin the crime of murder. Amid the pleasures, pomp and splendor of his court he was not conscious of his guilt. But when Nathan, the man of God, came to him and looked into his face, and said, “Thou art the man,” David’s eyes were opened to his awful condition. In Nathan’s indictment he heard a voice from the throne of God, and in response to it he exclaimed, in the bitterness of the deepest remorse, “I have sinned against the LORD!”

      The Jews who had caused the crucifixion of the meek and innocent Messiah returned from the scene of His execution to their homes, business and pleasures, pleased with their triumph and without one regret for their crime. But when Peter stood before them on the Day of Pentecost, and in the name of the Lord God charged them with the murder of Christ, they were “pricked in their hearts.” They were smitten with an aching sense of their terrible guilt and cried out, “What shall we do?”

      When Jesus was arrested and led away to the court, where He was condemned, His disciples, demoralized by fear, forsook Him and fled. Peter more than any other disciple had reason to be ashamed of his cowardice -- a cowardice which culminated in a base denial of His Lord. But he was not made conscious of his disgrace until his manacled, outraged and condemned Master passed by him and looked sorrowfully into his face. Then he realized the baseness and infamy of his conduct; then with almost maddening remorse he went away and wept bitterly.

      The Jews arrested a defenseless woman who had been detected in the act of adultery, dragged her into the presence of Jesus and asked if she should be stoned to death, according to the law of Moses. He fixed His eyes upon them, and said in a voice as solemn as doom, “Let that man among you who is without sin cast the first stone at her.” The truth smote them and they knew themselves accused. It crashed through all barriers, penetrated all disguises, exposed all sophistries, silenced all prevarications, and, as by a lightning flash from Heaven, revealed to them the blackness and baseness of their own hearts. The evangelist says, “Being convicted by their own consciences, they went out one by one even unto the last.” Mark those words, “even unto the last.” That last man in the retiring procession was the last to move out, because he was the most stupid, the most ignorant, the most deluded and the most hardened of them all. But the truth spoken by Jesus finally reached his conscience, and with bowed head and blushing face he retired, knowing himself to be a cowardly and guilty wretch.

      When Jesus said, “Ye whited sepulchers,” the hypocrite knew that he belonged to the class designated by this epithet. When He said, “Ye must be born again,” the religious formalist -- the man who had relied upon his fasts and feasts and forms of worship to save him -- knew that he belonged to the class which needed the new birth. When He said, “Ye are in danger of hell fire,” the presumptuous and God-defying man saw himself at the very entrance to the flaming pit. When He said, “They were eating and drinking unto the very day that Noah entered the ark and the flood came and destroyed them all; so shall it be at the coming of the Son of Man,” the sensualist, the man living for the pleasures of the passing day; was smitten with conviction. He found himself arraigned at the bar of his own conscience. He saw God in the person of the preacher. All nature seemed to him to be bearing witness to the truth of the message. Every sentence seemed to be carved into earth and sky; the sun and stars seemed to be only the letters of the flaming words that fell from His lips. He was Heaven’s king sitting on His judgment throne, and the convicted man imagined himself putting on the black cap to receive the death penalty.

      [Ralph Waldo] Emerson says, “We have no poets now, but scores of poetic writers. We have no Columbus, but hundreds of ship captains with telescopes and barometers; we have no Demosthenes, but any number of clever forensic debaters.” When I read this I was tempted to add, “We have no preacher now like the Man of Galilee; we have no Peter, nor Paul, no Chrysostom, no [Martin] Luther, no [John] Knox, no Jonathan Edwards. We have hundreds and thousands of clever and entertaining pulpit speakers. But have we any man who speaks with a prophet’s fire and a prophet’s voice?” Have we any man so full of truth and God that hypocrites unmask themselves in his presence? Do self-righteous men confess their uncleanness? Do worshipers of fashion and pleasure confess their satanic delusions, and stubborn rejecters of Jesus Christ see themselves sinking into a rayless perdition and cry to God for mercy and help under the preaching of any living man?

      True preaching -- the preaching in which every class of sinners sees the personal bearing of divine truth -- is followed by diverse results. In some it begets a resentful and vindictive spirit. Matthew tells us that when the Pharisees heard a certain parable from Jesus, “they perceived that he spake of them,” and sought to lay hold on Him. The real cause of their offense was that He had told them the truth concerning themselves. This was the secret of all of their opposition to Him. They wanted Him crucified, not because they believed Him to be a blasphemer, and a conspirator against the Roman government, but because He had looked into their faces and told them the truth about themselves.

      The same feeling often follows the preaching of the gospel in our day. Guilty men get angry with the preacher instead of getting angry with themselves. A few years ago a liquor-seller heard me speak of the awful account that drunkard makers must face in the day of final judgment. He went away angry with me and declaring that he would never hear me again. Should he have been angry with me, or with himself? Should he have condemned me, or his own conduct? Was it not kindness in me to warn him of his danger?

      In my early ministry a young woman who had forfeited her religious influence by a career of worldliness, reproached me for preaching against “the pleasures of of sin.” Should she have reproached me, or herself? A gentleman of this city is displeased with my preaching because he thinks I am after him when I emphasize the vital importance of a public profession of Jesus Christ. Should he be displeased with me, or with himself?

      The average man does not like personal preaching unless it is addressed to some one a thousand miles away, and who will never hear of it. A million of sermons addressed to men beyond the range of the preacher’s voice would not make a single convert to Christ. Only personal preaching and preaching directed to those who are present and hear it will accomplish God’s purpose in the institution of the Christian ministry. A man claiming to be a minister of Jesus Christ who preaches against the sins of the church or of the world merely to gratify a disposition to distress the guilty, or to punish some one against whom he has a grudge, is a moral monstrosity, and is neither a Christian minister nor a Christian. He is an ecclesiastical fraud; he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing; he has stolen the livery of the court of Heaven to serve the devil in. Behind the personal preaching of the true minister there is a benevolent motive.

      Oh, friends, cease to be angry with the preacher; be angry with yourselves. Forsake not God’s house, but forsake your sins. Quarrel not with the lighthouse which warns you of the hidden rocks on which many a mariner on life’s sea has suffered shipwreck. Quarrel not with the physician who tells you of the loathsome disease with which you are smitten, for he tells you not to harrow your feelings, but to save your life.

      But, thanks be to God, often the result of personal preaching is sincere repentance in those who hear. When the servant of God came to David and said, “Thou art the man,” David was made conscious of his guilt, and exclaimed, “I have sinned against the Lord.” How pathetic and penitential is the psalm in which he says, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned.” God responded to his tears and his cry for mercy and washed his soul from all iniquity. In the company to which Jesus gave the gracious invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,” there was an unblushing harlot who had invited the noonday to witness her shame. In these tender words she heard the voice of God speaking directly to her guilty soul, and the result was that she came and fell at Jesus’ feet and bathed them with her tears, and then went away with the divine benediction, “Thy sins, which are many, are all forgiven thee.”

      Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost was heard, perhaps, by fifty thousand people, but only three thousand of them applied it to themselves. Only they who inquired the way of life, gladly received the Word, and promptly confessed Christ in the ordinance of baptism.

      Young man, young woman, or anybody in this congregation whose sins are unforgiven, to you, to you I repeat the warning of Christ, “Except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish.” To you, to you I repeat His promise, “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” Regard that warning and accept that promise today and you will leave this house with a redeemed and renovated soul and with the knowledge that your name is registered forever in the “Lamb’s Book of Life.”


[From Christopher Cockrell, editor, The Berea Baptist Banner, December 5, 2011, pp. 221-223. (Names [ ] added by BHH editor.) Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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