Some Characteristics of Jesus as a Preacher
By T. P. Simmons, 1931
Jesus was the greatest preacher of all time. He is God’s perfect pattern for preachers. The Gospels are the greatest books ever written on how to preach. There is great need today that preachers make a fresh study of Jesus as a preacher. But not only do preachers need to study Him; churches need this study also. Churches need to be acquainted with God’s standard of preaching so that they will endorse and support a faithful ministry. Let us note the following characteristics of Jesus as a preacher:
He did not have the inordinate desire for numbers that some preachers and churches have today.
On many occasions great multitudes followed Jesus. But He was not thereby flattered into petting and pampering the multitudes so as to win them as His disciples. Rather He was wont in the presence of the multitudes to lay down the severest tests of discipleship and to utter the most scathing denunciations of sin. Some single instances in point here are to be found in John 6:22-71; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 12:1-53; Luke 14:23-33. Christ sought after quality rather than quantity. He continually magnified the sterner side of discipleship and thus sloughed off the fickle multitudes.
What a comparatively few of the great multitudes ever became actual disciples! A Billy Sunday would have had all of Palestine “hitting the saw-dust trail.” And many a Baptist preacher would have had multiplied thousands of professions to report. Judged by modern standards, Jesus was a colossal failure as an evangelist! Baptist churches today are overwhelmed by the unregenerate principally because we, unlike Christ, have had an inordinate desire for numbers. It is right to have a passion for the lost. Jesus had it to an infinite degree. But it is a sad mistake to allow our zeal to make us try to take the place of the Holy Spirit in the saving of souls. For the most part this inordinate desire for numbers has worn the cloak of a sincere and commendable, but misguided, evangelistic zeal. Nevertheless it has been tragical in its results. It has brought Baptist churches to where most of them have about as little regard for a preacher that will declare the whole counsel of God as the Pharisees had for Christ.
It has practically obliterated the line of demarkation between the church and the world. B. H. Hillard once said: “The blighting curse has been, and still is, that BapCats have gone in a mad race for members until there are thousands swept into our churches with no more religion than a heaqien Hottentot. This is no pessimistic “whine,” but a tragic fact. Tell me that a saved man can have absolutely no concern for the cause of Christ? Tell me that a saved man will spend his entire earnings on himself and his and absolutely forget the cause of the Lord? Tell me that a saved man will desecrate the holy Sabbath day without the slightest restraint? Tell me that a saved man will habitually indulge in every form of worldly and sinful amusement, especially when his church stands against it? Tell me that a saved man will close his heart to the appeal of sin-cursed and dying humanity, in the face of the plain scriptural command—the last words of our Lord? I do not believe a word of it. Jesus said: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” That is enough. It tells a sad story. It will condemn men in Hell unless the grace of God intervenes.
Estimates of the lost in our churches today range from fifty to seventy-five per cent. Of course, no one knows the exact per cent. But surely he is blind who cannot see that it must be represented, so far as man can tell, by quite a large figure. Whence came this uncircumcised throng? Did God add them to our churches? Nay, not so. God adds to the church only such as are saved. Then whence came they? We may trace their presence to at least two underlying causes:
(1) Forgetfulness that results belong to God; “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” It is not ours to be primarily concerned about results. Rather we would have all concern about being obedient servants of God and leave results wholly with Him. Especially do we need to be warned in this connection in this day when the commercial “world” is stressing results as never before. Efficiency of production is the great end sought today in the commercial world. This is the spirit of the age in which we live, and that spirit is as catching as smallpox. And a devout, open-minded study of the Word is the only vaccine that will render us immune to it.
(2) An abuse of the annual protracted meeting and outside evangelism. Note that I bring no charge against these things in themselves. I speak only of their abuse. The preaching of the Word is always in place, and when a church feels led to have a special period of preaching either to the saved or lost or both, it surely has scriptural warrant and precedent for doing so. And if a church and pastor feel led to call in an outside man to do the preaching, then they have scriptural precedent in the going of Barnabas to Tarsus in search of Paul to bring him back to Antioch to preach there in a protracted meeting. The evil has come in the abuse of these scriptural things. The wise solution of the problem lies not in their abolition, but in riding them of their evils. We have come to feel that we must have results during a protracted meeting. Commonly, if results ir professions of faith do not begin to manifest themselves early in the meeting, then one expedient after another is used — ”hot air”, high pressure, radical emotionalism, long-winded invitations with many claptrap propositions and much begging. If the meeting goes on to a close and there are no “professions,” everybody usually feels that the meeting has been a failure. In such a case the evangelist is not likely to get much money out of the meeting. And if he has many such meetings, it is very likely to put a check in his evangelistic career. In these ways we have come unconsciously to adopt false and unscriptural methods in evangelism. Oh, when will we learn that it is ours to preach the Word publicly, privately, in season and out of season, and then leave results with God. This leads us naturally to the next characteristic of Jesus that we desire to notice.
He depended wholly upon the word to accomplish results.
Jesus used but one method in evangelism! That one method was the preaching of the Word. There are many things that Christ did not depend on in his preaching to the lost. Let us note some of them:
(1) He did not depend upon personal magnetism. No doubt, He had personal magnetism. And perhaps many were attracted to Him by it. But they soon got their “cup” full. And the fact that so many were thus superficially attracted to Him explains why He did most of His severest preaching to the multitudes. He knew human nature, and He knew when multitudes attended upon His ministry it was time to do some sifting. Therefore He was wont to lay down His severest tests of discipleship in the presence of the multitudes. On one occasion Jesus said to a crowd of Jews: “... Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53). He could not have uttered a more offensive thing to the Jews. Why, the very idea of them becoming cannibals, especially in view of their strict regulations concerning clean and unclean meats and the divine prohibition against partaking of blood! Of course Christ was speaking figuratively and spiritually (v. 47), but they understood Him to be speaking literally on this occasion, as the fifty-second verse will show. And Christ took no special pains to explain His meaning to them. Thus He turned away from them those who had been attracted to Him by His mere personal Influence. On another occasion when a multitude was following Him, Jesus said to them: “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Thus He again applied the acid test. Again on another similar occasion He turned to the multitude and said: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Then He exhorted them to sit down and count the cost. The preacher should strive to live so that his life will not discount his words. And God may manifest the reality and veracity of His Word in the life of the preacher. But mere personal magnetism or influence has never had the least to do with making one true disciple of Christ. It has made many false ones, but not one true one. The truth upon which discipleship rests is of divine revelation (Matthew 16:17). The attraction is not to be in the preacher, but in the Christ he presents. John 12:32.
(2) He did not depend upon more human tact and diplomacy. Human tact and diplomacy would never have led Jesus into the temple to drive out the money changers, nor would He have been thus led to denounce the Pharisees as He did. Human tact and diplomacy would have led Him to avoid a break with the religious leaders of His day. If He had been a diplomat, He would have reasoned that He could accomplish the most by staying on the inside of the religious society of His day and reforming it instead of violently breaking with it. This is the reasoning of sonic today with regard to corrupt churches and associations. But they are dead wrong. God has not commissioned us to go out and reform corrupt institutions. When a church or institution takes its stand against truth and righteousness, then God’s command to every believer is “...Come out from among them, and be ye separate...” (II Corinthians 6:17).
It is true that on some occasions Christ’s conduct and approach may be conceived of as being tactful and diplomatic even from a human standpoint, but the fact that it was not always so shows that with Him it was not a question of what was tactful and diplomatic, but what was according to the Father’s will. It should be the same with us. We should ever ask what God wants said and done, and not what is tactful and diplomatic. If the will of God is our criterion, we may, on some occasion, act tactfully and diplomatically, but on other occasions we will act oppositely.
(3) He did not depend upon high-pressure and intense emotionalism. He sought no hasty decisions. Instead He exhorted the people to sit down and count the cost before deciding to become His disciples. See Luke 14:26-33. How many evangelists do that today? Instead most of them seek in every conceivable way to over-persuade. High pressure evangelism can be indicted not only on scriptural grounds, but also on sound psychological grounds. Charles S. Gardner, in his book on Psychology and Preaching, has some valuable remarks in this connection. He says: “It is noticeable that these who rely upon suggestion as a method of influencing others insist upon “immediate action”, while those who instinctively resist this kind of influence insist upon postponement of action, “and it is a healthy instinct.” The desire to postpone action may be, and often is, the result of moral inertia, or of a habit that has enfeebled the will, or a positive inclination in the wrong direction. This is so often the case that one hesitates to say anything to encourage the deferring of action in response to an appeal. But it is nevertheless true that, if the response is not one of thoughtful impulse, “a mere nervous reaction under the power of suggestion”, its ethical value is naught. The only antidote to an enfeebled will is to stimulate to voluntary action, the rational control of conduct. “And an immediate motor reaction induced merely by suggestion only adds to the enfeeblement of the will”. . . . One is often thus precipitated into action which is subsequently deplored and can only with difficulty be reconsidered; or committed to a position from which he would gladly recede but cannot without self-stultification; and so goes on through life embarrassed and morally compromised by the consciousness of standing in false relations. “This exactly describes the situation of thousands who today are enrolled as members of Christian churches; and while it enables the church to make a brave show as to numerical strength, it is one of the chief causes of the comparative lack of power of organized Christianity. I make bold to say that the disastrous results of this false psychological method are more general and more immediate in the realm of religion than anywhere else.” Nearly all evangelism today embodies this false method. Is it any wonder our churches are in the condition they are in? And if this method can be indited on psychological grounds, how much more can it be indited on scriptural grounds? Once I was very particular that the closing song be announced before I began preaching and that the singing start the moment I finished giving the invitation. But the Lord opened my eyes to see that the invitation has nothing whatever to do with the salvation of sinners. It is the Gospel blessed by the Holy Spirit that saves, and nothing else. New Testament preachers never gave what would be termed an invitation in modern parlance. All talk about “bringing sinners to a decision,” “drawing the net,” etc., betrays a dependence upon the arm of the flesh and shows that the preacher has fallen into the error that bears both a psychological and scriptural indictment.
(4) He did not depend upon salesmanship methods. One of the falsest notions that ever got hold of the mind of any one is that the preacher is to employ the methods of “popularship”. Popular salesmanship is based on the suggestion method which has been discussed already. Picture a salesman saying to a prospect: “Sit down and count the cost and see if you are able to buy the thing I am trying to sell you.” In substance this is what Christ said to the multitude. Most salesmen would starve to death if they used this method.
Salesmanship methods in the ministry are responsible almost altogether for the lost being in our churches. Joshua Gravett once said: “The Lord deliver us from artful men.” Salesmen-preachers are the artful men from which we need deliverance.
(5) He presented the Word to men and women and left them face to face with it. He did not tamper with the soul and try to help the Holy Spirit out. Had many a present-day preacher been in Christ’s place when Nicodemus came to Him, he would have said: “Let us get down here and settle this matter on our knees.” And then he would have artfully wrested a profession of faith out of Nicodemus by the corkscrew method. Why did Christ not do this? I ask again, why did he not do it? And I wait for some user of this method to answer. Many a present-day preacher would have used the same method with the woman at the well of Jacob. And in preaching to the multitudes many a present-day preacher would have concluded something like this : “Now all you people who want to be saved come forward for prayer.” But Christ and the apostles never used that method. Again I ask why. Were Christ and the apostles model preachers? Or did they leave out some very essential things? Is the Bible an all-sufficient rule for faith and practice? If it is (and it most certainly is: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:17), then let some advocate of the mourner’s bench give us his authority for his practice. We offer him one page in this paper on which to do so. We make bold to say, and challenge any one to disprove it, that a Baptist preacher has no more authority to invite sinners to come to him and other Christians to be prayed for than a Roman Catholic priest has for having people come to him and confess their sins. Baptists borrowed the mourners’ bench from the Methodists—and it is about time for it to be taken back home. It is the offspring of the Roman Catholic idea of salvation through human effort.
Moreover, the custom of inviting sinners forward for prayer misplaces prayer. Acceptable prayer must be accompanied by faith, for “How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed” (Romans 10:14).) If the sinner can reach God other than through Christ, then the mediatorship of Christ is not a necessary thing, but only arbitrary. Christ said “...I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comethunto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). This being true, we know that every man who has ever reached God has done so through Christ. And to reach God through Christ means to reach Him through faith in Christ. A sinner may go through the form of calling on God, but his prayer will never reach God until he puts his faith in Christ. Therefore the prime need of the sinners is not to be told to pray. He will do that without being told when his conviction reaches the proper point. The thing the sinner needs most is to be told how he can find acceptance with God. There is only one instance in the New Testament where a sinner was directly and personally exhorted to pray, and in that instance repentance was placed before the prayer; “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 8:22). And, when mentioned alone, repentance involves faith. They are inseparable graces.
He did not try to preach so as to please the people
And He did not please all of them. He did not even please a majority of them. Neither will any other preacher that is faithful in his calling. Christ reproved and rebuked. So will every other preacher that fulfills the charge that has been given him. “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (II Timothy 4:2) Not only did Christ rebuke, but sometimes He rebuked sharply. The preacher of today is commanded to do the same when need arises. “This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). Christ had the hatred of the world — even the religious world. He said all His disciples would have it too. “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18-20). Jesus said He came to send strife and division. “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36) “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mothe; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law” (Luke 12:50-53). These will accompany the ministry today of those preachers who withhold none of the counsel of God. The popular cry is for the preacher who can unite churches. But God has not called preachers to hold the saved and lost together in churches. Only a compromising ministry will unite the vast majority of churches today in their present condition. They are sadly in need of division to the breaking point between the saved and lost in them. They need the old leaven purged out of them, (I Corinthians 5:7). The vast majority of Baptist churches today do not want a faithful ministry. They want a soft-peddler, a pussy-footer, a compromiser, a diplomat, a smooth-tongued spouter who knows how to eschew the most objectionable things and season and sugar coat the rest so that they will be palatable to the perverted and worldly taste. The cry from the modern pew is the same as of old — ”Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits” (Isaiah 30:10). But God’s command is: “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression” (Isaiah 58:1).
Some time ago “The British Weekly” brought an indictment against the clergy of the Church of England, in which it said that their sermons never “sting and stab” and that they deal with “blurred uncertainties, foggy ambiguities and clumsy evasions.” This is more or less true of lots of preaching in Baptist pulpits. This is the kind of preaching, and the only kind. that will keep things in harmony and the machinery well oiled in the vast majority of Baptist churches today. Christ’s preaching was not of that kind. It evoked much and bitter opposition and drove the Sword of the Spirit into the hearts of sinful men. It caused a stir of division.
He fitted His methods to the attitude and needs of His hearers
With the adulterous woman He was very gentle, but with the Pharisees He was froward. Thus, like God, to the gentle He showed Himself gentle: but to the froward He showed Himself froward. “With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright; With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward” (Psalm 18:25-26).
He spoke with positiveness
He did not deal with “blurred uncertainties, foggy ambiguities and clumsy evasions!” He spoke with authority. The preacher today may speak with authority because he has an authoritative Book to speak from. Positive preaching is not popular today, but it is scriptural! The preacher who has no convictions that are strong enough to cause him to speak with positiveness needs to acquaint himself with the Book. To be certain, no man can rightfully speak with the finality and positiveness of Christ, but a man of the Book will be able to speak with a large degree of positiveness.
[From Joseph Sidders, editor, The Berea Baptist Banner, February 5, 2022; originally published in The Baptist Examiner Vol. 1, No 7, July 15, 1931. T. P. Simmons was then editor of The Baptist Examiner. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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