FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 19, number 3, January 16, 2020
“. . . they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks,” -Acts 14:1
Surely you will agree with me that the church in the United States, perhaps with a few exceptions, is woefully weak, seemingly unable to stand against the secularism of our nation which has been washing over us like a tsunami for at least fifty years. This is also, sad to say, the case in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and other like-minded Reformed denominations. We generally are pretty good on theology and our ministers are well educated, but something is terribly wrong. We lack transforming power. Most of our churches have plateaued or are in decline. The PCA as a whole is growing very, very slowly. So, what is the remedy? Consider this.
By the early 1930’s, in the throes of the Great Depression, England was spiritually adrift, having generally let herself go from the moorings of Charles Spurgeon’s powerful, 19th century preaching ministry. The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, commonly known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, held in Dayton, Tennessee in July, 1925, had drawn worldwide attention to the divide between science and the Bible on the issue of evolution. Princeton Theological Seminary, a bastion of Reformed and conservative theology, had gone liberal by then. J. Gresham Machen, a brilliant, Reformed scholar, left Princeton to help found Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia in 1929. Godless, atheistic communism was infiltrating government in both England and the United States. Rumblings in Germany, beginning with Adolf Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch to seize power on November 8, 1923, by 1931were growing with nationalistic, racist fervor. And the church in England at the time, was largely lethargic, impotent, and mired in liberal stagnation and unbelief.
But Samuel Chadwick, a professor at Cliff College in Derbyshire, England near Sheffield, a man full of the Holy Spirit and zeal, challenged his young students to sacrificial, bold, evangelistic ministry. He called it “trekking”, an Afrikaans word meaning “trampling, going cross country by foot.” Chadwick’s vision was to send forth bands of young men, full of faith and the Holy Spirit, to preach Christ to multitudes who were unreached and unsought by the churches. They were to receive no salary, but to live by faith, sleeping wherever shelter could be found, trusting the Lord for everything. They spent their summers traveling on foot, in bands of eight to ten young men, usually spending four weeks in one place, going from place to place to preach, testify, and to sing in the streets, market places, village greens, and beaches.
In the summer of 1931, eight young men from Cliff College, led by Maynard James and Dan Phillips, made their way on foot to Bolton, England, found an empty lot in town, set up a tent for their open air preaching campaigns, and went to work. Their original plan was to stay four weeks, and then move on to the next town. After spending several hours in prayer each morning, the men went to the streets, to the market place, handed out gospel literature, and engaged people in one on one gospel conversations. Soon one of the young men would stand and begin bearing testimony to what the Lord Jesus had done in saving him. Then another would stand, then another. Finally, after a crowd had gathered, one of the young men would stand and proclaim Christ crucified. They preached with unusual zeal, power, and efficacy, what we used to call the “anointing of the Spirit.” The four week campaign in Bolton turned into twelve weeks, with over one thousand conversions. Now, what were the young men to do? The churches in town were dead or liberal. They knew they could not entrust these little lambs to the wolves in sheep’s clothing. So, they began a church, leaving one of the evangelists behind to pastor the flock of one thousand new converts.
It is interesting to note that at the same time, in 1931 and for several years afterward, the young physician turned preacher, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, was laboring with the gospel in Aberavon, Wales to an almost exclusively unchurched, economically depressed, and debauched people. Lloyd-Jones, who knew and deeply respected Maynard James and his contemporaries, also preached with the anointing of the Spirit. While these men differed on secondary issues like baptism, church government, and the second coming of Christ, they all agreed on the essentials of Biblical Christianity—the Bible is true, man is lost, Jesus died for sinners, and He is their only hope. While Lloyd-Jones, James, and the other “trekkers” all pastored local congregations at one time or another, none of these men could be explained apart from their evangelistic passion and preaching. They were lions in the pulpit and on the street corner. And all of them were mighty men of prayer. Preaching can be defined as truth mediated through personality, and while these men all preached within the confines of their own personalities, they all had this in common—they preached with passion and great emotion. They were possessed by the Holy Spirit. After spending long times in prayer and meditation on the word of God, after digging the well deeply, as they trusted the Holy Spirit for His divine eloquence, they opened their mouths and torrents of God exalting, man debasing, Christ honoring gospel truth poured forth, washing over their auditors, melting many on the spot, causing them to cry out, “What must I do?” The sheer force of their words in preaching, what Lloyd-Jones called, “Logic on fire,” arrested thousands from their slumber, delivering them from the certainty of perdition.
What was the source of their power and what can we learn from these “Pilgrim Trekkers?” They believed in the Holy Spirit. At the age of seventeen, Maynard James was deeply affected by a sermon from Leonard Wain. He later wrote of the experience, “I did not hear the sound of a rushing wind. Neither did cloven tongues of fire rest upon my head, nor was it given to me to speak in another language. But my Christian life was revolutionized from that hour. Carnal fear was cast out by perfect love. Frustration was exchanged for a life of victory in the Holy Spirit. Prayer became an intense delight and the Bible was my meat and drink.”
Some call this the baptism of the Spirit. I simply call it “the outpouring of the Spirit.” All believers can have this. Indeed, without question, all preachers can have and absolutely must have it. When we have it, we fear no man. We are willing to suffer ridicule, rejection, beatings, even death. When we have it, we have an unmitigated, unrelenting power in preaching that always brings a verdict. Often a large number of people believe. Often unparalleled opposition arises, but in every circumstance Christ crucified is the issue of the day. The preacher who stands in the pulpit in a church or on a box in the street, filled with the Holy Ghost, will have a divine eloquence, an efficacy of speech, a clarity of mind, a profound love and compassion for his lost hearers that confounds the world, even if they are mocking him.
What can we learn from these men? A plethora of present preaching produces paltry professions. We need Holy Ghost power, and we can have it anytime we are willing to pay the price for it. How do we get it? Ask God to ransack your heart, to deal ruthlessly with you, showing you the sin which lurks in the crevices of your mind, flesh, speech, and will. Grieve over it. Confess it and repent of it. Run to the fountain filled with the blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and bathe afresh and anew in its sanctifying power. Ask the Spirit to make you very sensitive to your sin, and when convicted and grieved, run to Jesus again and again for His cleansing and power. Seek Him while He may be found. Draw near to Him and He promises to draw near to you. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him if you seek for Him with all your heart.
God has always used Spirit anointed preaching. Today is no different than the 1930’s. God saved many then through powerful preaching. He can and will today as well. A Spirit anointed preacher causes the devil and his minions to tremble.