FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 19, number 4, January 23, 2020
“But you have the anointing from the Holy One.” -1 John 2:20
If, as I tried to show in my last post, the preacher must have the anointing of the Spirit on his preaching (and he surely must for we are no match for the world, the flesh, the devil, or unregenerate man’s distaste and disdain for the gospel of grace), then surely this begs the question, “What do I mean by the anointing of the Holy Spirit?”
What is the anointing and how do we preachers get it? In Luke 24:45-49 Jesus is commissioning His apostles to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins. They are to preach this message to all the world, but they were to begin right there in Jerusalem. Though they had been with Jesus for three years and were wonderfully trained by Him, witnessing His mighty miracles of healing, raising people from the dead, and casting out demons; though they had heard His marvelous sermons and been privy to private conversations about the meaning of the parables; though they saw Him numerous times after His resurrection; and though they saw Him ascend into heaven before their very eyes; Jesus, nonetheless, told them to remain in the city until they were clothed with power from on high. Again, just prior to His ascension, He said to His disciples, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth,” (Acts 1:8). In reminding the Thessalonians of the Spirit’s mighty work as Paul answered the Macedonian call, he wrote, “Our gospel did not come in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction,” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). In other words, something supernatural was going on. A mighty work of power and conviction, resulting in gospel transformation was wrought there in Thessalonica and the surrounding towns. When the Holy Spirit came upon the one hundred and twenty as they prayed in the Upper Room, Peter, as well as the other apostles, began preaching with power and authority. Three thousand were saved on the day of Pentecost. Within days the church had five thousand new believers. Then people were being added daily to the church through the preaching of the apostles. By the time Paul wrote his epistles to the Romans and the Colossians, some twenty years later, he could say that their faith was known throughout the entire world (Romans 1:8), that the gospel was constantly bearing fruit and increasing in all the world (Colossians 1:6). Quite literally we can confidently say that within fifty years or so after Christ’s ascension, the entire world had heard the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The anointing refers to the Holy Spirit coming down upon the preacher and his auditors. It is a supernatural manifestation of God bringing to bear His word through the preacher. With the anointing the preacher speaks directly to the heart of his audience. The word comes with authority. Those hearing it know that God is speaking directly to them, that they must act upon what they are hearing. When the unction (another word for the anointing) is on the preacher those hearing him are drawn to respond immediately, “What must I do?” The preacher with the unction of the Spirit speaks with a clarity of mind and speech, with an enlarged heart of compassion, pathos, and zeal. He speaks with divine eloquence. His words flow from his mouth and go directly to the hearts and consciences of those hearing him. The people are not distracted. They do not fall asleep. Their minds do not wander. They are locked in on the word of God as it is coming to them.
Many preachers speak of it. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that the anointing is the most vital thing a preacher needs. He defines it this way. “It is the Holy Spirit falling upon the preacher in a special manner. It is an access of power. It is God bestowing power, through the Spirit, to the preacher in order that he may do this work in a manner that lifts it up beyond the efforts and endeavors of man to a position in which the preacher is being used by the Spirit and becomes the channel through whom the Spirit works.” Tony Sargent, in a book devoted to explaining the anointing by illustrating it in the preaching of Lloyd-Jones, goes into quite a bit of detail in defining it. Briefly stated, the anointing in the Old Testament came upon those men who were placed in either the office of prophet, priest, or king. They were anointed with water or oil. In the New Testament this anointing was identified with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Paul says that he preached, not in persuasive words of wisdom but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that the Corinthians faith should not rest on the wisdom of man but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Paul’s intention never was to communicate the gospel in any way that would draw attention to himself, flatter people, or manipulate others into “making a decision” for Christ. By preaching in the demonstration of the Spirit he meant, as Arturo Azurdia says, “proof, evidence, verification.” This term was used in a court of law for testimony to prove a point, suggesting that a compelling decision is demanded, that no one is able to refute the proof being presented. Tony Sargent has observed that Lloyd-Jones was deeply intrigued by the preaching of Eighteenth Century Welsh revival preacher Howell Harris. While Harris took care in expounding Biblical texts faithfully, he also spoke of “the power coming” where words poured forth from his mouth. His preaching was heightened. He began in an ordinary fashion and then he was taken up and born along by the Spirit. He had received unction. Harris wrote, “I took no particular texts but discoursed freely as the Lord gave me utterance. As to the subject of my discourse, it was all given unto me in an extraordinary manner without the least premeditation. It was not the fruit of my memory. It was the effect of the immediate strong impulse felt in my soul.” While it is true that Howell Harris later had severe problems with failure to submit to the brethren, and thus for a season was set aside by Whitefield and the other preachers; early in his ministry he was carried along by the Holy Spirit. Early on Harris had the anointing of the Spirit on his preaching. Planning out a year of sermons is not necessarily unspiritual, but at the same time, should not the preacher be open for the moment at which the Lord may lead him in a different direction? Preaching under the anointing of the Holy Spirit is not the same as a lecture or business presentation. There is a clear supernatural dimension which takes the ordinary words of a man and carries them deeply, fervently, and powerfully into the hearts of his auditors. There is nothing in the world like it, and it is desperately needed in our day.
There is only one way, my friends, to secure or obtain the unction of the Spirit upon one’s preaching. The preacher must earnestly seek God for it in prayer. In a time of desperation and uncertainty, when he was on the run from his enemies, King David prayed, “O God, You are my God; I will seek You earnestly. My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory,” (Psalm 63:1-2). In other words, we see or experience the power and glory of God’s presence when we go into the sanctuary, when we seek Him earnestly, when our souls thirst for Him, when our flesh yearns for Him. I urge preachers to spend at least one hour in prayer, as close as possible to the time they begin to preach. They should pray over every aspect of their sermon—the introduction, the exposition of the text, the applications, the illustrations, asking the Holy Spirit to convict, convert, and sanctify, asking that the Holy Spirit carry them along and put His words into their mouths, that they lift up the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Savior, reconciler, and emancipator.
1. What follows is mainly from my book Evangelistic Preaching in the 21st Century, pages 20-22
2. God anointed Jesus directly with the Holy Spirit to be the consummate Prophet, Priest, and King (Acts 10:38, Hebrews 1:1-9). Believers also have prophetic, priestly, and kingly responsibilities and are anointed with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor.1:21,22) for these duties (1 Cor.12). Comment on 1 John 2:20, page 1030, Reformation Study Bible.
3. Preaching and Preachers, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, page 305.
4. The Sacred Anointing: The Preaching of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, by Tony Sargent.
5. Spirit Empowered Preaching, Arturo Azurdia, page 102.