The reluctance to writing an article like this is because we are only vessels of clay and the best we have ever learned are lessons of grace. However, there is a responsibility to obey 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” So we need to ask ourselves, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor 4:7). With this lesson in humility before us, I will attempt to point out pitfalls to avoid in preaching.
The Gospel Missing
It is possible to believe that I have a gospel message, yet fail to preach the gospel. I can be so caught up with peripheral thoughts that I totally fail to preach sin, the cross, the resurrection, and faith in Christ. When I was very young, I preached one night in a tent on “Ho every one that thirsteth come ye to the waters” (Isa 55:1). An old preacher who spent his life in lumber camps said to me afterward, “Every time that I think I have a message, I should test it. If man’s ruin in sin, God’s remedy through the precious blood, and the responsibility of a sinner to accept Christ is not in it, it is not gospel.
It is Not the Sin Question!
“It is not the sin question, but the Son question,” sounds rather clever, but it contains error. Certainly, the final rejection of Christ is the damning sin, but it crowns every other sin. It is the sin question that must be emphasized. Sinners cannot understand their sin in the light of God’s holiness. We must preach the total depravity of the human heart, and even those who have heard the gospel all their lives still need to find out that they are nothing but sinners. It is far easier to admit that we are all sinners than to confess, “I am guilty.” Only the Holy Spirit can bring a sinner to this conviction. We must preach depravity because sinners must face what they are as well as what they have done.
Making a Savior out of Believing
When a sinner discovers he cannot work for salvation, so deceitful is the human heart (Jer 17:9) that he may try to feel that he believes, or even “believe that he believes.” Our preaching should never attempt to tell a sinner how to believe, or how much to believe, or to get him occupied in having the right kind of faith. It is not how he believes but Whom, not the right kind of faith, but faith in the right Person. We must preach Christ, the Object of faith, and not let sinners become occupied with what they will do, but rather with what He has done. Nobody can be saved without believing, but it is believing in Him; the faith is nothing more than the hyssop that applies the blood
I Must Just Wait for God to Save Me
We must preach the helplessness of a sinner, that he is without strength, but we also need to be careful to preach personal responsibility. There are people who claim that they have tried to get salvation and God has not saved them. This is another deception of the human heart to turn the tables on God and blame Him if they perish. God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2Peter 3:9); and He “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (2Tim 2:4). But we must preach, “Seek ye the LORD while he may be found” (Isa 55:6) and “Strive to enter in at the straight gate” (Luke 13:24). When the disciples were in the storm on the Sea of Galilee, the Lord descended from the mountain and walked on the water to them, but “would have passed by them” (Mark 6:48). It was when they cried out in their need that He came to save them.
Difference Between Propitiation and Substitution
Every preacher needs a clear understanding of the difference between propitiation, the infinite satisfaction that the work of the cross has given to the throne of God, and substitution that must be experienced personally. There is a great joy in telling sinners that the work of Christ is so perfect and complete that the “world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). We need to preach that the infinite sufferings of Christ have given infinite satisfaction for every charge that is against the whole world, but unless this is appropriated by a sinner, the work of substitution cannot be known. I do not tell sinners, “Christ died for you;” I rather tell them that “Christ died for the ungodly;” that “The Son of Man is come to seek and save that which was lost.” If they know they are ungodly and lost, they will be able to say, “He died for me.” Thus a soul is “born of God” (John 1:13). The Holy Spirit says, “Stand aside, don’t get in the way, this is My work.”
References to Election
There are people who claim they want to be saved, but they are not sure they are elect and must wait to find out. This is a disastrous result of wrong preaching or teaching. No sinner seeks after God on his own (Rom 3:11). The very desire to be saved proves that God by His Spirit and Word has called and is waiting on the sinner to receive His Son. He has done all that love and power can do by not sparing His own Son. Anything less than a “whosoever gospel” is not the gospel of the Bible. How could any soul ever learn before salvation that he is one of the elect? Election is never to be preached to those outside the door. It can only be known and appreciated inside the door.
Preaching Realization Instead of Reality
Any kind of preaching that occupies a sinner with his own realization instead of believing in the reality of what Christ has done will hinder that person from being saved. Descriptions of long, agonizing soul trouble may get a sinner occupied with subjective experience rather than Christ. If a bitten Israelite (Num 21:9) did not look away from himself to the uplifted serpent he would not be healed. The Lord used this “look” as a picture of faith. Looking is not to be occupied with the eyes that see, but with the One who was lifted up on the cross (John 3:14).
A Scolding, Harsh or Threatening Manner
Such an attitude is the very opposite of the Savior who said, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matt 11:29). Never adopt the attitude of preaching down to people. Let us preach with deep compassion and tender love for souls! “He that winneth souls is wise” (Prov 11:30). A soul winner woos, wins, and draws hearts to Christ.