Preaching in the Power of the Holy Spirit
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the renowned Prince of Preachers in nineteenth century London, understood more than most his constant need for spiritual power as he stepped into the pulpit. This Victorian Baptist was fully convinced that apart from the empowering of the Holy Spirit, his spoken words would have no impact upon his listeners. He knew that to enter the pulpit without the power of the Spirit would be to embark upon a task that could not succeed.
When Spurgeon moved his congregation into the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1861, it was the largest Protestant house of worship in the world, holding over 6,500 worshipers. As the Sunday morning service began, Spurgeon stood on the lower platform, where he led the congregation in singing and prayer. When it came time to preach, Spurgeon climbed a series of steps to reach an elevated platform. From this lofty ledge, his voice strong would be clearly heard by his many listeners.
A double spiral staircase led from the lower level to the higher plateau, each stairwell containing fifteen steps. As Spurgeon ascended the pulpit, he felt the heavy weight of his responsibility to God resting squarely upon his burly shoulders. He knew that his every word would be taken down by a stenographer and set to type. The transcript would be placed on his desk the next day for editing and sold by the thousands on the street corners of London as the Penny Pulpit. Large bundles of the sermon would be shipped throughout England, where copies would be purchased by fathers and read for family devotions. These sermons by Spurgeon would also be cabled across the ocean for publication abroad to a wider readership.
“I Believe in the Holy Spirit”
Realizing the far-reaching impact of this sermon, Spurgeon reaffirmed his complete trust in God as he mounted the pulpit. As the heavy weight of his stout body came down upon each step, he silently repeated to himself this confession of faith: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Fifteen times he reinforced this personal reliance upon the person and power of the Spirit. Spurgeon knew that apart from this God-given strength, the sermon could not prevail with his listeners.
In an argument from the greater to the lesser, if Spurgeon, who was arguably the most gifted preacher since the apostle Paul, was utterly dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit as he stepped into the pulpit, how much more must everyone else who preaches be dependent upon His divine enablement. No man can effectively preach the word in his own strength and expect to see spiritual results. Every expositor must be supernaturally empowered to expound the Scripture, or his labor will be, largely, in vain. This is a necessary lesson that every preacher must learn.
Simply put, all preachers are finite, and we must rely upon the infinite power of God in our pulpit ministries. Men of limited strength must rest in the unlimited strength of Jesus Christ. If biblical preaching is to triumph in the hearts of men and women, it must always be in demonstration of the power of the Spirit.
“True Preaching is God Acting”
Recognizing this need, Martyn Lloyd-Jones has succinctly asserted, “If there is no power, there is no preaching.” That is to say, powerless preaching is an oxymoron, a contraction in terms. Apart from the empowering of the Spirit, every preacher is merely going through the empty motions of a public presentation of material. Lloyd-Jones explained, “True preaching, after all, is God acting. It is not just a man uttering words; it is God using him. He is being used of God. He is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, true preaching involves God being mightily at work in the delivery of the preacher. True preaching is the Spirit releasing His power in the man who stands in the pulpit. Consequently, if there is no power from God, there is no true preaching.
Moreover, Lloyd-Jones asserted, “It is the Holy Spirit falling upon the preacher in a special manner. It is an access of power. It is God giving power, and enabling, 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 Sprit works.” That is, if there is no power from God, the man in the pulpit is merely talking. If there is no spiritual power, he is only reciting his notes. If there is no divine power, he is simply parroting what he has studied. If there is no power, his words just lay flat on the surface of his listeners’ ears. This is the sad plight of attempting to preach without supernatural power. Plain and simple, if his ministry is to succeed, God must grant His power to the preacher.
The Promise of Spiritual Power
Throughout the pages of Scripture, it becomes clear that what Spurgeon confessed and Lloyd-Jones affirmed is true. The Holy Spirit must empower the one who declares His word. The prophets of old certainly understood this. Isaiah said, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1). This promise of the Spirit’s power was initially realized in Isaiah for his prophetic office and was ultimately true of the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Luke 4:17-21). Likewise, Ezekiel heard God say to him, “‘Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!’ As He spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet; and I heard Him speaking to me” (Ezekiel 2:1-2). Ezekiel was empowered to prophesy by the energizing work of the Spirit.
On another occasion, an angel appeared to Zerubbabel and spoke these words, “‘Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). By this announcement, this angel was declaring the non-negotiable truth that no man can carry out His work in his own human strength. Instead, God’s work must be done in God’s strength if it is to know God’s success. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can enable His servants to carry out their ministry assignment effectively. Preaching is no exception to this unbreakable rule.
“The Spirit of God Descending”
This was certainly true in the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. When He entered into this public phase of His life, Jesus stood with John the Baptist in the Jordan River in order to be baptized. It was at that moment that “the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him” (Matthew 3:16). This was the Spirit anointing Jesus with power to preach the gospel and carry out His public ministry.
From this moment, “Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4:17). Subsequently, “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). He then preached the greatest sermon ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Throughout the remainder of His days upon the earth, Jesus continued to preach the truths of the kingdom of God. It was by the Holy Spirit, who empowered His sinless humanity, that Jesus preached so dynamically. Even Jesus Christ Himself needed to be anointed by the Spirit to preach.
“Clothed with Power From On High”
At the end of His life upon the earth, Jesus charged His disciples to preach the gospel in all the world: “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:46). This global assignment would be an impossible task in their own limited abilities, especially given the hostile nature of the unbelieving world only weeks after they crucified Jesus. How could this worldwide mission of preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins possibly succeed?
Jesus gives us the answer when He explained, “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (verse 48). By these words, Jesus declared that He would send the power of the Spirit that the Father promised. This divine enablement would be absolutely necessary if they were to reach the world with the gospel. After His ascension to heaven and enthronement on high, Jesus promised that He would send the power of the Holy Spirit to His disciples. By this outpouring, His servants will be supernaturally endued with power to proclaim the good news of salvation to the unbelieving nations. Such a daunting task would necessitate this dynamic power.
“You will receive Power”
In this same commission, Jesus commanded His small band of preachers, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). By these authoritative words, Jesus again promised the power of the Spirit to His disciples. They would definitely need this spiritual empowering if they were to speak His truth with great effect. The fulfillment of these words began on the day of Pentecost, as the apostle Peter was filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4) and preached a sermon that won 3,000 souls to Jesus Christ (vv. 14-41). Far beyond his own abilities, Peter was emboldened by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel as never before.
The dynamic power with which Peter preached proved to be overwhelming to the thousands who heard him that day. The sheer force of his proclamation of the truth penetrated through the hardness of their unbelief. How different he was than when he had previously denied the Lord a short time earlier (John 18:15-18, 25-27). As Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, everything was now different. His recall of Scripture was lightning quick. His citing of the word cut deeply into the hearts of those resistant. The strength of his argument, that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, conquered their proud hearts. He announced that the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament had come.
Throughout the book of Acts, the preaching of the apostles and others remained primary. One out of every four verses in Acts is either a summary of a sermon or a direct witness they gave that had the force of a sermon. The Spirit endowed these early disciples with abundant power to preach the divine person and saving work of Jesus Christ. Though the title of the book most often reads “The Acts of the Apostles,” the book could be best described as “The Preaching of the Apostles,” carried in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Acts, every time it states that the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, they immediately spoke the gospel with boldness (Acts 4:8,31; 6:3,5; 7:55; 8:17; 9:17; 11:15; 13:9,52). The inevitable result of being under the control of the Spirit was openly proclaiming the word. Whenever the Spirit gripped them, their mouths were opened to declare the message of salvation. This cause and effect relationship is certain to occur. Whenever they were filled by the Holy Spirit, they received power to bear witness of Jesus Christ. This is the inseparable relationship between the Holy Spirit and spiritual power being given to His preachers. God supplies in abundant measure the enabling grace that preachers need to proclaim the word.
The Need for Spiritual Power
Why is this spiritual power so greatly needed in the ministry of the preacher? Is not the power of the Scripture itself sufficient to carry out the assignment to preach? Has not the sovereign Spirit come into the world to convict, call, and regenerate the lost souls of the elect? What more could be needed?
Lest we fall into the deep abyss of fatalism, let us remember that not only has God appointed the end of all things, but He has also appointed the means by which these ends will be accomplished. The truth is, God has chosen to principally work through human instrumentality. Among these various means, it pleases God to work through weak messengers who know their own powerlessness to preach the word. Those who rely upon Him, He empowers to preach His word. God has purposed to carry out His sovereign will by using weak vessels, who are divinely enabled to proclaim the truth. By this means, He receives all the glory.
In the Upper Room, Jesus maintained this very truth with His disciples. He instructed them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these will he do; because I go to the Father” (John 14:12). By this, Jesus did not mean that these men would perform greater works in quality than He had accomplished during His earthly ministry. Those who heard Jesus rightly concluded that never did a man speak as Jesus did (John 7:46). Instead, they would perform greater works in extent. That is to say, they would preach the gospel in far more places with far greater results. As we have already noted, this was seen on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached and 3,000 souls were saved. Jesus never preached a sermon with such results. Under their preaching, thousands more would be converted.
There were specific means by which God chose to perform these greater works through them. The first means of grace was through their prayer (John 14:13-14), and the second was through their obedience to love one another (John 14:15). The third means of grace was through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be on you” (John 14:16-17). The Spirit would be their Helper, who would enable them to carry out the ministry of preaching that was entrusted to them.
“You Can Do Nothing”
The power of the Holy Spirit would be so necessary that without it, they could accomplish nothing of any lasting and eternal effect. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Apart from His sufficiency flowing into their lives by the indwelling Spirit, they will accomplish nothing of any genuine spiritual success. Only by the all-sufficient strength that the Spirit provides can they do anything in the lives of others.
In largest measure, the promised fruit that they will bear will come from their preaching ministry. In the same Upper Room discourse, Jesus explained, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit and that your fruit would remain” (John 15:16). That is to say, there will be in their ministries a harvest of people who would be won to Christ by their gospel preaching. In other words, Jesus chose them in order that they would bear fruit that will remain throughout eternity. This was principally accomplished through their Spirit-empowered preaching.
The Nature of Spiritual Power
Specifically, what will the Holy Spirit do in the preacher as he carries out His sacred work in the pulpit? I want to survey some of the various aspects of the empowering work of the Spirit in the one who proclaims the word of God. This list is not comprehensive, but only a small representation of what the Spirit does in the preacher whom He endues with power.
Increased Insight into Scripture
When Spirit-filled, the preacher is enabled to see with understanding his biblical text with an unusual clarity of thought. He is divinely-empowered to grasp the truth he is preaching with an even greater focus and deeper comprehension. Under the influence of the Spirit, the truth of his passage becomes much clearer in his mind. The Holy Spirit brings the truth more sharply into his view. The preacher’s grasp of the biblical text is significantly enhanced. In the preaching moment, he is enabled to see with an even greater penetrating vision the truth he is expounding.
This is the realization of for what the psalmist prayed, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law” (Psalm 119:18). This author knew that God must give him a greater capacity to perceive with understanding the truths contained in the written word. He is asking for spiritual insight that exceeds his natural abilities to see. He is asking for an eye-opening experience as he studies and stands to preach. This is a prayer that God delights to answer.
Again, the psalmist asks, “Make me understand the way of Your precept” (Psalm 119:27). The fulfillment of this request is for what every expositor should pray. We must be God-taught men before we can teach others. Again, the psalmist asks God, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes” (Psalm 119:33 cf. 12). This is a prayer for the increased apprehension of truth that only God can give. This certainly does not negate the preacher’s responsibility to study the Scripture. But it does underscore the reality that only the Author of the sacred Scripture, the Holy Spirit, can be our primary Teacher.
Lloyd-Jones agrees when he maintains, “You will find that the Spirit who has helped you in your preparation may now help you, while you are speaking, in an entirely new way, and open things out to you which you had not seen while you were preparing your sermon.” That is, the truth never appears so obvious as when the Spirit-filled preacher is standing in the pulpit. His spiritual eyes are illumined, as an ever greater intensity of divine light is shining upon his open Bible. As he stands to preach, he sees the truth with increased perspicuity. This God-given enlightenment can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit, who grants him penetrating vision into the truth. This is the direct result of the increased light that the Spirit is shining upon his text.
Immediate Recall of Scripture
Moreover, the Holy Spirit gives to the preacher an accelerated capacity to remember what he has previously studied. The Spirit brings to the forefront of his mind what he has read in preparation for this message and what he has written in his notes. As he stands in his pulpit, his mind is unusually stimulated to recall what he has discovered in his study and intended to deliver in this sermon. To be sure, the Spirit will not enable us to remember what we have not previously studied. This sudden recall is not a mystical, existential experience. The Spirit will only draw to our attention what we have already studied. If we have not already learned it, the Holy Spirit cannot remind us of what we do not know. This ministry of the Spirit is no substitute for the diligent study of the word. But He loves to pull forward to our thinking what we have deposited into our thinking.
This is much the reality of what Jesus promised His disciples, “You will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matthew 10:18-20). This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit in His preachers, enabling them to remember what has been taught to them.
In this manner, the Spirit also brings to the preacher’s remembrance what he has learned over an entire lifetime of study. Truths studied long ago are suddenly brought back to the forefront of his thinking. The Spirit will bring to mind what has been studied many months past. He will even enable us to recall what we have read, heard, and learned several years back, even decades ago. It is an amazing thing how the Holy Spirit refreshes the memory of the preacher to recall truths that were learned a long time back.
In so doing, the Holy Spirit gives the preacher an uncanny ability to remember and recite specific passages of Scripture. These texts flash into his mind and bolster what he is saying. In that moment, the Spirit will reinsert in the preacher’s thinking a biblical passage that establishes the point that he is making. It may be a particular biblical text that has not been read or studied for some time. But at precisely that instant, the supporting passage of Scripture is resurrected in the preacher’s mind and comes out of his mouth in an instant.
In my own preaching, I have experienced this unexpected recall of Scripture in the midst of a sermon. A biblical citation that was not included in my sermon notes is suddenly brought into my mind, and I am enabled to quote it with remarkable precision. This referencing of Scripture far exceeds my otherwise normal ability to recall a passage. As I stand in the pulpit, a text of Scripture is instantaneously flashed into my mind. In the heat of the moment, it quickly comes out of my mouth. It is inevitably a verse that drives home the truth I am stressing. Quite frankly, it is a verse that makes the point better than what is in my notes. Only God at work within me could have done this.
Deepened Convictions in the Truth
Further, the Holy Spirit also deepens the convictions of the preacher in the truth. When emboldened by the Spirit, he never believes the Scripture more deeply and holds to it more strongly than when he stands in the pulpit. His certainty about the truth is greatly intensified. His adherence to sound doctrine is solidified. His assurance of the reliability of Scripture is all the more galvanized. In this moment, he holds to the tenets of the faith with an even stronger grasp. As he stands before an open Bible, the Spirit makes him more resolute than ever. Such a preacher may normally be introverted or reticent. But in the pulpit, he becomes as bold as a lion and roars the truth. Otherwise naturally soft spoken, he suddenly becomes outspoken with an unwavering confidence.
Outside of the pulpit, this man may be somewhat hesitant to speak up. He may even be reclusive and shy. But while preaching, he is ready to confront the world with the truth. While delivering the sermon, there is not a hesitant bone in his body. He is emboldened and ready to storm the gates of hell. By temperament he may be reserved, but he is now a frontline warrior and a force for God. The introvert has become an extrovert. The withdrawn personality has become fearless and audacious. He holds nothing back. He has been set free from any fear of man. By the Spirit’s emboldening, he stands emboldened as an emphatic, even dogmatic preacher for the Lord.
This was certainly the case with Stephen as he stood before the Sanhedrin. He was “full of the Spirit” and, thus, “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:3,5,8). As he addressed these unconverted religious leaders, he became lionhearted with a depth of conviction that emboldened him even in the face of his own martyrdom. Not only did he have an extraordinary recall of the Scripture (Acts 7:2-53), but he was made by God to be unwavering in the truth as they viciously opposed him. He was “full of the Spirit” (Acts 7:55) and remained resolute in his stance for the Lord Jesus Christ. This is an empowering that can only come from God by His Spirit.
This is precisely how the apostle Paul preached. When he came to Thessalonica on his second missionary journey, he explained, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). True, it had come in word. But is also came in the power of the Holy Spirit that showed itself with a deep certainty that the gospel would radically change human lives. This was the firmly grounded confidence the Holy Spirit gave the apostle as he preached in Thessalonica and elsewhere.
By this Spirit-given confidence, the preacher is made immovable in his convictions, more than he may otherwise be. Everything seems so certain. The cross is seen to be all the more necessary. Heaven seems all the more desirable. Hell appears all the more dreadful. Every biblical truth is all the more believed. He cannot hold back its proclamation. These truths preached come out of the depths of his soul. Never does he believe more strongly as when he stands to preach. Even a mild-mannered man expresses what he believes without any hesitation.
Enlarged Love for People
At this same time, the Spirit-empowered preacher is given an increased love for those to whom he speaks. As he steps into the pulpit, his heart is enlarged more than at any other time. He is given deeper affections for people. He feels an intensified passion for their spiritual good. All genuine love is produced by the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22). Without this love, all preaching is profitless. Paul writes, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). The Holy Spirit must give such genuine concern for those whom the preacher addresses if the sermon is to succeed in their hearts.
Under the sanctifying influence of the Spirit, the preacher feels a new depth of love for those to whom he preaches. He suddenly becomes gripped with an overwhelming desire for their spiritual development. Perhaps otherwise stoic or aloof, this man now groans within himself for the spiritual good of those to whom he preaches. He finds himself more sensitive to their needs. He is truly concerned that Christ be formed within them (Galatians 4:19). A new wave of compassion fills his soul for their spiritual development.
In the pulpit, the Spirit-empowered preacher cannot abuse this opportunity for selfish gain. Under the Spirit’s power, he dies to self. He cannot manipulate people for his own benefit. Instead, he must sacrifice himself for the good of his listeners. He submits himself afresh to the higher purposes of the Lord Jesus Christ in their lives. The Spirit causes him to abandon self-centered ambition and thoughts of personal flattery. He believes that the God whom he preaches will do much good to those to whom he proclaims the word. He cannot rest until those to whom He preaches rest in God.
Enhanced Persuasion with People
The Spirit-filled preacher is a persuasive preacher as he proclaims the word of God. He is never content to merely allow his listeners have a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude with the truth. He understands that the presentation of the truth is never an end in itself. He knows the Scripture he preaches is only a means to a greater end. His listeners must not only learn the truth, but live it. The Spirit-directed preacher knows that the goal is not mere information, but transformation. With this in mind, the divinely-empowered minister is relentlessly trying to win people to Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul was certainly filled with the Spirit. Therefore, he was an intentionally persuasive preacher. He writes, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). This word “persuade” (peitho) means, “to convince, to induce one by words to believe, to seek to win one, to move one to do something.” Under the influence of the Spirit, this was the goal of the preaching of Paul. He was relentless to capture the hearts and lives of those to whom he preached. The Holy Spirit persuaded him to persuade others. It is always this way for a preacher.
When Paul came to Corinth, he was intentionally “trying to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). He was not merely teaching them. More than that, he was trying to move them to believe in Christ. Those who heard Paul preach accused him, “This man persuades men to worship God” (Acts 18:13). Even his adversaries understood how persuasive he was with men. In Asia, Paul’s opponents acknowledged, “this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people” (Acts 19:26). Agrippa confessed to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28). When imprisoned in Rome under house arrest, Paul received large numbers to whom he spoke, and it was said that he was “trying to persuade them concerning Jesus” (Acts 28:23). Wherever Paul went and to whomever he spoke, he was persuasive.
Such persuasion in preaching is one distinguishing mark of a Spirit-empowered man. Such a preacher becomes aggressive in his efforts to move his listeners to believe in Jesus Christ. He cannot have a blasé fare attitude that comes across nonchalant in his preaching. A Spirit-filled preacher will not be casually calm in the pulpit. Instead, he will be assertive in order to pursue his listeners toward Christ.
Thus, the Spirit-empowered preacher will be impelled to challenge His listeners to whom He preaches. By God’s direction, such a preacher will become more aggressive to win his listeners to follow Jesus Christ. He will challenge his listeners to pursue Him. He must capture their attention with the gospel. He must have a hearing with them. He will be convincing in presenting the truth. He must capture his listeners with the truth. They must not only receive what he expounds. They must receive it wholeheartedly. Such a preacher will challenge his listeners until all have believed. He believes that the open invitation of the gospel must be believed by all who hear it. He is not content that he be right. Nor is he satisfied that the truth is merely known. His listeners must act upon the message he proclaims.
Intensified Burden for Conversions
A Spirit-filled preacher will be gripped with a burden to win the souls of men and women to the truth of Scripture. The lost condition of his listeners will weigh heavily upon him. Under the influence of the Spirit, he will be greatly concerned that the unconverted will be won to the truth of Scripture. He will not be content merely to speak the truth. Though he knows he leaves the results with God, this Spirit-empowered preacher will still long for people to be brought to faith in Christ. He must gain a positive reception for the truth. His message must be believed. This is the heavy weight that his soul feels.
This same strong desire to reach souls for Christ was expressed by the apostle Paul when he wrote, “I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart” (Romans 9:2). His burden was to reach his lost fellow Jews for Christ. He said, “I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3). This is in the same chapter in which he lays out his case for sovereign election. After stating that God is the Potter and all humanity the clay from which God makes vessels of destruction and vessels of mercy, Paul added, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (Romans 10:1). Even in the face of divine determinism, Paul was intensely burdened that they would come to faith in Jesus Christ.
This is precisely how the Holy Spirit makes every preacher feel burdened to win those to whom he speaks. He must not only faithfully convey the truth of the word of God, but present the truth as only a means to a greater end. The truth of the word must be believed by those who hear him. This man of God will not rest until the gospel is believed. This is the relentless burden carried by every Spirit-filled preacher.
“God Gave His Holy Spirit"
How can anyone carry out the extraordinary challenge of preaching? The answer lies not in the preacher himself. The answer is found in the Holy Spirit who indwells him. God must fuel the fire within him in order to empower him to preach with supernatural power. It was John Knox, the great Scottish reformer, who said, “God gave His Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance.” This is the only explanation for how any man has the necessary ability to be a preacher who is mightily used by God. The greatness lies not in the man. The power is given by the One who lives within and lords over him. The power comes from the indwelling Spirit who enables His servants to proclaim the word.
Under the control of the Spirit, the preacher is supernaturally enabled to speak with an ease of words. He is given an ease of utterance and an ease of expression. What he attempts to say flows out of him with a rapid flow of speech. Lloyd-Jones explains that the Spirit gives “clarity of speech” with an “ease of utterance.” With little effort, God is giving him this quickened manner of speech.
So indispensible is this spiritual power in preaching that Spurgeon confided, “It were better to speak six words in the power of the Holy Ghost than to peach seventy years of sermons without the Spirit.” May the Lord give the fullness of His Spirit to every preacher of His word. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers His servants to succeed in the mission to which they are called. May it be so in each or our preaching.
This article originally appeared in Expositor Magazine, No. 21, Winter 2018.