The Gift for Preaching / W.A. Criswell

by Dr. W. A. Criswell
Preached 3-12-74
School of the Prophets
Text: Ephesians 4.7-12

If you would like to turn to Ephesians chapter 4, we shall look at a passage, in Ephesians chapter 4.  “But unto every one of us”—beginning at verse 7 — “to every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.  Wherefore He saith,” —now he’s going to talk about that gift of Christ— “Wherefore He saith, when He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men … And He gave some, apostles; some, prophets; some, evangelists; some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

Here in that passage in Ephesians, and Ephesians by the way is an encyclical, it is a general letter.  It happened to be that the manuscript that the Textus Receptus had, had in the place here, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus.”  Some of the ancient manuscripts have it vacant there.  What happened was, Paul wrote the letter, generally.  It is a general encyclical.  It is a general epistle.  It was written to all of the churches.  And there would be a blank place there, and when the letter was delivered to a certain church, the name of the church would be inserted.  So we happened to have a copy of the letter in which the word “Ephesus,” the city of Ephesus, the church at Ephesus was inscribed.  But the letter is general; it is to all of the churches and as such to all time.  You could put the name of your church there, and the letter would be personally addressed to you.

So as he writes to all of the churches, the whole body of our Lord, he says that to each one of us God has given a grace gift.  Then he describes the gift, how it came. When our Lord ascended up on high, when He was raised from the dead and went back to heaven, He was a victor like a general who had won a great army battle, a great victory for his country, and so he divides the spoils.  And that was the ancient way of plunder.  An army, say a Roman army, that conquered, say, Corinth, would bring back wagons and wagons and wagons of Greek treasures and divide them up among the victorious Roman people.  That is the exact imagery of what Christ has done when He conquered sin, death, Satan, the grave, and came back up into heaven, and He gave gifts unto men.

“And He gave some, apostles; some, prophets; some, evangelists; some, pastors and teachers.”  Now that’s an unusual turn because elsewhere in the Bible, the ascension gifts of Christ are called pneumatika, ta pneumatika, the “spirituals” as in 1 Corinthians 12.1.  And sometimes they’re called charismata as in 1 Corinthians 12.4. In those places the grace gifts are endowments.  They are energizers.  They are abilities.

And all of us have them and they’re discussed at great length in the first Corinthian letter, chapter 12.  And then some, one or two of them, discussed further in chapter 14.  But here there is a turn in that that is different.  The grace gifts here are called dora, the plain word for “gifts.”  And instead of being bestowed by the Holy Spirit, as they are discussed in 1 Corinthians, ta pneumatika, the spirituals, ta charismata, the grace gifts, instead of being looked upon as endowments that are bestowed by the Holy Spirit upon each one of us, here they are bestowed by Christ Himself, and they are people.  They’re not endowments. They are folks God gave, as a great Conqueror; our Lord gave to the churches apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. So when I read that passage I am plainly taught and made to understand that the gift of Christ to His churches are you. We are named there.  Some of us, and we’re going to discuss each one, some of us apostles, some of us prophets, some of us evangelists, and some of us pastors and teachers, called of God, set aside by the Lord for the perfecting of the saints, the work of the ministry, the edifying of the body of Christ.

Now that would mean, to me, that the God-called preacher has from God’s hands a heavenly calling.  It is from above.  To the secular world, for the most part, the calling of a preacher is a calling to a non-entity.  It is something that is deprecated.   For example, at the beginning of this century, a literary critic in New York City, after receiving a book about the preachers of his day, including the incomparable Phillips Brooks at the Trinity Church in Boston, added a derogatory mark, quote, “It was a pity,” he said, “that so much ability and labor were spent upon men whose work was entirely aside from the main currents of human interest.”

I so well remember when I delivered groceries as a high school boy for the Sachstein’s Grocery Store.  I was depositing the groceries this dear woman had ordered upon her kitchen table, and she began to talk to me.  And in her conversation finally asked me what I was studying to be, what I was going to be.  I was then about fifteen or sixteen years old, and I told her that I was going to be a preacher, a Baptist preacher.  And I so well remember her mark of disgust when she said what a pity for me that I was planning to throw my life away.  Now that is a very typical attitude of a great much, a great deal of the judgment of the unbelieving world.  To them we are in a backwater.  We have no pertinency to what’s going on.  We don’t live where it’s at, they think, they say.

But in the judgment of God there are no gifts of God to the world greater than the ascension gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.  In God’s sight, in God’s sight, the great men of this world are not the president of the United States, and the prime minister of England, and the sheik of Kuwait, or any other of the political, cultural, social leaders of the nations.  In God’s sight, His greatest men are always His preachers, His prophets, His evangelists, and those who teach His Word.

And the riches of a denomination are not found in the vast investment that we have in denominational property, schools and seminaries, in local church establishments—there are more than eleven million dollars invested in the properties where you now walk around in the First Church here in Dallas—the riches of the country and of the nation and of the church, denomination, is not found in these outward investments, but they are found in the riches of the people, the God-called ministers, namely, you!

Now let’s look at these that God says He has bestowed upon His churches.  “And He gave some, apostles, apostolos,” from apostello, “to send forth,” somebody is sent forth.  Now that word in the Bible is used in two ways.  It is used in a technical restrictive sense, and as such in that way, the word refers to an office.  In that sense, there are only twelve apostles.

In Matthew 19.28, for example, there will be twelve thrones, and on each one of those thrones, an apostle, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  In Revelation 21:[14], there are twelve foundations to the city, the holy Jerusalem, and each one of those represents an apostle.  There are only twelve in that sense; technical sense, the word “apostle” refers to an office.

But the word is used in the New Testament in a general sense, and there it refers to a missionary who preaches the gospel of Christ where the Word is not known.  For example, in Acts 14.4, Paul and Barnabas are called apostles.  In Roman 16, verse 7, Andronicus and Junia are called apostles.  And in Philippians 2.25, Epaphroditus is called an apostle.  They’re not one of the twelve; Barnabas, Andronicus, Junia, Epaphroditus.  Well, in what sense could they be apostles?  In the sense that they are emissaries of Christ, preaching the name of the Lord where He is not known; now, in that sense we have apostles today.  They have the spirit of the pioneer.  I have met many of them.  They are men who don’t like to stay in areas where the work is already built up, the churches are already established, there are already pastors ministering to the congregations.  They like to go, they have the urge to go, the inward drive to go to areas where there are no churches, there are no Christians, where the gospel is not preached.  And that man is a called apostle.  In the general sense of the word, he is an ambassador from God to people who have never heard His true message.

Now, He not only has given us apostles, but He has given us prophets, prophete, propheme, “to speak out”, propheteuo, “to deliver a message.”  The idea of prediction in the word “prophecy” is late and secondary.  And yet it is one that has so overwhelmed the word that we don’t think of the word in any other category.  When we say a man has made a prophecy, why, we think of his prediction.  He’s made a prediction.  That is certainly not the way the word is used in the Bible.  It is a very secondary sense.

Now in the technical and the restricted sense the word describes an office, as seen in Acts 21.10. Agabus is a prophet; he has a message from God.  Not particularly one of prediction, though there he is predicting, but he’s a forth speaker for the Lord.  In a technical sense, the word “prophet” can refer to an office, such as Agabus was a prophet.

But it is also used in a general sense, and in that sense the word describes those who speak by unusual inspiration, as in Acts 21.9, the daughters of Philip were called prophetesses.  Now I think it is correct.  When you listen to a man and he is inspired to preach, to speak, he delivers a message of unusual unction.  You can say he is God’s prophet, and that is altogether correct according to the Word of God.

Now there are also beside these apostoloi and prophetes, there are also euaggelistes, there are also evangelists, from euaggelizo which means “to bring good tidings.”  So an evangelist is a man who preaches a message of good news.  And in the New Testament the word “evangelist” refers to men who do not live in settled pastorates but they go around from place to place and preach the gospel of Christ.

The difference in a minister, a pastor, and an evangelist is one is settled.  The pastor is settled, and the evangelist is one who is itinerate, and he preaches the gospel anywhere he has an open door.  One of the interesting things in the Scriptures is in 2 Tim. 4.5, the apostle says to the pastor of the church at Ephesus, Timothy, that he is to do the work of an evangelist; and he uses the technical word there for “evangelist.”  The pastor is not only to be a pastor—and we’re going to look at his work in a moment—but he is also to do the work of an evangelist.  And a good pastor will ask God to help him to be also a good evangelist.  When the pastor gives himself to winning souls and encourages his people to win souls, he is fulfilling the commandment in the Bible to do the work of an evangelist.

I sometimes am so disappointed in the men of God who are tremendous men of God.  I want to give you an illustration of one.  I won’t call his name because it would be deprecatory and I don’t want to hurt his image.  But from Great Britain, we invited a man to speak here for a week, Sunday through Sunday, a world-famed, a world-famed minister of the Word.

So he sat right there where Jimmy Draper is seated, and before we came into the auditorium, back there in the minister’s room, I said, “Now when you are through, make an appeal to give your heart to Christ and to put your life in the church.”  Well, he said, “I never have done that, I don’t know how to do that.”  Well, I said to him, “It’s very simple.  When you get through, you say, ‘May God bear the message on wings of the Spirit to the hearts of the people.  And if God has spoken to you the word of faith, giving your life in trust to Jesus, you come forward and publicly announce that decision.  Or there may be some here who ought to put their lives in the church.  We invite you to come forward.’”

And I said, “When you get through, invite them to accept the Lord as Savior, and invite those who have come to the city of Dallas, who are already saved, and baptized, and members of a church, invite them to come.”

“All right,” he said.  So he stood here in this pulpit and delivered a marvelous exposition of the Word of God.  And when he got through, went right over there and sat down.  I stood up and pressed the appeal and as always, God never fails us, He blessed it with a harvest.  So I talked to him after it was over.  I said, “Why don’t you make the appeal?”  He said, “I just don’t know how.”  Well, I said, “I will tell you how.  Now you listen to me.”  So I said the words to him again.  He said, “I will do it.”  So he came up here at the second service, and he delivered a marvelous message, and when he got through he went right over there and sat down.  And I made the appeal and God blessed it.  So I ate lunch with him that day, and I went through with it again.  And I told him what to do again.  He said, “I will do it.”

So that night at 7.30, at the evening service, he came here, stood in this place, delivered a marvelous exposition of the Word of God, and when he got through, sat down.  I talked to that man all week long.  And on the second Sunday when he was here, three times he came here behind this sacred desk and preached a marvelous exposition of the Word of the Lord, and all three times when he got through he sat down over there.

And finally when I talked to him, I said, “Why don’t you do that?”  He said, “I don’t know how.”  Now to me that is a violation of the plain injunction of Scripture.  The man is a marvelous preacher, an expounder of the Word of God.  I cannot understand it.  It would be impossible for me to enter into the inward heart and working of mind of that man.  I could not do it if I tried in a thousand years.

It is the same thing—it is the identical thing—as if we had a big insurance company, and we had a salesman and we sent the salesman out to sell insurance policies.  And he’d talk to a man and he’d describe to him all the things of the finest of his insurance policy; “look at the fine paper it’s written on, and look at the great company, and its resources, and its assets, and what it’s able to do.”  And then when he got through talking to the man, he walked away and never invited him to sign on the dotted line to buy the policy.

I can show you churches in the city of Dallas, great churches.  They are evangelical churches.  I’m not talking about liturgical churches.  I’m talking about evangelical churches.  There are great churches in the city of Dallas, and I talk to their members, and I ask them, “Does the pastor give an invitation when he preaches?”  “No, no.  He does not give an invitation.”  Well, why do you meet?  And their reply is, the members of the church talking to me, “Well, we meet in order to learn prophecy and in order to grow in the nurture of the Lord.  And the pastor feeds our hearts, and he opens to us the deep things of God revealed in the Holy Scriptures.”  I cannot see that and I don’t understand that.

The pastor is not only to feed his flock, as we’re going to see when we talk about his assignment from heaven, but he is also to do the work of an evangelist.  When he preaches he ought to preach toward a verdict!  Every time a man preaches he ought to preach toward something.  You’re going to preach toward getting people to tithe, or quit their meanness, or cut out beating his wife every Saturday night, or starving his children to death, or to love God, or to do something, and always that there be those who for the first time would accept Jesus as their Savior, always that seeking note, always that extended hand.  That is an assignment we have, a mandate we have from heaven.

Now we come to the pastor himself.  “And he gave some, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors.”  The word “pastor” is poimen, poimen.  It means “a shepherd.”  There are three words that are used in the New Testament interchangeably for the office of a pastor.  One is “episkopos”, which is translated in the King James Version “bishop.”  It means “overseer”, episkopos.  The other word, a second word, is presbuteros, which means “elder.”  And the third word is poimen, which means “shepherd.”

Now in the New Testament all three of those words are used interchangeably to refer to the same man, the same office.  We are episkopos in the sense that we’re overseers of the work.  And I can tell you something about a church that is universally true.  A church that is not led by its pastor is a weak church.  I don’t care what, God made the preacher to be the overseer and the leader of the church.

I had a committee come to see me, headed by an illustrious physician from another city here in the state of Texas.  And you know what they wanted me to do?  They wanted me to have a personal conference with their pastor, because, they said, “Our pastor comes to our deacons’ meeting, and he just sits down there in the meetings.  And if we ask him about anything, he says, ‘Whatever you say, that’s fine.’  And if we ask him whatever we ought to do in the church, he says, ‘Whatever you do, that’s fine.’  He sits there, the most amenable and gracious somebody you could ever know in your life.  But he doesn’t lead us.  He doesn’t say anything.  He doesn’t have any program, and we want you to talk to him, and we want you to tell him that we want him to come to the deacons’ meeting and tell us what to do, because we want to do something!”

Now wouldn’t it be great to have a bunch of deacons like that around you?  “We want to do something!”  Well, I refused to acquiesce to their invitation.  That’s not my prerogative to go to a pastor and tell him how he ought to run his church.  And I refused to do it.  But it sure made an impression upon me how men are.  They want to be led.

Now they’re out here plowing corn, or they’re working in a bank, or they’re building an institution, or they’re busy.  And when they come down to church, they want you to give a program for them, and something that they can share in, and get a handle they can hang on to, grab hold of.  And when a pastor does that, he will have a fine working church.  Now that’s his first assignment.  He is an episkopos.  He’s a bishop.  He’s the overseer and the leader of the church.

All right, now the second word, presbuteros refers to the honor in which he is to be held.  In the ancient society, the patriarch was the older one, the head of the house, the old father, like Abraham was the head of his house, the patriarchs.  The children of Israel were under the patriarchs by families.  And it refers to the honor in which a pastor is held.  Now I have a comment to make on that, which is something that you can observe anywhere.

Any time that a church fails to look with honor and reverence upon its pastor, they are in for a sorry kind of a ministry before God.  It’s like David before Saul.  Saul was anointed of the Lord, and David said, “I will not place my hands, lay my hands upon God’s anointed.”  He looked with reverence and affection and with dignity upon Saul all the days of Saul’s life, even though he could have destroyed him time and again, and have been made king over Israel.  I feel the same way about a church and a pastor.  Any time a church looks with scorn, or disdain, or contempt upon the pastor, it makes for the very dissolution of the church.  I don’t care what kind of a pastor he is.

When I was a boy, growing up in those little churches, I would be in the congregation and I would see them fire the preacher in the open public service, at eleven o’clock in the morning.  That’s why my father and mother looked with terror and heartache upon my entering the ministry.  They did not want me to be a preacher.  And I can understand why.

As a little boy, I repeat, I have sat in the congregation at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning and have seen the people stand up one after another, all over the house, and while the preacher was there in the pulpit, accuse him of everything that you could imagine, just speak words of slander and blasphemy to him.  Now what kind of a church do you have when you have a church like that?  The minister is to be looked upon as a man of great dignity and worthy of honor and respect.  And when the church does that, it is a fine church in its inner being, in its inner feeling.

One of the glories of this church has been for forty-seven years they looked with deepest respect upon Dr. Truett, forty-seven years.  And when I came here, when I was thirty-four years old, when I came here I inherited that same reverential love and respect, even though I was nothing comparable to the great pastor they’d known and loved for a generation.  And that has made the church strong inwardly.  And that pleases God.  The congregation ought to look with respect upon their presbuteros.  He’s the patriarch.  He’s the elder in the church.

Now the third word is poimen.  And that word is very self-explanatory.  The poimen is the shepherd of the flock.  He takes care of them.  He’s there by their bedside when they’re sick.  He’s there to bury their dead when sorrow comes, to rejoice when they’re young, marry, to share with them all of their life.

I spoke of the fact last night, that I’d been a pastor out in the country for ten years.  Most of those years, practically all of them, I was single and I lived with the people.  I only have one objection to being pastor of a big church and that is simply, plainly, humbly this, I am not able to be real close and to know intimately all of the families of the church as I did when I was a country pastor.  And I miss it.  I would love to know each member of the families in our church, and I’d love to be in their home.  I’d love to spend the night there.  I’d love to pray with them and read the Bible with them.  I’d love to know their children, and I’d love to know the problems that they wrestle with and battle with.  I wish I could.  That is the office of a pastor.

Now what I try to do in the church is, being unable to do it myself, I try to get men here who will share such a heart ministry with me.  And we have, I would say in the ordained ministers of our staff, we have fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen, beside the others who work with us in a like ministry.  And God is pleased when the church tries to remember the needs of its people.  People will love you if you will love them, care for them, and that is the office of a shepherd.

Now the last one here is a didaskalos, is a teacher.  There are men who have the God-given ability to explain the Word of the Lord.  And that is a marvelous and heavenly gift.  Well, there has never been a time, nor will there ever be a time, when God will not give to His churches these marvelous ascension gifts.  Through all the centuries and until Jesus comes again, there will be in His churches these gifts:  these apostles who are preaching the gospel where the Lord’s not known, these prophets who are inspired and preach in great unction—and in times the Spirit of prophecy will come upon you—and evangelists.  Whenever the office of an evangelist is brought into disrepute because of the practices of the men, I hurt on the inside of my heart.  The office of the evangelist is needed in the church.  For example, if I am called to hold a revival meeting, I can be very honest in telling you that my heart is still here in the church in Dallas.

I may be holding a revival somewhere and I may be in some other city, but every day and every night I’m thinking about the church here and the problems here.  And I’m planning things and dreaming dreams and asking God.  My heart is here.  And when I go to hold a revival meeting, I’ll never be gone but one Sunday.

An evangelist is not like that at all.  He doesn’t have the care and the responsibility of a congregation; and Sundays to him are as open and free as any day in the week.  We need the evangelist.  It’s good, and strengthening, and blessing for the church to have an evangelist.  And he can come and help you in a soul-winning appeal, and it will just be blessed of God.

Our coming revival meeting, which is about two weeks from now, is going to be lead by Cliff Barrows and Beverly Shea.  Now those men are evangelists.  Cliff Barrows is an ordained minister, even though he leads the singing, for the most part, for Billy Graham, who is an evangelist.  Now it is wonderful to have godly men like that.  They’re gifts of God to the church.  And it is fine to make a place for them in our denomination.  The office ought to be exalted among our people.  When I see a worthy evangelist accepted by our pastors and used by our churches, I praise God.  It is wonderful.  It is fine.  That pleases the Lord.  That’s according to His Holy Word.

Now in these centuries there has never been a time, nor will there be, when God does not have these men that He has given to the church.  In the apostolic age, Stephen and Philip the Evangelist, Apollos the orator, Timothy and Titus; in the ante-Nicene, the Nicene and the post-Nicene Age, Polycarp of Smyrna, Patheus of Heliopolis, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr of Samaria, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, Chrysostom the golden mouth; and in the pre-Reformation age Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, Savonarola, John Huss, Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, Menno Simon—Menno, they named the denomination for his first name, the Mennonite—George Fox; in the Reformation age, Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox, Balthazar Hubmaier, Felix Mantz, two of our great Baptist martyrs; in the seventeenth century, John  Bunyan, Richard Baxter, Samuel Rutherford, William Guthrie, Roger Williams, William Tell; in the eighteenth century, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd, William Carey; in the nineteenth century, Christmas Evans, Charles Spurgeon .

One time, Charles Spurgeon paused before a great peroration and said, “Oh that I had the eloquence of Christmas Evans!”  Joseph Parker, Thomas Chalmers, F. W. Robertson of Brighton, Alexander MacLaren, Charles G. Finney, Dwight Moody, Sam Jones, John Broadus, Adoniram Judson, David Livingston; in the twentieth century, Robert E. Speer, John R. Mott, George W. Truett, Lee R. Scarborough, Robert G. Lake, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham.  And on through the years until Jesus comes again there will never be a time when God does not have His ministers, His gifts to the churches.  Oh, isn’t that a blessed thing, the line in which we follow, the great heritage that we have in Christ, and the marvelous calling to which the Lord has set us?

Now, I want to speak in this last part about the moving Spirit of Christ in the God-called preacher.  The preacher needs something from heaven.  To be a smart man is wonderful!  To be gifted such as an orator, a politician who speaks, a man who addresses the nation, or addresses the Senate or the legislative assemblies, to have a gift such as the world calls is wonderful, but the preacher needs something else. He needs the breath of heaven upon him.  He needs something other.  Maybe it is an indefinable something, but it is a breath, a something from heaven!  For example, when Elijah called Elisha, the older prophet said to the younger man, “God hath sent me from Gilgal to Bethel.  God has sent me from Bethel to Jericho.  God has sent me from Jericho across the Jordan.”  And as they walked along together, Elijah said to the younger man, “Ask what I shall do for thee, before I am taken from thee.”  And Elisha said, “My father, that I might receive a double portion of thy spirit” 2 Kings 2.9.

Elijah said, “You have asked an hard thing.  I don’t know; it’s not mine to bestow.  For that comes from heaven; that’s a breath of God.  But,” said Elijah to Elisha, “if you see me when I am taken away, you have your request.  It will be as you have asked” 2 Kings 2.10.

And that was the meaning of the cry, the exclamation of the younger man, when he saw the chariot of Israel and the horses of Israel, and he saw Elijah go up to heaven in a whirlwind:  “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horseman thereof.”  He had his request.  So, picking up the mantel of Elijah that fell from the prophet when he ascended into glory, he crossed the waters in the same miraculous power 2 Kings 2.12.14.

And when the fifty sons of the prophets at Jericho, who stood afar off to view, saw Elisha, they said, “The spirit of Elijah doth rest upon Elisha”2 Kings 2.15. How did they know?  They had just seen both of them.  What was the difference when Elisha came back from across Jordan, and the sons of the prophets looked at him?  What was the difference?  It was the same Elisha in every way that you could have described him.  He didn’t have time to change his clothes.  The only thing added was he was carrying the mantel of Elijah.  He was the same man, yet they said, “The spirit of Elijah doth rest upon Elisha.”  You know the difference.  You know the difference.

When a man preaches without unction, and without power, and without heavenly enduement, without the breath of God, you know it.  But when a man is filled with the Spirit, and he preaches in the power of the Lord, you know it.  That’s what the man must have.  He desperately needs it.  After we have prepared our utmost, studied our best, entered into the Scriptures with all of the acumen and understanding in which our minds and souls are capable, then when we have set it in order the best we know how, and the sermon is prepared, then there remains that something other.

Lay it before God.  Bow before the Lord in a closeted place and say, “Lord, now set it afire.  Lord, baptize it with the Holy Spirit.  Lord God, help me deliver it in unction, and may the saving power of the Spirit of God work in the hearts of the people as I deliver the message.”  A man who does that is a glorious preacher!  It’s just wonderful to see a man like that.

I have, in my studying, as you—and I just mention it because I want to close with something else—I have in my reading, and as you have in your reading, I have come across the marvelous changes that has been in the life of ministers who have had experiences with God.  Thomas Chalmers was one of them.  He was a fine preacher then something marvelous happened to him.  The Spirit of the Lord fell upon him.

Many times have I heard it repeated the story of Dwight L. Moody.  There were three maiden ladies seated right there in front of him at every service who prayed, manifestly prayed.  So he just asked them one time why they were praying.  And they replied to him, they were praying for him to receive the unction and power, in the story—and I think it’s bad to use the word—the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

And Moody says he was insulted.  He said to them, “Why, I have the biggest congregation in the city of Chicago.  And I have more converts than any other minister in Chicago.  And yet you are seated there praying that I will receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit,” that’s the word I’d like to use.  “I win more people than anybody.  I have the biggest church in this city.  What you ought to do,” said Moody, “you ought to pray that the lost will be saved.”

“No,” said those three women, “we’re praying that the divine infilling will come upon you.”  Well, you know the story.  He’s repeated it and it’s been repeated thousands of times.  When the great Chicago fire sent him to New York City to get money to help those helpless people, Moody says he was walking down Wall Street, and there came upon him such grace, such heavenly presence and love, that finally he went to a friend’s room and asked that he might use it.  And there in that room Moody cried to heaven, he says, and asked God to stay His hand lest he die because he could stand it no longer.  And when Moody went back to Chicago and preached, he says, the same sermons, the same texts, but people came by the thousands.  And he became, as you know, no longer just pastor of a church, but he became the evangelist to the American people and to the English speaking people.  That’s God!

The same thing happened to John Wesley.  He came to America and was in Georgia as an evangelist and missionary to the Indians in America.  And finally, after about two years, was returning to England in despair and desperation; there was no power in him.  Then here’s another story that’s been repeated thousands of times.  A Moravian missionary got a hold of John and Charles Wesley; and that Moravian missionary led them to that saving faith, looking to Jesus, not works, even though he never got away from that Armenian theological background, looking to Jesus.

And at Aldersgate Chapel, seated there listening to a man read Martin Luther’s preface to the Book of Romans, Wesley wrote that his heart was strangely warm, and he felt that truly he was a child of God and that Christ had died for him.  Then Wesley used those same words.  He says, “I preached the same sermons and I used the same texts, but before they did not come.  But now they come!”  And Wesley, as you know, was the flaming evangelist that changed the whole course of English history.  It is that something other that a man ought to pray for.  After he’s studied his utmost, he’s prepared his sermon the best that he can, he’s offered to God everything of which he’s capable, then Lord, burn it up.  Set it afire.  Here I am, combustible, Lord!  Burn me up!  That is the marvelous thing God will do for the minister.

Now I’m going too long but I want to close with this because all of us fall into these things.  There’s not a one of us but that feels weakness in his life.  “O God, that I had the eloquence of Christmas Evans,” as Spurgeon said.  Or, “O God, that I had the charismatic presence of Billy Graham.”  Or, “O God, that I had the drama and the agility of Billy Sunday.”  Or, “O God, that I had the oratorical prowess of John Chrysostom.  O God, that I had the boldness and the ableness of Savanarola.”

You could just go on, and on, and on, and on.  My brother, there has never been a man of God but that has lived with a severe and dreadful and tragic handicap, all of them.  Moses said, “O God, I can’t speak.  I’m not eloquent” Exodus 4.10. Jeremiah said, “Lord, I’m timid.  Their faces frighten me” Jeremiah 1.6-8. Simon Peter knelt at the feet of Jesus and said, “Lord, I’m a sinful man” Luke 5.8. Paul cried to God about the thorn in the flesh, whatever it was 2 Corinthians 12.8.

Wesley was diminutive. Did you know the Methodists are very proud?  They say that Wesley was at least five feet tall.  Actually, John Wesley was barely four feet eleven inches tall.  How tall is that pulpit from there to right here?  If Wesley were standing behind this pulpit, he’d look like that.  This is the way that he’d look.  John Wesley did not marry until his age.  He was way up in age. And a friend went to see John Wesley, and did not announce his coming, just walked through the door.  And when he walked inside the house, his wife was dragging him by the hair of the head all over the house.  John Wesley was not only diminutive, but he had a shrew for a wife.

Moody was uneducated. Moody used atrocious grammar and mispronounced so many words. The most effective minister that I heard when I was in Baylor was a man named Counselor who was deeply, grossly, deformed. And Whitefield was afflicted with asthma all the days of his life. He gasped for breath. Whitefield was the man that they said could pronounce the word “Mesopotamia” and bring an audience to tears; an astonishing man. I want to close with the story of his death.

I was up there speaking to our Baptist people in New England.  They met at New Brunswick, New Brunswick in Maine.  And going from the airport in New York City, up there to that appointment, we went through a little town in Connecticut called Newburyport.  And I asked the ministers who were in the car with me, I said, “Do you all remember anything in days past about Newburyport?”

“No.”

“Did you know that George Whitefield died here?”

“No.”  Well, I said, “Let me tell you.”

George Whitefield came to Newburyport in the days of the Great Awakening, to spend the night in the home of a friend.  He had retired in an upstairs bedroom.  And the people of the town of Newburyport gathered in the hall on the porch and in the front yard.  And asked the host if they, if he’d awaken George Whitefield and have him come down and preach to them.

So George Whitefield got out of bed, came downstairs, stood on the first landing of the stairway, and preached to the people standing in the hallway, on the porch and out in the front yard.  He had a candle in his hand, a lighted candle in his hand.  And George Whitefield preached until that candle went out, and then turned back upstairs, went to bed and died with an attack of asthma.  The man who, in modern centuries, had the greatest ability to move people God-ward was a man who fought, literally, for his breath.

I’m just saying there’s no one of us but that has a handicap.  Take it to God.  If it’s a thorn in the flesh, whatever it is, take it to God, and let God sanctify it, hallow it.  God has a reason and a purpose for it.  The trouble, the heartache, the thousand other things that sometimes overwhelm us and afflict us, God has a reason in it.  And here I’d like to quote, in closing, Hebrews 1.7: “It is God that maketh His minister a flame of fire.”  Let Him do it.  Let Him do it.

Copyright © 2013 The W. A. Criswell Foundation.
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Posted with permission.
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