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the one trait the preacher cannot do without – andrew lim

If this piece sounds like I write as one who has abided by his own prescriptions let me quickly deny it.

And yet I must say with all my conviction, that with the power of God to save on one hand and the feebleness of the preacher on the other, it is vital that the preacher considers their own personal holiness a matter of utmost importance.

Paul in 1 Timothy 4:8 admonished Timothy to be rigorous in his pursuit of personal godliness. He said: “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” The verb there is in the imperative – gymnase from gymnaso. Timothy is told “exercise yourself unto godliness.” It is from this word that we derive the words  gymnasium and gymnastics. Timothy is to “train like a gymnast” in order to be godly. This is hard work. But if we are to take our call with utter seriousness, that is imperative for us.

The preacher needs to strive for holiness. Paul himself desired that and he insisted on a life of purity for Timothy. Robert Murray M’Cheyne famously said: “A holy man [sic] is an awesome instrument in the hands of God.” Surely God’s promise of fruit to the godly is not irrelevant to the preacher. Ps 18:20, 24 reads: “The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me. So the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.”

Malachi 2:6 speaks to the life of the preacher when it affirms the tradition of the Levite priesthood: “True instruction was in his [Levi’s] mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity.” The preacher may have been showered with imputed righteousness, but he desperately needs to match that with his practical righteousness. Without holiness and righteousness, they cannot qualify as true preachers no matter how eloquent they may be. Verse 8,9 spells the opposite road the preacher may take: “You have turned aside from the way . . . You have not kept my ways.”

But the reality is that even in our redeemed state, we preachers have feet of clay. We are frail in our resolution, timid in our convictions and often lackadaisical in our duty.

And there must have been times when just about the only difference between a sermon that is prominent and one that is impotent is simply the difference in the character of the preacher behind the sermon. To know the inner life of preachers like Jonathan Edwards, Charles Simeon or Spurgeon, is to understand the secret behind their eminent ministry.

If the preacher’s private life is not clean, they cannot face the congregation with confidence, there’ll be no joy and liberty in their utterance and inevitably the pulpit will be shorn of its power.

You can’t live carelessly during the week and expect to be weighty on Sunday. It was said of a French court preacher: “Sire, your sermon terrifies me, but your life reassures me.”

Clarence Macartney has a line I have personally cherished for nearly thirty-five years now. In his notable book Preaching Without Notes, Macartney says: “The life that the preacher leads during the week, follows him [sic] up the stairs into the pulpit. The better the man, the better the pulpit. When he kneels by the bed of the dying or when he mounts the pulpit stairs, then every self-denial he has made, every Christian forbearance he has shown, every resistance to sin and temptation will come back to strengthen his arm and give conviction to his voice. Likewise, every evasion of duty, every indulgence of self, every compromise with evil, every unworthy thought, word or deed, will be there at the head of the pulpit stairs to meet the minister on Sunday morning, to take the light from his eyes, the power from his blow, the ring from his voice, and the joy from his heart.” [Preaching Without Notes N.Y. Abingdon 1946 p.178]

May God help us all.

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