My dear brother, I have chosen this passage, on the present occasion, as expressing not the whole of your work, but an important part of it—preaching the gospel. For the discharge of this, an apostle besought the prayers of his brethren, and so should we.
The words imply that, to do justice to the gospel, or to preach it as it ought to be preached, we need a special Divine influence, and consequently the prayers of our brethren. I wish at this time to call your attention to the work itself—the manner in which the gospel ought to be preached; and then to offer a few motives to your consideration.
I. I shall call your attention to the manner in which the gospel ought to be preached.
It is not my wish to dismay your spirit, but yet I desire to impress you with a sense of the importance of the work of the ministry, that, like the apostle, you may cry to Him who alone can give you strength to discharge it. That we may form some idea of the manner in which the gospel ought to be preached, it is necessary to consider some of its leading properties. We may mention four or five:—
1. The gospel is a message which implies a disagreeable and heavy charge against those to whom it is addressed, and therefore requires great faithfulness.—It supposes that all mankind are the enemies of God, and exposed to his righteous displeasure. You will have to do with the wicked as well as with the righteous, and you must not flatter them. It is at your peril to say any thing soothing to the wicked. It will be very painful to keep them at a distance, and to exhibit to them the threatenings of God’s word against them. They will be trying to shift the blame, and to invent excuses; but you must follow up your charges. Their hearts may rise against you, and they may be displeased with your preaching; but you must not desist.
If we could go with a message of approbation and applause—if we could tell our auditory that they are amiable and virtuous beings, with only a few imperfections, which God will doubtless overlook—it might be much more pleasing and agreeable to ourselves as men. We can feel no pleasure in accusing our species. But woe unto us if we speak not the truth! The wicked will perish, and their blood will be required at our hand! Ezek 3:16–21. Then beware of softening matters, either with the unconverted or the backslider. Beware of giving up the authority of God over the heart, and of allowing either that the heartless services of the unconverted are pleasing to him, or if not, that the fault is not in them. Beware of countenancing their own views of themselves, that they are poor pitiable creatures instead of sinners. The wound must be probed, or your patient will be lost! O! if we preach the gospel as we ought to preach it, what fidelity is here required! You must my brother, side with God against an ungodly world. You must follow the windings of their evil hearts; you must detect them in all their refuges of lies, that they may flee to the only refuge set before them in the gospel. However it may pain you, or offend your hearers, if you would preach the gospel as you ought to preach it—you must be faithful.
2. The gospel is a message in which we have truth and justice on our side; and therefore we ought to be firm and fearless of consequences.—Speak boldly, Eph. 6:19, 20. If a man’s cause be bad, it must render him timid; but to be timid in the cause of God and truth is unworthy. When, however, I recommend boldness, I do not mean that which is opposed to modesty and respectful feeling, nor yet that dogmatical rant which deals in assertion without evidence; but that which is opposed to mercenary fear and cowardice. You must not calculate consequences as they respect this life. If you would preach the gospel as you ought to preach it, the approbation of God must be your main object. What if you were to lose your friends and diminish your income; nay, what if you lose your liberty, or even your life—what would this all be, compared with the loss of the favour and friendship of God? Woe unto us, if we shun to declare any part of the counsel of God! He that is afraid or ashamed to preach the whole of the gospel, in all its implications and bearings, let him stand aside; he is utterly unworthy of being a soldier of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, if you would speak the whole truth, you may be reproached as unsound and heterodox. But you must not yield to popular clamour. If you have truth on your side, stand firm against all opposition.
3. The gospel is a message full of importance, and therefore you must be in earnest.—If your message respected the health of your hearers, or their temporal interest, or their reputation, it would be thought important. But what are these compared with the salvation of their souls! Salvation by Jesus Christ is God’s last remedy—his ultimatum with a lost world, Mark 16:16; Acts 4:12. There remaineth no other sacrifice for sins. Then do not trifle on such subjects as these, lest you lose your own soul. What can be thought of you if you employ your time in making pretty speeches, and turning elegant periods, instead of endeavouring to “save yourself and them that hear you!” What if, instead of beseeching sinners to be reconciled to God, you should crack jokes before them, to excite a laugh! What can be thought of you if you trifle with principles, and join the sneer of the poet, when he says,
“For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight:
He can’t be wrong whose life is in the right!”
Your hearers will doubtless conceive that you are insincere, and that you do not believe the message you are appointed to deliver.
4. The gospel is a message that abounds with deep wisdom, and therefore we ought to possess a deep insight into it, and to cultivate great plainness of speech.—The gospel is “a mystery,” and a mystery that requires to be made manifest. A mystery is something hidden, or secret. Such are the great things of God. They are “hid from the wise and the prudent, and revealed unto babes.”—“Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.” Much of it, indeed, was hidden from Old Testament believers, Eph. 3:5. Nor is it known even to New Testament believers but by the Spirit, 1 Cor. 2:7. Nor is it fully comprehensible to any; for it is called “unsearchable riches.” “Great is the mystery of godliness.” Even angels make it their study. Then to make these things manifest must require great insight into them, and great plainness of speech. Do not be content with superficial views of the gospel. Read and think for yourself on every subject. Read the Bible, not merely for texts, but for Scriptural knowledge. Truth attained in this way is like property—it will wear the better for having been acquired by dint of industry. To preach the gospel as we ought to preach it requires, not the subtilty of the metaphysician, but the simplicity of the Christian.
5. The gospel is a message of love, and therefore it ought to be preached with great affection.—Never were such messages of love announced to the world before. “God so loved the world,” &c. “Come ye out from them, be ye separate,” &c. This is fitly called “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” It is an overflow of his blessedness. To preach these things with an unfeeling heart is not to preach “as we ought” to preach. Cultivate the affectionate. Not indeed an affectation of feeling, but genuine feeling. Christ wept over sinners, and so must we. If we trifle with men, or be careless about their salvation, or deal forth damnation with an unfeeling heart, we do not preach “as we ought.”
Fuller, A. G. (1988). “The Nature of the Gospel and the Manner in which It Ought to be Preached,” Sermon LXVI. Sermons and Sketches in The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 494–496). Sprinkle Publications.