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THE POPULAR PREACHER.
BY THE REV. THOMAS HENSON. “The common people heard him gladly.”—Mark xii. 37. MERE popularity is as fickle as the wind-as treacherous as the sea. There are different conditions of popularity. The cynic says : “ The preacher, to become popular, must be either handsome, rich, or eccentric.” Certainly eccentricities do sometimes bring the hunter of popular admiration his desire; but the effect will be as transient as the cause. Wealth, and courtly speech, or hands and tongue gloved in velvet, may secure a certain sort of popularity; but as these never reach the deep-seated needs of the soul, such popularity soon fades away like shadows in clear light. Subjects of discourse, being palatable to popular taste-political wrongs and pointless themes to witmay secure popularity to an indifferent speaker, but, like a foundation laid in sand, it will soon perish ; or, like the wake of a ship in the sea, it will soon be lost in the ever-rolling billows. The truest theme for popularity is the great gospel of the kingdom, with its universal adaptation, not to the passions of the populace, but to the deep needs of the soul. Discourse, to be truly popular, must manifest the soul's furnace rather than the mental hammer and anvil; more of the speaker's soul-light than of his study lamp-light. The hammer, the anvil, and the lamp must not be despised, but their ring should not be heard, nor the oil smelt, in the pulpit. Not artificial art, but divinity of subject and intense reality, characterised the preaching of Jesus, and no wonder that “ the common people heard him gladly."
The Preacher possessed the power of keen penetration into the secret recesses of human character and motives. He needed no testimony as to what was in man, “ for he knew what was in man.” This secured the adaptation of His words to His hearers ; He never shot arrows at random. The artist who will excel must understand the material upon which he operates. Jesus discerned the thoughts and motives of men as they came before Him. The scornful thoughts of Simon His host, and the penitent thoughts of the sinning woman at His feet; the selfish, covetous thoughts of the rich young man, and the lowly, loving spirit of Mary choosing the better part ; the malignant intentions of the Pharisees; the sinister motives of the Herodians; the sophistry and insincerity of the Sadducees; the loaf-loving greed of the multitude; the self-righteous and materialistic spirit of Nicodemus and the woman of Samaria ; the guileless character of Nathanael; the despondent temper of Thomas ; the heedless impetuosity of Peter, and the dark treachery of Judas--were all open to His penetrative eye. This power was largely innate in Him. It can be acquired only in a measure by us; but he who would be heard gladly by the multitude must speak as Jesus did, offering the bread of life to hungry human nature,
Doubtless very much of this keen insight into human motive and character was Divine in Him, but we must not forget the fact that He preached as a man to men. As He grew in stature He also grew in wisdom. And this growth in wisdom would be by such means as lie within our reach, and such, too, as every man must use who will preach with power and acceptance. " Communion with His own heart; the quiet gathering in of all the lessons of life and nature around ; deep study of the thoughts and hearts of men; a silent mastery of the religious ideas of the day, and a deep knowledge of the religious parties of the people—were daily advancing with Jesus. But in His spiritual life, in these years, as to the end, solitary prayer and long communion with God, where no eye saw and no ear heard Him, were, doubtless, His constant characteristics. The Scriptures read in the synagogues, or studied in the household, were His habitual study, till His intellect and heart were so saturated with their words and spirit, that He knew them better than the Scribes and Pharisees, who claimed to make them their whole study.* If such deep communion with God and with man's nature were needful to Him, how much more so to us!
He exercised an uncomprising fidelity. Woe to the trumpeter who, in the face of battle, gives a false sound. The preacher, of all men, must give the true word Jesus never faltered in His speech, nor toned down the terrible parts of His message. He did not seek the effeminate, the rich, the cultured, and the courtly; He left the smooth polished stones of society, and went down deep into the quarry to seek the rude, rugged, unshapen blocks of sinful humanity. With one trumpet blast He announced both His theme-repentance-and His audience—sinners ; “ The Son of man came, not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Woe to the Scribes and chief priests ! woe to the impenitent cities ! woe to the unbelieving ! came from His lips with lightning power, while His fearless unveiling of the sordid motives of those who flattered Him was prompt and unsparing. Perhaps this is the most difficult and critical sea for a popular preacher to steer through, so as to keep his skirts clean from the blood of flattering souls. But after all, the multitude likes fearless speech.
He always showed a gracious and tender bearing towards the weak and the penitent. What a contrast between His words to Simon, His host, and to the despised but penitent sinner at His feet! To him“ Thou lovest but little ; ” to her " Thy sins are forgiven ; go in peace.” To the little children in His arms, how gracious is His blessing! « They could not understand His words, but they understood His smiles as flowers understand the morning." To the weeping widow of Nain, how tender in His sympathy! To the learned and courtly ruler, how affable and benign in His spirit! To the dull materialist at the well of Samaria, how gentle and patient as a Teacher! The opening of His lips was like small rain and distilling dow to the
* Geikie, yol. i. p. 350,
humble and the contrite. The bruised reed and the smoking flax revived under the touch of His finger.
He gave forth His word with power and authority. Garrick spoke a great thing when he said, “ You speak truth as if it were fiction ; we speak fiction as if we felt it to be truth." Christ felt the truths He spoke. He felt them, from His community with God, from His sympathy with man, and from His deep understanding of His message, as it related to both God and man. As the Son of God and the Son of man, He was the deeply interested expositor of His Father's law to His fellow-man, and He spake with the double power which such relations must engender in the soul. No inward misgiving, or critical or speculative doubt, enervated His spirit; He spake with the energy of settled conviction and knowledge : “We know what we worship." Aiming at men’s consciences through their understandings, He spoke great traths in simple words. Things great enough for angels, things of eternity, He pictured graphically in words little enough for children, but full of power and authority because they were heated in the fire of His own soul, in the zeal which was consuming Him.
His doctrine was new, but not always acceptable. He spake of a kingdom near at hand, into which all were eager to rush; but also said that no one could enter therein without repentance and faith, humility and obedience of the soul. To the Sadducees He told of life beyond the present; to the Pharisees he insisted upon purity of thought as well as cleanness of plates and cups. From the Rabbinical teachers He stripped away the hypocritical and cumbrous surroundings with which they made void the law of God, and revealed that law in its own goodness. He had a gospel to declare, but it was useless, except to sinners; there was nothing in it for the righteous. He had a kingdom to offer, but it could only be appreciated by the poor ; the rich could see nothing in it. He had the most profound wisdom to teach, but the wise and the prudent could not endure it; by babes and simple minds only could it be accepted. His preaching could be expressed in three words—the Kingdom ; Repentance; Faith-yet all these were seed-words. Dropping on to wayside hearts, they were picked up by the devil. Dropping into hearts with nothing but surface-feeling, they soon made a bright show of growth, but as quickly died away for want of root-hold. Dropping into hearts cankering with cares, either of riches or of poverty, they sprang up, but only to be choked by the rank growths of worldliness around them. Falling into honest hearts—panting for life and empty of self-they brought forth the kingdom, the crown, and the glory. And so it is yet. We do well to note how He pictured the doom of the lost, laid bare the deep wound of sin, and insisted upon repentance. The modern tendency has been to touch these matters lightly—too lightly. He welded faith and repentance together; let us not divorce them, nor put asunder what God has divinely joined.
He shared the fate of many popular preachers ; He was heard
gladly, and vehemently rejected. It is impossible to say how many of those who heard Him with gladness joined in the cry for His crucifixion, but it is possible that some of them did so. There are two ways of hearing gladly. The intellect sometimes hears the rapturous orator, and is thrown into ecstacies. The heart sometimes hears gladly, and hastes to be obedient. The Lord said to Ezekiel (xxxiii. 31, 32): ". They come and sit together as my poople, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them ; for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And lo! thou art to them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument; and they hear thy words, but they do them not.” Herod heard John gladly, but he beheaded him. It is only well when the heart hears with the gladness of obedience.
For there is such a spirit of gladness; a gladness born, it may be, of bitterness, just as the sweet fragrance of the flower is born of the bitter root. Such was the case of those who were pricked to the heart on the day of Pentecost. Hearing with them brought forth, first, the bitterness of conviction—and secondly, the gladness of faith. Such are all those who hear and obey Christ's words; they are like the house on the rock. Storms cannot move them. Tempests cannot shift them. " The joy of the Lord is their strength."
RULING BY PRAYER. " LANE has been making us I entered the room to find him trouble again. I dislike to tell you, standing on one of the chairs brandbut what can we do with him?" ishing a loaded revolver, and point
Mrs. Houston stood by the gate ing it at the girls' heads. I comwith the tears running down her manded him as calmly as I could cheeks, as her husband, after an | to go to his room, but the scene gave absence of a day and a night, drove my nerves such a shock that I have up to his house.
| been in a tremble ever since." "What is it now?" he asked, | “He obeyed you, did he ?” alighting from his wagon and going | “He refused to give up the murto his wife's side with a dark, dis- derous little weapon, but left the couraged look settling down upon parlour for his room, saying that his face.
he had got the best of this family “Oh, that poor boy has sold his now, and would bring them all to watch his grandfather gave him, to terms before he got through with procure one of those little pocket | this quarrel. I have been morevolvers that are so temptingly ad- mentarily expecting that he would vertised in our papers. He got shoot himself, or some one of the angry with his sisters this morning, family, and have listened for the and presently hearing him say in a report of the revolver till I am quite loud voice, Take care there, or I unnerved. I am thankful that you will draw my seven-shooter on you!'' have come, but do not, I entreat you, go near the desperate boy till mit no misdeed; but all these his paroxysm of temper has had measures have failed. Now I want time to subside."
to know whether you have tried “ We shall have to send him to praying with him? the Reform School.” said Mr. Hous- "No,' said I, very much taken ton, decidedly. “His offences here- by surprise. "I have never thought tofore have been grave enough to of doing that.' send him to a worse place. I will "Well,' said the superintendent, have lunch, and then immediately you must go home and pray with start for M— by the twelve o'clock him. I don't feel as if I could retrain. Oh, it is hard; it is humili-ceive him here or have anything to ating beyond measure to be obliged do with the case until the power of to acknowledge to the world that I prayer at his home, and that in his have a son whose conduct is such presence, has been tried.' as to bring him within the statutory "I cannot pray before my family,' provisions concerning commitments I said. to the Reform School even.” . 66. What! you a church member,
Mr. Houston returned from his and do not have family prayer?' he mournful errand just in time for replied. the six o'clock dinner. When he No, sir,' was my answer, very went to his room to make his toilet deeply humiliated by the confession. his wife followed him. “What is "Go home and set up a family the result of your journey ? ” she altar to-night,' he said. asked, as soon as they were alone. “I cannot,' I pleaded. "I have Her husband looked so distressed not the courage to broach the matthat she began to tremble again, and ter, even to my wife. We never when he attempted to reply it was speak upon the subject of religion.' some moments before he could com “It is high time you take up this mand his voice, or find words to cross, if a cross it is,'he urged. How make himself intelligible.
can you expect that son to submit " The superintendent of the his will to yours, when you do not school, a very pleasant, agreeable submit your will to the Master? man, and a Christian, to whom I To-night at nine o'clock call your had confided, some time since, my family together, read a chapter of anxiety in regard to Lane, listened the Word of God, and lead in prayer. to this new trouble with a grave At that time my wife and I will go sympathy which quite won my into our closets and pray for you all, heart. When I had finished speak- especially for Lane. Let us now ing, he said, Yes, Mr. Houston, take the Lord Jesus Christ into our you must have him sent here now council.' by all means. He needs the dis- “I came away upon that. But cipline of this institution. But what I am going to do about it before definite arrangements are I don't know. I can never pray made, I want to ask you one ques- aloud in the presence of my family." tion. You say he has always been “Dear husband," replied Mrs. difficult to manage ; that you have Houston, sobbing, “I have been tried every way to effect his refor- thinking for a long time that we are mation; that love, foar, and force shirking our duty in this direction. have all been employed towards Do not have any more misgivings him; and that you have even tried about it; do not hesitate another to hire him to alter his behaviour, moment. I will arrange everything paying him a certain sum of money this evening-never fear. The Lord per day so long as he should com- I will pardon us, let us hope, and give