32509 I will presch........
"Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should
preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Eph. 3:8
Numerous as were the functions of the Apostle Paul, he was, most of all things, a preacher of the gospel, the fact is prominent in his history, and was deeply felt by himself. Everything, with him, was made subordinate to this vocation. His whole life was wrapped up in it. Though often sad and weary, and not infrequently (it would seem) desponding, he never turned aside from this great work. When difficulties and dangers gathered around, when foes were threatening and timid friends entreating, he could say, “But none of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”
And Paul was the greatest of all preachers. Of course, we omit from the comparison him who spoke “ as never man spoke.” There was in his preaching such a continual self-assertion, such a sublime and holy egotism, that in this, as in every other respect, his character is unique and peculiar, and we never think of comparing him with any other man. There have been many gifted men, gifted by nature and grace, who have devoted themselves to the work of the ministry; God be thanked for them all, and God grant that there may be many more hereafter! But in the estimation of everyone who diligently studies his character and history, Paul must stand, among all preachers, unrivalled and alone.
Thoroughly to analyze his great powers is a task for which I have no talent, and my hearers, under present circumstances, would perhaps have little inclination. I mean only to present some points in connection with Paul as a preacher; the consideration of which I trust may be blessed to our benefit. He has himself stated the principle upon which he acted in seeking this adaptation: “ I am made all things to all men.” This saying has come to be grossly perverted, being constantly applied as a reproach to the fickle and time-serving. The apostle has just before said what perfectly explains it: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are without law, as without law... that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men that I might by all means save some.” He elsewhere declares the same principle regulating his general conduct: “Even as I please all men in all things, that they might be saved.”
We have striking illustrations of this, in some of his recorded discourses. At Antioch, he preached first in the synagogue, to Jews and proselytes. Here he conformed, as did Stephen in his address before the Sanhedrin, to the Jewish custom of commencing with a sketch of the national history. This would conciliate his audience, by bringing to mind facts of which they were all proud, and in which he and they had a common interest; and from one point or another of that history the speaker could easily and gracefully turn, as did Paul on this occasion, to the subject on which he wished to dwell. The promised seed of David he declared was come in the person of Jesus. He pointed out the fact that the condemnation, death and resurrection of Jesus were in fulfilment of prophecies which they all believed.
He proclaimed to them through Jesus the forgiveness of sins, and that complete justification, to the believer, which could not be obtained through the law of Moses. He warned them not to neglect this proclamation, in language quoted from a prophet. All is from the Jewish point of view, and after the Jewish method; to the Jews he became as a Jew, that he might gain the Jews; and thus regarded, nothing could be more felicitous than the conduct of this address.
At Lystra, when he had wrought a miracle of healing, and the astonished and ignorant pagans were about to offer sacrifice to him and Barnabas, as being “the gods come down in the likeness of men,” he spoke, to restrain them, a few words which contained the simplest truths of natural religion: “ Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways: nevertheless, he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”
These truths were obviously appropriate to the occasion, and we learn that they sufficed to accomplish the apostle's object. But it is stated, concerning the same visit to Lystra, that “there they preached the Gospel,” and that when he had been stoned, “the disciples stood round about him.” We see then that his general preaching at that place was by no means confined to natural religion. And in Athens, everyone has been struck by the skill with which he sought to avoid offending the prejudices or violating the laws of his hearers. He began by complimenting them as in all respects an uncommonly religious people. He availed himself of an altar “to the unknown god,” to speak of the true God without incurring the penalty denounced against the introduction of new deities. In a few brief sentences, he assailed, pointedly but courteously, several leading errors which prevailed among the Athenians, particularly their idolatry and their proud conceit of distinct national origin. He quoted, a sentiment found in the writings of two Greek poets, one of them from his native Cilicia. And he carefully delayed to the close his declaration of the fact, so important, yet so likely to be rejected, that Christ had been raised from the dead. Was ever any discourse more skilfully adapted?
So, when standing before Felix, he did not directly denounce the tyrant's vices, for of course he would not have been heard for a moment, but he dwelt upon the opposite virtues. To a wicked man he spoke of righteousness; to an incontinent man, of self-control; to an unjust earthly judge, of the judgment to come.
A similar skill in adaptation, and care to conciliate, is observable in the Apostle's letters. You can form a tolerably complete idea of the history and present condition of a Church, or of the character and circumstances of an individual, from his letters to such an individual or Church. And you see everywhere how observant he is of all courtesies and charities, how careful first to commend what he can in those who must on other accounts be censured, how anxious to win and save even amid his severest rebukes.
The limit to this desire to please, the Apostle has clearly defined; as when he reminds the Thessalonians that he had not practiced any trickery in preaching, nor used flattering words, nor sought glory of men; “but as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which tried our hearts.” However great his disposition to conciliate, he would not sacrifice principle would never offend God, to please men.
That cross, in which alone he “gloried,” which alone he “determined to know,” is always before his mind, in all our minds forever. Widely as he ranges over the fields of truth and duty, he never loses sight of that grand central object; never ceases to feel himself in its presence. Every doctrine, and every precept, is presented in such a way that we feel it to have relation to the atoning work of our Saviour. For instance, servants are urged to be honest and obedient, “that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.” Husbands are exhorted to “ love their wives, even as Christ also loved the Church;” and wives to “submit themselves unto their own husbands, as unto the Lord; for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church.” When pressing upon the Corinthians the duty of giving for the relief of their poor brethren, he adds, “Thanks unto God for his unspeakable gift.