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A Minister’s Congregation are in his heart

Author
Category Articles
Date June 14, 2002

Could Winston Churchill have spoken to the English speaking world as he did during the struggle with the Nazis if he had not spoken of the realities of those times in the emotional qualities of those realities?

by Geoff Thomas

How emotionally Paul can write to the Philippians. He says things like “I feel this way about all of you” (1. v.7), and “I have you in my heart” (1.v.7), and “I long for all of you” (1.v.8). We might be tempted to think, “What seeker-sensitive language. What touchy-feely terminology!” But when we think like that we are reacting against the contemporary cheapening of deep feelings not their necessity. Surely James W. Alexander of Princeton was right when he said, “No man can be a great preacher without great feelings.” He said that “it is a matter of universal observation that a speaker who would excite deep feeling must feel deeply himself.” Paul felt that way about the church in Philippi because he cared about their God, about his glory and his Christ.

Feelings of Concern

There are feelings of concern for lost sinners who are without God and without hope. Paul moved on from Philippi to Athens and there he was ‘provoked’ because he saw the city immersed in idol-worship. Temples and altars seemed to be on each street corner. How indignant and grieved he was at man’s blindness, and jealous for the honour of the one, living and true God. When he spoke to the Philippians about the enemies of the cross of Christ he could only do so “with tears” (3:18). He cared abut the life and death of Jesus Christ, and for people to scorn the Saviour’s agony broke Paul’s heart. Authentic preachers bearing the good news of salvation and fearing some may reject it and so condemn themselves to hell have never been far from tears. Whitefield said to people, “You blame me for weeping, but how can I help it when you will not weep for yourselves?” Some preachers are so preoccupied with the joyful celebration of salvation that they never think of weeping over those who are rejecting it. Minister’s eyes are dry because they have closed them to the awful reality of eternal death and outer darkness of which both Jesus and his apostles spoke. Richard Baxter said. “I marvel how I can preach slightly and coldly, how I can let men alone in their sins, and that I do not go to them and beseech them for the Lord’s sake to re pent, however they take it, and whatever pains or trouble it should cost me.” So there are the feelings of compassion for one’s unbelieving hearers.

Feelings of Warm Affection

There are also feelings of warm affection for those whose lives have been changed by the saving love of God. Paul knew what once they had been. There was a slave girl, owned by rapacious men who abused her. She was gripped by some demonic influence until the Lord delivered her. Now whenever Paul thought of her, feelings of the strongest affection welled up within him. It was the same when he thought of the old jailer and of Lydia. He had been the beneficiary of their kindness when they first came to know the Lord. Their faces lit up whenever they saw him, and when they were with him they felt loved. Paul had no embarrassment or guilt about feeling such affection for them. He says, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart” (v.7). Paul made Christianity so attractive by his overflowing love for them. Paul was vital, and sparkling, and buoyant, and cheerful, hopeful, courageous. He was the man most full of God whom they had ever met. He was conscientious but not picky, caring but not mawkish, encouraging everything that was good, but opposing anything that was mean and little. People noticed this and they said, “It is wonderful when he comes and visits us. We can lean upon him in our troubles. He gives such considered advice.” Paul was not a Stoic and opposed the hard doctrines of Stoicism with all his power. So he excelled in the religious affections. Paul lacked nothing in love and joy, and so lived a more beautiful loving life than these Christians had seen in anybody else. When he spoke to them it was with words of warm affection.

Speaking the Truth in its Emotional Power

I appreciate the comments of an old preacher from Calvary Baptist Church, Pine Bluff, Arkansas named E.W.Johnson in his insistence that preachers must speak the truth in its emotional context. If we are defending and confirming the gospel then there must be an emotional dimension about it. If an evangelist should preach the gospel lacking in the affectionate qualities and energies generated by those truths, he has in reality not preached truth at all. He has denied it. E.W.Johnson illustrates that with these references:

Could Winston Churchill have spoken to the English speaking world as he did during the struggle with the Nazis if he had not spoken of the realities of those times in the emotional qualities of those realities? Could Demosthenes have delivered his Philippics, warning the Athenians of the threat to their liberties to be seen in the rising power and ambitions of Philip of Macedon, if he had merely delineated facts without conveying the emotional qualities of those facts? Could Lincoln have spoken at Gettysburg as he did, briefly outlining the meaning of America’s greatest war, as well as honouring the fallen of the nation on that field, if his words had been without emotional content?

Was it necessary for Churchill to become “emotional” when he spoke with such effectiveness that his speeches were as military power itself? Was it necessary for Demosthenes to become “emotional” when he tried to rally the Athenians to the dangers rising from the north in the person of the Macedonian king? Was it necessary for Mr. Lincoln to become “emotional” at Gettysburg?

Or was it only necessary for Winston Churchill to be well informed about those things of which he spoke and believing them to speak clearly about them, with deep love in his heart for all that England meant to him and to the western world? Or was it only necessary for Demosthenes to know what he was talking about when he warned Athens of the Macedonian king, to believe the information he had, and to be filled with devotion to all that Athens meant to the ancient Greeks? Or was it only necessary for Mr. Lincoln to understand the meaning of the great American war, that in his eyes the very existence of the nation was at stake in that war, and to love the country?

With what unbelief do preachers in our day enter the pulpit to speak to immortal souls about questions of heaven and hell and yet speak without feeling. We do not need to get “emotional”. We need only to know whereof we speak and believe what we are saying about sin and the redemption which is set before sinners in this life. When these things are true, we will speak with feeling. Our message will grip our hearts and the feelings of those to whom we speak will be moved if God be pleased to mingle our words with faith in the hearts of our hearers. If our message does not grip our heart when we preach to men, rest assured, it will not grip the heart of those to whom we preach. How can we meet the awful foolishness which goes by the name of Christianity in our time unless we come before men to speak as men in the grip of truth, especially in the emotional content of that truth? (E.W.Johnson, “Questions Concerning Evangelism,” Sovereign Grace Publishers, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, 1988).

The Source of these Feelings of Affection

From where, then, does such affection come? Paul tells us here that he longs for the Philippians “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (v.8). This means, first of all that we must know Christ, really know him, and live our lives as those joined in love to the Saviour, following him whithersoever he goes. This is the only way to produce any fruit. There were two boys who grew up together in Devon. One prospered as a merchant and had a fine home and business. The other boy became a sailor and had none of those things. They were comparing their lives one night, and the sailor said. “It’s true I’ve not made much. I’ve been ill, hungry, shipwrecked and sometimes scared stiff, but I’ve been round the world with Drake, the greatest Captain who ever sailed the seas!” So Paul was led through a life of stoning, imprisonment, heartaches and hungers, but he says, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8).

But then notice that Paul doesn’t say that he loves the Philippians “with an affection like Jesus Christ’s”: he is not only copying the Saviour in loving them. That is not the prime reference here. Rather, of Jesus Christ’s fulness Paul continues to receive. To that great heavenly reservoir of every grace and virtue Paul is joined. The life of Christ comes into Paul day by day. Without that he can do nothing. The apostle says, “I live, yet not I, Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20). So Paul receives into his life day by day the very affection of Christ Jesus himself, and his joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control. It is by those graces Paul functions as a minister. So there is no excuse for a Christian having a stony heart. Here is a reality that overcomes the lack of affection you knew from your parents, the retarding influences of your old upbringing, and the disappointments you have had from the failure of other Christians to love you. The affection of Jesus Christ shed abroad in your hearts by the Spirit enables you to love God’s people.

The Secret of the Old Affection

Think of the power of Methodism, its glow, its strength, its drive. Hear Charles Wesley singing, “Thou, O Christ, art all I want: more than all in thee I find.” That is not muddle-headed mawkish sentiment. This is the life of God in the soul of man. Wesley’s ‘veterans’ – the preachers of his own generation – and hundreds of other preachers would meet each year in their Conference and report of churches planted and the kingdom of God spreading, and then they would sing together

We have through fire and water gone,
But saw Thee on the floods appear,
But felt Thee present in the flame,
And shouted our Deliverer’s name.

What is a congregation without love from its pulpit, love in its leadership, love in its prayer meetings, and love in all its relations? It has become sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. Think of the once great Ephesian church, and Christ saying to that congregation, “You have left your first love.” How different the early church. “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 4:32). Unity between pulpit and pew. Unity in defending and confirming the gospel. Unity in apostolic teaching and suffering. Unity in warm affection. That is the goal of the true minister of Christ.

GEOFF THOMAS

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