Urgency must characterize our preaching as well as our planning. Paul's message to Timothy, "Never lose your sense of urgency" (2 Tim. 4:2), was given in context with "preach the word; . . . reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2). Urgent times demand urgent preaching. It is of the utmost importance that a preacher of the Advent should not "take the hour" or "occupy the pulpit." We stand between the living and the dead, and our preaching must constantly remind our congregations that soon there shall "be time no longer" (Rev. 10:6).
If our gift is preaching," Paul wrote, "let us preach to the limit of our vision" (Rom. 12:7). I learned a valuable lesson early in my preparation for the ministry. I pray that Cod may never let that lesson grow dim in my thinking. Fresh from conquests in the realm of sports, I had a great deal to learn when the Lord called me to preach the Advent message thirty years ago. A kindly teacher of speech began my "education" the first few days in college when he informed me I was one of the poorest prospects in public speaking he had ever had. This fatherly enlightenment comes to my mind frequently. I am reminded that if I ever accomplish anything in the pulpit it is because of God's help. With most of us, blessing comes to those who sit under our ministry in spite of, not because of, the human instrument. Preaching that saves is a gift from God.
Remembering this, inspired Paul challenges us, "Let us preach to the limit of our vision." We must be the most effective preachers the great Shepherd of the flock can make of us.
What is "the limit of" the "vision" of an Adventist preacher? It is the measure of our message. That message includes such stimulating, challenging themes as righteousness through faith, a finished work, the time of trouble, the latter rain, the shaking, the loud cry, the close of probation, the falling of the plagues, the coming King, a life that measures with the life of God in a sinless, sorrowless, deathless world. What other group of Christian preachers have been commissioned to herald such an all inclusive, thrilling evangel? We are indeed preachers for eternity. As such, urgency must characterize our every discourse; therefore "let us preach to the limit of our vision."
How sad that in such an hour Cod should find some of us asleep at our posts. "Many who have been placed upon the walls of Zion, to watch with eagle eye for the approach of danger and lift the voice of warning, are themselves asleep. The very ones who should be most active and vigilant in this hour of peril are neglecting their duty and bringing upon themselves the blood of souls." Testimonies, Vol. 5, p. 234.
God has called us to be watchmen on the walls of Zion. "O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me" (Ezek. 33:7). "If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people" (verse 3).
He has placed us there "to watch with eagle eye for the approach of danger and lift the voice of warning" as we meet the perils of the last days. If we do our work faithfully, the Lord declares us guiltless of those who fail to heed our warnings. "Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul" (verses 4, 5).
Some, however, the Lord declares through His messenger, who "should be most active and vigilant in this hour of peril are neglecting their duty." They are not preaching "to the limit of... [their] vision." The results? They are "bringing upon themselves the blood of souls." "But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword comes and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand" (verse 6).
Our preaching must be characterized by an urgency in keeping with the lateness of the hour and the solemnity of our responsibility.
It is well on occasions for us to consider how the Lord used and blessed some of the mighty preachers of yesteryear. I was arrested by this vivid description of Finney's preaching as described in S. L. Brengle's little book, The Soul Winner's Secret, pages 48-49, "When through him [Finney] the violated law spake out its thunders, it did seem as if we had in truth 'come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, and unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words.' But when he spoke of Christ, then indeed did his 'doctrine drop as the rain, and his speech distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the mown grass.'"
Most of us will never be able to preach like Finney. Most of us are very ordinary men, but we do not preach an ordinary message! When an ordinary man preaches a most extraordinary message "to the limit of... [his] vision," the Spirit of God can transform his halting imperfect speech into arrows of righteousness directed straight to the heart of needy sinners and halting saints.
Of Martin Luther it is said, "The energy of his faith poured forth in torrents of fire on their frozen hearts." D'Aubigne, History of the Reformation, p. 125. There was urgency in Luther's preaching. The vision the future Reformer received as he climbed the Scala Sancta on his knees sent him forth not only as a bearer of a creed but as the herald of a passion. The religious world of his day was shaken to its foundations because a poor German monk proclaimed his urgent message of present truth, "to the limit of... [his] vision." The religious world of our day must also be shaken to its foundations by God's message of truth, which will prepare the way for our coming King. That message will not be proclaimed by one famous preaching star like the great Reformer, but by thousands of spirit-filled "little" men all over the world preaching a big message "to the limit of... [their] vision."
Of Jesus in His day it is said, "They were amazed at his way of teaching, for he taught with the ring of authority." This is but another way of saying there was a ring of urgency in His preaching. It is said that Christ saw in every person with whom He came in contact a soul for whom He was to give His life. This lent to His preaching a spirit of urgency.
Never lose your sense of urgency
The one great obsession of our Savior's ministry was to "finish his work." "Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work" (John 4:34). This passion filled His preaching with a dynamic urgency.
What is dearer to the heart of an Adventist preacher than the hope of seeing the work finished? We talk about it. We sing about it. In almost every prayer we plead for it. We preach about a finished work. In our ministry, as in that of our great Example, should not this finished work obsession lend our preaching a sense of urgency? Should not the sight of unsaved masses around us in every land inspire us, as burdened apostles of righteousness, to preach with an earnestness and an urgency commensurate with the hour in which we live? Only such preaching will change "a finished work" from trite terminology into glorious reality.
Jesus, the Gospel writers tell us, spoke straight to the people in His day. The Savior dwelt upon practical themes. His was plain, pointed, practical preaching. Those whose minds were not closed by blind prejudice knew what He was talking about. I once heard a budding young preacher speak from the Gospel of John, chapter twenty-one, verse three. His emphasis was laid on the words "And that night they caught nothing." After listening to him speak for a few minutes I was convinced his text was well chosen. There was no hesitancy in his speech. Indeed, on occasions his fluency reached the heights of near eloquence. He "took with him words."
There was only one problem. He, like the disciples, "caught nothing." When he sat down, neither I nor, I feel sure, the approximately one hundred other persons in the congregation, knew what he had talked about. Instead of speaking directly to us with a message of urgency he dwelt in the stratosphere of oratory. Often his thread of thought was obscured by his pearls of speech. He indeed "caught nothing." Jesus spoke straight to His people. The messenger of the Lord counsels us to do likewise. "I urge upon you who minister in sacred things to dwell more upon practical religion." Testimonies, Vol. 5, p. 539.
The Advent message is a practical message. Preparing to meet Jesus is a practical theme. When we sit down after preaching, our people should go away knowing what we were talking about.
Marjorie Lewis Lloyd in her inspiring little book Love on Fire, challenges us with this solemn thought: "People do not come to church to watch a sermon go by. They come to church hoping, desperately hoping, that the sermon will get into their hearts and meet their needs and change their lives. People want to be changed. They are tired, so tired of the defeated lives they live. It is not preaching, but help that they want, and if a man can give that help, the people will come." pages 42, 43. Not just someone to "take the hour" or to "fill the pulpit". That is not what people today want or need. They need help to discern and overcome sin in their lives. They need help to live victoriously in this evil, sin-filled world. They need help over the rough course of life's uneven journey. They need reproving, warning, and loving! And they need it urgently, for the hour is late and their need is great.
"The preacher the people love most is the one who gives them the most help in daily living". Love on Fire, p. 43.
How better could I close this little message than by quoting Paul's words to Timothy as recorded in the Amplified New Testament: "I charge [you] in the presence of God and Christ Jesus Who is to judge the living and the dead, and by (in the light of) His coming and His kingdom. Herald and preach the Word! Keep your sense of urgency (stand by, be at hand and ready, whether the opportunity seems to be favorable or unfavorable, whether it is convenient or inconvenient, whether it be welcome or unwelcome, you as a preacher of the Word are to show people in what way their lives are wrong) and convince them, rebuking and correcting, warning and urging and encouraging them, being unflagging and inexhaustible in patience and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:1, 2).
May it please God to make us preachers of righteousness!
Robert H. Pierson, was former president of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.