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IS SOUL-HOT PREACHING A LOST ART?

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, May 6, 2012

“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (II Timothy 4:1-3).


This is the Apostle Paul’s charge, not only to Timothy, but to every preacher of the Gospel.

“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom” (II Timothy 4:1).

“I charge you” means “I solemnly testify” (Strong). “I command you” (McGee). The prophetic note in verse three, “the time will come,” reveals that the Apostle was speaking to all preachers, including those in the future. What did the Apostle command all preachers to do?

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine”
       (II Timothy 4:2).

1.  “Preach the word.” Do not preach about the word. But preach the word itself. Don’t just explain the Bible, but apply it to those who are listening. The word translated “preach” is “kērussō” in Greek. Dr. R. C. H. Lenski said it means “a loud, public proclamation.” This word “preach” is in the imperative mood. That means do it! Preach! Dr. John Gill said it means to speak “publicly, and with a loud voice.”

2.  “Be instant in season, out of season.” “Carry on, stick to it” (Lenski). Keep preaching when things seem favorable, and when it does not seem favorable at all. Preach whether people listen or not!

3.  “Reprove, rebuke, exhort.” This means “convict, chide, admonish” (Lenski). “Reprove errors and men for their errors and heresies” (Gill). “Convict of their errors” (Vincent). “Rebuke, or chide [scold] for sin” (Gill). “The word suggests a sharp, severe rebuke” (Vincent). “Exhort...comfort, as the word may be rendered” (Gill). “Ministers of the Gospel are in some cases to be...sons of thunder, so in other cases sons of consolation” (Gill). “With all longsuffering” or patience. Don’t give up doing these things in your preaching.

4.  “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” The time referred to was future when the Apostle wrote. It certainly refers to our age, “none more than ours” (Gill). I believe this applies particularly to the end of this age, the time we appear to be living in today. It certainly is a description of what goes on in many of our churches.


Now, that is what the Apostle commanded preachers to do. Preach the Gospel “with a loud, public proclamation” (Lenski). Keep doing that, even when it is not popular. Reprove errors. Rebuke sin. Comfort those who come under conviction of sin. That is the work of a true preacher of the Word! And every preacher should pray,

Make me a channel of blessing today,
   Make me a channel of blessing, I pray;
My life possessing, my service blessing,
   Make me a channel of blessing today.
(“Make Me a Channel of Blessing” by Harper G. Smyth, 1873-1945).

Is that happening in most pulpits, in our churches, today? Or is the next verse what we see in many churches?

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (II Timothy 4:3).

“For” shows that the “doctrine” spoken of is what we read in verse two. Dr. Marvin R. Vincent said “for” is “ground for...the future opposition to sound teaching” (Marvin R. Vincent, Ph.D., Word Studies of the New Testament, volume IV, p. 320). There is a prophetic emphasis here, showing that this applies even more “in the last days” (II Timothy 3:1; cf. I Timothy 4:1). “For they will not endure” means they will not put up with sound preaching that reproves, rebukes and exhorts (v.2). Instead they will “heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (II Timothy 4:3). In the last days they will only want soft teaching, not hard preaching, not sound preaching! Dr. Vincent gave this comment,

Clement of Alexandria described certain teachers as “scratching and tickling...the ears of those who desire to be scratched...In periods of unsettled faith...teachers of all kinds swarm like the flies of Egypt. The demand creates the supply. The hearers invite and shape their own [teachers]. If the people desire a calf to worship, a ministerial calf-maker is readily found (ibid., pp. 320-321).

I told somebody I was going to give this sermon. That person said, “Who are you speaking to?” I said, “I’m speaking to three groups.” First, I’m speaking to our people. They need to know why I preach like I do. When they go on vacation and visit another Baptist church they often hear a pastor that speaks like a limp-wristed Episcopal priest, or one that drones on and on with a verse-by-verse “Bible study” and calls it a “sermon.” So I have to explain why I speak like an old-fashioned Baptist preacher. Second, I’m speaking to the thousands of pastors who will watch this video. I need to tell them not to become carbon copies of someone else. Why should every preacher sound like a man they hear on the radio? Let’s face it, most of our preaching is boring. If we aren’t excited about what we are saying no one else will get excited! Yes, I believe preaching ought to be exciting! John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church as it once was, said, “Set yourself on fire and people will come to see you burn.” I agree with him! Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.” I agree with him! Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, “A man who can speak about these things [in the Gospel] dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one.” And I agree with him! (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Preaching and Preachers, Zondervan Publishing House, 1971, p. 97). Third, I am speaking to some lost people here this morning. I will address you at the end of this sermon.

I really dislike having to use Joel Osteen as an example of ear-tickling “preaching.” I would rather just focus on the Gospel. But so many are led astray by this young man that I feel I have to name him. I’d rather not, but I feel that I have to do it.

Joel Osteen was in Washington, D.C. last month to hold a giant rally. Wolf Blitzer interviewed him on CNN. I heard, with my own ears, Joel Osteen tell this newsman that both of the presidential candidates are Christians. He said, “They both say they are Christians, and who am I to doubt them?” – words to that effect. Wolf Blitzer smiled and complimented Joel Osteen. I am sure that millions of Americans thought, “What a nice young man.” But there is one problem – neither one of the presidential candidates has given any reason for him to say that they are true Christians. Don’t get me wrong. I will vote for one of these men in November, the lesser of two evils. But it was absolutely false prophecy to say these men are Christians in any meaningful sense of the word. Mr. Osteen’s statement was false prophecy, and I am sure it was terribly confusing to many people.

The next day Joel Osteen spoke to a stadium packed with thousands of people in Washington. As I watched him speak I felt sick at heart. He did not mention the Gospel (I Corinthians 15:1-4) even one time in his talk. It was all pop-psychology. Then he gave an “invitation.” He told the people to stand up and God would bless them. There was no mention of Christ’s death to atone for their sins, no mention of Christ’s Blood, no mention of Christ’s resurrection for our justification. In other words there was no mention at all of the Gospel! At the end of his talk he asked those who wanted to be saved to stand up. Then he said that all those who stood were now Christians. That was it! It was a totally man-centered “invitation,” without even a passing reference to the Gospel of Christ!

I have seen this before. I recently heard a famous evangelist preach a sermon against Islam. What he said about the Muslim religion was true, but he did not mention the Gospel. Then he gave an invitation for people to come forward without saying one word about Jesus. The choir sang a hymn, with no mention of the Gospel in it, while people came forward. Then the speaker told them all that they were saved! They were “saved” without hearing one word about Jesus! This is the sort of Christless preaching we so often hear today. It is sermonizing without proclaiming the Gospel “with a loud voice.” Sermonizing without reproving and rebuking sin. Sermonizing without exhorting people to believe the Gospel and trust Christ. In other words, it is exactly the kind of sermonizing the Apostle Paul warned against when he said,

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (II Timothy 4:2-3).

Oh God, help us not to preach like that! Help us not to be ear-tickling preachers!

Make me a channel of blessing today,
   Make me a channel of blessing, I pray;
My life possessing, my service blessing,
   Make me a channel of blessing today.

Dr. J. Vernon McGee gave this application of our text,

They want religious entertainment from Christian performers who will tickle their ears. We have a love for novelty in the churches today: emotional movies, pageants, [questionable] music, colored lights. The man who simply opens the Bible is rejected while the shallow religious entertainer becomes a celebrity...as people turn away from the truth and believe man-made fables (Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, volume V, p. 476; note on II Timothy 4:3).

Again, Dr. McGee said, “...the modern pulpit is a sounding board that is merely saying back to the people what they want to hear” (ibid., p. 475). That was exactly what I heard in Joel Osteen’s “sermon” in the nation’s capital. It was nothing more than a motivational speech, based on pop psychology, that could not save anyone. As Dr. McGee put it, he just said “back to the people what they want to hear.” Dr. Michael Horton said, “Osteen’s entire message represents a distraction from Christ. Who needs Christ if this is the gospel?” (Christless Christianity, Baker Books, 2008, p. 92).

I have to say one more thing. Much of the verse-by-verse Bible “teaching” that passes for preaching is not much better. Just because the Bible is taught doesn’t make it preaching. A running commentary on Bible verses, followed by an invitation, is not preaching the Gospel “with a loud voice,” as our Baptist forefather John Gill put it. Such “teaching” does not “reprove, rebuke, [and] exhort,” as the Apostle commanded us to do!

We must not be afraid of the people to whom we preach. What Luther (1483-1546) said is still true today, “It is a great hindrance to a preacher if he looks around and worries about what people like or do not like to hear, or what might make him unpopular or bring harm or danger upon him...he should speak freely and fear no one, though he sees many kinds of people and faces...But he should open his mouth vigorously and confidently, to preach the truth” (What Luther Says, Concordia Publishing House, 1994 edition, p. 1112; remarks on Matthew 5:1-2).

The title of this sermon, “Is Soul-Hot Preaching a Lost Art?” comes from a chapter in Leonard Ravenhill’s (1907-1994) famous book, Why Revival Tarries (Bethany Fellowship, 1963 edition, p. 53). Leonard Ravenhill was a British preacher. Ravenhill quoted the sixteenth century Swiss Reformer Oecolampadius (1482-1531) who said, “How much more would a few good and fervent men affect the ministry than a multitude of lukewarm ones.” He quoted the nineteenth century preacher Dr. Joseph Parker who said, “True preaching is the sweating of blood.” He quoted the seventeenth century preacher Richard Baxter who said, “I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.” Then Ravenhill asked, “Has great preaching died? Is soul-hot preaching a lost art?” (ibid., p. 54). If those questions were asked back in 1959, when his book was first printed, how much more should they be asked today? In the introduction to Ravenhill’s book, Dr. A. W. Tozer said,

      Toward Leonard Ravenhill it is impossible to be neutral. His acquaintances are divided pretty neatly into two classes, those who love him and admire him...and those who hate him with a perfect hatred. And what is true of the man is sure to be true of his books, of this book. The reader will either close its pages to seek a place of prayer or he will toss it away in anger, his heart closed to its warnings and appeals. Not all books, not even good books come as a voice from above, but I feel that this one does.

I was under fire for defending Jesus when “The Last Temptation of Christ,” that filthy movie that degraded the Saviour, came out. No one but Leonard Ravenhill spoke with me on the telephone, and prayed for God to comfort me. I will never forget him as long as I live. It was Ravenhill who said,

Oh! God, send us prophetic preaching that searches and scorches! Send us a race of martyr-preachers – men burdened, bent, bowed and broken under the vision of impending judgment and the doom of the unending hell of the impenitent! (ibid., p. 101).

Make me a channel of blessing today,
   Make me a channel of blessing, I pray;
My life possessing, my service blessing,
   Make me a channel of blessing today.

It was Leonard Ravenhill who said, “A sound sermon in faultless English and flawless interpretation can be as tasteless as a mouthful of sand” (ibid., p. 102). In his book, America is Too Young to Die, Ravenhill said,

      Just a couple of days ago a fine preacher brother said to me, “We have no great preachers in the country anymore.” I think I know what he meant: no outstanding man with a “thus saith the Lord,” a man terrible in utterance under the anointing of the Spirit. We have gifted preachers, talented preachers... famous preachers, organizing preachers, but where, OH where are the preachers who startle the nation with prophetic utterance? There is a famine of great preaching...a famine of conscience-stirring preaching, a famine of heartbreaking preaching, a famine of soul-tearing preaching, a famine of that preaching like our fathers knew which kept men awake all night lest they fall into hell. I repeat, “There is a famine of the word of the Lord.” There is a famine of sound gospel preaching (Leonard Ravenhill, America is Too Young to Die, Bethany House, 1979, pp. 79-80).

May God raise up a new generation of men who are not afraid to preach on sin, judgment, and salvation through Christ alone!

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (II Timothy 4:2-3).

Sing that chorus again!

Make me a channel of blessing today,
   Make me a channel of blessing, I pray;
My life possessing, my service blessing,
   Make me a channel of blessing today.

How can I end a sermon like this? If you are unsaved I must reprove, rebuke and exhort you. I must rebuke you for your false ideas about salvation. No, you are not saved! No, you are not a Christian! I must rebuke you sharply for your sin, especially for your sin of rejecting Jesus. I must exhort you to trust Jesus. Nothing prevents you from trusting Him but unbelief. Jesus died on the Cross and shed His Blood to atone for your sin. Jesus rose from the dead to give you life. I exhort you to repent and trust Him. Jesus will save you from sin and Hell. “Only trust Him, only trust Him, only trust Him now. He will save you, He will save you, He will save you now.”

Then, too, I want to give an opportunity to all of you to rededicate your lives as soul winners. I know you go through the same struggles preachers go through. Sometimes we are afraid to preach the way God wants us to. And sometimes you are afraid to speak to the lost the way you should. If you feel there is any need to rededicate your life to become more bold in winning souls, please come down to the front and Mr. Prudhomme will pray for you. You come while we sing that song again.

Is your life a channel of blessing?
   Is the love of God flowing through you?
Are you bringing lost people to Jesus?
   Are you ready His service to do?
Make me a channel of blessing today,
   Make me a channel of blessing, I pray;
My life possessing, my service blessing,
   Make me a channel of blessing today.

Is your life a channel of blessing?
   Are you burdened for those who are lost?
Are you helping those who are sinners
   Find Jesus who died on the Cross?
Make me a channel of blessing today,
   Make me a channel of blessing, I pray;
My life possessing, my service blessing,
   Make me a channel of blessing today.
(“Make Me a Channel of Blessing” by Harper G. Smyth, 1873-1945;
     altered by the Pastor).

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: II Timothy 4:1-5.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Make Me a Channel of Blessing” (by Harper G. Smyth, 1873-1945).