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AN EVEN MORE SHOCKING YOUTH
A fine young preacher wrote me a lengthy e-mail the other day. He is an ordained man. He has been preaching for over four years. He is married and has two children. He says he was converted after reading our book, Preaching to a Dying Nation.
He wrote some very interesting and provocative things about what is wrong with the preaching in most of our churches. I agree with a lot of what he said. Don’t turn this off! What I am going to say, I believe, is the most important thing we need to hear in our time.
In our text, God told the prophet Isaiah that the people were rebellious. They did not want to hear “the law of the Lord” (30:9). They did not want to be confronted with the truth from God. They wanted the prophets to speak “smooth things” – “pleasant words” and “deceits” or “illusions.”
The people in Isaiah’s day wanted to hear “smooth things.” Therefore God told the prophet to write down His words “in a book [or tablet] that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever” (Isaiah 30:8). I believe that “time to come” refers in part to our time. This reminds us of the Apostle Paul’s prophecy, that in “the last days” (II Timothy 4:1),
“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; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (II Timothy 4:3-4).
We are now living in that “time to come” (Isaiah 30:8). And we now see many pastors speaking “smooth” and pleasant words to their people, rather than preaching the law and the Gospel as our forefathers in the ministry once did!
All of this has been noticed by the young pastor who wrote that e-mail to me. I am going to give you much of what he wrote to me, with my comments.
He said he made a profession of faith at the age of seven, but later realized he had never been born again. Later on he read our book, Preaching to a Dying Nation. He was impressed by the figures Dr. W. A. Criswell, Dr. A. W. Tozer and others gave, saying that most people in Bible believing churches were lost. He felt that he was one of them. He went to a pastor who “led me to the Lord.” He was baptized two weeks later.
He then went to another church and heard a man who did “real preaching.” He said he knew he needed to hear that kind of preaching “consistently” to “live for the Lord.”
He came to believe that the doctrine of the new birth has been “reduced to acknowledging the Biblical facts of the Gospel to be true [Sandemanianism], and then murmuring some heartless prayer to accept Christ.”
He came to the conclusion that so-called “expository preaching” is not used in converting many people. He said, “real Bible preaching converts, awakens, and searches the heart.” He said, “You cannot teach people into salvation. They must be preached into salvation.” He said that many pastors are “trying to teach people into salvation, which normally results in people praying a prayer to receive Christ who really don’t know why they need Christ to begin with.”
But then he said something that troubled me a little. It made me wonder if he fully understands what is wrong with much of the preaching today. He said that the old-time preachers were very serious, “they were fearless, and the people knew they were real and serious. That is why they had revival.” I question that. Charles Finney was a very serious and fearless preacher. He preached hard against sin from one or two verses of Scripture. He did not tell jokes. But a careful study of Mr. Finney’s ministry will show the thoughtful reader that Finney’s preaching never produced a real, God-sent revival. When he got through, the area where he preached was called, “The burned-over district.”
A person who is interested in the difference between real revival and the “revivalism” of Finney should read, Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858, by Iain H. Murray (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994). They should also read and study, The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening by Iain H. Murray (The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005). The first book shows the error of Finney’s message and methods. The second book shows the reason for preaching the law – to make people feel their need for Christ! This is a major problem, one that hardly anyone sees today. Chapter One is important indeed. But Chapter 2 is equally important. It is titled “Spurgeon and True Conversion.” But Chapters 3 and 4 should also be studied very carefully, and read several times. The purpose of the law is not merely to cause sinners to amend their lives, as Finney believed and preached. The purpose of the law is to make sinners feel their helplessness and their need for Jesus and His Blood atonement, on the Cross!
Then this young pastor said that the only men “I can listen to today and be challenged and convicted are you and a man named Paul Washer...he believes that the majority of professing Christians today are not Gospel hardened, but rather Gospel ignorant.” He said that Mr. Washer spoke at Dr. John MacArthur’s seminary, but he spoke so strongly that “perhaps Brother Washer won’t get invited back after that sermon.” While I was writing this sermon my associate, Dr. C. L. Cagan, watched that sermon on the Internet and made detailed notes on it. As we reviewed it we realized what Mr. Washer preached at Dr. MacArthur’s seminary may have been given a little more vigorously, but it was still Dr. MacArthur’s basic message – called “Lordship Salvation.” Here is Dr. Cagan’s evaluation of Paul Washer’s sermon at Dr. MacArthur’s seminary:
Washer refers to the depravity of man, the grace of God, the atonement, and regeneration. But (here is the difference from us)
grace and the atonement are not the main points of his emphasis. For Washer (and MacArthur, and the audience at the seminary) the central emphasis is to go to God (particularly through study) and then proclaim to God’s people (who are presumably already Christians) what you have learned, and preach to them to apply it in their own (already) Christian lives.
In contrast, our emphasis is to proclaim the riches of the Gospel to lost people so they can be converted. We have relatively little preaching and teaching directed solely to Christians. Nicodemus certainly studied the Scriptures, prayed, lived a clean, religious life, and taught others. He would have been approved by Washer and MacArthur if Jesus hadn’t specifically said that he needed to be born again (Christopher L. Cagan, Ph.D., M.Div., Ph.D.).
That evaluation by Dr. Cagan needs to be meditated on to better understand what it involves. It should be remembered that Dr. Cagan attended Dr. MacArthur’s church for over a year, so he knows first-hand what he is talking about. Along with his two Ph.D.s, Dr. Cagan also holds a Master's degree from Talbot Seminary.
How can we preach evangelistically to the lost every Sunday – morning and evening? Simply the same way Spurgeon did. Our people make great efforts to bring in the lost to every service. We deal with them many times, until they feel the impact on their lives of total depravity, grace, and the atonement of Christ. Only when they are under conviction of sin will they truly come to Jesus and be cleansed from their sin by His precious Blood. The goal of our preaching is not just to convict them as an end in itself. We want them to be convicted so they will actually come to Jesus! We preach conviction as the motive for coming to Jesus. Thus the “big” thing is not conviction, but Jesus Himself. My sermons usually begin with the law, showing people that they are lost sinners. But, then, the second half of my sermons point them to Christ, His suffering in Gethsemane and on the Cross; Christ, and His Blood atonement; Christ, and His ascension and prayer for us, at the right hand of God! So, we follow the old way of Gospel preaching. We begin with the law for conviction, and we end with the Gospel and Jesus for pardon.
Dr. Cagan also watched and made copious notes on Mr. Washer’s popular sermon, “The Shocking Youth Message” (given in 2002 and seen on YouTube). Dr. Cagan says that Washer believes correct doctrine, on subjects like imputation and substitution. But he says that Mr. Washer is essentially a law preacher (like C. G. Finney), not a Gospel preacher like C. H. Spurgeon. Spurgeon gave the law to point men to Christ. Mr. Washer gives law to point men to what he calls “repentance.” Repentance is the central thing in Mr. Washer’s sermon, as it was with Finney. Christ’s death on the Cross is the central message of my sermons, as it was with Spurgeon. Dr. Cagan says that the essence of Washer’s message is – “Sin is bad, you need to turn from it and follow Jesus and live the Christian life.” Our message is – “Sin is bad. You are enslaved to it and cannot give it up, because you are lost! You must stop trying to save yourself by obedience. You must feel that you are helpless and hopeless – and trust Jesus Christ alone. No act of repentance can save you! Only the crucified and risen Saviour Himself can save you!”
Mr. Washer mixes law and Gospel together in his sermon. But he ends it by giving only law. Thus Mr. Washer’s sermon has strong elements of Pelagianism in it – the idea that man in sin, man in depravity, man who is “dead in sin,” can somehow obey God and keep the law. This is called “Lordship Salvation” and it is also held by Dr. MacArthur. Dr. MacArthur and Mr. Washer claim to be preaching Reformed Christianity, but it is highly tainted with Pelagianism (the early heresy that man can do something to make himself acceptable to God). Mr. Washer and Dr. MacArthur are synergists (that man cooperates with God in his salvation). The Reformers and evangelists of the Great Awakenings, from Whitefield, to Nettleton, to C. H. Spurgeon, were monergists. Christ does all the saving of men and women who are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
Excuse me! But I am sick to my stomach with Pelagianism and synergism! I am sick of Finney and everything that comes from him! I am sick of the “sinner’s prayer”! I am sick of Baptists who baptize unconverted little children! They are no better than medieval Roman Catholics! Many times they are even worse! At least those Catholics feared God! But I am also sick of John MacArthur, who downgrades the precious Blood of Christ, and Paul Washer, who tells lost young people that they can work their way to Heaven by mixing law and grace! No! No! No! Away with all these ideas of men – they have not done us any good and they never will!
The Disciples said, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus said, "With men it is impossible" (Mark 10:26, 27).
Nothing you can do, or learn, or stop doing, can save you! Trust Christ Himself! Only Christ Himself can save you! Christ suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane. When God placed your sin on Jesus He sweat great drops of Blood and nearly died there in that Garden. He cried out to God and was spared so He could go to the Cross the next morning as your substitute. He died in your place, to atone for your sins. He shed His holy Blood to cleanse your sin. He rose from the dead to give you life in the new birth. Christ! Christ! Christ! Only Christ can save you – “that no flesh should glory in his presence” (I Corinthians 1:29). Christ and only Christ “is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (I Corinthians 1:30, 31). That is why,
“I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
(“Nothing But the Blood” by Robert Lowry, 1826-1899).
Many preachers think there are only two possibilities – you either believe in salvation through a “sinner’s prayer,” or you believe in salvation through a Lordship commitment. They never seem to think that there is a third way – the way of the Reformation – conviction of sin that moves the sinner to rest in Christ alone, in a crisis conversion! That’s the crying need of young people today! Away with Washer's teaching! Away with MacArthur's teaching! Away with a mixture of grace and works!
Oh, God, send us men who preach the doctrines of grace, the doctrines of the Reformation, with no admixture of law! Salvation is in Christ alone, in a crisis conversion like that of Luther, Bunyan, Whitefield, and Spurgeon! Let that be the great theme of all our preaching and all our testimonies! Let Christ be central in all we say and in all we preach! Christ! Christ! Christ! Christ! Christ! SAY IT WITH ME! Christ! Christ! Christ! Christ! Christ! Christ! Christ! Christ! Christ! Christ!
“That in all things he might have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18).
We have tens of thousands of young people who have been given everything except Christ Himself! Come straight to Christ! Don’t come to a prayer or a Bible verse! Don’t just believe a doctrine! Come directly to the man Christ Jesus! He is at the right hand of God in Heaven. Come directly to Him! Trust the man Christ Jesus! He will cleanse your sin with His precious Blood. He will save you from sin for all time, and throughout the eternal ages!
Please turn to hymn number 7 on your song sheet. It’s by Dr. Oswald J. Smith. Sing it!
For salvation full and free, Purchased once on Calvary,
Christ alone shall be my plea – Jesus! Jesus only.
Jesus only, let me see, Jesus only, none save He,
Then my song shall ever be – Jesus! Jesus only!
(“Jesus Only, Let Me See” by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, 1889-1986).
"Christ alone shall be my plea - Jesus only! Jesus only."
If you would like to speak with us about being saved from your sin by Jesus, please leave your seat and walk to the back of the auditorium. Mr. John Samuel Cagan will take you to another room where we can pray and talk. If you’d like to hear more about becoming a real Christian, go right now. Dr. Chan, please pray that someone will trust Jesus tonight. Amen.
(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Isaiah 30:8-15.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Jesus Only, Let Me See” (by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, 1889-1986).