by R. L. Hymers, Jr.

June 8, 2003

"They perceived that he spake of them" (Matthew 21:45).

There is a tendency in modern preaching to talk about the gospel, to dissect the gospel, even to praise the gospel. All of this is done with perfectly sound theology, and yet it has little effect on the people. Preachers speak of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, yet they do not see many true conversions. Few lost people from the world are touched by it. And we wonder why this is so.

I have come to the conclusion that the reason for this is quite simple. People are not being told why they need to hear the gospel. I can't think of a more important reason for the ineffectiveness of much of our preaching today!

Duncan Campbell spoke during the last regional revival in the English-speaking world. Campbell made this observation, "The Puritan element in our preaching has largely fallen out." He meant that preaching which shows lost people their sin is no longer heard in most pulpits. And I am saying that until this trend is reversed, preaching the facts of the gospel will do little good.

The Lord Jesus Christ should be our greatest example in the matter of preaching. Again and again in the four Gospels Jesus' sermons confronted the lost with their deep inner rebellion against God. Take for example the passage that contains our text. Jesus preached the Parable of the Householder. As He came to the conclusion of the sermon, He said,

"Therefore I say unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matthew 21:43).

The Pharisees responded with seething anger.

"And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parable, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet" (Matthew 21:45-46).

This sort of thing happened over and over when Jesus preached. For instance, when He preached on the Good Shepherd,

"There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil" (John 10:19-21).

You don't have to read far in the four Gospels to find this sort of thing happening nearly every time the Lord spoke. This was also true of the preaching of the Apostles. Peter preached a great gospel sermon on the day of Pentecost. As he drew his sermon to a close, he said,

"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36).

The  results  of  that  sermon  were  astonishing.   Three  thousand  people  were  converted,  and  came  into  the  church  without  hesitation  (and,  I  might  add,  without  any  modern  "follow  up").

You can find examples of this throughout the Gospels and the Book of Acts. Christ and the Apostles did not merely mention the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. They did not simply tell lost people about the Blood of Christ, the atonement, or even the new birth. They did something preliminary to preaching the gospel. Before telling the lost the good news of salvation, they made their audiences aware of their sin in the eyes of a righteous and holy God. And they did this in no uncertain terms. They told the lost that they were sinners, who were cut off from knowing God and experiencing His mercy by their sin.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that this is the very thing we must do in our evangelistic preaching today,

Well, says someone, all that is negative. How do you suggest the work be done? I reply again,first and foremost we must show men their condition by nature in the sight of God. We must bring themto see that apart from what we do, and apart from what we have done, we are all born the "children of wrath;" we are born in a state of condemnation, guilty in the sight of God; we are "conceived in sin, and shapen in iniquity" (Psalm 51:5) (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Knowing the Times, Banner of Truth, 2001, p. 9).

He is not talking about naming a string of particular sins either. If a list of sins is given, many lost people may not have committed some of them. Others will excuse themselves in various ways. Lloyd-Jones said,

Far too often we spend our time in calling attention to particular sins, whereas our real business is to convict of sin, the thing in itself which destroys us, and which shows itself in the form of particular sins (ibid.).

Only after we have probed the conscience, by showing that the heart is corrupted, can we offer pardon and mercy in Christ effectively.

John Wesley came out of an entirely different background from Lloyd-Jones. Dr. Lloyd-Jones was a Calvinist. Mr. Wesley was an Arminian. And yet John Wesley made precisely the same point. In a letter to a friend, Wesley said,

I think the right method of preaching is this. At our first beginning to preach at any place, after a general declaration of the love of God to sinners, and His willingness that they should be saved, to preach the law, in the strongest, the closest, the most searching manner possible. After more and more persons are convinced of sin, we may mix more and more of the gospel, in order to beget faithThe "gospel preachers," so called, corrupt their hearers, and they vitiate their taste. They feed them with sweetmeats, till the wine of the kingdom seems quite insipid to them. They give them cordial upon cordial [sweet things in the gospel], [by which] their appetite is destroyed, so they can neither retain nor digest the pure milk of the word (Luke Tyerman, Life of John Wesley, pp. 130-131).

In other words, both Dr. Lloyd-Jones and John Wesley believed in making it clear to unsaved people that they are lost, exactly what it means to be lost, and the consequences of remaining lost - both in this life, and in the life to come.

When each of these men, Christ, Peter, Wesley, and Lloyd-Jones preached, lost sinners

"perceived that he spake of them" (Matthew 21:45).

Some of their hearers went away angry - but many of them were pricked in their hearts by the exposure of their sinful nature, and were converted.

"Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37).

This will never be the response of those who are merely given the facts of the gospel in a verse-by-verse "exposition." To recapture the power of apostolic, revival preaching we must probe the consciences of our hearers, and show them that they are unholy and unclean, subject to the wrath of God, and unable in themselves to reverse their awful condition. We must put this element back into our gospel preaching, and do as Christ did.

"They perceived that he spake of them" (Matthew 21:45).

Only then will lost sinners be convinced in the depths of their hearts that Jesus Christ alone can save them. Only then will the preaching of the gospel be accompanied by genuine conversions - and revival. May our Lord lead us to preach like this - whatever the cost. This is apostolic preaching. This is revival preaching. This is the element in preaching we so desperately need to reintroduce at this hour.

"They perceived that he spake of them" (Matthew 21:45).