From One Preacher to Another
“He that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.” (Proverbs 12:15)
In another place the Spirit of God admonishes us to “Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end” (Pro. 19:20). More than thirty years ago Pastor Henry Mahan and I were preaching together in a Bible conference in Appomattox, VA. I was a very young man, preaching with him and several other men of much age and experience. Each day we were there, Bro. Mahan came by my room for a visit. Each time, he gave me a word of wise counsel about preaching. I can almost recall his exact words. I have rehearsed them countless times over the years. They have, I hope, shaped my preaching.
Bro. Mahan’s first word of wisdom to me was “Preach the Gospel.” He urged me to preach like Richard Baxter, “as a dying man to dying men.” From that day to this, it has been my determination every time I preach to do so with the conscious awareness that I am preaching to eternity bound sinners, who must soon stand before God in judgment. Let no sermon ever be preached that does not clearly show sinners how God saves sinners by his grace, urging them to seek his mercy in Christ.
Next, my wise counsellor urged me, “Don’t try to preach to preachers. Find a man in the congregation who looks like he may have been digging ditches his whole life, who looks like his heart is broken and heavy, who needs comfort and encouragement.” That is exactly what God himself demands of those who speak for him (Isa. 40:1-2). Every gospel sermon is a message of consolation to God’s elect, urging them to look away from themselves and their woes to Christ and his fulness of grace.
The third wise word of counsel Bro. Mahan gave me that week was, “Bro. Fortner, find something in that Book that speaks to you, that you need. If you need it and it speaks to you, chances are somebody else will need it and it will speak to them. If you don’t need it, nobody else does.” In other words, it is utter vanity to stand in the pulpit answering questions no one is asking. Gospel preaching is not defending points of doctrine, but declaring the boundless mercy and grace of God in Christ.
I pray that God will never allow me to forget these words of wise counsel. I think hell must roar with laughter when preachers stand in the pulpit and try to untie theological knots no one is aware of and argue debates no one cares about. Until I find a message more glorious than Christ crucified, more needful than free grace, more delightful than infinite mercy, more comforting than absolute forgiveness, more assuring than perfect righteousness, more compelling than redeeming blood, more hopeful than heavenly glory, and more joyful than the infinite, immutable love of God in Christ, I am determined to preach nothing else, but Jesus Christ and him crucified. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”