Preaching To Conscience
The history of all great preachers who have bee instrumental in God’s hands of promoting powerful revivals of religion, reveals the fact without ex ion, that they all appealed directly to the consciences of their hearers. This is clearly recognized to be the secret of their success.
Emerson recognized this element in Finney’s preaching, and to it attributed, in a large measure, his popularity and success. Finney’s sermons and autobiography abound in appeals to conscience. Perceiving the backslidden condition of a certain church, by their prayers, he said: “I arose and gave their consciences a terrible searching.” A revival ensued as a result of this courageous action. Even his published sermons still preserve the conscience probing power for which his spoken
sermons were famous. He learned, in personal experience, when in quest of the higher life of sanctification that this experience was impossible unless there was first a “terribly searching application of the law of God to the heart and conscience of the individual,” probing their remotest depths of remaining corruption and self.
John Wesley said he dare no more preach a fine sermon than wear a fine coat. Well he knew, in thee language of another, “to preach a beautiful sermon ‘was often to preach a useless one,” so far as conscience penetrating power was concerned. Consequently, we find his writings and sermons replete with simple, direct, often homely, address, to the heart and conscience.
Mueller early learned, in his remarkable career of faith achievement, the impossibility of power in prayer and preaching, while living in the practice of any known sin. His life motto, taken from Paul’s words, “I exercise myself always to have a conscience void of offense toward God and man,” was the chief secret of his success.
Evan Roberts, the Welsh revivalist, was enabled by the Spirit’s help to ask very searching questions of the Christians, which cut the heart as a knife and probed the inmost depths of conscience, bringing a sense of guilt, contrition, and sorrow,ultimating in broken, penitent, obedient hearts. Hence, the remarkable Welsh revival.
Sam Jones attributed his power over men to his direct appeals to their consciences. The simple remark: “If the wives of some of you husbands knew you as well as God does, they would give you a wider berth than was ever given an Eastern leper,” went home to the heart of a prominent church member, causing him first to rave at the Evangelist, and later to confess and bitterly repent of his double hypocritical life. There are many similar instances, in the history of great preachers, of the power of direct address, under heavenly unction, to arouse, convince, convict, and reform the conscience.
The great apostle to the gentiles, Paul, said, in his preaching the word, he always “commended himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God”‑he addressed the conscience of his hearers.
This habit was also a distinguishing mark of the peer of all preachers. He who “spake as never man spake.” On one occasion every one of his hearers went out from His presence, crestfallen, and with downcast look‑”being convicted by his own conscience.” On another occasion, when His audience was composed of only one, there was such conscience penetrating power in the few words He spoke, that in haste she fled to her own town, and said to her neighbors, “Come, see a man, who told me all the things that I ever did.” The hypocritical Pharisees writhed under His searching messages.
The Pentecostal Preacher so drove His exhortation home that His audience was pricked in their hearts. The martyr, Stephen, succeeded in penetrating the hearts of his hearers, though he forfeited his life for his boldness. John, the Baptist, lost his head for his fearlessness in informing Herod his marriage to his brother’s wife, while he lived, was legalized adultery. Time would fail us to tell of the hosts of fearless men and women of God, who have boldly looked into the faces of scorners, hypocrites, and pharisaical professors, and have driven home to the conscience the rugged truths of God until men, demons and ‘devils have raved and gnashed on them with their teeth;’ but God has always stood by them with supernatural power “from on high” and given them trophies of victory on every battlefield.
From the foregoing examples we can readily see, when we reflect, God’s word, which liveth and abideth ever,.. has not changed, nor lost an iota of its power, and that men’s hearts and sin are the same in all ages; that the days in which we live are not, as supposed by many leaders, days of decay of conscience or lethargic conscience more than formerly.
Lethargic Conscience‑Decay of Conscience‑Misued Terms
We repeat it, the days in which we live are no more days of decay of conscience or lethargic conscience than former days have been (though there is an abundance of decay of conscience in the church and world with us). But our firm conviction (based on a wide observation and many incriminating confessions of ministers), is, that we are living in days when conscience is not appealed to, and aroused, from the pulpit, as was the case with the founders of Methodism, Finney and many others. Oh, it may be popular to ridicule their methods’ and messages as antiquated and out of date, but those who do so with all their advanced philosophies and new ideas of promoting God’s work so as to gain the commendation of the Twentieth Century intelligence, fail to see the real moral awakenings and transformations of character our fathers saw. It is surely incumbent on those who discard the old‑time preachers and evangelism, for the new evengelism, to produce results in awakening, repentance, regeneration, sanctification and holy living commensurate to theirs.
A Defect of Much Modern Preaching Lies in This
It lacks those elements of God accompaniment and penetrative unction which carry the truth of God, out of the letter which killeth, in the Spirit, which maketh alive, straight home to the conscience with such force as to produce change in the character of the hearers. This is true Gospel preaching with the Holy Ghost, sent down from heaven.‑The real dynamic preaching’s test is this: Ability to reform the heart and correct wrong practices in life. Legion is the number who have been deceived into thinking all duty was done by keeping a good feeling among the flock‑and this is often done at the fearful cost of compromise of God’s truth. By their own confession they fail to bring on the issue, and arouse the conscience and reprove the heart and correct the wrong practice, lest they offend. But should not the fear of offending God overshadow all other fears? Indeed, so much is this cringing, fawning, fearful spirit manifest that hearers are sometimes assured by advance announcement, “they need not fear being placed in an embarrassing position” by waiting on certain ministries. We would not be misunderstood to advocate any one should study to embarrass; but, this is a natural result of plain, faithful preaching: Those not right with God are searched out, reproved and made uncomfortable until sin is abandoned.
A prominent business man, a member of a leading church, said to us, concerning his pastor’s preaching: “No one, saint or sinner, can find any fault with Dr. ——‘s sermons. They are faultless from one point of view‑they never hit anybody.” And yet, before the Rev. Dr., Sabbath after Sabbath, are thoroughly worldly, proud, selfish, extravagant people, who live to please themselves and the world. So thoroughly given to the love of finery that good respectable workingmen’s wives, by their own testimony, declared they would love to go to worship, but the ladies wore so much finery that the contrast with their own clothes was so noticeable they were ashamed to be seen in church. Oh, Church of Christ, (so called), laity and ministry how will you answer for damning souls by your pride and luxury and compromise on the solemn judgment day?
Well we know the present demand for “literary treats” and the discussion of the popular themes of the day. All who stand behind the sacred desk in this age have our heartfelt sympathy. Their two‑fold responsibility to God and men is fearful. Their dependence on their parishioners for bread (so they think, when faith is low; but God is the real source), doubtless betrays, subtly, many into keeping back needed truth. We are sure, however, if the eye is kept on Jesus, and the last day of solemn account the fear will be to fail to declare the whole counsel of God or fail to keep back any profitable truth. A young minister, in a service in which the power of God was manifestly felt, confessed to us his strong temptation to evade duty, and to popularity. Our reply was that we, personally, were strongly tempted to please Jesus.
As to the common objection, “I will not get my salary if I preach my convictions,” we have a profound conviction we will not get our needs supplied if we fail to obey God. And after seventy‑five thousand miles travel (quite an expense item in itself), and over ten years ministry, in which, by God’s grace, we have never consciously kept back any truth from the people God laid on our hearts; we can testify, without begging or stipulating, God has abundantly supplied every need. So will He, we are convinced, supply the needs of everyone who truly obeys Him and preaches the truth He bids.
A Probable Explanation
Of the failure to address conscience may doubtless be in the fact, the preacher, in order to appeal to the conscience of others, must live on good terms with his own conscience!
Paul recognized the danger of preaching to others, and himself becoming a castaway. As a preventive measure of this, he exercised himself (worked himself up) “to have a conscience void of offense toward God and man,” and beat his body, literally “black and blue” and kept it under. It is evident one has little heart to preach to others a standard which he, himself, has failed to attain; or, to preach on faithful stewardship, when be, personally, robs God of “tithes of love and willing service; of tithes of silver and of gold;” or, it is difficult to preach with any heart or power on the “baptism of power,” when one’s own life is powerless and fruitless; or, on purity, when impurity lurks in heart and thought life; or, on selfdenial, when we pamper self and live to conform to the fashions and extravagances of the day! As hard as it may seem these facts explain the silence of many pulpits on vital themes.
Let the preacher remember, as an incentive to preach directly to the conscience, that he will only, in the Great Solemn judgment Day, receive credit from God for those whose consciences he has, under God, succeeded in awakening, reforming, and strengthening in all goodness so that they can stand “and having done all, stand until the pearly gates unfold,” and He will not be content with mere decisions, or surface work evidences of success, which often leave the life unchanged.