As a pastor, I have to preach the gospel week in and week out through the ups and downs of my own Christian life. That’s one of many things that makes the ministry of the word a difficult calling. But I can stand behind the pulpit and preach the gospel even through the “downs” in my spiritual life because the gospel doesn’t depend upon my emotions, feelings, or experience. These comments by J. Gresham Machen have been a source of comfort and motivation for me in the ministry. I trust all our readers will benefit from these words, though pastors will especially want to take note.
“I know that it is hard to live on the heights of Christian experience. We have had flashes of the true meaning of the cross of Christ, but then comes long dull days. What shall we do in those dull times? Shall we cease to witness for Christ? Shall we make common cause in those dull days, with those who would destroy the corporate witness of the church? Perhaps we may be tempted to do so. When there are such enemies in our own souls, we may be tempted to say, ‘What time have we for the opponents without?’ Such reasoning is plausible.”
“But all the same it is false. We are not saved by keeping ourselves constantly in the proper frame of mind, but we were saved by Christ once for all when we were born again by God’s Spirit and were enabled by him to put our trust in the Savior. And the gospel message does not cease to be true because we for the moment have lost sight of the full glory of it.”
“Sad will it be for those to whom we minister if we let our changing moods be determinative of the message that at any moment we proclaim, or if we let our changing moods determine the question whether we shall or shall not stand against the rampant forces of unbelief in the church. We ought to look, not within, but without, for the content of what we are to preach, and for the determination of our witness-bearing; not our changing feelings and experiences, but to the Bible as the Word of God. Then, and only then, shall we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (p. 137-138).
To be moved and brought to joyful tears by the gospel is a blessed thing, but neither my preaching nor my salvation depends upon my emotions, experiences, or feelings. My preaching and salvation depend upon the historical and biblical truth that Jesus died on the cross and rose again to save sinners. The gospel is true no matter where we are in the Christian life; thus it is truly good news. And so we pastors can confidently preach “in and out of season.”
By the way this book, God Transcendent, is worth every cent of the $8.00 it costs. If you don’t have it, I highly recommend getting it: J. Gresham Machen, God Transcendent (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002).
rev shane lems