Irresistible Preaching

by Glenn Conjurske

That there is something very desperately wrong with most of the preaching of the present day ought to go without saying. Most of modern preaching is a true reflection of modern Christianity—-ignorant, worldly, lukewarm, tame, dry, and powerless. Instead of changing the low state of the church, the preaching only perpetuates it, while it makes little or no impact upon the world. These statements may come as a surprise to some, for the simple reason that they have never known any other kind of preaching. They do not know that there is, or can be, or ought to be, any other sort of preaching than the tame and dry stuff to which they are accustomed. Yet the word of the Lord is, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.” (Luke 21:15). True, this is spoken of defending ourselves when we are brought before kings and rulers for Christ’s sake, but if we may have such a mouth and wisdom to plead our own cause, why not to plead the cause of Christ? Indeed, this very passage says of our defense, “It shall turn to you for a testimony.” Such a mouth and wisdom, in other words, are given to us not merely to defend ourselves, but to testify for Christ.

Now the fact is, in poring over the records of the testimony of Christ in years gone by, we often meet with descriptions of preaching which is called irresistible. I am well aware that sometimes there may be some exaggeration in these descriptions, and the term “irresistible” be used to describe preaching which is not so in the strictest sense. Nevertheless, some of the accounts seem to use the word advisedly, and that such a term could be used at all, by judicious and godly men, certainly indicates that the preaching so described must have been very powerful, and nearly, if not quite, irresistible. In the present article I desire to do no more than to rehearse a number of these descriptions, to whet the reader’s appetite and inspire his thirst for the power of the Holy Spirit of God, of which the modern church knows so little.

Of Joseph Alleine, author of the Alarm to the Unconverted, Richard Baxter says, “It will be hard to tell what man ever spake with more holy eloquence, gravity, authority, meekness, compassion, and efficacy to souls, than he did to those to whom in instruction, exhortation, consolation, reprehension, he most wisely, frequently, and successfully applied himself. Few could resist, or stand before the powerful charms and united force of his love and authority, being equally attracted by the one and awed by the other.”

I must grant that I have not met with many such descriptions outside of the Methodist movement, but among the Methodists they are not so rare. Of George Whitefield it is said by John Wesley, “It was `the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost which was given unto him,’ filling his soul with tender, disinterested love to every child of man. From this source arose that torrent of eloquence, which frequently bore down all before it; from this, that astonishing force of persuasion, which the most hardened sinners could not resist.”

Of Howell Harris it is written by Charles Wesley, “He declared his experience before our Society. O what a flame was kindled! Never man spake, in my hearing, as this man spake. What a nursing-father has God sent us! He has indeed learned of the good Shepherd to carry the lambs in his bosom. Such love, such power, such simplicity was irresistible.”

Of the same Howell Harris another writes, “He did not pretend, at least for some years, to deliver composed sermons, but merely unpremeditated addresses on sin, and its dreadful consequences in death, the judgment, and hell. His words fell like balls of fire on the careless and sinful multitude; and in the course of six or seven years, he, with the aid of his coadjutors, had aroused the whole Principality. It seems that his appearance was most commanding, his voice solemn and strong, and his earnestness quite irresistible and overpowering.”

Of Charles Wesley, John Whitehead writes, “His discourses from the pulpit were not dry and systematic, but flowed from the present views and feelings of his own mind. He had a remarkable talent of expressing the most important truths with simplicity and energy; and his discourses were sometimes truly apostolic, forcing conviction on the hearers in spite of the most determined opposition.”

Another of John Wesley’s biographers adds concerning his brother Charles, “As a preacher, he was `mighty in the Scriptures,’ and possessed a remarkable talent of uttering the most striking truths with simplicity, force, and brevity. His ministerial gift was in one respect truly extraordinary: it came the nearest of any thing I ever witnessd to that which we have reason to believe was the original way of preaching the gospel. …where only God and conscious sinners were before him, it seemed as if nothing could withstand the wisdom and power with which he spake.”

Henry Boehm gives the following account of the preaching of Edward Tiffin, a medical doctor, who also held several political offices, besides being a local preacher among the Methodists. Boehm describes his sermon, which was preached at a camp meeting, as almost irresistible. “Several sermons of great pathos and power were preached on the ground. One of the most remarkable was by Dr. Tiffin, ex-governor of Ohio, from `What is a man profited,’ etc. The doctor threw his whole soul into it as he dwelt upon the soul’s immense value and its amazing loss, and the fact that nothing can compensate for such a loss. His appeals to the heart and conscience were almost irresistible. His voice was musical, his gestures were rapid, and his countenance expressed all his tongue uttered. There was a mighty work among the people during the day, and it continued all night.”

The same Boehm writes of Enoch George, “Bishop George was a short, stout man. His chest was large, and this enabled him to speak so easily. His face was bronzed, owing to exposure; but it was intelligent, and expressive of benignity. His dress was plain and careless, and his hair was coarse and thick and parted in the middle. He had quite a patriarchal appearance. His voice was peculiar for strength and melody. As a preacher, he was surpassingly eloquent. He had unusual power over his audience, and he took them captive at his will. At times he was perfectly irresistible. He was well acquainted with the springs of the human heart, and knew how to touch them. I must have heard him preach fifty times.”

Of another Methodist preacher, John Collins, we are told concerning one particular sermon, “He preached with irresistible power.” Of the same man’s preaching in general we read (and this was written by a justice of the United States Supreme Court), “…it may be said with as much truth in regard to him as to any other man, that no one ever heard him without forming resolutions to reform his life. His mind, not unfrequently, became full of the inspiration of his subject; and on such occasions, he rose to a height of impressive eloquence which was unsurpassed. These were never premeditated. They were of a character which defied all ingenuity and study. They were so spiritual in their conception, and so lofty in their description, as to seem to have no connection with material things. And the gush of tears which always accompanied these elevations, made them irresistible. No one, for the time being, could find it in his heart to resist such appeals. He yielded at the moment, not only willingly, but penitently.”

Of the same Collins we read again, “…he became the living embodiment of his theme, and with a soul on fire he poured out the living truth till every heart was moved. Often have we seen thousands borne down by his impassioned eloquence like the trees of the forest in a storm. And it was irresistible. Steel your heart as you might; summon all your philosophy and stoicism; and nerve up your soul to an iron insensibility and endurance, surrounding it with a rampart of the strongest prejudices, the lightning of his eloquence, accompanied by the deep-toned, awfully-sublime thunder of his words, which came burning from his soul, would melt down your hardness, and break away every fortification in which you were intrenched, while tears from the deep, unsealed fountains of your soul would come unbidden, like the rain. The only way to escape his power was to flee from his presence and hearing.”

Where is such preaching today? And where are the men who will thirst for it, and cry to God for it, and pay the price, of devotedness and self-denial and toil and sweat and tears, to obtain it?

Glenn Conjurske