But if I say, "I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name," then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in and I cannot endure it, Jeremiah 20:9.
Prophetic Preaching, Part One
On Memorial Day, May 30, 1889 John Parke, the resident civil engineer at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, a summer resort destination for rich Pittsburgh industrialists like Andrew Carnegie, Philander Knox, and Robert Pitcairn, was deeply concerned. Rain had been falling for several days and the lake on which the resort was situated was dangerously close to flowing over the top of the thirty foot earthen dam. The dam had been suspect for years. John Morrell, the owner of the Cambria Iron Works in Johnstown, PA, actually approached Carnegie, et al several years before about refurbishing the dam, even offering to pay some of the cost himself. People had lived for years with fear of the dam breaking and sending a wall of water down the valley to Johnstown. Carnegie and his friends said there was no problem with the dam. Nothing was ever done about it. So, the rain had stopped by mid day on May 30 and the Memorial Day festivities in Johnstown went on without incident. But later that night, by 11 p.m., the rains began again. By the next morning, as Parke took a boat and went out on the South Fork lake to survey the situation, he was very troubled by what he saw. He sent a telegram down the valley to Johnstown, warning that the dam was in jeopardy. Actually he sent two telegrams. The receiver of both ignored both. The people had been told for years that even if the dam broke, not more than two or three feet of water would flow into the valley, that they ought not to be concerned. Besides, they had been worried before but nothing ever happened. At 3 p.m., May 31, the dam broke and a thirty foot high wall of water began to cascade from an altitude of 1500 feet down the valley toward Johnstown, a drop of over five hundred feet in elevation, taking everything in its path with it-trees, houses, horses, hundreds of people, and railroad box cars and locomotives from the Pennsylvania Railroad. It took an hour for the waters to make their way into Johnstown, but by the time they did, 2209 people had died. Some heeded the warning of a long train whistle blast to flee from impending doom to high ground, but most ignored it or were too late to escape.
My friends, something far worse than a thirty foot high wall of water is bearing down on everyone in your community, on everyone in our nation, on everyone in our world who are not in Christ Jesus our Lord. Paul said that wrath and indignation is upon the contentious, upon those who disobey the commandments of God, who obey unrighteousness, that tribulation and distress is upon every soul of man who does evil (Romans 2:8-9). He says that God deals out retribution to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they will suffer the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). Jesus said that the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, idolaters, sorcerers, immoral persons, and liars will all be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death (Revelation 21:8). Then there are those in the church who repeatedly return to the folly of their sin-men neglecting their wives and children, mothers coddling their children, making them dependent upon them even when they are grown, immoral and godless people like Esau who sold his birthright for a single meal.
We need preachers, more than ever, who will warn people to flee from the wrath to come and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. We need preachers who will warn their congregants to repent of their folly, to remind them that if anyone in the covenant community goes on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin, but a certain, terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire that will consume the adversaries, that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-27).
Jeremiah was a man like that. For over fifty years (696 to 642 B.C.) wicked King Manasseh ruled the nation of Judah. Finally Josiah became king after Manasseh's son, Amon, was murdered. Josiah began to institute reforms in 628 B.C. which were enhanced by the rediscovery of the Book of the Law by Hilkiah in 621 B.C. (2 Kings 22:8). Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry in 626 B.C. In Jeremiah 19 the prophet is warning the people of Judah to turn back to Yahweh lest His judgment come upon them, lest they be taken away into exile. Pashur, a priest, whose name means "one who brings light," was angry at Jeremiah's "seditious and decidedly un-Judean rhetoric" and had him arrested, beaten, and put into stocks. Jeremiah boldly told Pashur that his name was now Magor-missabib, "literally terror on every side", probably meaning "all your people will be surrounded on every side without a means of escape." Jeremiah then told Magor-missabib that his people would be killed, others would be taken into exile, all the wealth of Jerusalem would be taken away, and that he and his household would also go into exile and die there.
The ordeal of Jeremiah's prophetic ministry was taking its toll on him. In an ironical and poetical style, he cries out to the Lord, "O Lord, I was deceived and You deceived me. I was overcome and You prevailed against me." In other words, he is saying, "Lord, I know some think I am an impostor, but if that is true, then You made me one. If I am deceiving the people with a false message then You are the One who has put me up to it. I shrank back from this calling, but You prevailed upon me to do it." He laments that he has become a laughingstock all day long. And when he considers "packing it in," giving up his prophetic ministry, refusing to speak anymore on behalf of Yahweh, he then realizes that he cannot do it. He knows he was called to this ministry, one of devastation and restoration, one that tears down and one that builds up (Jeremiah 1:4-10). The word of the Lord is like a burning fire in his bones, and he must proclaim it. Though the opposition and rejection is horrific, he cannot stop speaking the clear, unmitigated word of the Lord.
We need preachers with fire in their bones. What does that mean? Such preaching is prophetic. It brings God's law and gospel grace to bear on whatever the "hot button" issues are in the culture. It is apostolic. It afflicts the conscience of the comfortable and comforts the conscience of the afflicted. It tells the truth. It makes Christ's atoning work central (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5). The prophetic, apostolic preacher is not a comedian, he is not a dialoguer, he is not a facilitator, he is not a psycho-therapist. He unashamedly, faithfully, urgently, boldly, and humbly preaches the word of God. To preach with fire in his bones the preacher must have what E.M. Bounds calls unction. Bounds calls it the art of preaching. "The preacher who has lost this unction has lost the art of preaching. Whatever other arts he may have and retain-the art of sermon making, the art of eloquence, the art of great, clear thinking, the art of pleasing an audience-he has lost the divine art of preaching. This unction makes God's truth powerful and interesting, draws and attracts, edifies, convicts, saves." Such prophetic preaching comes with much power, conviction, authority, conversion, and sanctification. Charles Spurgeon said that unction is hard to define but one knows it when one sees it. We must have unction in our preaching. We must have the Spirit's anointing on our preachers. Prophetic preaching is the need of the day. Business as usual is not working.
1. The Johnstown Flood: The Incredible Story Behind One of the Most Devastating Disasters America Has Ever Known, David McCullough, 1968, Simon and Schuster.
2. The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds, pages 476-477.
Reverend Allen M. BakerPastor Baker is ordained in the PCA and has been in the ministry for over 30 years. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he received his M.Div. degree from...