“Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.” 1 Timothy 4:16.
The purpose of the preaching of the gospel to secure the salvation of souls. Thus the admonition of the Scripture above relates to the matter, order, and manner of preaching.
The issue is, how shall we win souls wholly to Christ? Certainly, we must win them away from themselves. There are some points about human beings to be observed.
1st. They are free moral agents, of course rational, accountable.
2nd. They are in rebellion against God, wholly alienated, intensely prejudiced, and committed against Him.
3rd. They are committed to self-gratification as the end of their being.
4th. This committed state is moral depravity, the fountain of sin within them, from which flow by a natural law all their sinful ways. This committed voluntary state is their “wicked heart.” This it is that needs a radical change.
5th. God is infinitely benevolent, and unconverted sinners are supremely selfish, so that they are radically opposed to God. Their committal to the gratification of their appetites and propensities is known in Bible language as the “carnal mind”; or, as in the margin, “the minding of the flesh,” which is enmity against God.
6th. This enmity is voluntary, and must be overcome, if at all, by the Word of God, made effectual by the teaching of the Holy Spirit.
7th. The gospel is adapted to this end, and when wisely presented we may confidently expect the effectual cooperation of the Holy Spirit. This is implied in our commission, “Go and disciple all nations, and lo! I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”
8th. If we are unwise, illogical, unphilosophical, and out of all natural order in presenting the gospel, we have no warrant for expecting divine cooperation.
9th. In winning souls, as in everything else, God works through and in accordance with natural laws. Hence, if we would win souls we must wisely adapt means to this end. We must present those truths and in that order adapted to the natural laws of mind, of thought and mental action. A false mental philosophy will greatly mislead us, and we shall often be found ignorantly working against the agency of the Holy Spirit.
10th. Sinners must be convicted of their enmity. They do not know God and consequently are often ignorant of the opposition of their hearts to Him. “By the law is the knowledge of sin,” because by the law the sinner gets his first true idea of God. By the law, he first learns that God is perfectly benevolent and infinitely opposed to all selfishness. This law, then, should be arrayed in all its majesty against the selfishness and enmity of the sinner.
11th. This law carries irresistible conviction of its righteousness, and no moral agent can doubt it.
12th. All men know that they have sinned, but all are not convicted of the guilt and ill desert of sin. The many are careless and do not feel the burden of sin, the horrors and terrors of remorse, and have not a sense of condemnation and of being lost.
13th. But without this they cannot understand or appreciate the gospel method of salvation. One cannot intelligently and heartily ask or accept a pardon until he sees and feels the fact and justice of his condemnation.
14th. It is absurd to suppose that a careless, unconvicted sinner can intelligently and thankfully accept the gospel offer of pardon until he accepts the righteousness of God in his condemnation. Conversion to Christ is an intelligent change. Hence the conviction of ill desert must precede the acceptance of mercy; for without this conviction the soul does not understand its need of mercy. Of course, the offer is rejected. The gospel is no glad tidings to the careless, unconvicted sinner.
15th. The spirituality of the law should be unsparingly applied to the conscience until the sinner’s self-righteousness is annihilated, and he stands speechless and self-condemned before a holy God.