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Licentious Preaching

by Arthur W. Pink

In the preceding articles we have treated of a legal and licentious spirit as they exist in and are exercised by the individual: on the present occasion we shall show how they are manifested in preaching, but before doing so we will seek to dispose of a difficulty. It may be thought strange that two elements so diverse as legality and lawlessness should meet in the same person, for while it is true that the one predominates much more than the other in different men, yet the roots of both are found in everyone and the Christian needs to watch against each alike. The explanation of this anomaly we believe is this: Truth is twofold and as the heart of man is radically opposed by nature to the Truth his antagonism thereto breaks forth in two distinct directions. This was exemplified by our Lord when He said, “Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling to one another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not wept” (Luke 7:31, 32): neither the one nor the other suited them; they despised both alike.

The twofoldness of Divine Truth is broadly illustrated by the dividing of God’s Word into its two Testaments, wherein, characteristically speaking we have set forth the Divine Law and the Divine Gospel, and where distinctively (though not exclusively) God is revealed respectively as “Light” and “Love.” This same twofoldness of Truth appears in each of those grand objects and subjects, though this is far from being as clearly apprehended as it should be. The Law which God gave unto Israel was a dual one, consisting of the Moral and the Ceremonial: the Moral Law specially exemplifying God’s righteousness and the Ceremonial Law His grace—the merciful provision which He made and which was available for those who came under the condemnation of the former. In like manner, the Gospel contains a dual manifestation of the Divine character and perfections: while it is “the Gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24) proclaiming the free favour of God to the undeserving, it is also denominated “the ministration of righteousness” (2 Cor. 3:9) and “the Word of righteousness” (Heb. 5:13). Paul declared, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ...for therein is the righteousness of God revealed” (Rom. 1:16, 17). In view of this twofoldness of Truth and the opposition of the carnal mind thereto, it should no more surprise us that such diverse elements as legality and lawlessness are found in the same persons than we should be to read that Pilate and Herod, who “were at enmity between themselves,” on the day of our Saviour’s mock trial before them “were made friends together” (Luke 23:12), and that they made common cause in opposing and condemning Him. Legality is the perverting of God’s Law. Lawlessness or licentiousness is the corrupting of the Gospel: or if we speak of these evils as they apply to the distinctive features of each, legality is the wresting of the righteous element in both the Law and the Gospel, while licentiousness is the abuse of the grace element in them. While it is true that grace is the outstanding and predominant characteristic of the Gospel, yet it must ever be insisted upon that it is not a grace which is exercised at the expense of righteousness, rather does it reign “through righteousness” (Rom. 5:21).

Now since it is true that the roots of both legality and licentiousness are found in every man by nature, it behooves the servant of God to be on his most prayerful and careful guard against giving place to either of these evils, for in proportion as he does so the Truth is falsified and the souls of his hearers are poisoned. If he is guilty of preaching in a legalistic way, the person and work of Christ is dishonoured and the spirit of self-righteousness is fed those who sit under him. Unless he makes it crystal clear that none but Christ can avail the sinner and that there is in Him a sufficiency to meet his every need—unless he expresses himself beyond a doubt of being misunderstood that the merits of Christ’s righteousness and blood are the sole means for delivering a believing sinner from the curse of the broken Law and his singular title to everlasting bliss—he has failed at the most vital point of his mission and duty. The trumpet he is called upon to blow must give forth no uncertain sound at this point: nothing but faith in the finished work of Christ, and nothing added thereto, can supply any sinner with a standing before the thrice holy God.

On the other hand, it is equally important and essential that the minister steer clear of the opposite extreme. If he is guilty of preaching in a licentious way then the person and work of Christ is equally dishonoured and the spirit of religious bolshevism is fostered in his hearers. Unless he makes it as plain as an object bathed in the light of the midday sun that God hates sin, all sin, and will not compromise with or condone it in anyone—unless he declares and insists that Christ came to save His people from their sins—from the love of them, from the dominion of them—he has failed at the most essential part of his task. The great work of the pulpit is to press the authoritative claims of the Creator and Judge of all the earth—to show how short we have come of meeting God’s just requirements, to announce His imperative demand of repentance. The sinner must throw down the weapons of his rebellion and forsake his evil way before he can trust in Christ to the saving of his soul. Christ is to be received as King to rule over him as well as Priest to atone for him, to surrender to Him as his rightful Lord ere he can embrace Him as his gracious Saviour.

Such a task as we have briefly outlined above is no easy one, and only those who are called and qualified by God are fitted to discharge it. To preserve the balance of Truth so that the requirements of righteousness and the riches of grace are equally poised, to avoid Arminianism on the one side and Antinomianism on the other is an undertaking far beyond the capacity of any “novice” (1 Tim. 3:6). It requires a “workman” and not a lazy man—a student and not a slothful one—who studies to “show himself approved unto God” (2 Tim. 9:15) and not one who seeks the applause and the shekels of men. Nor can any human education or self-development of the intellectual faculty impart this capacity. No indeed: only in the school of Christ can this accomplishment be acquired. Only as the Holy Spirit is his Teacher can any man be furnished unto such an undertaking. The preacher must first be taught himself, taught experimentally and effectually, taught in his soul to love what God loves and hate what God hates, and then be given wisdom from Above to express the same according to the Scriptural pattern before he is ready to show unto others the way of Life.

It is because so many untaught men, unregenerate men, now occupy the pulpits that “another gospel” (Gal. 1:6) is being so widely and generally disseminated. Multitudes who have neither “tasted that the Lord is gracious” nor have “the fear of the Lord” in them, have from various motives and considerations invaded the sacred calling of the ministry and out of the abundance of their corrupt hearts they speak. Being blind themselves, they lead the blind into the ditch. Having no love for the Shepherd they have none for the sheep, being but “hirelings.” They are themselves “of the world” and therefore “the world heareth them” (1 John 4:5), for they preach that which is acceptable unto fallen human nature and as like attracts like, they gather around themselves a company of admirers who flatter and support them. They will bring in just enough of God’s Truth to deceive the unwary and give an appearance of orthodoxy to their message, but not sufficient of the Truth, especially the searching portions thereof, to render their hearers uncomfortable by destroying their false peace. They will name Christ but not preach Him, mention the Gospel but not expound it.

Some of these men will preach legality under the pretense of furthering morality and honouring the Divine Law. They will preach up good works, but lay no foundation upon which they may be built. They confound justification and sanctification, making personal holiness to be the ground of the sinner’s acceptance before God. They sow their vineyard with “divers seeds” (Deut. 22:9) so that Law and Gospel, Divine grace and creature performances are so mingled together that their distinctive characters are obliterated. Others preach licentiousness under the guise of magnifying the grace of God. They omit the Divine call to repentance, say nothing about the necessity of forsaking our sins if we are to obtain mercy (Prov. 28:13), lay no stress upon regeneration as a being made “a new creature in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17), but declare that the sinner has simply to accept Christ as his personal Saviour—though his heart be still proud, without contrition and thoroughly in love with the world—and eternal life is now his. The result of this preaching is well calculated to bolster up the deluded for instead of insisting that saving faith is evidenced by its spiritual fruits, instead of teaching that the Christian life is a warfare against the world, the flesh and the devil, and that none but the overcomer will reach Heaven, they are assured —no matter how carnal their walk—that “once saved, always saved,” and thus they are soothed in their sins and comforted with a false peace until they awake in Hell. Shun all such preaching, my reader, as you would a deadly plague. “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth thee to err from the words of knowledge” (Prov. 19:27).


Originally edited by Emmett O'Donnell for Mt. Zion Publications, a ministry of Mt. Zion Bible Church, 2603 West Wright St., Pensacola, FL 32505. www.mountzion.org


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