I read a story this week about a nineteenth century Methodist preacher named Peter Cartwright who once preached with President Andrew Jackson in attendance. Before he got up to preach, Cartwright was warned not to say anything out of line or offensive. In response to that, he took the pulpit and the first words out of his mouth were, “I understand Andrew Jackson is here. I have been requested to be guarded in my remarks. Andrew Jackson will go to hell if he doesn’t repent.” Everyone present was shocked, but afterwards the president shook Cartwright’s hand and said, “Sir, if I had a regiment of men like you, I could whip the world.”1
I think I would have liked Cartwright’s preaching. One of the things I enjoy doing in my own time is listening to Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting Bible preaching. At times, I bet my iPod has had more space taken up by sermons than songs. Of the many preachers I respect, all of them seem to have at least a few things in common. They love the Bible, they believe it is true, and they are direct with its teaching. I do not like preaching that beats around the bush, softens the Gospel, or shies away from truth. Peter Cartwright seems like he probably fit that mold, but I would love to hear John the Baptizer’s preaching. That man could bring it.
Listen to the first words Luke records him saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” That’s not exactly what we would call a “seeker-sensitive” message, but it is what God called him to say. Over the last century or so, that word “repentance” has been more closely associated with a caricature of a Bible thumping fundamentalist than it has been with compassionate, faithful, and responsible Bible teaching. While there might be a few good reasons for that way of thinking, it is also unfortunate. One of the central messages of the Bible and of Jesus’ own ministry was the necessity of heartfelt repentance in response to a merciful God. It’s all over the New Testament.
We might not be able to hear John the Baptizer preach, but God has graciously given us a snippet of his message in Luke’s Gospel and we will study it together this Sunday morning. Before that time, I would like you to consider a question: have you repented of your sin and are you trusting Christ alone for your salvation? Please don’t answer too quickly. One of the greatest dangers present in the American church today is assuming the Gospel has taken root and is central in our lives. Far too many people, even those who are faithful church-goers, do not trust the true Gospel for their salvation. This Sunday, we will study the pure, explicit Gospel. It will be well worth your time.
For the sake of His name,
1The version of this story I read came from Luke (Volume 1: Chapters 1-12) in the Reformed Expository Commentary by Philip Graham Ryken.