PREACHING AND THE DANGER OF COMPROMISE
In considering this very practical subject I think that a study of Paul as the ideal preacher, noting especially his methods and his principles, will be helpful to us. From Galatians 1 we can gather certain principles which weighed with the Apostle in this matter. Two things especially are revealed in this chapter. One is the way in which Paul emphasizes the care we ought to have in presenting the truth as it is presented in the Word. When we preach we must be careful to preach exactly what is recorded in the Word of God. The other principle enunciated here concerns the attitude which we ought to adopt towards those who come with another Gospel. We ought not to encourage them but rather to avoid them as those upon whom the curse of the Lord rests. Paul uses strong language here. He says that even if he himself came back and preached a different Gospel from what he had preached then he should be accursed. Even if an angel from heaven came and preached any other Gospel they were not to receive that Gospel.
Of course today Paul would be looked upon as an extreme man and in this age there is no place for the extreme man. But we would not call the apostle an extreme man. We would describe him as an out-and-out man and that is what our age needs more than anything else, men who are out-and-out in proclaiming the Gospel just as they have it given to them by the Spirit of the Lord in His own Word.
First of all let us see what is implied by compromise in preaching. Two factors are embraced. The one is that there must be a norm or standard which we must preserve pure and entire. The other thing implied is that there is some contrary power or influence; to compromise means to give place so far to that contrary power or influence that our point of view or our message may be embraced by those who hold the other point of view. It is a kind of bargaining. This is something which is very prominent in life today. No matter where you go, you find men bargaining in order to get what they have to say accepted.
You have it on the international scale. Statesmen are meeting together from time to time in different parts of the world, and it is all a case of bargaining in the hope that by making certain concessions on each side they will reach that which will satisfy both sides. When we come to the industrial world or to the world of labour we find the same thing there. And in the ecclesiastical realm this is even more prevalent. In order to have unions churches are expected to make certain concessions to one another.
To put it plainly and simply compromise means my saying, if you give me two pence I will give you a penny and then we will call it quits. That is the principle that rules in compromise. And the wisdom of this world approves of compromise. What the wisdom of this world says is, ‘Half a loaf is better than no loaf.’ If you stick by your principles and refuse to give way one inch, the other man will be just as stubborn as you are. Where will you get to? You will get nowhere at all. But the wisdom that is of heaven says something different. The wisdom of heaven says, ‘Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you let him be accursed.’
Now in the Gospel our norm or standard is what is declared in the Word of God and when we go forth with this message we meet with many counter-theories put forward in the name of the same Gospel. And it is there that the danger lies. Preachers must be careful to declare the whole counsel of God. In preaching the Gospel we must be careful to see that we preach every aspect of the Gospel. We have no right to ignore any part of the counsel of God. I have heard some say, ‘Oh, I believe in the doctrine of election but I do not preach it.’ No man who goes forth in the name of the Gospel, preaching the Word of God, has the right to withhold any part of that Word and say ‘I believe it but I do
not preach it because people are not prepared to accept it.’ God knows better than we do. The doctrine of election is in the Word of God and it is there to be preached by those who declare that Word. We are to preach the whole counsel of God and there must be no modification of any kind. We are required to hold fast the Word which has been committed to us. ‘Hold fast the form of sound words.’
Now in the second place we will consider how we may compromise. Before dealing with that, however, let me say that as preachers of the Gospel we must exercise common sense. There is no occasion whatsoever to give needless offence. Some preachers are very clumsy in their approach to their people. They seem to say the wrong thing. Now we may give offence as preachers and we may not be able to help it. Faithfulness may require that, but what I mean is that we ought not to give needless offence. We must be careful not to arouse prejudice because if we arouse prejudice in our audience, that shuts the door of their mind to what we have to say to them. We must be careful also that we do not weary our hearers. There are some preachers who have a difficulty in knowing when to stop. I remember our old Principal -Principal McCulloch of Glasgow – used to speak often about ‘that fatal gift of fluency.’ We must exercise our common sense; but when we meet with another Gospel we can no longer study avoiding offence. We have got to do battle in the name of the Lord.
In what ways are we liable to compromise? We may compromise by seeking to please our audience. We like to please people; that is quite natural. We are pleased if people tell us that they appreciated our message. There is therefore a danger that we may go too far in seeking to please our audience. We may come down from the platform of the truth.
Another way in which we may compromise is by preaching only one side of the Gospel. There are two sides to the Gospel – a bright side and a dark side. People naturally love to hear the bright side; to hear about the love of God, about Christ’s power to save, about the prospects of those who have given themselves unto the Lord, about the fulness of the promises and so on. We love to hear these things, but we must not neglect the other side where the shadows are. We must deal with sin and set it forth in its stern Scriptural reality as that which is an unspeakable offence of God’s holy law. We must deal with the consequences of the neglect or rejection of the Gospel on the part of our hearers. These things must not be kept back. If we preach the one side only then we are guilty of compromise.
Then, again, we may compromise in admitting too much to the modernist. In order to come to grips with the modernist we may feel we can concede a certain amount to him. But we have no need to concede anything to him because after all we have absolutely nothing in common with him. He is the enemy of the Lord Jesus Christ; the enemy
of that faith which we declare. We are not to try to improve the Gospel. We cannot improve the Gospel and it is presumption for us to try to improve what God has given to us in its perfection. If we begin to tamper with the Gospel and cut off this or add on that to make it more acceptable to our hearers we need not expect that God will bless what he has not given to us. We must give the Gospel just as we have it in the Word of God and when we take a text to expound then it is for us to declare just what the text declares.
Why do men expect us to compromise? The underlying reason is because men by nature have an innate dislike of the Gospel. There are palatable truths connected with the Gospel and they are quite prepared to listen to these but then there are other truths which they are not prepared to accept. It is with respect to those truths that they expect us to compromise. They would rather we said nothing about them. Let us look at some of the truths on which we are expected to compromise:
First of all there is the doctrine of man’s ruin by the fall – the total corruption of our nature. Men would like us to keep that back. They do not like to hear that by the fall we have lost communion with God, that we are under His wrath and curse and incapable of keeping the law. But ,we are to preach that truth continually in order that men may come to realise that they are sinners. The first thing that is necessary in the presentation of the Gospel is to show men their need as sinners. Only then can they value the Gospel. Therefore the doctrine of the total depravity of man is a truth we should be instant in declaring no matter where our audience may be or of whom it may be composed.
Another truth we are expected to be silent on is that man’s works are wholly vain. Men do not like that. They want to get credit for their good works. They are trying to be as good as they can and to do as much good as they can and when they are told that that stands for nothing before a holy God then they are offended. But that is what man requires to be taught, especially in our day. They must be told that their good works are nothing better in the sight of the Most High than “filthy rags”, and that those good works will profit them nothing as far as the salvation of their souls is concerned.
Yet another truth people would like us to be silent upon is the fact that we can have no hand in our own salvation. Men want to feel that they can do something; they want to have at least a little part in the glory of their own salvation. But we are to teach sinners that not until they lie at the feet of sovereign mercy in Christ Jesus can they ever taste the sweetness of salvation in the Redeemer. We are absolutely dependent upon the sovereign will of a merciful God. We must preach that and never keep it back.
Then again it is very unpalatable to men to be told that if they desire salvation for their souls they must separate themselves from the love and practice of sin. In other words, they must repent. We live in a day
when preachers seem to try to provide a short cut for the sinner, bringing him to Christ by way of decision so that repentance is bypassed. The sinner must come by the way that is declared in the Word – the old way of repentance, sorrow for and separation from sin.
One other doctrine we would mention which men do not love is the doctrine of the eternal punishment of sin. People do not want to hear about that. The less we preach about that the more likely we are to win their approval. But we must be faithful and as messengers of the Lord the approval that ought to concern us most of all is not the approval of men, not even the approval of God’s people but the approval of our Master.
We note in the last place the effect of compromise. To compromise is to be unfaithful to our Master and that grieves the Spirit of the Lord. No matter what reason we may have for compromising – and we may think that we are fully justified in what we have done – if we have moved away one inch from the doctrine of Scripture then we grieve the Spirit. And what is more we are likely to affect our hearers. A preacher may have the Gospel and yet there may be aberrations as it were in the Gospel he preaches. In some respects there is the taint of unsoundness about some of the doctrines proclaimed by him. Now he may be blessed for all that but the effects are there. The people are left unbalanced in their conception of Gospel truth.
I am reminded of something I heard from an old man I used to know in the island of Arran. He took great delight in quoting things from the minister under whom he sat in his young days. This old minister used to say, ‘A twist in the birth will be in a man all his life.’ He meant this spiritually of course although it is also true naturally and physically. And not only is a twist in the birth apt to be in a man all his life, but it is also apt to be in a community of Christians. If at the outset when the Gospel comes in with power there is something not according to the Word that something is apt to leave a spiritual twist as it were in that community.
Another way in which compromise may affect our hearers is this:
When we are trying to get the sinner hemmed in by the law, driven in by the law to Christ we leave doors open as it were and before we can get any further with him the sinner is away out of one of these doors. Now what we have to do is doctrinally to go and to close these doors and we have the sinner hemmed in there by the law and if the Spirit of the Lord be with the preacher the sinner is pushed right in until he has not to face the Lord Himself in Christ Jesus.
Again, if we compromise we grieve experienced believers in our congregations. They can detect compromise and are hurt by it. But above all, we spoil the intimacy of our relationship with the Master. It is a sore thing when we have to preach and we know that we have grieved our Master. We preach and we try to preach faithfully but at the
back of all is the feeling that Christ has hid His face from us. When He hides His face from us we have lost our power; we feel weak and discouraged and dispirited.
In conclusion let me stress the necessity of being faithful. This is of particular importance in our day because of the force of the powers against us. We must keep a close watch on our hearts for it is there that compromise begins. Although we are preachers of the Gospel it is still true that our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Faithfulness ought to be desired by us even more than success. Look at Noah; he preached and he is described in the New Testament as “a preacher of righteousness,” but what success did he have? As far as conversions were concerned apart from his own household he got no success whatsoever.
I remember when I was a young divinity student being unexpectedly called upon to take the services in the congregation in which I used to worship as a small boy. It was also the church in which the great Dr. Kennedy had exercised his ministry. I felt overwhelmed at the thought. : was like that all day and after the evening service I felt greatly troubled, depressed and downcast. The church officer, a worthy man named Alexander MacLean, locally known as Sandy Clunas, was waiting for me in the vestry. He was built on a large size and was especially fond of young men. When I came into the vestry he just put his big arms round me and said, “Never you mind, my boy. As Mr. Finlayson of Helmsdale (Mr. Finlayson was one of the outstanding
ministers of the North and it was under his ministry that Sandy Clunas had obtained the blessing) used to say, it is not, ‘Well done, good and successful servant’ but, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.” What is going to count at the end of the day is not success but faithfulness.
We who live in this dark day and who know so little of success, if we are true and faithful may yet find at the end of all over yonder that our salutation from the Lord will be a salutation because we have tried to be faithful in our own little way in the sphere into which He put us. O what need there is for prayer in connection with these things! What
reason we have to confess that after seeking to do the will of the Lord we are unprofitable servants!
* The substance of an address delivered at the Leicester Conference in July 1962. It is reproduced from a tape-recording and does not have the benefit of revision by Mr. Macrae himself. This address was first published in the Banner of Truth No.34 p.8.