Should We Preach Something We Have Not Experienced?
Should We Preach Something We Have Not Experienced? This is such a great question. Initially, I was inclined to say that we should preach on things we have experienced, and that is a good approach much of the time. We don’t want to be overly theoretical or ethereal—always preaching things that seem out of reach for the common person.
Charles Spurgeon provided sound advice when he said, “Preach upon practical themes, pressing, present, personal matters, and you will secure an earnest hearing.” The people we minister to will benefit greatly if a good percentage of our preaching is practical, down-to-earth, and relevant to their daily lives.
Along these same lines, D. L. Moody stated: “A good many preachers say I am lowering the pulpit. I am glad I am. I am trying to get it down to the level of men’s hearts. If I wanted to hit Chicago, I would not put the cannon on the top of this building and fire into the air. Too many preachers fire into the air.”
I agree with Moody and Spurgeon; there is much to be said for simple, practical preaching. But in addition to ministry that is applicable in peoples’ day-to-day lives, it is also good if we stretch people (including ourselves) to look higher and further than where they’ve been. For example, I’ve never experienced Heaven, but I’m still going to preach it because it is in the Word and people need to know about it.
John Wesley and Saving Faith
There are cases in church history where people dared to preach things they had yet to experience, and the results were outstanding. The first example involves John Wesley, an Oxford-trained, Anglican priest. He had great intellectual training and was actively preaching and ministering to others, and yet he lacked what we might call today a “know-so experience” or an assurance of salvation. He had lived under a works mentality and had become painfully aware that he lacked the personal experience of knowing he was saved, or what Scripture calls “the witness of the Spirit” (Romans 8:16).
Through his contact with Moravians, he knew that such assurance of faith was available, and it bothered him that he had not experienced it personally. He asked Peter Bohler, a Moravian minister who had been mentoring him, if he should stop preaching as he had not yet experienced heartfelt, saving faith. Bohler responded brilliantly:
“By no means. Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”
Wesley promptly led a prisoner to saving faith and continued ministering. It was eighty days after Wesley was admonished to keep preaching faith that he himself experienced the fruit of that faith. As he listened to the reading of Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans. About 8:45 p.m. “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
William J. Seymour and the Infilling of the Spirit
Another remarkable example of preaching something before experiencing it involves William J. Seymour, whose name is synonymous with the Azusa Street revival of the early twentieth century. When Seymour arrived in Los Angeles in 1906, he had not been baptized in the Spirit or spoken in other tongues, but he was persuaded it was available to believers. In his first sermon on February 24, 1906, he preached this very topic from Acts 2:4. His message was strong enough that the church banned him from preaching there again, but he persisted in his faith.
Finally, on April 9, some of those who had joined themselves to Seymour and his teaching were filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues; Seymour received the same experience three days later. It was after this that the Seymour and his group obtained the building on Azusa Street, and the rest is history. What is significant is that Seymour was preaching that this experience was available to believers before he and the others experienced it.
I don’t think anyone would argue that practical teaching and preaching is very important, and it probably comprises a majority of what ministers should do. However, there is also value in stretching ourselves and encouraging others to press into biblical truths and experiences that we may have not experienced, or that we need to grow in further.