What is the role of the Holy Spirit in evangelistic preaching?

First, consider the work of the Holy Spirit upon the preacher himself.1 Clearly the preacher’s private time with the Lord is vital. This includes his own personal devotional time when God speaks to him in prayer, and his own systematic reading of the word of God. The preacher must go deeply with Jesus and hide God’s word in his own heart that he may not sin against the Lord (Psa. 119:11). So memorization and meditation on God’s word are vital to prepare the evangelistic preacher to preach the unfathomable riches of Christ.

But there is far more to consider here in this regard. Consider the work of the Holy Spirit on the preacher in his actual delivery of the sermon. As the preacher stands up to preach in the pulpit or on the streets, assuming that he has the anointing of the Spirit upon him at that very moment, then his mind is affected. His mind is enlightened. The Holy Spirit gives him a quickness of thought and brings to his mind insight into a particular passage, or points him to a pertinent scriptural cross-reference which wonderfully sheds light on the passage from which he is preaching. Let’s say one has planned to preach from Isaiah 53 on the prophecy of our Lord’s atoning death for his people. The preacher has studied the passage well. He has done his exegetical work, consulted his commentaries, forged a logical, cogent outline, thought deeply and practically on how he is hoping to present powerfully and persuasively the glory of Christ’s death. He has found several illustrations that help magnify his points. He has found several scriptural cross-references which bolster his argument. He is ‘good to go’. As he stands in the pulpit or on a step on a sidewalk in his hometown to preach, something remarkable begins to happen. The preacher’s mind is very sharp. He not only is bringing forth what he planned in his sermon preparation, but he is going much farther, much deeper. He is finding insights he did not previously have. He is given illustrations ‘on the fly’ he has never before used. What is going on here? The Holy Spirit has come upon your preacher and enlightened his mind.

We can go further also and say that the Holy Spirit often enlarges the preacher’s heart. Let’s face it, sometimes in his preparation your preacher is just not ‘feeling’ it. It is also possible that he is exhausted. Perhaps he slept poorly the night before; maybe his young child kept him awake all night, and his heart is cold. The passage which so moved him in his study a few days before seems lifeless as he stands now to preach it. But in his physical weakness and coldness of heart he seems to catch fire. As he looks into the eyes of those walking by on the street, or the students at the university, or the teens in his church who seem to be so disinterested in biblical themes, something amazing begins to happen. Your preacher’s heart begins to overflow with love for his auditors. Perhaps even his voice trembles with grief as he explains the horrors of hell for those who reject the overtures of grace. As he watches, for the countless time, a woman walk into the abortuary to kill her child, he is overwhelmed with grief for her and her child. The preacher knows what this will cost her. He has seen the brokenness and calloused hearts so many times before. He knows the guilt and shame with which this mother will live for many years. He knows the sentence of death and condemnation is upon her, ‘Murderer,’ and the preacher’s calm, calculated demeanour suddenly gives way to visible compassion. What is going on here? The Holy Spirit has come upon the preacher and enlarged his heart. We see it happen repeatedly with the Lord Jesus and his disciples. Jesus wept over Jerusalem as he entered the city (Luke 19:41). Paul says that he had unceasing grief for his kinsmen and was willing to suffer hell if only they would repent (Rom. 9:1-2). This, my friends, is the practical and powerful work of the Holy Spirit coming upon the actual activity of evangelistic preaching. Pray for your preacher that God will give this to him. Preacher, have you ever experienced it? I bet you have from time to time and it is glorious.

But if the preacher’s mind is enlightened and his heart is enlarged, but his speech is not altered, then his sermon may be like a swollen river after a heavy July thunder shower. The vast volume of water has no place to go and backs up, flooding the surrounding area, bringing devastation. But when the Holy Spirit enlightens your preacher’s mind and enlarges his heart, he also loosens his tongue. The former coward, Peter, spoke with boldness on the day of Pentecost after the Holy Spirit came upon him. He spoke with boldness before the Sanhedrin when they told him to stop preaching. In fact after he and the other disciples assembled, Luke tells us that the place where they gathered was shaken and they began to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31). Paul asked the Ephesians to pray for him, that an open door for the gospel would be made available to him, that he may speak forth the mystery of Christ with boldness (Eph. 6:19). The boldness (the Greek word is parresia) about which Luke and Paul speak means freedom in speaking, unreservedness in speech, without concealment, free and fearless confidence.2 Though using a different Greek word in 2 Corinthians 6:11, we see an amplification of the same idea. Paul says to the Corinthians who had previously rejected his ministry, ‘Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide.’ When the anointing of the Holy Spirit comes upon the preacher he is given a remarkable felicity of speech. His voice modulates effortlessly. There is a sharpness and crispness to his words. Emotion and passion emanate from his mouth. He has what I call ‘divine eloquence’. He does not stumble over his words. He does not search for the right word. It comes to him effortlessly. His wife is even surprised at his eloquence. This is something of the glory of the Holy Spirit energizing the preacher as he preaches the unfathomable riches of Christ.

This kind of Spirit-anointed preaching deeply affects a congregation. They are moved by it. They immediately sense that this is not the norm. This is not a mere lecture on some obscure theological concept. This sermon is alive. It breathes. It moves. It transforms. When Charles Hodge was a young man he was able to accompany the great Presbyterian preacher Archibald Alexander on a preaching tour. Hodge was only fourteen years old at the time but Alexander’s preaching made a lifelong, life-changing impact upon him. After hearing Alexander paint a vivid, powerful, and moving picture of Abraham offering up his son Isaac on the altar, young Hodge said these staid and proper Presbyterians were deeply affected.3

This Spirit-anointed evangelistic preaching is always what God has used to transform individuals, their families, their communities, and their nations. Nothing has changed, not even the virulent hatred of Christianity or the rigid unbelief of the unrepentant sinner. God still shatters hearts and renews them through the preaching of the gospel. Pray for the Holy Spirit to fall on your preacher. He, we, all desperately need it.


1. I am indebted here to Al Martin and his book Preaching in the Holy Spirit for the gist of these remarks on the Holy Spirit’s work on the preacher as he preaches.
2. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, page 491.
3. Life of Charles Hodge
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. This appeared on the BANNER OF TRUTH ONLINE on January 19, 2015.