. . . and this city I will make a curse to all the nations of the earth (Jeremiah 26:6).
Early on Tuesday morning, August 19, 1561 Mary, Queen of Scots, arrived at Leith and made her way later that day to the Palace at Holyrood in Edinburgh. This occurred in the midst of the Scottish Reformation being led by John Knox. Mary wasted no time in imposing Roman Catholicism on the people, for the following Sunday, August 24, she took the Mass in the Holyrood chapel from a Roman Catholic priest. John Knox, the Presbyterian reformer also wasted no time in speaking strongly and prophetically against Mary’s idolatrous action. He said in his sermon at St Giles on August 31 that God regularly brings great plagues on nations which practice idolatry. He said that he feared one Mass more than ten thousand soldiers whose purpose is to suppress the whole religion. Many mocked his sermon, saying that such fear was unfounded, that it was improper for him to renounce idolatry by the Queen, that to do so was not his responsibility. And besides, Knox was not sticking to the text of his sermon. Shortly thereafter, Queen Mary summoned Knox to Holyrood Palace and sought to silence him, first by intimidation and then by a woman’s greatest weapon – tears. To no avail. Knox had suffered imprisonment as a galley slave for two years. He was not to be intimidated by any person, especially an idolatrous Queen.1
Jeremiah, the prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah, was called in 626 B.C. by Yahweh to his noble but difficult task, to preach the prophetic word to the nation, urging them to turn back to the true and living God. The time of renewal, begun under King Josiah in 628 B.C., was given greater impetus by the rediscovery of the Book of the Law in 621 B.C. The renewal, however, was short lived. The people quickly returned to their idolatrous ways. So around 609 B.C., during the reign of Jehoiakim, the son of good King Josiah, Yahweh instructed Jeremiah to stand in the court of the Lord’s house (the place of worship, but also symbolically the centre of Jewish power and authority) and to speak all his words which he commanded him. ‘Do not,’ said Yahweh, ‘omit a word.’ If they listened to Jeremiah’s prophetic word, then Yahweh promised not to bring his calamity on them. He went further, saying that a refusal to listen to his prophets would cause him to make the Lord’s house like Shiloh (Jer. 7:12). The presence of the Lord was taken from Israel in 1 Samuel 4:12 when the Philistines routed them. Following what he said earlier (Deut. 28), Yahweh also said that he would make Jerusalem a curse to all the nations of the earth, if they were unwilling to repent and return to the Lord.
My friends – we need modern day prophets like Jeremiah and John Knox. What are these men like? What is their message? What are we to do? Even a cursory look at the Jeremiah 26 text makes clear that a prophet is to speak his Master’s message. He is not to omit a word. He is not to mitigate, in any way, the word of impending doom, which is certain, unless the only remedy for deliverance is pursued, namely repentance and faith. Knox told Mary that her idolatry would cause both God’s amicable presence and comfortable defence to leave them, and once that happened, what would become of them?2 So a modern day prophet must proclaim, without reservation, the word of judgment on anyone, on any nation, which refuses to repent of idolatry and flee to Jesus, the only Saviour of sinners.
Please note that prophets do not merely speak about hell, judgment, or impending doom. They do not speak of sin in general, nebulous terms. They do not speak euphemistically about homosexuality, merely suggesting it is contrary to human flourishing. They call it perversion, an abomination, that which desecrates the imago dei in those who practice it. They call the SCOTUS decision which redefined marriage a usurpation of power, urging people to resist it, like Abraham Lincoln resisted the infamous Dred Scott decision. Prophetic preachers speak directly to the issues of sin, death, judgment. It’s like the FBI or Homeland Security warning us about potential ISIS attacks. They can tell us that we face danger. They can say how and where these attacks may occur, that if we see something, we are to say something. In this case the authorities are speaking about terrorism. But if ISIS shows up at a sporting event with swords, looking immediately to behead people, then those who see what is ‘going down’ will passionately, without equivocation, without hesitation, warn people to run from danger to a place of safety.
It seems that pastors today speak about hell, judgment, and perhaps even impending doom on our nation. Prophetic preachers, however, speak directly to their audiences, warning them that the Judge is standing right at the door (James 5:9), that there is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy (James 4:12). They make ample use of the second person singular and plural pronoun ‘you.’ While introducing their sermon, in an effort to identify with those to whom they are preaching, preachers can use ‘we’; and when expounding the text, showing how the biblical author was addressing the people of his day, they can say ‘they’. However, when it comes to application, when it is time to bring the full force of that specific biblical truth upon the hearts, consciences, and minds of his auditors, the prophetic preacher must soberly, reverently, and directly say, ‘Now, this word applies to you. You must repent. You must turn from your wicked ways. You must run to Jesus for refuge. Your refusal will bring God’s just condemnation upon you.’
And what must we do? We need prophetic preaching, now more than ever. We need pastors who will catch fire with the anointing of the Spirit, who will speak boldly and directly to their people, warning them to walk in holiness lest they make shipwreck of their faith and go down to hell, while thinking all is well with their souls. And we need to encourage, pray for, and financially support the modern day Jeremiahs, the street preachers. They must stand at the centres of power (the college campus, the state capitol buildings, and the nation’s sporting venues) and warn people of impending doom. They will not water down the message. They will speak passionately, fervently. I have preached with them. I have heard them. They ‘run to the sound of the guns’ and we must support them.
Recently Greg Gutfeld of The Five on Fox News, who admits that he is ‘not a religious person’, nonetheless said, ‘You know who I admire? These street preachers that you see all over the city. That’s the gutsiest thing I have ever seen.’
We preachers, generally speaking, have failed to make the clear trumpet sound of judgment on recalcitrant sinners. We have failed to lift up adequately the glory and excellencies of the Saviour because we have not shown the vile nature of sin.
We must have prophetic preaching, in the pulpits and in the streets. We must warn people to flee from the coming wrath of God and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. While on the ship as a galley slave, his ship Nostre Dame (Our Lady) was at Nantes when an icon of Mary was placed before Knox and his fellow prisoners, who also were Protestants, and they were told to kiss the icon of Mother Mary. They refused and when no one was looking, Knox threw it overboard, declaring, ‘Now let our lady save herself; she is light enough, let her learn to swim!’ He later noted that no more efforts were made to force him into idolatry. http://www.christianhistory.net, ‘Life as a Galley Slave’.
2. John Knox, The Reformation in Scotland (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), p. 270.
3. The History of The Reformation In Scotland
4. The History of The Reformation In Scotland
by John Knox
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network.