William C. Burns was preaching in Perth, Scotland, in 1840. His biographer writes,
“The power indeed that attended his words, and the effects which often in the most unexpected quarters followed them, was at this time most remarkable. ‘I never thought,’ exclaimed a strong, careless man, who had heard him, ‘to have been so much affected; it is surely something altogether unearthly that has come to the town.’”
Islay Burns, Memoir of the Rev. Wm. C. Burns (London, 1870), page 144.
I think of true preaching of the gospel as defined by three arrows. One arrow points backward into history, all the way back into the biblical world, drawing from the ancient text the pure, authorial meaning of the passage being preached.
A second arrow points forward into the world of today, into the questions and concerns and sins and sufferings of people today, pointing even into the problems they aren’t troubled by but should be. We preach out of yesterday, but we also preach into today.
But these two arrows alone do not suffice for true preaching of the gospel.
A third arrow points down from above. It represents something heavenly entering into the experience of the preacher and his hearers at the moment of the sermon, something that cannot be explained merely in terms of exegetical clarity or contemporary insight, something powerful that sets the moment apart as divine, a glorious awareness that God is there, that the sermon is coming to us as a message from a distant shore, a word from The Throne, something altogether unearthly.
True gospel preaching is more of God than of ourselves, and that’s why it is so strikingly helpful in our world today.