The article quoted from is “Pulpit Force” by Robert Hart, From Touchstone, June 2007, page 5.
“It is not the duty of the clergy to blunt the sharpness, to soften the hammer, to quench the fire. Woe to the preacher who protects the people from the Word that kills, because he protects them also from being made alive – truly and forever alive. Woe to the preacher who acts as a buffer, deflecting the force of the Scriptures to soften the blow, because in protecting the people from the stroke, he prevents their healing” (Robert Hart).
This is a woe that cannot be misunderstood. We’re not talking about preaching. This is talking about proclaiming. And what’s being proclaimed is the very Word of God.
We read in the book of Ezekiel, Chapter 2, how the Lord God himself challenges Ezekiel in this same manner:
“1 He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” 2 As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.
3 He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. 4 The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ 5 And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6 And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house. 7 You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. 8 But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”
9 Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, 10 which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.”
We notice the similar warnings between Mr. Hart’s words and what the Lord proclaimed over 2000 years ago in the book of Ezekiel. The warnings are similar in the sense that they challenge the speaker to not hold back what needs to be said; to not be complacent in the words that need to burn; and to not be afraid of the fire that comes out of his mouth.
“Woe to preacher who acts as a buffer, deflecting the force of the Scriptures to soften the blow.” This is the reason why the prophet must never look to speak for his own interests but for the interests of God. For the Lord said to Ezekiel, “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious.”
“If his labors in the pulpit amount to a lifetime of standing between the people and the word of God, reducing its effect, taming it and making it polite, presentable, and harmless, he will have nothing to show for it in the end but wood, hay, and stubble, instead of gold, silver, and precious stones” (Hart).
This second paragraph of the article takes me directly to Ezekiel 37. Here we will see a bridge that is very much built of the same message that Mr. Hart is saying.
“1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.”
Oh the sadness of the man who spends hours in prayer and meditation, seeking the Lord for a word to his people, and the moment he receives it he assumes to be ready for the task. He prepares the passage, he sets the time and the hour where he will bring this word of God. He waits for the introduction. He’s brought to the altar of God behind the pulpit. And instead of releasing the sweet fragrance and aroma of sacrifice to the living God he brings the sacrifice of Cain, that which in God’s eyes is despicable and not accepted. And we look among the congregations of today and the dry bones of the valley are no more alive after the man has stepped down from failing to offer the proper sacrifice. And the Lord says to him as he said to Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” The goal of God is that the word of prophecy should do exactly what the word did when Ezekiel proclaimed it. “Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.”‘ So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”‘ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.”
“He will have nothing to show for it in the end but wood, hay, and stubble, instead of gold, silver, and precious stones” (Hart).
“If the passages that have been read speak of life and death, then elaborate on life and death. If they speak of repentance, then preach that men should repent. When they encourage faith, proclaim faith. When they warn of hell and the judgment to come, then blow the trumpet as a faithful watchman on the walls. When they comfort, speak as a pastor who feeds the sheep” (Hart).
This third section of this message is clear as the Word of God says in 2 Timothy 4:
“1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
The reason the Lord God Almighty commands us not to mask the words that he puts on our tongues, not to put flowers on them and make them sound sweet and delightful, is because of the warning of what is yet to come. Verses 3 and 4 say “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” God is making it clear that this will happen in the last days. He warns that foolish, sweet-talking, delightful expression are the very thing that people are going to want to hear. Sad to say they are already doing it. Their itching ears have been scratched for them. And the church is responsible for doing it.
“Let the meaning of the Scriptures be expounded to their full effect; proclaim from them the truth that affects the eternal destiny of the souls in your care. It is far easier to preach if a man will ride the Scriptures like a wave, letting them make their own point and arrive at their own destination” (Hart).
And finally, how is it that the prophet or man of God should carry out the proclamations that God has put on his tongue? The Word of God is very clear. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 says:
“6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written:
‘No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him’—
10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:
16 ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord
that he may instruct him?’
But we have the mind of Christ.”
And the reason it is important to ride the wave of the Word of God, it is for God to expose the man who has not the Spirit of God. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (v. 14). And in this day and age it’s sad to hear and to even say, that it’s no longer the listener who suffers from not having the Spirit of God. It is the speaker that has failed to have it and to receive it to begin with.