At attempt to measure the sun with an inch tape measure could hardly be more difficult than attempting to measure John the Baptist by our modern standards of spirituality. At Jordan the anxious crowd asked concerning the newborn child, “What manner of child shall this be?” They were told, “H shall be great in the sight of the Lord.”
Today we are prodigal with the use of this word “great”, for we mistake prominence for eminence. In those days God was wanting not a priest nor a preacher, but MEN. There were plenty of men then, as now; but all were too small. God wanted a great man for a great task!
John the Baptist probably had not one qualification for the priesthood, but he had every quality to become a prophet. Immediately before his coming there had been four hundred years of darkness without one ray of prophetic light – four hundred years of silence without a “Thus saith the Lord” – four hundred years of progressive deterioration in spiritual things. With a river of beasts blood for its atonement and with an overfed priesthood for its mediator, Israel, God’s favored nation, was lost in ceremony, sacrifice and circumcision.
But what an army of priests could not do in four hundred years, one man “sent of God”, John the Baptist, God-fashioned, God-filled, and God-fired, did in six months!
I share the view of E. M. Bounds that it takes God twenty years to make a preacher. John the Baptist,s training was in God’s University of Silence. God takes all His great men and women there. Though to Paul, the proud, law-keeping Pharisee of colossal intellect and boasted pedigree, Christ made a challenge on the Damascus road, and needed his three years in Arabia for emptying and unlearning before he could say, “God revealed Himself to me.” God can fill in a moment what may take years to empty. Hallelujah!
Jesus said, “Go ye!” but He also said, “Tarry until!” Let any man shut himself up for a week with only bread and water, with no books except the Bible, no television, no radio, with no visitor except the Holy Spirit, and I guarantee, my preacher brethren, that that man will either break up or break through and out. After that, like Paul, he will be known in hell!
John the Baptist was in God’s School of Silence, the wilderness, until the day of his showing forth. Who was better fitted for the task of stirring a torpid nation from its sensual slumber than this sun-scorched, fire-baptized, desert-bred prophet – sent of God with a face like the judgment morning! In his eyes was the light of God, in his voice was the authority of God, and in his soul was the passion of God! Who, I ask, could be greater than John? Truly “He did no miracle”, that is, he never raised a dead man; but he did far more – he raised a dead nation!
This leather-girdled prophet with a time-limit ministry so burned and shone that those who heard his hot-tongued, heart-burning message, went home to sleepless night until their blistered souls were broken in repentance. Yet John the Baptist was strange in doctrine – no sacrifice, ceremony, or circumcision; strange in diet – no winebibbing nor banqueting; strange in dress – no phylacteries nor Pharisaic garments.
Yes, but John was great! Great eagles fly alone; great lions hunt alone; great souls walk alone – alone with God. Such loneliness is hard to endure and impossible to enjoy unless God-accompanied. Truly John made the grade in greatness. He was great in three ways: great in fidelity to the Father – training long years, preaching short months; great in his submission to the Spirit – he stepped and stopped as ordered; great in his statements of the Son – declaring Jesus, whom he had never seen before, as “the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.”
John was a “Voice.” Most preachers are only echoes, for if you listen hard, you will be able to tell what latest book they have read and how little of the Book they quote. To reach the masses we need a Voice – a heaven-sent prophet to preach to preachers! It take broken men to break men. Brethren, we have equipment but not enduement; commotion but not creation; action but not unction; rattle but not revival. We are dogmatic but not dynamic!
Every epoch has been initiated by fire; every life, whether of preacher or prostitute will end with fire – judgment fire for some, hell-fire for others! Wesley sang, “Save poor souls out of the fire and quench their brands in Jesus’ blood.” Brethren, we have only one mission – to save souls; and yet they parish! Oh! think of them! Millions, hundreds of millions, maybe over one thousand million eternal souls, need Christ. Without eternal life they perish! Oh! the shame of it! the horror of it! the tragedy of it! “Christ was not willing that any should perish.” Preachers, people go by the millions to hell-fire today because we have lost Holy Spirit fire!
This generation of preachers is responsible for this generation of sinners. At the very doors of our churches are the masses – unwon because they are unreached because they are unloved. Thank God for all that is being done for missions overseas. Yet it is strangely true that we can get more “apparent” concern for people across the world than for our perishing neighbors across the street! With all our mass-evangelism, souls are won only in hundreds. Let an atom bomb come and they will fall by the thousands into hell.
To say that the sin of today has no parallel is without foundation. Jesus said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.” We find a graphic picture of Noah’s time in Genesis 6:5, “God saw … the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination … of his heart was only evil continually.” So it was, evil without exception, every imagination; evil without mixture, only evil; evil without intermission, evil continually. As it was, so it is! Sin today is both glamorized and popularized, thrown into the ear by radio, thrown into the eye by television, and splashed on popular magazine covers. Church-goers, sermon-sick and teaching-tired, leave the meeting as they entered it – visionless and passionless! Oh God, give this perishing generation ten thousand John the Baptists – to tear away the bandages, put over our national and international sins by politicians, humanists, and modernists!
Just as Moses could not mistake the sight of the burning bush, so a nation could not mistake the sight of a burning man! God meets fire with fire. The more fire in the pulpit the less burning in hell-fire. John the Baptist was a new man with a new message. As a man accused of murder hears the dread cry of the judge, “Guilty!” and pales at it, so the crowd heard John’s cry, “Repent!” until it rang down the corridors of their minds, stirred memory, bowed the conscience and bought them terror-stricken to repentance and baptism! After Pentecost, the onslaught of Peter, fresh from his fiery baptism of the Spirit, shook the crowd until s one man they cried out: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?! Imagine someone telling these sin-stricken men, “Just sign a card! Attend church regularly! Pay your tithes!” NO!
Unctionized by the Spirit’s might, John cried, “Repent!” And they did! Repentance is not a few hot tears at the penitent form. It is not emotion or remorse or reformation. Repentance is a change of mind about God, about sin, and about hell!
Nature’s two greatest forces are fire and wind, and these two were wedded on the Day of Pentecost. Thus, just like wind and fire, that blessed “upper room” company were irresistible, uncontrollable, unpredictable – Then their fire started missionary fires, quenched the violence of fire, lit martyr fires, and started revival fires!
Two hundred years ago, Charles Wesley sang “O that in me the sacred fire might now begin to glow, burn up the dross of base desire, and make the mountains flow!” Dr. Hatch cried: “Breathe on me, Breath of God, till I am wholly Thine, until this earthly part of me glows with Thy fire divine.” Holy Spirit fire both destroys, purifies, warms, attracts, and empowers.
Some Christians cannot say when they were saved. But I never knew a man yet who was baptized with the Holy Spirit and Fire and was unable to say when it happened. Such Spirit-filled men shake nations for God, like Wesley who was born of the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, and lived and walked in the Spirit.
An automobile will never move until it has ignition – fire; so some men are neither moved nor moving because they have everything except fire.
Beloved, brethren, there is to be a special judgment for preachers; they shall receive the greater condemnation (James 3:1). Can it be possible that as they stand condemned before the bar of God, men will turn on some and say, “Preacher, if you had had Holy Spirit fire, I should not now be going to hell-fire.” Like Wesley, I believe in the need for repentance in the believer. The promise of the Father is for you. Just now, on your knees in that lonely mission station, or by your chair in that comfortable home, or in the pastor’s study crushed and almost ready to give up, make this your prayer:
To make my weak heart strong and brave,
Send the fire.
To live a dying world to save, send the fire.
Oh, see me on Thy altar lay
My life, my all, this very day;
To crown the offering now, I pray:
Send the fire!
F. de L. Booth-Tucker
We have a cold church in a cold world because the preachers are cold and we are cold. Therefore, “Lord, send the Fire!” Amen!