The Crusade in Madison Square Garden is having an influence and implications that reach far beyond the suburbs of Manhattan.
Any preaching of the Gospel that fills and overflows an arena holding nearly 19,000 persons night after night and week after week needs careful analysis.
Christian effort that is reported day after day in the secular press and week after week in secular magazines carries with it a significance far beyond the normal influence of the Church.
Those who try to explain that which is taking place in New York naturally do so in terms they understand from within the confines of their own experience. Such explanations are to be had on every hand—from the theatrical world in terms of box-office appeal and sustained interest; from the business world in terms of cost; from the social set in terms of surprise that the Christian message and messengers can be so personally attractive and socially acceptable; from the narcotics addict and dreary prostitute in terms of a new life and a new hope; from men and women in every field of endeavor as they hear of something many have wanted and never found—peace with God and hope for eternity; from the rock ’n roll teenager who is led to stop and realize that being a Christian can be both challenging and joyous.
Another group also stops to evaluate and analyze, and at the same time to engage in heart-searching. This group is within the Christian ministry.
Of course there are those who dismiss the entire matter as an emotional binge and a passing fancy. Some see in this campaign a distressing return to the (to them) outmoded fundamentalism of a past era. And, there are some who, having largely discarded the supernatural concept and accepted a philosophical and humanistic viewpoint of Christianity, decry the emphasis on sin and salvation, heaven and hell and most distasteful of all—the thought of an instantaneous work of the Holy Spirit through which conversion takes place.
The Garden Crusade and the preaching that maintains such sustained interest, and obviously touches the hearts and lives of thousands, is bound to have a profound effect on many ministers of the Gospel.
Some of the more obvious aspects of this preaching give serious food for thought.
American pulpits have been vying one with another to proclaim impressive messages. Catch titles, great social issues, clever phrases, wide quotations from secular writers and a host of secular subjects have often crept in to crowd out the Gospel message itself. At the Garden we witness the appeal of the simple Gospel. As one cab driver remarked: “This is the first time I ever knew what a preacher was talking about.”
Regardless of the social applications of the Gospel and the prophetic visions of the minister, men and women know that they are going to die and want a faith to believe and an assurance for eternity. Many forget that man cannot live as he should until he knows how to die. Many have forgotten that our Lord’s preaching and teaching looked at this world in the light of eternity and that He came to give eternal life to those who believe.
Texts can be cleverly contrived springboards from which minister makes a graceful dive into the pools of humor, clever phrases and worldly wisdom. Modern topics may entertain but rarely do they edify. No man has yet contrived either a philosophy or an essay that can match in power and in effect the simple preaching from the written Word. Few are sufficiently acquainted with the words of Scripture to quote them fluently and appropriately. Few seem willing to base their messages on a simple, “Thus saith the Lord,” leaving the effect to the Holy Spirit. The messages at Madison Square Garden demonstrate the often forgotten fact that God empowers the preaching of the Scriptures.
Why are there so many church members among those going forward to make a decision for Christ? One answer is that within the church there are many who have joined an organization but who have never had a personal experience with the living Christ. There are many synthetic Christians, men and women who make the outward motions of being Christians but who, when face to face with reality, know in their hearts that they lack something vital. Out of this demonstration a new realization is coming of the necessity for public surrender and commitment to Christ as Savior and Lord.
For decades sin has not been a popular topic for sermons. Too often there has been the philosophy that men are the victims of social and economic and personality handicaps that may be solved by education, raising of economic standards and psychological adjustments. Deep down in their hearts people know they are sinners, estranged from a loving God and in need of His redeeming grace. When faced with the fact of sin in their lives and of salvation through the Cross men still respond as they always have.
No one would be so foolish as to infer that Mr. Graham’s preaching is the only type needed. But, for winning men to Christ and for making plain their condition and their need, repetitious preaching is necessary. Few are those who hearing the Gospel message immediately grasp either its scope or its significance. They need to hear the story again and again. Entirely too much is taken for granted.
Many who sit in the pews on Sunday are utterly ignorant of the plan of salvation. To make part of each sermon a repetition of man’s sinfulness and of God’s redemptive work requires a humility some have not thought necessary and to which others have been unwilling to submit.
We do not believe that the sole effect of the preaching in Madison Square Garden will be found in the thousands who are making a public profession of their faith in Christ. We believe a far greater impact will come in the months and years ahead, when from many pulpits there will come for the first time, or after a long silence, the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all of its simplicity and power.
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