Brethren Archive

Preaching the Gospel in a City Church.

by H.A. Ironside

THE new dispensation was ushered in on the day of Pentecost in a city, and that, the guiltiest city in the entire world.  John Bunyan has well used the term "a Jerusalem sinner" for the very worst kind of an offender.  In Jerusalem, Christ had demonstrated His deity by many marvelous works.  There He had proclaimed His wondrous message of grace.  Even the children had welcomed Him enthusiastically and many joined with them as they cried, "Hosanna to the King that cometh in the name of the Lord."  Yet it was in the same city a few days later that He was rejected, and outside the gate of that city, he was nailed to a cross.  But when He appeared to His disciples as the Risen One, He commanded them to go into the entire world, beginning at Jerusalem, and to preach to all men the Good News of remission of sins through faith in Him.  And so, the first great revival took place in that very city where fifty days before, He had been so cruelly and wickedly crucified.
Today, the grace of God is as truly sufficient for the city as for the rural community.  In spite of the varied attractions which the average metropolis provides, its theaters, its cinemas, its taverns, dance halls and kindred places where every possible appeal is made to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life—the Gospel is still the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, in the city as elsewhere.  Eight years in the largest evangelistic center of the City of Chicago have demonstrated this beyond a doubt. There is abundant proof that men will still come to hear the Gospel and will respond to that Gospel if it be preached in dependence on God, in simplicity and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Dwight L. Moody began his work in this great city more than seventy-five years ago.  His little church was largely made up of poor, neglected people, who had been won for Christ by Moody's faithful testimony and kindly interest; today there stands in close proximity to the city's great business district, a massive temple erected in memory of the evangelist and to the glory of the Christ he preached.  The Moody Memorial Church is a building which, as we often announce, has over three hundred doors and all swinging wide to welcome people to hear the Gospel and to enjoy Christian fellowship.  The main auditorium has seats for 4,040 people and there are some seventeen other halls and rooms used every Sunday (many of them much more frequently) for Sunday School work, young people's meetings and other gatherings of various kinds.  It has never been found necessary to use unscriptural methods in order to draw people.  From 3,000 to 4,500 people are found in this church twice every Sunday, listening to plain, simple, Bible preaching.  In the morning service, we endeavor to expound the Word, for the building up of the people of God, going through book after book of the Bible and finding constant interest in this method of presenting the truth.  The Sunday night meetings are evangelistic gatherings where the Gospel is proclaimed with no uncertain sound.  The three R's are continually insisted on: man's Ruin by sin, the necessity of Regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and Redemption by the precious blood of Christ; almost invariably, there is definite response in the way of anxious souls coming to the inquiry room, seeking for light and help. It is my firm conviction that wherever these methods are followed, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, people will find their way to the church that refuses to know anything among men "save Jesus Christ and Him crucified."
Not for a moment do I mean to imply that we should ignore men's social and economic needs.  A department for ministering to those in financial trouble is maintained in this church, and through it, many poor, distressed ones have been helped and numbers have been won to Christ.
Personal evangelism is emphasized and it is doubtful if there are many who make public   profession in this church who have not been spoken to personally by some friend, inviting them to the meetings and trying to lead them to Christ.
The Sunday School work has a prominent place, for we believe that the instruction of boys and girls in the Word of God, even before they have definitely decided for Christ, is like setting everything in order for a fire in the stove or furnace.  Then the match of evangelism often starts the flame which burns brightly unto eternal life. 
Moody himself began as a Sunday School worker and the Moody Sunday School today is an outstanding testimony to the value of his methods in dealing with young and old.
In many cities, since the advent of the automobile, open-air meetings have become almost taboo.  It is difficult to gather people together to hear the message on the streets when parking space is at a premium and it is well nigh impossible to find a place where a crowd can be gathered.  But for years, every summer, open-air testimony has been given in various places where it is possible to overcome these obstacles.  Many a wanderer has been reached in this way.
In this great city, there have been other remarkable movements throughout the years, and God has owned them in a marvelous way. Downtown in the heart of the loop, theater meetings have been carried on by a Christian Business Men's Committee at the noon hour for nearly eight years, with the exception of the hot summer months when outdoor meetings take their place.  These meetings have resulted in the conversion of many, numbers of whom return from time to time to bear testimony to the reality of the change in their lives.
Radio ministry has proven to be a great help in giving the Gospel to the city.  The Moody Bible Institute maintains its own station WMBI, carrying on a continuous evangelistic testimony, which reaches tens of thousands of homes.  Through their courtesy, the Moody Church uses this station to broadcast the Sunday morning services which thus carry the message into places we could otherwise never contact.  The Christian Business Men's Committee uses another station, and so reaches many more.
In the neighboring town of Cicero, there is a splendid work of evangelism carried on from the Cicero Bible Church.  In fact, time would fail me to tell all that God is doing through many of the independent tabernacles, as well as recognized evangelical churches and Gospel Halls, the Salvation Army and other groups, who are constantly at it, not only reaching the submerged classes, but the higher-ups as well, with the glad, glorious message of God's free salvation for sinful men.
One thing is very striking.  When some churches close their doors for the summer or give up any attempt to hold a Sunday night meeting, the churches that stand for a full, clear Gospel, find that the crowds will come, and that there is no occasion whatever to relax their activities in the summer months.  In many instances, they redouble them.
As a result of an experience of nearly fifty years preaching Christ, I have no note of pessimism to sound.  I do not find, as some insist, that there is a decrease of interest in spiritual realities. On the contrary, I can say honestly that there has never been a time, excepting during the special great awakenings which have occurred at different intervals in our history as a nation, when people were so ready to listen to the Gospel, if presented in a kindly and gracious manner by men and women filled with the Holy Spirit, who have no axes of their own to grind, but who are seeking to make Christ known to those who need Him.
As to the social gospel—this term which is so widely used today is, to say the least, extra- scriptural, and often means "putting the cart before the horse."  Our Lord Jesus did not say to his disciples, "Go ye into all the world and seek to clean up the slums, to introduce better sanitary conditions, to improve the environment of the poor and relieve the wants of the needy, to build hospitals and endow schools and universities."  He did say, "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature."  But wherever that Gospel goes, it proves to be not only the power of God unto Salvation to everyone that believeth, but it brings untold temporal blessing in its train.  The best social work is that which is definitely linked with evangelistic testimony.  It is true that it would be folly to preach the Gospel to a starving man when it is possible first to provide him with a good meal, but unfortunately, the great danger is that philanthropists will be satisfied with giving him the meal and forget that the need of his soul is far greater than that of his body.  I remember hearing old General William Booth of the Salvation Army talking to a large group of officers when lecturing on "the submerged tenth" in connection with his "Darkest England" project.  I can see the flash in his eye and hear that powerful voice yet, as he exclaimed, "Take a poverty-stricken drunkard out of the slums, get him to sign the pledge and if possible to keep it, clean him up and I give him a good suit of clothes, remove him and his family to a nice, little home in the suburbs, give him gainful employment, and then let him die and go to hell unsaved—really, it is not worth while, and I for one would not attempt it."  These are serious words that we may well take to heart.  Our great business should be preparing men for eternity, and when they close with Christ, their outward circumstances will soon undergo a marvelous change.  Our Lord's words are still applicable, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you."  
Let me add a word as to Christian education.  The term "Religious Education" is one that I abominate.  It savors too much of a carnal conception of religiousness, as fitting a man for heaven, in place of emphasizing the importance of a new birth.  But Christian education, if really that, is of great importance.  To start with the youngest children and seek to bring them up in, if the nurture and admonition of the Lord, ever insisting on the importance of their own definite acceptance of Christ but making them acquainted from their earliest days with the great outstanding truths of the Word of God, will go far toward building a substantial Christian constituency in their later years. The danger comes, however, if Bible knowledge and catechetical instruction is substituted for a definite work of the Holy Spirit of God, producing conviction and leading the soul to personal decision for Christ.  H. A. IRONSIDE, Litt.D. Pastor of the Moody Memorial Church, Chicago.
“The Missionary Review of the World” 1938


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