This week’s assignment in Octavius Winslow’s book, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, is chapter 7, “The Fruitless and the Fruitful Believer”.
In this chapter, Winslow describes the fruitless professor and the pruning of the fruitful branch before concluding with points of caution and encouragement. Taking John 15:2 as his text, Winslow focuses on the utter necessity of being united to Christ, the true Vine, and thus defines the fruitless professor as one who is connected to Christ in an external manner only. Our author lamented the proliferation of such fruitless professors in his own day thusly:
“If to put on the Lord Jesus by an outward avowal of his religion, — if to profess and call themselves Christians, — if to bow the knee at the mention of his name, — if to partake of the outward symbols of his body and his blood, — if to speak well of Jesus, — assent and consent to his doctrine, approve of his Gospel, follow his ministers, crowd his temple, contribute liberally to his cause, — if these constitute the sole and essential elements of real spiritual union to Christ, then may we not exclaim, — ‘The millennium has broken upon us in noontide splendor!”
[Hence we learn that Winslow was a chiliast of some form or another, but I’m not going to chase that rabbit!]
In view of Winslow’s assessment back then, surely the situation is far more pronounced in our day, when we consider that in the first half of the 19th century, ministers knew what it was to preach experientially. One aspect of experiential preaching involved standing in the conscience and applying the truth in order to confront the hearer with the condition of his soul. Winslow described this as well in the opening paragraph, with regard to how discriminating our Lord was in his teaching and preaching ministry:
“If there were any one feature in our Lord’s ministrations more peculiarly impressive than another, it was the discriminating character that marked them. No one, on hearing him, could retire without the deep conviction that he was the man whose moral image Jesus had been drawing, and in such true and vivid resemblance, as to compel him to acknowledge the faithfulness of the portrait. There was no personality, no harshness, no unnecessary keenness in his reproof, no exaggeration of colouring, nothing overdrawn; but such a simple, faithful, scriptural dealing with human conscience, as either compelled his hearers to submit to his authority, and rank themselves among his followers, or to retire, silenced, self-accused, and self-condemned. Thus it is recorded at the conclusion of one of his discourses, — ‘And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.’ Matt. xxi. 45; and on another occasion we read, as the result of one of his peculiar and emphatic modes of teaching, — ‘And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last.’ John viii. 9.
“How important, may we not pause to remark, that the ministers of the Gospel – those who stand between the living and the dead – should model their ministry, as closely as they can, after their blessed Lord’s; that they should be careful how they preach – that their preaching should be discriminating without being harsh, pointed without being personal, searching without being caustic; that no hearer should go away from beneath their ministrations, without a faithful delineation of his own character, the voice sounding in his conscience, and following him amid all his windings and his wanderings, ‘Thou art the man.’
A survey of ministers today will largely reveal an utter ignorance as to the definition of experiential preaching, so it is little wonder if there are far more fruitless professors now versus Winslow’s day. For more information on experiential preaching, I recommend the four-part series Dr. Joel Beeke did earlier this year at Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation. Follow this link and search for “experiential preaching”.