As I was growing up, the church that I was raised in would have “special” meetings each year, usually a week long, which they called “revivals”. They would often have one meeting in the Spring and then another one in the Fall. These meetings would feature special music and the centerpiece was always an entertaining “preacher” (someone from out of town) who was called an evangelist. Folks were expected to invite their neighbors and the “unchurched” to come and hear these “preachers” in hopes of adding new members and stirring up the church to greater dedication and even, hopefully, producing an increase in the tithes and offerings.
Now these “evangelists” were not just your average run of the mill “preacher” but were men of great oratorical skills who could tell humorous stories and enjoyable anecdotes, keeping the folks entertained. They were also skilled in preaching heaven so high and glorious that you could hear the angels sing (and even Grandma if she had gone on), and hell so hot and fearsome that it made your shirttail run up and down your back like a window shade. They would often explain the “millennium”, the “rapture”, and the “great tribulation”, in such a convincing manner, that one could expect these things to occur at any minute.
Now these evangelists were “rated” on how many “decisions for CHRIST” that they could produce during these meetings. So not only were they skilled in tugging at the heartstrings of their hearers through their animated “preaching” but they really excelled in being able to persuade folks down the aisle at the end of the meeting, when they would use various methods to convince their hearers that this might be their last “chance” to be saved. They usually called this an “invitation”, which was opening up an “opportunity” for folks to escape hell and gain heaven by a simple act of their free will, “letting CHRIST into their hearts”, or in the case of those who had already let HIM in, “allowing” HIM be the LORD of their life (i.e; becoming dedicated).
As a lad, I observed these goings on and while the euphoria surrounding these meetings was usually enjoyable, I knew that soon everything would be back to normal, and the folks that “rededicated” their lives would have forgotten this commitment in a few weeks and most of those who had gotten “saved” would just fade away. But soon the time for a new “revival” would be at hand and the same scenario would repeat itself.
This sort of thing was just part of the culture “of religion” which has shaped the view of multitudes as to what Paul is speaking about when he says, “it pleased GOD by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” If there has ever been a case of mistaken identity, I believe this is an example of it. Charles Finney is, no doubt, the “father” of the modern “evangelical” methodology of “revivalism”. He made it possible for skillful men to make a living going from place to place with organized schemes designed to “save the masses”, by appealing to the emotions and religious nature of men. The “preacher” became much more a part of this “equation”, than the message preached, and the method of “preaching” more important than the substance.
This sort of idea about “preaching” is exactly what Paul describes as the foolishness of the world since the “world by wisdom knew not GOD”. Revivalism (in general) is the attempt of men to gain the kingdom of GOD by the efforts of the fleshly understanding, will, and emotions. It is built upon the notion that man can influence GOD to perform mighty works and gain HIS favor by their own efforts, prayers, and obedience to certain principles and activities. This is a totally foreign concept to that which Paul sets forth as the purpose of GOD in “preaching”.
The “preaching” which the LORD uses in “saving those that believe”, is not the product of man’s natural abilities or performance. Paul plainly sets forth the necessity of a “preacher” being “sent” by the LORD, rather than invited by a committee, hired for a job, or being part of a man-made sideshow. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”(Rom 10:14-15)
He does not describe, here, a random event which is the product of free will, and the planning of men, but rather that which is the designed purpose of GOD, to accomplish a predestined result. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” (Rom 8:29-30) The “preaching” which saves those that believe is the work of GOD and not man. It is a message which is specifically designed to bring about the desired result.
We see an illustration of the “sending” of a “preacher” in the account of the Ethiopian Eunuch. (see Acts 8:26-39) The LORD had begun a work in this Eunuch as he was earnestly seeking to know the WAY of GOD. Thus the LORD prepared and provided a “preacher”, “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.” (Acts 8:29) HE gave him the exact MESSAGE which he was to “preach”. No other would do. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” (Acts 8:35)
In order to comprehend what the apostle is speaking of, it is necessary that we be given a proper understanding of what the scripture means when it says, “save”. In the modern evangelistic model the term “save” or “saved” is descriptive of being delivered from the eternal punishment of hell. This is, according to them, accomplished by a man asking the LORD to “save” him, and thus by an act of faith and free will, allowing himself to be delivered from the wrath to come. Indeed the LORD came to “save” sinners, and there is surely a consideration to be given to the fact that all sinners are worthy of destruction. However not all sinners are appointed unto destruction, as the scriptures plainly reveal. “For God hath not appointed us (i.e.; the children of LIGHT; the elect) to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Thes 5:9) This very fact, is demonstrated in the calling of those Gentiles whom the LORD had “ordained unto eternal life” (see Acts 13:48). Their “ordination” (or appointment) to eternal life precedes and is manifested by the gift of faith wherein they are compelled to believe. (see Eph.2:8)
Salvation (i.e.; being saved or delivered) is accomplished completely by the ONE who is the SAVIOR. There is the aspect of being saved from the wrath to come, which is accomplished by the REDEEMER, long before any of the “saved” ever knew that it was done. (see Rev.13:8, II Tim.1:9) HE obtained eternal redemption for them. Then there is the aspect “salvation”, wherein the SPIRIT of GOD awakens those who shall be “saved” in the context of that which Paul is specifically speaking of in this verse which is before us.
The Gospel, is the blessed message which “brings salvation” (i.e.; the knowledge and enjoyment of it) to the sons of GOD. John is the last of the Old Testament prophets, to him was the privilege given to herald and identify GOD’s perfect SALVATION. “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins.” (Luke 1:76-77) He did not “save” anyone but he was enabled to give forth the “knowledge of salvation” to those whom the LORD was pleased to give ears to hear.
The preaching of the gospel does not bring LIFE to anyone, for that event can only occur by the operation of the SPIRIT of GOD in the new birth. (see John 1:13; 3:8; Eph.2:1) Yet it has pleased the LORD to use vessels of clay,(i.e.; mortal men) as instruments in declaring the TRUTH of the Gospel which HE is pleased to use to enlighten those to whom HE gives ears to hear and eyes to see. Paul declared this quite plainly. “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.” (2Ti 1:9-11) Thus we see that the LORD brings “salvation” to HIS people through the preaching of the gospel, for HE gives the MESSAGE, sends the messenger, and gives faith to believe.mam