6 Outdoor Preaching

Much New Testament preaching is outdoor preaching True, Jesus preached in the synagogues and disputed in the Temple, and some of Paul's fine speeches come to us from courts of justice1 or the Areopagus, 2 while it was the practice of himself and his helpers to go into synagogues first before proceeding to the Gentiles.3 But many of the great discourses of the Master and his disciples: the Sermons on the Mount and Plain, the Olivet prophecy, 4 and Peter's Pentecostal address to the Jews5 among them, were uttered in the open air.

But this is no sort of precedent for our own day. Palestine's climate is not Britain's. Palestine had then no trams and buses. Lecture halls and the habits of indoor assembly were not then so common. For the ordinary people, neither at home, nor in other buildings, were there facilities for diversion which books, radio, theatre, music hall and cinema put in the grasp of our own age.

We cannot retrace our steps. Open-air work can never have again, in this country at any rate, the place which it had then. Where it was the practice of big crowds to follow a successful rabbi to an open space outside the city and hear his words, it is the practice no longer. Large crowds will spend long time in the open air at swimming baths, race-meetings and sports occasions, but not normally for anything else.

We do not usually expect to convert by this means alone. Our message is not of that emotional type which can win, however temporarily, spontaneous acceptance from fervent but ill-instructed enthusiasts. In the days of Jesus and the Apostles, the many thousands who followed for what they could get melted away rapidly when they were offered instruction they did not want, 6 while the many thousands who accepted the faith on one day7 were men whose minds had been stored with the knowledge of what the prophets had foretold, and needed only the key which Jesus had given his apostles8 to open for them the door of understanding. The two on the road to Emmaus were not the only " fools, and slow of heart to believe," who could be rapidly persuaded from the pages of Moses and the prophets. " Understandest thou what thou readest? "9 and the instruction which followed, could make all plain; and " See, here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized? " could follow then with far greater rapidity than normally now.

Now, error has multiplied within the scope of the name " Christian": and the task of distinguishing the true Christianity from the counterfeit, and persuading of the former, cannot normally be accomplished quickly. A single meeting of any kind plays only a small part in such persuasion, and a single open-air meeting a very small part indeed.

" We will hear thee again of this matter "10 is a bright reward for our out-door enterprises. If we can bring those who hear our words to see that they may be important, and come and ask for more, or simply resolve to go home and pick up a neglected Bible, our preaching has been blessed. This is not to say that more may not happen; it is to set a reasonable goal at which we should aim.

Open-air preaching is in the main, then, only one step removed from advertising. It displays our wares, in more detail than our cards and posters can, but setting off only their most conspicuous features; not so much proving that they are what they seem to be, as showing ourselves confident of their worth. In our addresses we challenge attention to important things, and if that attention is won we foster it in other ways and other places.

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