Power Through Prayer
Unction, the Mark of True Gospel Preaching
Speak for eternity. Above all things, cultivate your own spirit. A
word spoken by you when your conscience is clear and your heart full of God's
Spirit is worth ten thousand words spoken in unbelief and sin. Remember that
God, and not man, must have the glory. If the veil of the world's machinery
were lifted off, how much we would find is done in answer to the prayers of
God's children. -- Robert Murray McCheyne
UNCTION is that indefinable, indescribable something which an old, renowned
Scotch preacher describes thus: "There is sometimes somewhat in preaching that
cannot be ascribed either to matter or expression, and cannot be described what
it is, or from whence it cometh, but with a sweet violence it pierceth into the
heart and affections and comes immediately from the Word; but if there be any
way to obtain such a thing, it is by the heavenly disposition of the
We call it unction. It is this unction which makes the word of God "quick and
powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing
asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and a discerner of
the thoughts and intents of the heart." It is this unction which gives the
words of the preacher such point, sharpness, and power, and which creates such
friction and stir in many a dead congregation. The same truths have been told
in the strictness of the letter, smooth as human oil could make them; but no
signs of life, not a pulse throb; all as peaceful as the grave and as dead. The
same preacher in the meanwhile receives a baptism of this unction, the divine
inflatus is on him, the letter of the Word has been embellished and fired by
this mysterious power, and the throbbings of life begin -- life which receives
or life which resists. The unction pervades and convicts the conscience and
breaks the heart.
This divine unction is the feature which separates and distinguishes true
gospel preaching from all other methods of presenting the truth, and which
creates a wide spiritual chasm between the preacher who has it and the one who
has it not. It backs and impregns revealed truth with all the energy of God.
Unction is simply putting God in his own word and on his own preachers. By
mighty and great prayerfulness and by continual prayerfulness, it is all
potential and personal to the preacher; it inspires and clarifies his
intellect, gives insight and grasp and projecting power; it gives to the
preacher heart power, which is greater than head power; and tenderness, purity,
force flow from the heart by it. Enlargement, freedom, fullness of thought,
directness and simplicity of utterance are the fruits of this unction.
Often earnestness is mistaken for this unction. He who has the divine unction
will be earnest in the very spiritual nature of things, but there may be a vast
deal of earnestness without the least mixture of unction.
Earnestness and unction look alike from some points of view. Earnestness may be
readily and without detection substituted or mistaken for unction. It requires
a spiritual eye and a spiritual taste to discriminate.
Earnestness may be sincere, serious, ardent, and persevering. It goes at a
thing with good will, pursues it with perseverance, and urges it with ardor;
puts force in it. But all these forces do not rise higher than the mere human.
The man is in it -- the whole man, with all that he has of will and
heart, of brain and genius, of planning and working and talking. He has set
himself to some purpose which has mastered him, and he pursues to master it.
There may be none of God in it. There may be little of God in it, because there
is so much of the man in it. He may present pleas in advocacy of his earnest
purpose which please or touch and move or overwhelm with conviction of their
importance; and in all this earnestness may move along earthly ways, being
propelled by human forces only, its altar made by earthly hands and its fire
kindled by earthly flames. It is said of a rather famous preacher of gifts,
whose construction of Scripture was to his fancy or purpose, that he "grew very
eloquent over his own exegesis." So men grow exceeding earnest over their own
plans or movements. Earnestness may be selfishness simulated.
What of unction? It is the indefinable in preaching which makes it preaching.
It is that which distinguishes and separates preaching from all mere human
addresses. It is the divine in preaching. It makes the preaching sharp to those
who need sharpness. It distills as the dew to those who need to he refreshed.
It is well described as:
"a two-edged sword
Of heavenly temper keen,
And double were the wounds it made
Wherever it glanced between.
'Twas death to silt; 'twas life
To all who mourned for sin.
It kindled and it silenced strife,
Made war and peace within."
This unction comes to the preacher not in the study but in the closet. It is
heaven's distillation in answer to prayer. It is the sweetest exhalation of the
Holy Spirit. It impregnates, suffuses, softens, percolates, cuts, and soothes.
It carries the Word like dynamite, like salt, like sugar; makes the Word a
soother, an arranger, a revealer, a searcher; makes the hearer a culprit or a
saint, makes him weep like a child and live like a giant; opens his heart and
his purse as gently, yet as strongly as the spring opens the leaves. This
unction is not the gift of genius. It is not found in the halls of learning. No
eloquence can woo it. No industry can win it. No prelatical hands can confer
it. It is the gift of God -- the signet set to his own messengers. It is
heaven's knighthood given to the chosen true and brave ones who have sought
this anointed honor through many an hour of tearful, wrestling prayer.
Earnestness is good and impressive: genius is gifted and great. Thought kindles
and inspires, but it takes a diviner endowment, a more powerful energy than
earnestness or genius or thought to break the chains of sin, to win estranged
and depraved hearts to God, to repair the breaches and restore the Church to
her old ways of purity and power. Nothing but this holy unction can do this.