Without it, no true spiritual results are accomplished. Many pleasant impressions may be made, but these all fall far below the ends of gospel preaching.
Unction may be simulated. The emotions excited by an emotional sermon may look like the movements of divine unction, but they have no penetrating, heart-breaking force. There is no heart-healing balm in these surface movements—they are not radical, sin-searching, or sin-curing.
Unction is the one distinguishing feature that separates true gospel preaching from all other methods of presenting truth. It backs and interpenetrates the revealed truth with all the force of God. It illumines the Word and enriches the intellect so that the truth can be grasped and understood.
It qualifies the preacher’s heart by bringing him to those conditions of tenderness, purity, force, and light that are necessary to secure the highest results. Unction gives the preacher liberty and enlargement of thought and soul—a freedom, fullness, and directness of utterance that can be secured by no other process.
The pulpit fails more often for lack of unction than for any other reason. Learning may have its place, brilliance and eloquence may charm, sensation may bring crowds, and mental power may impress; but without unction, all these will be as the weak assault of the waves on the rocks of Gibraltar. Spray and foam may cover them, but the rocks are still there, unimpressed and unimpressible. Similarly, the human heart cannot be swept of its hardness and sin by human forces alone.
Unction is the consecrating force of God, and its presence is the continuous test of that consecration. Other forces and motives may call a man to the work, but only unction is consecration. A separation to God’s work by the power of the Holy Ghost is the only consecration recognized by God as legitimate.
Divine unction—heavenly anointing—is what the pulpit needs and must have. This oil comes only by the hand of God and must cover the whole man—heart, head, and spirit—until it separates him from all earthly, secular, worldly, and selfish motives and aims.
The presence of unction on the preacher is what creates the stirring in a congregation. The same truths may have been told in the strictness of the letter with no ruffle, pain, or pulsation felt. All is quiet as a graveyard. Another preacher comes with this mysterious influence on his ministry, and the letter of the Word is fired by the Spirit. Suddenly the throes of a mighty movement are felt because unction stirs the conscience and breaks the heart. Unctionless preaching makes everything hard, dry, acrid, and dead.
Unction is not a memory or an era of the past only; it is a present, realized, conscious fact. It belongs to the experience of the man as well as to his preaching. It is that which transforms him into the image of his divine Master as well as that by which he declares the truth of Christ with power. It is so much the power in the ministry as to make all else seem feeble and vain without it, and its presence atones for the absence of all other feebler forces.
Unction, however, is not an inalienable gift. Rather, its presence is perpetuated and increased by unceasing prayer and impassioned desire after God. Those who deem all else loss and failure without unction will seek it with tireless ardor. Prayer—much prayer—is the price of preaching unction. Prayer—much prayer—is the one condition of keeping it. Without unceasing prayer, unction never comes to the preacher. Without perseverance in prayer, unction, like overkept manna, breeds worms.
Adapted from Powerful and Prayerful Pulpits: Forty Days of Reading by E. M. Bounds. Edited by Darrel D. King. Published by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.