OPEN AIR PREACHING
Mark 16:15 “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”
THERE ARE some customs for which nothing can be pleaded, except that they are very old. In such cases antiquity is of no more value than the rust upon a counterfeit coin. It is, however, a happy circumstance when the usage of ages can be pleaded for a really good and Scriptural practice, for it invests it with a halo of reverence. Now, it can be argued, with small fear of refutation, that openair preaching is as old as preaching itself. We are at full liberty to believe that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, when he prophesied, asked for no better pulpit than the hillside, and that Noah, as a preacher of righteousness, was willing to reason with his contemporaries in the shipyard wherein his marvelous ark was builded.
Certainly, Moses and Joshua found their most convenient place for addressing vast assemblies beneath the unpillared arch of heaven. Samuel closed a sermon in the field of Gilgal amid thunder and rain, by which the Lord rebuked the people and drove them to their knees. Elijah stood on Carmel, and challenged the vacillating nation with "How long halt ye between two opinions?"
Jonah, whose spirit was somewhat similar, lifted up his cry of warning in the streets of Nineveh, and in all her places of concourse gave forth the warning utterance, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" To hear Ezra and Nehemiah "all the people gathered themselves to "ether as one man into the street that was before the water gate." Indeed, we find examples of open-air preaching everywhere around us in the records of the Old Testament.
It may suffice us, however, to go back as far as the origin of our own holy faith, and there we hear the forerunner of the Saviour crying in the wilderness and lifting up his voice from the river's bank. Our Lord Himself, who is yet more our pattern, delivered the larger portion of His sermons on the mountain's side, or by the seashore, or in the streets. Our Lord was to all intents and purposes an openair preacher. He did not remain silent in the synagogue, but He was equally at home in the field. We have no discourse of His on record delivered in the chapel royal, but we have the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon in the Plain; so that the very earliest and most divine kind of preaching was practiced out-of-doors by Him who spake as never man spake.
There were gatherings of His disciples after His decease, within walls, especially that in the upper room; but the preaching was even then most frequently in the court of the Temple, or in such other open spaces as were available. The notion of holy places and consecrated meetinghouses had not occurred to them as Christians; they preached in the Temple, or in such other open spaces as were available. but with equal earnestness "in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ."
It would be very easy to prove that revivals of religion have usually been accompanied, if not caused, by a considerable amount of preaching out-of-doors, or in unusual places. The first avowed preaching of Protestant doctrine was almost necessarily in the open air, or in buildings which were not dedicated to worship, for these were in the hands of the papacy. True, Wycliffe for a while preached the Gospel in the church at Lutterworth; Huss and Jerome and Savonarola for a time delivered semi-Gospel addresses in connection with the ecclesiastical arrangements around them; but when they began more fully to know and proclaim the Gospel, they were driven to find other platforms.