BY C. H. SPURGEON.
WE have-been passing through a long period of serious ministerial thinning. From the Baptist body our Lord has taken away, not the veterans, whom in the course of nature we might look to lose, but men in the prime of life from whom many years of service might have been expected. One by one they have departed quite unexpectedly, and left sad gaps in our ranks.
Attempts have been made to account for this, and theories have been started. According to some there must have been great sin in the denomination, and therefore we are visited with these judgments. We agree in this opinion only so far as to wish that there may be great searching of heart among us all; but we are quite unable to accept it as an interpretation of the matter. We have seen times of far greater lethargy, and far less Christian love than the present, but there was no remarkable mortality among our leading ministers; indeed, we have even known seasons in which fierce discussions among brethren must have grieved the Holy Spirit, and yet neither the more litigious spirits nor any others of the offenders were cut off. That God does occasionally, for their sins, visit churches in the sickness and death of their members is certain; but there seems to us to be nothing in the present case to warrant the idea that he is doing so. In general the removals of his servants may be viewed as loving chastisements to the survivors, but to trace them to some supposed fault would be a dangerous practice, for it would, like the arguments of Job’s comforters, cause very much needless grief at a time when the heart needs consolation, and it would logically involve the flattering conclusion that, when ministers are spared, God must be well pleased with their people, and the churches must be in a good condition. The fact is the Lord takes his servants home according to his own pleasure, and has other objects in view, and other reasons for his acts besides the censure of his saints. It may be that he calls home his beloved ones when he knows that the church will suffer least by their withdrawal: he may see in his people certain elements of strength which will enable them to bear the bereavement better at this time than at any other; and, viewed as a sign of the times, the deaths of valued pastors may be rather a token for good than for evil. We have always proofs enough that our churches are not perfect, and had need amend; loud calls for humiliation and awakening come from our own consciences, and from the world perishing around us, and there is therefore no need to invoke the aid of that superstitious feeling which must needs see a judgment lurking in every painful providence. The Lord prunes his vine branches, not because he is displeased with their barrenness, but because, being charmed with their fruitfulness, he would see it increased. The church is to be congratulated that her Lord has found in her garden so many flowers fitted by his grace to be gathered to himself. Not in anger but in love has the Well-beloved gleaned her roses and her lilies.
We have observed that certain other brethren are of opinion that the rather numerous deaths of the last few months may be traced to severe mental labor, involving sickness, depression, and premature exhaustion. So much is required of ministers now-a-days that the brain grows weary, and the soul is drained of vital force. In some of the cases over which we mourn this may have been the fact, but it certainly was not so in all. Brethren have gone from us who rejoiced in their service as the war-horse rejoices in the day of battle; they took their labor happily, and their cares sat lightly upon them; wearied no doubt they often were, but they showed no sign of flagging, and bemoaned no physical or mental strain. They fell we know not why, their bones were full of marrow, and their bows abode in strength. The Lord alone knoweth why and wherefore he released these his faithful ones so early from their warfare in the high places of the field. Yet if but one true-hearted minister has been made the victim of unnecessary toil, and has fallen beneath burdens which he ought not to have carried, it behooves the churches to prevent the recurrence of such a calamity. Why cause us to serve tables so much as many of us are compelled to do? Why expect us to attend every religious service, and compel us to do so, or else to mourn that the interest flags and the meeting falls off? Why bring every petty matter to us for judgment when there are other spiritual men to be found quite able to decide the question in dispute? Why hound us to the death to attend readings, committees, soirees, conferences, conventions, tea fights, ordinations, recognitions, bazaars, anniversaries, stone-layings, chapel-openings, school-treats, etc., etc.? There must be an end to this slavery, and it ought to come, not through the refusal of the oppressed worker, but from the generous consideration of his friends.
It has also been hinted that an insufficient maintenance, and consequent anxiety, has a tendency to shorten life. This also is true. That many brethren have pined away in poverty we are unable to doubt, and that there may yet be many more we have grave reason to fear. Surely this involves criminality somewhere. If one worthy brother has succumbed beneath the pressure of pecuniary want, or died of a broken heart through the unkindness of professed friends, it is a matter to be heard before the judge of all, and woe unto those by whom the account must be rendered; for the Lord looks narrowly to the blood of his messengers, and will visit it upon the covetousness which starved or the contentiousness which smote them.
We would fain hope that in no one case of recent death could such a charge be truthfully laid; nay, more, we are fully persuaded that no such accusation would even be suggested; but at all times it has not been so, we know instances in which pastors have been as much murdered as if they had been stabbed to the heart, or slowly poisoned. The Lord will certainly require this at the hand of the guilty in the day of reckoning which cometh on apace.
The practical point of the matter, which it is always well to seek out, lies in the suggestion that we do all we can to disencumber the work of our ministers of all that does not properly belong to it by our — selves fulfilling our own part of the Lord’s service according to our ability. We must no longer leave the mouth to do the work of the hand, but each member of the body must fulfill its office. The inevitable labor of the pastorate is great enough for the most laborious, wise, talented, and healthy of men: let us not lay upon them grievous additional burdens, let us not expect them to do impossibilities, let us not selfishly demand more of their attention than is our proper share, let us not harass them with idle gossip, or tax their time with objectless interviews. They have enough anxiety in dealing with impenitent sinners, doubting inquirers, desponding saints, and miserable back-sliders; it is wanton cruelty to cavil with them about mere words or unimportant doctrines, and it is real brutality to carry to them the hard speeches of the godless, or the petty quarrels and jealousies of professed believers. Let us help, and not hinder them. Let their peace be precious to us: worry shortens life, and therefore since we would have them live long and win souls for many years to come, let us minister to their comfort. It will do us good to be their active assistants, and it will relieve them of a great load if they see the various departments of church work efficiently worked by our earnest efforts.
Another point well worthy of attention is — let us pray for more ministers of the word, and do our best to aid all likely young men in the noble desire to fit themselves for the holy service. We cannot recall the departed, let us look out for their successors: and if we have not dealt so well as we should have done with those who have gone before, let us pay the arrears to those who are coming on. Young brethren are beginning in a humble way to open their mouths for the Lord Jesus, let us not snub them and quench their feeble light, but do our best to encourage their efforts, hoping that the Lord’s anointed may be before us. It would not be possible to calculate what possibilities of benediction are contained in one true-hearted minister; God seldom gives to earth a greater blessing. The churches must revise their feelings upon this matter. There must be no more sneers at the one man ministry, since it is by the leadership of the one man that the blessing evidently comes. There must be more prayer for our colleges, and a greater interest taken in them. This interest should be shown by individuals devoting their substance to support young men whom God has called, so that their charges while under tuition may not be burdensome to any. If the fathers are taken from us we must expect to receive the promise which gives to us their sons. When God reaps we must sow again. The drilling of recruits must be vigorously pushed forward when the efficient soldiers are being removed from the war. The mass of Christians do not attend to this; they under-value the ascension gifts of Jesus, and do not even think them worth asking for. This must be changed, or the Lord may cause a famine of the word to come over our land, until a man shall be more precious than a wedge of gold. It has almost come to this already, and it is high time it became a matter of prayer and effort. The Holy Spirit lies been grieved on this point, and we must humble ourselves before him, or he may restrain his working among men until we have no more a prophet or a wise man in Israel.
As for the writer, he hears from the graves of brethren now with God a cheery call to look for coming rest, and therefore to labor on while life or breath remains. O that health permitted us our former labors! Wherefore is a willing heart joined to an ailing frame? We champ the bit ; — but we know that the Lord is wise. If asked what are our main thoughts when such names as Vince, Mursell, and Best pass over our memory, we would reply, we inquire where are the men to fill their places? In the midst of the battle we must not give way to lamentations over those who fall, but must cry to the commander-in-chief to close up the ranks. We die, but God’s church does not; our anxieties are not needed by the dead, we must fix them upon the living. God is never short of men though we are. The ranks must and will be closed up: God will have it so. Is there anywhere a David concealed among the sheepfolds? We will seek him out. Is there a Timothy hidden in a quiet, godly family? We will encourage him to testify for Jesus. Is there an Apollos, mighty in the Scriptures, who yet needs to be taught the way of God more perfectly? We will lay ourselves out for him and such as he is.
Reader, what will you do?
CRAZY MINISTERS MR.TALMAGE is not only a great preacher, but a mighty editor. His “Christian at Work” is all alive, and when we begin to read it we are compelled to go on. After writing the previous short article our eye fell upon the following, which will make an excellent pendant to it. We know that what Mr. Talmage says is too true. To us personally our friends at home are very considerate; but we know that many other pastors could not say as much, for their people have not half as much consideration for them as they have for their saddle-horses. It is not that they are unkind, but they are thoughtless; and, after all, whether a shin of beef it comes to very much the same thing Here are Mr. Talmage’s lively remarks” — A some one sends us a newspaper with a list of four ministers who recently have become insane, the newspaper having a marginal note desiring us to explain. We have no capacity to demonstrate the certain cause for such clerical dementation, but we may imagine several reasons for such disaster.
Perhaps they may have lost their balance through a large number of begging letters. They may by every mail have been solicited for money that they did not possess. They may have been violently charged with niggardliness for postponing immediate response. For instance, we have on our table a pile of letters from the grasshopper regions, asking for relief; from Western Sunday-schools, who want a new library; from a young man, who needs a new suit of clothes; from a woman in Pennsylvania, who says her husband is unable to support her; from England, Ireland, and Scotland, asking for help in the building of chapels, — a heavy rain of applications that is enough to set any man’s brain afloat; and we may imagine that some of the persons spoken of in that newspaper were mentally swamped in that way. “Another possible cause for the seeming epidemic of insanity among the clergy may be the demands of lecturing committees who want you to go and speak in behalf of their Church or Young Men’s Christian Association, and who persist in having you go after your telling them it is impossible.
They break through all your established hours of privacy. They wake you up after you have gone to bed, or stop you in the street with their long yarn of necessities. If that will not make a minister crazy, nothing will. “We present another possible cause for the series of intellectual collapses, spoken of in the newspaper article aforesaid, in the exorbitant and unreasonable demand for impossible pastoral services. They may have been confused by the attempt to attend three funerals in the same hour three miles distant from each other. Being able to go to but one of the three, of course the other two families will feel that they have been outrageously neglected. They will write sharp letters, talk profusely throughout the congregation, and possibly leave the Church in high dudgeon. The attempt of a minister to be in three places at once will naturally divide and shatter his intellect. “We do not know that the above causes worked in the unfortunate cases referred to, but we only assign them as sufficient causes of aberration. We are not surprised, like our correspondent, that there are so many lunatic ministers, but rather amazed that there are so few. It is a matter of congratulation that, under the pressure, there are so many clear-headed clergymen.”
Perhaps the minds of these ministers gave way through the perpetual motion of their door bell No sooner did they settle down to study than a newspaper correspondent requested an interview, a lady with a mission demanded an audience, a traveling peddler disguised as a minister desired a few minutes’ conversation in order to sell a box of pens, a tourist wanted a chat and an autograph, a secretary requested half an hour in which to puff his society, a mad engineer begged to display a wonderful invention, and so on, ad infinitum. This pest and the cheap postage threaten to craze some of us. — C. H.S.A LETTER TO MY READERS.
BY THE EDITOR.
DEAR READERS, — Being prevented from day to day from preaching, through a partial return of my painful malady, it came into my mind to write you a brief epistle. You so constantly help me in my many enterprises, and are, many of you, so kindly interested in my welfare, that I cannot but feel towards you very warmly. Our relations are not the mere common ones which exist between an editor and his subscribers — you are all my friends, and some of you are very dear brethren and sisters in Christ.
Permit me, then, in an hour of pain and weakness, to solace myself by writing to you.
And, first, will you pray for me? Pray that I may have bodily health, if the Lord will. I grudge these hours in which I must lie back and gaze upon the battle without being able to wield sword or battle-ax in the conflict for my Master. I get to work, and plunge into it right heartily, and then I overdo it. and am down again, jaded in mind, and racked in body. I am anxious to do all I can, but, alas, my ability is greatly decreased through the weakness of the body. I did something to help my brethren, Moody and Sankey, but not a tenth of what it was in my heart to have done. My church grows, and needs perpetual oversight, the College, Orphanage, Colportage, the Magazine, and my books, all call me hither and thither from morning till night, and yet when I would be doing good, I must perforce lie down and mourn my inability. Ask then that, it’ the Lord will, I may recover my former strength, and be able to work on. If the Lord do not hear you, I will bow my head, and be content to do as much as he permits me, add try to do that measure of work as best he enables me, But the main subject which presses upon me .just now is the spiritual state of each of my readers. I feel a burden upon me about the souls to whom I speak by this magazine. I generally cater for you as for believers, warring and working, with Sword and Trowel; but there may be, there must be, some of you who could not be so described. This is painful to think upon.
Would to God it were not so. You, dear unconverted readers, are favorable to religion, and yet do not favor it enough to yield your hearts to its power. You have not yet repented of sin, and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently you are none of his. Shall this state of things continue? Is it right to be an unbeliever? Is it safe? Can you endure it any longer? The world is very fascinating, perhaps, but when full of pain I do not find it so, and hence I infer that when the death-sweat lies on men’s brows it must yield them but poor comfort. Do you think the world will be any stay to you in those last hours, which must come one day, and may come so very soon? Probably you are convinced, as I am, that nothing short of a good hope through faith will cheer you in your mortal agony; why, then, are you not seeking that good hope? Nay, why is it that you have it not even now, since it is to be had immediately by trusting in the Redeemer? You are waiting — waiting for what? What more can you desire? Has not God given his Son? See how the tints of autumn are appearing! Another summer is almost gone and you are still unsaved!
Years fly as the eagle, and tarry not — why do you tarry? What nils you?
Life, eternal life, is proclaimed to you in the name of Jesus, and you refuse to have it. Ah, me! How shall those be saved who are so careless about salvation? It seems to me that if men were to throng our houses of prayer, and demand with clamorous cries what they must do to be saved; if they were to follow us to our houses and fall down on their knees and entreat the Lord’s ministers to explain the gospel to them; yea, if they were to suspend all labor and business, and weep day and night till they found Christ, the excitement would not be worthy of censure, nor be one whit greater than the case would justify. How can you rest in a state of enmity to the God of love? How can you bear yourselves while the wrath of God abideth on you? My heart weeps over you, and chides my pen for writing so coldly. Thus saith the Lord, “Consider your ways.” Now, reader, just now, pause, reflect, bow your knee in prayer, and end this long delay. Your sin is a burden to you; look to Jesus, and see it laid on him. One glance of faith will do it all; and these few lines will be repaid a million times if they should, through God’s good Spirit, lead you to it.
To those of my readers, and I believe they are by far the major part, who are already one with Christ, I may be permitted to say — Brethren, it behooves us to be in good order as before the Lord, good order I mean for enjoying his fellowship, for performing his bidding, enduring his will, or removing to his throne. Yet it is not easy to be always as we should be.
Our graces are apt to rust and lose their brightness in the damp atmosphere of this poor, cloudy world: even under the best circumstances we deteriorate, unless we use great watchfulness. We are so busy too with minor matters, and do not seem able to help it. The house work must be done, and Martha does not see how she could sit down with Mary, though she would be glad enough to do so if the dinners would cook themselves and the children’s faces would only keep clean. The business wants our thoughts, and even the church causes us care ; — what are we to do? We shall get choked up with these things if we are not continually awake to keep our hearts clear. Going up the Thames the other day in a pretty little steam vessel we were continually hindered by the weeds which wrapped themselves around the screw. Every now and again we heard the cry, “Stop her,” and when we inquired what was amiss, it was the weeds, always the weeds. In the voyage of life we must be well awake to the weeds; long golden bands hold the wealthy Christian, black, rope-like growths twist about the poor, a wretched tangle of distracting doubt encumbers the educated, and a miserable mass of ignorance hinders the ignorant; the weeds are of all sorts, and must be cleared out or progress will be impossible.
If ever an age needed and suggested the highest form of Christian devotedness it is the present. Visited with revival on the one hand, and weighted down with infidelity on the other, threatened by superstition and invaded by skepticism, the church is called by her mercies to all that is heroic, and urged by her dangers to all that is intense. Both heaven and hell invoke us. Time and eternity are crying to us. We have glorious opportunities and fearful perils, among which the most fearful of all is the peril of being found unworthy of our calling and traitors to our trust. O could I coin my heart into living words, and make this page burn with them, I could not sufficiently exhort each individual believer to yield himself wholly unto God. labor as in the presence of your bleeding Redeemer. Love souls and pray for them, and woo them to Jesus as in the immediate shadow of the Judgment-seat. Be conscientious as to personal service, and do not stand in need of pastors and leaders to be as taskmasters to you. By the love and blood of Jesus, beloved in the Lord, bestir yourselves.
Especially let us be more constant and instant in prayer. Small bands of two and three, meeting in parlors, drawing rooms, or kitchens may pray down great blessings. Prayer at casual meetings of believers, prayer at odd times when workmen and servants are resting, prayer under the hedge in the corn-field, prayer anywhere and everywhere, will be sure to command a blessing. If anything in this world is sure of success it is believing prayer.
Trade fails, crops perish, property wastes, inheritances are lost, but prayer is never a failure, for the Lord liveth, and he cannot lie. Therefore, brethren,LET USPRAY.
Yours, with all my heart, C. H.SPURGEON.