I DID not observe, till our chairman told me so, that I was put down on the bill to give an evangelical address. I suppose I may interpret that rather widely, and not feel myself confined to addressing the unconverted, for, surely, that is an evangelical address in which one stirs up God’s people to evangelize. That is the point that I have had before my mind as the main object of this evening. At the same time I shall have a word to the unconverted also.
Brethren of the London Baptist Association, and, indeed, brethren in Christ of any and every name, one of the main objects for which there is a church of God upon earth is the ingathering of his elect — the salvation of sinners He might have taken every one of his saints home to heaven the moment they believed. They would certainly have committed less sin. They would have needed less of the Shepherd’s care. They would the sootier be in heaven, swelling the everlasting song. The main object, I should think, of detaining the saints in this undesirable country — in this region of their banishment — must be that they may be a seed in the earth, and may bring others to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that so the eternal purpose of love may perpetually be, fulfilled. It seems to me that a church that does not see this is missing its great end and object. I do not think that, as Baptists, we always did see this. There were some who thought that a staunch Baptist existed for the maintenance of an ordinance. Well, it is well to maintain the ordinances, and God forbid that we should break one of the least of his commandments, and teach men so, and so be least in the kingdom; but, after all, it is not the main object of the existence of a church — to stand upon its orthodoxy, and to refuse communion with other churches in order to maintain that orthodoxy, and to feel that it has done its best when it has borne its testimony, although, probably, it bears its testimony pinned on its breast while it sleeps. Many a church has done that. It has never waked up — never aroused itself to serve the Lord in its generation; but, in its sleep, it has borne its testimony, and felt that it has done well, or it has sought the edification of two or three dozen down in Zoar — all saints, and all saints of the first water — all “sound” — as sound as could be, but with no sound going forth to the ends of the earth from them as to the good news of the salvation of souls. Are not we — A little garden walked around, Chosen and made peculiar ground; A little spot, enclosed by grace, Out of the world’s wild wilderness?
And when we have sung that song, have we not sung enough and may we not go home and thank God that we are within the consecrated enclosure?
That used to be the notion a great many years gone by. I hope that now, while we love to be enclosed, to be the garden of the Lord, and delight to invite him to come into his garden and eat his pleasant fruits, and while we do seek the edification one another — and God forbid that we should ever think that to be a secondary thing — we yet feel that we are to be edified on purpose that we may be a spiritual house in which the living God may dwell, and from which the life and power may go forth. We now feel that we want to be fed in order that we may work; for, “If any man will not work, neither let him eat,” should be a spiritual as well as a moral rule. We feel that now we want to hold the truth on purpose that, with that truth, we may rescue those who are under the thraldom of error. Still, I would to God that our churches felt even now more deeply than they do that the main object of the existence of a church at all is its conversion of sinners. If that be taken for granted, it will give a tone to all church work. The minister will preach with that view. Then the Sunday-school teachers will begin to teach with that view — not for teaching’s sake and instruction’s sake, though the teaching and the instruction are certainly very valuable, but with the design that the children’s souls should be there and then saved; that, as children, they should be converted to God while yet they are in the classes. Then those that distributed tracts and preached in the streets and took cottage meetings would be looking always towards this — that sinners may be impressed, convicted, and converted, and they would aim at that. And even the mere temporal work of the church, such as the deacons may have to discharge, would still be done with an eye to that, and although to seek the salvation of sinners may not seem to come under the serving of tables, yet let me tell you that there is a way of serving tables that will effectually prevent the conversion of sinners, as many a minister has known to his cost. And there is another way of attending to those temporalities of the church. They may be attended to in such a style that God himself deigns to make use even of them in the conversion of sinners.
We must have the whole strength of the church brought to this point. The church must be sharpened up like a wedge, to one thin edge, and then driven with all her force, as with a mighty beetle, till we split asunder the timber that lies before us. She must have sinners saved somehow — anyhow. “If by any means we may save some,” must be the very motto of each Christian church.
How is it to be done? Well, brethren, you know — for you have been told so often; that divine power alone can convert a soul; that this business is quite out of our hands — that spiritual life can only be communicated by a miracle — a miracle wrought by the Holy Ghost — that to see and feel their ruin is not given to the ungodly except as a work of grace. We may throw the light on their eyeballs, but we cannot make them see. We may set a loving Christ before them, but we cannot place Christ in their hearts.
Unless God the Holy Ghost shall do it, it shall be altogether undone. What then? Why, then it is clear that we must abundantly and continually pray that the Holy Spirit may rest upon us. He will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him. The Holy Spirit is never backward to work, but all the history of the church goes to show that, in seasons of the greatest operation of the Holy Spirit, there has generally preceded a time of mighty, intense, and earnest prayer.
Oh, then, to begin with, brethren and beloved, if we are to have souls saved we must pray: we must pray: we must pray. And prayer must be in all our homes. I trust that you do not live in the neglect of family prayer. How that ordinance ought to be maintained! It is the very strength of Protestantism, and the nurse of piety. Houses without family prayer cannot expect to see godly children. Where that is left out I little wonder if it should be said that the children of dissenters forsake the faith of their fathers. I think they never do so where that faith is riveted by morning and evening prayer. And on your knees alone, brother, there you must pray. But specially there should be the prayer of the church, as a church meeting for that object.
Invite the congregation to join. But still the special and set meeting for prayer should be studiously maintained. I regret when I hear of some of you that cannot have a lecture and a prayer meeting. Two services a week are too many for you — not for your minister always, but for your tried constitutions. You know, the bricklayers, and carpenters, and working people that come to the Tabernacle can very well manage two services.
Indeed, I think they would like a service every night in the week. They most of them have to earn their livings, but you, ladies and gentlemen, that live a little way out of town, are too tired with your day’s work, which, I hear, consists of going at ten in the morning and coming home at five. It is so very wearisome that you cannot be expected to have a lecture and a prayer meeting. I am sorry for your sickness, and I trust that you may speedily recover, for there can be no real blessing, depend upon it, where the prayer-meeting is put into a secondary position. I feel certain of it, that the prayer-meeting must be maintained in its strength; and if so be some brethren must not preach when they are asked to pray; some brethren must not always say the same thing; some brethren must not be so long; some brethren must not be so cold and so slow. Oh, for real prayer-meetings in which they do pray! I believe that the people are sure to come to them when there is life kept up in the prayer-meeting. May God grant that this point may be attended to rightly and earnestly, and that you may see that though it may be the work of the Spirit of God to convert sinners, you must pray to him that the conversion may be done.
Well, then, if you again ask, “What are we to do?” I reply that, after you have prayed, you are now committed to the work. If a man prays God to give a harvest, he must go and plough and sow. If a man prays God, “O Lord, speed my business tomorrow,” he must take down the shutters, must he not? Yes, and he must have his wits about him on the other side of the counter, to try and do as much business as he can, for if he just sits on the top of the counter, cross-legged, and tells the customers that he does not want them, we shall not believe in his prayer, shall we? And yet, I think, I have known some people do very much that way. They pray God to save sinners, but they never lift hand or foot to do anything in it. No, they are rather inclined to think that there must be too many sinners saved; and if they heard that there were five hundred persons converted under a sermon, they would say, “Ah, dear me! Yes, I suppose they were Methodists, weren’t they?” They would be sure to set it down to that, and then they would begin to say that there were a great many who professed to be converted, but who never were, the truth being that such people do not believe in many persons being converted. If there are two or three — oh, that is very likely the Lord’s hand. If there is anything little done, that is the Lord. Hear that! But if there are five hundred, then it cannot be the Lord.
They do not expect him to do any great things. They worship a little God.
Brethren, the magnitude of a thing rather commends it to me, and I seem to feel, “Surely the Lord is in this place,” when I hear of multitudes being converted to Christ, for that seems to be after the Lord’s own order, who doeth great marvels in the midst of the sons of men.
Now, if sinners are to be converted through us, let us use, at any rate:, all our common sense. Some people have not much common sense, but let them use the little they have, and it will strike them at once, and if there is anything about the place of worship that prevents people coming in — if anything there is about the order of service, or the time of service, or the method of service, which is likely to prevent attention, or likely to cause discomfort, — if the pews are all straight up in the back, so that a poor soul sits doing penance, and cannot listen — all such little things, which after all, are great things, should be seen at once. I used to think that surely it did not matter what shape the place was, or anything of the kind, but now I am of opinion that a person is more likely to be converted if he can breathe than he is if he is being stifled, and that a person is more likely to be converted if he can attend than he is if everybody drops an umbrella down as so many have done tonight. Down goes an umbrella, perhaps, in the middle of a sentence, or somebody comes up the aisle in a pair of pattens, as they do in the country villages, and the attention is taken off. I would give the gospel a fair chance, I think; and I should like some Christian people, who are worshipping in that nasty little dingy old hole, down in a corner, which nobody can see or find, to ask whether they are going to work about God’s business with anything like the common sense with which they go about their own work? I will tell you what some are like. They are like the nigger who went to hear a sermon, and he heard that we ought to give God a tenth. So Zachary said that then he would enclose ten acres of land, and he would give the Lord one acre, and he would sow the Lord some potatoes, maize, and so on. So Zachy did; but after he had done it he did not seem. to feel very contented with it; and you must know that the rascal never hoed the Lord’s potatoes, and he never saw the Lord’s maize at all; and so, when anybody rode by they wondered, to see nine parts of the field very carefully kept in order and the other part with nothing at all done on it. “That is the Lord’s part,” said Zachy, Well now there are many people like that; all their business is done with great skill and forethought. They throw their soul into it; but this little business about the little chapel that they attend — the business of taking care of God’s minister and God’s work — ah, that is the Lord’s potatoes, and Zachy does not hoe them. I want you to hoe the lord’s potatoes. I want God’s work to be done with all your thoughtfulness and care, for if not, I am persuaded we cannot expect that sinners will be converted to God. If sinners are to be converted, then the next thing is that we must mind the conditions under which the Holy Spirit is generally found to work. What are they?
Well, you shall find, brethren, that the Holy Spirit does not bless that church where holiness is not regarded. Our grand old forefathers were very sound on this point — of very stern morals and holiness; but I am afraid that there is a good deal of laxity in some of our churches; and (take my word for it for the moment, but observe afterwards for yourselves) those churches which begin to relax — those churches in which the members commonly go to the amusements of the world, if there be such churches, are churches in which there cannot be conversions. There will be unholy members, but if they are tolerated, if sin is winked at because a man is a leading man., if the church lowers its standard of obedience to the divine will, the preacher may preach his heart out, but he cannot expect conversions. Achan is in the camp. The goodly Babylonish garment and the wedge of gold — the accursed things — are hidden away in the tent, and ye may march to battle, O ye sons of Israel, but ye Shall come back defeated while this is the case. Oh! purge your churches then diligently. Ye officers of the church, do your duty in this respect, for the Lord will not go forth with your armies as long as unholiness is with you. We find that the Spirit of God works also where there is unity. That mild and gentle dove forsakes the troubled waters of strife, and he is found where men love each other with a pure heart fervently. It is no use for you to go in for the conversion of sinners when you hold such a church-meeting as you held last week. I do not know whom this may refer to, but I dare say it does refer to somebody here. Some of our church-meetings—in remote parts of the country let us say — would be a disgrace to the Hottentots. I speak very mildly when I say that. I do not believe that the devil would hold such a church-meeting as I have known of. Do you look astonished at my saying that. I never heard, of the devils quarreling yet at all. Whenever the synagogue of Satan meets, it meets with wonderful unanimity. His kingdom is not divided against itself, and hence it has wondrous power: and we had better learn from the Philistines a little. Let us sharpen our ax and our coulter on their grindstone, and learn even from the devil that if we are to have power at all we must be one. Get together, brethren. If I may address any members of churches that have little variances — if your family has inherited a little, difference from another family, and your cousin was offended with somebody else’s cousin, go and shake hands and end all that.
If you are going to serve the Lord you must love each other first. It does not look as if there was any relation between this matter and the conversion of sinners, but there is a very close one, for God will not bless disunited churches. And then, again, we find that God blesses churches where the members are all alive. Dear, dear me! There are some churches that have become part living and part dead. Some members are very earnest, others of them are very not earnest. Some of them are consecrated; others are, if not altogether unconsecrated, yet apparently so as to any outward acts. I believe the Lord blesses a church when all round them begin to consecrate themselves, their time, their talents, their money to the Lord. I have often received help for various causes, in this place, from persons whom I never thought to have had so much money; but they have devoted so much of their takings in some way to the cause of God, and brought it in a lump sum, which even astonished themselves. And I have thought to myself, “There is not only the good which this money may do, but it is an indication of the apostolic spirit still in the church, when men and women, both rich and poor, are willing to lay their goods at the feet of God’s servants, that they may be used for his cause.” When a church gets into that condition we shall soon have sinners converted. A consecrated church means a converted congregation before long.
But to my point still more clearly. If we wish sinners to be converted, what must be done? Well, ministers are to preach sermons that are likely to convert sinners; and there are plenty of sermons that could not convert sinners any more than snowballs could heat ovens. I have heard such, and I have read such. I would not be converted by such sermons if I were the sinner. Nay, I could not be. I should feel that the man was showing himself off magnificently; but what there is to convert a sinner in mere rhetoric and oratory I know not. Brethren, we must give up our grand style: more, we must give up our deep thoughts. We must often give up our wonderful openings up of marvelous mysteries; and we must go to these sinners, and have them saved somehow; and we must talk to them about such commonplace things as sin, and death, and judgment, and hell, and heaven, and Christ, and his blood. Yes, the blood. We must have that, and out with it, and disgust the hypocrites till they go their way; for they that are disgusted with the blood of Jesus Christ are not of the sort that are ever likely to find salvation, and certainly they have not yet received it. We must hammer away at these: we must keep to these commonplace things, and make every sermon at least to have some part of it in which we distinctly aim at the conversion of sinners. Well, then, after that we must get them to be converted. Ministers should take frequent opportunities of allowing people to come and see them. They should desire to see them, and expect to see them. Why, I know of some chapels where a person under concern of soul would not know how to get at the minister at all. I have heard of one of whom his people said that he was incomprehensible on a Sunday, and invisible all the week. We ought to be understood when we preach, and we ought to so place ourselves that, if a sinner is under impression, we invite him to come and speak with us, or with some other Christian person, who will help him. My own conviction is, that in some congregations there are numbers of persons ready to declare what God is; doing in their souls, and who want a little help, but they do not get it. Now, if we want sinners to be converted we must be looking after them in that way. But oh, brethren, do not leave these things to the minister. Too much of that is done, and it is a sort of Protestant-Romanism to leave so much to ministers. It is the church — the church as a whole — that God will bless in the conversion of souls when it is really awakened.
And I should like to ask whether all the believers here present are distinctly at work for Jesus Christ? If you are, keep to the work you are at: do not run away from it. Some people are always catching at new ways of doing a thing, and neglecting the old-fashioned ways; but the old-fashioned ways, take them for all in all, having borne the test of time, have proved themselves to be among the most fruitful. Keep to your Sunday-school teaching, and your street preaching, and your tract distributing, and your visiting, and all such good things, and do them ten times better than ever you have done, and look out for the conversion of souls in them.
At the same time I wish that our churches did very much more than they do by way of special effort. I do not know when I ever felt more of the blessing of God than I did in preaching in Cannon-street Hotel, the other afternoon, to the stockbrokers. My dear friend, Mr. Mead, at Peek and Frean’s, gave me an opportunity of addressing his staff of clerks one afternoon. I did so, and I have received a letter which I shall greatly prize, and I mean to preserve it. It is a letter signed by all of them, and thanking me for having come there to preach. And the other night we had here a meeting of coal-heavers, with some soldiers mixed with them, and also some hard-working men of different classes — some four or five hundred people. We gave them some good, substantial meat to eat, and got them in by that means; and then how they listened! Some of them said that they would not have, minded listening for another hour or so — they were so willing to hear. And yet we put the gospel pretty straight to them. Well, I do not think that the Lord expects people to hear the gospel on empty stomachs. I think he likes to see us doing what he used to do. He likes to see them fed; and whether we feed them first, or preach the gospel to them first, they begin to believe in us; and perhaps, after believing in us, they may afterwards believe in the gospel. I wish that every person here, employing a number of men and women, would make an opportunity, perhaps once or twice a year, to get them together to hear a sermon or an address. There are many good men who would be willing enough to speak to them, and who are, looking out for opportunities, but do not know where to get them. Do you think that you Christian people use sufficiently the rooms which you have got? We had a great expense in hiring a room here, and a room there; but there is my very excellent friend living in a house at £300 a-year rent; and that drawing room — dear me! what a fine room it is! But how often have you used it? About twice a-year, and the rest of the year it is yours for killing the minister. When he calls he is shown into that cold, horrid room, and he does not know what to do with himself; he wishes they would let him go down into the kitchen, and sit by the fire. But no — the drawing room — that is the room for killing people: it is the murder room, and it gives people rheumatism, and all sorts of things. I cannot make out what they have such rooms for: but the proper way of using your rooms is to hold Bible-classes and prayer-meetings in them. My friend, Mrs. Brown, the wife of Mr. Hugh Stowell Brown, uses the drawing-room, and every room they have got, for classes and meetings on Sunday. We have to build school-rooms, and all that, and you do not use your own rooms at all. Some of you might have a hundred or two in your houses without any expense, except, perhaps, that you might have to roll up your carpet. Well, never mind about that. It will have so much the less wear, I dare say. There are all sorts of things to be done if people wish to bring souls to Christ. They should use sometimes one thing, and sometimes another. I can see an old friend of mine in this Tabernacle: I shall not point him out. I think he has brought to me this last year four souls that have been added to the church. He goes and walks about Hydepark, for he has not very much to do, and he gets people into conversation, and gets civil to them, and then he tells them he can get them into the Tabernacle, and he brings them into his seat, for he pays for four or five seats on purpose, he does not bring them here, and then show them into somebody else’s seat, mark you. For many years this dear friend has had great reward in getting hold of people, and bringing them to hear the Word, and then finding them converted. But. some of us are so very bashful that we do not like to intrude; I wish that some of our natural modesty could be communicated to other people. I recollect that when I first came to London as a boy, to go to school at Maidstone, I went to some coach yard or other, where there was a coach to go to Maidstone and when I was sitting in the coach ready to go, there was a chap selling knives with twenty-five blades, or something like that. He put one in at the coach window, and stuck it right before my face to know whether I would buy it. Why did he want to intrude on me like that? He had no business to poke a twenty-five bladed knife into my eye. But, you know, he had never studied that kind of modesty which some of us have. If he had kept that twenty-five bladed knife in his pocket, and gently said, “If there should be a person in the coach who would like to look at a knife with twenty-five blades, I have got one somewhere in my pocket,” he would not have sold one in a century. But he opened the blades, and he knew that the knife was a piece of goods which would be wonderfully fascinating to a. boy going to school, and he picked me out for a customer. I wish you would have some sort of feeling like this, “I want Jesus Christ; received by these poor souls, and I am not going to accost them in such a mild way that I shall certainly be repulsed; but I will bring Christ before them, if necessary even in an odd way — a way that shall startle them — sooner than suffer them to go without knowing him.” Now, I meant to say a lot more about these things, but my time is gone, except a few minutes, in which I want to address those of you who are not yet converted to God. “How am I to be saved? What is the way by which I can be saved, and saved now?” A friend writes me the other day to thank me for having on one occasion finished a sermon with a little prayer, in which I asked that those who sought the Savior might join in. He said, “There are some so utterly ignorant of the way of salvation that they want the very words put into their mouths.” I remembered how the Lord said, “Take with you words, and come unto me, and say” — and how he taught the sinner exactly what to say. I do not think that we can ever put the gospel too simply, beloved friends, or repeat its generous story too often. Well, soul, if thou sayest, “What am I to do?” thou hast this to do — to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptized, for “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. He that believeth not shall be damned.” It often occurs that friends come to me after service, and ask me to pray for them. I was telling the friends here on Sunday night how I served one lady, who may probably be present now. She had come twice to speak to me about her soul, and I said to her, on the second occasion, “I have told you plainly the way of salvation, namely, that you are to trust your soul in his hands, and commit yourself to him, resting in the blood of his atonement. Have you done that?” She said, “No, and asked whether I would pray for her. I said, “No,” — distinctly not. She looked at me with astonishment, and she said, “Will you not pray for me?” “No,” I said, “I have nothing for which to pray for you. I have set the way of salvation so plainly before you that if you will not have it you will be lost, and if you will have it you will be saved now. I have nothing further to say to you, but in God’s name to set before you life or death.” Still she said, “Do pray for me!” “No,” I said, “would you have me ask God to save you without your believing? Oh, you deserve to be damned if you will not believe — doubly so. Would you have me ask God to shape his gospel so as to let you in as an exception? I do not see why he should. His plan of salvation is so simple that you must come to it; and if you won’t come to it, I am not going to ask God anything, for I do not see anything that is wanted from him. I ask you this — ‘Will you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?’” I put it very plainly, and I was rather surprised, I must confess, when the sister said, very deliberately, “If it be so, then, that salvation will come to me by believing, I do believe what the Scripture says concerning Christ; and, moreover, I feel that I can trust myself with him, because he is God, and he has offered a sufficient sacrifice; and I do trust myself with him,” said she, “just now; and I feel such. a strange peace stealing over me at this very moment. I have trusted, him. I am certain that I am saved!” And in a moment she said to me: “Good evening, sir; there are other people waiting to see you,” and away she went, like a commonsense woman as she was.
Why will ye die? Why will ye die? Oh, why should it be so hard for men to be willing to find their own good — to be willing to be saved from their misery? Why, you can give gold away by the sackful, and everybody wants it. You have but to take a handful of coppers and fling them from the window, and the streets will be full of people. But when this, which is better than gold or jewels, is freely presented among men, they tread it under foot as swine tread pearls. Well, if you will do this, I pray the Master have pity and bear long with you; but, as surely as you live, it will come to close and terrible terms between you and God one day, for they that will not bend must break, and he that will not willingly stoop shall come down in tremendous ruin. Reject not the Christ who saveth. Do not despite to your souls. Oh, blessed and eternal Spirit, work in men that simple childlike faith which brings them to the Savior! Amen.