LIKE the thought of Christ being taken up to heaven because His work was done, and His people being left on earth because there was still work for them to do. If we could steal away to heaven, what a pity it would be that we should do so while there is a single soul to be saved! I think that, if I had not brought to Christ the full number of jewels that He intended me to bring to adorn His crown, I would ask to come back again even from heaven. He knows best where we can best serve Him, so He ordains that, while He sits at the right hand of God, we are to abide here, and go forth to preach everywhere, the Lord working with us.
This work of the disciples was aggressive: “they went forth.” Some of them were bound to stay for a while at Jerusalem; though that old nest was eventually pulled down, not a stick of it was left, and the very tree on which it was built was cut down. Persecution drove forth the bulk of them further and further; we do not know where they all did go. There are traditions, which are not very valuable, to show where each of the apostles went, but it is quite certain that they all went somewhere or other; starting from the one common center, they went in various directions preaching Christ. They worked: “They went forth, and preached.”
The disciples did not say : — “Well, the Master has gone to heaven, the eternal purposes of God will be ,quite sure to be carried out, it is not possible that the designs of infinite love should fail, the more especially as He is at the Father’s side, therefore let us enjoy ourselves spiritually. Let us sit down in the happy possession of covenant blessings, and let us sing to our hearts’ content because of all that God has done for us and given to us.
He will effect His own purposes, and we have only to stand still and see the salvation of God.” No, it was not for them to judge what they ought to do.
When they were told to tarry at Jerusalem, they did tarry at Jerusalem.
There are times of tarrying; but, inasmuch as the Master had commanded them to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature, they also, when the hour had struck, went into all the world, and began to preach everywhere the gospel they had learned at Jesu’s feet. It is not for us to judge what would seem most reasonable, much less what would be most comfortable; it is for us to do as we are bidden, when we are bidden, and because we are bidden, for are we riot servants and not masters? It is not wise to map out the proceedings even of a single day, but to take our cue from Him who is our Guide and Leader, and to follow Him in all things.
There are some who only come to the communion; why? Because they are always at work for Christ in some way or other. They are at work in some mission-station, or trying to open a new room for preaching, or doing something or other for the Master; the Lord bless them! I do not want all to go out at one time; but I do want you all to feel that it is not the end, though it may be the beginning, of Christian life to come and hear sermons.
Scatter as widely as ever you can the blessing which you get for yourself; the moment you find the light, and realize that the world is in the dark, run away with your match, and lend somebody else a light. Be glad of the light yourself; but, depend upon it, if God gives you a candle, and all you do is to lock yourself up in a room, and sit down, and say, “Sweet light! sweet light! I have got the light while all the world is in the dark; sweet, sweet light!” your candle will soon burn out, and you also will be in the dark. But if you go to others, and say,” I shall have none the less light because I give some to you,” by this means God the Holy Spirit will pour upon you fresh beams of light, and you shall shrine brighter and brighter even to the perfect day. “They went forth.” Oh, that some people I know of could have their chapels burnt down! They have stuck in a hole down a back street for the last hundred years. They are good souls, and so they ought to be; they ought to be matured by now after so much storage; but if they would only come out in the street, they might do much more good than at present. “Oh, but there is an old deacon who does not like street-preaching!” I know him very well; he will be gone to heaven soon. Then, as soon as ever you have had his funeral sermon, turn out into the street, and begin somehow or other to make Christ known. Oh, to break down every barrier, and get rid of every restraint that hides the blessed gospel! Perhaps we must respect these dear old believers’ feelings just a little, but not so much as to let souls die; we must seek to bring sinners to Jesus whether we offend men or whether we please them.
These disciples went forth promptly , for though there is not a word here about the time, yet it is implied that, as soon as the hour had struck, and the Holy Ghost had descended from Christ, and rested upon them, “they went forth, and preached the word everywhere.” Alas, too often are we “going” to do something! If about a tenth part of what we are going to do were only done, how much more might be accomplished! “They went forth.” They did not talk about going forth, but “they went forth.” They did not wait until they received directions from the apostles where they were to go, but Providence guided each man, and each man went his own way, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
You believe the gospel; you believe that men are perishing for lack of it; therefore, I pray you, do not stop to consider, do not wait to deliberate any longer. The best way to spread the gospel is to preach the gospel. I believe the best way of defending the gospel is to spread the gospel.
They served their Master obediently: “They went forth, and preached.”
Suppose they had gone forth, and had “a service of song”? Suppose they had gone forth, and held a meeting that was partly comic, with just a little bit of a moral tacked on to the end of it? We should have been in the darkness of heathendom to the present day. There is nothing that is really of any service for the spreading of the gospel but preaching. I mean by preaching, as I have already said, not merely the standing up in the pulpit, and delivering a set discourse, but talking about Christ, — talking about Him as risen from the dead, as the Judge of quick and dead, as the great atoning Sacrifice, the one Mediator between God and men. It is by preaching Jesus Christ that sinners are saved. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” Whatever may be said outside the Bible about preaching, you have only to turn to the Word of God itself to find what a divine ordinance it is, and to see how the Lord makes that mainly to be the means of the salvation of men. This is the gun that will win the battle yet, though many have tried to silence, it. They have had all sorts of new inventions and contrivances: but when all their inventions shall have had their day, and proved futile, depend upon it the telling out of Jesus Christs name, and gospel, and work amongst mankind will be found to be effectual when all things else have failed. “They went forth and preached.” It is not said that they went forth and argued, or that they went forth, and wrote Apologies for the Christian faith. No, they went forth and proclaimed — told out the truth as a revelation from God; in the name of Christ they demanded that men should believe in Him, and left them, if they would not believe, with this distinct understanding, that they would perish in their unbelief. They wept over them, and pleaded with them to believe in Jesus; and they felt sure that whosoever did believe in Him would find eternal life through His name. This is what the whole Church of Christ should do, and do at once, and keep on doing with all its might, even until the end of the age.
There is one more word, everywhere. One of our great writers, in a very amusing letter which he has written to a person who had asked for a contribution towards the removal of a chapel debt, wants to know whether we cannot preach Christ behind hedges and in ditches. Of course we can, and we must do so, provided it does not rain too hard. Can we not preach Jesus Christ at a street corner? Of course we can. Yet in such a climate as ours we often need buildings in which we can worship God, but we must never get into the idea of confining our preaching to the building. “They went forth, and preached everywhere.” John Wesley was complained of for not keeping to his parish, but he insisted that he did, for all the world was his parish; and all the world is every man’s parish. Do good everywhere, wherever you may be. Some of you are going to the sea-side for a holiday; do not go without a good stock of tracts, and do not go without seeking an opportunity, when you are sitting on the sands, to talk to people about the Lord Jesus Christ. A man had nothing particular to do except to go and sit down on a seat in Hyde Park, and there talk with ladies and gentlemen who came and sat there; he would tell them that he had a pew at the Tabernacle, and he would lend them his ticket, so that they might have a comfortable place; and then he took care after the sermon to talk to them about Christ.
He said, “I cannot myself preach, but I can bring people to hear my minister, and I can pray God to bless them when they come.” I saw another brother, who leaves his home at 8 o’clock on Sunday morning. There are, or there were, church members who walked twelve miles every Sunday morning to hear the gospel, and walked back again to their homes at night.
This brother starts at 8 o’clock in the morning, and puts one of my sermons into each of the letter-boxes in a certain district as he comes along. So he utilizes a long, walk, and in the course of the year circulates many thousands of sermons. What a capital way he has found of spending the Sabbath-morning! Having done that service for his Lord, he enjoys the gospel all the better because of what he has himself done in making it known to others.
You remember the passage in which we are said to be laborers together with God. Is it not gracious and kind on the Lord’s part to let us come and work with Him? Yet it seems to my mind more condescending for God to come and work with us, because ours is such poor, feeble, imperfect service, yet so He does: “the Lord working with them.” The Lord is working with that dear sister who, when she takes her class, feels that she is quite unfit for it; and with that brother who, when he preaches, thinks that it is not preaching at all, and is half inclined never to try again. Oh, yes, “the Lord working with them,” such as they were, — fishermen, humble women, and the like! This was wonderful condescension.
The Holy Ghost made what they said to be divinely powerful. However feebly they uttered it, according to the judgment of men, there was an inward secret power that went with their utterances, and compelled the hearts of men to accept the blessed summons of God. I believe that when we are seeking to serve Christ, we little know often how very wonderfully God is working with us. I had an instance; there was a certain district of which I heard that there was great need of the gospel there, and that there were many people in that district who were as ignorant of the way of salvation as Hottentots, and the various places of worship seemed to affect a very small proportion of the people. A brother visited the neighborhood for me, and I prayed very earnestly that his visits might be blessed. It is a very curious thing that, while I was thinking about that district, there were certain Christian people close to it who were thinking about me, and longing for the gospel to be carried to their neighbors; and after I had moved ever so little in the matter, I received a letter from them saying how much they wanted somebody to come and labor for the Lord among them.
I said to myself, “This is strange; I have known this district for years, yet I have never noticed that anybody wanted me or my message; but the moment I begin to move towards the people they begin to move towards me.” You do not know that you may not have a similar story to tell. There is that street you feel moved to go and work in, — God has been there before you. Do you not remember how, when His children had to go and destroy the Canaanites, the Lord sent the hornet before them? Now, when you have to go and preach to sinners, God sends some preparatory work before you, He is sure to do so.
In other cases God works afterwards; sometimes, immediately afterwards; at other times, years afterwards. There are different sorts of seeds in the world. The seeds of some plants and trees, unless they undergo a pecular process, will not grow for years. There is something about them which preserves them intact for a long time, but in due season the life-germ shoots forth: and there are certain kinds of men who do not catch the truth at the time it is uttered, and it lies hidden away in their souls till, one day, under peculiar circumstances, they recollect what they heard, and it begins to affect their hearts.
If we work, and God works with us, what is there that we may not expect?
Therefore, the great need of any working church is for God to work with them, and therefore this ought to be our daily confession, that we need God to work with us. We must always realize that we are nothing apart from His working; we must not pretend to compliment the Holy Ghost by now and then talking about Him, as though it were the proper thing to say that of course the Holy Spirit must work. It must be a downright matter of fact with us that the Holy Spirit must work, as much as it would be with a miller that his sails could not go round without the wind; and then we must act as the miller does. He sets his sails and tries to catch the wind from whatever quarter it blows; and we must try to work in such a way that the Holy Ghost is likely to bless us. I do not think the Holy Ghost will bless some service that is done even by well-meaning people, because if He did, it would seem as if He had set His seal to a great deal that was not according to the mind of the Lord. Let us so act in our work, that there is never the smudge of a dirty thumb across the page, and nothing of pride, or self-seeking, or hot-headedness, but that all is done humbly, dependently, hopefully, and always in a holy and gracious spirit, so that we may expect the Holy Spirit to own and bless it. That will, of course, involve that everything must be done prayerfully, for our Heavenly Father gives the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him; and we must ask for this greatest of blessings, that God the Holy Spirit may work with our work.
Then we must believe in the Holy Spirit, and believe to the highest degree, so as never to be discouraged or think anything difficult. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Can anything be difficult to the Holy Spirit? It is a grand thing often to get into deep water so as to be obliged to swim; but we like to keep our feet touching the sand. What a mercy it is to feel that you cannot do anything, for then you must trust in God and God alone, and feel that He is quite equal to any emergency! Thus trusting, and thus doing His bidding, we shall not fail. Come, Holy Spirit, and work with all Thy people now! Come and rouse us to work; and when we are bestirred to a holy energy, then work Thou with us!