IT is not possible for us to converse together, during such a time of intense excitement, without alluding, or at least seeming to allude, to matters which are just now the subjects of severe controversy. It will be thought that things spoken by me this day are aimed at individuals who may not be in my mind at all. I am awkwardly circumstanced, and I might, therefore, speak with great reserve; but such is not my habit: as a rule, I blurt out my thoughts, for I have nothing to conceal. I have no intent to wound anyone, but I cannot help it if I do. I do not say this by way of apology, for I am now past all need of apology, and I have become a chartered libertine in the speaking of my mind, since I have found it utterly impossible to please, let me say or do what I will. One becomes somewhat indifferent when dealing with those whom every word offends. I notice that, when I have measured my words, and weighed my sentences most carefully, I have then offended most; while some of my stronger utterances have passed unnoticed. Therefore, I am comparatively careless as to how my expressions may be received, and only anxious that they may be in themselves just and true. Certainly, my criticisms have cost me more pain than they have inflicted. At the first, I said that he who ventured on the task which was laid upon me would get no honor from it: the prophecy has proved to be true, and I am content to have it so.
I have now nothing to gain, and I have nothing to fear. I can never endure worse misrepresentation than has already befallen me. It is not my intention to say anything upon the burning question which distinctly refers to the Baptist Union; and if I go beyond that intent, it will be the current of the hour which bears me away, and no resolve of my own. I make these remarks by way of introduction, that your minds may be led out of the clamor of the fight into the hush of quiet thought.
I would also add a word of caution to heated minds. Can we not draw a distinction between men and their opinions? An old Scotch wife once quarreled with her minister. I think the difference arose out of some business transaction; perhaps the poor preacher was slow in his payments, or she had not been up to the mark in the goods supplied to him; but, anyhow, she felt bitterly towards him. Yet she came constantly to hear him preach; and when he asked her how she could abuse him as she did, and yet always attend his ministry, she answered, “Man, my quarrel is with you , not with the gospel.” Our case is exactly opposite to hers. Our quarrel is not with the men, but with that other gospel, which is not another, with which they trouble us. Away with personalities, but let us earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. It may not be easy to keep clear the distinction between the men and their opinions; but, at any rate, let us labor to do so. Let us grind the falsehood to powder, but desire from our inmost souls the good of those who are deluded by it. I have heard of a stone being broken to atoms on the breast of a man, yet he who wielded the hammer hurt not the man in the least degree. We wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with spiritual wickedness. We fight neither with small nor great, save only with the deadly error which seeks to be king in Israel.
I desire so to speak to you, that you may be girded for the battle against all sin and false doctrine, and be prepared to follow your Divine Lord in all His sacred warfare. May you go back to your several spheres of service feeling that you have wasted no time in coming up to this Conference, but that you have been inspirited and stimulated by communion with each other and your Lord. God help me so to speak as to give a healthy tone to our fellowship!
I want to speak to the times. We are exhorted to be “abreast of the age”: I will look into its breast, and see whether it has there a sound mind, or an evil heart of unbelief. My subject is — THE EVILS OF THE PRESENT TIME.
Nobody can question that there are evils which are constant throughout the ages; and, on the other hand, there are certain intermittent fevers which rage only at intervals. There are evils of all seasons: evils of winter, evils of summer, evils of autumn, evils of this springtide. Certain evils abound at this particular period, with which we were not so familiar twenty years ago. We meet now with error, and with sin, in forms which they did not commonly assume in the early years of our ministry. Truth is one and the same in all eras, but falsehood changes its shape, and comes and goes like the fashions of dress. To evil things also there is a season, and a time for every doctrine which is not from Heaven.
I suppose you have met, in your pastoral work, with the great evil of questioning fundamental truth . Brethren have always differed on minor points, and it has not been unusual for us to meet each other, and discuss matters of doctrine upon the basis of Holy Scripture. All were agreed that, whatever Scripture said, should be decisive; and we only wished to ascertain what the Lord had revealed. But another form of discussion has now arisen: men question the Scriptures themselves. A deacon of one of our churches said, the other day, concerning a certain doctrine, “Even if the Bible said so, I would not believe it.” This is a new thing in our Israel.
To some, the teaching of Scripture is not of final authority: their inner consciousness, their culture, or some other unknown quantity, is their fixed point, if they have a fixed point anywhere. The fount of inspiration is not now within the Book, and with the Holy Spirit, but within the man’s own intelligence. We have no longer, “Thus saith the Lord;” but, “Thus saith modern thought.”
We used to debate upon particular and general redemption, but now men question whether there is any redemption at all worthy of the name. We used to converse upon which aspect of the atonement should be made most prominent, but in the vicarious sacrifice we all believed. Alas! we have fallen upon days in which substitution is denied, and the doctrine of the putting-away of sin by the blood of our Lord Jesus is spoken of in opprobrious terms. We described justification by faith under various figures in days gone by; but now men are among us who set it quite aside. The other day, a certain preacher informed us that, even if a stoner should truly repent and believe on his dying bed, he would yet have to suffer for a while in the next world. Thus salvation by faith is made to give place to a sort of purgatory. This is not to differ about the faith, but altogether to renounce it. It is not in our denomination alone or chiefly that these evils exist, but they are everywhere. I know not what our brethren mean when they deny the general prevalence of unbelief. Are they willfully deaf and blind? Do they live on the dark side of the moon? You must have noticed, in the newspapers, apologies for Mohammedanism and Buddhism, in which these religions are praised to the disparagement of Christianity: this is a sign of the times. Scribes are taking up their pens to write upon themes which would not have been touched by the secular papers years ago; and they are only touched now because there is an unbelief abroad which creates a market for anti-Christian literature. Those against whom we fight to-day are striking at the life of our religion. They are not cutting off its horns, but tearing out its heart.
When I note the clamor for “progress in theology,” and mark the changing nature of modern opinion, I am reminded of the story of a prudent churchwarden who trembled for the spire of the parish church. A vane was to be placed on high; and when he saw it upon the ground, it struck him as being far too large to be safely fixed upon the spire. I suppose it was the image of Peter’s cock; and when the good man looked upon it, he did not weep, but he trembled. “Surely,” he said, “when the North wind blows, it will tear down the vane, and the steeple, too.” He who had to fix the vane endeavored to cheer him by the fact that, when the wind was blowing, the cock would turn round, so that the full force of the gale would not come upon it. That was a comfortable consideration, and it brought a grand idea into the churchwarden’s mind. Those four letters, N., E., S., W., were of considerable size, and would offer a serious opposition to the wind: could not these also be made to revolve? Certainly this might mitigate tile danger; but of what use would the vane be? Even so, they are trying, in certain quarters, to make the cardinal points of truth go round with the wind. To this, we object. Let the weathercocks spin round as much as they please, but we must have fixed points ,of faith. Unless we have infallibility somewhere, faith is impossible. The true faith teaches us facts which cannot be questioned. Where is faith to build if there be no rock, and nothing left us but shifting sand? As for us, we find infallibility in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, and our one desire is to have them opened up to our minds by the Holy Spirit. Those who choose to do so may invent a changing gospel; but we believe in “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.”
We are tried, at this time, by the way in which many attack the truth by misrepresenting it, and wickedly distorting it . They designedly harp upon some one doctrine as though it were all we believed; or, at least, the chief point of our teaching. They know that we hold much more of truth, and that we do not make this one point prominent; but this they willingly forget, that they may make up a case against us. It is easy to paint all a man’s features, and yet to caricature him by putting one feature out of proportion to the rest: this is what our opponents do. To give an instance: the doctrine of eternal punishment has been scarcely raised by me in this controversy; but the “modern thought” advocates continue to hold it up on all occasions, all the while turning the wrong side of it outwards. The terror of “the wrath to come” is brought to the front, as if this was our main teaching, and as if its dread forewarning was peculiar to the orthodox doctrine. Can they assure us that there is nothing terrible connected with their own beliefs as to the future of the wicked? If one who holds either of the new views will state his belief clearly, it will be fairly open to much the same criticism as that by which we are castigated. We, at least, do not teach that sinners, who die penitent and believing, will need to undergo long purgatorial pains before they enter Paradise. Our hope is larger than that hideous dogma. Do any of these gentlemen teach that sin does not entail terrible consequences? If they dare not say as much, why do they turn their spurious humanity in our direction, and grow indignant at us ?
They will claim at other times that, upon the point of future judgment, the difference is a matter of degree; but it is not ingenuous on their part to forget this fact when they are laboring to make us the objects of the world’s obloquy. This, however, does not matter much to us, for we do not flinch from truth because it is terrible; but it shows the style of men who oppose us.
It is the same with other doctrines which we hold; they are constantly being misrepresented, or, at least, misinterpreted. If our opponents would state the case fairly, we should not mind it; but this would not serve their purpose. One said, the other day, “I hate that text which says, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.’“ “Why?” said a friend; “what is the difficulty to your mind?” The reply was, “I cannot see why God should hate Esau.” “Nay,” said our friend, “I am not at all surprised that God hated Esau, but I am greatly amazed that God loved Jacob.” That is indeed a marvel of grace; the other is one of the common-places of justice. Truth thus has its coat turned inside out, and then is dragged up and down the street in scorn. They make a straw man, and carry him about as a guy, hoping afterwards to burn him. This is fine sport for children, but great folly in men.
While we do preach “the terror of the Lord,” I may say of myself, and of you also, that “we persuade men” in all tenderness. We do not worry them to Christ; but, with much gentleness and patience, we endeavor to draw them with love, and urge them on with tearful anxiety. We are under trembling apprehensions of the wrath to come, and therefore we are in downright earnest. We have no pleasure in their death. Do our enemies dare to think that we have? We grieve to think of their dying in their sins.
It is ungenerous to represent us as cruel because we are honest in our interpretation of the threatenings of Scripture.
Yet misunderstanding and misrepresentation form an evil which we have to deal with constantly. I have no doubt that you find it in your churches, weakening your testimony, shaking the unstable, and causing unbelief in many minds. Our gospel is adapted to meet this difficulty. Let us not distrust it; but, at the same time, let us not shut our eyes to the fact that this form of evil is rife among us, and must be met in the Name of the God of truth.
Another great evil is the want of decision for the truth among truly good men ; those who are our brethren in the faith of our Lord Jesus, but who do not seem to have made up their minds as to separation from error. Good, easy men, they are all for peace! “Sitting on the fence” seems to be a popular position among professors just now. After next Monday’s Union Meeting, several brethren may have made up their minds; but, until then, they will sit uneasily upon the fence. I have, with commendable forethought, endeavored to drive a number of tenterhooks and other useful nails into the top of that fence, to assist them in retaining their hold; but I fear they are not deeply grateful to me. Theirs is a position which I never was able to occupy myself, and therefore I have no very profound sympathy with them. One or two learned divines are trying their utmost to get down on both sides of the fence; but it is a perilous experiment. Some are trying to get down on the winning side, and others would prefer to keep their judicious position world without end. Neutrals, in the end, have the respect of neither party; and, assuredly, they are the difficulty in every controversy.
There will always be trouble in the churches so long as men are afraid to denounce sin and error. A negro preacher, in a certain village, said that among, his flock he carefully abstained from preaching against the sin of stealing chickens, because it seemed so much to damp brotherly fellowship!
Many a preacher touches the matter of strong drink very tenderly because certain of his supporters are in “the trade.” Is there not a great deal of this suppression of unpalatable, truth? Are not many unfaithful as to the sins around them? They are “all things to all men,” but it is not that they may “save some.” I have heard it whispered that it is in order that they may save a sum to the exchequer of the church. Are not important persons too much consulted? Is not position more valued than piety? Is there enough of downright faithfulness to truth and to Christ at all hazards? Brethren, we want grace to say, “I can be poor; I can be ridiculed; I can be abused; but I cannot be false to my Lord.”
I make no personal reference, but I see the spirit of compromise concerning holiness and sin, truth and error, far too prevalent. The spirit of compromise comes not of the Spirit of God, but of the spirit of the world.
It is always wisest and best to exhibit clear decision upon fundamental points; we must draw the line distinctly, and then stand to it firmly. Do not alter your course because of winds and currents. Do not try to make things pleasant all round. Do not be like the fellow, in one of the American towns, who saw a traveler leaning against a lamp-post, weary and worn with his journey. The traveler inquired of him how far it was to such a place, and was told that it was ten miles. The weary traveler sighed, and said, “I shall never hold out. I shall faint on the road.” “Ah!” said his sympathizing informant, “I did not know you were quite so far gone, I will knock off three miles, and make it seven for you.” Of course, this operation in words did not alter the fact, nor really reduce the ten to seven. Yet this is the method of some weakly, amiable souls; they tone down truth, forgetting that their tone does not affect the fact. This obligation is too severe; and, therefore, it is suggested that it may be somewhat relaxed. This doctrine is too stern; so make it wear a milder aspect. This manner of pleasing everybody at any cost is the style of the period. If sin, and human depravity, and so forth, are strongly spoken of in the old theology, run off to the new, and soften matters. If the punishment of the impenitent too much alarms men, treat it lightly, and spirit it away; who wants to win converts by fear? Yes, yes; “make it seven.” But what avail your soft words? The distance is all the same for your lying; and when the deceived one finds it to be so, he will pour no blessings upon your heads. May the Lord save us from the doom of deceivers of souls! May we be watchmen who will be clear of the blood of all men! Be decided yourselves; and then, like men who themselves stand fast, you will be able to help others whose feet are slipping.
Another great evil of the times is the insatiable craving for amusements .
That men should have rest from labor, and that they should enjoy such amusements as refresh both body and mind, nobody wishes to deny. Within suitable bounds, recreation is necessary and profitable; but it never was the business of the Christian Church to supply the world with amusements. Did Christ found His Church that it might offer to the public tableaux vivants , and living waxworks? A Dissenting congregation, to my own knowledge, commenced a series of special services with a social meeting, and the evening was spent in various silly dissipations; and among other things the assembled friends played at “Musical Chairs”! I do not know whether you understand what that childish game means. Think of ministers of the gospel and officers of a church playing at “Musical Chairs”! There is a bill extant which states that, next week, there is to be a “Punch and Judy” show in the same place of worship (so-called)! This is to go on side by side with the preaching of Thy bleeding sacrifice, O Christ of God! No, brethren, let me correct myself; the preaching of Christ usually ceases when these frivolities come in. These things are so opposed in spirit, that one or the other will have to be dropped; and we know which it will be.
What is to be next done in our chapels? To what length of tomfoolery will ministers of the gospel yet go? Amusements beneath the contempt of idiots have been tolerated in our schoolrooms. It has not come to that yet with us, personally; but, brethren, we ourselves have to battle hard against it, for the people are all agog for these vanities, and there are so many societies and institutions more or less remotely connected with our churches that it is difficult for us to keep them all. from wandering. Brethren, we are not here to play away our time, but to win souls for Jesus and eternal bliss. By the solemnities of death, and judgment, and eternity, I beseech you, keep yourselves clear of the follies, the inanities of the day. Remark with interest how “the wisdom of this world” and the follies of it seem to be boon companions, and turn from them both with equal loathing.
Another of our difficulties lies in the lack of intense piety in many of the churches . Numbers of our brethren and sisters to-day are living, in a high degree, to the glory of God. I thank God that there is now as much of holy activity and hearty consecration as in any former period in the history of the Christian Church. Among us are men and women whose names will go down to posterity as examples of devotion. God has not left Himself without witness. But do you not notice how superficial is the religion of the mass of professors? How many servants might live in so-called Christian families without perceiving any difference between these houses and those of worldlings? Is not family prayer neglected in many instances?
Have we not members who are never seen at a prayer-meeting? When inquiry is made, do you not find that the richer sort could not attend because the dinner-hour is at the same time as the gathering for prayer? No doubt they will be most careful to worship the god they favor most. In other cases, you find that busy men, who could not come out to pray, were quite able to attend a concert. Public dinners and sing-songs are more important ceremonials with many than the offering of prayer to God. Do we not meet with church-officers who say openly that they do not care for such old-fashioned things as prayer-meetings? This is a wretched sign of declension, and it is frequently to be seen. Our churches may well cause heartache to their pastors; but, for the most part, in such cases the pastors themselves have so much backslidden that they care nothing about it.
In reference to ministers, many church-members are indifferent as to the personal piety of the preacher; what they want is talent or cleverness. What the man preaches does not matter now; he must draw a crowd, or please the elite , and that is enough. Cleverness is the main thing. One would think they were looking for a conjurer rather than a pastor. Whether he preaches truth or error, the man is held in admiration so long as he can talk glibly, and keep up a reputation as a speaker. If we had truer piety in members and deacons, pretenders would soon take their wares to other markets.
Alas! I fear there has been great laxity in the admission of members, and the quality of our churches has become defiled and debased by “the mixed multitude,” among whom all manner of evil finds a congenial dwellingplace.
Unhappy leader, who has an Achan in his own camp! Better that Demas should forsake us, than that he should abide with us, and import the world into the church. How many ministers are weak for warfare with sin because they are not supported by a godly people, and their hands are not held up by praying brethren!
Not to make my jeremiad too long, I will mention only one more sad evil of the times; that is, the stolidity of the people outside with regard to the gospel . Compared with what it used to be, it is hard to win attention to the Word of God. I used to think that we had only to preach the gospel, and the people would throng to hear it. I fear I must correct my belief under this head. If the gospel does not attract men, nothing will; I mean, nothing which can do them good. Personally, I have no reason to doubt the attractiveness of the old, old gospel; but I am assured that some of my brethren, who faithfully preach the gospel of Christ, do not find the people flocking about them. We all feel that a hardening process is going on among the masses. In this vast city, we have street after street where the people are living utterly regardless of the worship of God. Those who attend church or chapel are marked men; and if you were to inquire for them, they would be pointed out to you as remarkable individuals. A curious circumstance came under my own notice lately; it seems that men may come to hear a preacher on a week-evening with less suspicion than on the Sunday. One who had attended a week-night service was asked to come on the Sabbath, but he replied, “Oh, no; I have not gone so far as that yet!” Attendance at a place of worship on the Sunday has in London become, to many people, a profession of religion. Merely to hear Spurgeon on a Thursday, is a different matter! It is a fact that thousands of persons live close to our notable sanctuaries, and never dream of entering them.
Even curiosity seems dulled.
Why is this? Whence this distaste for the ordinary services of the sanctuary? I believe that the answer, in some measure, lies in a direction little suspected. There has been a growing pandering to sensationalism; and, as this wretched appetite increases in fury the more it is gratified, it is at last found to be impossible to meet its demands. Those who have introduced all sorts of attractions into their services have themselves to blame if people forsake their more sober teachings, and demand more and more of the noisy and the singular. Like dram-drinking, the thirst for excitement grows. At first, the fiery spirit may be watered down; but the next draught of it must be stronger, and soon it is required to be overproof.
The customary gin-drinker wants something stronger than the pure spirit, deadly though that draught may be. One said, as she tossed off her glass, “Do you call that gin? Why, I know a place where, for threepence, I can get a drink that will burn your very soul out!” Yes, gin leads on to vitriol; and the sensational leads to the outrageous, if not to the blasphemous. I would condemn no one, but I confess that I feel deeply grieved at some of the inventions of modern mission work.
Apart from this intoxicating sensationalism, there is a sort of heaviness in the air. Do you not feel it? We are getting into the condition into which Germany fell not long ago. To this day, when talking with a German who is about joining our church, I usually find that he has lived in a country town.
The devout German villager still attends public worship, but in the large towns a practical atheism is supreme. Why is this? The ministers have done it. They preached the people out of their faith in the Scriptures; they taught them to be doubters. The most mischievous servant of Satan that I know of is the minister of the gospel, who not only doubts the truth in his own soul, but propagates doubt in the minds of others by his criticisms, innuendoes, and triflings with words. Some ministers believe nothing except that nothing can be believed. Such a man’s conscience is withered. In some modern ministers, the faculty wherewith to believe is extinct; they have played with words till they cannot be true if they try. Against this evil I have protested with my whole soul. People say, “Why did you not speak against these things twenty-five years ago?” I answer, “These evils were scarcely apparent then.” Things are not now as in our early ministry. There has been a sudden growth of the toadstools of error. I never heard of Universalism then, nor of post -mortem salvation, nor of probation in the next state. Until very lately, I have not heard of ministers holding up the blood of Jesus to scorn. I will not, however, repeat the sad facts which have of late come to my knowledge, and pierced my heart. The times are out of joint. The world may well be careless, for the Church in many places is full of unbelief. I trust the present hurricane of evil may soon pass over; but anyone who has his wits about him will sorrowfully admit that the good ship of the Church is now tossed about with contrary winds, and needs that her Lord should come, and say to the winds and the waves, “Peace, be still.” So far, I have borne before you “the burden of the Lord.”
In these evil times, we have still — ONE ABIDING OBJECT.
Whatever the season :may be, the farmer has still his land to till. In summer and in winter his work may vary, but his object is the same. It is the same with the servants of our Lord Jesus. Whatever others may do, we have lifted our hand unto the Lord, and we cannot go back. We are still guided by that one purpose which brought us first into the sacred ministry we dare not look back from the plough, nor turn aside from the furrow.
How do you, at this time, look at your life’s mission? What is that mission?
What are you at? I think I hear you answer, “Our chief end is to glorify, God .” We do not regard it as our first business to convert sinners, nor to edify saints; but to glorify God. If we have preached God’s truth, and on any one occasion no souls have been saved thereby, we are still “unto God a sweet savor of Christ,” as well in those that perish as in those that are saved. The preaching of Jesus Christ is the burning of sweet odors before the throne of God, and to the Lord it is evermore an acceptable oblation.
The sacrifice of Jesus is that which makes the world bearable to a holy God, and the preaching of that sacrifice is a savor of rest unto Him.
This is a kind of lactometer by which we can test the quality of any doctrine, — “Does it glorify God?” If it does not glorify God, it is not genuine gospel, and it will not benefit us or our hearers.
It is for us to keep our one object, come what may. The fisherman goes forth with his nets upon a calm, bright, summer’s day. “Now, boatman, take thy guitar. Sit upon the bench, and delight us with sweet music.” He answers, “I am not a musician, but a fisherman.” A storm-cloud darkens the sky and the rain and sleet drive down. “Now, boatman, quit the deck.
Make all trim above, and shelter thyself below.” He smiles, and answers, “I am no yachtsman out on a pleasure-trip, but I am here to fish; and fish I will.” Over go the nets!
Our sacred fishing may be better carried on in a storm than in a calm.
When the waters sleep, the fish seem to sleep also, or they are hidden in silent deeps far out of our reach. A dead calm is our enemy, a storm may prove our helper. Controversy may arouse thought, and through thought may come the Divine change. In any case, we must win souls . Whatever comes of it, we are bound to catch men for Jesus. Repentance and faith must be insisted on; the new birth, with its loathing of sin and trust in Jesus, must be ever set before our people. For this end were we born, and for this purpose were we sent into the world, that we might bear witness to grand soul-saving truths, that by the knowledge of these things God may be glorified among men.
Besides this, we have an intense desire to build up the Church ; and it strikes me that, for this object, it is of perpetual necessity that we continue to preach always the same gospel. Is there to be no progress? Yes, within the lines of revealed truth; but there must be no departure from fixed principles. A boy at school commences with his first book in arithmetic; in due time, he needs another; but suppose that the second book put into his hand contradicted the first, where would the scholar find himself? Suppose you assure him that the multiplication table is worn-out, and that men now know better than to say that twice two are four! What progress could he make? A consistent ministry, carried out through many years preaching of the same truth, must, with God’s blessing, produce a result upon a congregation.
A noble building is possible when the walls rise course upon course upon a fixed foundation; but what result can those produce who constantly change their teaching? What can they do who are “ever learning, and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth”? True progress is out of the question when everything is moving, road as well as carriage. There is a story told of a man who married his fourth wife, who had brought him money. The like had been the case with each of her predecessors. A friend said to him, “You seem to make a good thing of your wives, whether they live or die.” “Alas!” answered the much-married man, “what with the expense of marrying them, and the expense of burying them, there is not much profit about them after all.” I should think it is much the same with the new creeds with which men fall in love one after the other. What with the trouble of learning the new doctrine, and the trouble of very soon burying it to make room for another, there is not much profit. Weaving comes to nothing if it be constantly pulled out again.
If we would, as wise master-builders, really build up the Church, we must be careful as to our foundation at the first; and upon that foundation we must keep on building to the end. As far as I am concerned, the things which I taught at the first are those wherein I abide until this day. If I had chosen a new object, I might have selected new means for promoting it; but those truths which were for the glory of God thirty years ago, still produce the same result. We work to the same end, and trust in the same power, wherefore we change not our teaching.
Brethren, let me take you further, and speak upon — OUR URGENT NECESSITIES.
If we are to pursue our holy calling with success, we need to be better men .
Brethren, I do not depreciate you; far from it. But, personally, I feel that, as the times grow sterner, I must cry to God for more grace, that I may be more able to cope with them. You can always cut a hard thing with something still harder. The granite Alps can be pierced by the diamond.
Oh, for grace to be equal to the worst case which can arise! Whatever we already possess of capability or fitness is the Lord’s gift, and He is able to grant us far more. He that gave us life can give it to us “more abundantly.”
The capacities of a man, when God takes him in hand, are not to be estimated by the man, but by God Himself. It was prettily put, at the meeting last night, by one of the brethren, when speaking of the cloud “like a man’s hand”; he said that it was the Lord’s work, but a man’s hand was in it. The blessing comes from the Lord alone, but its sign is often the little cloud, like a man’s hand. Oh, to have our hands ready for the Lord’s work; neither folded in indolence, nor hanging down in despair, but lifted up in holy pleading and full consecration. Brethren, let it be a main business with us to be ourselves more holy, more gracious, and therefore better fitted for our work. It doth not yet appear what we can be. Oh, for high aspirations!
Let us not judge ourselves by others, and say, with deadening selfcomplacency, “We are getting on well as compared with our brethren.
There are not many additions to our churches, but we are as successful as others.” O brothers, if some are still further behind in the course, that does not increase our hope of winning the race! While I was ill, a friend endeavored to comfort me by remarking that many suffered far more than I did. He looked unutterable things when I replied, “None but a fiend could derive comfort from the greater agonies of others.” Shall we, if we have but little of God’s blessing, be thankful that others have still less? Did you tell me that John Johnston’s potatoes are smaller than mine? I am not going to have my potatoes judged by John Johnston’s; my standard as a gardener is not the worst specimen, but the best. Let us measure ourselves by our Master, and not by our fellow-servants: then pride will be impossible, but hopefulness will be natural. We are capable of much greater things; let us attempt them. It is time for us to live, for we are growing old.
This done, let us get clearer views of what we believe . A drunken John Brown gets to his own house at four o’clock in the morning, and says to the servant at the door, “Where does John Brown live?” “O sir, don’t talk like that,” says the servant, “you know that you are John Brown yourself.” “Well,” says he, “I know that; but I want to know where John Brown lives.” There is an inebriation of “modern thought” which maunders much in that manner. John Brown of the New School does not know where John Brown lives. Where he lived yesterday, he knows; but where he lives today, it would be hard to tell. Many are spiritual gypsies. They camp behind any hedge, but they abide nowhere, their theology consists of a few sticks and bits of canvas. It is easily upset, but then it is as easily set up. Well may they sing, — “We’ve no abiding city here”!
They prefer the chase after truth to truth itself; it is dear that such a chase has not much of reality in it, for the man is pleased that his prey should perpetually escape him. In olden times, the prophet was a seer ; but, nowadays, a prophet is one who is too cultured to see anything. A man who protests that he has too much light to be sure that he sees anything is the favorite of certain intellectual hearers. David said, “I believed, therefore have I spoken;” but he was peculiar: our “thoughtful men” now speak because they doubt, and not because they believe.
The next thing necessary for the present time is that we should have more faith . We need to believe more intensely in God, so as to trust Him more practically and more unquestioningly. The things which we believe must become more real to us. I fear we often use words without feeling their true meaning. This is terrible. It is a sort of willful murder to expel the soul from pious phrases, and still to use them. Let us be honest about the things of God; let us mean all that we say, and say only what we mean. It is a shocking thing for a man to talk all manner of Evangelical, gracious, and sanctifying things, and yet to mean nothing by them. I fear our pulpits are not free from such word-mongers. Let us not hold forth shadows before the people. Let them, at any rate, be no shadows to us, but downright facts. You have heard of the old Scotch lady who was making her will. She was leaving 500 pounds to this person, and 1,000 pounds to another, till at length the lawyer remarked, “Have you as much money as this?” “May be not,” said the old soul, “but it will show them my liberal intentions.” It is to be feared that many preach Evangelical doctrine, not because they believe it, but that they may please the Evangelical. This will never do. Let us never lie open to such a suspicion. Let the doctrines we declare be as dear to us as our life, and as real as our own flesh and blood. We believe all Scripture to be true. When the Bible says that a man is lost, we believe that the loss is real and tremendous. Heaven and hell are realities with us, even though to others they may be dreams. To us Christ is a real Christ; and the Holy Ghost within a man brings real life from the dead. If we do not preach realities, I pray God we may be driven out of the ministry, in which we are only treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. We need also more love to souls . We shall never save more till we love more. There is a good story told by our brother Archibald Brown; I will not attempt to tell it in his presence; but it was something like this: — A man was accidentally buried by a fall of earth, and many were greatly energetic to dig the poor fellow out. One fellow stood by, scarcely as much concerned about the matter as many others were, until a woman rushed out of the crowd, and laid hold on him, and said in his ear, “It’s your brother Bill that’s in there!” Those few words wrought a marvelous change in the man; his coat was off in an instant, and he was down in the sewer working like a Trojan. If we would save our hearers from the wrath to come, we must realize that they are our brothers. We must have sympathy with them, and anxiety about them; in a word, passion and compassion. May God grant these to us! There must be also a more thorough spirit of self-sacrifice . I must speak tenderly here, because I am among brethren whose life is one of perpetual sacrifice in a pecuniary sense. With scarcely enough to keep body and soul together, they work on without complaint year after year. If they could gain a hundred times their present income in any other calling, they would not quit the pulpit and the pastorate. The work of Christ is more to them than their necessary food. Thank God, this Conference is well supplied with men who count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus their Lord. But, my brethren, sacrifice is needed every day, that we may keep up the abundance of our service. Here also we have many who excel. They are not loiterers, but laborers. He who has an easy time of it, in his ministry here, will have a hard time of it in the account to be rendered by-and-by. I fear the idea of the ministry with some men is as much on the down-grade as their doctrine is. Their gentlemanly indifference reminds me of the British workman, who observed, “I have such a good master that I do not know how to do too much for him, but I’ll take precious good care I don’t .” Into that spirit may we never enter!
Let us live intensely for our Lord!
But, beyond surrendering ease, we must be prepared to give up everything else: our name, our repute, our friendships, our connections, must all go without reserve, if Christ’s cause needs them. Sooner than deny the truth, we must forego every need of honor, every particle of deserved esteem, every rag of repute. You have heard almost too often the classic story of Curtius leaping into the gulf in the Forum at Rome. There is a chasm in the Forum at this hour. Who will devote himself for his people and his God?
Curtius does not stipulate that he shall be wholly engulfed except the pennon upon his lance, which shall remain above ground as his memorial.
No, he takes the leap, and finds immortal renown in being completely swallowed up. In the battle for the truth, let your personal comfort and reputation go to the winds. Let not the sacrifice be thought worthy of two thoughts. The weakness of many men is that they think so long that they do nothing. The blood of the martyrs is scarce among us. It will destroy our ministries if we begin thinking of the cost of honesty. Shall we have before our eyes the fear of a large subscriber, and become afraid of offending him by our fidelity? By that very thought, we have already offended God.
Brethren, let us fear no loss, because we have nothing to lose, seeing that all we possess is Christ’s already. “There, take an inventory of all I have, To the last penny; ‘tis the King’s.” My Lord, for Thee I will rejoice to be “the off’-scouring of all things,” that I may be found faithful to Thee and to Thy truth, even to the end.
I will give you a little advice, which may be suitable for such a time as this.
I would recommend you to go over the fundamental truths with your hearers very carefully . The bulk of the people do not know the first principles of the gospel. We assume too much when we take it for granted that our hearers, all of them, understand the gospel. Some of the oldfashioned dame-school teachers had a curious way of treating their scholars. They asked Mary to read a passage from a book, but Mary had not yet mastered her letters, and therefore she could not read as she was bidden to do. She was called a naughty child, and put into a corner, and told to study her book. She could do nothing at it, for she did not know the letters! If we have not taught our people their letters, how can we expect them to understand the truths that we preach? Let us go over the foundation truths again and again.
The simplest doctrines would be great novelties in some pulpits I could mention. A king once asked a courtier what made a certain French preacher so famous. “Your majesty,” said the nobleman, “he preaches the gospel, and that is the scarcest thing in France.” How true of many English pulpits to-day! Go over the elementary truths with your people. Make them know the first principles of the faith. It will not weary your hearers, it will bless them, and many of them will be delighted. Repeat the fundamentals, too; often, if you can. In the days of old-fashioned farming, they dropped three beans into the hole. And why? One was for the worm, another for the crow and number three perchance would grow. Let us be liberal with the seed, for the evil powers are liberal with worms, and crows, and thorns.
Let others go forth to shine; you are sowers, and must “go forth to sow.”
Repeat yourselves if necessary. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.”
In the next place, labor distinctly for the immediate salvation of your hearers . Take aim. At Waterloo, they say that, for every man who was killed, his full weight in lead had to be fired. We must improve upon this, and use arms of precision. We must get at the people each time we address them. It is wise to make definite characters the point of attack. We must look to the application of each sermon. I have known a true doctor, in a very critical case, act the part of nurse as well as surgeon, and personally see his liniments and poultices applied to his patient. This personal care gives surgery its best chance. We have great need to be very specific in applying truth to our hearers. If a doctor should prescribe a bitter medicine for children, to be taken every three hours, and then should leave it to the youngsters to take it themselves, I fear the doses taken would be small and few. Even so is it with unpalatable truth; we must not only set it forth in general terms, but we must measure it out in doses to each individual.
Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, this must be our daily work. We want our hearers saved, and saved at once; and towards this design we must drive with all our power. Let us inculcate with all our might the practice of holiness . Holiness is the visible side of salvation. I thought it no ill sign when the preaching of holiness was pushed even to an extreme. I trembled at the fanaticism, but I thanked God for the earnestness out of which it grew. Let us seek the utmost degree of holiness. The doctrines of grace should be accompanied by ethics of the purest kind. We have been clear upon the fact that good works are not the cause of salvation; let us be equally clear upon the truth that they are the necessary fruit of it. What is the use of our churches if they are not holy? What is the use of ourselves if we are not holy? Holiness is practical orthodoxy, and it should walk hand-in-hand with doctrinal orthodoxy. We must not only have a high-toned morality, but a consecrated morality, quickened by the Spirit of God; — and that is holiness.
To this end, I would exhort you to be careful about the admission of members into the church . Doubtless there are some in our ranks who ought not to be there. This is to their own hurt, to the dishonor of the Lord Jesus, and to the injury of the church itself. Unconverted member’s lower the whole tone of the church. How low that tone has now become, let spiritual men judge for themselves. If the members were converted, they would make short work of many of the ministers; but the people are like their priests. Many are the letters of sympathy which my protests upon this matter have drawn forth. It is clear that lax doctrine and lax living are pretty frequently associated. A weeping Hannah writes me concerning her husband who has been for years a lay preacher, but who now spends his evenings far into night at the billiard-table, for which he acquired a taste when he went in for new theology and religious entertainments. Many have, gone from the prayer-meeting to the amateur theatricals of the Mutual Improvement Society, and thence to the playhouse itself. This seems to be natural, if not inevitable. Oh, that we had a purer membership to work with! Do what we may, Judas will come in; but let us not invite him: let us not make it easy for a betrayer of Christ to be comfortable with us. To mix up the world with the church, is a crime; it brings with it an awful curse, and acts upon godliness as a blast and a mildew. Let the door of the church be opened to all sincere souls, but closed against all whose hearts are in the world. It is not even for the worldling’s good that he should hold the form of godliness while he is a stranger to its power. As you love your Lord, and value men’s souls guard well the entrance of the church.
As to yourselves, I would recommend entire separation from those who would be likely to injure your spiritual life . I would no more associate with one who denied the faith than with a drunkard or a thief. I would guard my spirituals as jealously as my morals. A loyal man is not at home in the company of traitors. There are associations with the ungodly into which we must needs go, unless we get out of the world altogether; but there are others which are optional, and here we should dare to be scrupulous. A godly minister once said of a certain preacher, “I would not permit such a man to enter my pulpit. I am as jealous of my pulpit as of my bed.” I do not think he was too rigid. We should guard ourselves against compromising the truth of God by association with those who do not hold it, especially at such a time as this.
Next, we must bind ourselves more closely together , and seek to render help to each other, and to all who are of the same mind in the Lord.
Denominational divisions sink in the presence of the truth of God. To my mind, the grand distinction to be now observed is found in Evangelical doctrine, of which our Lord’s substitutionary sacrifice is the center and the soul. Where we see faithful brethren struggling, we ought to lay ourselves out to help them, for they are sure to be the objects of inveterate opposition. Lovers of the old faith should stand shoulder to shoulder, to remove the injustice of the past, and frustrate the opposition of the future.
The struggle before us is severe; let us, at any rate, economize our strength by union.
Lastly, let me leave with you — WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT. The times are bad, but they have been bad before . You have to fight with Apollyon, but many have met this arch-enemy before your day. Gird up the loins of your mind, and stand fast, for the Lord is greater than the times.
The days are evil, but evil days are followed by good days. History repeats itself, and this is one of the points in which history is very persistent. Let me read you a cheering passage from Witherspoon: — “ Nothing is impossible to the power of God. I add, that the most remarkable times of the revival of religion, in this part of the United Kingdom, immediately succeeded times of the greatest apostasy, when ‘truth’ seemed to be ‘fallen in the street, and equity could not enter.’ This was the case immediately before the year 1638. Corruption in doctrine, looseness in practice, and slavish submission in politics, had overspread the Church of Scotland; and yet, in a little time, she appeared in greater purity, and in greater dignity, than ever she had done before, or, perhaps, than ever she has done since that period. Let no Christian, therefore, give way to desponding thoughts.
We plead the cause that shall at last prevail. Religion shall rise from its ruins; and its oppressed state at present should not only excite us to pray, but encourage us to hope for its speedy revival.” Make the most of prayer . I have received much encouragement of late, from friends in many different quarters, by the assurance that our conflict for the gospel is continually mentioned in their prayers. The praying heart of God’s people is with us. Prayer is the master-weapon. We should be greatly wise if we used it more, and did so with a more specific purpose.
In New England, a certain church had elected a young man named Mr.
Stoddard to be its pastor. After a while, the people found out that their new preacher was not a real Christian. What did they do? Did they find fault, and quarrel? No, they were wiser folks. One Sabbath night, when his day’s work was over, the young minister saw the people flocking to the meeting-house. He was surprised at their coming in such numbers to a service at which he was not himself to preside. “Why are they meeting?” he asked. “Sir,” said one, “they are coming together to pray that their minister may be converted.” Young Stoddard went within doors, sought his chamber, prayed for himself, and found eternal life. Before the hour of prayer was over, he was converted, and went down to the meeting to tell the glad tidings. Was not that a glorious work of grace? Might we not win more victories if we more constantly used this weapon of all-prayer? All hell is vanquished when the believer bows his knee in importunate supplication. Beloved brethren, let us pray. We cannot all argue, but we can all pray; we cannot all be leaders, but we can all be pleaders; we cannot all be mighty in rhetoric, but we can all be prevalent in prayer. I would sooner see you eloquent with God than with men. Prayer links us with the Eternal, the Omnipotent, the Infinite; and hence it is our chief resort.
Resolve to serve the Lord, and to be faithful to His cause, for then you may boldly appeal to Him for succor. Be sure that you are with God, and then you may be sure that God is with you.