INEVER needed help more than now, and never felt so utterly unfitted to give the key-note to the Conference, As you grow more numerous, more gifted, and more experienced, I feel more and more my unworthiness to stand foremost, and to lead your ranks. However, I will trust in God, and believe that He will, by His Holy Spirit send a word that shall be encouraging and quickening.
Years ago, an eccentric judge, known as Judge Foster, went upon circuit in extreme old age during a. very hot summer; and on one of the most sultry days of that summer, he addressed the grand jury at Worcester in some such terms as these, “Gentlemen of the Jury, it is very hot, and I am very old; you know your duties very well; go and do them.” Following his example, I feel inclined to say to you, “Gentlemen, here you are assembled; I have many infirmities to bear, and you will have great difficulty in bearing with my talk; you know your duties; go and do them.” Action is better than speech. If I speak for an hour, I shall scarcely be able to say anything more practical than that, — “You know your duties; go and do them.” “England expects every man to do his duty,” was the rousing signal of Nelson at Trafalgar; need I remind you that our great Lord expects every one of His servants to occupy his post until his Master comes again, and so to be a good and faithful servant? Go forth, brethren, and fulfill your Master’s high behest, and may God’s Spirit work in you the good pleasure of your Lord!
Those who truly serve God are made to feel more and more forcibly that “life is real, life is earnest,” if it be indeed life in Christ. In times of great pain, and weakness, and depression, it has come over me to hope that, if I should again recover, I should be more intense than ever; if I could be privileged to climb the pulpit stairs again, I resolved to leave out every bit of flourish from my sermons, to preach nothing but present and pressing truth, and to hurl it at the people with all my might; myself living at high pressure, and putting forth all the energy of which my being is capable. I suppose you, too, have felt like this when you have been laid aside. You have said to yourselves, “Playtime is over with us, we must get to work.
Parade is ended, now comes the tug of war. We must not waste a single moment, but redeem the time, because the days are evil.” When we see the wonderful activity of the servants of Satan, and how much they accomplish, we may well be ashamed of ourselves that we do so little for our Redeemer, and that the little is often done so badly that it takes as long to set it right as we spent in the doing of it. Brethren, let us cease from regrets, and come to actual amendment.
A great German philosopher has asserted that life is all a dream. He says that “it is a dream composed of a dream of itself.” He believes in no actual existence, not even in his own; even that he conceives to be but a thought.
Surely, some who are in the ministry must be disciples of that philosophy, for they are half-asleep, and their spirit is dreamy. They speak of the eternal truth as though it were a temporary system of belief, passing away like all other visions of earth. They live for Christ in a manner which would never be thought of by a person who meant to make money, or to obtain a degree at the University. “Why,” said one, of a certain minister, “if I acted, in my business, as he does in his ministry, I should be in the Gazette within three months.” It is an unhappy thing that there should be men calling themselves ministers of Christ to whom it never seems to occur that they are bound to display the utmost industry and zeal. They seem to forget that they are dealing with souls that may be lost for ever or saved for ever, souls that cost the Savior’s heart’s blood. They do not appear to have understood the nature of their calling, or to have grasped the Scriptural idea of an ambassador for Christ. Like drowsy wagoners, they hope to get their team safely home, though they themselves are sound asleep.
I have heard of ministers who are most lively when playing croquet or cricket, or getting up an excursion, or making a bargain. It was said of one, in my hearing, “What a fine minister he would have been if he had only been converted!” I heard it said of a very clever man, “He would have been a great winner of souls, if he had only believed in souls; but he believed in nothing.” It is said of the Russian peasants that, when they have done their work, they will lie on the stove, or around it, and there sleep hour after hour; and there is a current opinion among them that they are only awake when they are asleep, and that their waking and working hours are nothing but a horrible dream. The moujik hopes that his dreams are facts, and that his waking sufferings are merely nightmares. May not some have fallen into the same notion with regard to the ministry? They are asleep upon realities, and awake about shadows; in earnest about trifles, yet trifling about solemnities. What God will have to say to those servants who do their own work well, and His work badly, I will not attempt to foreshadow. What shall be done to the man who displayed great capacity in his recreations, but was dull in his devotions; active out of his calling, and languid in it?
The day shall declare it. Let us arouse ourselves to the sternest fidelity, laboring to win souls as much as if it all depended wholly upon ourselves, while we fall back, in faith, upon the glorious fact that everything rests with the eternal God.
I see before me many who are fully aroused, and are eager in seeking the lost; for I speak to some of the most earnest spirits in the Christian Church, — evangelists and pastors whose meat and drink it is to do the will of their Lord. But even these, who are most awake, will not differ from me when I assert that they could be yet more aroused. My brethren, when you have been at your best, you might have been better. Who among us might not have had greater success if he had been ready to obtain it? When Nelson served under Admiral Hotham, and a certain number of the enemy’s ships had been captured, the commander said, “We must be contented; we have done very well.” But Nelson did not think so, since a number of the enemy’s vessels had escaped. “Now,” said he, “had we taken ten sail, and allowed the eleventh to escape when it had been possible to have got at her, I could never have called it well done.” If we have brought many to Christ, we dare not boast, for we are humbled by the reflection that more might have been done had we been fitter instruments for God to use.
Possibly some brother will say,” I have done all that I could do.” That may be his honest opinion, for he could not have preached more frequently, or held more meetings. Perhaps it is true that he has held enough meetings, and the people have had quite enough sermons; but there might have been an improvement in the spirit of the meetings, and in the sermons, too.
Some ministers might do more in reality if they did less in appearance. A Bristol Quaker — and Quakers are very shrewd men, — years ago stepped into an alehouse, and called for a quart of beer. The beer frothed up, and the measure was not well filled. The Friend said to the landlord, “How much trade art thou doing?” “Oh!” he answered, “I draw ten butts of beer a month.” “Dost thou know how thou mightest draw eleven butts? .... No, sir; I wish I did.” “I will tell thee, friend; thee can do it by filling thy pots.”
To any brother who says, “I do not know how I can preach more gospel than I do, for I preach very often,” I would reply, “You need not preach oftener, but fill the sermons fuller of gospel.” The Savior at the marriagefeast said, “Fill the waterpots with water.” Let us imitate the servants, of whom we read, “They filled them up to the brim.” Let your discourses be full of matter, — sound, gracious, and condensed. Certain speakers suffer from an awful flux of words; you can scarcely spy out the poor little straw of an idea which has been hurried down an awful Ganges or Amazon of words. Give the people plenty of thought, plenty of Scriptural, solid doctrine, and deliver it in a way which is growingly better, — every day better, every year better, — that God may be more glorified, and sinners may more readily learn the way of salvation.
I shall now commend to you, for the perfecting of your ministry, five things, which should be in you and abound. You remember the passage which says, “Salt, without prescribing how much.” There is no need for limiting the quantity of any of the matters now commended to you. Here they are, — light, fire, faith, life, love. Their number is five, so you may count them on your fingers; their value is inestimable, so grasp them with firm hand, and let them be carried in your hearts.
I. I commend to you most earnestly the acquisition and distribution of\par LIGHT.
To that end, we must first get the light. Get light even of the commonest order, for all light is good. Education upon ordinary things is valuable, and I would stir up certain loitering brethren to make advances in that direction. Many among you entered the College with no education whatever; but when you left it, you had learned enough to have formed the resolution to study with all your might, and you have carried it out. I wish that all had done so. It is a great advantage to a minister to commence his public life in a small village, where he can have time and quiet for steady reading; that man is wise who avails himself of the golden opportunity. We ought not only to think of what we can now do for God, but of what we may yet be able to do if we improve ourselves. No man should ever dream that his education is complete:. I know that my friend Mr. Rogers, though he has passed his eightieth year, is still a student, and perhaps has more of the true student spirit about him now than ever: will any of the younger sort sit down in self-content? We shall continue to learn even in Heaven, and shall still be looking deeper and deeper into the abyss of Divine love: it were ill to talk of perfect knowledge here below. If a man says, “I am fully equipped for my work, and need learn no more; I have moved here after having been three years in the last place, and I have quite a stock of sermons, so that I am under no necessity to read any more;” I would say to him, “My dear friend, may the Lord give you some brains, for you talk like one who is deficient in that department.” A brain is a very hungry thing indeed, and he who possesses it must constantly feed it by reading and thinking, or it will shrivel up or fall asleep. It is the child of the horseleech, and it crieth evermore, “Give, give.” Do not starve it. If such mind-hunger never happens to you, I suspect that you have no mind of any consequence.
But, brethren, see to it that you have, in a sevenfold degree, light of a higher kind. You are to be, above all things, students of the Word of God; this, indeed, is a main point of your avocation. If we do not study Scripture, and those books that will help us to understand theology, we are but wasting time while we pursue other researches. We should judge him to be a foolish fellow who, while preparing to be a physician, spent all his time in studying astronomy. There is a connection of some kind between stars and human bones; but a man could not learn much of surgery from Arcturus or Orion. So, there is a connection between every science and religion, and I would advise you to obtain much general knowledge; but universal information will be a poor substitute for a special and prayerful study of the Scriptures, and of the doctrines contained in the revelation of God. We are to study men and our own hearts; we ought to sit as disciples in the schools of providence and experience. Some ministers grow fast because the great Teacher chastens them sorely, and the chastening is sanctified; but others learn nothing by their experience, they blunder out of one ditch into another, and learn nothing by their difficulties but the art of creating fresh ones. I suggest to you all the prayer of a Puritan who, during a debate, was observed to be absorbed in writing. His friends thought he was taking notes of his opponent’s speech; but when they got hold of his paper, they found nothing but these words, “More light, Lord! More light, Lord!” Oh, for more light from the great Father of lights!
Let not this light be only that of knowledge, but seek for the light of joy and cheerfulness. There is power in a happy ministry. A lugubrious face, a mournful voice, a languor of manner, — none of these things commend us to our hearers; especially do they fail to attract the young. Certain strange minds find their happiness in misery, but they are not numerous. I once had a letter from a man, who told me that he came to the Tabernacle, but as soon as he entered, he felt that it could not be the house of God because there were so many present, and “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” When he looked at me, he felt sure that I was unsound in the faith, for I should not look so cheerful in the face, neither should I be so bulky in person, if I belonged to the tried people of God.
Worst of all, when he looked round upon the congregation, and saw their happy countenances, he said to himself, “These people know nothing about the depravity of their hearts, or the inward struggles of believers.” Then he informed me that he wended his way to a very small chapel, where he saw a minister, who looked as if he had been in the furnace; and though there were only eight persons present, they all looked so depressed that he felt quite at home. I suppose he sat down, and sang, — “My willing soul would stay In such a frame as this, And sit and sing herself away From everything like bliss.” I felt glad that the good man was enabled to enjoy a little comfortable misery with his brethren. I did not feel at all envious; nor do I think that such a ministry of misery will ever draw to itself a number that no man can number. The children of light prefer the joy of the Lord, for they find it to be their strength.
Get plenty of light, brethren, and when you have obtained it, give it out.
Never fall into the notion that mere earnestness will suffice without knowledge, and that souls are to be saved simply by our being zealous. I fear that we are more deficient in heat than in light; but, at the same time, that kind of fire which has no light in it is of a very doubtful nature, and cometh not from above. Souls are saved by truth which enters the understanding, and so reaches the conscience. How can the gospel save when it is not understood? The preacher may preach with a great deal of stamping, and hammering, and crying, and entreating; but the Lord is not in the wind, nor in the fire; — the still small voice of truth is needed to enter the understanding, and thereby reach the heart. People must be taught. We must “go, and teach all nations,” making disciples of them; and I know of no way in which you can save men without teaching on your part, and discipleship on theirs.
Some preachers, though they know a great deal, do not teach much, because they use such an involved style. Recollect that you are addressing people who need to be taught like children; for, though they are grown up, the major part of our hearers are still in a state of childhood as to the things of God; and if they are to receive the truth, it must be made very plain, and packed up so as to be easily carried away, and laid up in the memory.
Therefore, brethren, give forth much holy instruction. Some give little instruction because of their involved style; but many fail for other reasons, and mainly because they aim at something else. Talleyrand defines a metaphysician as a man who is very clever in drawing black lines upon a black ground. I should like to draw black lines upon a white ground, or else white lines on a black ground, so that they could be seen; but certain preachers are so profound that no one understands them. On the other hand, have you not heard sermons with great oratorical display about them, and nothing more? You have looked on while the angel wrought wondrously. The preacher has been like Blondin on the tight-rope; and as we have looked at him, we have trembled, lest he should never reach the end of his lofty period. Yet he has balanced himself admirably, and moved along in his elevated position in a marvelous manner. But, when all is over, your mind is unsatisfied, for these acrobatic feats of rhetoric do not feast the soul. Brethren, we must not make it our aim to be grand orators.
Certain men are eloquent by nature, and it is not possible for them to be otherwise than oratorical, any more than for nightingales to help singing sweetly; these I do not blame, but admire. It is not the duty of the nightingale to bring down its voice to the same tone as that of the sparrow.
Let it sing sweetly if it can do so naturally. God deserves the best oratory, the best logic, the best metaphysics, the best of everything; but if ever rhetoric stands in the way of the instruction of the people, a curse on rhetoric! If any educational attainment, or any natural gift which we possess, should make it less easy for the people to understand us, let it perish! May God rend away from our thought and style everything which darkens the light, even though it should be like a costly veil of rarest lace!
May we use great plainness of speech, that gospel light may shine out very clearly from our ministry!
At this time, there is a great necessity for giving much light, for a fierce attempt is being made to quench or dim the light. Many are scattering darkness on all sides. Therefore, brethren, keep the light burning in your churches, keep the light burning in your pulpits, and hold it forth in the face of men who love darkness because it favors their aims. Teach the people all truth, and let not our distinctive opinions be concealed. There are sheepstealers about, who come forth in the night, and run away with our people because they do not know our principles, — the principles of Nonconformists, the principles of Baptists, or even the principles of Christianity. Our hearers have a general idea of these things, but not enough to protect them from deceivers. We are beset, not only by skeptics, but by certain brethren who devour the feeble. Do not leave your children to wander out without the guardianship of holy knowledge, for there are seducers abroad who will mislead them if they can. They will begin by calling them “dear” this, and “dear” that, and end by alienating them from those who brought them to Jesus. If you lose your members, let it be in the light of day, and not through their ignorance. These kidnappers dazzle weak eyes with flashes of novelty, and turn weak heads with wonderful discoveries and marvelous doctrines, which all tend towards division, and bitterness, and the exaltation of their own sect. Keep the light of truth burning, and thieves will not dare to plunder your house.
Oh, for a church of believers in Jesus who know why they believe in Him; persons who believe the Bible, and know what it contains; who believe the doctrines of grace, and know the bearings of those truths; who know where they are, and what they are, and who therefore dwell in the light, and cannot he deceived by the prince of darkness! Do, dear friends, — I speak specially to the younger brethren among us, — do let there be plenty of teaching in your ministry. I fear that sermons are too often judged by their words rather than by their sense. Let it not be so with you. Feed the people always with knowledge and understanding, and let your preaching be solid, containing food for the hungry, healing for the sick, and light for those who sit in darkness.
II. I have now, in the second place, to plead with you that you gather and use in your ministry much heavenly FIRE. Upon this subject, you will perhaps expect me to speak guardedly; for you have seen the mischief of wild fire, and the perils of strange fire, and possibly you are anxious; to know what I think of a certain “army” which abounds in fire, and blazes away most marvelously. I shall express no opinion, except that none of the supposed evils of fire are equal to those of lukewarmness. Even fanaticism is to be preferred to indifference. I had sooner risk the dangers of a tornado of religious excitement than see the air grow stagnant with a dead formality. It is far better for people to be too hot than to be lukewarm. “I would thou wert cold or hot” is Christ’s word still, and it applies to preachers as well as to others. When a man is freezingly cold in the things of Christ, we know where he is; and if another is red-hot, or even at a white heat, and is thought to be too enthusiastic, we know where he is; but when a minister preaches in such a way that, at the close of his sermon, you say, “This is neither cold nor hot,” you go away feeling that you have had enough, or even too much of it. There was nothing to excite you; you could almost wish to have been made angry rather than to have been lulled by such discoursing. A lukewarm sermon sickens every healthy mind.
Nor is this evil to be found in the pulpit alone. I should gravely question whether, if an angel were to take a thermometer, and go round the Dissenting churches in London, he would not find a large proportion of them certainly not cold, most decidedly not hot, but between the two. How is it with you, dear brother? Do you say, “Well, I am not the warmest of all, but then I am not the coldest of all”? Then I have a suspicion as to your temperature; but I leave the matter to your own judgment, only remarking that I have never yet met with fire that is moderately hot. Should any of you discover such an article, you will be wise to patent it, for it might be of service in many ways. The fire with which I have been acquainted has been such that I have never given it my hand without remembering its warm embrace. Fire has never yet learned moderation. I am told that it is wrong to go to extremes, and upon that ground fire is certainly guilty; for it is not only intensely hot, but it has a tendency to consume and destroy without limit. When it once commenced with this city, in the olden time, it left little of it but ashes; there was no keeping it within bounds. May God grant us grace to go to extremes in His service! May we be filled with an unrestrainable zeal for His glory! May the Lord answer us by fire, and may that fire fall first on the ministers, and then upon the people! We ask for the true Pentecostal flame, and not for sparks kindled by human passion. A live coal from off the altar is our need, and nothing can supply its place; but this we must have, or our ministry will be in vain.
Brethren, we must, first of all, take care that we have the fire burning in our own souls. I am happy to know that there are very few, if any, among you who are utterly cold; for you go to be warmed into earnestness if we set about it aright. It is very hard to warm a stone. You may clothe a man in blankets until he is fairly warm, because there is life in him; but you cannot heat a stone in that fashion. Life always begets a measure of warmth, and the possibility of more; and as you have life, there is within you the capacity for heat. Some preachers are of such a cold nature that no known means could warm them.
The attempt to find heat in some men’s sermons reminds me of AEsop’s fable of the apes and the glowworm. The apes found a glowworm shining on the bank, and straightway gathered round it to warm themselves. They placed sticks over it, and tried to make a fire; but it did not burn. It was a very pretty thing, and looked like flame; but they could not warm their cold hands with its cold light. So have I known ministers, whose light was destitute of heat; and, consequently, the poor sticks around them have never kindled into a flame, nor have frozen hearts been melted by their influence.
It is dreadful work to listen to a sermon, and feel all the while as if you were sitting out in a snowstorm, or dwelling in a house of ice, clear but cold, orderly but killing. You have said to yourself, “That was a welldivided and well-planned sermon, but I cannot make out what was the matter with it;” the secret being that there was the wood, but no fire to kindle it. A great sermon without heart in it reminds one of those huge furnaces in Wales, which have been permitted to go out; they are a pitiful sight. We prefer a sermon in which there may be no vast talent, and no great depth of thought; but what there is has come fresh from the crucible, and, like molten metal, burns its way. I once knew a lad who, when he used to go home from the smithy where he worked, was roughly handled by the boys of the village, till his master suggested to him a plan of defense, which was wonderfully efficacious. He took a rod of iron, and just before he started to go home, he blew up the fire, and made the iron hot. When the boys came round him, he warned them not to touch his stick; and after once feeling it, they obeyed the admonition, and respectfully kept their distance. I do not quote the example with any commendation of the actual fact, but with this moral in view, — heat your sermon red-hot, and it will be likely to be remembered by all who come into contact with it.
Everything gives way before fire.
Energy still remains an essential, whatever else in oratory may have changed since the days of old. It is said that the oft-quoted reply of Demosthenes to the question, “What is the first thing in oratory?” was not “Action,” but “Energy.” What is the second thing? “Energy.” What is the third thing? “Energy.” I will not pretend to decide the classical question; but I am sure that, as a matter of fact, energy is the main thing in the human side of preaching. Like the priests at the altar, we can do nothing without fire. Brethren, speak because you believe the gospel of Jesus, speak because you feel its power, speak under the influence of the truth which you are delivering, speak with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven, and the result will not be doubtful.
Let it be carefully remembered that our flame must be kindled from on high. Nothing is more to be despised than a mere painted fire, the simulation of earnestness. Sooner let us have an honest death than a counterfeit life. The imitation of Baxter is detestable; but to be like Baxter is seraphic. If you would be like Whitefield, I would say be Whitefield. Let the fire be kindled by the Holy Ghost, and not by animal passion, the desire of honor, emulation of others, or the excitement of attending meetings. Let the terrible example of Nadab and Abihu for ever put away strange fire from our censers. Burn because you have been in solemn fellowship with the Lord our God.
Recollect also, that the fire which you and I need will consume us if we truly possess it. “Spare yourself,” may be whispered by friends; but it will not be heeded when this fire is burning. We have given ourselves up to the work of God, and we cannot go back. We desire to be whole burnt offerings and complete sacrifices to God, and we dare not shun the altar. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” We can only produce life in others by the wear and tear of our own being. This is a natural and spiritual law, — that fruit can only come of the seed by its spending and being spent even to self-exhaustion.
Why are many earnest ministers worn and weary till heart and brain give way? They would be of little use if they did not run such a risk. All men, who are eminently useful, are made to feel their weakness in a supreme degree. Can the Spirit of God, even the Infinite Deity, ride in such frail chariots as these, without straining the axle, and making the whole machine to quiver, as if it would be utterly dissolved beneath its sacred burden?
When God visits us with soul-saving power, it is as though devouring flame came forth from Heaven, and made its abode in our bosoms; and where this is the case, there may well be a melting away of all strength. Yet let it be so: we humbly invite the sacred burnings. Herod was eaten of worms, being cursed of God; but to be consumed by God for His own service, is to be blessed to the full. We have a choice between these two, to be eaten up by our corruptions, or by the zeal of God’s house. It needs no hesitation, the choice of every man among us is to be wholly the Lord’s, — ardently, passionately, vehemently the Lord’s servants, let the Divine fervor cost us what it may of brain, and heart, and life. Our only hope of honor, and glory, and immortality lies in the fulfillment of our dedication unto God; as devoted things, we must be consumed with fire, or else be rejected. For us to turn aside from our life-work, and to seek distinction elsewhere, is absolute folly; a blight will be upon us, we shall not succeed in anything but the pursuit of God’s glory through the teaching of the Word. “This people have I formed for Myself,” saith God; “they shall shew forth My praise;” and if we will not do this, we shall do less than nothing.
For this one thing we are created; and if we miss this, we shall live in vain.
Good Dr. Wayland., the other day, walking in my garden, saw the swans out of the water, and he remarked that they were the true representation of persons who are out of their proper sphere, and attempt to do what they were never made for. How ungainly the swans are on land, they waddle in a ridiculous manner; but as soon as they are in the water, how gracefully they glide along; each one is the model of a ship, the image of beauty; every line about it is perfect. So is it with a man who is content to find in the ministry “waters to swim in.” As God’s sent servant, he is everything that is beautiful; but as soon as he dabbles in trade, or becomes a secular lecturer, or seeks his own aggrandizement, he ceases to be admirable, he often becomes notorious, and is always awkward. Brethren, you are not meant for anything but God; therefore, surrender yourselves to God, and find in Him your wealth, your honor, and your all. If you do this, you shall be the head, and not the tail; but if you start aside, you shall be lightly esteemed. Let the fire of perfect consecration be heaped upon you, for so shall you glow and shine like molten silver, which brightens amid the heat.
Let us not subject ourselves to the shame and eternal contempt which will be the portion of those who quit the service of their Redeemer for the bondage of self-seeking. Jesus said to His disciples, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
III. The next thing necessary to us is FAITH; I might say the first, second, third, and last thing is FAITH. “Without faith it is impossible to please God;” and if we are pleasing God, it is not by our talent, but by our faith.
Just now, we much need faith in the form of fixity of belief. We know more than we did some time ago; at least, I hope we do. I just now heard one of you say to another brother, “How broad you get!” Well, we do widen out; but not as some men; for we are not of the Broad School, who believe little or nothing aright because they desire to believe everything.
We have cast our anchor, it has taken a firm grip; we have ceased to drift; we remain at rest. Some men have no creed, or, if they have, it is altered so often that it is of no use to them. It must be like the blanket of a gentleman who came from the Emerald Isle, of which he said, “See here! Our skipper has given me a shamefully bad blanket. Just look at it: it is too long at the top, and it is too short at the bottom; it gets over my head, and yet my feet are always cold. I cut a whole foot off the top, and I sewed it on to the bottom, but it is not altered a bit; it still comes over my eyes, and is too short to cover my feet.” That is what certain “thinkers” do, with their creed; they keep cutting it off at one end, and putting it on at the other, but it never gets right; it is always forming, never formed. Modern creeds are like the clothes of Italian peasants, which I have gazed upon with wondering inquiry. It would puzzle the most learned geologist to discover the primary formation of a pair of trousers which have been patched and mended with cloth of all patterns and colors from generation to generation.
Such and so varied are some men’s beliefs and unbeliefs; an agglomeration of philosophic rags, metaphysical tatters, theological remnants, and heretical cast-offs. Certain thinkers have reached the blessed ultimatum of believing nothing at all with anything like certainty of belief.
When these “cultivated” persons speak of us, they manifest great scorn, and affect to believe that we are natural fools. Ah, dear! People are not always what they are thought to be, and it may happen that a man sees himself as in a glass when he thinks he is looking out of the window at a neighbor. It is a sign of great weakness when persons are full of contempt for others. If, in any Review or pamphlet, a writer parades his culture, you may be sure that he has been lying fallow of late, and his affectations are the weeds which have come of it. If it came to a fair contest upon the matter of education and culture, the orthodox would be quite able to hold their own. Boasting is sorry work; but, sometimes, persons must be answered according to their folly, and I say boldly that, in any sort of mental tournament, we should not tremble to tilt with the men of “modern thought.” Be it so or not, it is ours to believe. We believe that, when the Lord our God gave forth a revelation, He knew His own mind, and that He expressed Himself in the best and wisest manner, and in terms than can be understood by those who are teachable and truthful. We therefore believe that no new revelation is needed, and that the idea of other light to come is practically unbelief in the light which now is, seeing the light of truth is one. We believe that, though the Bible has been twisted and turned about by sacrilegious hands, it is still the infallible revelation of God. It is a main part of our religion humbly to accept what God has revealed. Perhaps the highest form of adoration possible, on this side the veil, is the bowing of our entire mental and spiritual being before the revealed mind of God; the kneeling of the understanding in that sacred presence whose glory causes angels to veil their faces. Let those who please to do so, worship science, reason, and their own clear judgments; it is our delight to prostrate ourselves before the Lord our God, and to say, “This God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death.”
Brethren, rally to the old standard. Fight to the death for the old gospel, for it is your life. Whatever forms of expression you may use as you advance in knowledge, ever keep the cross of Jesus Christ in the forefront, and let all the blessed truths which gather around it be heartily maintained.
We must have faith, not only in the form of fixity of creed, but also in the shape of constant dependence upon God. If I were asked what is the sweetest frame within the whole compass of human feeling, I should not speak of a sense of power in prayer, or abundant revelation, or rapturous joys, or conquest of evil spirits; but I should mention, as the most exquisite delight of my being, a condition of conscious dependence upon God. It has been often associated with great pain of body and deep humiliation of spirit, but it is inexpressibly delightful to lie passive in the hand of love, to die into the life of Christ. It is blessed to feel that: you do not know, but your Heavenly Father knows; that you cannot speak, but that “we have an Advocate;” that you can scarcely lift a hand, but that He worketh all your works in you. The entire submission of our soul to our Lord, the full content of the heart with God’s will and way, the sure reliance of the mind upon the Lord’s presence and power, — this is the nearest approach to Heaven that I know; and it is better than rapture, for one can abide in it without strain or reaction. “Oh, to be nothing, nothing; Only to lie at His feet!” It is not so sublime a feeling as soaring aloft on the wings of eagles; but for sweetness, — deep, mysterious, indescribable, — it bears the palm. It is a blessedness which can bear to be thought of, a joy which never seems to be a stolen one; for surely a poor, frail child of God has an unquestioned right to depend upon his great Father, a right to be nothing in the presence of the all-supporting One.
I love to preach in such a mood, not as though I was about to preach at all, but hoping that the Holy Spirit would speak through me. Thus to conduct prayer-meetings, and church-meetings, and all sorts of business, will be found to be our wisdom and our joy. We generally make our worst blunders about things that are perfectly easy, when the thing is so plain that we do not ask God to guide us, because we think our own common sense will be sufficient, and so we commit grave errors; but in the difficulties, the extreme difficulties, which we take before God, He gives young men prudence, and teaches youths knowledge and discretion. Dependence upon God is the flowing fountain of success. That true saint of God, George Muller, has always struck me, when I have heard him speak, as being such a simple, child-like being in his dependence upon God; but, alas! the most of us are far too great for God to use us; we can preach as well as anybody, make a sermon with anybody, — and so we fail. Take care, brethren; for if we think we can do anything of ourselves, all we shall get from God will be the opportunity to try. He will thus prove us, and let us see our inability. A certain alchemist, who waited upon Pope Leo X., declared that he had discovered how to transmute the baser metals into gold. He expected to receive a sum of money for his discovery, but Leo was no such simpleton; he merely gave him a huge purse in which to keep the gold which he would make. There was wisdom as well as sarcasm in the present. That is precisely what God does with proud men; He lets them have the opportunity to do what they boasted of being able to do. I never heard that so much as a solitary gold piece was dropped into Leo’s purse, and I am sure you will never be spiritually rich by what you can do in your own strength. Be stripped, brother, and then God may be pleased to clothe you with honor, but not till then.
It is essential that we should exhibit faith in the form of confidence in God.
Brothers, it would be a great calamity if it could be said of any one of you, “He had an excellent moral character, and remarkable gifts; but he did not trust God.” Faith is a chief necessary. “Above all, taking the shield of faith,” was the apostolic injunction. Alas! some men go to the fight, but leave their shield at home. It would be dreadful to think of a sermon as being all that a sermon ought to be in every respect except that the preacher did not trust in the Holy Spirit to bless it to the conversion of souls; such a discourse is vain. No sermon is what it ought to be if faith be absent: as well say that a body is in health when life is extinct. It is admirable to see a man humbly conscious of his own weakness, and yet bravely confident in the Lord’s power to work through his infirmity. We may glory at large when God is our glory. Attempting great things, we shall not overdo ourselves in the attempt; and expecting great things, we shall not be disappointed in our expectation. Nelson was asked whether a certain movement of his ships was not perilous, and he replied, “Perilous it may be, but in naval affairs nothing is impossible, and nothing is improbable.” I make bold to assert that, in the service of God, nothing is impossible, and nothing is improbable. Go in for great things, brethren, in the Name of God; risk everything on His promise, and according to your faith shall it be done unto you.
The common policy of our churches is that of great prudence. We do not, as a rule, attempt anything beyond our strength. We measure means, and calculate possibilities with economical accuracy; then we strike off a large discount for contingencies, and a still larger percentage as provision for our ease, and so we accomplish little because we have no idea of doing much. I would to God we had more “pluck.” I know of no fitter word to describe what I mean; though the word may better suit the camp than the church, we will for once borrow from the barracks. Bear in mind that there is nothing like courage even in ordinary things. Sir Richard Sutton, when he was ambassador to Prussia, was taken by Frederick the Great to see his regiment of giants, every one of whom stood six feet six in his shoes. The king said to him, “Do you think any regiment in the English army could fight my men, man for man?” Sir Richard answered, “Please your majesty, I do not know whether the same number could beat your giants, but I know that half the number would try at it.”
Let us attempt great things, for those who believe in the Name of the Lord succeed beyond all expectation. By faith, the worker lives. The right noble Earl of Shaftesbury said, the other afternoon, of Ragged-school teachers and their work, “It was evident to all thinking persons that we had a great danger in the ignorance of the children of the lower classes, and so the senators began to think of it, and the philosophers began to think of it, and good men of all sorts began to think of it; but while they were all engaged in thinking, a few plain, humble people opened Ragged-schools, and did it, This is the kind of faith of which we need more and more; we need so to trust in God as to put our hand to the plough in His Name. It is idle to spend time in making and altering plans, and doing nothing else; the best plan for doing God’s work is to do it. Brothers, if you do not believe in anybody else, believe in God without stint. Believe up to the hilt. Bury yourselves, both as to your weakness and your strength, in simple trust in God. “Oh!” said one, “as to that man, there is no telling what mad thing he will start next.” Let the sneer pass, though it may be as well to say, “I am not mad, most noble Festus; but carry out works of truth and soberness.”
The end of all things will show that faith in God is sanctified common sense, without an atom of folly in it. To believe God’s Word, is the most reasonable thing we can do; it is the plainest course that we can take, and the safest policy that we can adopt, even as to taking care of ourselves; for Jesus says, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it.” Let us stake all upon the faithfulness of God, and we shall never be ashamed or confounded, world without end.
You must also have faith in God in the form of expectancy. Our brethren Smith and Fullerton would not have a blessing on their work if they did not expect the blessing to come; but expecting the blessing, they provide an inquiry-room, and persons to look after the converts. Shall we commence farming, and provide no barn? In many a village, the Lord has saved souls under the preaching of the gospel, but the minister has never said, “I shall be in the vestry on such-and-such an evening to see inquirers,” or, “I shall stop after the sermon to talk with the anxious.” He has never given the people a chance of telling what the Lord has done for them; and if he should hear that a dozen people have been convinced of sin, he would be surprised, and fear that they were hypocrites. We have not so learned Christ. We expect to take fish in our nets, and to reap harvests in our fields. Is it so with you, my brethren? Let it be more so. “Open thy mouth wide,” saith the Lord, “and I will fill it.” So pray and so preach that, if there are no conversions, you will be astonished, amazed, and brokenhearted.
Look for the salvation of your hearers as much as the angel who will sound the last trump will look for the waking of the dead. Believe your own doctrine! Believe your own Savior! Believe in the Holy Ghost who dwells in you! For thus shall you see your hearts’ desire, and God shall be glorified.
IV. It is time for me to talk of the fourth thing, namely, LIFE. The preacher must have life; he must have life in himself. Are you all alive, my brother? Of course you have been quickened as a plain believer; but, as a minister, are you altogether alive? If there is a bone in a man’s body which is not alive, it becomes the nidus of disease; for instance, a decayed tooth may cause more serious injury than most people imagine. In a living system, a dead portion is out of place, and is sure sooner or later to create intense pain. It is a wise arrangement that it should be so, for decay has a tendency to spread, and mischief might be caused imperceptibly if pain did not sound the alarm bell. I hope that any part of our soul which is not truly alive may pain us till the evil is removed.
Some brethren never seem to be thoroughly alive. Their heads are alive, they are intelligent and studious; but, alas! their hearts are inactive, cold, lethargic. Many preachers never spy out opportunities, for death seems to have sealed up their eyes; and their tongue also is not more than half quickened, so that they mumble and stumble, and all around them sleep rules the hour. I have been told that, if certain preachers would only for once stamp a foot, or lift a handkerchief, or do anything out of their regular way, it would be a relief to their people. I hope none of you have become quite so mechanical and monotonous as that; but I know that some are heavy and yet not weighty, solemn and yet not impressive. My brother, I want you to be alive from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head, alive in brain and heart, in tongue and hand, in eye and ear. The living God should be served by living men.
Labor to be alive in all your duties. John Bradford, the martyr, used to say, “I never go away from any part of the service of God till I feel thoroughly alive in it, and know that the Lord is with me in it.” Carry out this rule conscientiously. In confessing sin, go on confessing till you feel that your tears have washed the Savior’s feet. In seeking pardon, continue to seek till the Holy Spirit bears witness to your peace with God. In preparing a sermon, wait upon the Lord until you have communion with Christ in it, until the Holy Spirit causes you to feel the power of the truth which you are to deliver. “Son of man, eat this roll.” Before you attempt to give out the Word to others, get it into yourself. Is there not too much dead praying, and dead preaching, and dead church work of all sorts? Do you not know churches which are like the ghostly ship in the legend, — the captain, the mate, and all the crew are dead men? “The mariners all do work the ropes As they’ve been wont to do; They raise their limbs like lifeless tools, — They are a ghastly crew. “The body of my deacon’s self Stands by me knee to knee:
The body and I pull at one rope, But nothing of life have we.” This is a grim business, but I have beheld such a sight, though never have I seen a ghost. I recollect, long ago, preaching for a church which was almost defunct externally, and altogether defunct internally; and after the service, during which I felt a terrible chill of soul, I went into the vestry, and there I saw two important persons leaning heavily against the mantelpiece. I said to them, “Are you the deacons of the church?” They answered, “Yes, sir.” I replied, “I thought so!” I did not explain further.
These pillars of the church evidently needed propping up; but sluggish ease will not do in the work of the Lord.
Brethren, we must have life more abundantly, each one of us, and it must flow out into all the duties of our office: warm spiritual life must be manifest in the prayer, in the singing, in the preaching, and even in the shake of the hand and the good word after service. I delight in these Conferences because they are living assemblies; the room does not feel like a vault, nor do you salute each other like a set of living skeletons without hearts, or a company of respectable mandarins fresh from the tea-shops, who nod and bow mechanically. I cannot endure meetings where the only exhibition of life is seen in heated discussions over points of order, amendments, and movings of “the previous question.” One marvels at the little things over which an assembly will waste hours of precious time, contending as if the destiny of the whole world and the fate of the starry heavens depended upon the debate. How the mountain heaves, but how small a mouse is born! Brethren, may you be alive, and keep alive, and disseminate your life! We read in Plato that the Egyptian priests said concerning the Greeks,” You Greeks are always youths, there is not an old man among you.” Neither, sirs, is there an old man among us at this hour; we are full of youth even unto this day, and if you want to see one whose vigor and cheerfulness prove that his grey hairs are all external, there sits the man [pointing to Mr. George Rogers]. It is a grand thing to be perpetually renewing your youth, never getting into the ruts, but making new tracks with your glowing wheels. Those who are old when they are young, are likely to be young when they are old. I like to see the liveliness of the child associated with the gravity of the father; but especially do I rejoice to see a godly man keep up the vivacity, the joy, the earnestness of his first love. It is a crime to permit our fires to burn low while experience yields us more and more abundant fuel. Be it ours to go from strength to strength, from life to more abundant life.
Be full of life at all times, and let that life be seen in your ordinary conversation. It is a shocking state of things when good people say, “Our minister undoes in the parlor what he has done in the pulpit; he preaches very well, but his life does not agree with his sermons:” Our Lord Jesus would have us perfect even as our Father who is in Heaven is perfect.
Every Christian should be holy; but we are laid under a sevenfold obligation to it: how can we expect the Divine blessing if it be not so? God help us so to live that we may be safe examples to our flocks!
In such a case, life will go out of us to others. The man whom God uses for quickening is the man who is himself quickened. May we and our people become like those ornamental waters which we have seen while traveling in foreign parts; the water leaps up as a fountain, and descends into a basin; when that basin is full, the crystal stream runs over the brink in a sparkling sheet, and rolls into another basin, and the process is repeated again and again till the result charms the eye. At our Conference, my brethren, may the living waters flow into us, and then flow from us till thousands shall receive a blessing, and communicate it to others! This is what your Lord desires, as He said, “He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” “This spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive.” God fill you to the brim, and cause you to overflow! This is essential: life we must have. If among us there is a slumbering brother, who does everything in a slow way, let him wake up. If anyone among us performs his duty in a lifeless manner, as if he were paid by the pound, and would not give half an ounce over, let him also wake up. Our work requires that we serve the Lord with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength. Ours is no place for half-heartedness. Go, ye dead ones, take a chaplain’s place at the cemetery, and bury your dead; but work among living men needs life, — vigorous, intense life. A corpse among angelic choirs would not be more out of place than a lifeless man in the gospel ministry. “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
V. The last thing, but not the least important, of which I have to speak, is\par LOVE. Assuredly, we must abound in love. It is a hard thing for some preachers to saturate and perfume their sermons with love; for their natures are hard, or cold, or coarse, or selfish. We are none of us all that we ought to be, but some are specially poverty-stricken in point of love. They do not “naturally care” for the souls of men, as Paul puts it. To all, but especially to the harder sort, I would say, — Be doubly earnest as to holy charity, for without this you will be no more than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
Love is power. The Holy Spirit, for the most part, works by our affection.
Love men to Christ; faith accomplishes much, but love is the actual instrument by which faith works out its desires in the Name of the Lord of love.
Brethren, love your work. You will never preach well unless you are enamored of it: you will never do well in any particular charge unless you love the people, and I would almost say the village and the meeting-house.
I would have you believe that Slocum-in-the-Marsh is a gem among villages. Think that London may be all very well as a city, but as a village, Slocum bears the palm. Even your chapel, with all its plainness, should have charms for you: be of opinion that the Tabernacle is very well in its way, but that it has great deficiencies about it; that it is too big, for one thing, — at least, too big for you. Your meeting-house holds only three hundred and twenty; but, in your judgment, that is quite as large a number as one man can see after with any hope of success; at least, it involves a responsibility quite as large as you desire to bear. When a mother’s love to her children leads her to believe that they are the sweetest in the parish, she takes more care in their washing and their dressing; if she thought them ugly, troublesome beings, she would neglect them; and I am sure that, until we heartily love our work, and love the people with whom we are working, we shall not accomplish much.
I can truthfully say that I do not know anybody in all the world with whom I would like to change places. “Ah!” say you, “that is very likely, for you have a fine position.” I am quite of that opinion; but I thought just the same of my little pastorate at Waterbeach, and it was with the utmost reluctance that I removed from the first to the second. I still retain the belief that there were people in my first congregation whose like I shall never see again, and that, as a position of usefulness, there are great attractions about that Cambridgeshire village. It is a rule to which I know of no exception that, to prosper in any work, you must have an enthusiasm for it.
You must have also intense love to the souls of men, if you are to influence them for good. Nothing can compensate for the absence of this. Soul- winning must be your passion, you must be born to it; it must be the very breath of your nostrils, the only thing for which you count life worth the having. We must hunt after souls, even as the Swiss hunter pursues the chamois because the spirit of the chase has mastered him.
Above all, we must feel an intense love to God. Our dear brother, who led us in prayer this morning, rightly spoke of the power which girds us when we burn with love to God. Why is it that so many say to children and young people, “You must love Jesus in order to be saved “? That is not the gospel. The gospel is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” We are careful to state the matter correctly to the grown people; why give it inaccurately to the young? If we make a difference at all, it will be wiser to tell the children to believe, and the old people to love: the error will be less injurious, for love is the great lack of most men. The holy grace of love needs to be more preached among us, and more felt by us. “Oh!” said a woman, when she was speaking of the Lord to her minister, “He has heard my prayer many a time, and I can have what I want of Him, for, by His grace, I am very thick with Him.” She meant that communion had wrought sweet fellowship, and so her prayers were heard. Oh, that we lived on familiar terms with the Well-beloved, and felt His love within our bosoms always! Love to God will help a man to persevere in service when otherwise he would have given up his work. “The love of Christ constraineth us,” said one whose heart was all his Master’s. I heard one say, the other day, that “the love of Christ ought to constrain us.” This is true, but Paul did not so much speak of a duty as of a fact; he said, “the love of Christ constraineth us.”
Beloved brethren, if you are filled with love to your work, and love to souls, and love to God, you will gladly endure many self-denials, which else would be unbearable. The poverty of our country brethren is very trying, and ought by all means to be relieved; but we may well feel proud that so many men are forthcoming who, for the sake of preaching the gospel of Christ, are willing to leave remunerative callings, and endure hardness. Other denominations might pay them better, but they spurn the golden bribe, and remain faithful to Christ and to the ordinances as they were delivered. All honor to those lifelong martyrs, who put up with sore privations for the sake of Christ and His Church! The devil once met a Christian man, so I have heard, and said to him, “You call yourself a servant of God; what do you do more than I do? You boast that you fast, so do I; for I neither eat nor drink. You do not commit adultery; neither do I.” The fiend mentioned a long list of sins of which he is incapable, from which he could therefore claim exemption. The saint at last said to him, “I do one thing which thou never didst; I deny myself.” That is the point in which the Christian comes out; he denies himself for Christ’s sake.
Believing in Jesus, he counts all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, his Lord. Brethren, do not leave your charges because the stipend is small. Your poor people must be looked after by somebody. Do not despair when times are hard, for they will be better by-and-by; and, meanwhile, your Heavenly Father knows your need. We have heard of men who have remained in plague-stricken cities, when others fled, because they could be of service to the sick.
Abide, then, with your people when work fails them; be as faithful to your God as many a man has been faithful to his philanthropy. If you can anyhow manage to tide over the present distress, stick to the people. God will help you, and reward you, if you have faith in Him. May the Lord confirm your confidence, and comfort you in your tribulations!
Go on, brethren, preaching the same gospel; but preach it with more faith, and preach it better every day. Do not draw back: your place is to the front. Qualify yourselves for larger spheres, you who are in little places; but do not neglect your studies to look after better positions. Be prepared for an opening when it comes, and rest assured that the office will come to the man who is fit for the office. We are not so cheap that we need go hawking ourselves in every market; the churches are always on the lookout for really efficient: preachers. Men whose fitness for the ministry is doubtful are at a great discount nowadays; but for men of ability and usefulness there is great demand.
You cannot hide a candle under a bushel, and you cannot keep a really able man in an insignificant position. Patronage is of the smallest importance; fitness for the work, grace, ability, earnestness, and a loving disposition soon push the man into his place. God will bring His servant into his true position, if he has but faith to trust in Him. I put this word at the tail-end of my address, because I know the discouragements under which you labor.
Do not be afraid of hard work for Christ; a terrible reckoning awaits those who have an easy time in the ministry, but a great reward is in reserve for those who endure all things for the elect’s sake. You will not regret your poverty when Christ cometh, and calleth His own servants to Him. It will be a sweet thing to have died at your post, not turning aside for wealth, or running from Dan to Beersheba to obtain a better salary, but stopping where your Lord bade you hold the fort.
Brethren, consecrate yourselves to God afresh. Bring hither new cords; and bind the sacrifice again to the altar! Struggle as it may, anxious to escape the knife, fearful of the fire, yet bind it with cords, even with cords to the horns of the altar; for until death, and in death, we are the Lord’s. Entire surrender of everything to Jesus is our watchword this day. Only may the Lord accept the living sacrifice, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.