THE minister is not responsible for his success. He is responsible for what he preaches; he is accountable for his life and actions; but he is not responsible for other people. If I do but preach God’s word, if there never were a soul saved, the King would say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” If I do but tell my message, if none should listen to it, He would say: — “Thou hast fought the good fight: receive thy crown.” You hear the words of the text: “We are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, as well in them that perish, as in them that are saved.” This will appear, if I just tell you what a gospel minister is called in the Bible. Sometimes he is called an ambassador. Now, for what is an ambassador responsible? He goes to a country as a plenipotentiary; he carries terms of peace to the conference; he uses all his talents for his master; he tries to show that the war is inimical to the prosperity of the different countries; he endeavors to bring about peace; but the other kings haughtily refuse it. When he comes home does his master say, “Why did not you make peace?” “Why, my Lord,” he would say, “I told them the terms; but they said nothing.” “Well, then,” he will say, “thou hast done thy duty; I am not to condemn thee if the war continues.” Again: the minister of the gospel is called a fisherman.
Now a fisherman is not responsible for the quantity of fish he catches, but for the way he fishes. That is a mercy for some ministers, I am sure, for they have neither caught fish, nor even attracted any round their nets. They have been spending all their life fishing with most elegant silk lines, and gold and silver hooks; they always use nicely polished phrases; but the fish will not bite for all that, whereas we of a rougher order have put the hook into the jaws of hundreds. However, if we cast the gospel net in the right place, even if we catch none, the Master will find no fault with us. He will say: “Fisherman! didst thou labor? Didst thou throw the net into the sea in the time of storms?” “Yes, my Lord, I did.” “What hast thou caught?” “Only one or two.” “Well, I could have sent thee a shoal, if it so pleased me; it is not thy fault; I give in my sovereignty where I please, or withhold when I choose; but as for thee, thou hast well labored, therefore there is thy reward.” Sometimes the minister is called a sower. Now, no farmer expects a sower to be responsible for the harvest; all he is responsible for is, does he sow the seed? and does he sow the right seed? If he scatters it on good soil, then he is happy; but if it falls by the way-side, and the fowls of the air devour it, who shall blame the sower? Could he help it? Nay, he did his duty; he scattered the seed broad-cast, and there he left it. Who is to blame? Certainly not the sower.
So if a minister comes to heaven with but one sheaf on his shoulder, his Master will say, “O reaper! once a sower! where didst thou gather thy sheaf?” “My Lord, I sowed upon the rock, and it would not grow; only one seed on a chance Sabbath-morning was blown a little awry by the wind, and it fell upon a prepared heart; and this is my one sheaf.” “Hallelujah!” the angelic choirs resound, “one sheaf from a rock is more honor to God than a thousand sheaves from a good soil; therefore, let him take his seat as near the throne as you man, who, stooping beneath his many sheaves, comes from some fertile land, bringing his sheaves with him.” I believe that if there are degrees in glory, they will not be in proportion to success, but in proportion to the earnestness of our endeavors. If we mean right, and if with all our heart we strive to do the right thing as ministers if we never see any effect, still shall we receive the crown. But how much more happy is the man who shall have it in heaven said to him: “He shines for ever, because He was wise, and won many souls unto righteousness.” It is always my greatest joy to believe, that if I should enter heaven, I shall in future days see heaven’s gates open, and in shall fly a cherub, who, looking me in the face, will smilingly pass along to God’s throne, and there bow down before Him; and when he has paid his homage and his adoration, he may fly to me, and though unknown, shall clasp my hand, and if there were tears in heaven, surely I should weep, and he would say: “Brother, from Thy lips I heard the word; Thy voice first admonished me of my sin; here I am, and Thou the instrument of my salvation.” And as the gates open one after another, still will they come in; souls ransomed, souls ransomed; and for each one of these a star; for each one of these another gem in the diadem of glory; for each one of them another honor, and another note in the song of praise. Blessed be that man that shall die in the Lord, and his works shall follow him; for thus saith the Spirit.
What will become of some good Christians if crowns in heaven are measured in value by the souls that are saved? Some of you will have a crown in heaven without a single star in it. I read a little while ago, a piece upon the starless crown in heaven — a man in heaven with a crown without a star! Not one saved by him! He will sit in heaven as happy as he can be, for sovereign mercy saved him; but oh! to be in heaven without a single star! Mother! what sayest thou to be in heaven without one of thy children to deck thy brow with a star? Minister! what wouldst thou say to be a polished preacher, and yet have no star? Writer! will it well become thee to have written even as gloriously as Milton, if thou shouldst be found in heaven without a star? I am afraid we pay too little regard to this. Men will sit down and write huge folios and tomes, that they may have them put in libraries for ever, and have their names handed down by fame! but how few are looking to win stars for ever in heaven! Toil on, child of God, toil on; for if thou wishest to serve God, thy bread cast upon the waters shall be found after many days. If thou sendest in the feet of the ox or the ass, thou shalt reap a glorious harvest in that day when He comes to gather in His elect. The minister is not responsible for his success.
But yet TO PREACH THE GOSPEL IS HIGH AND SOLEMN WORK. The minister has been very often degraded into a trade. In these days men are taken and made into ministers who would have made good captains at sea, who could have waited well at the counter, but who were never intended for the pulpit. They are selected by man; they are crammed with literature; they are educated up to a certain point; they are turned out ready dressed; and persons call them ministers. I wish them all God-speed, every one of them; for as good Joseph Irons used to say, “God be with many of them, if it be only to make them hold their tongues.” Man-made ministers are of no use in this world, and the sooner we get rid of them the better. Their way is this: they prepare their manuscripts very carefully, then read it on the Sunday most sweetly in sotto voce, and so the people go away pleased. But that is not God’s way of preaching. If so, I am sufficient to preach for ever.
I can buy manuscript sermons for a shilling; that is to say, provided they have been preached fifty times before, but if I use them for the first time the price is a guinea, or more. But that is not the way. Preaching God’s word is not what some seem to think, mere child’s play — a mere business or trade to be taken up by any one. A man ought to feel first that he has a solemn call to it; next, he ought to know that he really possesses the Spirit of God, and that when he speaks there is an influence upon him that enables him to speak as God would have him, otherwise out of the pulpit he should go directly; he has no right to be there, even if the living is his own property. He has not been called to preach God’s truth, and unto him God says: “What hast thou to do, to declare My statutes?”
What is there difficult about preaching God’s gospel? Well it must be somewhat hard; for Paul said: “Who is sufficient for these things?” And first I will tell you, it is difficult because it is so hard as not to be warped by your own prejudices in preaching the word. You want to say a stern thing; and your heart says: “Master! in so doing thou wilt condemn thyself;” then the temptation is not to say it. Another trial is, you are afraid of displeasing the rich in your congregations. You think: “If I say such-and-such a thing, so-and-so will be offended; such an one does not approve of that doctrine; I had better leave it out.” Or perhaps you will happen to win the applause of the multitude, and you must not say anything that will displease them, for if they cry, “Hosanna” to-day, they will cry, “Crucify, crucify,” tomorrow.
All these things work on a minister’s heart. He is a man, and he feels it. Then comes again the sharp knife of criticism, and the arrows of those who hate him and hate his Lord; and he cannot help feeling it sometimes. He may put on his armor, and cry, “I care not for your malice;” but there were seasons when the archers sorely grieved even Joseph. Then he stands in another danger, lest he should come out and defend himself, for he is a great fool whoever tries to do it. He who lets his detractors alone, and like the eagle cares not for the chattering of the sparrows, or like the lion will not turn aside to rend the snarling jackal — he is the man, and he shall be honored. But the danger is, we want to set ourselves right.
And oh! who is sufficient to steer clear from these rocks of danger? “Who is sufficient for these things?” To stand, up, and to proclaim, Sabbath after Sabbath, and week-day after week-day, “the unsearchable riches of Christ”