“HOW is it likely,” says one, “that we can hope to make an impression upon the present age? What means have we but the simple gospel of Jesus Christ?” We are certainly not among the wealthy, and we count not amongst us the great ones of the land. Our membership has always been, and still is, among the poor. How shall we expect to tell upon so huge a city as this, or to exert any influence upon so great a country; and, above all, how shall we make any impress upon the population of the whole globe? We are weak, but we are not weaker than the first disciples of Christ. Neither were they learned, nor were they the wealthy of the earth: fishermen, the most of them, by no means men of cultivated ability — their tramp was that of a legion that went forth to conquer as well as to fight.
Wherever they went and wielded the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, their enemies were put to confusion. It is true they died in the conflict. Some of them were slain by the sword, and others of them were rent in sunder by wild beasts; but in all these things they were more than conquerors through Him that loved them. The primitive Church did tell upon its age, and left a seed behind which the whole earth could not destroy; and so shall we by God’s grace if we are equally set upon it, equally filled with the divine life, equally resolved by any means and by all means to spread abroad the savor of Jesus Christ’s name; our weakness shall be our strength, for God shall make it to be the platform upon which the omnipotence of His grace shall be displayed. Keep together, keep close to Christ; close up your ranks. Heed the battle cry; hold fast the faith; quit yourselves like men in the conflict, and the gates of hall shall not prevail against you. Only may the King Himself lead us onward to the fray, and we shall not fear the result.
If we pant to see the Word of God increase, multitudes added to the disciples, and a great company of those who are least likely to be saved brought in, there must be an adequate instrumentality. Nothing can avail without the operation of the Holy Spirit and the smile from heaven. Paul planteth, Apollos watereth, and God giveth the increase. We must never begin our catalogue of outward means without referring to that blessed and mysterious potentate who abides in the Church, and without whom nothing is good, nothing efficient, nothing successful. “ Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly dove, With all Thy quickening powers.” This should be our first prayer whenever we attempt to serve God, for if not, we begin with pride, and can little hope to succeed by prowess. If we go the warfare at our own charges we must not marvel if we return stained with defeat. O Spirit of the living God, if it were not for Thy power we could not make the attempt, but when we rely upon Thee we go forward in confidence.
I have been struck lately, in looking through the history of the Reformation and of the times; before the Reformation, with the remarkable downrightness of the testimony of the early preachers, If you look at the life of Farren you find him not preaching about the gospel, but preaching the gospel. So it was with John Calvin. He is looked upon now, of course, as a theologian only, but he was really one of the greatest of gospel preachers. When Calvin opened the Book and took a text, you might be sure that he was about to preach “Through grace are ye saved, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” And it was the same with Luther.
Luther’s preaching was just the ringing of a big bell, the note of which was always, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and live! It is not of works, lest any man should boast, but by faith are ye saved, and by faith alone.” They spake this, and they spake it again; neither did they couch the doctrine in difficult words, but they labored with all their might, so to speak, that the plowman at the plow-tail should understand, and that the fish-wife should comprehend the truth. They did not aim at lofty periods and flowing eloquence; of rhetoric they had a most contemptible opinion, but they just dashed right on with this one truth, “He that believeth hath everlasting life;” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” If we are to see the Church of God really restored to her pristine glory, we must have back this plain, simple, gospel preaching. I do believe that the hiding of the cross beneath the veil of fine language and learned dissertation is half the cause of the spiritual destitution of our country. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
We must have not only plain preaching but plain teaching. Sunday-school teachers must teach this same gospel. A certain denomination has made the confession that after having had their schoolrooms crowded with children, they do not know that any of those children have afterwards come to be attendants at the places of worship. Miserable confession! Miserable teachers must they be! And have we not known teachers who believed in the doctrines of grace, and they would have fought earnestly for them, but in the schoolroom they have twaddled to the little children in this kind of way — “Be good boys and girls; keep the Sabbath; do not buy sweets on a Sunday; mind your fathers and your mothers; be good, and you will go to heaven!” — which is not true, and is not the gospel; for the same gospel is for little children as for grown-up men — not “Do this and live,” which is after the law that was given by Moses, but “Believe and live,” which is according to the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ. Teachers must inculcate the gospel if they are to see the salvation of their classes; the gospel, the whole gospel, and nothing but the gospel, for without this no great thing will be done.
And if we would see the gospel spread abroad in London as once it did in Geneva, as once, under John Knox, it died in Scotland, as it did in Luther’s day throughout Germany, we must have much holy living to back it all up.
After we have done the sermon, people say, “How about the people that attend there? What about the church-members, are they upright? Are they such people as you can trust? What about their homes? Do they make good husbands? Are they good servants? Are they kind masters?” People will be sure to inquire this, and if the report of our character be bad, it is all over with our testimony. The doctor may advertise, but if the patients are not cured, he is not likely to establish himself as being well skilled in his art; and the preacher may preach, but if his people do not love the gospel, they kick down with their feet what he builds up with his hands.
Yet all this would not suffice unless we add individual personal exertion.
According to Christ’s law, every Christian is to be a minister in his own sphere; every member of the Church is to be active in spreading the faith which was delivered not to the ministers, but delivered to the saints, to every one of them, that they might maintain it and spread it according to the gift which the Spirit has given them.
Shall I venture a parable? A certain band of men, like knights, had been exceedingly victorious in all their conflicts. They were men of valor and of indomitable courage; they had carried everything before them, and subdued province after province for their king. But on a sudden they said in the council-chamber, “We have at our head a most valiant warrior, one whose arm is stout enough to smite down fifty of his adversaries; would it not be better if, with a few such as he to go out to the fight, the mere men-at-arms who make up the ordinary ranks, were to stop at home? We should be much more at our ease; our horses would not so often be covered with foam, nor our armor be bruised in returning from the fray, and no doubt great things would be done.” Now, the foremost champions, with fear and trembling, undertook the task and went to the conflict, and they fought well, no one could doubt it; to the best of their ability they unhorsed their foe and they did great exploits. But still, from the very hour in which that scheme was planned and carried out, no city was taken, no province was conquered, and they met together and said, “How is this? Our former prestige is forgotten; our ranks are broken; our pennons are trailed in the dust; what is the cause of it?” When out spoke the champion, and said, “Of course it is so! How did you think that some twelve or fifteen of us could do the work of all the thousands? When you all went to the fight, and every man took his share, we dashed upon the foe like an avalanche, and crushed him beneath our tramp; but now that you stay at home and put us, but a handful, to do all the work, how can you expect that great things should be done?” So each man resolved to put on his helmet and his armor once again, and go to the battle, and so victory returned. We must not spare a single one, neither man nor woman, old nor young, rich nor poor, but you must each fight for the Lord Jesus according to your ability, and that His kingdom may come, and that His will may be done upon earth even as it is in heaven.