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Verses quoted, unless otherwise noted, are taken from
the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION,
©1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
This sermon, preached by Tony Capoccia, is now available on Audio CD: www.gospelgems.com
The Minister in These Times
The year 1890
C. H. SPURGEON
This sermon was one of the Presidential Addresses at the Annual Conferences of the Pastors’ College. Spurgeon always regarded the Conference as one of the most important in the whole year; and he devoted much time, and thought, and care, and prayer, to the preparation of his messages to the hundreds of pastors and students who were gathered together from all parts of the country and from around the world. Surrounded by his sons in the faith, many of whom were his own spiritual children, and all of whom delighted to call him President, leader, brother, friend, he spoke with a freedom and a frankness which could never be excelled, nor hardly equaled, in any other gathering; and the messages themselves supply abundant evidence of the solemn responsibility which he felt in speaking to such an audience, and of the faithfulness with which he discharged that responsibility. Though there is here the special, personal appeal to his own men, the subjects dealt with concern the whole Christian ministry at home and abroad, using the term “ministry” in its widest sense as applying to all servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. The clergy and ministers of all denominations, home and foreign missionaries, open-air preachers, Sunday-school and Bible-class teachers, tract-distributors, and Christians of all ranks will here find much that will help them to exercise that “all-around ministry” of which Spurgeon himself was so earnest an advocate and so bright an example.
Note: The complete series of messages from the Presidential
Addresses at the Annual Conferences of the Pastors’ College, from 1872 to 1890
are available in a book entitled, An All-Around Ministry: Addresses to
Ministers and Students, that can be purchased from Pilgrim
). The entire book can also be read online at: http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/aarm.htm
The Minister in These Times
Beloved Brethren, I desire, on this occasion, to say something that will be suitable for the times. I have never, according to the current phrase, preached to the times, but yet I would speak for the times, believing that a timely word now may bless all times to come. The times impress me in so many ways, that I must touch briefly upon a wide range of matters, instead of confining myself to one subject. Accept from me “here a little, and there a little,” instead of speaking mainly on one subject.
I. First, let us reflect upon OUR LORD'S RELATIONSHIP TO US.
Here we have many points which must be boldly maintained in our preaching. Be assured that we cannot be right in the rest of our ministry, unless we think rightly of Our Lord Jesus. In forming a system of astronomy, where do you put the sun? If you are not clear on that cardinal matter, your system will be a failure. It really doesn’t matter too much where you place Jupiter or Mars, but you must be precise where you place the Sun. Likewise, it is critical where Christ is in your theological system. Where does He stand in your thoughts? Where is Jesus in reference to yourself, and your work, and those you minister too?
There are many aspects under which we must regard our Divine Lord, but I must always give the greatest prominence to His saving character as Christ our Sacrifice and Sin-bearer.
If ever there was a time when we should be clear, pronounced, and vehement upon this point, it is now. Today the banner of the cross must lead the way. We cannot afford to put the atonement on the shelf as a truth to be taken for granted, and left among the curiosities of unpractical belief. We cannot now afford to use orthodox words and phrases on this subject as one might repeat the language of a liturgy; we must live and intensely believe the truth ourselves, and we must enforce it with the full energy of our lives. The vital truth of our Lord's atonement, (His redemptive life and death), must be preached often, clearly, and with emphasis; and, if is it not, then we have not correctly understood Christ, neither will we be able to successfully teach about Him. To attempt to preach Christ without His cross is to betray Him with a kiss.
I observe that certain persons claim to believe in the atonement, but they will not say what they mean by it. It may be possible that they don’t really understand it; and, possibly, no real faith in it? Every man has a theory of what he knows; at least, he can give a statement of what he understands. We have heard of the men of Athens, and of their altar erected “to the unknown God”: in England, we have philosophical people who believe in an unknown atonement. We believe in this way, they “worship in ignorance.” Robertson, of Brighton, was orthodox compared with many in this age; but one said of him that he taught that our Lord did something or other, which in some way or other was more or less connected with our salvation. Flimsy as that was, it is better than the doctrine of this hour. Some now think it is absurd to believe that what was done at Calvary, centuries ago, can have any relation to the sins of today. Others, who speak not quite so wildly, still deny that our sins could be laid on the Lord Jesus, and that His righteousness could be imputed to us; this, they say, would be wrong and unethical. The ethical side of the atonement is frequently held, and beautifully and strikingly shown to the people; but we are not satisfied with this one-sided view of the great subject. Whatever the shadow of the atonement may be — by which we mean its ethical influence — we believe that there was a substance in the atonement; and if that substance is removed, the shadow is gone also.
We have no home-made theory; but our solemn witness is, that “He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree” [1 Peter 2:24]. Even if it is called wrong and unethical, as some have boldly asserted, we yet believe that, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. “The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, for “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” [Isaiah 53:5-6]. It would do all of us good to look through the texts, in the Old and New Testaments, which refer to this fundamental truth; they are many, and definite. If we use language in its natural sense, we cannot get away from the assured belief that the Scripture teaches us to come to God through Jesus Christ, believing that He took our sin upon Himself, and suffered on its account, that He might render to God's right and honorable government an acceptable payment for the dishonor which man's rebellion had put on it. Through His blood, there is forgiveness; and because He died in our place, for our sins to the satisfaction of the Father, our guilt is done away with, and the believer is “accepted in the Beloved.”
Those who set aside the atonement as a satisfaction for sin, also murder the doctrine of justification by faith. There is a common element which is the essence of both doctrines; so that, if you deny the one, you destroy the other. Modern religious thought is nothing but an attempt to bring back the legal system of salvation by works. Our battle is the same as that which Luther fought at the Reformation. If you go to the very ground and root of it, grace is taken away, and human merit is substituted. The gracious act of God in pardoning sin is excluded, and human effort is made to be everything, both for past sin and future hope. Every man and woman is now set up as their own savior, and the atonement is put on the shelf as a religious fraud. I will not foul my mouth with the unworthy phrases which have been used in reference to the substitutionary work of our Lord Jesus Christ; but it is a painful grief of the heart to note how these evil things are tolerated by men whom we respect.
We will not cease, dear brothers, in our ministry, to preach most definitely and decidedly the atoning sacrifice; and I will tell you why I must do so. I personally don’t have a shadow of a hope of salvation from any other means: I am lost if Jesus is not my Substitute. I have been driven into a corner by a pressing sense of my own personal sin, and have been made to despair of ever doing or being anything that would offend our Holy God. I must have a perfect and Divine righteousness, yet it is beyond my own power to create it. I find it in Christ: I read in the Bible that it will become mine by faith, and by faith I receive it. My conscience tells me that I must render to God’s justice a payment for the dishonor that I have done to His law, and I cannot find anything which bears the appearance of such a payment until I look to Christ Jesus. Don’t I remember when I first looked to Him, and was enlightened? Don’t I remember how often I have gone as a sinner to my Savior’s feet, and again looked at His wounds, and believed over again unto eternal life, feeling the old joy of my salvation return to my soul? Brethren, I cannot preach anything else, for I know nothing else. New doctrines and creeds may or may not be true; but I am sure of the truth of this doctrine.
If anybody here is preaching the atonement, but doesn’t truly like it, I dare not advise him to stop preaching it, but the words tremble on my lips. I am firmly persuaded that the unwilling or cold-hearted preacher of any doctrine is its worst enemy. In the long run it comes to this, that the wounds to the truth given by its false friends are worse than those given it by foes. If you do not love the cross deep in your heart, you had better leave it alone. I can truly say that I preach the atonement with all my heart. Some seem to think that we poor souls, who are from the old Puritan school, are confined by harsh doctrines, from which we would gladly escape. They believe that we have to constantly check for any rebellion in the ranks, in order to preserve the tyranny of our strict doctrinal system. John Calvin is supposed to ride us like a nightmare, and we are the lead dogs' living under his lash. Brethren, it is just the opposite. Little do these slanderers know of our happiness and peace. If they feel more joy in preaching than we do, their happiness is great; but, from their tone and style, I would greatly question it. Observers will have noticed that the joyous element is missing from their many pulpits. The preacher doesn’t enjoy his own sermons, and seldom speaks of having been in the Spirit while he was preaching. He likes to preach for twenty minutes a great deal better than for forty. Nobody enjoys their modern doctrines, for there is nothing to enjoy. No, my brothers; let our opponents dismiss from their minds all pity for our enslaved condition under the old gospel. We are the free men, whom the Lord makes free, and everyone else are slaves. I would like to rise up from my death bed, during the last five minutes of my life, to bear witness to the Divine sacrifice and the sin-atoning blood. I would then repeat those words which speak the truth of substitution most positively, even though I may shock my hearers; for how could I regret that, for in Heaven my first words will be to ascribe my salvation to my Master's blood, my last act on earth will be to shock His enemies by a testimony to the same fact.
Next, we believe that Christ Jesus is the only Mediator and High Priest.
And this makes us look with indignation upon the claims of superstition. We still have in England, what we thought, in our earlier days, had become extinct, namely, the gospel of priestcraft — the priestcraft of the old Roman Catholic Church. There are men among us today who claim to be priests in a sense other than that in which all believers are, declared in the Bible, to be priests unto God. According to this delusion, our Lord Jesus is not, in Himself, an all-sufficient Mediator; that is to say, He may go the entire distance towards God the Father; but, between sinful man and the Lord Christ, there is a gap which can only be filled by a partner in an imaginary apostolical succession. Of course, the sacraments of their churches, duly administered by the priests, are described as certain conduits of grace. We still hear their words of blasphemy, “Baptism, wherein I was made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.” In priestly hands, bread and wine are claimed to undergo a miraculous change, very much like the Roman Catholic Church’s false doctrine of Transubstantiation. Sacraments are magnified, because they are administered by priests, and thus they are nothing but a footstool on which the priest can mount himself a little higher. The church, the altar, the priest, these are all elevated beyond measure; yet these are not our Lord Jesus, but rivals to His Divine priesthood. We hear it asserted, and the poor people in the pews are continually taught it, that anyone who undertakes to teach the gospel, though he can prove his doctrine from the Bible, and may have an evident blessing resting on his ministry, is to be denounced as a rebel and a nonconformist, unless he has been ordained by the Episcopal Church. To celebrate the Lord’s Supper together as believers in the Lord Jesus, is not allowed to ordinary Christians; and if they dare to do so, they are guilty of division — an awful crime, which would seem to be several degrees worse than adultery or murder. You might be forgiven of the sin of fornication, and still have access to the sacraments, but separation from the Episcopal Church, if persevered in, puts you beyond hope.
Brethren, let us earnestly protests against this revived superstition. Let us tolerate nothing between the soul and Christ. It may be that, in London, that you have failed to notice this priestly assumption; but many brethren in this room see it before their eyes every day, and feel its iron hand laid upon the poor people living around them. Wherever they go, they find claims put forth which uplift a certain class of men into the office of priest, whose blessing is indispensable. Sinners may not come to Christ directly, on their own account; the way to salvation is set forth as being by the appointed priest. Earnestly protest against this error. Even when it is accompanied by some gospel teaching, it is deadly.
We must be zealous to have no amount of involvement in this false notion of priestcraft. My brethren, please don’t act like priests. It is very possible to give yourselves the airs of authority like a religious hierarchy, even though you are nothing more than simple pastors. There is a style of dress — the vanity of it is not praiseworthy. There is a style of language — the imitation of it is not commendable. There is an assumption of superiority, looking down on the common people as mere laity; this piece of pretentiousness is ridiculous. Avoid the way of certain Episcopal priests who seem intent on making their people feel that a minister is a dignified individual and that the rest of the members of the church are something less and must give him their obedience. Say what we like about all believers in Christ being a generation of priests, we still find vain fellows among us who would believe that they possess a special mystic position. Our position, as pastors, deserves to be respected, and will be if properly carried out; but I have observed that some who are very anxious to magnify their position and calling, really try to magnify themselves. Yet, as the position is elevated, the man has gone down. One has wondered how so small a man has obtained to so great an office. I heard, yesterday, a question to which I have not yet found a satisfactory answer; it was this: “Which is worse, the man who can preach and won’t preach, or the man who can’t preach and will preach?” We have, I fear, some of the latter sort among us; but if they suppose that the mere fact of their being chosen to a pastorate has endowed them with special powers, they deceive themselves.
Let me say, very softly and gently, that there are little things among ourselves which must be carefully looked after, or we will have the influence of Ritualism and priesthood working among us. In our revival services, it might be good to vary our procedures. Sometimes close that inquiry-room. I have my fears about that institution if it is used permanently, and as an inevitable part of the services. It may be a very wise thing to invite persons, who are under conviction of soul, to come apart from the rest of the congregation, and have a conversation with godly people that might help; but if you should ever see, that the idea is taking hold, that there is something to be obtained in that private room, that we call the inquiry-room, which is not immediately available in the church pew, or in some other private place, or that God is more available in one place over another to hear the repentant sinner, then destroy that notion at once. We must not go back to the old way of altars and confessionals, and have Roman Catholic deception and nonsense restored in a different form. If we make men and women think that conversation with the pastor or with our helpers in the inquiry-room is essential to their faith in Christ, we are taking the direct route for priestcraft. In the gospel, the sinner and the Savior are to come together, with no one between. Speak very clearly on this point, saying something like, “You, sinner, sitting where you are, believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, will have eternal life. Do not wait until you enter into an inquiry-room. Do not think it’s essential to confer with me. Do not suppose that I have the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, or that these godly men and women associated with me can tell you any other gospel than this, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” [John 3:36].
In the next place, let us see to it that we set forth our Lord Jesus Christ as the Infallible Teacher, through His inspired Word.
I don’t understand a loyalty to Christ which is accompanied by indifference to His words. How can we show Him reverence, if His own words and those of His apostles are treated with disrespect? Unless we receive Christ’s words, we cannot receive Christ; and unless we receive His apostles’ words, we do not receive Christ; for John said, “Whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” [1 John 4:6]. We must love and reverence all the teachings of our Lord, for if we don’t, then we are building our houses on the sand. It is as important to know Christ as the truth, as it is to know Christ as the way and the life. Some preachers seem to think more of the life than of the truth; for when I warn them that the enemy has poisoned the children’s bread with their false doctrines, they answer, “Dear brother, we are sorry to hear it; and, to counteract the evil, we will open the window, and give the children fresh air.” Yes, open the window, and give them fresh air, by all means. You can’t do a better thing, but, at the same time, this you ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone. Arrest the poisoners, and open the windows, too. While men go on preaching false doctrine, you may talk as much as you will about deepening their spiritual life, but you will fail in it. While you do one good thing, do not neglect another. Instead of saying that the life is more important, or the truth is more important, or the way is more important, let us be united in the firm belief that they are each one equally important, and that one cannot be well sustained and thoroughly carried out without the rest.
Some quit the teaching of Christ out of sheer depravity, and childish love of novelty and innovation. To Christians that are young in Christ, false doctrine comes as a childhood disease, a sort of inevitable spiritual measles. I wish them well with the sickness, and I trust it will leave no permanent scars or damage. With deep anxiety, I have watched over minds infected with this raging epidemic; and I have rejoiced as I have seen the rash of unbelief come out beautifully, and have heard the patient say, “Thank the Lord, I will never go back to that any more.” Still, it is a pity that so many would find it needful to pass through the polluted way which has injured others. They remind me of a certain worldly lady, to whom her minister, remarking about her great showiness, said, “Solomon has said, ‘Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.’” “Yes,” she replied, “I know what Solomon has said; but he found it out by his own personal experience, and I would like to do the same.” She was no Solomon, assuredly; for they who have wisdom will profit by the experience of others. If you have seen others go abroad to become rich, and come home destitute, prudence would suggest that you needn’t go too.
Some fall into doubt about God’s Word through an inward dishonesty. Certain men start new doctrines because something is rotten within them, and out of rottenness fungus grows. You may have read Pliny’s “Natural History.” If you haven’t read it, you needn’t do so, for the history is not very true, but mythical. Pliny tells us that, when the elephant goes to a pool of water, and sees himself in it, he is moved with such disgust at his own ugliness, that he quickly stirs the water, and makes it muddy, that he may not see himself. Such an elephant never lived; but I have seen men who have done something just like that. Holy Scripture has not agreed with them — Such and such doctrines do not suit their tastes, so they must be misrepresented, or denied. An unregenerate heart lies at the bottom of “modern thought.” Men delight in false doctrines because they never understood true doctrines by the renewal of their minds.
I don’t doubt that some have added to or modified Christ’s teachings, and Christ’s gospel, from a desire to do more good. Things are allowed to be said and done at revivals which nobody could defend. Do you notice, at the present time, the way the gospel is presented? I am not criticizing anyone in particular, but I continually hear of the exhortation, “Give your heart to Christ! Give your heart to Christ!” The exhortation is good, but don’t allow it to replace the gospel, that says: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” [Acts 16:31]. In the Sunday school, the teaching often is, “Dear children, love Jesus.” Now, this is not the gospel either. The love of Jesus comes as a fruit, but the gospel is, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” If we think that we will do more good by substituting another exhortation for the gospel command, we will find ourselves in serious trouble. If, for a moment, our improvements to the gospel seem to produce a larger result than the old gospel, it will be the growth of mushrooms, it may even be the growth of toadstools; but it is not the growth of trees from the Lord. Let us keep close to Christ as our infallible Teacher in these days of peril, and be extremely jealous of the truth, or else we may be duped, as the Roman General Pompeii tricked certain cities that would not admit his troops. He said to them, “I don’t ask you to provide lodging for my armies; but here are a few sick and wounded men, for whom I ask that you will allow them to rest among you.” But when the invalids were within the walls, they opened the gates, and the inhabitants were easily subdued. Keep out the little errors for which sympathy is asked; or, if not, you will be captured before you are aware of the attack. Stand firm in the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints, and let no man spoil you by philosophy and vain deceit.
Next, brethren, we must continue to insist that Christ is the only Ruler in the Church.
We have systems of religion today in which the whole organization is an invention of man; we cannot find any biblical support for them. We have those in the religious community who attempt to prove that their system was sanctioned by our Lord and His apostles. This has been the case for so long a period that we have been obliged to tolerate all kinds of things; but to tolerate is not the same thing as to approve and imitate. We should, in our own churches, follow apostolic precedent, and follow the rule of Christ in all things. No esteemed and honored name is sufficient authority for ignoring Holy Scripture, “To the law and to the testimony!” [Isaiah 8:20]. If a doctrine or a ceremony is not in the Bible, then it is not for you or for me. Our sole authority is the Word of the Lord—the Word of God.
It will be even worse if we dare to make omissions in the known rules of Christ. I am sorry that there are disputes in the Church concerning baptism and the Lord’s Supper; but it is not a debatable point in the Church of the Living Christ whether baptism and the Lord’s Supper are to be practiced at all. How, then, can these ordinances be set aside by those who admit that they are Scriptural? I heard one person say, “If Jesus were here now, He would see the evil that has come from those two ordinances, and He would set them aside.” We cannot endure such a comment. Surely, we are not those who revise of the teachings of our Lord. Haven’t you in your congregations, good people, who will say, “Yes, sir, I know that believers’ baptism is in the Word; I am quite clear about that; but I have never yet been baptized”? Have you impressed upon that person’s mind the willful disobedience involved in such neglect? It is not the case of a person who says, “I don’t see such an ordinance commanded in the Word of God;” that would be a sin of ignorance. But he says, “It is there,” yet he neglects it, and boasts that he can be saved without it. Don’t be in a hurry to confirm that statement, for it may turn out that the man who says, “I believe in Jesus,” and then willfully refuses to keep His known commandments, is not really saved at all. Assuredly, such a man is not saved from willful disobedience. What sort of faith is that which does not operate by love, but sets up its own will in opposition to the clear teaching of Christ? We must protest against all tampering with the law of the great Head and Master of the Church. I mention the point of baptism merely as an example. We must be vigilant and obedient on every other point of sacred rule. Christ is Lord as well as Savior. Jesus is not One to be trifled with, or to have His words shuffled like a pack of cards.
You may also ignore the commands of your Lord in another way. A pastor is going to decide on his course of action concerning a very important Christian matter; but he first wants to know the opinion of those who give considerable sums of money to the church. If any one of you does this, I will cry out to you, “Who is your master? Judas with his bag, in the corner or the Christ whom he kisses with a traitor's kiss?” Be true and bold in all things that are godly. If we don’t then Christ Jesus is not our Ruler. Refuse the bribe, though it be a secret one, and give up everything for the truth, if need be.
Our Lord also stands before us as our example and pattern.
We preach the grace of God, and the blood of Christ; but if any believe that we don’t preach Christ as an example, they know nothing of our ministry; for we insist that faith must obey her Savior’s will as well as trust His grace. We have had some among us, who have said, “It was a good sermon, except for the application to our lives—the duties we have to perform.” Oh, it may be possible that we present the teaching in such a way that we raise the suspicion that we are legalistic in spirit; this we must carefully avoid. We must preach Christ as the perfect example and pattern that the saints must long to be conformed to. Men and women must have the spirit of Christ, or they are lost. There is no Heaven to be found in the term justification, apart from a spiritual work within the soul — a change of heart, and a renewal of the mind.
Lastly, I trust that we will always hold Christ as Lord and God.
Whatever else He is, He is Lord and God to us. Therefore He is to be spoken of and thought of with the deepest reverence of soul. The spirit that trifles with the Word of God, and the things of Christ, is almost more vicious than the action which comes out of it. I have read many things which I have shuddered at; but I have shuddered much more at the state of mind into which a man must have come to be able to write such things. Let us cultivate the highest reverence for our Divine Lord, and the surest confidence in His power, and in His ultimate victory. Trust in His guiding hand which keeps us on course. Have no shadow of a doubt that His wisdom and power will cause all things to end well. Go, therefore, and speak in His Name. When you have finished stating a doctrine, command your listeners, in the Name of Jesus, to believe it. Be bold enough for that. As the apostles commanded crippled men to stand, and even dead men to live, so, in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, command sinners to turn to Him, and to live. He who gives you faith will keep His own word.
II. Now, let us turn serious attention to the subject OF OUR POSITION TOWARDS OUR LORD.
The position of the Christian minister towards Christ is a theme on which one might speak in many ways, and for many days, and yet barely do more than touch the fringe of it.
The most striking view of it comes before us in meditating on the fact, that, as Jesus stood in our behalf on the cross, we also stand in His behalf on earth.
To our listeners we can truly say, “We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5:20]. Our Lord Jesus lays His pierced hands on our shoulders, and He says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” [John 20:21]. We are commissioned to plead for Christ, even as He is commissioned to plead for us. We do whatever necessary to point that sick and uneducated woman to Christ’s blood of reconciliation. For Him we stand in the pulpit, and speak of sin, and righteousness, and judgment to come. In His place we cry, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” [John 1:29].
Beloved brethren, do we always feel that we are not only laboring for Christ, but in His place? Could we truly declare that our sermons were preached as the direct agent of Christ—just as if Christ preached it Himself? Can we expect our own conscience to cry out against us if we were to make such a claim for those messages? Some of our listeners would think, if they didn’t say so, “If that sermon is exactly what Christ would have preached, there is an awful amount that seems to be missing from what it would have been had Jesus spoken on His own account.” Of course, there would necessarily be a lot of Divine authority and ability missing; but there should be nothing missing as to truthful and earnest purpose.
We must plead with men and women in Christ’s place; and that will prevent favoritism. We will not give all our thoughts to the wealthy and educated few; but, as Jesus did, we will care for the many. James the fifth of Scotland was known as “the poor man’s king,” because every peasant, who desired it, could get an audience with him. Oh may the Lord make us the poor person’s preachers! For how else can we be preaching in Christ's place? In His ministry, the poor had the gospel preached to them. If there is one of our flock more sick, more poor, more uneducated than another, let us, for the Lord’s sake, seek them first. Let us assume no dignity on our part, but feel at one with the hopeless, the poor, the fallen, even as Jesus did.
If we are to stand in Christ’s place, we will not bully, but tenderly persuade. We will have true sympathy, and thus we will plead with sinners with tears in our eyes, as though their ruin were our misery, and their salvation would be our bliss. We will weep over them, because Jesus would have done so; and we will be tolerant with them, because of His Divine patience. We will watch for opportunities, and use them with perseverance; for Jesus would have done so. We will deal with our listeners as a shepherd with his lost sheep, and we will never rest till we have brought them home on our shoulders rejoicing; for so it was with our Lord.
This position of ours, in Christ's place, is a grave responsibility;
we will need a lot of grace to bear its weight. Behave yourselves, Christian brothers,
for you bear a great Name. Do not disgrace the Name of the holy Jesus. What a
cruel wrong to our Lord Jesus, for a harsh, or proud, or idle minister to claim
that he is acting in the place of Christ! God forgive the wrong: it is a very wicked
one. If you claim to speak for Christ, then what type of persons should you be?
May God help you to be a worthy ambassador of the Lord Jesus as you carry out His
Therefore, brethren, we must love sinners for Christ’s sake.
Are there not a great many in your congregation whom you could not love for any other reason? Could the Lord Jesus Christ ever have loved you for your goodness? He loved you and me for a reason which He found in His own heart; and in the same way we must love our listeners, for reasons which are not so much in them as in our own hearts. He “loved me, and gave Himself for me;” and if He now says to me, “Love others, and give yourself for them,” will I not do it? Every angry temper must be done away with. The wicked, the superficial, the bitter, the indifferent, and even the spiteful must share our love. We must love them to Jesus. Our mission on earth is to perpetuate the love of the Savior.
Further, your relation to Christ is of such a nature that you are to “fill up in your flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” [Colossians 1:24]
His atoning sufferings are finished and none of us can add anything to that. But those sufferings by which men and women are won to Christ are far from being finished. All the martyrs have bled and died to keep the truth alive for us so that by the truth men and women may still be brought to Jesus. Every sufferer who bears pain, or slander, or loss, or personal unkindness for Christ’s sake, is filling up that amount of suffering which is necessary to bring together the whole body of Christ, and the building up of His elect Church. “Oh!” cries one minister, “I have been shamefully treated.” Yes, and men worthier than you have been even more mistreated. Don’t bother to look among your fellow soldiers for equals in suffering: consider how your Lord “endured such opposition from sinful men” [Hebrews 12:3].
When Alexander led his men into Persia, and they had to cut through a literal mountain of ice and snow, they were ready to turn back, and then Alexander got off his horse, and took an ice-axe in his hand, and went forward, often up to his waist in snow, splitting the blocks of ice, and leading the way. Then his army of men felt that they could cut through the world with Alexander in front of them. With Christ your Lord leading the way by His agonies on the cross, won’t you follow where He leads, and endure the strain, and hard work, and suffering, for the salvation of those whom He has redeemed by His blood? Nothing is more moving in our prayer-meetings than the prayers of those who have endured times of great suffering. Through suffering comes blessing. When our Lord plans to give us the richest of wine, so our times of celebrations may be full of gladness, what does He do? He says, “Fill the water jars with water.” We must be filled with suffering to the brim. We must have as much of it as we can hold, and then He will someday say, “Now draw some out” [John 2:8]. This was the first of His miracles; and we rejoice that it was not only done at Cana in Galilee, but it is still being done today in this country.
Don’t you think that we all make mistakes as to what we would consider a blessing to be? In the matter of faith-healing, health is set before us as if it were the great thing to be desired above all other things. Is that true? I venture to say that the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness. Sickness has frequently been of more use to the saints of God than health has. If some men, that I know of, could only be favored with a month of painful arthritis, it would, by God’s grace, mellow them in a wonderful way. Surely, they need something better to preach than what they now give their people; and, possibly, they would learn it during a time of suffering. I would not wish for any man to suffer a long time of sickness; and pain; but now and then I might ask for a brief period of suffering for them. A sick wife, a fresh grave, poverty, slander, depression, might teach lessons that can’t be learned anywhere else. Trials drive us to the realities of our Christianity. You may feed on chaff until you have real work to do, or real grief to bear; but then you want the old corn of the land, and you must have it, or else you will faint and fail in your work.
Our afflictions come to us as blessings, though they frown like
curses. I have heard of one who was generous, but extremely eccentric. Then a man,
who was deep in debt, passed by his door, and the rich man knew that the poor man
was very troubled about his debt. One day, this eccentric man of wealth, generous
as he was, was so cruel as to throw a heavy bag at the poor debtor, as he again
walked by. The man was hurt by the flying bag, and looked around to see what it
was. He couldn’t see the man who had inflicted the injury. He picked up the
bag. He heard the metallic sound of coins, and when he opened the bag, he found
enough money to pay his debt, and he heard a voice saying, “It is yours to keep.”
He never filed charges against that man for the assault; but thanked him for
Oftentimes Providence, with a rough hand, has thrown numerous benefits and blessings our way in the form of a trial of our faith, which is much more precious than gold. Blessed be the Lord, our temporary bruise is soon forgotten, but the spiritual blessing abides forever. In any case, the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ is our cause, and we are linked with Him in a fellowship which cannot be broken, whatever it may involve. We have counted the cost, and we can say, “From now on let no man trouble me. I am the branded slave of Jesus, and my ear is pierced for Him.”
Furthermore, brethren, our position towards our Lord will become most practical when we realize what He has done for us.
I don’t think that we always clearly perceive what the Lord has actually accomplished on our behalf. We say, “We are poor, but Christ makes us rich.” Why don’t we say, “We are rich, for Christ has made us rich!” Our poverty has passed away, and we have become rich in Christ. Brethren, He has called us “out of darkness into his wonderful light” [1 Peter 2:9]. We are likely, when we preach from this text, to greatly expand upon the darkness of our previous unsaved souls and the world around us; but wouldn’t it also be good to preach more fully on the “wonderful light”? Haven’t we had the experience of the “wonderful light” which would help us to preach about it? Why do we make it so very vivid when we preach the words of the Apostle Paul, “When I am weak”? Can’t we equally dwell upon the next words, “then am I strong”? Our Lord's blessings are realities, and not fantasies; let us treat them as such. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled;” [Matthew 5:6] why spend all the time on the hunger and the thirst? Are we not filled? If not, Lord, fill us! But if we are filled, let us feel and preach the sweetness of the Heavenly bread, and commend it with glad hearts to our listeners. Brothers, let us preach on the bright side of our religion, and not always be harping on what we are in ourselves. “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” [1 John 2:8]. We are now in Christ Jesus. We were everything evil, but we are washed, cleansed, and sanctified. Oh, for the rich enjoyment of the present blessings of the covenant! Oh, for grace to speak as we have received! As Abraham’s servant took care to talk mainly of his master’s riches, and to show the precious gifts which he had brought with him from his master’s house, so let us, in the same manner, try to win hearts for our great Lord, by showing who He is, and what He has, and what we personally know about Him.
I think, in addition, that we will do well to stand for Christ as those who are conscious of His power and His presence.
Brethren, our Lord is with us. The best of all is that He is absolutely and undeniably with us. If we are with Jesus, and preach His truth, then Jesus is most assuredly with us; for He said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. That promise was not a pretty piece of poetry: it is true that He is with us at this very hour. Let us believe it, and act accordingly. If we don’t always feel His brightness, let us, like the flowers, turn towards the sun. When the sun is not shining, the flowers know where most of the light is to be found, and their faces turn that way. Let us also turn towards the sun. When we get into the pulpit, let us look towards Christ and lean towards Christ. What a wondrous place the pulpit is when Jesus is there! In the study, when we sit down, and begin to rub our foreheads, and anxiously ask ourselves, “What will we preach about?” let us turn towards our Lord, and pray with our window open towards His cross and His throne. May we always feel an influence drawing us towards Christ when the Bible is open before us! If it is so, our weakness will completely vanish, for we will remember His strength.
When you are meditating about your great struggle against sin, and are reflecting on the forces that help you resist it, don’t forget to remember Jesus. You decide to do a tally of the amount of help you have in your struggle against sin, and so you have even listed yourself as a strength to resist sin, but that amounts to zero. Now you list your deacons, but they are nothing, too—another zero to add. You have listed all your praying friends and coworkers, and so on; but the total sum is still zero. You despair and cry out, “I have nothing, nothing, and nothing to help me in my struggle against sin.” But have you forgotten the Infinite One? If you put Him after all these zeros, like a figure in decimals, you reduce the Holy One to the ten thousandth! Each zero set before THE HOLY ONE robs Him of glory, and diminishes Him. But if HE is put first, before the zeros, what a great sum you have! This is not a trick; it is sound arithmetic. Go and test it, and see if it does not turn out to be mathematically true in the spirit world. Powerless as we are alone, our Lord is with us.
Some preachers evidently don’t believe that the Lord is with their gospel, because, in order to attract and save sinners, they add to the gospel the inventions of men. They believe that simple gospel preaching must be supplemented. One day a servant girl was very busy catching and killing flies. Her mistress said to her, “What are you doing?” She answered, “You see, ma’am, we have bought some flypaper, and we must have the flies caught on it; and since they don't go on by themselves, I am catching them myself and sticking them on it.” I wouldn’t care for that way of catching flies. If the gospel must be a failure unless we attract the people by some extraneous method, then something is wrong. If the flypaper does not attract the flies, and hold them, we may as well burn the flypaper. If your gospel cannot bring the people to hear you, and if, when they come, your gospel will not impress and convert them, well, then, give it up. Open a coffee-shop; but don’t call your useless talk the blessed gospel. If you are not conscious of a supernatural power and presence with the Word of the Lord, leave it alone. A man said to me once, “You told a dead sinner to believe.” I pleaded guilty, but told him I would do it again. He said, “I couldn’t do it, I would feel that it was of no use to do so.” I answered, “Possibly, it might be of no use for you to do it, for you don’t have the necessary faith; but, as I believe that God commands me to do so, I thus deliver the message in the Name of the Lord, and the dead sinners believe and live.” I don’t trust in the dead sinner’s power to live, but in the power of the gospel to make him live. Now, if your gospel does not have the power of the Holy Spirit in it, you cannot preach it with confidence, and you are tempted to give a performance to attract the people, that Christ crucified does not draw. If you are depending on a vocal concert, and orchestras, and drama, you are disgracing the religion which you pretend to honor. Let me say that again, if you are depending on a vocal concert, and orchestras, and drama, you are disgracing the religion which you pretend to honor.
Once more, dear friends, our position towards our Lord is that of waiting for His coming.
I don’t know how much most of you feel about the blessed truth of the Second Coming; but I trust that many of you believe it, and are excited by faith in it. That great hope is gaining ground among lovers of Evangelical doctrine. At first, ministers seemed half-afraid of this great truth, because of the fanaticism which is supposed to grow out of it. Certain charlatans also do great harm by pretending to know the day and the hour when the Lord will come. Times and seasons we don’t know; but the Lord will come. He is on His way even now, for He says, “I am coming quickly.” Our Lord may come very soon; certain signs raise our hopes very high. The love of many grows cold, and the devil is twice as busy; and this is a very good sign. When you see a farmer beginning to restore the land to it’s original condition, by burning the gates, and removing the hedges, and tearing down the barns, and so on, you say, “That fellow's lease has run out on the land.” Satan has great wrath when he knows that his time is short. In the case of the demon possessed child, we read, “Even while the boy was coming [towards Jesus], the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion” [Luke 9:42]. The demon knew that he was about to be cast out, so he did his worst. The thick cloud of wickedness today only brings on that darkest part of the night which precedes the dawn of day. When “the misery of God’s people in Egypt was great because of their slave drivers” [Exodus 3:7], Moses appears; and the same is true of our still greater Deliverer. Let us take courage, and be of good heart; for while we lift Christ on high, and glorify His Name, He is on the way to defend His covenant, and utterly to defeat His foes.
III. Now for two or three words to finish with, upon OUR POSITION INDIVIDUALLY.
Let me say to you, brethren, be self-contained.
I pray to God that we would have among us more men that were full of spiritual and mental vitality. The need of our day is preachers who personally know the gospel, who have had a personal experience of its power, who have tested it as silver is tested in a furnace, and who set such a high value on it, that they would sooner part with life than give it up. We have too many in our pulpits who will preach right if they are led properly, and who are sure to swim in the right direction if the current is strong enough to carry them with it; these are all very well when the wind blows from the right quarter, but they are of little use in stormy weather. At this hour, there is a call for men who can struggle against the flood, and swim up stream. We need heroes who would just as soon go alone, if necessary, as march with a thousand comrades. We need men who can think on their own. They have thought out the truth; and, having gone to God about it, and felt the power of it in their own souls, they are not about to be moved from the hope of their calling. They are pillars in the house of our God, abiding, in their places; and not mere caterpillars, crawling after something to eat. We need captains for the good ship who know their longitude and latitude, and can tell from where they came, and to what port they are steering towards. Our Commander needs warriors true as steel for this hour of conflict.
“You that are men, now serve Him
Against countless foes.”
A man is now more precious than pure gold. To be dependent on the judgment of friends or foes in these days is to be but half a man. Let us stand before the living God in our integrity, and seek no support from societies or individuals. What is your state today? I fear that there are still very few that are totally dependant on God. We have members of our churches who don’t know a good sermon till they have consulted that dear old gentleman who is in their mind a prophet. Some ministers have no opinion till they have checked with their fellow ministers.” They must watch which way the leading sheep go before they know which way to go; for they neither hear nor know the Master’s voice. O brothers, you will need the Spirit within your own soul; for the right path runs through a lonely land, and if you dare not travel alone, you will never reach the Celestial City!
In the next place, we must learn, in these times, to be selective in our friendships and fellowships.
When a man is right, let him not compromise himself by association with those who are not clear in their standing. Why be drawn down by holding on to the ship which is sinking? Continual association with those who have no sympathy with the great truths of the gospel, is running into perpetual danger. For my part, I find association with persons of loose views a thing too painful for me. Worldly-minded men are wretched company for spiritual minds. Men with new views, loose habits, and unspiritual talk, are quite uncomfortable to me as acquaintances; especially when they pretend to be very orthodox, and yet believe nothing of the old faith. Clear yourselves of all connections which bring your own faithfulness into question. Don’t talk about separation from that which is evil, and then remain in fellowship with it. Be as chaste in your friendships and fellowships as in your own persons, or evil will come of it.
Furthermore, be sanctified in life.
I cannot say that word with too much emphasis. I would drive that nail home. Be holy, for you serve a holy God. If you were searching for a present to give to a prince, you would not get him a lame horse to ride on; you would not offer him a book that has missing pages, nor give him a gold watch that doesn’t work.
No, the best of the best you would give to one whom you honored and loved. Give your very best to your Lord. Seek to be at your best whenever you serve Him. Pray and ask Him to make you perfect in every good work to do His will, and then present yourself to Him a living sacrifice. Let none of us preach a sermon, and have to feel afterwards, “I could have done better than that, but it was good enough for this congregation.”
On a Wednesday evening service, with no more than half-a-dozen present, and mainly old women, do your utmost. Our richest fruit is poor enough. Never, oh never give your second-best. Always give the very first and fullest that you can produce for Christ; let your whole life be the most honorable and the most splendid effort of which you are capable. I said, last night, that the minister who can do more, and does not do it, is a sluggard. It is true. We must do all that we can do, and do it in our most skillful way, or we are lazy. He has come up to Christ’s
mark, who can truly say that he can do no more, and that, if he could do anything more, he would do it immediately. How few of us could conscientiously claim to have come so far!
Be diligent in action.
Put all your irons into the fire. Use every faculty for Jesus. Be wide-awake to watch for opportunities, and quick to seize them. Believe that the smallest sphere of influence has in it or around it glorious openings for enlargement. In a very small village, infinite results may be realized. If one place is evangelized, strike out for another; and always keep moving your fences, to enclose a little more and a little more. Never be content with what you are doing, while there is still so much land to be possessed. May you feed your flocks as pastors, and increase them by being evangelists! In this respect, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. We must use every bit of energy, and have an adventurous and industrious spirit in these days, that we may checkmate the incessant activities of the prince of darkness.
Lastly, I desire to send you away with this in your ear, yes, with this in your heart, be confident in spirit.
We are not going to show the sign of cowardice, nor even to tolerate a trembling thought. Years ago, they used to charge me vehemently with being too flippant and humorous; but of late the charge has shifted, and I am reviled as despondent, ill-humored, and gloomy. I conceive that I am innocent of such charges. I protest that I am quite a cheerful person. If I have undergone so great a reformation of manners as to have swung around from cheerfulness to gloom, it is something that I am not in the least aware of. I cannot endorse the statement that I have lost my tendency to humor, for I feel very much the other way; and were I not careful, I would become hilarious.
I have received a bit of pity lately because I am in opposition to so many; but the pity may be spared, or handed over to those on the other side. Years ago, when I preached a sermon against Baptismal Regeneration, my venerable friend, Dr. Steane, said to me, “You have gotten yourself into hot water.” I replied, “No; I don’t feel the water is hot. The truth is just the opposite. I am cool enough; I am only the stoker, and other folks are in the hot water, which I am doing my best to make so hot that they will be glad to get out of it.” We don’t wish to fight; but if we do, we hope that the pity will be needed by those with whom we contend. The hot water does not come near to me, nor even does a breath of steam blow in my eyes. I am content with that which must inevitably come to the man who seriously protests; that is to say, I am content to be criticized, misunderstood, and misrepresented. The cost was counted long ago, and the estimate was so liberal that there is no fear of its being exceeded. “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” [2 Timothy 1:12].
There is no room for fear; at least, I see none while we hold firm to the truth. You never met an old sailor, down by the sea, who was in trouble because the tide had been ebbing out for hours. No! He waits confidently for the tide to turn, and it comes in due time. Right now if you were stand on the shore you would note that the rocks have been uncovered during the last half-hour, for the tide is going out, and if the sea continues to ebb out for weeks, there will be no water in the English Channel, and the French will be able to walk over to our shores. Nobody talks in that childish way, for such an ebb will never come. Nor will we speak as though the gospel would be defeated and eternal truth driven out of the land. We serve an almighty Master. Once an Italian leader, when asked what he would do if his foes attacked him, replied, “Sir, if I stamp my foot, all Italy will swarm with soldiers.” Thus he boasted; but it is no boast to say that, if our Lord stamps His foot, He can win for Himself all the nations of the earth against heathenism, and Islam, and Agnosticism, and Modern-thought, and every other foul error. Who is he that can harm us if we follow Jesus? How can His cause be defeated? At the command of Jesus, converts will flock to His truth as numerous as the sands of the sea. Is it not written, “Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty, from the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth.”? [Psalm 110:3]. Therefore, be of good courage, and go on your way singing, —
“The winds of hell have blown,
The world its hate has shown,
Yet it is not overthrown.
Hallelujah for the Cross!
It will never suffer loss!”
The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge. Amen.
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