Forward!Posted: September 21, 2008
BRETHREN, the substance of my address, this morning, will be found in the words of God to His servant Moses, “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” “Forward” is the watchword of our Conference, let it ring through your ranks. Onward, ye elect of God! Victory is before you; your very safety lies in that direction. To retreat is to perish. You have most of you read the story of the boy, in an American village, who climbed the wall of the famous Natural Bridge, and cut his name in the rock above the initials of his fellows, and then became suddenly aware of the impossibility of descending. Voices shouted, “Do not look down, try and reach the top.” His only hope was to go right up, up, up, till he landed on the top. Upward was terrible, but downward was destruction. Now, we, dear brethren, are all of us in a like condition. By the help of God, we have cut our way to positions of usefulness; and to descend is death. To us, forward means upward; and therefore forward and upward let us go. While we prayed, this morning, we committed ourselves beyond all recall. We did that most heartily when we first preached the gospel, and publicly declared, “I am my Lord’s, and He is mine.” We put our hand to the plough then; thank God, we have not looked back yet, and we must never do so. The only course open to us is to plough right on to the end of the furrow, and never think of leaving the field till the Master shall call us home. But this morning you committed yourselves again to the Lord’s work; you did not deliberate, or consult with flesh and blood; but you plunged right in, renouncing all for Jesus; and except ye be reprobates, ye have enlisted for life in His service. You are the branded servants of Christ, bearing in your bodies His mark. You have now no liberty to serve another, you are the sworn soldiers of the Crucified. Forward is your only way; you are shut up to it. You have no armor for your backs; and whatever dangers lie in front, there are ten thousand times as many behind. It is onward or nothing; nay, onward or dishonor; onward or death.
We were compared, last night, in the eloquent address of our friend Mr. Gange, to the little army of Sir Garnet Wolseley marching to Coomassie; and the parallel was very beautifully worked out in all respects. Fellow-soldiers, we are few, and we have a desperate fight in the bush before us, therefore it is needful that every man should be made the most of, and nerved to his highest point of strength. It is desirable that you should be the picked men of the Church, yea, of the entire universe, for such the age demands, therefore it is as to yourselves that I am most concerned that you should go forward. You must go forward in personal attainments, growing in gifts and in grace, in fitness for the work of God, and conformity to the image of Jesus. The points I shall speak upon begin at the bottom, and ascend.
I. First, dear brethren, I think it necessary to say to myself and to you that we must GO FORWARD IN OUR MENTAL ACQUIREMENTS.
It will never do for us to continually present ourselves to God at our worst. We are not worth His having at our best; but, at any rate, let not the offering be maimed and blemished by our idleness. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” is, perhaps, more easy to comply with than to love Him with all our mind; yet we must give Him our mind as well as our affections, and that mind should be well furnished, that we may not offer Him an empty casket. Our ministry demands mind. I shall not insist upon that phrase which is so frequently heard nowadays, “the enlightenment of the age;” still, it is quite certain that there is a great educational advance among all classes, and that there will be much more of it. The time is past when ungrammatical speech sufficed for a preacher. Even in a country village, where, according to tradition, “nobody knows nothing,” the schoolmaster is now abroad, and want of education will hinder usefulness more than it once did; for, when the speaker wishes his audience to remember the gospel, they, on the other hand, will remember his ungrammatical expressions, and will repeat them as a theme of jest, when we could have wished they had rehearsed the gospel of Jesus Christ one to another in solemn earnest.
Dear brethren, we must cultivate ourselves to the highest possible point, and do this, first, by gathering in knowledge that we may fill the barn; then, by acquiring discrimination that we may winnow the heap; and, lastly, by a firm retentiveness of mind, which lays up the winnowed grain in the storehouse. The three points may not be equally important, but they are necessary to a complete man.
We must, I say, first, make great efforts to acquire information, especially of a Biblical kind. We must not confine ourselves to one topic of study, or we shall not exercise our whole mental manhood. God made the world for man, and made man with a mind intended to occupy and use all the world; he is the tenant, and nature is for a while his house; why should he shut himself out of any of its rooms? Why refuse to taste any of the cleansed meats the great Father has put upon the table? Still, our main business is to study the Scriptures. The smith’s main business is to shoe horses; let him see that he knows how to do it, for should he be able to belt an angel with a girdle of gold, he will fail as a smith if he cannot make and fix a horseshoe. It is a small matter that you should be able to write the most brilliant poetry,-as possibly you could,-unless you can preach a good and telling sermon, which will have the effect of comforting saints and convincing sinners. Study the Bible, dear brethren, through and through, with all helps that you can possibly obtain. Remember that the appliances now within the reach of ordinary Christians are much more extensive than they were in our father’s days, and therefore you must be greater Biblical scholars if you would keep in front of your hearers. Intermeddle with all knowledge; but, above all things, meditate day and night in the law of the Lord.
Be well instructed in theology, and do not regard the sneers of those who rail at it because they are ignorant of it. Many preachers are not theologians, and hence the mistakes which they make. It cannot do any hurt to the most lively evangelist to be also a sound theologian, and it may often be the means of saving him from gross blunders. Nowadays, we hear men tear a single sentence of Scripture from its connection, and cry, “Eureka! Eureka!” as if they had found a new truth; and yet they have not discovered a diamond, but only a piece of broken glass. Had they been able to compare spiritual things with spiritual, had they understood the analogy of the faith, and had they been acquainted with the holy learning of the great Bible students of past ages, they would not have been quite so fast in vaunting their marvelous knowledge. Let us be thoroughly well acquainted with the great doctrines of the Word of God, and let us be mighty in expounding the Scriptures. I am sure that no preaching will last so long, or build up a church so well, as the expository. To renounce altogether the hortatory discourse for the expository, would be running to a preposterous extreme; but I cannot too earnestly assure you that, if your ministries are to be lastingly useful, you must be expositors. For this purpose, you must understand the Word yourselves, and be able so to comment upon it that the people may be built up by the Word. Be masters of your Bibles, brethren; whatever other works you have not searched, be at home with the writings of the prophets and apostles. “Let the Word of God dwell in you richly.”
Having given that the precedence, neglect no field of knowledge. The presence of Jesus on the earth has sanctified the whole realm of nature; and what He has cleansed, call not you common. All that your Father has made is yours, and you should learn from it. You may read a naturalist’s journal, or a traveler’s narrative of his voyages, and find profit in it. Yes, and even an old herbal, or a manual of alchemy may, like Samson’s dead lion, yield you honey. There are pearls in oyster shells, and sweet fruits on thorny boughs. The paths of true science, especially natural history and botany, drop fatness. Geology, so far as it is fact, and not fiction, is full of treasures. History-wonderful are the visions which it makes to pass before you,-is eminently instructive; indeed, every portion of God’s dominion in nature teems with precious teachings. Intermeddle with all knowledge, according as you have the time, the opportunity, and the peculiar faculty; and do not hesitate to do so because of any apprehension that you will educate yourselves up to too high a point. When grace abounds, learning will not puff you up, or injure your simplicity in the gospel. Serve God with such education as you have, and thank Him for blowing through you if you are a ram’s horn, but if there be a possibility of your becoming a silver trumpet, choose it rather.
I said that, next, we must learn always to discriminate between things that differ; and at this particular time, this point needs insisting on very emphatically. Many run after novelties, charmed with every new thing; learn to judge between truth and its counterfeits, and you will not be led astray. Others adhere to old teachings, like limpets stick to the rock; and yet these may only be ancient errors: wherefore, “prove all things,” and “hold fast that which is good.” The use of the sieve and the winnowing fan, is much to be commended. A man who has asked the Lord to give him clear eyes, by which he shall see the truth, and discern its bearings, and who, by reason of the constant exercise of his faculties, has obtained an accurate judgment, is one fit to be a leader of the Lord’s host; but all ministers are not thus qualified. It is painful to observe how many embrace anything it if be but earnestly brought before them. They swallow the medicine of every spiritual quack who has enough of brazen assurance to appear to be sincere. I say to you, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Brethren, be not children in understanding;” test everything that claims your faith. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the faculty of discerning between good and evil, so shall you conduct your flocks far from poisonous meadows, and lead them into safe pasturage.
But then, if you have the power to acquire knowledge, and also to discriminate, seek next for ability to retain and hold firmly what you have learned. Alas! in these times, certain men glory in being weathercocks; they hold fast nothing; they have, in fact, nothing worth the holding. They believed yesterday, but not that which they believe today, nor that which they will believe tomorrow; and he would be a greater prophet than Isaiah who should be able to tell what they will believe when next the moon doth fill her horns, for they are constantly changing, and seem to have been born under that said moon, and to partake of her changing moods. These men may be as honest as they claim to be, but of what use are they? Like good trees oftentimes transplanted, they may be of a noble nature, but they bring forth nothing; their strength goes out in rooting and re-rooting, they have no sap to spare for fruit. Be sure you have the truth, and then be sure you hold it. Be ready for fresh truth, if it be truth; but be very chary how you subscribe to the belief that a better light has been found than that of the sun. Those who hawk new truth about the street, as the boys do a new edition of the evening paper, are usually no better than they should be. The fair maid of truth does not paint her cheeks and tire her head, like Jezebel, following every new philosophic fashion; she is content with her own native beauty, and in her aspect she is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.
When men change often, they generally need to be changed in the most emphatic sense. Our “modern thought” gentry are doing incalculable mischief to the souls of men. Immortal souls are being damned, yet these men are spinning theories. Hell gapes wide, and with her open mouth swallows up myriads, yet those who should spread the tidings of salvation are “pursuing fresh lines of thought.” Highly-cultured soul-murderers will find their boasted “culture” to be no excuse in the day of judgment. For God’s sake, let us know how men are to be saved, and get to the work; to be for ever deliberating as to the proper mode of making bread while a nation dies of famine, is detestable trifling. It is time we knew what to teach, or else renounced our office. “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,” is the motto of the worst rather than of the best of men. Are they to be our model? “I shape my creed every week,” was the confession of one of these divines to me. Whereunto shall I liken such unsettled ones? Are they not like those birds which frequent the Golden Horn, and are to be seen from Constantinople, of which it is said that they are always on the wing, and never rest? No one ever saw them alight on the water or on the land, they are for ever poised in mid-air. The natives call them “lost souls”-seeking rest and finding none; and, methinks, men who have no personal rest in the truth, if they are not themselves unsaved, are, at least, very unlikely to be the means of saving others. He who has no assured truth to tell must not wonder if his hearers set small store by what he says. We must know the truth, understand it, and hold it with firm grip, or we cannot be of service to the sons of men. Brethren, I charge you, seek to know, and, knowing, to discriminate; having discriminated, I charge you to “hold fast that which is good.” Keep in constant operation the three processes of filling the barn, winnowing the grain, and storing it in granaries, so shall you mentally “go forward.”
II. We also need to GO FORWARD IN ORATORICAL QUALIFICATIONS.
I am beginning at the bottom, but all these matters are important, for it is a pity that even the feet of this image should be of clay. Nothing is trifling which can be of any service to our grand design. Only for want of a nail the horse lost its shoe, and so became unfit for the battle; that shoe was only a trifling rim of iron which smote the ground, and yet the neck clothed with thunder was of no avail when the shoe was gone. A man may be irretrievably ruined for spiritual usefulness, not because he fails either in character or spirit, but because he breaks down mentally or oratorically; and, therefore, I again remark that we must improve in utterance.
It is not every one of us who can speak as some can do, and even these men cannot speak up to their own ideal. If there be any brother here who thinks he can preach as well as he should, I would advise him to leave off altogether. If he did so, he would be acting as wisely as the great painter who broke his palette, and, turning to his wife, said, “My painting days are over, for I have satisfied myself, and therefore I am sure my power is gone.” Whatever other perfection may be attainable, I am certain that he who thinks he has gained perfection in oratory mistakes volubility for eloquence, and verbiage for argument. Whatever you may know, you cannot be truly efficient ministers if you are not “apt to teach.” You are probably all acquainted with ministers who have mistaken their calling, and evidently have no gifts for preaching; make sure that none think the same of you. There are brethren in the ministry whose speech is intolerable; either they dun you to death, or else they send you to sleep. No chloral can ever equal their discourse in sleep-giving properties. No human being, unless gifted with infinite patience, could long endure to listen to them, and nature does well to give the victim deliverance through sleep. I heard one say, the other day, that a certain preacher had no more gifts for the ministry than an oyster, and in my own judgment this was a slander on the oyster, for that worthy bivalve shows great discretion in his openings, and he also knows when to close. If some men were sentenced to hear their own sermons, it would be a righteous judgment upon them; but they would soon cry out with Cain, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” Let us not fall under the same condemnation through any faults in our preaching which we can remedy.
Brethren, we should cultivate a clear style. When a man does not make me understand what he means, it is because he does not himself know what he means. An average hearer, who is unable to follow the course of thought of the preacher, ought not to worry himself, but to blame the preacher, whose business it is to make the matter clear. If you look down into a well, if it be empty, it will appear to be very deep; but. if there be water in it, you will see its brightness. I believe that many “deep” preachers are simply so because they are like dry wells with nothing whatever in them, except decaying leaves, a few stones, and perhaps a dead cat or two. If there be living water in your preaching, it may be very deep, but the light of the truth will give clearness to it. At any rate, labor to be plain, so that the truths you teach may be easily received by your hearers.
We must cultivate a cogent as well as a clear style; we must be forceful. Some imagine that this consists in speaking loudly, but I can assure them they are in error. Nonsense does not improve by being bellowed. God does not require us to shout as if we were speaking to three millions when we are only addressing three hundred. Let us be forcible by reason of the excellence of our matter, and the energy of spirit which we throw into the delivery of it. In a word, let our speaking be natural and living. I hope we have forsworn the tricks of professional orators, the strain after effect, the studied climax, the prearranged pause, the theatrical strut, the mouthing of words, and I know not what besides, which you may see in certain pompous divines who still survive upon the face of the earth. May such preachers become extinct animals ere long, and may a living, natural, simple way of talking out the gospel be learned by us all; for I am persuaded that such a style is one which God is likely to bless.
Among many other things, we must cultivate persuasiveness. Some of our brethren have great influence over men, and yet others with greater gifts are devoid of it; these last do not appear to get near to the people, they cannot grip them, and make them feel. There are preachers who, in their sermons, seem to take their hearers one by one by the buttonhole, and drive the truth right into their souls, while others generalize so much, and are withal so cold, that one would think they were speaking to dwellers in some remote planet, whose affairs did not much concern them. Learn the art of pleading with men. You will do this well if you often see the Lord. If I remember rightly, the old classic story tells us that, when a soldier was about to kill Darius, his son, who had been dumb from his childhood, suddenly cried out in surprise, “Know you not that he is the king” His silent tongue was unloosed by love to his father, and well may ours also find earnest speech when the Lord is seen by us crucified for sin. If there be any speech in us, this will arouse it. The knowledge of “the terror of the Lord” should also bestir us to persuade men. We cannot do other than plead with them to be reconciled to God. Brethren, mark those who woo sinners to Jesus, find out their secret, and never rest till you obtain the same power. If you find them very simple and homely, yet if you see them really useful, say to yourself, “That method will do for me;” but if, on the other hand, you listen to a preacher who is much admired, and on enquiry you find that no souls are savingly converted under his ministry, say to yourself, “This style is not the thing for me, for I am not seeking to be great, but to be really useful.”
Let your oratory, therefore, constantly improve in clearness, cogency, naturalness, and persuasiveness. Try, dear brethren, to get such a style of speaking that you suit yourselves to your audiences. Much lies in that. The preacher, who should address an educated congregation in the language which he would use in speaking to a company of costermongers, would prove himself a fool; and, on the other hand, he who goes down amongst miners and colliers, with technical theological terms and drawing-room phrases, acts like an idiot. The confusion of tongues at Babel was more thorough than we imagine. It did not merely give different languages to great nations, but it made the speech of each class to vary from that of others. A fellow of Billingsgate cannot understand a fellow of Brasenose. Now, as the costermonger cannot learn the language of the College, let the collegian learn the language of the costermonger. “We use the language of the market,” said Whitefield, and this was much to his honor; yet, when he stood in the drawing-room of the Countess of Huntingdon, and his speech entranced the infidel noblemen whom she brought to hear him, he adopted another style. His language was equally plain in each case, because it was equally familiar to his audience; but he did not use the ipsissima verba, else his speech would have lost its plainness in the one case or the other, and would either have been slang to the nobility or Greek to the crowd. In our modes of speech, we should aim at being “all things to all men.” He is the greatest master of oratory who is able to address any class of people in a manner suitable to their condition, and likely to touch their hearts.
Brethren, let none excel us in power of speech; let none surpass us in the mastery of our mother-tongue. Beloved fellow-soldiers, our tongues are the swords which God has given us to use for Him, even as, it is said of our Lord, “Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.” Let these swords be sharp. Cultivate your powers of speech, and be amongst the foremost in the land for utterance. I do not exhort you to this because you are remarkably deficient; far from it, for everybody says to me, “We know your College men by their plain, bold speech.” This leads me to believe that you have the gift largely in you, and I beseech you to take pains to perfect it.
III. Brethren, we must be even more earnest to GO FORWARD IN MORAL QUALITIES.
Let the points I shall mention here come home to those who shall require them, but I assure you I have no special persons among you in my mind’s eye. We desire to rise to the highest style of ministry; but even if we obtain the mental and oratorical qualifications I have mentioned, we shall fail, unless we also possess high moral qualities. There are evils which we must shake off, as Paul shook the viper from his hand, and there are virtues which we must gain at any cost. Self-indulgence has slain its thousands. Let us tremble lest we perish by the hands of this Delilah. Let us have every passion and habit under due restraint; if we are not masters of ourselves, we are not fit to be leaders in the Church of Christ.
We must also put away all notion of self-importance. God will not bless the man who thinks himself great. To glory even in the work of God the Holy Spirit in yourself, is to tread dangerously near to self-adulation. “Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth,” and be very glad when that other has sense enough to hold his tongue.
We must also have our tempers well under restraint. A vigorous temper is not altogether an evil. Men who are as easy as an old shoe are generally of as little worth. I would not say to you, “Dear brethren, have a temper;” but I do say,” If you have one, control it carefully.” I thank God when I see a minister have temper enough to be indignant at wrong, and to be firm for the right; still, temper is an edged tool, and often cuts the man who handles it. “Gentle, and easy to be entreated,” preferring to bear evil rather than inflict it, this is to be our spirit. If any brother here naturally boils over too soon, let him mind that, when he does do so, he scalds nobody but the devil, and then let him boil away as fast as he likes.
We must-some of us especially must-conquer our tendency to levity. A great distinction exists between holy cheerfulness, which is a virtue, and that general levity, which is a vice. There is a levity which has not enough heart to laugh, but trifles with everything; it is flippant, hollow, unreal. A hearty laugh is no more levity than a hearty cry. I speak of that religious veneering which is pretentious, but thin, superficial, insincere about the weightiest matters. Godliness is no jest, nor is it a mere form. Beware of being actors. Never give earnest men the impression that you do not mean what you say, and are mere professionals. To be burning at the lip, and freezing at the soul, is a mark of reprobation. God deliver us from being either superfine or superficial; may we never be the butterflies of the garden of God!
At the same time, we should avoid everything like the ferocity of bigotry. There are religious people about, who, I have no doubt, were born of a woman, but they appear to have been suckled by a wolf. I have done them no dishonor by that comparison, for were not Romulus and Remus, the founders of the city of Rome, nourished in that fashion? Some warlike men of this order have had power to found dynasties of thought; but human kindness and brotherly love consort better with the Kingdom of Christ. We are not to be always going about the world searching out heresies, like terrier dogs sniffing for rats, and to be always so confident of our own infallibility that we erect ecclesiastical stakes at which to roast all who differ from us, not, ’tis true, with faggots of wood, but with those coals of juniper, which consist of strong prejudice and cruel suspicion.
In addition to all this, there are mannerisms, and moods, and ways, which I cannot now describe, against which we must struggle, for little faults may often be the source of failure, and to get rid of them may be the secret of success. Count nothing little which makes you even a little more useful; cleanse out from the temple of your soul the seats of them that sell doves as well as the traffickers in sheep and oxen.
And, dear brethren, we must acquire certain moral faculties and habits, as, well as put aside their opposites. He will never do much for God who has not integrity of spirit. If we be guided by policy, if there be any mode of action for us but that which is straightforward, we shall make shipwreck before long. Resolve, dear brethren, that you can be poor, that you can be despised, that you can lose life itself, but that you cannot do a crooked thing. For you, let the only policy be honesty.
May you also possess the grand moral characteristic of courage! By this, I do not mean impertinence, impudence, or self-conceit; but real courage to do and say calmly the right thing, and to go straight on at all hazards, though there should be none to give you a good word. I am astonished at the number of’ Christians who are afraid to speak the truth to their brethren. I thank God that I can say this,-there is no member of my church, no officer of the church, and no man in the world, to whom I am afraid to say before his face what I would say behind his back. Under God, I owe my position in my own church to the absence of all policy, and the habit of always saying what I mean. The plan of making things pleasant all round is a perilous as well as a wicked one. If you say one thing to one man, and another to another, they will one day compare notes, and find you out, and then you will be despised. The man of two faces will sooner or later be the object of contempt, and justly so. Now, above all things, avoid that. If you have anything that you feel you ought to say about a man, let the measure of what you say be this, “How much dare I say to his face?” We must not allow ourselves a word more than that in censure of any man living. If that be your rule, your courage will save you from a thousand difficulties, and win you lasting respect.
Having the integrity and the courage, dear brethren, may you be gifted with an unconquerable zeal! Zeal,-what is it? How shall I describe it? Possess it, and you will know what it is. Be consumed with love for Christ, and let the flame burn continuously; not flaming up at public meetings, and dying out in the routine work of every day. We need indomitable perseverance, dogged zeal, and a combination of sacred obstinacy, self-denial, holy gentleness, and invincible courage.
Excel also in one power, which is both mental and moral, namely, the power of concentrating all your forces upon the work to which you are called. Collect your thoughts, rally all your faculties, mass your energies, focus your capacities. Turn all the springs of your soul into one channel, causing it to flow onward in an undivided stream. Some men lack this quality. They scatter themselves, and therefore fail. Mass your battalions, and hurl them upon the enemy. Do not try to be great at this, and great at that,-to be “everything by starts, and nothing long;” but suffer your entire nature to be led in captivity by Jesus Christ, and lay everything at His dear feet who bled and died for you.
IV. Above all these things, we need TO GO FORWARD IN SPIRITUAL QUALIFICATIONS, the graces which must be wrought in us by the Holy Spirit Himself. This is the main matter, I am sure. Other things are precious, but this is priceless.
We need, first, to know ourselves. The preacher should be well acquainted with the science of the heart, the philosophy of inward experience. There are two schools of experience, and neither is content to learn from the other; let us be willing, however, to learn from both. The one school speaks of the child of God as one who knows the deep depravity of his heart, who understands the loathsomeness of his nature, and daily feels that in his flesh there dwelleth no good thing. “That man has not the life of God in his soul,” say the men of this school, “who does not know and feel this, and feel it by bitter and painful experience from day to day.” It is in vain to talk to them about liberty, and joy in the Holy Ghost; they will not have it. Yet let us learn from these one-sided brethren. They know much that should be known, and woe to that minister who ignores their set of truths! Martin Luther used to say that temptation is the best teacher for a minister. There is truth on that side of the question.
Believers of another school dwell much-and rightly and blessedly so-upon the glorious work of the Spirit of God. They believe in the Spirit of God as a cleansing power, sweeping the Augean stable of the soul, and making it into a temple for God. But frequently they talk as if they had ceased to sin, or to be annoyed by temptation; they glory as if the battle were already fought, and the victory won. Yet let us also learn what we can from these brethren. All the truth they can teach us, let us know. Let us become familiar with the hilltops of salvation, and the glory that shines thereon,-the Hermons and the Tabors, where we may be transfigured with our Lord. Do not be afraid of ever growing too holy, or of being too full of the Holy Spirit.
I would have you wise on all sides, and able to deal with man both in his conflicts and in his joys, as one who is familiar with both experiences. Know where Adam left you; know where the Spirit of God has placed you. Do not know either of these things so exclusively as to forget the other. I believe that, if any men are likely to cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” it will always be the ministers of the gospel, because we need to be tempted in all points, so that we may be able to comfort others. In a railway carriage, last week, I saw a poor man with his leg placed upon the seat. An official happening to see him in that posture, remarked, “Those cushions were not made for you to put your dirty boots on.” As soon as the guard was gone, the man put up his leg again, and said to me, “He never broke his leg in two places, I am sure, or he would not be so sharp with me.” When I have heard brethren, who have lived at ease, enjoying good incomes, condemning others who are much tried, because they could not rejoice in their fashion, I have felt that they knew nothing of the broken bones which others have to carry throughout the whole of their pilgrimage.
Brethren, know man, in Christ, and out of Christ. Study him at his best, and study him at his worst; know his anatomy, his secrets, and his passions. You cannot gain this knowledge from books; you must have personal acquaintance with men if you are to help them in their varied spiritual experience. God alone can give you that wisdom which you will need in dealing wisely with them, but He will give it to you in answer to believing prayer.
Among spiritual acquirements, it is beyond all other things needful to know Him who is the sure remedy for all human diseases. Know Jesus. Sit at His feet. Consider His nature, His work, His sufferings, His glory. Rejoice in His presence; commune with Him from day to day. To know Christ, is to understand the most excellent of all sciences. You cannot fail to be wise if you commune with Incarnate Wisdom; you cannot lack strength if you have constant fellowship with God. Let this be your desire,-
“I would commune with Thee, my God;
E’en to Thy seat I come;
I leave my joys, 1 leave my sins,
And seek in Thee my home.”
Dwell in God, brethren; not sometimes go to Him, but abide in Him. They say in Italy that, where the sun does not enter, the physician must. Where Jesus does not shine, the soul is sick. Bask in His beams, and you shall be vigorous in the service of your Lord.
Last Sunday night, I had a text which mastered me: “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father.” I told the people that poor sinners, who had gone to Jesus, and trusted Him, thought they knew Him, but that they knew only a little of Him. Saints of sixty years’ experience, who have walked with Him every day, think they know Him; but they are only beginning to know Him yet. The perfect spirits before the throne, who have been for five thousand years perpetually adoring Him, perhaps think they know Him, but they do not to the full. “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father.” He is so glorious, that only the infinite God has full knowledge of Him, therefore there will be no limit to our study, or narrowness in our line of thought, if we make our Lord the great object of all our thoughts and researches.
So, brethren, as the outcome of this knowledge, if we are to be strong men, we must be conformed to our Lord. Oh, to be like Him! Blessed be that cross on which we shall suffer, if we suffer for being made like unto the Lord Jesus. If we obtain conformity to Christ, we shall have a wondrous unction upon our ministry; and without that, what is a ministry worth? In a word, we must labor for holiness of character. What is holiness? Is it not wholeness of character? A balanced condition in which there is neither lack nor redundance. It is not morality, that is a cold, lifeless statue; holiness is life. You must have holiness; and, dear brethren, if you should fail in mental qualifications (though I hope you will not), and if you should have a slender measure of the oratorical faculty (though I trust you will not), yet, depend upon it, a holy life is, in itself, a wonderful power, and will make up for many deficiencies; it is, in fact, the best sermon the best man can ever deliver. Let us resolve that all the purity which can be had we will have, that all the sanctity which can be reached we will obtain, and that all the likeness to Christ that is possible in this world of sin shall certainly be in us through the effectual working of the Spirit of God. The Lord lift us all, as a College, right up to a higher platform, and He shall have the glory!
V. I have not finished my message, for I have further to say, GO FORWARD IN ACTUAL WORK.
After all, we shall be known by what we have done, more than by what we have said. Like the apostles, I hope our memorial will be our acts. There are good brethren in the world who are impractical. The grand doctrine of the Second Advent makes them stand with open mouths, peering into the skies, so that I am ready to say, “Ye men of Plymouth, why stand ye here gazing up into Heaven?” The fact that Jesus Christ is to come again, is not a reason for star-gazing, but for working in the power of the Holy Ghost. Be not so taken up with speculations as to prefer a Bible-reading over an obscure passage in the Revelation to teaching in a Ragged-school or discoursing to the poor concerning Jesus. We must have done with daydreams, and get to work. I believe in eggs, but we must get chickens out of them. I do not mind how big your egg is, it may be an ostrich’s egg if you like; but if there is nothing in it, pray clear away the shell. If something comes of your speculations, God bless them; and even if you should go a little further than I think it wise to venture in that direction, still, if you are thereby made more useful, God be praised for it!
We want facts,-deeds done, souls saved. It is all very well to write essays, but what souls have you been the means of saving from going down to hell? Your excellent management of your school interests me, but how many children have been brought into the church by it? We are glad to hear of those special meetings, but how many have really been born to God in them? Are saints edified? Are sinners converted? To swing to and fro on a five-barred gate, is not progress; yet some seem to think that it is. I see them in a kind of perpetual Elysium, humming over to themselves and their friends, “We are very comfortable.” God save us from living in comfort while sinners are sinking into hell! In traveling along the mountain roads in Switzerland, you will continually see marks of the boring-rod; and in every minister’s life there should be traces of stern labor. Brethren, do something; do something; DO SOMETHING. While Committees waste their time over resolutions, do something. While Societies and Unions are making constitutions, let us win souls. Too often we discuss, and discuss, and discuss, while Satan only laughs in his sleeve. It is time we had done planning, and sought something to plan. I pray you, be men of action all of you. Get to work, and quit yourselves like men. Old Suwarrow’s idea of war is mine: “Forward and strike! No theory! Attack! Form column! Fix bayonets, and charge right into the very centre of the enemy.” Our one aim is to save sinners, and this we are not merely to talk about, but to effect in the power of God.
VI. Lastly, and here I am going to deliver a message which weighs upon me, GO FORWARD IN THE MATTER OF THE CHOICE OF YOUR SPHERE OF ACTION.
I plead this day for those who cannot plead for themselves, namely, the great outlying masses of the heathen world. Our existing pulpits are tolerably well supplied, but we need men who will build on new foundations. Who will do this? Are we, as a company of faithful men, clear in our consciences about the heathen? Millions have never heard the Name of Jesus. Hundreds of millions have seen a missionary only once in their lives, and know nothing of our King. Shall we let them perish? Can we go to our beds and sleep, while China, India, Japan, and other nations are being damned? Are we clear of their blood? Have they no claim upon us? We ought to put it on this footing,-not, “Can I prove that I ought to go?” but, “Can I prove that I ought not to go?” When a man can honestly prove that he ought not to go, then he is clear, but not else. What answer do you give, my brethren? I put it to you man by man. I am not raising a question among you which I have not honestly put to myself. I have felt that, if some of our leading ministers would go forth, it would have a grand effect in stimulating the churches, and I have honestly asked myself whether I ought to go. After balancing the whole thing, I feel bound to keep my place, and I think the judgment of most Christians would confirm my decision; but I hope I would readily, and willingly, and cheerfully, go abroad if I did not feel that I ought to remain at home. Brethren, put yourselves through the same process. We must have the heathen converted; God has myriads of His elect among them, we must go and search for them somehow or other. Many difficulties are now removed, all lands are open to us, and distance is almost annihilated. True, we have not the Pentecostal gift of tongues; but languages are now readily acquired, while the art of printing is a full equivalent for the lost gift. The dangers incident to missions ought not to keep any true man back, even if they were very great, but they are now reduced to a minimum. There are hundreds of places where the cross of Christ is unknown, to which we can go without risk. Who will go?
The men who ought to go are young brethren of good abilities who have not yet taken upon themselves family cares. Each student entering the College should consider this matter, and surrender himself to the work unless there are conclusive reasons for his not doing so. It is a fact that, even for the Colonies, it is very difficult to find men, for I have had openings in Australia which I have been obliged to decline. It ought not to be so. Surely there is some self-sacrifice among us yet, and some among us who are willing to be exiled for Jesus. The Mission languishes for want of men. If the men were forthcoming, the liberality of the Church would supply their needs; and, in fact, the liberality of the Church has provided the supply, and yet there are not the men to go. I shall never feel, brethren, that we, as a band of men, have done our duty until we see our comrades fighting for Jesus in every land in the van of the conflict. I believe that, if God moves you to go, you will be among the best of missionaries, because you will make the preaching of the gospel the great feature of your work, and that is God’s sure way of power.
I wish that our churches would imitate that of Pastor Harms, in Germany, where every member was consecrated to God in deed and of a truth. The farmers gave the produce of their lands, the working-men their labor; one gave a large house to be used as a missionary college, and Pastor Harms obtained money for a ship which he fitted out, to make voyages the to Africa, and then he sent missionaries, and little companies of his people with them, to form Christian communities among the Bushmen. When will our churches be equally self-denying and energetic? Look at the Moravians, how every man or woman becomes a missionary, and how much they do for the Lord in consequence. Let us catch their spirit. Is it a right spirit? Then it is right for us to have it. It is not enough for us to say, “Those Moravians are very wonderful people.” We ought to be wonderful people, too. Christ did not purchase the Moravians any more completely than He purchased us; they are under no more obligation to make sacrifices than we are. Why then this backwardness? When we read of heroic men who gave up all for Jesus, we are not merely to admire, but to imitate them. Who will imitate them now? Come to the point? Are there not some among you willing to consecrate yourselves to the Lord? “Forward” is the watchword today! Are there no bold spirits to lead the van? Pray all of you that, during this Pentecost, the Spirit may say, “Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”
Brethren, on wings of love mount upward, and fly forward. Amen.