PREFATORY NOTETHIS volume is issued in accordance with a plan formed by MR. SPURGEON; indeed, he had already prepared for the press the greater part of the material here published, and the rest of his manuscripts have been inserted after only slight revision. It was his intention to deliver to the students of the Pastors' College a short course of Lectures upon what he termed "that most royal employment"SOUL-WINNING, and, having completed the series, he purposed to collect his previous utterances to other audiences upon the same theme, and to publish the whole for the guidance of all who desired to become soul-winners, and with the hope also of inducing many more professing Christians to engage in this truly blessed service for the Saviour. This explanation will account for the form in which the topic is treated in the present book. The first six chapters contain the College Lectures; then follow four Addresses delivered to Sunday-school teachers, open-air preachers, and friends gathered at Monday evening prayer-meetings at the Tabernacle; while the rest of the volume consists of Sermons in which the work of winning souls is earnestly commended to the attention of every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. For more than forty years, MR. SPURGEON was, by his preaching and writing, one of the greatest soul-winners; and by his printed words he still continues to be the means of the conversion of many all over the world. It is believed, therefore, that thousands will rejoice to read what he spoke and wrote concerning what he called "the chief business of the Christian minister."
Chapter 1: What Is It To Win A Soul?I PURPOSE, dear brethren, if God shall enable me, to give you a short course of lectures under the general head of "THE SOUL-WINNER." Soulwinning is the chief business of the Christian minister; indeed, it should be the main pursuit of every true believer. We should each say with Simon Peter, "I go a fishing," and with Paul our aim should be, "That I might by all means save some."
We shall commence our discourses upon this subject by considering the question
This may be instructively answered by describing what it is not. We do not regard it to be soul-winning to steal members out of churches already established, and train them to utter our peculiar Shibboleth: we aim rather at bringing souls to Christ than at making converts to our synagogue. There are sheep-stealers abroad, concerning whom I will say nothing except that they are not "brethren", or, at least, they do not act in a brotherly fashion. To their own Master they must stand or fall. We count it utter meanness to build up our own house with the ruins of our neighbours' mansions; we infinitely prefer to quarry for ourselves. I hope we all sympathize in the largehearted spirit of Dr. Chalmers, who, when it was said that such and such an effort would not be beneficial to the special interests of the Free Church of Scotland, although it might promote the general religion of the land, said, "What is the Free Church compared with the Christian good of the people of Scotland?" What, indeed, is any church, or what are all the churches put together, as mere organizations, if they stand in conflict with the moral and spiritual advantage of the nation, or if they impede the kingdom of Christ? It is because God blesses men through the churches that we desire to see them prosper, and not merely for the sake of the churches themselves. There is such a thing as selfishness in our eagerness for the aggrandisement of our own party; and from this evil spirit may grace deliver us! The increase of the kingdom is more to be desired than the growth of a clan. We would do a great deal to make a Paedobaptist brother into a Baptist, for we value our Lord's ordinances; we would labour earnestly to raise a believer in salvation by free-will into a believer in salvation by grace, for we long to see all religious teaching built upon the solid rock of truth, and not upon the sand of imagination; but, at the same time, our grand object is not the revision of opinions, but the regeneration of natures. We would bring men to Christ and not to our own peculiar views of Christianity. Our first care must be that the sheep should be gathered to the great Shepherd; there will be time enough afterwards to secure them for our various folds. To make proselytes, is a suitable labour for Pharisees: to beget men unto God, is the honourable aim of ministers of Christ.
In the next place, we do not consider soul-winning to be accomplished by hurriedly inscribing more names upon our church-roll, in order to show a good increase at the end of the year. This is easily done, and there are brethren who use great pains, not to say arts, to effect it; but if it be regarded as the Alpha and Omega of a minister's efforts, the result will be deplorable. By all means let us bring true converts into the church, for it is a part of our work to teach them to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded them; but still, this is to be done to disciples, and not to mere professors; and if care be not used, we may do more harm than good at this point. To introduce unconverted persons to the church, is to weaken and degrade it; and therefore an apparent gain may be a real loss. I am not among those who decry statistics, nor do I consider that they are productive of all manner of evil; for they do much good if they are accurate, and if men use them lawfully. It is a good thing for people to see the nakedness of the land through statistics of decrease, that they may be driven on their knees before the Lord to seek prosperity; and, on the other hand, it is by no means an evil thing for workers to be encouraged by having some account of results set before them. I should be very sorry if the practice of adding up, and deducting, and giving in the net result were to be abandoned, for it must be right to know our numerical condition. It has been noticed that those who object to the process are often brethren whose unsatisfactory reports should somewhat humiliate them: this is not always so, but it is suspiciously frequent. I heard of the report of a church, the other day, in which the minister, who was well known to have reduced his congregation to nothing, somewhat cleverly wrote, "Our church is looking up." When he was questioned with regard to this statement, he replied, "Everybody knows that the church is on its back, and it cannot do anything else but look up." When churches are looking up in that way, their pastors generally say that statistics are very delusive things, and that you cannot tabulate the work of the Spirit, and calculate the prosperity of a church by figures. The fact is, you can reckon very correctly if the figures are honest, and if all circumstances are taken into consideration if there is no increase, you may calculate with considerable accuracy that there is not much being done; and if there is a clear decrease among a growing population, you may reckon that the prayers of the people and the preaching of the minister are not of the most powerful kind.
But, still, all hurry to get members into the church is most mischievous, both to the church and to the supposed converts. I remember very well several young men, who were of good moral character, and religiously hopeful; but instead of searching their hearts, and aiming at their real conversion, the pastor never gave them any rest till he had persuaded them to make a profession. He thought that they would be under more bonds to holy things if they professed religion, and he felt quite safe in pressing them, for "they were so hopeful." He imagined that to discourage them by vigilant examination might drive them away, and so, to secure them, he made them hypocrites. These young men are, at the present time, much further off from the Church of God than they would have been if they had been affronted by being kept in their proper places, and warned that they were not converted to God. It is a serious injury to a person to receive him into the number of the faithful unless there is good reason to believe that he is really regenerate. I am sure it is so, for I speak after careful observation. Some of the most glaring sinners known to me were once members of a church; and were, as I believe, led to make a profession by undue pressure, well-meant but ill-judged. Do not, therefore, consider that soul-winning is or can be secured by the multiplication of baptisms, and the swelling of the size of your church. What mean these despatches from the battle-field? "Last night, fourteen souls were under conviction, fifteen were justified, and eight received full sanctification." I am weary of this public bragging, this counting of unhatched chickens, this exhibition of doubtful spoils. Lay aside such numberings of the people, such idle pretence of certifying in half a minute that which will need the testing of a lifetime. Hope for the best, but in your highest excitements be reasonable. Enquiry-rooms are all very well; but if they lead to idle boastings, they will grieve the Holy Spirit, and work abounding evil.
Nor is it soul-winning, dear friends, merely to create excitement. Excitement will accompany every great movement. We might justly question whether the movement was earnest and powerful if it was quite as serene as a drawing-room Bible-reading. You cannot very well blast great rocks without the sound of explosions, nor fight a battle and keep everybody as quiet as a mouse. On a dry day, a carriage is not moving much along the road unless there is some noise and dust; friction and stir are the natural result of force in motion. So, when the Spirit of God is abroad, and men's minds are stirred, there must and will be certain visible signs of the movement, although these must never be confounded with the movement itself. If people imagine that to make a dust is the object aimed at by the rolling of a carriage, they can take a broom, and very soon raise as much dust as fifty coaches; but they will be committing a nuisance rather than conferring a benefit. Excitement is as incidental as the dust, but it is not for one moment to be aimed at. When the woman swept her house, she did it to find her money, and not for the sake of raising a cloud.
Do not aim at sensation and "effect." Flowing tears and streaming eyes, sobs and outcries, crowded after-meetings and all kinds of confusions may occur, and may be borne with as concomitants of genuine feeling; but pray do not plan their production.
It very often happens that the converts that are born in excitement die when the excitement is over. They are like certain insects which are the product of an exceedingly warm day, and die when the sun goes down. Certain converts live like salamanders, in the fire; but they expire at a reasonable temperature. I delight not in the religion which needs or creates a hot head. Give me the godliness which flourishes upon Calvary rather than upon Vesuvius. The utmost zeal for Christ is consistent with common-sense and reason: raving, ranting, and fanaticism are products of another zeal which is not according to knowledge. We would prepare men for the chamber of communion, and not for the padded room at Bedlam. No one is more sorry than I that such a caution as this should be needful; but remembering the vagaries of certain wild revivalists, I cannot say less, and I might say a great deal more.
What is the real winning of a soul for God? So far as this is done by instrumentality, what are the processes by which a soul is led to God and to salvation? I take it that one of its main operations consists in instructing a man that he may know the truth of God. Instruction by the gospel is the commencement of all real work upon men's minds. "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Teaching begins the work, and crowns it, too.
The gospel, according to Isaiah, is, "Incline your ear, and come unto Me: hear, and your soul shall live." It is ours, then, to give men something worth their hearing; in fact, to instruct them. We are sent to evangelize, or to preach the gospel to every creature; and that is not done unless we teach them the great truths of revelation. The gospel is good news. To listen to some preachers, you would imagine that the gospel was a pinch of sacred snuff to make them wake up, or a bottle of ardent spirits to excite their brains. It is nothing of the kind; it is news, there is information in it, there is instruction in it concerning matters which men need to know, and statements in it calculated to bless those who hear it. It is not a magical incantation, or a charm, whose force consists in a collection of sounds; it is a revelation of facts and truths which require knowledge and belief. The gospel is a reasonable system, and it appeals to men's understanding; it is a matter for thought and consideration, and it appeals to the conscience and the reflecting powers. Hence, if we do not teach men something, we may shout, "Believe! Believe! Believe!" but what are they to believe? Each exhortation requires a corresponding instruction, or it will mean nothing. "Escape!" From what? This requires for its answer the doctrine of the punishment of sin. "Fly!" But whither? Then must you preach Christ, and His wounds; yea, and the clear doctrine of atonement by sacrifice. "Repent!" Of what? Here you must answer such questions as, What is sin? What is the evil of sin? What are the consequences of sin ? "Be converted!" But what is it to be converted? By what power can we be converted? What from? What to? The field of instruction is wide if men are to be made to know the truth which saves. "That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good," and it is ours as the Lord's instruments to make men so to know the truth that they may believe it, and feel its power. We are not to try and save men in the dark, but in the power of the Holy Ghost we are to seek to turn them from darkness to light.
And, do not believe, dear friends, that when you go into revival meetings, or special evangelistic services, you are to leave out the doctrines of the gospel; for you ought then to proclaim the doctrines of grace rather more than less. Teach gospel doctrines clearly, affectionately, simply, and plainly, and especially those truths which have a present and practical bearing upon man's condition and God's grace. Some enthusiasts would seem to have imbibed the notion that, as soon as a minister addresses the unconverted, he should deliberately contradict his usual doctrinal discourses, because it is supposed that there will be no conversions if he preaches the whole counsel of God. It just comes to this, brethren, it is supposed that we are to conceal truth, and utter a half-falsehood, in order to save souls. We are to speak the truth to God's people because they will not hear anything else; but we are to wheedle sinners into faith by exaggerating one part of truth, and hiding the rest until a more convenient season. This is a strange theory, and yet many endorse it. According to them, we may preach the redemption of a chosen number to God's people, but universal redemption must be our doctrine when we speak with the outside world; we are to tell believers that salvation is all of grace, but sinners are to be spoken with as if they were to save themselves; we are to inform Christians that God the Holy Spirit alone can convert, but when we talk with the unsaved, the Holy Ghost is scarcely to be named. We have not so learned Christ. Thus others have done; let them be our beacons, and not our examples. He who sent us to win souls neither permits us to invent false-hoods, nor to suppress truth. His work can be done without such suspicious methods.
Perhaps some of you will reply, "But, still, God has blessed half-statements and wild assertions." Be not quite so sure. I venture to assert that God does not bless falsehood; He may bless the truth which is mixed up with error; but much more of blessing would have come if the preaching had been more in accordance with His own Word. I cannot admit that the Lord blesses evangelistic Jesuitism, and the suppression of truth is not too harshly named when I so describe it. The withholding of the doctrine of the total depravity of man has wrought serious mischief to many who have listened to a certain kind of preaching. These people do not get a true healing because they do not know the disease under which they are suffering; they are never truly clothed because nothing is done towards stripping them. In many ministries, there is not enough of probing the heart and arousing the conscience by the revelation of man's alienation from God, and by the declaration of the selfishness and the wickedness of such a state. Men need to be told that, except divine grace shall bring them out of their enmity to God, they must eternally perish; and they must be reminded of the sovereignty of God, that He is not obliged to bring them out of this state, that He would be right and just if He left them in such a condition, that they have no merit to plead before Him, and no claims upon Him, but that if they are to be saved, it must be by grace, and by grace alone. The preacher's work is to throw sinners down in utter helplessness, that they may be compelled to look up to Him who alone can help them.
To try to win a soul for Christ by keeping that soul in ignorance of any truth, is contrary to the mind of the Spirit; and to endeavour to save men by mere claptrap, or excitement, or oratorical display, is as foolish as to hope to hold an angel with bird-lime, or lure a star with music. The best attraction is the gospel in its purity. The weapon with which the Lord conquers men is the truth as it is in Jesus. The gospel will be found equal to every emergency; an arrow which can pierce the hardest heart, a balm which will heal the deadliest wound. Preach it, and preach nothing else. Rely implicitly upon the old, old gospel. You need no other nets when you fish for men; those your Master has given you are strong enough for the great fishes, and have meshes fine enough to hold the little ones. Spread these nets and no others, and you need not fear the fulfilment of His Word, "I will make you fishers of men."
Secondly, to win a soul, it is necessary, not only to instruct our hearer, and make him know the truth, but to impress him so that he may feel it. A purely didactic ministry, which should always appeal to the understanding, and should leave the emotions untouched, would certainly be a limping ministry. "The legs of the lame are not equal," says Solomon; and the unequal legs of some ministries cripple them. We have seen such an one limping about with a long doctrinal leg, but a very short emotional leg. It is a horrible thing for a man to be so doctrinal that he can speak coolly of the doom of the wicked, so that, if he does not actually praise God for it, it costs him no anguish of heart to think of the ruin of millions of our race. This is horrible! I hate to hear the terrors of the Lord proclaimed by men whose hard visages, harsh tones, and unfeeling spirit betray a sort of doctrinal desiccation: all the milk of human kindness is dried out of them. Having no feeling himself, such a preacher creates none, and the people sit and listen while he keeps to dry, lifeless statements, until they come to value him for being "sound", and they themselves come to be sound, too; and I need not add, sound asleep also, or what life they have is spent in sniffing out heresy, and making earnest men offenders for a word. Into this spirit may we never be baptized! Whatever I believe, or do not believe, the command to love my neighbour as myself still retains its claim upon me, and God forbid that any views or opinions should so contract my soul, and harden my heart as to make me forget this law of love! The love of God is first, but this by no means lessens the obligation of love to man; in fact, the first command includes the second. We are to seek our neighbour's conversion because we love him, and we are to speak to him in loving terms God's loving gospel, because our heart desires his eternal good.
A sinner has a heart as well as a head; a sinner has emotions as well as thoughts; and we must appeal to both. A sinner will never be converted until his emotions are stirred. Unless he feels sorrow for sin, and unless he has some measure of joy in the reception of the Word, you cannot have much hope of him. The Truth must soak into the soul, and dye it with its own colour. The Word must be like a strong wind sweeping through the whole heart, and swaying the whole man, even as a field of ripening corn waves in the summer breeze. Religion without emotion is religion without life.
But, still, we must mind how these emotions are caused. Do not play upon the mind by exciting feelings which are not spiritual. Some preachers are very fond of introducing funerals and dying children into their discourses, and they make the people weep through sheer natural affection. This may lead up to something better, but in itself what is its value? What is the good of opening up a mother's griefs or a widow's sorrows? I do not believe that our merciful Lord has sent us to make men weep over their departed relatives by digging anew their graves, and rehearsing past scenes of bereavement and woe. Why should He? It is granted that you may profitably employ the death-bed of a departing Christian, or of a dying sinner, for proof of the rest of faith in the one case, and the terror of conscience in the other; but it is out of the fact proved, and not out of the illustration itself, that the good must arise. Natural grief is of no service in itself; indeed, we look upon it as a distraction from higher thoughts, and as a price too great to exact from tender hearts, unless we can repay them by engrafting lasting spiritual impressions upon the stock of natural affection. "It was a very splendid oration, full of pathos," says one who heard it. Yes, but what is the practical outcome of this pathos? A young preacher once remarked, "Were you not greatly struck to see so large a congregation weeping?" "Yes," said his judicious friend, "but I was more struck with the reflection that they would probably have wept more at a play." Exactly so; and the weeping in both cases may be equally valueless. I saw a girl on board a steamboat reading a book, and crying as if her heart would break; but when I glanced at the volume, I saw that it was only one of those silly yellow-covered novels which load our railway bookstalls. Her tears were a sheer waste of moisture, and so are those which are produced by mere pulpit tale-telling and death-bed painting.
If our hearers will weep over their sins, and after Jesus, let their tears flow in rivers; but if the object of their sorrow is merely natural, and not at all spiritual, what good is done by setting them weeping? There might be some virtue in making people joyful, for there is sorrow enough in the world, and the more we can promote cheerfulness, the better; but what is the use of creating needless misery? What right have you to go through the world pricking everybody with your lancet just to show your skill in surgery? A true physician only makes incisions in order to effect cures, and a wise minister only excites painful emotions in men's minds with the distinct object of blessing their souls. You and I must continue to drive at men's hearts till they are broken; and then we must keep on preaching Christ crucified till their hearts are bound up; and when this is accomplished, we must continue to proclaim the gospel till their whole nature is brought into subjection to the gospel of Christ. Even in these preliminaries you will be made to feel the need of the Holy Ghost to work with you, and by you; but this need will be still more evident when we advance a step further, and speak of the new birth itself in which the Holy Spirit works in a style and manner most divine.
I have already insisted upon instruction and impression as most needful to soul-winning; but these are not all,they are, indeed, only means to the desired end. A far greater work must be done before a man is saved. A wonder of divine grace must be wrought upon the soul, far transcending anything which can be accomplished by the power of man. Of all whom we would fain win for Jesus it is true, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." The Holy Ghost must work regeneration in the objects of our love, or they never can become possessors of eternal happiness. They must be quickened into a new life, and they must become new creatures in Christ Jesus. The same energy which accomplishes resurrection and creation must put forth all its power upon them nothing short of this can meet the case. They must be born again from above. This might seem at first sight to put human instrumentality altogether out of the field; but on turning to the Scriptures we find nothing to justify such an inference, and much of quite an opposite tendency. There we certainly find the Lord to be all in all, but we find no hint that the use of means must therefore be dispensed with. The Lord's supreme majesty and power are seen all the more gloriously because He works by means. He is so great that He is not afraid to put honour upon the instruments He employs, by speaking of them in high terms, and imputing to them great influence. It is sadly possible to say too little of the Holy Spirit; indeed, I fear this is one of the crying sins of the age; but yet that infallible Word, which always rightly balances truth, while it magnifies the Holy Ghost, does not speak lightly of the men by whom He works. God does not think His own honour to be so questionable that it can only be maintained by decrying the human agent. There are two passages in the Epistles which, when put together, have often amazed me. Paul compares himself both to a father and to a mother in the matter of the new birth: he says of one convert, "Whom I have begotten in my bonds," and of a whole church he says, "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you." This is going very far; indeed, much further than modern orthodoxy would permit the most useful minister to venture, and yet it is language sanctioned, yea, dictated, by the Spirit of God Himself; and therefore it is not to be criticised. Such mysterious power doth God infuse into the instrumentality which He ordains that we are called "labourers together with God"; and this is at once the source of our responsibility and the ground of our hope.
Regeneration, or the new birth, works a change in the whole nature of man, and, so far as we can judge, its essence lies in the implantation and creation of a new principle within the man. The Holy Ghost creates in us a new, heavenly, and immortal nature, which is known in Scripture as "the spirit", by way of distinction from the soul. Our theory of regeneration is that man in his fallen nature consists only of body and soul, and that when he is regenerated there is created in him a new and higher nature"the spirit"which is a spark from the everlasting fire of God's life and love; this falls into the heart, and abides there, and makes its receiver a partaker of the divine nature." Thenceforward, the man consists of three parts, body, soul, and spirit, and the spirit is the reigning power of the three. You will all remember that memorable chapter upon the resurrection, I Corinthians xv., where the distinction is well brought out in the original, and may even be perceived in our version. The passage rendered, "It is sown a natural body," etc., might be read, "It is sown a soulish body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a soulish body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit, that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is soulish; and afterward that which is spiritual." We are first in the natural or soulish stage of being, like the first Adam, and then in regeneration we enter into a new condition, and we become possessors of the life-giving "spirit." Without this spirit, no man can see or enter the kingdom of heaven. It must therefore be our intense desire that the Holy Spirit should visit our hearers, and create them anew,that He would come down upon these dry bones, and breathe eternal life into the dead in sin. Till this is done, they can never receive the truth, "for the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." A new and heavenly mind must be created by omnipotence, or the man must abide in death. You see, then, that we have before us a mighty work, for which we are of ourselves totally incapable. No minister living can save a soul; nor can all of us together, nor all the saints on earth or in heaven, work regeneration in a single person. The whole business on our part is the height of absurdity unless we regard ourselves as used by the Holy Ghost, and filled with His power. On the other hand, the marvels of regeneration which attend our ministry are the best seals and witnesses of our commission. Whereas the apostles could appeal to the miracles of Christ, and to those which they wrought in His name, we appeal to the miracles of the Holy Ghost, which are as divine and as real as those of our Lord Himself. These miracles are the creation of a new life in the human bosom, and the total change of the whole being of those upon whom the Spirit descends.
As this God-begotten spiritual life in men is a mystery, we shall speak to more practical effect if we dwell upon the signs following and accompanying it, for these are the things we must aim at. First, regeneration will be shown in conviction of sin. This we believe to be an indispensable mark of the Spirit's work; the new life as it enters the heart causes intense inward pain as one of its first effects. Though nowadays we hear of persons being healed before they have been wounded, and brought into a certainty of justification without ever having lamented their condemnation, we are very dubious as to the value of such healings and justifyings. This style of things is not according to the truth. God never clothes men until He has first stripped them, nor does He quicken them by the gospel till first they are slain by the law. When you meet with persons in whom there is no trace of conviction of sin, you may be quite sure that they have not been wrought upon by the Holy Spirit; for "when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." When the Spirit of the Lord breathes on us, He withers all the glory of man, which is but as the flower of grass, and then He reveals a higher and abiding glory. Do not be astonished if you find this conviction of sin to be very acute and alarming; but, on the other hand, do not condemn those in whom it is less intense, for so long as sin is mourned over, confessed, forsaken, and abhorred, you have an evident fruit of the Spirit. Much of the horror and unbelief which goes with conviction is not of the Spirit of God, but comes of Satan or corrupt nature; yet there must be true and deep conviction of sin, and this the preacher must labour to produce, for where this is not felt the new birth has not taken place.
Equally certain is it that true conversion may be known by the exhibition of a simple faith in Jesus Christ. You need not that I speak unto you of that, for you yourselves are fully persuaded of it. The production of faith is the very centre of the target at which you aim. The proof to you that you have won the man's soul for Jesus is never before you till he has done with himself and his own merits, and has closed in with Christ. Great care must be taken that this faith is exercised upon Christ for a complete salvation, and not for a part of it. Numbers of persons think that the Lord Jesus is available for the pardon of past sin, but they cannot trust Him for their preservation in the future. They trust for years past, but not for years to come; whereas no such sub-division of salvation is ever spoken of in Scripture as the work of Christ. Either He bore all our sins, or none; and He either saves us once for all, or not at all. His death can never be repeated, and it must have made expiation for the future sin of believers, or they are lost, since no further atonement can be supposed, and future sin is certain to be committed. Blessed be His name, "by Him all that believe are justified from all things." Salvation by grace is eternal salvation. Sinners must commit their souls to the keeping of Christ to all eternity; how else are they saved men? Alas! according to the teaching of some, believers are only saved in part, and for the rest must depend upon their future endeavours. Is this the gospel? I trow not. Genuine faith trusts a whole Christ for the whole of salvation. Is it any wonder that many converts fall away, when, in fact, they were never taught to exercise faith in Jesus for eternal salvation, but only for temporary conversion? A faulty exhibition of Christ begets a faulty faith; and when this pines away in its own imbecility, who is to blame for it? According to their faith so is it unto them: the preacher and possessor of a partial faith must unitedly bear the blame of the failure when their poor mutilated trust comes to a break-down. I would the more earnestly insist upon this because a semi-legal way of believing is so common. We must urge the trembling sinner to trust wholly and alone upon the Lord Jesus for ever, or we shall have him inferring that he is to begin in the Spirit and be made perfect by the flesh: he will surely walk by faith as to the past, and then by works as to the future, and this will be fatal. True faith in Jesus receives eternal life, and sees perfect salvation in Him, whose one sacrifice hath sanctified the people of God once for all. The sense of being saved, completely saved in Christ Jesus, is not, as some suppose, the source of carnal security and the enemy of holy zeal, but the very reverse. Delivered from the fear which makes the salvation of self a more immediate object than salvation from self; and inspired by holy gratitude to his Redeemer, the regenerated man becomes capable of virtue, and is filled with an enthusiasm for God's glory. While trembling under a sense of insecurity, a man gives his chief thought to his own interests; but planted firmly on the Rock of ages, he has time and heart to utter the new song which the Lord has put into his mouth, and then is his moral salvation complete, for self is no longer the lord of his being. Rest not content till you see clear evidence in your converts of a simple, sincere, and decided faith in the Lord Jesus.
Together with undivided faith in Jesus Christ there must also be unfeigned repentance of sin. Repentance is an old-fashioned word, not much used by modern revivalists. "Oh!" said a minister to me, one day, "it only means a change of mind." This was thought to be a profound observation. "Only a change of mind"; but what a change! A change of mind with regard to everything! Instead of saying, "It is only a change of mind," it seems to me more truthful to say it is a great and deep changeeven a change of the mind itself. But whatever the literal Greek word may mean, repentance is no trifle. You will not find a better definition of it than the one given in the children's hymn:
The sins we loved before
And show that we in earnest grieve,
By doing so no more."
True conversion is in all men attended by a sense of sin, which we have spoken of under the head of conviction; by a sorrow for sin, or holy grief at having committed it; by a hatred of sin, which proves that its dominion is ended; and by a practical turning from sin, which shows that the life within the soul is operating upon the life without. True belief and true repentance are twins: it would be idle to attempt to say which is born first. All the spokes of a wheel move at once when the wheel moves, and so all the graces commence action when regeneration is wrought by the Holy Ghost. Repentance, however, there must be. No sinner looks to the Saviour with a dry eye or a hard heart. Aim, therefore, at heart-breaking, at bringing home condemnation to the conscience, and weaning the mind from sin, and be not content till the whole mind is deeply and vitally changed in reference to sin.
Another proof of the conquest of a soul for Christ will be found in a real change of life. If the man does not live differently from what he did before, both at home and abroad, his repentance needs to be repented of; and his conversion is a fiction. Not only action and language, but spirit and temper must be changed. "But," says someone, "grace is often grafted on a crab-stock." I know it is; but what is the fruit of the grafting? The fruit will be like the graft, and not after the nature of the original stem. "But," says another, "I have an awful temper, and all of a sudden it overcomes me. My anger is soon over, and I feel very penitent. Though I cannot control myself; I am quite sure I am a Christian." Not so fast, my friend, or I may answer that I am quite as sure the other way. What is the use of your soon cooling if in two or three moments you scald all around you? If a man stabs me in a fury, it will not heal my wound to see him grieving over his madness. Hasty temper must be conquered, and the whole man must be renewed, or conversion will be questionable. We are not to hold up a modified holiness before our people, and say, You will be all right if you reach that standard. The Scripture says, "He that committeth sin is of the devil." Abiding under the power of any known sin is a mark of our being the servants of sin, for "his servants ye are to whom ye obey." Idle are the boasts of a man who harbours within himself the love of any transgression. He may feel what he likes, and believe what he likes, he is still in the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity while a single sin rules his heart and life. True regeneration implants a hatred of all evil; and where one sin is delighted in, the evidence is fatal to a sound hope. A man need not take a dozen poisons to destroy his life, one is quite sufficient.
There must be a harmony between the life and the profession. A Christian professes to renounce sin and if he does not do so, his very name is an imposture. A drunken man came up to Rowland Hill, one day, and said, "I am one of your converts, Mr. Hill." "I daresay you are," replied that shrewd and sensible preacher; "but you are none of the Lord's, or you would not be drunk." To this practical test we must bring all our work.
In our converts we must also see true prayer, which is the vital breath of godliness. If there is no prayer, you may be quite sure the soul is dead. We are not to urge men to pray as though it were the great gospel duty, and the one prescribed way of salvation; for our chief message is, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." It is easy to put prayer into its wrong place, and make it out to be a kind of work by which men are to live; but this you will, I trust, most carefully avoid. Faith is the great gospel grace; but still we cannot forget that true faith always prays, and when a man professes faith in the Lord Jesus, and yet does not cry to the Lord daily, we dare not believe in his faith or his conversion. The Holy Ghost's evidence by which He convinced Ananias of Paul's conversion was not, "Behold, he talks loudly of his joys and feelings," but, "Behold, he prayeth," and that prayer was earnest, heart-broken confession and supplication. Oh, to see this sure evidence in all who profess to be our converts!
There must also be a willingness to obey the Lord in all His commandments. It is a shameful thing for a man to profess discipleship and yet refuse to learn his Lord's will upon certain points, or even dare to decline obedience when that will is known. How can a man be a disciple of Christ when he openly lives in disobedience to Him?
If the professed convert distinctly and deliberately declares that he knows his Lord's will but does not mean to attend to it, you are not to pamper his presumption, but it is your duty to assure him that he is not saved. Has not the Lord said, "He that taketh not up his cross, and cometh after Me, cannot be My disciple"? Mistakes as to what the Lord's will may be are to be tenderly corrected, but anything like wilful disobedience is fatal; to tolerate it would be treason to Him that sent us. Jesus must be received as King as well as Priest; and where there is any hesitancy about this, the foundation of godliness is not yet laid.
As well as trust His grace
A pardoning God is jealous still
For His own holiness."
Thus, you see, my brethren, the signs which prove that a soul is won are by no means trifling, and the work to be done ere those signs can exist is not to be lightly spoken of. A soul-winner can do nothing without God. He must cast himself on the Invisible, or be a laughing-stock to the devil, who regards with utter disdain all who think to subdue human nature with mere words and arguments. To all who hope to succeed in such a labour by their own strength, we would address the words of the Lord to Job, "Canst thou draw out leviathan with a hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down? Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens? Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do no more. Behold, the hope of him is in vain: shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him?" Dependence upon God is our strength, and our joy: in that dependence let us go forth, and seek to win souls for Him.
Now, in the course of our ministry, we shall meet with many failures in this matter of soul-winning. There are many birds that I have thought I had caught; I have even managed to put salt on their tails, but they have gone flying off after all. I remember one man, whom I will call Tom Careless. He was the terror of the village in which he lived. There were many incendiary fires in the region, and most people attributed them to him. Sometimes, he would be drunk for two or three weeks at a spell, and then he raved and raged like a madman. That man came to hear me; I recollect the sensation that went through the little chapel when he came in. He sat there, and fell in love with me; I think that was the only conversion that he experienced, but he professed to be converted. He had, apparently, been the subject of genuine repentance, and he became outwardly quite a changed character, gave up his drinking and swearing, and was in many respects an exemplary individual. I remember seeing him tugging a barge, with perhaps a hundred people on board, whom he was drawing up to a place where I was going to preach; and he was glorying in the work, and singing as gladly and happily as any one of them. If anybody spoke a word against the Lord or His servant, he did not hesitate a moment, but knocked him over. Before I left the district, I was afraid that there was no real work of grace in him; he was a wild Red Indian sort of a man. I have heard of him taking a bird, plucking it, and eating it raw in the field. This is not the act of a Christian man, it is not one of the things that are comely, and of good repute. After I left the neighbourhood, I asked after him, and I could hear nothing good of him; the spirit that kept him outwardly right was gone, and he became worse than he was before, if that was possible; certainly, he was no better, he was unreachable by any agency. That work of mine did not stand the fire; it would not bear even ordinary temptation, you see, after the person who had influence over the man was gone away. When you move from the village or town where you have been preaching, it is very likely that some, who did run well, will go back. They have an affection for you, and your words have a kind of mesmeric influence over them; and when you are gone, the dog will return to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. Do not be in a hurry to count these supposed converts; do not take them into the church too soon; do not be too proud of their enthusiasm if it is not accompanied with some degree of softening, and tenderness, to show that the Holy Spirit has really been at work within them.
I remember another case of quite a different sort. I will call this person Miss Mary Shallow, for she was a young lady, who was never blessed with many brains; but living in the same house with several Christian young ladies she also professed to be converted. When I conversed with her, there was apparently everything that one could wish for. I thought of proposing her to the church; but it was judged best to give her a little trial first. After a while, she left the associations of the place where she had lived, and went where she had nothing much to help her; and I never heard anything more of her except that her whole time was spent in dressing herself as smartly as she could, and in frequenting gay society. She is a type of those who have not much mental furniture; and if the grace of God does not take possession of the empty space, they very soon go back into the world.
I have known several like a young man whom I will call Charlie Clever, uncommonly clever fellows at anything and everything, very clever at counterfeiting religion when they took up with it. They prayed very fluently; they tried to preach, and did it very well; whatever they did, they did it off-hand, it was as easy to them as kissing their hand. Do not be in a hurry to take such people into the church; they have known no humiliation on account of sin, no brokenness of heart, no sense of divine grace. They cry, "All serene!" and away they go; but you will find that they will never repay you for your labour and trouble. They will be able to use the language of God's people as well as the best of His saints, they will even talk of their doubts and fears, and they will get up a deep experience in five minutes. They are a little too clever, and they are calculated to do much mischief when they get into the church; so keep them out if you possibly can.
I remember one who was very saintly in his talk, I will call him John Fairspeech. Oh! how cunningly he could act the hypocrite, getting among our young men, and leading them into all manner of sin and iniquity, and yet he would call and see me, and have half-an-hour's spiritual conversation! An abominable wretch, who was living in open sin at the very time that he was seeking to come to the Lord's table, and joining our societies, and anxious to be a leading man in every good work. Keep your weather eye open, brethren! They will come to you with money in their hands, like Peter's fish with the silver in its mouth; and they will be so helpful in the work! They speak so softly, and they are such perfect gentlemen! Yes, I believe Judas was a man exactly of that kind, very clever at deceiving those around him. We must mind that we do not get any of these into the church if we can anyhow keep them out. You may say to yourself; at the close of a service, "Here is a splendid haul of fish!" Wait a bit. Remember our Saviour's words, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind; which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away." Do not number your fishes before they are broiled; nor count your converts before you have tested and tried them. This process may make your work somewhat slow; but then, brethren, it will be sure. Do your work steadily and well, so that those who come after you may not have to say that it was far more trouble to them to clear the church of those who ought never to have been admitted than it was to you to admit them. If God enables you to build three thousand bricks into His spiritual temple in one day, you may do it; but Peter has been the only bricklayer who has accomplished that feat up to the present. Do not go and paint the wooden wall as if it were solid stone; but let all your building be real, substantial, and true, for only this kind of work is worth the doing. Let all your building for God be like that of the apostle Paul, "According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."
Chapter 2: Qualifications For Soul-WinningGodwardOUR main business, brethren, is to win souls. Like the shoeing-smiths, we need to know a great many things; but, just as the smith must know about horses, and how to make shoes for them, so we must know about souls, and how to win them for God. The part of the subject on which I shall speak to you this afternoon is
keeping myself to one set of those qualifications, namely, the GODWARD ones, and I shall try to treat the subject in somewhat of a common-sense style, asking you to judge for yourselves what those qualifications would be which God would naturally look for in His servants, what qualifications He would be likely to approve, and most likely to use. You must know that every workman, if he be wise, uses a tool that is likely to accomplish the purpose he has in view. There are some artists who have never been able to play except upon their own violin, nor to paint except with their own favourite brush and palette; and certainly, the great God, the mightiest of all the workers, in His great artistic work of soul-winning, loves to have His own special tools. In the old creation, He used none but His own instruments, "He spake, and it was done;" and in the new creation, the efficient agent is still His powerful Word. He speaks through the ministry of His servants, and therefore they must be fit trumpets for Him to speak through, fit instruments for Him to use for conveying His Word to the ears and hearts of men. Judge ye, then, my brethren, whether God will use you; imagine yourselves in His place, and think what kind of men those would be whom you would be most likely to use if you were in the position of the Most High God.
I am sure you would say, first of all, that a man who is to be a Soul-winner must have holiness of character. Ah! how few who attempt to preach think sufficiently of this! If they did, it would strike them at once that the Eternal would never use dirty tools, that the thrice-holy Jehovah would only select holy instruments for the accomplishment of His work. No wise man would pour his wine into foul bottles; no kind and good parent would allow his children to go to see an immoral play; and God will not go to work with instruments which would compromise His own character. Suppose it were well known that, if men were only clever, God would use them, whatever their character and conduct might be; suppose it were understood that you could get on as well in the work of God by chicanery and untruthfulness as by honesty and uprightness, what man in the world, with any right feeling, would not be ashamed of such a state of affairs? But, brethren, it is not so. There are many in the present day who tell us that the theatre is a great school for morals. That must be a strange school where the teachers never learn their own lessons. In God's school, the teachers must be masters of the art of holiness. If we teach one thing by our lips and another by our lives, those who listen to us will say, "Physician, heal thyself." "Thou sayest, 'Repent.' Where is thine own repentance? Thou sayest, 'Serve God, and be obedient to His will.' Do you serve Him? Are you obedient to His will?" An unholy ministry would be the derision of the world, and a dishonour to God. "Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord." He will speak through a fool if he be but a holy man. I do not, of course, mean that God chooses fools to be His ministers; but let a man once become really holy, even though he has but the slenderest possible ability, he will be a more fit instrument in God's hand than the man of gigantic acquirements, who is not obedient to the divine will, nor clean and pure in the sight of the Lord God Almighty.
Dear brethren, I do beg you to attach the highest importance to your own personal holiness. Do live unto God. If you do not, your Lord will not be with you; He will say of you as He said of the false prophets of old, "I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the Lord." You may preach very fine sermons, but if you are not yourselves holy, there will be no souls saved. The probability is that you will not come to the conclusion that your want of holiness is the reason for your non-success; you will blame the people, you will blame the age in which you live, you will blame anything except yourself; but there will be the root of the whole mischief. Do I not myself know men of considerable ability and industry, who go on year after year without any increase in their churches? The reason is, that they are not living before God as they ought to live. Sometimes, the evil is in the family of the minister; his sons and daughters are rebels against God, bad language is allowed even amongst his own children, and his reproofs are simply like Eli's mild question to his wicked sons, "Why do ye such things?" Sometimes, the minister is worldly, greedy after gain, neglectful of his work. That is not according to God's mind, and He will not bless such a man. When I listened to Mr. George Müller, as he was preaching at Mentone, it was just such an address as might be given to a Sunday-school by an ordinary teacher, yet I never heard a sermon that did me more good, and more richly profited my soul. It was George Müller in it that made it so useful. There was no George Müller in it in one sense; for he preached not himself but Christ Jesus the Lord; he was only there in his personality as a witness to the truth, but he bore that witness in such a manner that you could not help saying, "That man not only preaches what he believes, but also what he lives." In every word he uttered, his glorious life of faith seemed to fall upon both ear and heart. I was delighted to sit and listen to him; yet, as for novelty or strength of thought, there was not a trace of it in the whole discourse. Holiness was the preacher's force; and you may depend upon it that, if God is to bless us, our strength must lie in the same direction.
This holiness ought to show itself in communion with God. If a man delivers his own message, it will have such power as his own character gives to it; but if he delivers his Master's message, having heard it from his Master's lips, that will be quite another thing; and if he can acquire something of the Master's spirit as He looked upon him, and gave him the message, if he can reproduce the expression of his Master's face, and the tone of his Master's voice, that also will be quite another thing. Read McCheyne's Memoir, read the whole of it, I cannot do you a better service than by recommending you to read it; there is no great freshness of thought, there is nothing very novel or striking in it, but as you read it, you must get good out of it, for you are conscious that it is the story of the life of a man who walked with God. Moody would never have spoken with the force he did if he had not lived a life of fellowship with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ. The greatest force of the sermon lies in what has gone before the sermon. You must get ready for the whole service by private fellowship with God, and real holiness of character.
You will all confess that, if a man is to be used as a winner of souls, he must have spiritual life to a high degree. You see, brethren, our work is, under God, to communicate life to others. It would be well to imitate Elisha when he stretched himself upon the dead child, and brought him back to life. The prophet's staff was not sufficient, because it had no life in it: the life must be communicated by a living instrument, and the man who is to communicate the life must have a great deal of it himself. You remember the words of Christ, "He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water," that is, the Holy Spirit, when He dwells within a living child of God, afterwards rises out of the very midst of him as a fountain or a river, so that others may come and participate in the Spirit's gracious influences. I do not think there is one of you who would wish to be a dead minister. God will not use dead tools for working living miracles; He must have living men, and men that are all alive. There are many who are alive, but they are not altogether alive. I remember once seeing a painting of the resurrection, which was one of the queerest pictures I ever saw. The artist had attempted to depict the moment when the work was only half done: there were some who were alive down as far as their waists, some had one arm alive, some had part of their heads alive. The thing is quite possible in our day. There are some men who are only about half alive; they have a living jaw, but not a living heart; others have a living heart, but not a living brain; others have a living eye, they can see things pretty plainly, but their hearts are not alive, they can give good descriptions of what they see, but there is no warmth of love in them. There are some ministers who are one half angel, and the other halfwell, let us say, maggots. It is an awful contrast; but there are many instances of it. Are there any such here? They preach well, and you say, as you listen to one of them, "That is a good man." You feel that he is a good man; you hear that he is going to such-and-such a person's house to supper, and you think that you will go in to supper there, too, that you may hear what gracious words will fall from his lips; and as you watch, out they comemaggots! It was an angel in the pulpit; now come the worms! It is so often, but it ought never to be so; if we want to be true witnesses for God, we must be all angel and no worms. God deliver us from this state of semi-death! May we be all alive from the crown of our head to the sole of our foot! I know some such ministers; you cannot come into contact with them without feeling the power of the spiritual life which is in them. It is not merely while they are talking upon religious topics, but even in the commonplace things of the world, you are conscious that there is something about the men which tells you that they are all alive unto God. Such men will be used by God for the quickening of others.
Suppose it were possible for you to be exalted into the place of God, do you not think, next, that you would employ a man who thought little of himself, a man of humble spirit? If you saw a very proud man, would you be likely to use him as your servant? Certainly, the great God has a predilection for those who are humble. "For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." He loatheth the proud; and whenever He sees the high and mighty, He passes them by; but whenever He finds the lowly in heart, He takes pleasure in exalting them. He delights especially in humility amongst His ministers. It is an awful sight to see a proud minister. There are few things that can give the devil more joy than this, whenever he takes his walks abroad. Here is something that delights him, and he says to himself, "Here are all the preparations for a great fall before long." Some ministers show their pride by their style in the pulpit; you can never forget the way in which they announced their text: "It is I: be not afraid." Others manifest it in their attire, in the silly vanity of their dress; or else in their common talk, in which they continually magnify the deficiencies of others, and dilate on their own extra-ordinary excellences. There are two sorts of proud people, and it is difficult sometimes to say which of the two is the worse. There is, first of all, the kind that is full of that vanity which talks about itself, and invites other people to talk about it, too, and to pat it on the back, and stroke its feathers the right way. It is all full of its little morsel of a self, and goes strutting about, and saying, "Praise me, please, praise me, I want it," like a little child who goes to each one in the room, and says, "See my new dress; isn't it a beauty?" You may have seen some of these pretty dears; I have met many of them. The other kind of pride is too big for that sort of thing. It does not care for it; it despises people so much that it does not condescend to wish for their praises. It is so supremely satisfied with itself that it does not stoop to consider what others think of it. I have sometimes thought it is the more dangerous kind of pride spiritually, but it is much the more respectable of the two. There is, after all, something very noble in being too proud to be proud. Suppose those great donkeys did bray at you, do not be such a donkey as to notice them. But this other poor little soul says, "Well, everybody's praise is worth something," and so he baits his mousetraps, and tries to catch little mice of praise, that he may cook them for his breakfast. He has a mighty appetite for such things. Brethren, get rid of both kinds of pride if you have anything of either of them about you. The dwarf pride and the ogre pride are both of them abominations in the sight of the Lord. Never forget that you are disciples of Him who said, "Learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart."
Humility is not having a mean opinion of yourself. If a man has a low opinion of himself; it is very possible that he is correct in his estimate. I have known some people, whose opinion of themselves, according to what they have said, was very low indeed. They thought so little of their own powers that they never ventured to try to do any good; they said they had no self-reliance. I have known some so wonderfully humble that they have always liked to pick an easy place for themselves; they were too humble to do anything that would bring any blame upon them: they called it humility, but I thought "sinful love of ease" would have been a better name for their conduct. True humility will lead you to think rightly about yourselves, to think the truth about yourselves.
In the matter of soul-winning, humility makes you feel that you are nothing and nobody, and that, if God gives you success in the work, you will be driven to ascribe to Him all the glory, for none of the credit of it could properly belong to you. If you do not have success, humility will lead you to blame your own folly and weakness, not God's sovereignty. Why should God give blessing, and then let you run away with the glory of it? The glory of the salvation of souls belongs to Him, and to Him alone. Then why should you try to steal it? You know how many attempt this theft. "When I was preaching at such-and-such a place, fifteen persons came into the vestry at the close of the service, and thanked me for the sermon I had preached." You and your blessed sermon be hanged,I might have used a stronger word if I had liked, for really you are worthy of condemnation whenever you take to yourself the honour which belongeth unto God only. You remember the story of the young prince, who came into the room where he thought his dying father was sleeping, and put the king's crown on his head to see how it would fit him. The king, who was watching him, said, "Wait a little while, my son, wait till I am dead." So, when you feel any inclination to put the crown of glory on your head, just fancy that you hear God saying to you, "Wait till I am dead, before you try on My crown." As that will never be, you had better leave the crown alone, and let Him wear it to whom it rightfully belongs. Our song must ever be, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth's sake."
Some men, who have not had humility, have been sent adrift from the ministry, for the Lord will not use those who will not ascribe the honour entirely to Himself. Humility is one of the chief qualifications for usefulness; many have passed away from the roll of useful men because they have been lifted up with pride, and so have fallen into the snare of the devil. Perhaps you feel that, as you are only poor students, there is no fear of your falling into this sin; but it is quite possible that with some of you there is all the more danger, for this very reason, if God should bless you, and put you in a prominent position. A man who is brought up in a good circle of society all his life, does not feel the change so much when he reaches a position which to others would be a great elevation. I always feel that, in the case of certain men whom I could name, a great mistake was made. As soon as they were converted, they were taken right out of their former associations, and put before the public as popular preachers. It was a great pity that many made little kings of them, and so prepared the way for their fall, for they could not bear the sudden change. It would have been a good thing for them if everybody had pitched into them, and abused them, for ten or twenty years; for it would have probably saved them from much after-misery. I am always very grateful for the rough treatment I received in my earlier days from all sorts of people. The moment I ever did any good thing at all, they were at me like a pack of hounds. I had not time to sit down and boast what I had done, for they were raving and roaring at me continually. If I had been picked up all of a sudden, and placed where I am now, the probability is that I should have gone down again just as quickly. When you go out of the College, it will be well for you if you are treated as I was. If you have great success, it will turn your head if God does not permit you to be afflicted in some way or other. If you are ever tempted to say, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built?" just remember Nebuchadnezzar, when he was "driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws." God has many ways of fetching proud Nebuchadnezzars down, and He can very easily humble you, too, if you are ever lifted up with conceit. This point of the need of deep humility in a soul-winner does not need any proof; everyone can see, with half an eye, that God is not likely to bless any man much unless he is truly humble.
The next essential qualification for success in the work of the Lord, and it is a vital one, is a living faith. You know, brethren, how the Lord Jesus Christ could not do many mighty works in His own country because of the unbelief of the people; and it is equally true that, with some men, God cannot do many mighty works because of their unbelief. If ye will not believe, neither shall ye be used of God. "According to your faith be it unto you," is one of the unalterable laws of His kingdom. "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove, and nothing shall be impossible unto you;" but if the question has to be put, "Where is your faith?" the mountains will not move for you, nor will even a poor sycamore tree be stirred from its place.
You must have faith, brethren, about your call to the ministry; you must believe without question that you are really chosen of God to be ministers of the gospel of Christ. If you firmly believe that God has called you to preach the gospel, you will preach it with courage and confidence; and you will feel that you are going to your work because you have a right to do it. If you have an idea that possibly you are nothing but an interloper, you will do nothing of any account; you will be only a poor, limping, diffident, half-apologetic preacher, for whose message no one will care. You had better not begin to preach until you are quite sure that God has called you to the work. A man once wrote to ask me whether he should preach or not. When I do not know what reply to send to anyone, I always try to give as wise an answer as I possibly can. Accordingly, I wrote to this man, "Dear Friend,If the Lord has opened your mouth, the devil cannot shut it; but if the devil has opened it, may the Lord shut it up!" Six months afterwards, I met the man, and he thanked me for my letter, which, he said, greatly encouraged him to go on preaching. I said, "How was that?" He replied, "You said, 'If the Lord has opened your mouth, the devil cannot shut it."' I said, "Yes, I did so; but I also put the other side of the question." "Oh!" said he, at once, "that part did not relate to me." We can always have oracles to suit our own ideas if we know how to interpret them. If you have genuine faith in your call to the ministry, you will be ready, with Luther, to preach the gospel even while standing within the jaws of the leviathan, between his great teeth.
You must also believe that the message you have to deliver is God's Word. I had sooner that you believed half-a-dozen truths intensely than a hundred only feebly. If your hand is not large enough to hold a great deal, hold firmly what you can; because, if it came to a regular push and shove, and we all of us were allowed to carry away as much gold as we could take from a heap, it might not be much use to have a very big purse, but he would come off best in the scuffle who should close his hand tightly on as much as he could conveniently hold, and not let it go. We may sometimes do well to imitate the boy mentioned in the ancient fable. When he put his hand into a narrow-necked jar, and grasped as many nuts as he could hold, he could not get even one of them out; but when he let half of them go, the rest came out with ease. So must we do; we cannot hold everything, it is impossible, our hand is not big enough; but when we do get anything in it, let us hold it fast, and grip it tightly. Believe what you do believe, or else you will never persuade anybody else to believe it. If you adopt this style, "I think this is a truth, and as a young man I beg to ask your kind attention to what I am about to say; I am merely suggesting," and so on, if that is your mode of preaching, you will go to work the easiest way to breed doubters. I would rather hear you say, "Young as I am, what I have to say comes from God, and God's Word says so-and-so and so-and-so; there it is, and you must believe what God says, or you will be lost." The people who hear you will say, "That young fellow certainly believes something;" and very likely some of them will be led to believe, too. God uses the faith of His ministers to breed faith in other people. You may depend upon it that souls are not saved by a minister who doubts; and the preaching of your doubts and your questions can never possibly decide a soul for Christ. You must have great faith in the Word of God if you are to be winners of souls to those who hear it.
You must also believe in the power of that message to save people. You may have heard the story of one of our first students, who came to me, and said, "I have been preaching now for some months, and I do not think I have had a single conversion." I said to him, "And do you expect that the Lord is going to bless you and save souls every time you open your mouth?" "No, sir," he replied. "Well, then," I said, "that is why you do not get souls saved. If you had believed, the Lord would have given the blessing." I had caught him very nicely; but many others would have answered me in just the same way as he did. They tremblingly believe that it is possible, by some strange mysterious method, that once in a hundred sermons God might win a quarter of a soul. They have hardly enough faith to keep them standing upright in their boots; how can they expect God to bless them? I like to go to the pulpit feeling, "This is God's Word that I am going to deliver in His name; it cannot return to Him void; I have asked His blessing upon it, and He is bound to give it, and His purposes will be answered, whether my message is a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death to those who hear it."
Now, if this is how you feel, what will be the result if souls are not saved? Why, you will call special prayer-meetings, to seek to know why the people do not come to Christ; you will have enquirers' meetings for the anxious; you will meet the people with a joyful countenance, so that they may see that you are expecting a blessing, but, at the same time, you will let them know that you will be grievously disappointed unless the Lord gives you conversions. Yet, how is it in many places? Nobody prays much about the matter, there are no meetings for crying to God for a blessing, the minister never encourages the people to come and tell him about the work of grace in their souls; verily, verily, I say unto you, he has his reward he gets what he asked for, he receives what he expected, his Master gives him his penny, but nothing else. The command is, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it;" and here we sit, with closed lips, waiting for the blessing. Open your mouth, brother, with a full expectation, a firm belief, and according to your faith so shall it be unto you.
That is the essential point, you must believe in God and in His gospel if you are to be a winner of souls; some other things may be omitted, but this matter of faith must never be. It is true that God does not always measure His mercy by our unbelief, for He has to think of other people as well as of us; but, looking at the matter in a common-sense way, it does seem that the most likely instrument to do the Lord's work is the man who expects that God will use him, and who goes forth to labour in the strength of that conviction. When success comes, he is not surprised, for he was looking for it. He sowed living seed, and he expected to reap a harvest from it; he cast his bread upon the waters, and he means to search and watch till he finds it again.
Once more, if a man is to succeed in his ministry, and win many souls, he must be characterized by thorough earnestness. Do we not know some men, who preach in such a lifeless manner that it is highly improbable that anybody will ever be affected by what they say? I was present when a good man asked the Lord to bless to the conversion of sinners the sermon that he was about to deliver. I do not wish to limit omnipotence, but I do not believe that God could bless to any sinner the sermon that was then preached unless He had made the hearer misunderstand what the minister said. It was one of those "bright poker sermons", as I call them. You know that there are pokers that are kept in drawing-rooms to be looked at, but never used. If you ever tried to poke the fire with them, would not you catch it from the lady of the house? These sermons are just like those pokers, polished up, bright, and cold; they seem as if they might have some relation to the people in the fixed stars, they certainly have no connection with anyone in this world. What good could come of such discourses, no one can tell; but I feel sure there is not power enough in them to kill a cockroach, or a spider; certainly, there is no power in them to bring a dead soul to life. There are some sermons of which it is quite true that, the more you think of them, the less you think of them; and if any poor sinner goes to hear them with the hope of getting saved, you can only say that the minister is more likely to stand in the way of his going to heaven than to point him to the right road.
You may depend upon it that you may make men understand the truth if you really want to do so; but if you are not in earnest, it is not likely that they will be. If a man were to knock at my door in the middle of the night, and when I put my head out of the window to see what was the matter, he should say, in a very quiet, unconcerned way, "There is a fire at the back part of your house," I should have very little thought of any fire, and should feel inclined to empty a jug of water over him. If I am walking along, and a man comes up to me, and says, in a cheerful tone of voice, "Good afternoon, sir, do you know that I am starving? I have not tasted food for ever so long, indeed, I have not;" I should reply, "My good fellow, you seem to take it very easy; I do not believe you want for much, or you would not be so unconcerned about it." Some men seem to preach in this fashion:"My dear friends, this is Sunday, so here I am; I have been spending my time in my study all the week, and now I hope you will listen to what I have to say to you. I do not know that there is anything in it that particularly concerns you, it might have some connection with the man in the moon; but I understand that some of you are in danger of going to a certain place which I do not wish to mention, only I hear that it is not a nice place for even a temporary residence. I have especially to preach to you that Jesus Christ did something or other, which, in some way or other, has something to do with salvation, and if you mind what you do"and so on"it is possible that you will"and so on, and so on. That is, in a nutshell, the full report of many a discourse. There is nothing in that kind of talk that can do anybody any good; and after the man has kept on in that style for three-quarters of an hour, he closes by saying, "Now it is time to go home," and he hopes that the deacons will give him a couple of guineas for his services. Now, brethren, that sort of thing will not do. We did not come into the world to waste our own time, and other people's, in that fashion.
I hope we were born for something better than to be mere chips in the porridge, like the man I have described. Only fancy God sending a man into the world to try to win souls, and that is the style of his mind, and the whole spirit of his life. There are some ministers who are constantly being knocked up with doing nothing; they preach two sermons, of a sort, on Sunday, and they say the effort almost wears their life out; and they go and give little pastoral visitations, which consist in drinking a cup of tea and talking small gossip; but there is no vehement agony for souls, no "Woe! woe!" on their hearts and lips, no perfect consecration, no zeal in God's service. Well, if the Lord sweeps them away, if He cuts them down as cumberers of the ground, it will not be a matter for surprise. The Lord Jesus Christ wept over Jerusalem, and you will have to weep over sinners if they are to be saved through you. Dear brethren, do be earnest, put your whole soul into the work, or else give it up.
Another qualification that is essential to soul-winning is great simplicity of heart. I do not know whether I can thoroughly explain what I mean by that, but I will try to make it clear by contrasting it with something else. You know some men who are too wise to be just simple believers; they know such a lot that they do not believe anything that is plain and simple. Their souls have been fed so daintily that they cannot live on anything but Chinese birds'-nest, and such luxuries. There is no milk that ever came fresh from a cow that is good enough for them, they are far too superfine to drink such a beverage as that. Everything they have must be incomparable. Now God does not bless these exquisite celestial dandies, these spiritual aristocrats. No, no; as soon as you see them, you feel ready to say, "They may do well enough as Lord So-and-so's servants, but they are not the men to do God's work. He is not likely to employ such grand gentlemen as they are." When they select a text, they never explain its true meaning; but they go round about to find out something that the Holy Ghost never intended to convey by it, and when they get hold of one of their precious "new thoughts "oh, dear! what a fuss they make over it! Here is a man who has found a stale herring! What a treat! It is so odoriferous! Now we shall hear of this stale herring for the next six months, when somebody else will find another one. What a shout they set up! "Glory! Glory! Glory! Here is a new thought!" A new book comes out about it, and all these great men go sniffing round it to prove what deep thinkers and what wonderful men they are. God does not bless that kind of wisdom.
By simplicity of heart, I mean, that a man evidently goes into the ministry for the glory of God and the winning of souls, and nothing else. There are some men who would like to win souls and glorify God if it could be done with due regard to their own interests. They would be delighted, oh, yes! certainly, very pleased indeed, to extend the kingdom of Christ, if the kingdom of Christ would give full play to their amazing powers. They would go in for soul-winning if it would induce people to take the horses out of their carriage, and drag them in triumph through the street; they must be somebody, they must be known, they must be talked about, they must hear people say, "What a splendid man that is!" Of course, they give God the glory after they have sucked the juice out of it, but they must have the orange themselves first. Well, you know, there is that sort of spirit even among ministers; and God cannot endure it. He is not going to have a man's leavings; He will have all the glory, or none at all. If a man seeks to serve himself, to get honour to himself, instead of seeking to serve God and honour Him alone, the Lord Jehovah will not use that man. A man who is to be used by God must just believe that what he is going to do is for the glory of God, and he must work from no other motive. When outsiders go to hear some preachers, all that they remember is that they were capital actors; but here is a very different kind of man. After they have heard him preach, they do not think about how he looked, or how he spoke, but about the solemn truths he uttered. Another man keeps rolling out what he has to tell in such a fashion that those who listen to him say to one another, "Do you not see that he lives by his preaching? He preaches for his living." I would rather hear it said, "That man said something in his sermon that made many of the people think less of him, he uttered most distasteful sentiments, he did nothing but drive at us with the Word of the Lord all the while that he was preaching, his one aim was to bring us to repentance and faith in Christ." That is the kind of man whom the Lord delights to bless.
I like to see men, like some before me here, to whom I have said, "Here you are, earning a good salary, and likely to rise to a position of influence in the world; if you give up your business, and come into the College, you will very likely be a poor Baptist minister all your life;" and they have looked up, and said, "I had sooner starve and win souls than spend my life in any other calling." Most of you are that kind of men, I believe you all are. There must never be an eye to the glory of God and the fat sheep; it must never be God's glory and your own honour and esteem among men. It will not do; no, not even if you preach to please God and Jemima it must be God's glory alone, nothing less and nothing else, not even Jemima. As the limpet to the rock, so is she to the minister; but it will not do for him even to think of pleasing her. With true simplicity of heart, he must seek to please God, whether men and women are pleased or not.
Lastly, there must be a complete surrender of yourself to God, in this sense, that from this time you wish to think, not your own thoughts, but God's thoughts; and that you determine to preach, not anything of your own invention, but God's Word; and further, that you resolve not even to give out that truth in your own way, but in God's way. Suppose you read your sermons, which is not very likely, you desire not to write anything but what shall be entirely according to the Lord's mind. When you get hold of a fine big word, you ask yourself whether it is likely to be a spiritual blessing to your people; and if you think it would not, you leave it out. Then there is that grand bit of poetry that you could not understand, you felt that you could not omit that; but when you asked whether it was likely to be instructive to the rank and file of your people, you were obliged to reject it. You must stick those gems, that you found on a literary dust-heap, into the coronet of your discourse, if you want to show the people how industrious you have been; but if you desire to leave yourself entirely in God's hands, it is probable that you will be led to make some very simple statement, some trite remark, something with which everyone in the congregation is familiar. If you feel moved to put that into the sermon, put it in by all means, even if you have to leave out the big words, and the poetry, and the gems, for it may be that the Lord will bless that simple statement of the gospel to some poor sinner who is seeking the Saviour.
If you yield yourself thus unreservedly to the mind and will of God, by-and-by, when you get out into the ministry, you will sometimes be impelled to use a strange expression or to offer an odd prayer, which at the time may have a queer look even to yourself; but it will be all explained to you afterwards, when someone comes to tell you that he never understood the truth until you put it that day in such an unusual way. You will be more likely to feel this influence if you are thoroughly prepared by study and prayer for your work in the pulpit, and I urge you always to make all due preparation, and even to write out in full what you think you ought to say; but not to go and deliver it memoriter, like a poll parrot repeating what it has been taught, for if you do that, you will certainly not be leaving yourself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
I have no doubt you will sometimes feel that there is a passage that you must put in, a fine piece by one of the British poets, or a choice extract from some classic author. I do not suppose you would like it to be known; but you did read it to a College friend. Of course, you did not ask him to praise it, because you felt sure that he could not help doing so. There was one particular piece in it that you have very seldom heard equalled; you are sure that Mr. Punshon or Dr. Parker could not have done better than that. You are quite certain that, when the people hear that sermon, they will be obliged to feel that there is something in it. It may be, however, that the Lord will consider that it is too good to be blessed, there is too much in it; it is like the host of men that were with Gideon, they were too many for the Lord, He could not give the Midianites into their hands, lest they should vaunt themselves against Him, saying, "Our own might hath gotten us the victory." When twenty-two thousand of them had been sent away, the Lord said to Gideon, "The people are yet too many," and all of them had to be sent home except the three hundred men that lapped, and then the Lord said to Gideon, "Arise, get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it into thine hand." So the Lord says about some of your sermons,"I cannot do any good with them, they are too big." There is that one with the fourteen subdivisions; leave seven of them out, and then perhaps the Lord will bless it. Some day it may happen, just when you are in the middle of your discourse, that a thought will come across your mind, and you will say to yourself; "Now, if I utter this, that old deacon will make it hot for me; and there is a gentleman just come in who keeps a school, he is a critic, and will be sure not to be pleased if I say this; and besides, there is here a remnant according to the election of grace, and the 'hyper' up in the gallery will give me one of those heavenly looks that are so full of meaning." Now, brother, feel ready to say just anything that God gives you to say, irrespective of all the consequences, and utterly regardless of what the "hypers" or the lowpers or anybody else will think or do.
One of the principal qualifications of a great artist's brush must be its yielding itself up to him so that he can do what he likes with it. A harpist will love to play on one particular harp because he knows the instrument, and the instrument almost appears to know him. So, when God puts His hand upon the very strings of your being, and every power within you seems to respond to the movements of His hand, you are an instrument that He can use. It is not easy to keep in that condition, to be in such a sensitive state that you receive the impression that the Holy Spirit desires to convey, and are influenced by Him at once. If there is a great ship out at sea, and there comes a tiny ripple on the waters, it is not moved by it in the least. Here comes a moderate wave, the vessel does not feel it, the Great Eastern sits still upon the bosom of the deep. But just look over the bulwarks; see those corks down there, if only a fly drops into the water, they feel the motion, and dance upon the tiny wave. May you be as mobile beneath the power of God as the cork is on the surface of the sea! I am sure this self-surrender is one of the essential qualifications for a preacher who is to be a winner of souls. There is a something that must be said if you are to be the means of saving that man in the corner; woe unto you if you are not ready to say it, woe unto you if you are afraid to say it, woe unto you if you are ashamed to say it, woe unto you if you do not dare to say it lest somebody up in the gallery should say that you were too earnest, too enthusiastic, too zealous!
These seven things, I think, are the qualifications, Godward, which would strike the mind of any of you if you tried to put yourself into the position of the Most High, and considered what you would wish to have in those whom you employed in the winning of souls. May God give all of us these qualifications, for Christ's sake! Amen.
Chapter 3: Qualifications For Soul-WinningManwardYOU remember, brethren, that on the last occasion I gave you a lecture on soul-winning, I spoke of the qualifications, Godward, that would fit a man to be a soul-winner; and I tried to describe to you the kind of man that the Lord was most likely to use in the winning of souls. This afternoon, I propose to take as my subject
I might almost mention the very same points that I enumerated before as being those which will best tell manward, for I do think that those qualities that commend themselves to the notice of God, as being most adapted to the end He desires, are also likely to be approved by the object acted upon, that is, the soul of man.
There have been many men in the world who have not been at all adapted for this work; and, first, let me say that an ignoramus is not likely to be much of a soulwinner. A man who only knows that he is a sinner, and that Christ is a Saviour, may be very useful to others in the same condition as himself, and it is his duty to do the best he can with what little knowledge he possesses; but, on the whole, I should not expect such a man to be very largely used in the service of God. If he had enjoyed a wider and deeper experience of the things of God, if he had been in the highest sense a learned man because taught of God, he could have used his knowledge for the good of others; but being to a great extent ignorant of the things of God himself, I do not see how he can make them known to other people. Truly, there must be some light in that candle which is to lighten men's darkness, and there must be some information in that man who is to be a teacher of his fellows. The man who is almost or altogether ignorant, whatever will he has to do good, must be left out of the race of great soul-winners; he is disqualified from even entering the lists, and therefore, let us all ask, brethren, that we may be well instructed in the truth of God, that we may be able to teach others also.
Granted that you are not of the ignorant class to which I have been referring, but supposing that you are well instructed in the best of all wisdom, what are the qualities that you must have towards men if you are to win them for the Lord? I should say, there must be about us an evident sincerity; not only sincerity, but such sincerity that it shall be manifest at once to anyone who honestly looks for it. It must be quite clear to your hearers that you have a firm belief in the truths that you are preaching; otherwise, you will never make them believe them. Unless they are convinced, beyond all question, that you do believe these truths yourselves, there will be no efficacy and no force in your preaching. No one must suspect you of proclaiming to others what you do not fully believe in yourself; if it should ever be so, your work will be of no effect. All who listen to you ought to be conscious that you are exercising one of the noblest crafts, and performing one of the most sacred functions that ever fell to the lot of man. If you have only a feeble appreciation of the gospel you profess to deliver, it is impossible for those who hear your proclamation of it to be greatly influenced by it. I heard it asked, the other day, of a certain minister, "Did he preach a good sermon?" and the reply to the enquiry was, "What he said was very good." "But did you not profit by the sermon?" "No, not in the slightest degree." "Was it not a good sermon?" Again came the first answer, "What he said was very good." "What do you mean? Why did you not profit by the sermon if what the preacher said was very good?" This was the explanation that the listener gave, "I did not profit by the discourse because I did not believe in the man who delivered it; he was simply an actor performing a part; I did not believe that he felt what he preached, nor that he cared whether we felt or believed it or not."
Where such a state of things as that exists, the hearers cannot be expected to profit by the sermon, no matter what the preacher may say; they may try to fancy that the truths he utters are precious, they may resolve that they will feed upon the provision whoever may set the dish before them; but it is no use, they cannot do it, they cannot separate the heartless speaker from the message he delivers so carelessly. As soon as a man lets his work become a matter of mere form or routine, it sinks into a performance in which the preacher is simply an actor. He is only acting a part, as he might in a play at the theatre; and not speaking from his inmost soul, as a man sent from God. I do beseech you, brethren, speak from your hearts, or else do not speak at all. If you can be silent, be silent; but if you must speak for God, be thoroughly sincere about it. It would be better for you to go back to business, and weigh butter or sell reels of cotton, or do anything rather than pretend to be ministers of the gospel unless God has called you to the work. I believe that the most damnable thing a man can do is to preach the gospel merely as an actor, and to turn the worship of God into a kind of theatrical performance. Such a caricature is more worthy of the devil than of God. Divine truth is far too precious to be made the subject of such a mockery. You may depend upon it that, when the people once suspect that you are insincere, they will never listen to you except with disgust, and they will not be at all likely to believe your message if you give them cause to think that you do not believe it yourselves.
I hope I am not wrong in supposing that all of us are thoroughly sincere in our Master's service; so I will go on to what seems to me to be the next qualification, manward, for soul-winning, and that is, evident earnestness. The command to the man who would be a true servant of the Lord Jesus Christ is, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind." If a man is to be a soul-winner, there must be in him intensity of emotion as well as sincerity of heart. You may preach the most solemn warnings, and the most dreadful threatenings, in such an indifferent or careless way that no one will be in the least affected by them; and you may repeat the most affectionate exhortations in such a half-hearted manner that no one will be moved either to love or fear. I believe, brethren, that for soul-winning there is more in this matter of earnestness than in almost anything else. I have seen and heard some who were very poor preachers, who yet brought many souls to the Saviour through the earnestness with which they delivered their message. There was positively nothing in their sermons (until the provision merchant used them to wrap round his butter), yet those feeble sermons brought many to Christ. It was not what the preachers said, so much as how they said it, that carried conviction to the hearts of their hearers. The simplest truth was so driven home by the intensity of the utterance and emotion of the man from whom it came that it told with surprising effect. If any gentleman here would present me with a cannon-ball, say one weighing fifty or a hundred pounds, and let me roll it across the room; and another would entrust me with a rifle-ball, and a rifle out of which I could fire it, I know which would be the more effective of the two. Let no man despise the little bullet, for very often that is the one that kills the sin, and kills the sinner, too. So, brethren, it is not the bigness of the words you utter; it is the force with which you deliver them that decides what is to come of the utterance. I have heard of a ship that was fired at by the cannon in a fort, but no impression was made upon it until the general in command gave the order for the balls to be made red-hot, and then the vessel was sent to the bottom of the sea in three minutes. That is what you must do with your sermons, make them red-hot; never mind if men do say you are too enthusiastic, or even too fanatical, give them red-hot shot, there is nothing else half as good for the purpose you have in view. We do not go out snow-balling on Sundays, we go fire-balling; we ought to hurl grenades into the enemy's ranks.
What earnestness our theme deserves! We have to tell of an earnest Saviour, an earnest heaven, and an earnest hell. How earnest we ought to be when we remember that in our work we have to deal with souls that are immortal, with sin that is eternal in its effects, with pardon that is infinite, and with terrors and joys that are to last for ever and ever! A man who is not in earnest when he has such a theme as this,can he possess a heart at all? Could one be discovered even with a microscope? If he were dissected, probably all that could be found would be a pebble, a heart of stone, or some other substance equally incapable of emotion. I trust that, when God gave us hearts of flesh for ourselves, He gave us hearts that could feel for other people also.
These things being taken for granted, I should say, next, that it is necessary for a man who is to be a soul-winner, that he should have an evident love to his hearers. I cannot imagine a man being a winner of souls when he spends most of his time in abusing his congregation, and talking as if he hated the very sight of them. Such men seem happy only when they are emptying vials of wrath over those who have the unhappiness of listening to them. I heard of a brother preaching from the text, "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves." He began his discourse thus, "I do not say that this man came to the place where we are, but I do know another man who did come to this place, and fell among thieves." You can easily guess what would be the result of such vitriol-throwing. I know of one who preached from the passage, "And Aaron held his peace," and one who heard him said that the difference between him and Aaron was, that Aaron held his peace, and the preacher did not; but, on the contrary, he raved at the people with all his might.
You must have a real desire for the good of the people if you are to have much influence over them. Why, even dogs and cats love the people who love them, and human beings are much the same as these dumb animals. People very soon get to know when a cold man gets into the pulpit, one of those who seem to have been carved out of a block of marble. There have been one or two of our brethren of that kind, and they have never succeeded anywhere. When I have asked the cause of their failure, in each case the reply has been, "He is a good man, a very good man; he preaches well, very well, but still we do not get on with him." I have asked, "Why do you not like him?" The reply has been, "Nobody ever did like him." "Is he quarrelsome?" "Oh! dear no, I wish he would make a row." I try to fish out what the drawback is, for I am very anxious to know, and at last someone says, "Well, sir, I do not think he has any heart; at least, he does not preach and act as if he had any."
It is very sad when the failure of any ministry is caused by want of heart. You ought to have a great big heart, like the harbour at Portsmouth or Plymouth, so that all the people in your congregation could come and cast anchor in it, and feel that they were under the lee of a great rock. Do you not notice that men succeed in the ministry, and win souls for Christ, just in proportion as they are men with large hearts? Think, for instance, of Dr. Brock; there was a mass of a man, one who had bowels of compassion; and what is the good of a minister who has not? I do not hold up the accumulation of flesh as an object worthy of your attainment; but I do say that you must have big hearts, if you are to win men to Jesus; you must be Great-hearts if you are to lead many pilgrims to the Celestial City. I have seen some very lean men who said that they were perfectly holy, and I could almost believe that they could not sin, for they were like old bits of leather, there did not appear to be anything in them that was capable of sinning. I met one of these "perfect" brethren once, and he was just like a piece of sea-weed, there was no humanity in him. I like to see a trace of humanity somewhere or other about a man, and people in general like it, too; they get on better with a man who has some human nature in him. Human nature, in some aspects, is an awful thing; but when the Lord Jesus Christ took it, and joined His own divine nature to it, He made a grand thing of it, and human nature is a noble thing when it is united to the Lord Jesus Christ. Those men who keep themselves to themselves, like hermits, and live a supposed sanctified life of self-absorption, are not likely to have any influence in the world, or to do good to their fellow-creatures. You must love the people, and mix with them, if you are to be of service to them. There are some ministers who really are much better men than others, yet they do not accomplish so much good as those who are more human, those who go and sit down with the people, and make themselves as much as possible at home with them. You know, brethren, that it is possible for you to appear to be just a wee bit too good, so that people will feel that you are altogether transcendental beings, and fitter to preach to angels, and cherubim, and seraphim, than to the fallen sons of Adam. Just be men among men; keeping yourselves clear of all their faults and vices, but mingling with them in perfect love and sympathy, and feeling that you would do anything in your power to bring them to Christ, so that you might even say with the apostle Paul, "Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some."
The next qualification, manward, for soul-winning is evident unselfishness. A man ceases to bring men to Christ as soon as he becomes known as a selfish man. Selfishness seems to be ingrained in some people; you see it at the table at home, in the house of God, everywhere. When such individuals come to deal with a church and congregation, their selfishness soon manifests itself; they mean to get all they can, although in the Baptist ministry they do not often get much. I hope each of you, brethren, will be willing to say, "Well, let me have but food and raiment, and I will be therewith content." If you try to put the thought of money altogether away from you, the money will often come back to you doubled; but if you seek to grab and grasp all, you will very likely find that it will not come to you at all. Those who are selfish in the matter of salary, will be the same in everything else; they will not want their people to know anybody who can preach better than themselves; and they cannot bear to hear of any good work going on anywhere except in their own chapel. If there is a revival at another place, and souls are being saved, they say, with a sneer, "Oh! yes, there are many converts, but what are they? Where will they be in a few months' time?" They think far more of their own gain of one new member per year than of their neighbour's hundred at one time. If your people see that kind of selfishness in you, you will soon lose power over them; if you make up your mind that you will be a great man, whoever has to be thrust on one side, you will go to the cats as sure as you are alive. What are you, my dear brother, that people should all bow down and worship you, and think that in all the world there is none beside you? I tell you what it is; the less you think of yourself, the more will people think of you; and the more you think of yourself, the less will people think of you. If any of you have any trace of selfishness about you, pray get rid of it at once, or you will never be fit instruments for the winning of souls for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then I am sure that another thing that is wanted in a soul-winner is holiness of character. It is no use talking about "the higher life" on Sundays, and then living the lower life on week days. A Christian minister must be very careful, not only to be innocent of actual wrong-doing, but not to be a cause of offence to the weak ones of the flock. All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient. We ought never to do anything that we judge to be wrong, but we ought also to be willing to abstain from things which might not be wrong in themselves, but which might be an occasion of stumbling to others. When people see that we not only preach about holiness, but that we are ourselves holy men, they will be drawn towards holy things by our character as well as by our preaching.
I think also that, if we are to be soul-winners, there must be about us a seriousness of manner. Some brethren are serious by nature. There was a gentleman in a railway carriage, some time ago, who overheard a conversation between two of the passengers. One of them said, "Well, now, I think the Church of Rome has great power, and is likely to succeed with the people, because of the evident holiness of her ministers. There is, for instance, Cardinal ________, he is just like a skeleton; through his long fasting and prayers, he has reduced himself almost to skin and bone. Whenever I hear him speak, I feel at once the force of the holiness of the man. Now, look at Spurgeon, he eats and drinks like an ordinary mortal; I would not give a pin to hear him preach." His friend heard him very patiently, and then said quite quietly, "Did it ever strike you that the Cardinal's appearance was to be accounted for by the fact of his liver being out of order? I do not think it is grace that makes him as lean as he is, I believe it is his liver." So, there are some brethren who are naturally of a melancholy disposition, they are always very serious; but in them it is not a sign of grace, it is only an indication that their livers are out of order. They never laugh, they think it would be wicked to do so; but they go about the world increasing the misery of human kind, which is dreadful enough without the addition of their unnecessary portion. Such people evidently imagine that they were predestinated to pour buckets of cold water upon all human mirth and joy. So, dear brethren, if any of you are very serious, you must not always attribute it to grace, for it may be all owing to the state of your liver.
The most of us, however, are far more inclined to that laughter which doeth good like medicine, and we shall need all our cheerfulness, if we are to comfort and lift up those who are cast down; but we shall never bring many souls to Christ, if we are full of that levity which characterises some men. People will say, "It is all a joke; just hear how those young fellows jest about religion, it is one thing to listen to them when they are in the pulpit, but it is quite another matter to listen to them when they are sitting round the supper table." I have heard of a man who was dying, and he sent for the minister to come and see him. When the minister came in, the dying man said to him, "Do you remember a young man walking with you one evening, some years ago, when you were going out to preach?" He said, he did not. "I recollect it very well," replied the other. "Do you not remember preaching at such-and-such a village, from such-and-such a text, and after the service a young man walked home with you?" "Oh, yes, I remember that very well!" "Well, I am the young man who walked home with you that night; I remember your sermon, I shall never forget it." "Thank God for that," said the preacher. "No," answered the dying man, "you will not thank God when you have heard all I have to say. I walked with you to the village, but you did not say much to me on the way there, for you were thinking over your sermon; you deeply impressed me while you were preaching, and I was led to think about giving my heart to Christ. I wanted to speak to you about my soul on the way home; but the moment you got out you cracked a joke, and all the way back you made such fun upon serious subjects, that I could not say anything about what I felt, and it thoroughly disgusted me with religion, and all who professed it, and now I am going to be damned, and my blood will lie at your door, as sure as you are alive:" and so he passed out of the world. One would not like anything of that sort to happen to himself; therefore, take heed, brethren, that you give no occasion for it. There must be a prevailing seriousness about our whole lives, otherwise we cannot hope to lead other men to Christ.
Finally, if we are to be much used of God as soul-winners, there must be in our hearts a great deal of tenderness. I like a man to have a due amount of holy boldness, but I do not care to see him brazen-faced and impudent. A young man goes into a pulpit, apologises for attempting to preach, and hopes the people will bear with him; he does not know that he has anything particular to say, if the Lord had sent him he might have had some message for them, but he feels himself so young and inexperienced that he cannot speak very positively about anything. Such talk as that will never save a mouse, much less an immortal soul. If the Lord has sent you to preach the gospel, why should you make any apologies? Ambassadors do not apologise when they go to a foreign court; they know that their monarch has sent them, and they deliver their message with all the authority of king and country at their back. Nor is it worth while for you to call attention to your youth. You are only a trumpet of ram's horn; and it does not matter whether you were pulled off the ram's head yesterday, or five-and-twenty years ago. If God blows through you, there will be noise enough, and something more than noise; if He does not, nothing will come of the blowing. When you preach, speak out straight, but be very tender about it; and if there is an unpleasant thing to be said, take care that you put it in the kindest possible form. Some of our brethren had a message to deliver to a certain Christian brother, and when they went to him they put it so awkwardly that he was grievously offended. When I spoke to him about the same matter, he said, "I would not have minded your speaking to me; you have a way of putting an unpleasant truth so that a man cannot be offended with you however much he may dislike the message you bring to him." "Well, but," I said, "I put the matter just as strongly as the other brethren did." "Yes, you did," he replied, "but they said it in such a nasty kind of a way that I would not stand it. Why, sir, I had rather be blown up by you than praised by those other people!" There is a way of doing such things so that the person reproved feels positively grateful to you. One may kick a man downstairs in such a fashion that he will rather like it; while another may open a door in such an offensive way that you do not want to go through till he is out of the way. Now, if I have to tell anyone certain unpalatable truths which it is necessary that he should know if his soul is to be saved, it is a stern necessity for me to be faithful to him; yet I will try so to deliver my message that he shall not be offended at it. Then, if he does take offence, he must; the probability is that he will not, but that what I say will take effect upon his conscience.
I know some brethren who preach as if they were prize-fighters. When they are in the pulpit, they remind me of the Irishman at Donnybrook Fair; all the way through the sermon they appear to be calling upon someone to come up and fight them, and they are never happy except when they are pitching into somebody or other. There is a man who often preaches on Clapham Common, and he does it so pugnaciously that the infidels whom he assails cannot endure it, and there are frequent fights and rows. There is a way of preaching so as to set everybody by the ears; if some men were allowed to preach in heaven, I am afraid they would set the angels fighting. I know a number of ministers of this stamp. There is one who, to my certain knowledge, has been at over a dozen places during his not very long ministerial life. You can tell where he has been by the ruin he leaves behind him. He always finds the churches in a sad state, and he straightway begins to purify them, that is, to destroy them. As a general rule, the first thing, out goes the principal deacon, and the next, away go all the leading families, and before long, the man has purified the place so effectually that the few people who are left cannot keep him. Off he goes to another place, and repeats the process of destruction. He is a kind of spiritual ship-scuttler, and he is never happy except when he is boring a hole through the planks of some good vessel. He says he believes the ship is unsound; so he bores, and bores, until just as she is going down, he slips off, and gets aboard another vessel, which very soon sinks in the same manner. He feels that he is called to the work of separating the precious from the vile, and a preciously vile mess he makes of it. I have no reason to believe it is the condition of the liver in this brother, it is more likely that there is something wrong with his heart; certainly, there is an evil disease upon him that always makes me get into a bad temper with him. It is dangerous to entertain him above three days, for he would quarrel in that time with the most peaceably disposed man in the world. I never mean to recommend him to a pastorate again; let him find a place for himself if he can, for I believe that, where-ever he goes, the place will be like the spot where the foot of the Tartar's horse is put down, the grass will never again grow there. If any of you brethren have even a little of this nasty, bitter spirit about you, go to sea that you may get rid of it. I hope it may happen to you according to the legend which is told concerning Mahomet. "In every human being," so the story runs, "there are two black drops of sin. The great prophet himself was not free from the common lot of evil; but an angel was sent to take his heart, and squeeze out of it the two black drops of sin." Get those black drops out somehow while you are in College; if you have any malice, or ill-will, or bad temper in you, pray the Lord to take it out of you while you are here; do not go into the churches to fight as others have done.
"Still," says a brother, "I am not going to let the people tread on me. I shall take the bull by the horns." You will be a great fool if you do. I never felt that I was called to do anything of the kind. Why not let the bull alone, to go where he likes? A bull is a very likely creature to project you into space if you get meddling with his horns. "Still," says another, "we must set things right." Yes, but the best way to set things right is not to make them more wrong than they are. Nobody thinks of putting a mad bull into a china shop in order to get the china cleaned, and no one can by a display of evil temper set right anything that is wrong in our churches. Take care always to speak the truth in love, and especially when you are rebuking sin.
I believe, brethren, that soul-winning is to be done by men of the character I have been describing; and most of all will this be the case when they are surrounded by people of a similar character. You want to get the very atmosphere in which you live and labour permeated with this spirit before you can rightly expect the fullest and richest blessings. Therefore, may you and all your people be all that I have pictured, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake! Amen.
Chapter 4: Sermons Likely To Win SoulsTHIS afternoon, brethren, I am going to speak to you about
the sort of discourses we should deliver if we really want our hearers to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and to be saved. Of course, we are all perfectly agreed that the Holy Spirit alone can convert a soul; none can enter into the kingdom of God except they are born again from above. All the work is done by the Holy Spirit; and we must not take to ourselves any part of the credit for the result of the work, for it is the Spirit who new-creates and works in man according to the eternal purpose of God.
Still, we may be instruments in His hands, for He chooses to use instruments, and He chooses them for wise reasons. There must be an adaptation of means to the end, as there was with David when he went forth with the sling and stone to slay Goliath of Gath. Goliath was a tall fellow, but a stone from a sling can mount; and, besides, the giant was armed and protected, and scarcely vulnerable except in his forehead, so that was the very place to hit him. Though David took a sling, it was not so much because he had no other weapon as that he had practised slinging, as most boys do in some form or other; and then he chose a smooth stone because he knew it would fit the sling. He took the right kind of stone to enter Goliath's head, so, when he slung it at the giant, it struck him in the forehead, penetrated his brain, and he sank down to the ground.
You will find that this principle of adaptation runs through the whole work of the Holy Spirit. If a man is wanted to be the apostle of the Gentiles, the Holy Spirit selects the large-minded, well-trained, highly-educated Paul, for he was more fit for such work than was the somewhat narrow though strong-minded Peter, who was better suited for preaching to the Jews, and who was of far more use to the circumcision than he ever could have been among the uncircumcision. Paul in his place is the right man, and Peter in his place is the right man. You may see in this principle a lesson for yourselves, and seek to adapt your means to your end. God the Holy Spirit can convert a soul by any text of Scripture apart from your paraphrase, your comment, your exposition; but there are certain Scripture passages, as you know, that are the best to bring before the minds of sinners, and if this is true about your texts, much more is it so in your discourses to your hearers. As to which sermons are most likely to be blessed to the conversion of those to whom they are preached, I should say,
First, they are those sermons which are distinctly aimed at the conversion of the hearers. I heard a prayer, some time ago, from a minister who asked the Lord to save souls by the sermon he was about to deliver. I do not hesitate to say that God Himself could not bless the sermon to that end unless He made the people misunderstand all that the preacher said to them, because the whole discourse was rather calculated to harden the sinner in his sin than to lead him to renounce it, and to seek the Saviour. There was nothing in it that could be blessed to any hearer unless he turned it inside out or bottom upwards. The sermon did me good on the principle that was applied by a good old lady to the minister she was obliged to hear. When asked, "Why do you go to such a place?" she replied,"Well, there is no other place of worship to which I can go." "But it must be better to stay at home than to hear such stuff," said her friend. "Perhaps so," she answered, "but I like to go out to worship even if I get nothing by going. You see a hen, sometimes, scratching all over a heap of rubbish to try to find some corn; she does not get any, but it shows that she is looking for it, and using the means to get it, and then, too, the exercise warms her." So the old lady said that scratching over the poor sermons she heard was a blessing to her because it exercised her spiritual faculties, and warmed her spirit.
There are sermons of such a kind that, unless God takes to ripening wheat by means of snow and ice, and begins to illuminate the world by means of fogs and clouds, He cannot save souls under them. Why, the preacher himself evidently does not think that anybody will be converted by them! If a hundred persons or if half-a-dozen were converted by them, nobody would be so astonished as the preacher himself; in fact, I know a man who was converted, or at least convicted, under the preaching of a minister of that kind. In a certain parish church, as the result of the clergyman's preaching, there was a man who was under deep conviction of sin. He went down to see his minister, but the poor man did not know what to make of him, and said to him, "I am very sorry if there was anything in my sermon to make you uncomfortable; I did not mean it to be so." "Well, sir," answered the troubled man, "you said that we must be born again." "Oh!" replied the clergyman, "that was all done in baptism.'' '' But, sir," said the man, who was not to be put off, "you did not say so in your sermon; you spoke of the necessity of regeneration." "Well, I am very sorry I said anything to make you uncomfortable, for really I think all is right with you. You are a good sort of a fellow; you were never a poacher, or anything else that is bad." "That may be, sir, but I have a sense of sin, and you said we must be new creatures." "Well, well, my good man," at last said the perplexed parson, "I do not understand such things; I never was born again." He sent him to the Baptist minister, and the man is now himself a Baptist minister, partly as the result of what he learned from the preacher who did not himself understand the truth he had declared to others.
Of course, God can convert a soul by such a sermon as that, and by such a ministry as that, but it is not likely; it is more probable that, in His infinite sovereignty, He will work in a place where a warmhearted man is preaching to men the truth that he has himself received, all the while earnestly desiring their salvation, and ready to guide them further in the ways of the Lord as soon as ever they are saved. God does not usually lay His new-born children down amongst people where the new life will not be understood, or where it will be left without any proper nurture or care so, brethren, if you want your hearers to be converted, you must just see that your preaching aims directly at conversion, and that it is such as God will be likely to bless to that end. When that is the case, then look for souls to be saved, and look for a great number of them, too. Do not be satisfied when a single soul is converted. Remember that the rule of the kingdom is, "According to your faith be it unto you." I said last night, in my sermon in the Tabernacle, that I was glad it was not written, "According to thine unbelief, so be it unto thee." If there be in us a great faith, God will give us blessing according to our faith. Oh, that we were altogether rid of unbelief, that we believed great things of God, and with heart and soul so preached that men were likely to be converted by such discourses, proclaiming truths likely to convert them, and declaring them in a manner that would be likely to be blessed to the conversion of our hearers. Of course, all the while we must be trusting to the Holy Spirit to make the work effectual, for we are but the instruments in His hands.
But coming a little closer to our subject, if the people are to be saved, it must be by sermons that interest them. You have first to get them to come under the sound of the gospel, for there is, at all events in London, a great aversion to a place of worship, and I am not much surprised that it is so concerning many churches and chapels. I think, in many instances, the common people do not attend such services because they do not understand the theological "lingo" that is used in the pulpit; it is neither English, nor Greek, but Double-dutch; and when a working-man goes once and listens to these fine words, he says to his wife, "I do not go there again, Sal; there is nothing there for me, nor yet for you; there may be a good deal for a gentleman that's been to College, but there is nothing for the likes of us." No, brethren, we must preach in what White-field used to call "market language" if we would have all classes of the community listening to our message.
Then, when they do come in, we must preach interestingly. The people will not be converted while they are asleep; and if they go to sleep, they had better have been at home in bed, where they would sleep much more comfortably. We must have the minds of our hearers awake and active if we are to do them real good. You will not shoot your birds unless you get them to fly, you must get them started up from the long grass in which they are hiding. I would sooner use a little of what some very proper preachers regard as a dreadful thing, that wicked thing called humour,I would sooner wake the congregation up that way than have it said that I droned away at them until we all went to sleep together. Sometimes, it may be quite right to have it said of us as it was said of Rowland Hill, "What does that man mean? He actually made the people laugh while he was preaching." "Yes," was the wise answer, "but did you not see that he made them cry directly after?" That was good work, and it was well done. I sometimes tickle my oyster until he opens his shell, and then I slip the knife in. He would not have opened for my knife, but he did for something else; and that is the way to do with people. They must be made to open their eyes, and ears, and souls, somehow; and when you get them open, you must feel, "Now is my opportunity; in with the knife." There is one vulnerable spot in the hides of those rhinoceros sinners that come to hear you but take care that, if you do get a shot through that weak spot, it shall be a thorough gospel bullet, for nothing else will accomplish the work that needs to be done.
Moreover, the people must be interested to make them remember what is said. They will not recollect what they hear unless the subject interests them. They forget our fine perorations, they cannot recall our very pretty pieces of poetry,I do not know that they would do them any good if they did remember them; but we must tell our hearers something they will not be likely to forget. I believe in what Father Taylor calls "the surprise power of a sermon"; that is, something that is not expected by those who are listening to it. Just when they reckon that you are sure to say something very precise and straight, say something awkward and crooked, because they will remember that, and you will have tied a gospel knot where it is likely to remain. I remember reading of a tailor, who had made his fortune, and he promised to tell his brother-tailors how he had done it. They gathered around his bed when he was dying, and he said, as they all listened very attentively, "Now I am to tell you how you tailors are to make your fortunes; this is the way, always put a knot in your thread." I give that same advice to you preachers, always put a knot in your thread; if there is a knot in the thread, it does not come out of the material. Some preachers put in the needle all right, but there is no knot in their thread, so it passes through, and they have really done nothing after all. Put a good many knots in your discourses, brethren, so that there may be all the greater probability that they will remain in your people's memories. You do not want your preaching to be like the sewing done by some machines, for, if one stitch breaks, the whole will come undone. There ought to be plenty of "burrs" in a sermon,Mr. Fergusson will tell you what "burrs" are, I'll warrant you that he has often found them clinging to his coat in his bonnie Scotland. Put these "burrs" all over the people; say something that will strike them, something that will stick to them for many a day, and that will be likely to bless them. I believe that a sermon, under God's smile, is likely to be the means of conversion if it has this peculiarity about it, that it is interesting to the hearers as well as directly aimed at their salvation.
The third thing in a sermon that is likely to win souls to Christ is, it must be instructive. If people are to be saved by a discourse, it must contain at least some measure of knowledge. There must be light as well as fire. Some preachers are all light, and no fire, and others are all fire and no light; what we want is both fire and light. I do not judge those brethren who are all fire and fury; but I wish they had a little more knowledge of what they talk about, and I think it would be well if they did not begin quite so soon to preach what they hardly understand themselves. It is a fine thing to stand up in the street, and cry, "Believe! Believe! Believe! Believe! Believe! Believe!" Yes, my dear soul, but what have we to believe? What is all this noise about? Preachers of this sort are like a little boy who had been crying, and something happened that stopped him in the middle of his cry, and presently he said, "Ma, please what was I crying about?" Emotion, doubtless, is a very proper thing in the pulpit, and the feeling, the pathos, the power of heart, are good and grand things in the right place; but do also use your brains a little, do tell us something when you stand up to preach the everlasting gospel.
The sermons that are most likely to convert people seem to me to be those that are full of truth, truth about the fall, truth about the law, truth about human nature, and its alienation from God, truth about Jesus Christ, truth about the Holy Spirit, truth about the Everlasting Father, truth about the new birth, truth about obedience to God, and how we learn it, and all such great verities. Tell your hearers something, dear brethren, whenever you preach, tell them something, tell them something!
Of course, some good may come, even if your hearers do not understand you. I suppose it might be so, for there was a very esteemed lady speaking to the Friends gathered at the Devonshire House meeting. She was a most gracious woman, and was addressing the English Friends in Dutch, and she asked one of the brethren to translate for her, but the hearers said there was so much power and spirit about her speaking, though it was in Dutch, that they did not want it translated, for they were getting as much good out of it as was possible. Now, these hearers were Friends, and they are men of different mould from me, for I do not mind how good a woman the esteemed lady was, I should have liked to know what she was talking about, and I am sure I should not have been in the least degree profited unless it had been translated; and I like ministers always to know what they are talking about, and to be sure that there is something in it worth saying. Do try, therefore, dear brethren, to give your hearers something beside a string of pathetic anecdotes that will set them crying. Tell the people something; you are to teach them, to preach the gospel to your hearers, to make them understand as far as you can the things which should make for their peace. We cannot expect people to be saved by our sermons, unless we try really to instruct them by what we say to them.
Fourthly, the people must be impressed by our sermons, if they are to be converted. They must not only be interested, and instructed, but they must be impressed; and, I believe, dear friends, there is a great deal more in impressive sermons than some people think. In order that you may impress the Word upon those to whom you preach, remember that it must be impressed upon yourself first. You must feel it yourself, and speak as a man who feels it; not as if you feel it, but because you feel it, otherwise you will not make it felt by others. I wonder what it must be to go up into the pulpit, and read somebody else's sermon to the congregation. We read in the Bible of one thing that was borrowed, and the head of that came off; and I am afraid that the same thing often happens with borrowed sermonsthe heads come off. Men who read borrowed sermons positively do not know anything about our troubles of mind in preparing for the pulpit, or our joy in preaching with the aid of only brief notes. A dear friend of mine, who reads his own sermons, was talking to me about preaching, and I was telling him how my very soul is moved, and my very heart is stirred within me, when I think of what I shall say to my people, and afterwards when I am delivering my message; but he said that he never felt anything of the kind when he was preaching. He reminded me of the little girl who was crying because her teeth ached, and her grandmother said to her, "Lily, I wonder you are not ashamed to cry about such a small matter." "Well, grandmother," answered the little maid, "it is all very well for you to say that, for, when your teeth ache, you can take them out, but mine are fixed." Some brethren, when the sermon they have selected will not run smoothly, can go to their box, and take out another; but when I have a sermon full of joy, and I myself feel heavy and sad, I am utterly miserable; when I want to beg and persuade men to believe, and my spirit is dull and cold, I feel wretched to the last degree. My teeth ache, and I cannot take them out, for they are my own; as my sermons are my own, and therefore I may expect to find a good deal of trouble, both in the getting of them, and in the using of them.
I remember the answer I received when I once said to my venerable grandfather, "I never have to preach, but that I feel terribly sick, literally sick, I mean, so that I might as well be crossing the Channel," and I asked the dear old man whether he thought I should ever get over that feeling. His answer was, "Your power will be gone if you do." So, my brethren, when it is not so much that you have got a hold of your subject, but that it has got a hold of you, and you feel its grip with a terrible reality yourself, that is the kind of sermon that is most likely to make others feel. If you are not impressed with it yourself, you cannot expect to impress others with it; so mind that your sermons always have something in them, which shall really impress both yourself and the hearers whom you are addressing.
I think also that there should be an impressive delivery of our discourses. The delivery of some preachers is very bad; if yours is so, try and improve it in all possible ways. One young man wanted to learn singing, but he was told by the teacher, "You have only one tone to your voice, and that is outside the scale." So, there are some ministers' voices that have only one tone, and there is no music in that one. Do try, as far as you can, to make the very way in which you speak to minister to the great end you have in view. Preach, for instance, as you would plead if you were standing before a judge, and begging for the life of a friend, or as if you were appealing to the Queen herself on behalf of someone very dear to you. Use such a tone in pleading with sinners as you would use if a gibbet were erected in this room, and you were to be hanged on it unless you could persuade the person in authority to release you. That is the sort of earnestness you need in pleading with men as ambassadors for God. Try and make every sermon such that the most flippant shall see without any doubt that, if it be an amusement for them to hear you, it is no amusement for you to speak to them, but that you are pleading with them in downright solemn earnest about eternal matters. I have often felt just like this when I have been preaching,I have known what it is to use up all my ammunition, and then I have, as it were, rammed myself into the great gospel gun, and I have fired myself at my hearers, all my experience of God's goodness, all my consciousness of sin, and all my sense of the power of the gospel; and there are some people upon whom that kind of preaching tells where nothing else would have done, for they see that then you communicate to them not only the gospel, but yourself also. The kind of sermon which is likely to break the hearer's heart is that which has first broken the preacher's heart, and the sermon which is likely to reach the heart of the hearer is the one which has come straight from the heart of the preacher therefore, dear brethren, always seek to preach so that the people shall be impressed as well as interested and instructed.
Fifthly, I think that we should try to take out of our sermons everything that is likely to divert the hearer's mind from the object we have in view.
The best style of preaching in the world, like the best style of dressing, is that which nobody notices. Somebody went to spend the evening with Hannah More, and when he came home his wife asked him, How was Miss More dressed? She must have been dressed very splendidly." The gentleman answered, "Really she was,why, dear me, how was she dressed? I did not notice at all how she was dressed; anyway, there was nothing particularly noticeable in her dress, she was herself the object of interest." That is the way that a true lady is dressed, so that we notice her, and not her garments; she is so well dressed that we do not know how she is dressed, and that is the best way of dressing a sermon. Let it never be said of you, as it is sometimes said of certain popular preachers, "He did the thing so majestically, he spoke with such lofty diction, etc., etc., etc."
Never introduce anything into your discourse that would be likely to distract the attention of the hearer from the great object you have in view. If you take the sinner's mind off the main subject,speaking after the manner of men, there is so much less likelihood of his receiving the impression you desire to convey, and, consequently, the smaller probability of his being converted. I remember once reading what Mr. Finney said in his book on "Revivals." He said that there was a person on the point of being converted, and just then an old woman, with pattens on, came shuffling up the aisle, making a great noise, and that soul was lost! I know what the evangelist meant, though I do not like the form in which the matter was put by him. The noise of the old lady's pattens probably did take off the person's mind from the thing he should have been thinking upon, and it is quite possible that he could not be brought back to exactly the same position again. We are to look to all these little things as if everything depended upon us, at the same time remembering that it is the Holy Spirit alone who can make the work effectual.
Your sermon should not take off the people's attention through its being only very distantly related to the text. There are many hearers still left who believe that there should be some sort of connection between the sermon and the text, and if they begin asking themselves, "However did the minister get right over there? What has his talk to do with the text?"you will have lost their attention, and that wandering habit of yours may be a very destructive one to them; therefore, keep to your texts, brethren. If you do not, you will be like a little boy who went out fishing, and his uncle said to him, "Have you caught many fish, Samuel?" The boy answered, "I have been fishing for three hours, uncle, and I have not caught any fish, but I have lost a lot of worms." I hope you will never have to say, "I did not win any souls for the Saviour, but I spoiled a lot of precious texts; I confused and confounded many passages of Scripture, but I did no good with them. I was not supremely anxious to learn the mind of the Spirit as revealed in the text so as to get its meaning into my own mind, though it took a deal of squeezing and packing to get my mind into the text." That is not a good thing to do; stick to your texts, brethren, as the cobbler is bidden to stick to his last, and seek to get out of the Scriptures what the Holy Spirit has put into them. Never let your hearers have to ask the question, "What has this sermon to do with the text?" If you do, the people will not be profited, and it may be that they will not be saved.
I would say to you brethren, you of these two Colleges, get all the education that you can, drink in everything that your tutors can possibly impart to you. It will take you all your time to get out of them all that is in them; but you should endeavour to learn all that you can, because, believe me, a want of education may hinder the work of soul-winning. That 'orrible omission of the letter "h" from places where it ought to be, that aspiration of the "h" till you exasperate it altogether,you cannot tell what mischiefs such mistakes may cause. There was a young friend who might have been converted, for she did seem greatly impressed by your discourse; but she was so disgusted by the dreadful way in which you put in "h's" where they ought not to be, or left them out where they ought to be in, that she could not listen to you with any pleasure, and her attention was distracted from the truth by your errors of pronunciation. That letter "h" has done vast mischief, it is "the letter that killeth" in the case of a great many, and all sorts of grammatical blunders may do more harm than you can imagine. You may think, perhaps, that I am speaking of trifling matters that are hardly worthy of consideration; but I am not, for these things may cause most serious results; and as it is easy to learn to speak and write correct English, do try and know all you can of it.
Perhaps someone says, "Well, I know such-and-such a successful brother, and he was not an educated man." That is true; but mark you this, the times are altering. One young woman said to another, "I do not see why we girls need learn so many lessons. The young women before us did not know much, and yet they got married." "Yes," said her companion, "but then, you know, there were no Board Schools in them days; but now the young men will be educated, and it will be a poor look-out for us as ain't." A young man might say, "Such-and-such a minister was ungrammatical, and yet he did well;" but the people of his day were ungrammatical, too, so it did not matter so much; but now, when they have all been to the Board Schools, if they come and listen to you, it will be a pity if their mind is taken off the solemn things which you wish them to think upon because they cannot help noticing your deficiencies of education. Even if you are not an educated man, God may bless you; but wisdom tells us that we should not let our want of education hinder the gospel from blessing men.
"But," possibly you say, "they must be very hypercritical to find fault like that." But, then, do not hypercritical people need saving just as much as other people? I would not have a hypercritical person who could truthfully say that my preaching so jarred upon his ear, and disturbed his mind, that he could not possibly receive the doctrine which I was trying to set before him. Did you ever hear how it was that Charles Dickens would not become a spiritualist? At a séance, he asked to see the spirit of Lindley Murray. There came in what professed to be the spirit of Lindley Murray, and Dickens asked, "Are you Lindley Murray?" The reply came, "I are." There was no hope of Dickens' conversion to spiritualism after that ungrammatical answer. You may well laugh at the story, but mind that you recollect the moral of it. You can easily see that, by forgetting when to use the nominative or accusative case of a noun or pronoun, or by using the wrong tense of a verb, you might take off the mind of your hearer from what you are trying to bring before him, and so prevent the truth from reaching his heart and conscience. Therefore, divest your sermons as much as ever you can of everything that is at all likely to take away the mind of your hearers from the one object before you. The whole attention and thought of the people must be concentrated on the truth we are setting before them if we are so to preach as to save those who come within sound of our voice.
Sixthly, I believe that those sermons which are fullest of Christ are the most likely to be blessed to the conversion of the hearers. Let your sermons be full of Christ, from beginning to end crammed full of the gospel. As for myself, brethren, I cannot preach anything else but Christ and His cross, for I know nothing else, and long ago, like the apostle Paul, I determined not to know anything else save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. People have often asked me, "What is the secret of your success?" I always answer that I have no other secret but this, that I have preached the gospel,not about the gospel, but the gospel,the full, free, glorious gospel of the living Christ who is the incarnation of the good news. Preach Jesus Christ, brethren, always and everywhere; and every time you preach be sure to have much of Jesus Christ in the sermon. You remember the story of the old minister who heard a sermon by a young man, and when he was asked by the preacher what he thought of it he was rather slow to answer, but at last he said, "If I must tell you, I did not like it at all; there was no Christ in your sermon." "No," answered the young man, "because I did not see that Christ was in the text." "Oh!" said the old minister, "but do you not know that from every little town and village and tiny hamlet in England there is a road leading to London? Whenever I get hold of a text, I say to myself, 'There is a road from here to Jesus Christ, and I mean to keep on His track till I get to Him.'" "Well," said the young man, "but suppose you are preaching from a text that says nothing about Christ?" "Then I will go over hedge and ditch but what I will get at Him." So must we do, brethren; we must have Christ in all our discourses, whatever else is in or not in them. There ought to be enough of the gospel in every sermon to save a soul. Take care that it is so when you are called to preach before Her Majesty the Queen, and if you have to preach to charwomen or chairmen, still always take care that there is the real gospel in every sermon.
I have heard of a young man asking, when he was going to preach in a certain place, "What kind of church is it? What do the people believe? What is their doctrinal view?" I will tell you how to avoid the necessity of such a question as that; preach Jesus Christ to them, and if that does not suit their doctrinal views then preach Jesus Christ the next Sunday you go; and do the same thing the next Sabbath, and the next, and the next, and never preach anything else. Those who do not like Jesus Christ must have Him preached to them till they do like Him; for they are the very people who need Him most. Recollect that all the tradesmen in the world say that they can sell their goods when there is a demand for them, but our goods create as well as supply the demand. We preach Jesus Christ to those who want Him, and we also preach Him to those who do not want Him, and we keep on preaching Christ until we make them feel that they do want Him, and cannot do without Him.
Seventhly, brethren, it is my firm conviction that those sermons are most likely to convert men that really appeal to their hearts, not those that are fired over their heads, or that are aimed only at their intellects. I am sorry to say that I know some preachers who will never do much good in the world; they are good men, they have plenty of ability, they can speak well, and they have a good deal of shrewdness; but, somehow or other, there is a very sad omission in their nature, for to anyone who knows them, it is quite evident that they have not any heart. I know one or two men who are as dry as leather. If you were to hang them up on the wall, as you do a piece of seaweed, to tell what kind of weather it is to be, they would be no guide to you, for scarcely any weather would affect them.
But I also know some men who are the very reverse of these brethren. They are not likely to win souls, for they are themselves so flippant, and frivolous, and foolish, there is nothing serious about them, nothing to show that they are living in earnest. I cannot find any trace of a soul in them; they are too shallow to contain one, it could not live in the inch or two of water that is all that they hold, they appear to have been made without any soul, so they cannot do any good in preaching the gospel. You must have souls, brothers, if you are to look after your brothers' souls, depend upon that; as you must have a heart if you are to reach your brother's heart.
Here is another kind of man,one who cannot weep over sinners,what is the good of him in the ministry? He never did weep over men in his life: he never agonized before God on their behalf; he never said with Jeremiah, "Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!" I know a brother like this. In a meeting of ministers, after we had been confessing our shortcomings, he said that he was very much ashamed of us all. Well, no doubt, we ought to have been more ashamed of our selves than we were; but he told us that, if we had truly meant what we had said in our confessions to God, we were a disgrace to the ministry; perhaps we were. He said he was not like that; so far as he knew, he never preached a sermon without feeling that it was the best he could preach, and he did not know that he could do any better than he had done. He was a man who always studied just so many hours every day, always prayed exactly so many minutes, always preached a certain length of time, in fact, he was the most regular man I ever knew. When I heard him talk as he had done to us, I asked myself, "What does his ministry show as the result of this perfect way of doing things?" Why, it did not show anything at all that was satisfactory. He has great gifts of dispersion; for, if he goes to a full chapel, he soon empties it; yet he is, I believe, a good man in his way. I could wish that his clock would sometimes stop, or strike in the middle of the half-hour, or that something extraordinary might happen to him, because some good might come of it; but he is so regular and orderly, that there is no hope of his doing anything, the fault with him is that he has not any fault. You will notice, brethren, that preachers who have no faults have no excellences either; so try to avoid that flat, dead level, and everything else that makes people less likely to be converted.
Coming back to that matter of the possession of a heart, of which I was speaking, I asked a young girl, who came lately to join the church, "Have you a good heart?" She replied, "Yes, sir." I said, "Have you thought over that question? Have you not an evil heart?" "Oh, yes!" she answered. "Well," I said, "how do your two answers agree?" "Why," responded the girl, "I know that I have a good heart, because God has given me a new heart and a right spirit; and I also know that I have an evil heart, for I often find it fighting against my new heart." She was right, and I had sooner feel that a minister had two hearts than that he had none at all. It must be heart-work with you, brethren, far more than head-work, if you are to win many souls. Amidst all your studies, mind that you never let your spiritual life get dry. There is no necessity that it should, although with many study has had that effect. My dear brethren, the tutors, will bear me witness that there is a very drying influence about Latin, and Greek, and Hebrew. That couplet is true,
Do flourish best on barren ground."
There is a very drying influence in the classics, and there is a very drying influence in mathematics, and you may get absorbed in any science till your heart is gone. Do not let that be the case with any of you, so that people should have to say of you, "He knows much more than he did when he first came amongst us, but he has not as much spirituality as he used to have." Take care that it never is so. Do not be satisfied with merely polishing up your grates, but stir the fire in your heart, and get your own soul all aflame with love to Christ, or else you will not be likely to be greatly used in the winning of the souls of others.
Lastly, brethren, I think that those sermons which have been prayed over are the most likely to convert people. I mean those discourses that have had much real prayer offered over them, both in the preparation and the delivery, for there is much so-called prayer that is only playing at praying. I rode, some time ago, with a man who professes to work wonderful cures by the acids of a certain wood. After he had told me about his marvellous remedy, I asked him, "What is there in that to effect such cures as you profess to have wrought?" "Oh!" he answered, "it is the way in which I prepare it, much more than the stuff itself; that is the secret of its curative properties. I rub it as hard as ever I can for a long while, and I have so much vital electricity in me that I put my very life into it." Well, well, he was only a quack, yet we may learn a lesson even from him, for the way to make sermons is to work vital electricity into them, putting your own life and the very life of God into them by earnest prayer. The difference between a sermon that has been prayed over and one that has been prepared and preached by a prayerless man is like the difference that Mr. Fergusson suggested in his prayer when he referred to the high priest before and after his anointing. You must anoint your sermons, brethren, and you cannot do it except by much private communion with God. May the Holy Spirit anoint every one of you, and richly bless you in winning souls, for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake! Amen.
Chapter 5: Obstacles To Soul-WinningI HAVE spoken to you, brethren, at different times, about soul-winningthat most royal employment. May you all become, in this sense, mighty hunters before the Lord, and bring many sinners to the Saviour! I want, at this time, to say a few words upon
They are very many, and I cannot attempt to make a complete catalogue of them; but the first, and one of the most difficult is, doubtless, the indifference and lethargy of sinners. All men are not alike indifferent; in fact, there are some persons who seem to have a sort of religious instinct, which influences them for good, long before they have any real love to spiritual things. But there are districts, especially rural districts, where indifference prevails; and the same state of things exists in various parts of London. It is not infidelity; the people do not care enough about religion even to oppose it. They are not concerned as to what you preach, or where you preach, for they have no interest whatever in the matter. They have no thought of God; they care nothing about Him, or His service, they only use His name in profanity. I have often noticed that any place where there is little business doing is bad for religious effort. Among the negroes of Jamaica, whenever they had not much work, there was little prosperity in the churches. I could indicate districts, not far from here, where business is slack; and there you will find that there is very little good being done. All along the valley of the Thames, there are places where a man might preach his heart out, and kill himself; but there is little or nothing of good being accomplished in those regions, just as there is no active business life there.
Now, whenever you meet with indifference, as you may do, my dear brother, in the place where you go to preach,indifference affecting your own people, and even your own deacons seeming to be tinged with it,what are you to do? Well, your only hope of overcoming it is, to be doubly in earnest yourself. Keep your own zeal all alive, let it be even vehement, burning, blazing, all-consuming. Stir the people up somehow; and if all your earnestness seems to be in vain, still blaze and burn; and if that has no effect upon your hearers, go elsewhere as the Lord may direct you. This indifference or lethargy, that possesses the minds of some men, is very likely to have an evil influence upon our preaching; but we must strive and struggle against it, and try to wake both ourselves and our hearers up. I would far rather have a man an earnest, intense opposer of the gospel than have him careless and indifferent. You cannot do much with a man if he will not speak about religion, or will not come to hear what you have to say concerning the things of God. You might as well have him a downright infidel, like a very leviathan covered with scales of blasphemy, as have him a mere earth-worm wriggling away out of reach.
Another very great obstacle to soul-winning is unbelief. You know that it is written of the Lord Jesus when in "His own country that "He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief." This evil exists in all unregenerate hearts, but in some men it takes a very pronounced form. They do think about religion, but they do not believe in the truth of God which we preach to them. Their opinion is to them more weighty, more worthy of belief, than God's inspired declarations; they will not accept anything that is revealed in the Scriptures. These people are very hard to influence; but I would warn you not to fight them with their own weapons. I do not believe that infidels ever are won by argument; or, if so, it very seldom happens. The argument that convinces men of the reality of religion, is that which they gather from the holiness and earnestness of those who profess to be Christ's followers. As a rule, they barricade their minds against the assaults of reason and if we give our pulpits over to arguing with them, we shall often be doing more harm than good. In all probability, only a very small portion of our audience will understand what we are talking about; and while we are trying to do them good, most likely we shall be teaching infidelity to others who do not know anything about such things, and the first knowledge they ever have of certain heresies will have come to them from our lips. Possibly our refutation of the error may not have been perfect, and many a young mind may have been tinctured with unbelief through listening to our attempted exposure of it. I believe that you will rout unbelief by your faith rather than by your reason; by your belief, and your acting up to your conviction of the truth, you will do more good than by any argument, however strong it may be. There is a friend who sits to hear me generally every Sabbath. "What do you think?" he said to me, one day, "you are my only link with better things; but you are an awful man in my estimation, for you have not the slightest sympathy with me." I replied, "No, I have not; or, rather, I have not the least sympathy with your unbelief." "That makes me cling to you, for I fear that I shall always remain as I am; but when I see your calm faith, and perceive how God blesses you in exercising it, and know what you accomplish through the power of that faith, I say to myself, 'Jack, you are a fool.'" I said to him, "You are quite right in that verdict; and the sooner you come to my way of thinking, the better, for nobody can be a bigger fool than the man who does not believe in God." One of these days I expect to see him converted; there is a continual battle between us, but I never answer one of his arguments. I said to him once, "If you believe that I am a liar, you are free to think so if you like; but I testify what I do know, and state what I have seen, and tasted, and handled, and felt, and you ought to believe my testimony, for I have no possible object to serve in deceiving you." That man would have beaten me long ago if I had fired at him with the paper pellets of reason. So, I advise you to fight unbelief with belief, falsehood with the truth, and never to cut and pare down the gospel to try to make it fit in with the follies and fancies of men.
A third obstacle in the way of winning souls is that fatal delay which men so often make. I do not know whether this evil is not on the whole more widespread and mischievous than the indifference and lethargy and unbelief of which I have spoken. Many a man says to us what Felix said to Paul, "Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." Such an individual gets into the border country, he seems to be within a few steps of Emmanuel's land, and yet he parries our home-thrusts, and puts us off by saying, "Yes, I will think the matter over, it shall not be long before I decide." There is nothing like pressing men for a speedy decision, and getting them to settle at once this all-important question. Never mind if they do find fault with your teaching; it is always right to preach what God says, and His word is, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation."
This leads me to mention another obstacle to soul-winning, which is the same thing in another form, viz., carnal security. Many men fancy that they are quite safe; they have not really tested the foundation on which they are building, to see that it is sound and firm, but they suppose that all is well. If they are not good Christians, they can at least say that they are rather better than some who are Christians, or who call themselves by that name; and if there is anything lacking in them, they can at any time put on the finishing touch, and make themselves fit for God's presence. Thus they have no fear; or, if they do fear at all, they do not live in constant dread of that eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, which will certainly be their portion unless they repent, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Against these people we ought to thunder day and night. Let us plainly proclaim to them that the unbelieving sinner is "condemned already", and that he is certain to perish everlastingly if he does not trust in Christ. We ought so to preach as to make every sinner tremble in his seat; and if he will not come to the Saviour, he ought at least to have a hard time of it while he stops away from Him. I am afraid that we sometimes preach smooth things, too soothing and agreeable, and that we do not set before men their real danger as we should. If we shun in this respect to declare all the counsel of God, part at least of the responsibility of their ruin will lie at our door.
Another obstacle to soul-winning is despair. The pendulum swings first one way and then the other; and the man who yesterday had no fear, to-day has no hope. There are thousands who have heard the gospel, and yet live in a kind of despair of its power being ever exerted upon them. Perhaps they have been brought up among people who taught them that the work of salvation was something of God altogether apart from the sinner; and so they say that, if they are to be saved, they will be saved. You know that this teaching contains a great truth, and yet, if it is left by itself, without qualification, it is a horrible falsehood. It is fatalism, not predestination, that makes men talk as if there is nothing whatever for them to do, or that there is nothing they can do. There is no likelihood of anyone being saved while he gives you this as his only hope, "If salvation is for me, it will come to me in due time." You may meet with people who talk thus; and when you have said all you can, they will remain as if they were cased in steel, with no sense of responsibility, because there is no hope awakened in their spirit. Oh, if they would but hope that they might receive mercy by asking for it, and so be led to cast their guilty souls on Christ, what a blessing it would be! Let us preach full and free salvation to all who trust in Jesus, so that we may, if possible, reach these people. If the carnally secure should be tempted to presume, some who are quietly despairing may pluck up heart, and hope, and may venture to come to Christ.
No doubt a great obstacle to soul-winning is the love of sin. "Sin lieth at the door." There are many men who never get saved because of some secret lust; it may be that they are living in fornication. I remember well the case of a man, of whom I thought that he would certainly come to Christ. He was fully aware of the power of the gospel, and seemed to be impressed under the preaching of the Word; but I found out that he had become entangled with a woman who was not his wife, and that he was still living in sin while professing to be seeking the Saviour. When I heard that, I could easily understand how it was that he could not obtain peace; whatever tenderness of heart he may have felt, there was this woman always holding him in the bondage of sin.
There are some men who are guilty of dishonest transactions in business; you will not see them saved all the while they continue to act so. If they will not give up that trickery, they cannot be saved. There are others who are drinking to excess. People who drink, you know, are often very easily affected under our preaching; they have a watery eye, their drinking has made them soft-headed, and there is a maudlin kind of sensitiveness in them; but as long as a man clings to "the cup of devils" he will not be likely to come to Christ. With others it is some secret sin, or some hidden lust that is the great difficulty. One says that he cannot help flying into a passion, another declares that he cannot give up getting drunk, while another laments that he cannot find peace, whereas the root of the mischief is that there is a harlot who stands in his way. In all these cases, we have only to keep on preaching the truth, and God will help us to aim the arrow at the joint in the sinner's harness.
Another obstacle is put in our way by men's self righteousness. They have not committed any of these sins I have mentioned, they have kept all the commandments from their youth up; what lack they yet? There is no room for Christ in a full heart; and when a man is clothed from head to foot with his own righteousness, he has no need of the righteousness of Christ; at least, he is not conscious of his need, and if the gospel does not convince him of it, Moses must come with the law, and show him what his true state is. That is the real difficulty in many, many cases; the man does not come to Christ because he is not conscious that he is lost, he does not ask to be lifted up because he does not know that he is a fallen creature, he does not feel that he has any need of divine mercy or forgiveness, and therefore he does not seek it.
Once more, there are some with whom all we say has no effect because of their utter worldliness. This worldliness takes two shapes; in the poor, it is the result of grinding poverty. When a man has scarcely enough bread to eat, and hardly knows how to get clothes to put on, when at home he hears the cries of his little children, and looks into the face of his over-worked wife, we must preach very wonderfully if we are to secure his attention, and make him think about the world to come. "What shall we eat? what shall we drink? and wherewithal shall we be clothed?" are questions that press very heavily upon the poor. To a hungry man, Christ is very lovely when He has a loaf of bread in His hand. Our Lord so appeared when He was breaking the bread and fish for the multitude, for even He did not disdain to feed the hungry; and when we can relieve the wants of the destitute, we may be doing a necessary thing to them, and placing them where they may be capable of listening with profit to the gospel of Christ. The other kind of worldliness comes of having too much of this world, or at least of making too much of this world. The gentleman must be fashionable, his daughters must be dressed in the best style, his sons must learn to dance, and so on. This sort of worldliness has been the great curse of our Nonconformist churches.
Then there is another kind of man who is from morning to night grinding away at the shop; his one business seems to be to put up the shutters, and take them down again; he will rise early, and sit up late, and eat the bread of carefulness, so as to make money. What can we do for these covetous persons? How can we ever hope to touch the hearts of these men whose one aim is to be rich, the people who scrape up the halfpennies and farthings? Economy is good, but there is an economy that becomes parsimony, and that parsimony becomes the habit of these miserly folk. Some will even go to chapel because it is the proper and respectable thing, and they hope to gain customers by going. Judas remained unconverted even in the company of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we have some people still among us in whose ears the thirty pieces of silver chink so loudly that the sound of the gospel cannot be heard by them.
I may mention one more obstacle to soul-winning, that is, the obstacle there is with some men through their habits, and resorts, and company. How can we expect a working-man to go home, and sit all the evening in the one room that he has to live in, and sleep in? Perhaps there are two or three children crying, and linen drying, and all sorts of things to produce discomfort. The man comes in, and his wife is scolding, his children are crying, and the linen is drying; what would you do if you were in his place? Suppose you were not Christian men, would you not go somewhere or other? You cannot walk the streets, and you know that there is a cosy room at the public-house, with its flashing gaslight, or there is the gin-palace at the corner, where everything is bright and cheerful, and where there are plenty of jolly companions. Well, now, you cannot hope to be the means of saving men while they go to such places, and while they meet with the company that is found there. All the good that they receive from the hymns they heard on the Sabbath is driven away as they listen to the comic songs in the drink-shop, and all remembrance of the services of the sanctuary is obliterated by the very questionable tales that are told in the bar-parlour. Hence the great mercy of having a place where working-men can come and sit in safety, or of having a Blue Ribbon meeting, a gathering where it may not be all singing, nor all preaching, nor all praying, but where there is something of all these things. Here the man is enabled to get out of the former habits which seemed to hold him fast, and by-and-by he does not go to the public-house at all, but he has two rooms, or perhaps a little cottage, so that his wife can dry the linen in the backyard, and now he finds that the baby does not cry so much as he used to do, probably because his mother has more to give him; and everything gets better and brighter now that the man has forsaken his former resorts. I think a Christian minister is quite justified in using all right and lawful means to wean the people from their evil associations, and it may be well sometimes to do that which seems to be extraordinary if thereby we can by any means win men to the Lord Jesus Christ. That must be our one aim in all that we do; and whatever obstacles may be in our pathway, we must seek the aid of the Holy Spirit that they may be removed, and that thus souls may be saved, and God may be glorified.
Chapter 6: How To Induce Our People To Win SoulsI HAVE spoken to you at different times, brethren, about the great work of our lives, which is that of winning souls. I have tried to show you various ways in which we win souls, the qualifications both towards God and towards man of those who are likely to be used in winning souls, the kind of sermons that are most likely to win souls, and also the obstacles in the way of soul-winners. Now I should like, this afternoon, to talk to you upon another part of the subject; that is,
You are aspiring, each of you, in due time, to become pastors of churches, unless the Lord should call you to be evangelists, or missionaries to the heathen. Well, you commence at first as single sowers of the good seed of the kingdom, and you go forth scattering from your own basket your own handfuls. You desire, however, to become spiritual farmers, and to have a certain acreage which you will not sow entirely yourself, but you will have servants who will aid you in the work. Then, to one you will say, "Go," and he will go forthwith; or, "Come," and he will come at once; and you will seek to lead them into the art and mystery of seed-sowing, so that, after a while, you may have large numbers of persons round about you doing this good work, and thus a far greater acreage may be brought into cultivation for the great Husbandman. There are some of us who have, by God's grace, been so richly blessed that we have all around us a large number of persons who have been spiritually quickened through our instrumentality, people who have been aroused under our ministry, who have been instructed and strengthened by us, and who are all doing good service for God.
Let me warn you not to look for all this at the first, for it is the work of time. Do not expect to get, in the first year of your pastorate, that result which is the reward of twenty years' continuous toil in one place. Young men sometimes make a very great mistake in the way they talk to those who never saw them until about six weeks ago. They cannot speak with the authority of one who has been as a father among his people, having been with them for twenty or thirty years; or if they do, it becomes a sort of foolish affectation on their part, and it is equally foolish to expect the people to be all at once the same as they might be after they have been trained by a godly minister for a quarter of a century. It is true that you may go to a church where somebody else has faithfully laboured for many years, and long sown the good seed, and you may find your sphere of labour in a most blessed and prosperous state, and happy will you be if you can thus jump into a good man's shoes, and follow the path he has been treading. It is always a good sign when the horses do not know that they have a new driver; and you, my brother, inexperienced as you are, will be a very happy man if that should be your lot; but the probability is that you will go to a place that has been allowed to run almost to ruin, possibly to one that has been altogether neglected.
Perhaps you will try to get the principal deacon to imitate your earnestness; you are at a white heat, and when you find him cold as steel, you will be like a piece of hot iron dipped into a pail of water. He may tell you that he recollects others who were at first just as hot as you are, hut they soon cooled down, and he will not be surprised if you do the same. He is a very good man, but then he is old, and you are young, and we cannot put young heads on old shoulders even if we were to attempt to do it. Perhaps next you will resolve to try some of the young people; possibly you can get on better with them; but they do not understand you, they are backward and retiring, and they soon fly off at a tangent. You must not be surprised if this is your experience. Very likely you will have almost everything to do in connection with the work; at all events, expect that it may be so, and then you will not be disappointed if it so turns out. It may be otherwise; but you will be wise if you go into the ministry expecting not to find any very great assistance from the people in the work of soul-winning. Anticipate that you will have to do it yourself and to do it alone; and begin doing it alone, sow the seed, tramp up and down the field, always looking to the Lord of the harvest to bless your labour, and also looking forward to the time when through your efforts, under the divine blessing, instead of a plot of land that is apparently covered with nettles, or full of stones, or weeds, or thorns, or partly trodden down, you shall have a well-tilled farm in which you may sow the seed to the best advantage, and on which you shall have a little army of fellow-labourers to aid you in the service. Yet all that is the work of time.
I should certainly say to you, do not expect all this at least for some months after you settle down to work. Revivals, if they are genuine, do not always come the moment we whistle for them. Try and whistle for the wind, and see if it will come. The great rain was given in answer to Elijah's prayers; but not even then the first time he prayed, and we must pray again, and again, and again, and at last the cloud will appear, and the showers out of the cloud. Wait a while, work on, plod on, plead on, and in due time the blessing will be given, and you shall find that you have the church after your own ideal, but it will not come to you all at once. I do not think Mr. John Angell James, of Birmingham, saw much fruit to his ministry for many years. As far as I remember, Carr's Lane Chapel was not the place of any great notoriety before he preached there; but he kept on steadily preaching the gospel, and at last he drew around him a company of godly people who helped to make him the greatest power for good that Birmingham had at that time. Try to do just the same, and do not expect to see all at once what he and other faithful ministers have only been able to accomplish in many years.
In order to secure this end of gathering around you a band of Christians who will themselves be soul-winners, I should recommend you not to go to work according to any set rule, for what would be right at one time might not be wise at another, and that which would be best for one place would not be so good elsewhere. Sometimes, the very best plan would be to call all the members of the church together, tell them what you would like to see, and plead earnestly with them that each one should become for God a soul-winner. Say to them, "I do not want to be your pastor simply that I may preach to you; but I long to see souls saved, and to see those who are saved seeking to win others for the Lord Jesus Christ. You know how the Pentecostal blessing was given when the whole church met, with one accord in one place, and continued in prayer and supplication, the Holy Spirit was poured out, and thousands were converted. Cannot we get together in like manner, and all of us cry mightily to God for a blessing?" That might succeed in arousing them. Calling them together, and earnestly pleading with them about the matter, pointing out what you wish them specially to do, and to ask of God, may be like setting a light to dry fuel; but, on the other hand, nothing may come of it because of their lack of sympathy in the work of soul-saving. They may say, "It is a very nice meeting, and our pastor expects a good deal of us, and we all wish he may get it," and there it will end so far as they are concerned.
Then, if that should not succeed, God may lead you to begin with one or two. There is usually some "choice young man" in each congregation; and as you notice deeper spirituality in him than in the rest of the members, you might say to him, "Will you come down to my house on such-and-such an evening that we may have a little prayer together?" You can gradually increase the number to two or three, godly young men if possible, or you may begin with some gracious matron, who perhaps lives nearer to God than any of the men, and whose prayers would help you more than theirs. Having secured their sympathy, you might say to them, "Now we will try if we cannot influence the whole church; we will begin with our fellow-members before we go to the outsiders. Let us try and be ourselves always at the prayer-meetings, to set an example to the rest, and let us also arrange to have gatherings for prayer in our own houses, and seek to get our brethren and sisters to them. You, good sister, can get half-a-dozen sisters together into your house for a little meeting; and you, brother, can say to a few friends, 'Could we not meet together to pray for our pastor?"' Sometimes, the most effectual way to burn a house is to do it by pouring petroleum down the middle of it, and setting fire to it, as the ladies and gentlemen (!) did in Paris in the days of the Commune; and, sometimes, the shortest method is to light it at the four corners. I have never tried either plan; but that is what I think. I like to burn churches rather than houses, because they do not burn down, they burn up, and keep on burning when the fire is of the right sort. When a bush is nothing but a bush, it is soon consumed when it is set on fire; but when it is a bush that burns on and is not consumed, we may know that God is there. So is it with a church that is flaming with holy zeal. Your work, brethren, is to set your church on fire somehow. You may do it by speaking to the whole of the members, or you may do it by speaking to the few choice spirits, but you must do it somehow. Have a secret society for this sacred purpose, turn yourselves into a band of celestial Fenians whose aim it is to set the whole church on fire. If you do so, the devil will not like it, and you will cause him such disquiet that he will seek the utter break up of the union, and that is just what we want; we do not desire anything but war to the knife between the church and the world and all its habits and customs. But again I say, all this will take time. I have seen some fellows run so fast at first that they have soon become like broken-winded horses, and truly that is a pitiable sight; so take time, brethren, and do not look for everything you desire to be secured all at once.
I suppose that, in most places, there is a prayer-meeting on Monday night. If you want your people as well as yourself to be soul-winners, try and keep up the prayer meetings all you can. Do not be like certain ministers in the suburbs of London, who say that they cannot get the people out to a prayer-meeting and a lecture, too, so they have one week-night meeting for prayer, at which they give a short address. One lazy man said, the other day, that the week-night address was almost as bad as delivering a sermon, so he has a prayer-meeting and a lecture combined in one, and it is neither a prayer-meeting nor a lecture, it is neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red-herring; and soon he will give it up because he says it is no good, and I am sure the people think so, too. And after that, why should he not give up one of the Sunday services? The same reasoning might apply to that as to the week-night meeting. I saw, in an American paper to-day, the following paragraph:"The well-known fact is again going the rounds that, in Mr. Spurgeon's church in London, the regular hearers absent themselves one Sunday evening every three months, and the house is given up to strangers. English 'boasting is excluded' in this matter. Our American Christianity is of so noble a type that hosts of our people give up their pews to strangers every Sunday night in the year." I hope it will not be so with your people, brethren, either with respect to the Sabbath services or the prayer-meetings.
If I were you, I would make that prayer-meeting a special feature of my ministry; let it be such a prayer-meeting that there is not the like of it within seven thousand miles. Do not go walking into the prayer-meeting, as so many do, to say anything or nothing that may occur to you at the moment; but do your best to make the meeting interesting to all who are there; and do not hesitate to tell good Mr. Snooks that, God helping you, he shall not pray for five-and-twenty minutes. Earnestly entreat him to cut it short, and if he does not, then stop him. If a man came into my house intending to cut my wife's throat, I would reason with him as to the wrong of it, and then I would effectually prevent him from doing her any harm; and I love the church almost as much as I love my dear wife. So, if a man will pray long, he may pray long somewhere else, but not at the meeting over which I am presiding. Tell him to finish it up at home if he cannot pray in public for a reasonable length of time. If the people seem dull and heavy, get them to sing Moody and Sankey hymns; and then, when they can sing them all by heart, do not have any more "Moody and Sankey" for a time, but go back to your own hymn-book.
Keep up the prayer-meeting, whatever else flags; it is the great business evening of the week, the best service between the Sabbaths; be you sure to make it so. If you find that your people cannot come in the evening, then try and have a prayer-meeting when they can come. You might get a good meeting in the country at half-past four in the morning. Why not? You would get more people at five o'clock in the morning than you would at five o'clock at the other end of the day. I believe that a prayer-meeting at six o'clock in the morning among agricultural people would attract many; they would drop in, and just have a few words of prayer, and be glad of the opportunity. Or you might have it at twelve o'clock at night; you would find some people out then whom you could not get at any other time. Try one o'clock, or two o'clock, or three o'clock, or any hour of the day or night, so as somehow or other to get the people out to pray; and if they cannot be induced to come to the meetings, go to their house, and say, "I am going to have a prayer-meeting in your parlour." "Oh, dear! my wife will be in a state." "Oh, no! tell her not to trouble, for we can go into the coach-house, or garden, or anywhere, but we must have a prayer-meeting here." If they will not come to the prayer-meeting, we must go to them; suppose that fifty of us go trudging down the street, and hold a meeting in the open-air; well, there might be many worse things than that. Remember how the women fought the liquor-sellers in America when they prayed them out of the traffic. If we cannot stir the people without doing extraordinary things, in the name of all that is good and great let us do extraordinary things, but somehow we must keep up the prayer-meetings, for they are at the very secret source of power with God and with men.
We must always be an earnest example ourselves. A slow-coach minister will not have a lively zealous church, I am sure. A man who is indifferent, or who does his work as if he took it as easily as he could, ought not toexpect to have a people around him who are in earnest about the salvation of souls. I know that you, brethren, desire to have about you a band of Christians who long for the salvation of their friends and neighbours, a set of people who will be always expecting that God will bless the preaching of your sermons, who will watch the countenances of your hearers to see if they are getting impressed, and who will be sorely distressed if there are no conversions, and greatly troubled if souls are not saved. Perhaps they would not complain to you if that were the case, but they would cry to God on your behalf. Possibly, they would also speak to you about the matter. I remember one of my deacons saying to me, as we were going down to the communion, one Sabbath evening, when we had only fourteen to receive into the church, "Governor, this won't pay." We had been accustomed to have forty or fifty every month, and the good man was not satisfied with a smaller number. I agreed with him that we must have more than that in the future if it was possible. I suppose some brethren would have felt annoyed to have had anything like that remark made to them; but I was delighted with what my good deacon said; for it was just what I myself felt.
Then, next, we want around us Christians who are willing to do all they can to help in the work of winning souls. There are numbers of people who cannot be reached by the pastor. You must try to get some Christian workers who will "button-hole" people, you know what I mean. It is pretty close work when you hold a friend by a lock of his hair, or by his coat-button. Absalom did not find it easy to get away when he was caught in the oak by the hair of his head. So, try to get at close quarters with sinners; talk gently to them till you have whispered them into the kingdom of heaven, till you have told into their ears the blessed story that will bring peace and joy to their heart. We want, in the Church of Christ, a band of well-trained sharpshooters, who will pick the people out individually, and be always on the watch for all who come into the place, not annoying them, but making sure that they do not go away without having had a personal warning, a personal invitation, and a personal exhortation to come to Christ. We want to train all our people for this service, so as to make Salvation Armies out of them. Every man, woman, or child who is in our churches should be set to work for the Lord. Then they will not relish the fine sermons that the Americans seem to delight in so much; but they will say," Pooh! Flummery! We don't want that kind of thing." What do people who are at work in the harvest-field want with thunder and lightning? They want just to rest a while under a tree, to wipe the sweat from their foreheads, to refresh themselves after their toil, and then to get to work again. Our preaching ought to be like the address of a commander-in-chief to his army, "There are the enemy; do not let me know where they are to-morrow." Something short, something sweet, something that stirs and impresses them, is what our people need.
We are sure to get the blessing we are seeking when the whole atmosphere in which we are living is favourable to soul-winning. I remember one of our friends saying to me, one evening," There will be sure to be a blessing to-night, there is such a lot of dew about." May you often know what it is to preach where there is plenty of dew! The Irishman said that it was no use to irrigate while the sun was shining, for he had noticed that, whenever it rained, there were clouds about, so that the sun was hidden. There was a great deal of sense in that observation, more than appears at first sight, as there usually is in Hibernian statements. The shower benefits the plants because everything is suitable for the rain to come down, the shaded sky, the humidity of the atmosphere, the general feeling of everything is damp all around; but if you were to pour the same quantity of water down while the sun was shining brightly, the leaves would probably be turned yellow, and in the heat they would shrivel and die. Any gardener would tell you that he is always careful to water the flowers in the evening when the sun is off them. This is the reason why irrigation, however well it is done, is not so beneficial as the rain; there must be a favourable influence in the whole atmosphere if the plants and flowers are to derive benefit from the moistening. It is just so in spiritual things. I have often noticed that, when God blesses my ministry to an unusual extent, the people in general are in a praying mood. It is a grand thing to preach in an atmosphere full of the dew of the Spirit. I know what it is to preach with it; and, alas! I know what it is to preach without it. Then is it like Gilboa, when there was no dew nor rain. You may preach, and you may hope that God will bless your message; but it is no use. I hope it will not be so with you, brethren. Perhaps your lot will be cast where some dear brother has long been toiling, and praying, and labouring for the Lord, and you will find all the people just ready for the blessing.
I often feel, when I go out to preach, that there is no credit due to me, for everything is in my favour. There sit the good folk, with their mouths open, waiting for the blessing; almost everybody there is expecting me to say something good, and because they are all looking for it, it does them good, and when I am gone, they keep on praying for the blessing, and they get it. When a man is put on a horse that runs away with him, he must ride; that is just how it has frequently been with me, the blessing has been given because all the surroundings were favourable. You may often trace the happy results not only to the preacher's discourse, but to all the circumstances connected with its delivery. It was so with Peter's sermon that brought three thousand souls to Christ on the day of Pentecost; there never was a better sermon preached, it was a plain personal message likely to convince people of the sin of their treatment of the Saviour in putting Him to death; but I do not attribute the conversions to the apostle's words alone, for there were clouds about, the whole atmosphere was damp; as my friend said to me, there was "plenty of dew about." Had not the disciples been long continuing in prayer and supplicationfor the descent of the Spirit, and had not the Holy Ghost descended upon every one of them as well as upon Peter? In the fulness of time, the Pentecostal blessing was poured out most copiously. Whenever a church gets into the same state as that of the apostles and disciples at that memorable period, the whole heavenly electricity is concentrated at that particular spot. Yet you remember that even Christ Himself could not do many mighty works in some places because of the people's unbelief, and I am sure that all His servants who are thoroughly in earnest are at times hampered in the same way. Some of our brethren who are here have, I fear, a worldly, Christ-less people; still, I am not sure that they ought to run away from them; I think that, if possible, they should stop, and try to make them more Christlike.
It is true that I have had the other sort of experience, as well as the joyous one I have been describing. I remember preaching, one night, in a place where they had not had a minister for some time. When I reached the chapel, I did not have any kind of welcome; the authorities were to receive pecuniary benefit if nothing else from my visit, but they did not welcome me at all; they said, in fact, that there had been a majority at the church-meeting in favour of inviting me, but the deacons did not approve of it because they did not think I was "sound." There were some brethren and sisters from other churches there; they seemed pleased and profited, but the people who belonged to the place did not get a blessing; they had not expected one, so of course they did not receive it. When the service was over, I went into the vestry, and there stood the two deacons, one on each side of the mantelpiece. I said to them, "Are you the deacons?" "Yes," they answered. "The church does not prosper, does it?" I asked. "No," they replied. "I should not think it would with such deacons," I said. "Did I know anything against them?" they asked. "No," I said," but I did not know anything in their favour." I thought that, if I could not get at them in the mass, I would try what I could do with one or two. I was glad to know that my sermon or my remarks afterwards led to an improvement, and there is one of our brethren there, and doing well to this day. One of the deacons was so irritated by what I said that he left the place, but the other deacon was irritated the right way, so that he remained there, and laboured and prayed until better days came. It is hard when you are rowing against wind and tide, but it is worse even than that if you have a horse on the bank pulling a rope, and dragging your boat the other way. Well, never mind, brethren, if that is your case, but work away all the harder, and pull the horse into the water. Still, remember that when once a favourable atmosphere is created, then the difficulty is to maintain it. You notice that I said, "When the atmosphere is created," and that expression reminds us how little we can do, or rather that we can do nothing without God, for it is He who has to do with atmospheres, He alone can create them and maintain them; therefore, our eyes must be continually lifted up to Him, whence cometh all our help.
It may happen that some of you do preach very earnestly and well, and sermons that are likely to be blessed, and yet you do not see sinners saved. Well, do not leave off preaching; but say to yourself, "I must try to gather around me a number of people who will be all praying with me and for me, and who will talk to their friends about the things of God, and who will so live and labour that the Lord will give a blessed shower of grace because all the surroundings are suitable thereto, and help to make the blessing come. I have heard ministers say that, when they have preached in the Tabernacle, there has been something in the congregation that has had a wonderfully powerful effect upon them. I think it is because we have good prayer-meetings, because there is an earnest spirit of prayer among the people, and because so many of them are on the watch for souls. There is one brother especially who is always looking after any hearers who have been impressed; I call him my hunting dog, and he is ever ready to pick up the birds I have shot, and bring them to me. I have known him waylay them one after another, that he might bring them to Jesus; and I rejoice that I have other friends of this kind. When our brethren, Fullerton and Smith, had been conducting some special services for a very eminent preacher who is in the habit of using rather long words, he said that the evangelists had the faculty for "the precipitation of decision." He meant that the Lord blessed them in bringing men to decision for Christ. It is a grand thing when a man has the faculty for the precipitation of decision but it is an equally grand thing when he has a number of people around him who say to each hearer, after every service, "Well, friend, did you enjoy that discourse? Was there something in it for you? Are you saved? Do you know the way of salvation?"
Always have your own Bible ready, and turn to the passages you want to quote to the enquirers. I often noticed that friend of mine, of whom I spoke just now, and he seemed to me to open his Bible at most appropriate passages, he appeared to have them all ready, and handy, so that he would be sure to hit on the right texts. You know the sort of texts I mean, just those that a seeking soul wants:"The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin." "Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out." "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Well, this brother has a number of such passages printed in bold type, and fastened inside his Bible, so that he can refer to the right one in a moment, and many troubled souls has he thus led to the Saviour. You will not be unwise if you adopt some such method as he has found so exceedingly helpful.
Now lastly, brethren, do not be afraid when you go to a place, and find it in a very bad condition. It is a fine thing for a young man to begin with a real downright bad prospect, for, with the right kind of work, there must come an improvement some time or other. If the chapel is all but empty when you go to it, it cannot well be in a much worse state than that and the probability is that you will be the means of bringing some into the church, and so making matters better. If there is any place where I would choose to labour, it would be just on the borders of the infernal lake, for I really believe that it would bring more glory to God to work among those who are accounted the worst of sinners. If your ministry is blessed to such people as these, they will be likely to cling to you through your whole life; but the very worst sort of people are those who have long been professing Christians, but who are destitute of grace, having a name to live, and yet being dead. Alas! there are people like that among our deacons, and among our church-members, and we cannot get them out; and, as long as they remain, they exert a most baneful influence. It is dreadful to have dead members where every single part of the body should be instinct with divine life; yet in many cases it is so, and we are powerless to cure the evil. We must let the tares grow until the harvest; but the best thing to do, when you cannot root up the tares, is to water the wheat, for there is nothing that will keep back the tares like good strong wheat. I have known ungodly men who have had the place made so hot for them that they have been glad to clear right out of the church. They have said, "The preaching is too strong for us, and these people are too Puritanical and too strict to suit us." What a blessing it is when that is the case! We did not wish to drive them away by preaching the truth; but as they went of their own accord, we certainly do not want them back, and we will leave them where they are, praying the Lord, in the greatness of His grace, to turn them from the error of their ways, and to bring them to Himself, and then we shall be glad to have them back with us to live and labour for the Lord.
Chapter 7: How To Raise The DeadFELLOW-LABOURERS in the vineyard of the Lord, let me call your attention to a most instructive miracle wrought by the prophet Elisha, as recorded in the fourth chapter of the Second Book of Kings. The hospitality of the Shunammite woman had been rewarded by the gift of a son; but, alas! all earthly mercies are of uncertain tenure, and after certain days the child fell sick and died.
The distressed but believing mother hastened at once to the man of God; through him God had spoken the promise which fulfilled her heart's desire, and she resolved to plead her case with him, that he might lay it before his Divine Master, and obtain for her an answer of peace. Elisha's action is recorded in the following verses:
"Then he said to Gehazi, Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine hand, and go thy way: if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not again: and lay my staff upon the face of the child. And the mother of the child said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And he arose, and followed her. And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing. Wherefore he went again to meet him, and told him, saying, The child is not awaked. And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD. And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his month, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm. Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. And he called Gehazi, and said, Call this Shunammite. So he called her. And when she was come in unto him, he said, Take up thy son. Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and took up her son, and went out."2 Kings 4:29-37.
The position of Elisha in this case is exactly your position, brethren, in relation to your work for Christ. Elisha had to deal with a dead child. It is true that, in his instance, it was natural death; but the death with which you have to come in contact is not the less real death because it is spiritual. The boys and girls in your classes are, as surely as grown-up people, "dead in trespasses and sins." May none of you fail fully to realise the state in which all human beings are naturally found! Unless you have a very clear sense of the utter ruin and spiritual death of your children, you will be incapable of being made a blessing to them. Go to them, I pray you, not as to sleepers whom you can by your own power awaken from their slumber, but as to spiritual corpses who can only be quickened by a power divine. Elisha's great object was not to cleanse the dead body, or embalm it with spices, or wrap it in fine linen, or place it in an appropriate posture, and then leave it still a corpse: he aimed at nothing less than the restoration of the child to life. Beloved teachers, may you never be content with aiming at secondary benefits, or even with realising them; may you strive for the grandest of all ends, the salvation of immortal souls! Your business is not merely to teach the children in your classes to read the Bible, not barely to inculcate the duties of morality, nor even to instruct them in the mere letter of the gospel, but your high calling is to be the means, in the hands of God, of bringing life from heaven to dead souls. Your teaching on the Lord's-day will have been a failure if your children remain dead in sin. In the case of the secular teacher, the child's fair proficiency in knowledge will prove that the instructor has not lost his pains; but in your case, even though your youthful charge should grow up to be respectable members of society, though they should become regular attendants upon the means of grace, you will not feel that your petitions to heaven have been answered, nor your desires granted to you, nor your highest ends attained, unless something more is done,unless, in fact, it can be said of your children, "The Lord hath quickened them together with Christ."
Resurrection, then, is our aim! To raise the dead is our mission! We are like Peter at Joppa, or Paul at Troas, we have a young Dorcas or Eutychus to bring to life. How is so strange a work to be achieved? If we yield to unbelief, we shall be staggered by the evident fact that the work to which the Lord has called us is quite beyond our own personal power. We cannot raise the dead. If asked to do so, we might each one of us, like the king of Israel, rend our clothes, and say, "Am I God, to kill and to make alive?" We are, however, no more powerless than Elisha, for he of himself could not restore the Shunammite's son. It is true that we by ourselves cannot bring the dead hearts of our scholars to palpitate with spiritual life, but a Paul or an Apollos would have been equally as powerless. Need this fact discourage us? Does it not rather direct us to our true power by shutting us out from our own fancied might? I trust we are all of us already aware that the man who lives in the region of faith dwells in the realm of miracles. Faith trades in marvels, and her merchandise is with wonders.
And looks to that alone;
Laughs at impossibilities,
And cries, 'It shall be done.'"
Elisha was no common man now that God's Spirit was upon him, calling him to God's work, and aiding him in it. And you, devoted, anxious, prayerful teacher, remain no longer a common being; you have become, in a special manner, the temple of the Holy Ghost, God dwelleth in you, and you by faith have entered upon the career of a wonder-worker. You are sent into the world not to do the things which are possible to man, but those impossibilities which God worketh by His Spirit, by the means of His believing people. You are to work miracles, to do marvels. You are not, therefore, to look upon the restoration of these dead children, which in God's name you are called to bring about, as being a thing unlikely or difficult when you remember who it is that works by your feeble instrumentality. "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead?" Unbelief will whisper to you, as you mark the wicked giddiness and early obstinacy of your children, "Can these dry bones live?" But your answer must be, "O Lord, Thou knowest" Committing all cases to the almighty hand, it is yours to prophesy to the dry bones and to the heavenly wind, and ere long you, too, shall see in the valley of your vision the signal triumph of life over death. Let us take up at this moment our true position, and let us realise it. We have dead children before us, and our souls yearn to bring them to life. We confess that all quickening must be wrought by the Lord alone, and our humble petition is that, if the Lord will use us in connection with His miracles of grace, He would now show us what He would have us to do.
It would have been well if Elisha had recollected that he was once the servant of Elijah, and had so studied his master's example as to have initiated it. If so, he would not have sent Gehazi with a staff, but have done at once what at last he was constrained to do. In the First Book of Kings, at the seventeenth chapter, you will find the story of Elijah's raising a dead child, and you will there see that Elijah, the master, had left a complete example to his servant; and it was not until Elisha followed it in all respects that the miraculous power was manifested. It had been wise, I say, if Elisha had, at the outset, imitated the example of the master whose mantle he wore. With far more force may I say to you, my fellowservants, that it will be well for us if, as teachers, we imitate our Master,if we study the modes and methods of our glorified Master, and learn at His feet the art of winning souls. Just as He came in deepest sympathy into the nearest contact with our wretched humanity, and condescended to stoop to our sorrowful condition, so must we come near to the souls with whom we have to deal, yearn over them with His yearning, and weep over them with His tears, if we would see them raised from the state of sin. Only by imitating the spirit and manner of the Lord Jesus shall we become wise to win souls.
Forgetting this, however, Elisha would fain strike out a course for himself, which would more clearly display his own prophetic dignity. He gave his staff into the hand of Gehazi, his servant, and bade him lay it upon the child, as if he felt that the divine power was so plenteously upon him that it would work in any way, and consequently his own personal presence and efforts might be dispensed with. The Lord's thoughts were not so. I am afraid that very often the truth which we deliver from the pulpitand doubtless it is much the same in your classesis a thing which is extraneous and out of ourselves; like a staff which we hold in our hand, but which is not a part of ourselves. We take doctrinal or practical truth as Gehazi did the staff, and we lay it upon the face of the child, but we ourselves do not agonise for its soul. We try this doctrine and that truth, this anecdote and the other illustration, this way of teaching a lesson and that manner of delivering an address; but so long as ever the truth which we, deliver is a matter apart from ourselves, and unconnected with our innermost being, so long it will have no more effect upon a dead soul than Elisha's staff had upon the dead child. Alas! I fear I have frequently preached the gospel in this place, I have been sure that it was my Master's gospel, the true prophetic staff, and yet it has had no result, because I fear I have not preached it with the vehemence and earnestness and heartiness which ought to have gone with it! And will you not make the same confession, that sometimes you have taught the truth,it was the truth, you know it was,the very truth which you found in the Bible, and which has at times been precious to your own soul, and yet no good result has followed from it, because while you taught the truth you did not feel the truth, nor feel for the child to whom the truth was addressed, but were just like Gehazi placing with indifferent hand the prophetic staff upon the face of the child? It was no wonder that you had to say with Gehazi, "The child is not awaked," for the true awakening power found no appropriate medium in your lifeless teaching. We are not sure that Gehazi was convinced that the child was really dead; he spoke as if it were only asleep, and needed waking. God will not bless those teachers who do not grasp in their hearts the really fallen estate of their children. If you think the child is not really depraved, if you indulge foolish notions about the innocence of childhood and the dignity of human nature, it should not surprise you if you remain barren and unfruitful. How can God bless you to work a resurrection when, if He did work it by you, you are incapable of perceiving its glorious nature? If the lad had awaked, it would not have surprised Gehazi; he would have thought that he was only startled from an unusually sound sleep. If God were to bless to the conversion of souls the testimony of those who do not believe in the total depravity of man, they would merely say, "The gospel is very moralising, and exerts a most beneficial influence," but they would never bless and magnify the regenerating grace by which He who sitteth on the throne maketh all things new.
Observe carefully what Elisha did when thus foiled in his first effort. When we fail at one attempt, we must not therefore give up our work. If you have been unsuccessful, my dear brother or sister, until now, you must not infer that you are not called to the work, any more than Elisha might have concluded that the child could not be restored. The lesson of your non-success is notcease the work, butchange the method. It is not the person who is out of place, it is the plan which is unwise. If you have not been able to accomplish what you wished, remember the schoolboy's song,
Try, try, try again."
Do not, however, try in the same way unless you are sure that it is the best one. If your first method has been unsuccessful, you must improve upon it. Examine wherein you have failed, and then, by changing your mode, or your spirit, the Lord may prepare you for a degree of usefulness far beyond your expectation. Elisha, instead of being dispirited when he found that the child was not awake, girded up his loins, and hastened with greater vigour to the work before him.
Notice where the dead child was placed: "And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed." This was the bed which the hospitality of the Shunammite had prepared for Elisha, the famous bed which, with the table, the stool, and the candlestick, will never be forgotten in the Church of God. That famous bed had to be used for a purpose which the good woman little thought of when, out of love to the prophet's God, she prepared it for the prophet's rest. I like to think of the dead child lying on that bed, because it symbolises the place where our unconverted children must lie if we would have them saved. If we are to be a blessing to them, they must lie in our hearts,they must be our daily and nightly charge. We must take the cases of our children to our silent couch with us: we must think of them in the watches of the night, and when we cannot sleep because of care, they must share in those midnight anxieties. Our beds must witness to our cries,"Oh, that Ishmael might live before Thee! Oh, that the dear boys and girls in my class might become the children of the living God!" Elijah and Elisha both teach us that we must not place the child far from us, out of doors, or down below us in a vault of cold forgetfulness, but, if we would have him raised to life, we must place him in the warmest sympathies of our hearts.
In reading on, we find, "he went in, therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the Lord." Now the prophet is at his work in right earnest, and we have a noble opportunity of learning from him the secret of raising children from the dead. If you turn to the narrative of Elijah, you will find that Elisha adopted the orthodox method of proceeding, the method of his master Elijah. You will read there, "And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed. And he cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord, my God, hast Thou also brought evil upon the woman with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son? And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord, my God, I pray Thee, let this child's soul come into him again. And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived." The great secret lies, in a large measure, in powerful supplication. "He shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the Lord." The old proverb is, "Every true pulpit is set up in heaven," by which is meant that the true preacher is much with God. If we do not pray to God for a blessing, if the foundation of the pulpit be not laid in private prayer, our open ministry will not be a success. So it is with you; every real teacher's power must come from on high. If you never enter your closet, and shut to the door, if you never plead at the mercy-seat for your child, how can you expect that God will honour you in its conversion? It is a very excellent method, I think, actually to take the children one by one into your room alone, and pray with them. You will see your children converted when God gives you to individualise their cases, to agonise for them, and to take them one by one, and with the door closed, to pray both with them and for them. There is much more influence in prayer privately offered with one than in prayer publicly uttered in the class,not more influence with God, of course, but more influence with the child. Such prayer will often be made its own answer; for God may, while you are pouring out your soul, make your prayer to be a hammer to break the heart which mere addresses had never touched. Pray with your children separately, and it will surely be the means of a great blessing. If this cannot be done, at any rate there must be prayer, much prayer, constant prayer, vehement prayer, the kind of prayer which will not take a denial, like Luther's prayer, which he called the bombarding of heaven; that is to say, the planting a cannon at heaven's gates to blow them open, for after this fashion fervent men prevail in prayer; they will not come from the mercy-seat until they can cry with Luther, "Vici," "I have conquered, I have gained the blessing for which I strove." "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." May we offer such violent, God-constraining, heaven-compelling prayers, and the Lord will not permit us to seek His face in vain!
After praying, Elisha adopted the means. Prayer and means must go together. Means without prayerpresumption! Prayer without meanshypocrisy! There lay the child, and there stood the venerable man of God! Watch his singular proceeding, he stoops over the corpse, and puts his mouth upon the child's mouth. The cold, dead mouth of the child was touched by the warm, living lips of the prophet, and a vital stream of fresh, hot breath was sent down into the chill, stone-like passages of the dead mouth, and throat, and lungs. Next, the holy man, with loving ardour of hopefulness, placed his eyes upon the child's eyes, and his hands upon the child's hands; the warm hands of the old man covered the cold palms of the departed child. Then he stretched himself upon the child, and covered him with his whole body, as though he would transfer his own life into the lifeless frame, and would either die with him, or would make him live. We have heard of the chamois hunter acting as guide to a fearful traveller, who, when they came to a very dangerous part of the road, strapped the traveller firmly to himself and said, "Both of us or neither," that is to say, "Both of us shall live, or neither of us; we are one." So did the prophet effect a mysterious union between himself and the lad, and in his own mind it was resolved that he would either be chilled with the child's death, or warm the child with his life. What does this teach us?
The lessons are many and obvious. We see here, as in a picture, that if we would bring spiritual life to a child, we must most vividly realise that child's state. It is dead, dead. God will have you feel that the child is as dead in trespasses and sins as you once were. God would have you, dear teacher, come into contact with that death by painful, crushing, humbling sympathy. I told you that, in soul-winning, we should observe how our Master worked; now how did He work? When He would raise us from death, what did it behoove Him to do? He must needs die Himself: there was no other way. So is it with you. If you would raise that dead child, you must feel the chill and horror of that child's death yourself. A dying man is needed to raise dying men. I cannot believe that you will ever pluck a brand from the burning without putting your hand near enough to feel the heat of the fire. You must have, more or less, a distinct sense of the dreadful wrath of God and of the terrors of the judgment to come, or you will lack energy in your work, and so lack one of the essentials of success. I do not think the preacher ever speaks well upon such topics until he feels them pressing upon him as a personal burden from the Lord. "I did preach in chains," said John Bunyan, "to men in chains." Depend upon it, when the death that is in your children alarms, depresses, and overwhelms you, then it is that God is about to bless you.
Thus realising the child's state, and putting your mouth upon the child's mouth, and your hands upon its hands, you must next strive to adapt yourself as far as possible to the nature, and habits, and temperament of the child. Your mouth must find out the child's words, so that the child may know what you mean; you must see things with a child's eyes; your heart must feel a child's feelings, so as to be his companion and friend; you must be a student of juvenile sin; you must be a sympathiser in juvenile trials; you must, so far as possible, enter into childhood's joys and griefs. You must not fret at the difficulty of this matter, or feel it to be humiliating; for if you count anything to be a hardship, or a condescension, you have no business in the Sunday-school. If anything difficult be required of you, you must do it, and not think it difficult. God will not raise a dead child by you, if you are not willing to become all things to that child, if by any possibility you may win its soul.
The prophet, it is written, "stretched himself upon the child." One would have thought it should be written, "he contracted himself!" He was a full-grown man, and the other a mere lad. Should it not be "he contracted himself"? No, "he stretched himself;" and, mark you, no stretching is harder than for a man to stretch himself to a child. He is no fool who can talk to children; a simpleton is much mistaken if he thinks that his folly can interest boys and girls. It needs our best wits, our most industrious studies, our most earnest thoughts, our ripest powers, to teach our little ones. You will not quicken the child until you have stretched yourself; and, though it seems a strange thing, yet it is so. The wisest man will need to exercise all his abilities if he would become a successful teacher of the young.
We see, then, in Elisha, a sense of the child's death and an adaptation of himself to his work; but, above all, we see sympathy. While Elisha himself felt the chill of the corpse, his personal warmth was entering into the dead body. This of itself did not raise the child; but God worked through it,the old man's heat of body passed into the child, and became the medium of quickening. Let every teacher weigh these words of Paul, "But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us." The genuine soul-winner knows what this means. For my own part, when the Lord helps me to preach, after I have delivered all my matter, and have fired off my shot so fast that my gun has grown hot, I have often rammed my soul into the gun, and fired my heart at the congregation, and this discharge has, under God, won the victory. God will bless by His Spirit our hearty sympathy with His own truth, and make it do that which the truth alone, coldly spoken, would not accomplish. Here, then, is the secret. You must, dear teacher, impart to the young your own soul; you must feel as if the ruin of that child would be your own ruin. You must feel that, if the child remains under the wrath of God, it is to you as true a grief as if you were under that wrath yourself. You must confess the child's sins before God as if they were your own, and stand as a priest before the Lord pleading on its behalf. The child was covered by Elisha's body, and you must cover your class with your compassion, with the agonising stretching forth of yourself before the Lord on its behalf. Behold in this miracle the modus operandi of raising the dead; the Holy Spirit remains mysterious in His operations, but the way of the outward means is here clearly revealed.
The result of the prophet's work soon appeared: "the flesh of the child waxed warm." How pleased Elisha must have been; but I do not find that his pleasure and satisfaction caused him to relax his exertions. Never be satisfied, dear friends, with finding your children in a barely hopeful state. Did a girl come to you, and cry, "Teacher, pray for me"? Be glad, for this is a fair token; but look for more. Did you observe tears in a boy's eyes when you were speaking of the love of Christ? Be thankful for it that the flesh is waxing warm, but do not stop there. Can you relax your exertions now? Bethink you, you have not yet gained your end! It is life you want, not warmth alone. What you want, dear teacher, in your beloved charge, is not mere conviction, but conversion; you desire not only impression, but regeneration,life, life from God, the life of Jesus. This your scholars need, and nothing less must content you.
Again I must bid you watch Elisha. There was now a little pause. "Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro." Notice the restlessness of the man of God; he cannot be easy. The child waxes warm (blessed be God for that, but he does not live yet); so, instead of sitting down in his chair by the table, the prophet walks to and fro with restless foot, disquieted, groaning, panting, longing, and ill at ease. He could not bear to look upon the disconsolate mother, or to hear her ask, "Is the child restored?" but he continued pacing the house as if his body could not rest because his soul was not satisfied. Imitate this consecrated restlessness. When you see a boy getting somewhat affected, do not sit down, and say, "The child is very hopeful, thank God; I am perfectly satisfied." You will never win the priceless gem of a saved soul in that way; you must feel sad, restless, troubled, if you ever become a parent in the Church. Paul's expression is not to be explained in words, but you must know its meaning in your hearts; "I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you." Oh, may the Holy Ghost give you such inward travail, such unrest, disquietude, and sacred uneasiness, until you see your hopeful scholars savingly converted!
After a short period of walking to and fro, the prophet again "went up, and stretched himself upon the child." What it is well to do once, it is proper to do a second time. What is good twice, is good seven times. There must be perseverance and patience. You were very earnest last Sabbath; do not be slothful next Sabbath. How easy it is to pull down, on any one day, what we have built up the day before! If by one Sabbath's work God enables me to convince a child that I was in earnest, let me not convince the child next Sunday that I am not in earnest. If my past warmth has made the child's flesh wax warm, God forbid that my future chilliness should make the child's heart cold again! As surely as warmth went from Elisha to the child, so may cold go from you to your class unless you are in an earnest state of mind.
Elisha stretched himself on the bed again, with many a prayer, and many a sigh, and much believing, and at last his desire was granted him: "The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes." Any form of action would indicate life, and content the prophet. The child "sneezed", some say because he died with a disease of the head, for he said to his father, "My head! my head!" and the sneeze cleared the passages of life which had been blocked up. This we do not know. The fresh air entering afresh into the lungs might well compel a sneeze. The sound was nothing very articulate or musical, but it betokened life. This is all we should expect from young children when God gives them spiritual life. Some church-members expect a great deal more, but for my part I am satisfied if the children sneeze,if they give any true sign of grace, however feeble or indistinct. If the dear child does but feel its lost estate, and rest upon the finished work of Jesus, though we only find out the fact by a very indistinct statement, not such as we should accept from a doctor of divinity, or expect from a grown-up person, should we not thank God, and receive the child, and nurse it for the Lord?
Perhaps, if Gehazi had been there, he would not have thought much of this sneezing, because he had never stretched himself upon the child, but Elisha was content with it. Even so, if you and I have really agonised in prayer for souls, we shall be very quick of eye to catch the first sign of grace, and shall be thankful to God if the token be but a sneeze.
Then the child opened his eyes, and we will venture to say Elisha thought he had never seen such lovely eyes before. I know not what kind of eyes they were, the hazel or the blue, but this I know, that any eye which God helps you to open will be a beautiful eye to you. I heard a teacher talking the other day about "a fine lad" who had been saved in his class, and another spoke of "a dear girl" in her class who loved the Lord. No doubt of it; it would be a wonder if they were not "fine" and "dear" in the eyes of you who have brought them to Jesus, for to Jesus Christ they are finer and dearer still. Beloved friends, may you often gaze into opened eyes which, but for divine grace owning your teaching, would have been dark with the film of spiritual death! Then will you be favoured indeed.
One word of caution. In this meeting is there a Gehazi? If there be among this host of Sunday-school teachers one who can do no more than carry the staff, I pity him. Ah! my friend, may God in His mercy give you life, for how else can you expect to be the means of quickening others? If Elisha had been a corpse himself; it would have been a hopeless task to expect life to be communicated through placing one corpse upon another. It is vain for that little class of dead souls to gather round another dead soul such as you are. A dead mother, frost-bitten and cold, cannot cherish her little one. What warmth, what comfort, can come to those who shiver before an empty grate? And such are you. May you have a work of grace in your own soul first, and then may the blessed and Eternal Spirit, who alone can quicken souls, make you to be the means of quickening many to the glory of His grace!
Accept, dear friends, my fraternal salutations, and believe that my fervent prayers are with you that you may be blessed, and be made a blessing.