Chapter 8: How To Win Souls For ChristIT is a great privilege to have to speak to so noble a band of preachers; I wish that I were more fit for the task. Silver of eloquent speech and gold of deep thought have I none; but such as I have, give I unto you.
Concerning the winning of souls. What is it to win a soul? I hope you believe in the old-fashioned way of saving souls. Everything appears to be shaken nowadays, and shifted from the old foundations. It seems that we are to evolve out of men the good that is already in them: much good may you get if you attempt the process! I am afraid that in the process of evolution you will develop devils. I do not know much else that will come out of human nature, for manhood is as full of sin as an egg is full of meat; and the evolution of sin must be everlasting mischief. We all believe that we must go to soul-winning, desiring in God's name to see all things made new. This old creature is dead and corrupt, and must be buried; and the sooner the better. Jesus has come that there may be a passing away of the old things, and a making of all things new. In the process of our work, we endeavour to bless men by trying to make them temperate; may God bless all work of that sort! But we should think ourselves to have failed if we had produced a world of total abstainers, and had left them all unbelievers. We drive at something more than temperance; for we believe that men must be born again. It is good that even a corpse should be clean, and therefore that the unregenerate should be moral. It would be a great blessing if they were cleansed of the vices which make this city to reek in the nostrils of God and good men. But that is not so much our work as this: that the dead in sin should live, that spiritual life should quicken them, and that Christ should reign where the prince of the power of the air now hath sway. You preach, brethren, with this object, that men may quit their sins, and fly to Christ for pardon, that by His blessed Spirit they may be renovated, and become as much in love with everything that is holy as they are now in love with everything that is sinful. You aim at a radical cure; the axe is laid at the root of the trees; the amendment of the old nature would not content you, but you seek for the imparting, by a divine power, of a new nature, that those who gather round you in the streets may live unto God.
Our object is to turn the world upside down; or, in other words, that where sin abounded grace may much more abound. We are aiming at a miracle: it is well to settle that at the commencement. Some brethren think that they ought to lower their note to the spiritual ability of the hearer; but this is a mistake. According to these brethren, you ought not to exhort a man to repent and believe unless you believe that he can, of himself, repent and believe. My reply is a confession: I command men in the name of Jesus to repent and believe the gospel, though I know they can do nothing of the kind apart from the grace of God; for I am not sent to work according to what my private reason might suggest, but according to the orders of my Lord and Master. Ours is the miraculous method which comes of the endowment of the Spirit of God, who bids His ministers perform wonders in the name of the holy child Jesus. We are sent to say to blind eyes, "See," to deaf ears, "Hear," to dead hearts, "Live," and even to Lazarus rotting in that grave, wherein, by this time, he stinketh,"Lazarus, come forth." Dare we do this? We shall be wise to begin with the conviction that we are utterly powerless for this unless our Master has sent us, and is with us. But if He that sent us is with us, all things are possible to him that believeth. O preacher, if thou art about to stand up to see what thou canst do, it will be thy wisdom to sit down speedily; but if thou standest up to prove what thine almighty Lord and Master can do through thee, then infinite possibilities lie about thee! There is no bound to what God can accomplish if He works by thy heart and voice. The other Sabbath morning, before I entered the pulpit, when my dear brethren, the deacons and elders of this church, gathered about me for prayer, as they are wont to do, one of them said, "Lord, take him as a man takes a tool in his hand when he gets a firm hold of it, and then uses it to work his own will with it." That is what all workers need; that God may be the Worker by them. You are to be instruments in the hands of God; yourselves, of course, actively putting forth all your faculties and forces which the Lord has lent to you; but still never depending upon your personal power, but resting alone upon that sacred, mysterious, divine energy which worketh in us, and by us, and with us, upon the hearts and minds of men.
Brethren, we have been greatly disappointed, have we not, with some of our converts? We shall always be disappointed with them so far as they are our converts. We shall greatly rejoice over them when they prove to be the Lord's work. When the power of grace works in them, ("Glory!") then it will be, as my brother says, "Glory!" and nothing else but glory; for grace brings glory, but mere oratory will only create sham and shame in the long run. When we are preaching, and we think of a very pretty, flowery passage, a very neat, poetical paragraph, I wish we could be restrained by that fear which acted upon Paul when he said that he would not use the wisdom of words, "lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect." It is the duty of the gospel preacher, indoors or outdoors, to say, "I can say that very prettily, but then they might notice how I said it; I will, therefore, so say it that they will only observe the intrinsic value of the truth which I would teach them." It is not our way of putting the gospel, nor our method of illustrating it, which wins souls, but the gospel itself does the work in the hands of the Holy Ghost, and to Him we must look for the thorough conversion of men. A miracle is to be wrought by which our hearers shall become the products of that mighty power which God wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly place far above all principality and power; and for this we must look out of ourselves to the living God. Must we not? We go in, then, for thorough downright conversion; and therefore we fall back upon the power of the Holy Spirit. If it be a miracle, God must work it, that is clear; it is not to be accomplished by our reasoning, or persuasion, or threatening, it can only come from the Lord.
In what way, since the winning of souls lies here, can we hopefully expect to be endowed with the Spirit of God, and to go forth in His power?' I reply, that a great deal depends upon the condition of the man himself. I am persuaded we have never laid enough stress on the work of God within our own selves in its relation to our service of God. A consecrated man may be charged with the divine energy to the full, so that everybody round about him must perceive it. They cannot tell what it is, nor whence it comes, nor, perhaps, whither it goes; but there is something about that man which is far beyond the common order of things. At another time that same person may be feeble and dull, and be conscious to himself that he is so. See! he shakes himself as at other times, but he can do no mighty deed. It is clear that Samson himself must be in a right condition, or he can win no victories. If the champion's locks be shorn, the Philistines will laugh at him; if the Lord be gone from a man, he has no power left for useful service. Dear brethren, look carefully to your own condition before God. Take care of the home farm; look well to your own flocks and herds. Unless your walk be close with God, unless you dwell in that clear light which surrounds the throne of God, and which is only known to those who are in fellowship with the Eternal, you will go forth from your chamber, and hasten to your work, but nothing will come of it. The vessel, it is true, is but an earthen one; yet it has its place in the divine arrangement, but it will not be filled with the divine treasure unless it is a clean vessel, and unless in other respects it is a vessel fit for the Master's use. Let me show you some ways in which much must depend in soul-winning upon the man himself.
We win some souls to Christ by acting as witnesses. We stand up and testify for the Lord Jesus Christ concerning certain truths. Now, I have never had the great privilege of being bamboozled by a barrister. I have sometimes wondered what I should do if I were put into the witness-box to be examined and cross-examined. I think I should simply stand up, and tell the truth as far as I knew it, and should not make an attempt to display my wit, or my language, or my judgment. If I simply gave straightforward answers to his questions, I should beat any lawyer under heaven. But the difficulty is, that so often when a witness is put into the box, he is more conscious of himself than of what he has to say; therefore, he is soon worried, teased, and bored, and, by losing his temper, he fails to be a good witness for the cause. Now, you men in the open-air are often bamboozled; the devil's barristers are sure to come to you, he has a great number of them constantly retained in his service. The one thing you have to do is to bear witness to the truth. If you enquire in your own mind, "How shall I answer this man cleverly, so as to get a victory over him?" you will not be wise. A witty answer is often a very proper thing; at the same time, a gracious answer is better. Try to say to yourself: "It does not, after all, matter whether that man proves me to be a fool or not, for I know that already I am content to be thought a fool for Christ's sake, and not to care about my reputation. I have to bear witness to what I know, and by the help of God I will do so right boldly. If the interrupter questions me about other things, I shall tell him that I do not come to bear witness about other matters, but this one thing I do. To one point I will speak, and to no other."
Brethren, the witnessing man, then, must himself be saved, and he should be sure of it. I do not know whether you doubt your own salvation. Perhaps I should recommend you to preach even when that is the case; since, if you are not saved yourself, you yet wish others to be. You do not doubt that you once enjoyed full assurance; and now, if you have sorrowfully to confess, "Alas ! I do not feel the full power of the gospel on my own heart," you can truly add, "Yet I know that it is true, for I have seen it save others, and I know that no other power can save me." Perhaps even that faltering testimony, so truly honest, might bring a tear into your opponent's eye, and make him feel sympathy for you. "I preached," said John Bunyan, "sometimes without hope, like a man in chains to men in chains, and when I heard my own fetters rattle, yet I told others that there was deliverance for them, and I bade them look to the great Deliverer." I would not have stopped Mr. Bunyan in preaching so. At the same time, it is a great thing to be able to declare from your own personal experience that the Lord hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder. Those who hear our witness say, "Are you sure of it?" Sure of it? I am as sure of it as I am sure that I am a living man. They call this dogmatism. Never mind about that. A man ought to know what he is preaching about, or else let him sit down. If I had any doubt about the matters I preach from this pulpit, I should be ashamed to remain the pastor of this church; but I preach what I do know, and testify what I have seen. If I am mistaken, I am heartily and intensely mistaken; and I risk my soul and all its eternal interests upon the truth of what I preach. If the gospel which I preach does not save me, I shall never be saved, for what I proclaim to others is my own personal ground of trust. I have no private lifeboat; the ark to which I invite others holds myself and all that I have.
A good witness ought himself to know all that he is going to say; he should feel himself at home in his subject. He is brought up as a witness, say, in a certain case of robbery; he knows what he saw, and has to make a declaration of that only. They begin to question him about a picture in the house, or the colour of a dress which was hanging in the wardrobe. He answers, "You are going beyond my record; I can only witness to that which I saw." What we do know, and what we do not know, would make two very large books, and we may safely ask to be let alone as to the second volume.
Brother, say what you know, and sit down. But be calm and composed while speaking of that with which you have personal acquaintance. You will never properly indulge your emotions in preaching, so as to feel at home with the people, until you are at home with your subject. When you know what you are at, you will have your mind free for earnestness. Unless you open-air preachers know the gospel from beginning to end, and know where you are in preaching it, you cannot preach with due emotion; but when you feel at home with your doctrine, stand up and be as bold, and earnest, and importunate as you please. Face the people feeling that you are going to tell them something worth hearing, about which you are quite sure, which to you is your very life. There are honest hearts in every outdoor assembly, and every indoor assembly, too, that only want to hear honest beliefs, and they will accept them, and be led to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But you are not only witnesses, you are pleaders for the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, in a pleader, much depends upon the man. It seems as if the sign and token of Christianity in some preachers was not a tongue of fire, but a block of ice. You would not like to have a barrister stand up and plead your cause in a cool, deliberate way, never showing the slightest care about whether you were found guilty of murder or acquitted. How could you endure his indifference when you yourself were likely to be hanged? Oh, no! you wish to silence such a false advocate. So, when a man has to speak for Christ, if he is not in earnest, let him go to bed. You smile; but is it not better that he should go to bed than send a whole congregation to sleep without their going to bed? Yes, we must be in downright earnest. If we are to prevail with men, we must love them. There is a genuine love to men that some have, and there is a genuine dislike to men that others have. I know gentlemen, whom I esteem in a way, who seem to think that the working-classes are a shockingly bad lot, to be kept in check, and governed with vigour. With such views, they will never convert the working-men. To win men, you must feel: "I am one of them. If they are a sad lot, I am one of them; if they are lost sinners, I am one of them; if they need a Saviour, I am one of them." To the very chief of sinners you should preach with this text before you, "Such were some of you." Grace alone makes us to differ, and that grace we preach. Genuine love to God and fervent love to man make up the great qualification for a pleader.
I further believe, although certain persons deny it, that the influence of fear is to be exercised over the minds of men, and that it ought to operate upon the mind of the preacher himself. "Noah, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house." There was salvation for this world from perishing in the flood in the fears of Noah; and when a man gets to fear for others, so that his heart cries out, "They will perish, they will perish, they will sink to hell, they will be for ever banished from the presence of the Lord," and when this fear oppresses his soul, and weighs him down, and then drives him to go out and preach with tears, oh, then he will plead with men so as to prevail! Knowing the terror of the Lord, he will persuade men. To know the terror of the Lord is the means of teaching us to persuade, and not to speak harshly. Some have used the terrors of the Lord to terrify; but Paul used them to persuade. Let us copy him. Say, "We have come out to tell you, men and brethren, that the world is on fire, and you must flee for your lives, and escape to the mountain, lest ye be consumed." We must give this warning with the full conviction that it is true, or else we shall be but as the boy who in foolishness cried, "Wolf!" Something of the shadow of the last tremendous day must fall upon our spirit to give the accent of conviction to our message of mercy, or we shall miss the pleader's true power. Brethren, we must tell men that there is pressing need of a Saviour, and show them that we ourselves perceive their need and feel for them, or else we are not likely to turn them to the Saviour.
He that pleads for Christ should himself be moved with the prospect of the judgment-day. When I come in at yonder door at the back of the pulpit, and the sight of that vast crowd bursts upon me, I frequently feel appalled. Think of these thousands of immortal souls gazing through the windows of those wistful eyes, and I am to preach to them all, and be responsible for their blood if I be not faithful to them. I tell you, it makes me feel ready to start back. But then fear is not alone. I am borne up by the hope and belief that God intends to bless these people through the Word which He will enable me to deliver. I believe that everybody in that throng is sent there by God for some purpose, and that I am sent to effect that purpose. I often think to myself, when I am preaching, "Who is being converted now?" It never occurs to me that the Word of the Lord will fail. No, that can never be. I often feel sure that men are being converted, and at all times that God is glorified by the testimony of His truth. You may depend upon it that your hopeful conviction that God's Word cannot return to Him void is a great encouragement to your hearers as well as to yourself. Your enthusiastic confidence that they will be converted may be like the little finger of a mother held out to her babe, to help it to make its way to her. The fire within your hearts may dart a spark into their souls by which the flame of spiritual life shall be kindled in them. Do let us all learn the art of pleading with the souls of men.
Still, dear open-air preachers, and all of you Christian people here, we have not only to be witnesses and pleaders, but we have also to be examples. One of the most successful ways of taking wild ducks is the use of the decoy bird. The decoy duck enters the net itself, and the others follow it. We need to use more, in the Christian Church, the holy art of decoy; that is to say, our example, in ourselves coming to Christ, in ourselves living godly lives in the midst of a perverse generation, our example of joy and sorrow, our example of holy submission to the divine will in the time of trouble, our example in all manner of gracious ways, will be the means of inducing others to enter the way of life. You cannot, of course, stand up in the street, and tell of your example; but there is no street-preacher who is not known better than he thinks. Some one in that crowd may be in the secret of the speaker's private life. I once heard of an out-of-doors preacher, to whom a hearer cried out, "Ah, Jack, you dare not preach like that at your own door!" It so happened, unfortunately, that Mr. John _______ had offered to fight one of his neighbours a little while before, and therefore it was not likely that he would have done much preaching very near home. This made the interruption an awkward one. If any man's life at home is unworthy, he should go several miles away before he stands up to preach, and then, when he stands up, he should say nothing. They know us, brethren; they know far more about us than we imagine, and what they do not know they make up. At the same time, our walk and conversation should be the most powerful part of our ministry. This is what is called being consistent, when lips and life agree.
My time is short; but I must say a word upon another point. I have said that the working of the Holy Spirit depends largely upon the man himself, but I am bound to add that much will also depend upon the kind of people that are round about the preacher. An open-air preacher, who has to go out quite alone, must be in a very unfortunate position. It is extremely helpful to be connected with an earnest living church which will pray for you; and if you cannot find such a church where you labour, the next best thing is to get half-a-dozen brothers or sisters who will back you up, and go out with you, and, especially, will pray with you. Some preachers are so independent that they can do without helpers, but they will be wise if they do not affect solitude. May they not look at the matter in this way: by bringing in half-a-dozen men to go out with me I shall be doing good to these young men, and shall be training them to be workers? If you can associate with yourself half-a-dozen who are not all very young men, but somewhat advanced in their knowledge of divine truth, the association will be greatly to your mutual advantage. I confess to you all that, although God has largely blessed me in His work, yet none of the credit is due to me at all, but to those dear friends at the Tabernacle, and, indeed, all over the world, who make me the special subject of their prayers. A man ought to do well with such a people around him as I have. My dear friend and deacon, Mr. William Olney, once said, "Our minister has hitherto led us forward, and we have followed heartily. Everything has been a success; do you not believe in his leadership?" The people cried, "Yes." Then said my dear friend, "If our pastor has brought us up to a ditch which looks as if it could not be passed, let us fill it up with our bodies, and carry him across." This was grand talk: the ditch was filled, nay, it seemed to fill itself up at once. If you have a true comrade, your strength is more than doubled. What a blessing is a good wife! You women, who would not be in your right place if you began to preach in the streets, you can make your husbands happy and comfortable when they come home, and that will make them preach all the better! Some of you can even help in another way if you are prudent and gentle. You can tenderly hint that your spouse was a little out of line in certain small matters, and he may take your hint, and put himself right. A good brother once asked me to give him some instruction, and he pleaded thus:"The only instructor I have had was my wife, who had a better schooling than fell to my lot. I used to say, 'We was,' and 'Us did it,' and she quietly hinted that people might laugh at me if I did not attend to grammar." His wife thus became to him a professor ofof English language, and was worth her weight in gold to him, and he knew it. You who have such helpers ought to thank God daily for them.
Next to this, it is a very great assistance to join in brotherly league with some warm-hearted Christian who knows more than we do, and will benefit us by prudent hints. God may bless us for the sake of others when He might not bless us for our own. You have heard, I daresay, the monkish story of the man who had preached, and had won many souls to Christ, and congratulated himself upon it. One night, it was revealed to him that he should have none of the honour of it at the last great day; and he asked the angel in his dream who then would have the credit of it, and the angel replied, "That deaf old man who sits on the pulpit stairs, and prays for you, was the means of the blessing." Let us be thankful for that deaf man, or, that old woman, or those poor praying friends who bring down a blessing upon us by their intercessions. The Spirit of God will bless two when He might not bless one. Abraham alone did not get one of the five cities saved, although his prayer was like a ton weight in the scale; but yonder was his nephew Lot, who was about the poorest lot that could be found. He had not more than half-an-ounce of prayer in him; but that tiny fragment turned the scale, and Zoar was preserved. Add then your odd half-ounce to the mightier weight of the pleadings of eminent saints, for they may need it.
Dear brother open-air preachers, I am not trying to instruct you; some of you could far better instruct me; and yet I do not know, for I suspect I must be getting rather old from what I hear. A woman, at the beginning of this year (1887), was trying to get something out of me, and she said, "I remember hearing your dear voice more than forty years ago." I said, "Heard my voice forty years ago! where was that?" She said, "You were preaching at the bottom of Pentonville Hill, near where Mr. Sawday's chapel is." "Well," I said, "was it not more than forty years ago?" "Yes," she said, "It might be fifty." "Oh," I said, "I suppose I was quite young then?" "Oh, yes!" she said, "you were such a dear young man. That, of course, was a needless assurance; but I do not think she was quite so sure of my dearness when I told her that I never preached at the bottom of Pentonville Hill, and that fifty years ago I was only three years old, and that I thought it shameful for her to suppose that I should give her money for telling falsehoods. However, I shall presume upon the woman's statement to-night, and suppose myself to be that venerable person she described me as being, and I shall make hold to say to you,Dear brethren, if we are going to win souls, we must go in for downright labour and hard work.
And, first, we must work at our preaching. You are not getting distrustful of the use of preaching, are you? ("No.") I hope you do not weary of it, though you certainly sometimes must weary in it. Go on with your preaching. Cobbler, stick to your last; preacher, stick to your preaching. In the great day, when the muster-roll shall be read, of all those who are converted through fine music, and church decoration, and religious exhibitions and entertainments, they will amount to the tenth part of nothing; but it will always please God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Keep to your preaching; and if you do anything beside, do not let it throw your preaching into the background. In the first place preach, and in the second place preach, and in the third place preach.
Believe in preaching the love of Christ, believe in preaching the atoning sacrifice, believe in preaching the new birth, believe in preaching the whole counsel of God. The old hammer of the gospel will still break the rock in pieces; the ancient fire of Pentecost will still burn among the multitude. Try nothing new, but go on with preaching, and if we all preach with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, the results of preaching will astound us. Why, there is no end after all to the power of the tongue! Look at the power of a bad tongue, what great mischief it can do; and shall not God put more power into a good tongue, if we will but use it aright? Look at the power of fire, a single spark might give a city to the flames; even so, the Spirit of God being with us, we need not calculate how much, or what we can do: there is no calculating the potentialities of a flame, and there is no end to the possibilities of divine truth spoken with the enthusiasm which is born of the Spirit of God. Have great hope yet, brothers, have great hope yet, despite yon shameless midnight streets, despite yon flaming gin-palaces at the corner of every street, despite the wickedness of the rich, despite the ignorance of the poor. Go on; go on; go on; in God's name go on, for if the preaching of the gospel does not save men, nothing will. If the Lord's own way of mercy fails, then hang the skies in mourning, and blot out the sun in everlasting midnight, for there remaineth nothing before our race but the blackness of darkness. Salvation by the sacrifice of Jesus is the ultimatum of God. Rejoice that it cannot fail. Let us believe without reserve, and then go straight ahead with the preaching of the Word.
True-hearted open-air preachers will be sure to join with their preaching very much earnest private talk. What numbers of persons have been converted in this Tabernacle by the personal conversation of certain brothers here, whom I will not further indicate! They are all about this place while I am preaching! I recollect that a brother was speaking to me one Monday night, and suddenly he vanished before he finished the sentence which he was whispering. I never quite knew what he was going to say; but I speedily saw him in that left-hand gallery, sitting in the pew with a lady unknown to me. After the service, I said to him, "Where did you go?" and he said, "A gleam of sunlight came in at the window, and made me see a face which looked so sad that I hurried upstairs, and took my seat in the pew close to the woman of a sorrowful countenance." "Did you cheer her?" "Oh, yes! she received the Lord Jesus very readily; and just as she did so, I noticed another eager face, and I asked her to wait in the pew till after the service, and I went after the othera young man." He prayed with both of these, and would not be satisfied until they had given their hearts to the Lord. That is the way to be on the alert. We need a body of sharp-shooters to pick out their men one by one. When we fire great guns from the pulpit, execution is done, but many are missed. We want loving spirits to go round, and deal with individual cases in the singular by pointed personal warnings and encouragements. Every open-air preacher should not only address the hundreds, but he should be ready to pounce upon the ones, and he should have others with him who have the same happy art. How much more good would come of preaching in the streets if every open-air preacher were accompanied by a batch of persons who would drive his nails home for him by personal conversation!
Last Sunday night, my dear brother told us a little story which I shall never forget. He was at Croydon Hospital one night, as one of those appointed to visit it. All the porters had gone home, and it was time to shut up for the night. He was the only person in the hospital, with the exception of the physician, when a boy came running in, saying that there was a railway accident, and someone must go round to the station with a stretcher. The doctor said to my brother, "Will you take one end of the stretcher if I take the other?" "Oh, yes!" was the cheerful reply; and so away went the doctor and the pastor with the stretcher. They brought a sick man back with them. My brother said, "I went often to the hospital during the next week or two, because I felt so much interest in the man whom I had helped to carry." I believe he will always take an interest in that man, because he once felt the weight of him. When you know how to carry a man on your heart, and have felt the burden of his case, you will have his name engraven upon your soul. So you that privately talk to people, you are feeling the weight of souls; and I believe that this is what many regular preachers need to know more of; and then they will preach better.
When preaching and private talk are not available, you have a tract ready, and this is often an effectual method. Some tracts would not convert a beetle: there is not enough in them to interest a fly. Get good striking tracts, or none at all. But a telling, touching gospel tract may often be the seed of eternal life; therefore, do not go out without your tracts.
I suppose, beside giving a tract, if you can, you try and find out where a person lives who frequently hears you, that you may give him a call. What a fine thing is a visit from an open-air preacher! "Why," says the woman, "there is that man come to see you, Bill; that gentleman who preaches at the corner of the street. Shall I tell him to come in?" "Oh, yes!" is the reply; "I have heard him many times; he is a good fellow." Visit as much as you can, for it will be of use to yourselves as well as to the people.
What power there is also in a letter to an individual! Some people still have a kind of superstitious reverence for a letter; and when they get an earnest epistle from one of you reverend gentlemen, they think a great deal of it; and who knows?a note by post may hit the man your sermon missed. Young people who are not able to preach might do much good if they would write letters to their young friends about their souls; they could speak very plainly with their pens, though they might be diffident in speaking with their tongues. Let us save men by all the means under heaven; let us prevent men going down to hell. We are not half as earnest as we ought to be. Do you not remember the young man, who, when he was dying, said to his brother, "My brother, how could you have been so indifferent to my soul as you have been?" He answered, "I have not been indifferent to your soul, for I have frequently spoken to you about it." "Oh, yes!" he said, "you spoke; but somehow, I think, if you had remembered that I was going down to hell, you would have been more earnest with me; you would have wept over me, and, as my brother, you would not have allowed me to be lost." Let no one say this of you.
But I hear it observed that most fellows, when they grow earnest, do such odd things, and say such strange things. Let them say strange things, and let them do strange things, if these come out of genuine earnestness. We do not want pranks and performances which are the mere sham of earnestness; but real white-heat earnestness is the want of the times, and where you see that, it is a pity to be too critical. You must let a great storm rage in its own way. You must let a living heart speak as it can. If you are zealous, and yet cannot speak, your earnestness will invent its own method of working out its purpose. As Hannibal is said to have melted the rocks with vinegar, so earnestness will one way or another dissolve the rocky hearts of men. May the Spirit of God rest upon you, one and all, for Jesus Christ's sake! Amen.
Chapter 9: The Cost Of Being A Soul-WinnerI WANT to say a word to you who are trying to bring souls to Jesus. You long and pray to be useful: do you know what this involves? Are you sure that you do? Prepare yourselves, then, to see and suffer many things with which you would rather be unacquainted. Experiences which would be unnecessary to you personally will become your portion if the Lord uses you for the salvation of others. An ordinary person may rest in his bed all night, but a surgeon will be called up at all hours; a farming-man may take his ease at his fireside, but if he becomes a shepherd he must be out among the lambs, and bear all weathers for them; even so doth Paul say, "Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." For this cause we shall be made to undergo experiences which will surprise us.
Some years ago, I was the subject of fearful depression of spirit. Certain troublous events had happened to me; I was also unwell, and my heart sank within me. Out of the depths I was forced to cry unto the Lord. Just before I went away to Mentone for rest, I suffered greatly in body, but far more in soul, for my spirit was overwhelmed. Under this pressure, I preached a sermon from the words, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" I was as much qualified to preach from that text as ever I expect to be; indeed, I hope that few of my brethren could have entered so deeply into those heart-breaking words. I felt to the full of my measure the horror of a soul forsaken of God. Now, that was not a desirable experience. I tremble at the bare idea of passing again through that eclipse of soul; I pray that I may never suffer in that fashion again unless the same result should hang upon it.
That night, after sermon, there came into the vestry a man who was as nearly insane as he could be to be out of an asylum. His eyes seemed ready to start from his head, and he said that he should utterly have despaired if he had not heard that discourse, which had made him feel that there was one man alive who understood his feeling, and could describe his experience. I talked with him, and tried to encourage him, and asked him to come again on the Monday night, when I should have a little more time to talk with him. I saw the brother again, and I told him that I thought he was a hopeful patient, and I was glad that the word had been so suited to his case. Apparently, he put aside the comfort which I presented for his acceptance, and yet I had the consciousness upon me that the precious truth which he had heard was at work upon his mind, and that the storm of his soul would soon subside into a deep calm.
Now hear the sequel. Last night, of all the times in the year, when, strange to say, I was preaching from the words, "The Almighty hath vexed my soul," after the service, in walked this self-same brother who had called on me five years before. This time, he looked as different as noonday from midnight, or as life from death. I said to him, "I am glad to see you, for I have often thought about you, and wondered whether you were brought into perfect peace." I told you that I went to Mentone, and my patient also went into the country, so that we had not met for five years. To my enquiries, this brother replied, "Yes, you said I was a hopeful patient, and I am sure you will be glad to know that I have walked in the sunlight from that day till now. Everything is changed and altered with me." Dear friends, as soon as I saw my poor despairing patient the first time, I blessed God that my fearful experience had prepared me to sympathize with him and guide him; but last night, when I saw him perfectly restored, my heart overflowed with gratitude to God for my former sorrowful feelings. I would go into the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit: it is good for me to have been afflicted that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary.
Suppose that, by some painful operation, you could have your right arm made a little longer, I do not suppose you would care to undergo the operation; but if you foresaw that, by undergoing the pain, you would be enabled to reach and save drowning men who else would sink before your eyes, I think you would willingly bear the agony, and pay a heavy fee to the surgeon to be thus qualified for the rescue of your fellows. Reckon, then, that to acquire soul-winning power you will have to go through fire and water, through doubt and despair, through mental torment and soul distress. It will not, of course, be the same with you all, nor perhaps with any two of you, but according to the work allotted you, will be your preparation. You must go into the fire if you are to pull others out of it, and you will have to dive into the floods if you are to draw others out of the water. You cannot work a fire-escape without feeling the scorch of the conflagration, nor man a lifeboat without being covered with the waves. If Joseph is to preserve his brethren alive, he must himself go down into Egypt; if Moses is to lead the people through the wilderness, he must first himself spend forty years there with his flock. Payson truly said, "If anyone asks to be made a successful minister, he knows not what he asks; and it becomes him to consider whether he can drink deeply of Christ's bitter cup and be baptized with His baptism."
I was led to think of this by the prayer which has just been offered by our esteemed brother, Mr. Levinsohn. He is, as you perceive, of the seed of Abraham, and he owed his conversion to a city missionary of his own nation. If that city missionary had not himself been a Jew, he would not have known the heart of the young stranger, nor have won his ear for the gospel message. Men are usually won to Christ by suitable instruments, and this suitability often lies in the power to sympathize. A key opens a door because it fits the wards of the lock; an earnest address touches the heart because it meets the state of that heart. You and I have to be made into all sorts of shapes to suit all forms of mind and heart; just as Paul says, "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." These processes must be wrought out upon us also. Let us cheerfully bear whatever the Holy Spirit shall work within our spirits that we may thus be the more largely blest to our fellow-men. Come, brethren, and lay your all on the altar! Give yourselves up, you workers, into the Lord's hand. You who have delicacy and refinement, may have to be shocked into the power to benefit the coarse and ignorant. You who are wise and educated, may have to be made fools of, that you may win fools to Jesus; for fools need saving, and many of them will not be saved except by means which men of culture cannot admire.
How finely some people go to work when the thing needed may not be daintiness, but energy! On the other hand, how violent some are when the desired thing is tact and gentleness, and not force! This has to be learned; we must be trained to it as dogs to follow game. Here is one form of experienceThe brother is elegant; he wishes to speak earnestly, but he must be elaborate, too. He has written out a nicely-prepared address, his notes are carefully arranged. Alas! he has left the priceless document at home! What will he do? He is too gracious to give up: he will try to speak. He begins nicely, and gets through firstly. "Fair and softly, good sir." What comes next? See, he is gazing aloft for secondly. What should be said? What can be said? The good man flounders about, but he cannot swim he struggles to land, and as he rises from the flood you can hear him mentally saying, "That's my last attempt." Yet it is not so. He speaks again. He gathers confidence; he grows into an impressive speaker. By such humiliations as these the Lord prepares him to do his work efficiently. In our beginnings we are too fine to be fit, or too great to be good. We must serve an apprenticeship, and thus learn our trade. A blacklead pencil is of no use at all till it is cut; the fine cedar wood must be cut away; and then the inward metal which marks and writes will have fair play. Brethren, the knife of affliction is sharp, but salutary; you cannot delight in it, but faith may teach you to value it. Are you not willing to pass through every ordeal if by any means you may save some? If this be not your spirit, you had better keep to your farm and to your merchandise, for no man will ever win a soul who is not prepared to suffer everything within the compass of possibility for that soul's sake.
A good deal may have to be suffered through fear, and yet that fear may assist in stirring the soul, and putting it into a fit posture for work; at least, it may drive the heart to prayer, and that alone is a great part of the necessary preparation. A good man thus describes one of his early attempts at visiting, with the view of speaking to individuals upon their spiritual condition:"I was thinking, on the way to the residence of the party, how I would introduce the subject, and all that I would say. And all the while I was trembling and agitated. Reaching the door, it seemed as if I should sink through the stones; my courage was gone, and, lifting my hand to the knocker, it dropped at my side without touching it. I went partly down the steps from sheer fear; a moment's reflection sent me again to the knocker, and I entered the house. The sentences I uttered and the prayer offered were very broken; but thankful, very thankful I am that my fears and cowardice did not prevail. The 'ice was broken.'" That process of ice-breaking must be gone through, and its result is highly beneficial.
O poor souls, you that wish to find the Saviour, Jesus has died for you; and now His people live for you! We cannot offer any atoning sacrifice for you; there is no need that we should; but still we would gladly make sacrifices for your soul's sake. Did you not hear what our brother said just now in his prayer,We would do anything, be anything, give anything, and suffer anything if we might but bring you to Christ? I assure you that many of us feel even so. Will you not care for yourselves? Shall we be earnest about your souls, and will you trifle them away? Be wiser, I beseech you, and may infinite wisdom at once lead you to our dear Saviour's feet. Amen.
Chapter 10: The Soul-Winner's RewardON my way to this meeting, I observed upon the notice-board of the police-station a striking placard, offering a large
to any one who can discover and bring to justice the perpetrators of a great crime. No doubt our legislators know that the hope of a huge reward is the only motive which will have power with the comrades of assassins. The common informer earns so much scorn and hate that few can be induced to stand in his place, even when piles of gold are offered. It is a poor business at best.
It is far more pleasant to remember that there is a reward for bringing men to mercy, and that it is of a higher order than the premium for bringing men to justice; it is, moreover, much more within our reach, and that is a practical point worthy of our notice. We cannot all hunt down criminals, but we may all rescue the perishing. God be thanked that assassins and burglars are comparatively few, but sinners who need to be sought and saved swarm around us in every place. Here is scope for you all; and none need think himself shut out from the rewards which love bestows on all who do her service.
At the mention of the word REWARD, some will prick up their ears, and mutter "legality." Yet the reward we speak of is not of debt, but of grace; and it is enjoyed, not with the proud conceit of merit, but with the grateful delight of humility.
Other friends will whisper, "Is not this a low and mercenary motive?" We reply that it is as mercenary as the spirit of Moses, who "had respect unto the recompense of the reward." In this matter, all depends upon what the reward is; and if that happens to be the joy of doing good, the comfort of having glorified God, and the bliss of pleasing the Lord Jesus,then the aspiration to be allowed to endeavour to save our fellow-men from going down into the pit is in itself a grace from the Lord; and if we did not succeed in it, yet the Lord would say of it, as He did of David's intent to build a temple, "It was well that it was in thine heart." Even if the souls we seek should all persist in unbelief if they all despise and reject and ridicule us, yet still it will be a divine work to have at least made the attempt. If there comes no rain out of the cloud, yet it has screened off the fierce heat of the sun; all is not lost even if the greater design be not accomplished. What if we only learn how to join the Saviour in His tears, and cry, "How often would I have gathered you, but ye would not!" It is sublimity itself to be allowed to stand on the same platform with Jesus, and weep with Him. We are the better for such sorrows, if no others are.
But, thank God, our labours are not in vain in the Lord. I believe that the most of you, who have really tried, in the power of the Holy Spirit, by Scriptural teaching and by prayer, to bring others to Jesus, have been successful. I may be speaking to a few who have not succeeded; if so, I would recommend them to look steadily over their motive, their spirit, their work, and their prayer, and then begin again. Perhaps they may get to work more wisely, more believingly, more humbly, and more in the power of the Holy Spirit. They must act as farmers do who, after a poor harvest, plough again in hope. They ought not to he dispirited, but they ought to be aroused. We should be anxious to find out the reason of failure, if there be any, and we should be ready to learn from all our fellow-labourers; but we must steadfastly set our faces, if by any means we may save some, resolving that whatever happens we will leave no stone unturned to effect the salvation of those around us. How can we bear to go out of the world without sheaves to bear with us rejoicingly? I believe that the most of us who are now assembled to pray have been successful beyond our expectations. God has blessed us, not beyond our desires, but yet beyond our hopes.
I have often been surprised at the mercy of God to myself. Poor sermons of mine, that I could cry over when I get home, have led scores to the cross; and, more wonderful still, words that I have spoken in ordinary conversation, mere chance sentences, as men call them, have nevertheless been as winged arrows from God, and have pierced men's hearts, and laid them wounded at Jesus' feet. I have often lifted up my hands in astonishment, and said, "How can God bless such a feeble instrumentality?" This is the feeling of most who addict themselves to the blessed craft of fishing for men, and the desire of such success furnishes as pure a motive as could move an angel's heart, as pure, indeed, as that which swayed the Saviour when, for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame. "Doth Job serve God for nought?" said Satan. If he could have answered the question in the affirmative, if it could have been proved that the perfect and upright man found no reward in his holy living, then Satan would have cavilled at the justice of God, and urged men to renounce a service so unprofitable. Verily there is a reward to the righteous, and in the lofty pursuits of grace there are recompenses of infinite value. When we endeavour to lead men to God, we pursue a business far more profitable than the pearl-fisher's diving or the diamond-hunter's searching. No pursuit of mortal men is to be compared with that of soul-winning. I know what I say when I bid you think of it as men think of entering the cabinet of the nation, or occupying a throne; it is a royal business, and they are true kings who follow it successfully.
The harvest of godly service is not yet: "we do with patience wait for it;" but we have earnests of our wage, refreshing pledges of that which is laid up in heaven for us. Partly, this reward lies in the work itself. Men go hunting and shooting for mere love of the sport; surely, in an infinitely higher sphere, we may hunt for men's souls for the pleasing indulgence of our benevolence. To some of us, it would be an unendurable misery to see men sink to hell, and to be making no effort for their salvation. It is a reward to us to have a vent for our inward fires. It is woe and weariness to us to be shut up from those sacred activities which aim at plucking fire-brands from the flame. We are in deep sympathy with our fellows, and feel that, in a measure, their sin is our sin, their peril our peril.
My feet also go astray;
If another downward go,
In my heart is also woe.
It is therefore a relief to set forth the gospel, that we may save ourselves from that sympathetic misery which echoes in our hearts the crash of soul-ruin.
Soul-winning is a service which brings great benefit to the individual who consecrates himself to it. The man who has watched for a soul, prayed for it, laid his plans for it, spoken with much trembling, and endeavoured to make an impression, has been educating himself by the effort. Having been disappointed, he has cried to God more earnestly, has tried again, has looked up the promise to meet the case of the convicted one, has turned to that point of the divine character which seems most likely to encourage trembling faith,he has in every step been benefiting himself. When he has gone over the old, old story of the cross to the weeping penitent, and has at last gripped the hand of one who could say,"I do believe, I will believe, that Jesus died for me;" I say, he has had a reward in the process through which his own mind has gone.
It has reminded him of his own lost estate; it has shown him the struggles that the Spirit had in bringing him to repentance; it has reminded him of that precious moment when he first looked to Jesus; and it has strengthened him in his firm confidence that Christ will save men. When we see Jesus save another, and see that marvellous transfiguration which passes over the face of the saved one, our own faith is greatly confirmed. Sceptics and modern-thought men have little to do with converts: those who labour for conversions believe in conversions; those who behold the processes of regeneration see a miracle wrought, and are certain that "this is the finger of God." It is the most blessed exercise for a soul, it is the divinest ennobling of the heart, to spend yourself in seeking to bring another to the dear Redeemer's feet. If it ended there, you might thank God that ever He called you to a service so comforting, so strengthening, so elevating, so confirming, as that of converting others from their evil ways.
Another precious recompense is found in the gratitude and affection of those you bring to Christ. This is a choice boon,the blessedness of joying in another's joy, the bliss of hearing that you have led a soul to Jesus. Measure the sweetness of this recompense by the bitterness of its opposite. Men of God have brought many to Jesus, and all things have gone well in the church till declining years or changing fashions have thrown the good man into the shade, and then the minister's own spiritual children have been eager to turn him out of doors. The unkindest cut of all has come from those who owed their souls to him. His heart was broken while he has sighed, "I could have borne it, had not the persons that I brought to the Saviour have turned against me." The pang is not unknown to me. I can never forget a certain household, in which the Lord gave me the great joy to bring four employers and several persons engaged by them to Jesus' feet. Snatched from the utmost carelessness of worldliness, these who had previously known nothing of the grace of God were joyful confessors of the faith. After a while, they imbibed certain opinions differing from ours, and from that moment some of them had nothing but hard words for me and my preaching. I had done my best to teach them all the truth I knew, and if they had found out more than I had discovered, they might at least have remembered where they learned the elements of the faith. It is years ago now, and I have never said as much as this before; but I feel the wound much. I only mention these sharp pricks to show how very sweet it is to have those about you whom you have brought to the Saviour.
A mother feels great delight in her children, for an intense love comes with natural relationships; but there is a still deeper love connected with spiritual kinship, a love which lasts through life, and will continue in eternity, for even in heaven each servant of the Lord shall say, "Here am I, and the children whom Thou hast given me." They neither marry nor are given in marriage in the city of our God, but fatherhood and brotherhood in Christ shall still survive. Those sweet and blessed bonds which grace has formed continue for ever, and spiritual relationships are rather developed than dissolved by translation to the better land. If you are eager for real joy, such as you may think over and sleep upon, I am persuaded that no joy of growing wealthy, no joy of increasing knowledge, no joy of influence over your fellow-creatures, no joy of any other sort, can ever be compared with the rapture of saving a soul from death, and helping to restore our lost brethren to our great Father's house. Talk of ten thousand pounds reward! It is nothing at all, one might easily spend that amount; but one cannot exhaust the unutterable delights which come from the gratitude of souls converted from the error of their ways.
But the richest reward lies in pleasing God, and causing the Redeemer to see of the travail of His soul. That Jesus should have His reward, is worthy of the Eternal Father; but it is marvellous that we should be employed by the Father to give to Christ the purchase of His agonies. This is a wonder of wonders! O my soul, this is an honour too great for thee! A bliss too deep for words! Listen, dear friends, and answer me. What would you give to cause a thrill of pleasure in the heart of the Well-beloved? Recollect the grief you cost Him, and the pangs that shot through Him that He might deliver you from your sin and its consequences; do you not long to make Him glad? When you bring others to His feet, you give Him joy, and no small joy either. Is not that a wonderful text,"There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth"? What does that mean? Does it mean that the angels have joy? We generally read it so, but it is not the intent of the verse. It says, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God,"that is, joy in the heart of God, around whose throne the angels stand. It is a joy which angels delight to behold,what is it? Is the blessed God capable of greater joy than His own boundless happiness? Wondrous language this! The infinite bliss of God is more eminently displayed, if it cannot be increased. Can we be the instruments of this? Can we do anything which will make the Ever-blessed glad? Yes, for we are told that the great Father rejoices above measure when His prodigal son that was dead is alive again, and the lost one is found.
If I could say this as I ought to say it, it would make every Christian cry out, "Then I will labour to bring souls to the Saviour;" and it would make those of us who have brought many to Jesus instant, in season and out of season, to bring more to Him. It is a great pleasure to be doing a kindness to an earthly friend, but to be doing something distinctly for Jesus, something which will be of all things in the world most pleasing to Him, is a great delight! It is a good work to build a meeting-house, and give it outright to the cause of God, if it is done with a right and proper motive; but one living stone, built upon the sure foundation by our instrumentality, will give the Master more pleasure than if we erected a vast pile of natural stones, which might only cumber the ground. Then go, dear friends, and seek to bring your children and your neighbours, your friends and your kinsfolk, to the Saviour's feet, for nothing will give him so much pleasure as to see them turn unto Him and live. By your love to Jesus, I beseech you, become fishers of men.
Chapter 11: The Soul-Winner's Life And Work
"The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise."Proverbs 11:30.
IT seems to me that there is a higher joy in looking at a body of believers than that which arises from merely regarding them as saved. Not but what there is a great joy in salvation, a joy worthy to stir the angelic harps. Think of the Saviour's agony in the ransom of every one of His redeemed, think of the work of the Holy Spirit in every renewed heart, think of the love of the Father as resting upon every one of the regenerate: I could not, if I took up my parable for a month, set forth all the mass of joy that is to be seen in a multitude of believers if we only look at what God has done for them, and promised to them, and will fulfil in them. But there is yet a wider field of thought, and my mind has been traversing it all this day,the thought of the capacities of service contained in a numerous band of believers, the possibilities of blessing others which lie within the bosoms of regenerate persons. We must not think so much of what we already are as to forget what the Lord may accomplish by us for others. Here are the coals of fire, but who shall describe the conflagration which they may cause?
We ought to regard the Christian Church, not as a luxurious hostelry where Christian gentlemen may each one dwell at his ease in his own inn, but as a barracks in which soldiers are gathered together to be drilled and trained for war. We should regard the Christian Church, not as an association for mutual admiration and comfort, but as an army with banners, marching to the fray, to achieve victories for Christ, to storm the strongholds of the foe, and to add province after province to the Redeemer's kingdom. We may view converted persons gathered into church-membership as so much wheat in the granary. God be thanked that it is there, and that so far the harvest has rewarded the sower; but far more soul-inspiring is the view when we regard those believers as each one likely to be made a living centre for the extension of the kingdom of Jesus, for then we see them sowing the fertile valleys of our land, and promising ere long to bring forth some thirty, some forty, some fifty, and some a hundredfold. The capacities of life are enormous, one becomes a thousand in a marvellously brief space. Within a short time, a few grains of wheat would suffice to seed the whole world, and a few true saints might suffice for the conversion of all nations. Only take that which comes of one ear, store it well, sow it all, again store it next year, and then sow it all again, and the multiplication almost exceeds the power of computation. Oh, that every Christian were thus year by year the Lord's seed corn! If all the wheat in the world had perished except a single grain, it would not take many years to replenish all the earth, and sow her fields and plains; but in a far shorter time, in the power of the Holy Spirit, one Paul or one Peter would have evangelised all lands. View yourselves as grains of wheat predestinated to seed the world. That man lives grandly who is as earnest as if the very existence of Christianity depended upon himself, and is determined that to all men within his reach shall be made known the unsearchable riches of Christ.
If we whom Christ is pleased to use as His seed corn were only all scattered and sown as we ought to be, and were all to sprout and bring forth the green blade and the corn in the ear, what a harvest there would be! Again would it be fulfilled, "There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains;"a very bad position for it,"the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth." May God grant us to feel some degree of the Holy Spirit's quickening power while we talk together, not so much about what God has done for us as about what God may do by us, and how far we may put ourselves into a right position to be used by Him.
There are two things in the text, and these are found laid out with much distinctness in its two sentences. The first is, the life of the believer is, or ought to be, full of soul-blessing. "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life." In the second place, the pursuit of the believer ought always to be soul-winning. The second is much the same as the first, only the first head sets forth our unconscious influence, and the second our efforts which we put forth with the avowed object of winning souls for Christ.
Let us begin at the beginning, because the second cannot be carried out without the first: without fulness of life within there cannot be an overflow of life to others. It is of no use for any of you to try to be soul-winners if you are not bearing fruit in your own lives. How can you serve the Lord with your lips if you do not serve Him with your lives? How can you preach His gospel with your tongues, when with hands, feet, and hearts you are preaching the devil's gospel, and setting up antichrist by your practical unholiness? We must first have life and bear personal fruit to the divine glory, and then out of our example will spring the conversion of others. Let us go to the fountain-head, and see how the believer's own life is essential to his being useful to others.
I. THE LIFE OF THE BELIEVER IS FULL OF SOUL-BLESSING.
This fact we shall consider by means of a few observations growing out of the text; and, first, let us remark that the believer's outward life comes as a matter of fruit from him. This is important to notice. "The fruit of the righteous"that is to say, his lifeis not a thing fastened upon him, but it grows out of him. It is not a garment which he puts off and on, but it is inseparable from himself. The sincere man's religion is the man himself, and not a cloak for his concealment. True godliness is the natural outgrowth of a renewed nature, not the forced growth of pious hothouse excitement. Is it not natural for a vine to bear clusters of grapes? natural for a palm tree to bear dates? Certainly, as natural as it is for the apples of Sodom to be found on the trees of Sodom, and for noxious plants to produce poisonous berries. When God gives a new nature to His people, the life which comes out of that new nature springs spontaneously from it. The man who has a religion which is not part and parcel of himself will by-and-by discover that it is worse than useless to him. The man who wears his piety like a mask at a carnival, so that, when he gets home, he changes from a saint to a savage, from an angel to a devil, from John to Judas, from a benefactor to a bully,such a man, I say, knows very well what formalism and hypocrisy can do for him, but he has no vestige of true religion. Fig trees do not bear figs on certain days, and thorns at other times; but they are true to their nature at all seasons.
Those who think that godliness is a matter of vestment, and has an intimate relation with blue, and scarlet, and fine linen, are consistent if they keep their religion to the proper time for the wearing of their sacred pomposities; but he who has discovered what Christianity is knows that it is much more a life than an act, a form, or a profession. Much as I love the creed of Christendom, I am ready to say that true Christianity is far more a life than a creed. It is a creed, and it has its ceremonies, but it is mainly a life; it is a divine spark of heaven's own flame which falls into the human bosom and burns within, consuming much that lies hidden in the soul, and then at last, as a heavenly life, flaming forth, so as to be seen and felt by those around. Under the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, a regenerate person becomes like that bush in Horeb, which was all aglow with Deity. The God within him makes him shine so that the place around him is holy ground, and those who look at him feel the power of his hallowed life.
Dear brethren, we must take care that our religion is more and more a matter of outgrowth from our souls. Many professors are hedged about with, "You must not do this, or that," and are driven onward with, "You must do this, and you must do that." But there is a doctrine, too often perverted, which is, nevertheless, a blessed truth, and ought to dwell in your hearts. "Ye are not under the law, but under grace:" hence you do not obey the will of God because you hope to earn heaven thereby, or dream of escaping from divine wrath by your own doings, but because there is a life in you which seeks after that which is holy, pure, right, and true, and cannot endure that which is evil. You are careful to maintain good works, not from either legal hopes or legal fears, but because there is a holy thing within you, born of God, which seeks, according to its nature, to do that which is pleasing to God. Look to it more and more that your religion is real, true, natural, vital,not artificial, constrained, superficial, a thing of times, days, places, a fungus produced by excitement, a fermentation generated by meetings and stirred by oratory. We all need a religion which can live either in a wilderness or in a crowd; a religion which will show itself in every walk of life, and in every company. Give me the godliness which is seen at home, especially around the fireside, for it is never more beautiful than there; that is seen in the battle and tussle of ordinary business among scoffers and gainsayers as well as among Christian men. Show me the faith which can defy the lynx eyes of the world, and walk fearlessly where all scowl with the fierce eyes of hate, as well as where there are observers to sympathize, and friends to judge leniently. May you be filled with the life of the Spirit, and your whole conduct and conversation be the natural and blessed outgrowth of that Spirit's indwelling!
Note, next, that the fruit which comes from a Christian is fruit worthy of his character: "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life." Each tree bears its own fruit, and is known by it. The righteous man bears righteous fruit; and do not let us be at all deceived, brethren, or fall into any error about this, "he that doeth righteousness is righteous," and "he that doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother." We are prepared, I hope, to die for the doctrine of justification by faith, and to assert before all adversaries that salvation is not of works; but we also confess that we are justified by a faith which produces works, and if any man has a faith which does not produce good works, it is the faith of devils. Saving faith appropriates the finished work of the Lord Jesus, and so saves by itself alone, for we are justified by faith without works; but the faith which is without works cannot bring salvation to any man. We are saved by faith without works, but not by a faith that is without works, for the real faith that saves the soul works by love and purifies the character. If you can cheat across the counter, your hope of heaven is a cheat, too; though you can pray as prettily as anybody, and practise acts of outward piety as well as any other hypocrite, you are deceived if you expect to be right at last. If as a servant you are lazy, lying, and loitering, or if as a master you are hard, tyrannical, and unchristianlike towards your men,your fruit shows that you are a tree of Satan's own orchard, and bear apples which will suit his tooth. If you can practise tricks of trade, and if you can lie,and how many do lie every day about their neighbours or about their goods!you may talk as you like about being justified by faith, but all liars will have their portion in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, and amongst the biggest liars you will be, for you are guilty of the lie of saying, "I am a Christian," whereas you are not. A false profession is one of the worst of lies, since it brings the utmost dishonour upon Christ and His people. The fruit of the righteous is righteousness: the fig tree will not bring forth thorns, neither shall we gather grapes from thistles. The tree is known by its fruit, and if we cannot judge men's hearts, and must not try to do so, we can judge their lives; and I pray God we may all be ready to judge our own lives, and see if we are bringing forth righteous fruit, for if not, we are not righteous men.
Let it, however, never be forgotten that the fruit of the righteous, though it comes from him naturally, for his new-born nature yields the sweet fruit of obedience, yet it is always the result of grace, and the gift of God. No truth ought to be remembered more than this, "From Me is thy fruit found." We can bring forth no fruit except as we abide in Christ. The righteous shall flourish as a branch, and only as a branch. How does a branch flourish? By its connection with the stem, and the consequent inflowing of the sap; and so, though the righteous man's righteous actions are his own, yet they are always produced by the grace which is imparted to him, and he never dares to take any credit for them, but he sings, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give praise." If he fails, he blames himself; if he succeeds, he glorifies God. Imitate his example. Lay every fault, every weakness, every infirmity at your own door; and if you fall in any respect short of perfection,and I am sure you do,take all that to yourself, and do not excuse yourself; but if there be any virtue, any praise, any true desire, any real prayer, anything that is good, ascribe it all to the Spirit of God. Remember, the righteous man would not be righteous unless God had made him righteous, and the fruit of righteousness would never come from him unless the divine sap within him had produced that acceptable fruit. To God alone be all honour and glory.
The main lesson of the passage is that this outburst of life from the Christian, this consequence of life within him, this fruit of his soul becomes a blessing to others. Like a tree, it yields shade and sustenance to all around. It is a tree of life, an expression which I cannot fully work out as I would wish, for there is a world of instruction compressed into the illustration. That which to the believer himself is fruit becomes to others a tree: it is a singular metaphor, but by no means a lame one. From the child of God there falls the fruit of holy living, even as an acorn drops from the oak; this holy living becomes influential and produces the best results in others, even as the acorn becomes itself an oak, and lends its shade to the birds of the air. The Christian's holiness becomes a tree of life. I suppose it means a living tree, a tree calculated to give life and sustain it in others. A fruit becomes a tree! A tree of life! Wonderful result this! Christ in the Christian produces a character which becomes a tree of life. The outward character is the fruit of the inner life; this outer life itself grows from a fruit into a tree, and as a tree it bears fruit in others to the praise and glory of God. Dear brothers and sisters, I know some of God's saints who live very near to Him, and they are evidently a tree of life, for their very shadow is comforting, cooling, and refreshing to many weary souls. I have known the young, the tried, the downcast, go to them, sit beneath their shade, and pour out the tale of their troubles, and they have felt it a rich blessing to receive their sympathy, to be told of the faithfulness of the Lord, and to be guided in the way of wisdom. There are a few good men in this world whom to know is to be rich. Such men are libraries of gospel truth; but they are better than books, for the truth in them is written on living pages. Their character is a true and living tree; it is not a mere post of the dead wood of doctrine, bearing an inscription, and rotting while it does so, but it is a vital, organized, fruit-producing thing, a plant of the Lord's right-hand planting.
Not only do some saints give comfort to others, but they also yield them spiritual nourishment. Well-trained Christians become nursing fathers and nursing mothers, strengthening the weak, and binding up the wounds of the broken-hearted. So, too, the strong, bold, generous deeds of large-hearted Christians are of great service to their fellow-Christians, and tend to raise them to a higher level. You feel refreshed by observing how they act; their patience in suffering, their courage in danger, their holy faith in God, their happy faces under trial,all these nerve you for your own conflicts. In a thousand ways, the sanctified believer's example acts in a healing and comforting way to his brethren, and assists in raising them above anxiety and unbelief. Even as the leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations, so the words and deeds of saints are medicine for a thousand maladies.
And then what fruit, sweet to the taste of the godly, instructed believers bear! We can never trust in men as we trust in the Lord, but the Lord can cause the members to bless us in their measure, even as their Head is ever ready to do. Jesus alone is the Tree of Life, but He makes some of His servants to be instrumentally to us little trees of life, by whom He gives us fruit of the same sort that He bears Himself, for He puts it there, and it is Himself in His saints causing them to bring forth golden apples, with which our souls are gladdened. May we every one of us be made like our Lord, and may His fruit be found upon our boughs!
We have put into the tomb many of the saints who have fallen asleep, and among them there were some of whom I will not at this moment speak particularly, whose lives as I look back upon them are still a tree of life to me. I pray God that I may be like them. Many of you knew them, and if you will only recall their holy, devoted lives, the influence they have left behind will still be a tree of life to you. They being dead yet speak; hear ye their eloquent exhortations! Even in their ashes live their wonted fires; kindle your souls at their warmth. Their noble examples are the endowments of the church, her children are ennobled and enriched as they remember their walk of faith and labour of love. Beloved, may we every one of us be true benedictions to the churches in whose gardens we are planted! "Oh!" says one, "I am afraid I am not much like a tree, for I feel so weak and insignificant." If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you have the commencement of the tree beneath whose branches the birds of the air will yet find a lodging. The very birds that would have eaten the tiny seed come and find lodgment in the tree which grows out of it; and people who despise and mock at you, now that you are a young beginner, will one of these days, if God blesses you, be glad to borrow comfort from your example and experience.
But one other thought on this point. Remember that the completeness and development of the holy life will be seen above. There is a city of which it is written, "In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life." The tree of life is a heavenly plant, and so the fruit of the Christian is a thing of heaven; though not transplanted to the glory land, it is getting fit for its final abode. What is holiness but heaven on earth? What is living unto God but the essence of heaven? What are uprightness, integrity, Christ-likeness? Have not these even more to do with heaven than harps and palms and streets of purest gold? Holiness, purity, loveliness of character,these make a heaven within a man's own bosom; and even if there were no place called heaven, that heart would have a heavenly happiness which is set free from sin, and made like the Lord Jesus. See, then, dear brethren, what an important thing it is for us to be indeed righteous before God, for then the outcome of that righteousness shall be fruit which will be a tree of life to others, and a tree of life in heaven above, world without end. O blessed Spirit, make it so, and Thou shalt have all the praise!
II. This brings us to our second head. THE PURSUIT OF THE BELIEVER SHOULD BE SOULWINNING. For "he that winneth souls is wise. The two things are put togetherthe life first, the effort next: what God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.
It is implied in our text that there are souls which need winning. Ah, me! all souls of men are lost by nature, You might walk through the streets of London, and say, with sighs and tears, of the masses of men you meet upon those crowded pavements, "Lost, lost, lost!" Wherever Christ is not trusted, and the Spirit has not created a new heart, and the soul has not come to the great Father, there is a lost soul. But here is the mercythese lost souls can be won. They are not hopelessly lost; not yet has God determined that they shall for ever abide as they are. It is not yet said, "He that is filthy, let him be filthy still;" but they are in the land of hope where mercy may reach them, for they are spoken of as capable of being won. They may yet be delivered, but the phrase hints that it will need all our efforts: "He that winneth souls."
What do we mean by that word win? We use it in love-making. We speak of the bridegroom who wins his bride; and sometimes there is a large expense of love, many a pleading word, and many a wooing act, ere yet the valued heart is all the suitor's own. I use this explanation because in some respects it is the very best, for souls will have to be won for Christ in this fashion, that they may be espoused unto Him. We must make love to the sinner for Christ; that is how hearts are to be won for Him. Jesus is the Bridegroom, and we must speak for Him, and tell of His beauty, as Abraham's servant, when he went to seek a wife for Isaac, acted as a wooer in his stead. Have you never read the story? Then turn to it when you get home, and see how he talked about his master, what possessions he had, and how Isaac was to be heir of it all, and so on, and then he finished his address by urging Rebecca to go with him. The question was put home to her, "Wilt thou go with this man?" So the minister's business is to commend his Master and his Master's riches, and then to say to souls, "Will you be wedded to Christ?" He who can succeed in this very delicate business is a wise man.
We also use the term in a military fashion. We speak of winning a city, a castle, or a battle. We do not win victories by going to sleep. Believe me, castles are not captured by men who are only half awake. To win a battle, needs the best skill, the greatest endurance, and the utmost courage. To storm fortresses, which are regarded as almost impregnable, men need to burn the midnight oil, and study well the arts of attack; and, when the time comes for the assault, not a soldier must be a laggard, but all force of artillery and manhood must be brought to bear on the point assailed. To carry man's heart by main force of grace, to capture it, to break down the bars of brass and dash the gates of iron in pieces, requires the exercise of a skill which only Christ can give. To bring up the big battering-rams, and shake every stone in the sinner's conscience, to make his heart rock and reel within him for fear of the wrath to come,in a word, to assail a soul with all the artillery of the gospel, needs a wise man, and one fully aroused to his work. To hold up the white flag of mercy, and, if that be despised, to use the battering-ram of threatening until a breach is made, and then, with the sword of the Spirit in his hand, to capture the city, to tear down the black flag of sin, and run up the banner of the cross, needs all the force the choicest preacher can command, and a great deal more. Those whose souls are as cold as the Arctic regions, and whose energy is reduced to the vanishing point, are not likely to take the city of Mansoul for Prince Emmanuel. If you think you are going to win souls, you must throw your soul into your work, just as a warrior must throw his soul into a battle, or victory will not be yours.
We use the words "to win" in reference to making a fortune, and we all know that the man who becomes a millionaire has to rise up early, and sit up late, and eat the bread of carefulness, and it takes a deal of toiling and saving, and I know not what besides, to amass immense wealth. We have to go in for winning souls with the same ardour and concentration of our faculties as old Astor of New York went in to build up that fortune of so many millions which he has now left behind him. It is, indeed, a race, and you know that, in a race, nobody wins unless he strains every muscle and sinew. "They that run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize;" and that one is generally he who had more strength than the rest; certainly, whether he had more strength or not, he put out all he had, and we shall not win souls unless we imitate him in this.
Solomon in the text declares that, "He that winneth souls is wise," and such a declaration is all the more valuable as coming from so wise a man. Let me show you why a soul-winner is wise. First, he must be taught of God before he will attempt it. The man who does not know that, whereas he was once blind, now he sees, had better think of his own blindness before he attempts to lead his friends in the right way. If not saved yourself, you cannot be the means of saving others. He that winneth souls must be wise unto salvation first for himself.
That being taken for granted, he is a wise man to select such a pursuit. Young man, are you choosing an object worthy to be the great aim of your life? I do hope you will judge wisely, and select a noble ambition. If God has given you great gifts, I hope they will not be wasted on any low, sordid, or selfish design. Suppose I am now addressing one who has great talents, and has an opportunity of being what he likes, of going into Parliament, and helping to pass great measures, or of going into business, and making himself a man of importance; I hope he will weigh the claims of Jesus and immortal souls as well as other claims. Shall I addict myself to study? Shall I surrender myself to business? Shall I travel? Shall I spend my time in pleasure? Shall I become the principal fox-hunter of the county? Shall I lay out my time in promoting political and social reforms? Think them all over; but if you are a Christian man, my dear friend, nothing will equal in enjoyment, in usefulness, in honour, and in lasting recompense the giving yourself up to the winning of souls. Oh, it is grand hunting, I can tell you, and beats all the fox-hunting in the world in excitement and exhilaration! Have I not sometimes gone with a cry over hedge and ditch after some poor sinner, and kept well up with him in every twist and turn he took, till I have overtaken him by God's grace, and been in at the death, and rejoiced exceedingly when I have seen him captured by my Master? Our Lord Jesus calls His ministers fishermen, and no other fishermen have such labour, such sorrow, and such delight as we have. What a happy thing it is that you may win souls for Jesus, and may do this though you abide in your secular callings! Some of you would never win souls in pulpits; it would be a great pity if you tried, but you can win souls in the workshop, and in the laundry, in the nursery, and in the drawing-room. Our hunting grounds are everywhere: by the wayside, by the fireside, in the corner, and in the crowd. Among the common people Jesus is our theme, and among the great ones we have no other. You will be wise, my brother, if for you the one absorbing desire is that you may turn the ungodly from the error of their ways. For you there will be a crown glittering with many stars, which you shall cast at Jesus' feet in the day of His appearing.
Further, it is not only wise to make this your aim, but you will have to be very wise if you succeed in it because the souls to be won are so different in their constitutions, feelings, and conditions, and you will have to adapt yourselves to them all. The trappers of North America have to find out the habits of the animals they wish to catch, and so you will have to learn how to deal with each class of cases. Some are very depressed, you will have to comfort them. Perhaps you will comfort them too much, and make them unbelieving; and, therefore, possibly, instead of comforting them, you will need sometimes to administer a sharp word to cure the sulkiness into which they have fallen. Another person may be frivolous, and if you put on a serious face you will frighten your bird away; you will have to be cheerful, and drop a word of admonition as if by accident. Some people, again, will not let you speak to them, but will talk to you; you must know the art of putting a word in edgeways. You will have to be very wise, and become all things to all men, and your success will prove your wisdom. Theories of dealing with souls may look very wise, but they often prove to be useless when actually tried: he who by God's grace accomplishes the work is a wise man, though perhaps he knows no theory whatever. This work will need all your wit, and far more, and you will have to cry to the great Winner of souls above to give you of His Holy Spirit.
But, mark you, he that wins souls is wise, because he is engaged in a business which makes men wiser as thy proceed with it. You will bungle at first, and very likely drive sinners off from Christ by your attempts to draw them to Him. I have tried to move some souls with all my might with a certain passage of Scripture, but they have taken it in an opposite light to what it was intended, and have started off in the wrong direction. It is very difficult to know how to act with bewildered enquirers. If you want some people to go forward, you must pull them backwards; if you want them to go to the right, you must insist upon their going to the left, and then they go to the right directly. You must be ready for these follies of poor human nature. I knew a poor aged Christian woman who had been a child of God fifty years, but she was in a state of melancholy and distress, from which nobody could arouse her. I called several times, and endeavoured to cheer her up, but generally when I left she was worse than before. So, the next time I called to see her, I did not say anything to her about Christ or religion. She soon introduced those topics herself, and then I remarked that I was not going to talk to her about such holy things, for she did not know anything about them, for she was not a believer in Christ, and had been, no doubt, a hypocrite for many years. She could not stand that, and asserted, in self-defence, that the Lord above knew her better than I did, and He was her witness that she did love the Lord Jesus Christ. She scarcely forgave herself afterwards for that admission, but she could never talk to me quite so despairingly any more. True lovers of men's souls learn the art of dealing with them, and the Holy Spirit makes them expert soul-surgeons for Jesus. It is not because a man has more abilities, nor altogether because he has more grace, but the Lord makes him to love the souls of men intensely, and this imparts a secret skill, since, for the most part, the way to get sinners to Christ is to love them to Christ.
Beloved brethren, I will say, once more, he who really wins souls for Jesus, however he wins them, is a wise man. Some of you are slow to admit this. You say,"Well, So-and-so, I daresay, has been very useful, but he is very rough." What does his roughness matter if he wins souls? "Ah!" says another, "but I am not built up under him." Why do you go to hear him to get built up? If the Lord has sent him to pull down, let him pull down, and do you go elsewhere for edification; but do not grumble at a man who does one work because he cannot do another. We are also too apt to pit one minister against another, and say, "You should hear my minister." Perhaps we should, but it would be better for you to hear the man who edifies you, and let others go where they also are instructed. "He that winneth souls is wise." I do not ask you how he did it. He sang the gospel, and you did not like it; but if he won souls, he was wise. Soul-winners have all their own ways; and if they do but win souls, they are wise. I will tell you what is not wise, and will not be thought so at the last, namely, to go about the churches, doing nothing yourself, and railing at all the Lord's useful servants.
Here is a dear brother on his dying bed, he has the sweet thought that the Lord enabled him to bring many souls to Jesus, and the expectation when he comes to the gates that many spirits will come to meet him. They will throng the ascent to the New Jerusalem, and welcome the man who brought them to Jesus. They are immortal monuments to his labours. He is wise. Here is another who has spent all his time in interpreting the prophecies, so that everything he read of in the newspapers he could see in Daniel or the Revelation. He is wise, so some say, but I had rather spend my time in winning souls. I would sooner bring one sinner to Jesus Christ than unpick all the mysteries of the divine Word, for salvation is the thing we are to live for. I would to God that I understood all mysteries, yet chief of all would I proclaim the mystery of soul-saving by faith in the blood of the Lamb. It is comparatively a small matter for a minister to have been a staunch upholder of orthodoxy all his days, and to have spent himself in keeping up the hedges of his church; soul-winning is the main concern. It is a very good thing to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints; but I do not think I should like to say in my last account, "Lord, I have lived to fight the Romanists and the State Church, and to put down the various erroneous sects, but I never led a sinner to the cross." No, we will fight the good fight of faith, but the winning of souls is the greater matter, and he who attends to it is wise. Another brother has preached the truth, but he did so polish up his sermons that the gospel was hidden. Never a sermon was fit to preach, he thought, until he had written it out a dozen times to see whether every sentence would be according to the canons of Cicero and Quintillian, and then he went and delivered the gospel as a grand oration. Is that wise? Well, it takes a wise man to be a thorough orator; but it is better not to be an orator if fine speech prevents your being understood. Let eloquence be flung to the dogs rather than souls be lost. What we want is to win souls, and they are not to be won by flowery speeches. We must have the winning of souls at heart, and be red hot with zeal for their salvation; and then, however much we blunder, according to the critics, we shall be numbered among those whom the Lord calls wise.
Now, Christian men and women, I want you to take this matter up practically, and to determine that you will try this very night to win a soul. Try the one next to you in the seat if you cannot think of anybody else. Try on the way home; try with your own children. Have I not told you of what happened one Sunday evening? In my sermon I said, "Now, you mothers, have you ever prayed with each of your children, one by one, and urged them to lay hold on Christ? Perhaps dear Jane is now in bed, and you have never yet pleaded with her about eternal things. Go home to-night, wake her up, and say, 'Jane, I am sorry I have never told you about the Saviour personally, and prayed with you, but I mean to do it now.' Wake her up, and put your arms round her neck, and pour out your heart to God with her." Well, there was a good sister here who had a daughter named Jane. What do you think? She came on Monday to bring her daughter Jane to see me in the vestry, for when she woke her up, and began, "I have not spoken to you about Jesus," or something to that effect, "Oh, dear mother!" said Jane, "I have loved the Saviour these six months, and wondered you had not spoken to me about Him;" and then there was great kissing and rejoicing. Perhaps you may find that to be the case with a dear child at home; and, if you do not, so much the more reason why you should begin at once to speak. Did you never win a soul for Jesus? You shall have a crown in heaven, but no jewels in it. You will go to heaven childless; and you know how it was in the old times, how the women dreaded lest they should be childless. Let it be so with Christian people; let them dread being spiritually childless. We must hear the cries of those whom God has given to be born unto Himself by our means. We must hear them, or else cry out in anguish, "Give me converts, or I die." Young men, and old men, and sisters of all ages, if you love the Lord, get a passion for souls. Do you not see them? They are going down to hell by thousands; as often as the hand upon the dial completes its circuit, hell devours multitudes, some of them ignorant of Christ, and others wilfully rejecting Him. The world lies in darkness: this great city still pines for the light your own friends and kinsfolk are unsaved, and they may be dead ere this week is over. Oh, if you have any humanity, let alone Christianity, if you have found the remedy, tell the diseased about it! If you have found life, proclaim it to the dead; if you have found liberty, publish it to the captives; if you have found Christ, tell of Him to others. My brethren in the College, let this be your choice work while studying, and let it be the one object of your lives when you go forth from us. Do not be content when you get a congregation, but labour to win souls; and as you do this, God will bless you. As for us, we hope during the rest of our lives to follow Him who is The Soul-Winner, and to put ourselves in His hands who maketh us soul-winners, so that our life may not be a long folly, but may be proved by results to have been directed by wisdom.
O you souls not won to Jesus, remember that faith in Christ saves you! Trust in Him. May you be led to trust in Him, for His name's sake! Amen.
Chapter 12: Soul-Winning Explained
"He that winneth souls is wise."Proverbs 11:30.
THE text does not say, "He that winneth sovereigns is wise," though no doubt he thinks himself wise, and perhaps, in a certain grovelling sense, in these days of competition, he must be so; but such wisdom is of the earth, and ends with the earth; and there is another world where the currencies of Europe will not be accepted, nor their past possession be any sign of wealth or wisdom. Solomon, in the text before us, awards no crown for wisdom to crafty statesmen, or even to the ablest of rulers; he issues no diplomas even to philosophers, poets, or men of wit; he crowns with laurel only those who win souls. He does not declare that he who preaches is necessarily wise; and alas! there are multitudes who preach, and gain much applause and eminence, who win no souls, and who shall find it go hard with them at the last, because in all probability they have run and the Master has never sent them. Solomon does not say that he who talks about winning souls is wise, since to lay down rules for others is a very simple thing, but to carry them out one's self is far more difficult. He who actually, really, and truly turns men from the error of their ways to God, and so is made the means of saving them from going down to hell, is a wise man; and that is true of him whatever his style of soul-winning may be. He may be a Paul, deeply logical, profound in doctrine, able to command all candid judgments; and if he thus wins souls, he is wise. He may be an Apollos, grandly rhetorical, whose lofty genius soars into the very heaven of eloquence; and if he wins souls in that way, he is wise, but not otherwise. Or he may be a Cephas, rough and rugged, using uncouth metaphor and stern declamation; but, if he wins souls, he is no less wise than his polished brother or his argumentative friend, but not else. The great wisdom of soul-winners, according to the text, is proven only by their actual success in really winning souls. To their own Master they are accountable for the ways in which they go to work, not to us. Do not let us be comparing and contrasting this minister and that. Who art thou that judgest another man's servants? Wisdom is justified in all her children. Only children wrangle about incidental methods: men look at sublime results. Do these workers of many sorts and divers manners win souls? Then they are wise; and you who criticise them, being yourselves unfruitful, cannot be wise, even though you affect to be their judges. God proclaims soul-winners to be wise, dispute it who dare. This degree from the College of Heaven may surely stand them in good stead, let their fellow-mortals say what they will of them.
"He that winneth souls is wise," and this can be seen very clearly. He must be a wise man in even ordinary respects who can by grace achieve so divine a marvel. Great soul-winners never have been fools. A man whom God qualifies to win souls could probably do anything else which providence might allot him. Take Martin Luther, for instance. Why, sirs, the man was not only fit to work a Reformation, but he could have ruled a nation or have commanded an army! Think of Whitefield, and remember that the thundering eloquence which stirred all England was not associated with a weak judgment, or an absence of brain-power; the man was a master-orator, and if he had addicted himself to commerce, would have taken a chief place amongst the merchants, or had he been a politician, amid admiring senates would have commanded the listening ear. He that winneth souls is usually a man who could have done anything else if God had called him to it. I know the Lord uses what means He wills, but He always uses means suitable to the end; and if you tell me that David slew Goliath with a sling, I answerit was the best weapon in the world to reach so tall a giant, and the very fittest weapon that David could have used, for he had been skilled in it from his youth up. There is always an adaptation in the instruments which God uses to produce the ordained result; and though the glory is not to them, nor the excellence in them, but all is to be ascribed to God, yet is there a fitness and preparedness which God seeth, even if we do not. It is assuredly true that soul-winners are by no means idiots or simpletons, but such as God maketh wise for Himself, though vain-glorious wise-acres may dub them fools.
"He that winneth souls is wise," because he has selected a wise object. I think it was Michael Angelo who once carved certain magnificent statues in snow. They are gone; the material readily compacted by the frost as readily melted in the heat. Far wiser was he when he fashioned the enduring marble, and produced works which will last all down the ages. But even marble itself is consumed and fretted by the tooth of time; and he is wise who selects for his raw material immortal souls, whose existence shall outlast the stars. If God shall bless us to the winning of souls, our work shall remain when the wood, and hay, and stubble of earth's art and science shall have gone to the dust from which they sprang. In heaven itself, the soul-winner, blessed of God, shall have memorials of his work preserved for ever in the galleries of the skies. He has selected a wise object, for what can be wiser than to glorify God, and what, next to that, can be wiser than in the highest sense to bless our fellow-men; to snatch a soul from the gulf that yawns, to lift it up to the heaven that glorifies; to deliver an immortal from the thraldom of Satan, and to bring him into the liberty of Christ? What more excellent than this? I say, that such an aim would commend itself to all right minds, and that angels themselves may envy us poor sons of men that we are permitted to make this our life-object, to win souls for Jesus Christ. Wisdom herself assents to the excellence of the design.
To accomplish such a work, a man must he wise, for to win a soul requires infinite wisdom. God Himself wins not souls without wisdom, for the eternal plan of salvation was dictated by an infallible judgment, and in every line of it infinite skill is apparent. Christ, God's great Soul-Winner, is "the wisdom of God" as well as "the power of God." There is as much wisdom to be seen in the new creation as in the old. In a sinner saved, there is as much of God to be beheld as in a universe rising out of nothing; and we, then, who are to be workers together with God, proceeding side by side with Him to the great work of soul-winning, must be wise, too. It is a work which filled the Saviour's heart, a work which moved the mind of the Eternal Jehovah or ever the earth was. It is no child's play, nor a thing to be achieved while we are half asleep, nor to be attempted without deep consideration, nor to be carried on without gracious help from the only-wise God, our Saviour. The pursuit is wise.
Mark ye well, my brethren, that he who is successful in soul-winning, will prove to have been a wise man in the judgment of those who see the end as well as the beginning. Even if I were utterly selfish, and had no care for anything but my own happiness, I would choose, if I might, under God, to be a soul-winner, for never did I know perfect, overflowing, unutterable happiness of the purest and most ennobling order, till I first heard of one who had sought and found a Saviour through my means. I recollect the thrill of joy which went through me! No young mother ever rejoiced so much over her first-born child, no warrior was so exultant over a hard-won victory. Oh! the joy of knowing that a sinner once at enmity has been reconciled to God, by the Holy Spirit, through the words spoken by our feeble lips. Since then, by grace given to me, the thought of which prostrates me in self-abasement, I have seen and heard of, not hundreds only, but even thousands of sinners turned from the error of their ways by the testimony of God in me. Let afflictions come, let trials be multiplied as God willeth, still this joy preponderates above all others, the joy that we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ in every place, and that as often as we preach the Word, hearts are unlocked, bosoms heave with a new life, eyes weep for sin, and their tears are wiped away as they see the great Substitute for sin, and live.
Beyond all controversy, it is a joy worth worlds to win souls, and, thank God, it is a joy that does not cease with this mortal life. It must be no small bliss to hear, as one wings his flight up to the eternal throne, the wings of others fluttering at one's side towards the same glory, and turning round and questioning them, to hear them say, "We are entering with you through the gates of pearl, you brought us to the Saviour," and to be welcomed to the skies by those who call us father in God,father in better bonds than those of earth, father through grace and sire for immortality. It will be bliss beyond compare, to meet in yon eternal seats with those begotten of us in Christ Jesus, for whom we travailed in birth, till Christ was formed in them the hope of glory. This is to have many heavens,a heaven in every one won for Christ, according to the Master's promise, "they that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever."
I have said enough, brethren, I trust, to make some of you desire to occupy the position of soul-winners: but before I further address myself to my text, I should like to remind you that the honour does not belong to ministers only; they may take their full share of it, but it belongs to every one of you who have devoted yourselves to Christ: such honour have all the saints. Every man here, every woman here, every child here, whose heart is right with God, may be a soul-winner. There is no man placed by God's providence where he cannot do some good. There is not a glowworm under a hedge but gives a needed light; and there is not a labouring man, a suffering woman, a servant-girl, a chimney-sweeper, or a crossing-sweeper, but has some opportunities for serving God; and what I have said of soul-winners, belongs not to the learned doctor of divinity, or to the eloquent preacher alone, but to you all who are in Christ Jesus. You can each of you, if grace enables you, be thus wise, and win the happiness of turning souls to Christ through the Holy Spirit.
I am about to dwell upon my text in this wayHe that winneth souls is wise; "I shall, first, make that fact stand out a little clearer by explaining the metaphor used in the textwinning souls; and then, secondly, by giving you some lessons in the matter of soul-winning, through which I trust the conviction will be forced upon each believing mind that the work needs the highest wisdom.
I. First, LET US CONSIDER THE METAPHOR USED IN THE TEXT: "He that winneth souls is wise."
We use the word "win" in many ways. It is sometimes found in very bad company, in those games of chance, juggling tricks and sleight-of-hand, or thimble-rigging (to use a plain word), by which sharpers are so fond of winning. I am sorry to say that much of legerdemain and trickery are to be met with in the religious world. Why, there are those who pretend to save souls by curious tricks, intricate manoeuvres, and dexterous posture-making! A basin of water, half-a-dozen drops, certain syllablesheigh, prestothe infant is made a child of God, a member of Christ, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven! This aqueous regeneration surpasses my belief; it is a trick which I do not understand: the initiated only can perform the beautiful piece of magic, which excels anything ever attempted by the Wizard of the North. There is a way, too, of winning souls by laying hands upon heads, only the elbows of the aforesaid hands must be encased in lawn, and then the machinery acts, and there is grace conferred by blessed fingers! I must confess I do not understand the occult science, but at this I need not wonder, for the profession of saving souls by such juggling can only be carried out by certain favoured persons who have received apostolical succession direct from Judas Iscariot. This episcopal confirmation, when men pretend that it confers grace, is an infamous piece of juggling. The whole thing is an abomination. Only to think that, in this nineteenth century, there should be men who preach lip salvation by sacraments, and salvation by themselves, forsooth! Why, sirs, it is surely too late in the day to come to us with this drivel! Priestcraft, let us hope, is an anachronism, and the sacramental theory out of date. These things might have done for those who could not read, and in the days when books were scarce; but ever since the day when the glorious Luther was helped by God to proclaim with thunder-claps the emancipating truth, "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God," there has been too much light for these Popish owls. Let them go back to their ivy-mantled towers, and complain to the moon of those who spoiled of old their kingdom of darkness. Let shaven crowns go to Bedlam, and scarlet hats to the scarlet harlot, but let not Englishmen yield them respect. Modern Tractarianism is a bastard Popery, too mean, too shifty, too double-dealing to delude men of honest minds. If we win souls, it shall be by other arts than Jesuits and shavelings can teach us. Trust not in any man who pretends to priesthood. Priests are liars by trade, and deceivers by profession. We cannot save souls in their theatrical way, and do not want to do so, for we know that with such jugglery as that, Satan will hold the best hand, and laugh at priests as he turns the cards against them at the last.
How do we win souls, then? Why, the word "win" has a better meaning far. It is used in warfare. Warriors win cities and provinces. Now, to win a soul, is a much more difficult thing than to win a city. Observe the earnest soul-winner at his work; how cautiously he seeks his great Captain's directions to know when to hang out the white flag to invite the heart to surrender to the sweet love of a dying Saviour; when, at the proper time, to hang out the black flag of threatening, showing that, if grace be not received, judgment will surely follow; and when to unfurl, with dread reluctance, the red flag of the terrors of God against stubborn, impenitent souls. The soul-winner has to sit down before a soul as a great captain before a walled town; to draw his lines of circumvallation, to cast up his entrenchments, and fix his batteries. He must not advance too fast, or he may overdo the fighting; he must not move too slowly, or he may seem not to be in earnest, and may do mischief. Then he must know which gate to attackhow to plant his guns at Ear-gate, and how to discharge them; how, sometimes, to keep the batteries going, day and night, with red-hot shot, if perhaps he may make a breach in the walls; at other times, to lie by and cease firing, and then, on a sudden, to open all the batteries with terrific violence, if peradventure he may take the soul by surprise, or cast in a truth when it was not expected, to burst like a shell in the soul, and do damage to the dominions of sin. The Christian soldier must know how to advance by little and little,to sap that prejudice, to undermine that old enmity, to blow into the air that lust, and at the last, to storm the citadel. It is his to throw the scaling ladder up, and to have his ears gladdened as he hears a clicking on the wall of the heart, telling that the scaling ladder has grasped and has gained firm hold; and then, with his sabre between his teeth, to climb up, spring on the man, slay his unbelief in the name of God, capture the city, run up the blood-red flag of the cross of Christ, and say, "The heart is won, won for Christ at last." This needs a warrior well-trained, a master in his art. After many days attack, many weeks of waiting, many an hour of storming by prayer and battering by entreaty, to carry the Malakoff of depravity, this is the work, this is the difficulty. It takes no fool to do this. God's grace must make a man wise thus to capture Mansoul, to lead its captivity captive, and open wide the heart's gates that the Prince Immanuel may come in. This is winning a soul.
The word "win" was commonly used among the ancients, to signify winning in the wrestling match. When the Greek sought to win the laurel, or the ivy crown, he was compelled a long time before to put himself through a course of training; and when he came forth at last stripped for the encounter, he had no sooner exercised himself in the first few efforts than you saw how every muscle and every nerve had been developed in him. He had a stern opponent, and he knew it, and therefore left none of his energy unused. While the wrestling was going on, you could see the man's eye, how he watched every motion, every feint of his antagonist, and how his hand, his foot, and his whole body were thrown into the encounter. He feared to meet with a fall: he hoped to give one to his foe. Now, a true soul-winner has often to come to close quarters with the devil within men. He has to struggle with their prejudice, with their love of sin, with their unbelief, with their pride, and then again, all of a sudden, to grapple with their despair; at one moment he strives with their self-righteousness, at the next moment with their unbelief in God. Ten thousand arts are used to prevent the soul-winner from being conqueror in the encounter; but if God has sent him, he will never renounce his hold of the soul he seeks till he has given a throw to the power of sin, and won another soul for Christ.
Besides that, there is another meaning to the word "win" upon which I cannot expatiate here. We use the word, you know, in a softer sense than these which have been mentioned, when we come to deal with hearts. There are secret and mysterious ways by which those who love win the object of their affection, which are wise in their fitness to the purpose. I cannot tell you how the lover wins his fond one, but experience has probably taught you. The weapon of this warfare is not always the same, yet where that victory is won the wisdom of the means becomes clear to every eye. The weapon of love is sometimes a look, or a soft word whispered and eagerly listened to; sometimes it is a tear; but this I know, that we have, most of us in our turn, cast around another heart a chain which that other would not care to break, and which has linked us twain in a blessed captivity which has cheered our life. Yes, and that is very nearly the way in which we have to save souls. That illustration is nearer the mark than any of the others. Love is the true way of soul-winning, for when I spoke of storming the walls, and when I spoke of wrestling, those were but metaphors, but this is near the fact. We win by love. We win hearts for Jesus by love, by sympathy with their sorrow, by anxiety lest they should perish, by pleading with God for them with all our hearts that they should not be left to die unsaved, by pleading with them for God that, for their own sake, they would seek mercy and find grace. Yes, sirs, there is a spiritual wooing and winning of hearts for the Lord Jesus; and if you would learn the way, you must ask God to give you a tender heart and a sympathising soul. I believe that much of the secret of soul-winning lies in having bowels of compassion, in having spirits that can be touched with the feeling of human infirmities. Carve a preacher out of granite, and even if you give him an angel's tongue, he will convert nobody. Put him into the most fashionable pulpit, make his elocution faultless, and his matter profoundly orthodox, but so long as he bears within his bosom a hard heart he can never win a soul. Soul-saving requires a heart that beats hard against the ribs. It requires a soul full of the milk of human kindness; this is the sine qua non of success. This is the chief natural qualification for a soul-winner, which, under God, and blessed of Him, will accomplish wonders.
I have not looked at the Hebrew of the text, but I find-and you who have marginal references to your Bibles will findthat it is, "He that taketh souls is wise," which word refers to fishing, or to bird-catching. Every Sunday, when I leave my house, as I come along, I cannot help seeing men, with their cages and their captive birds, trying all around the common, and in the fields, to catch poor little warblers. They understand the method of alluring and entrapping their victims. Soul-winners might learn much from them. We must have our lures for souls, adapted to attract, to fascinate, to grasp. We must go forth with our bird-lime, our decoys, our nets, our baits, so that we may but catch the souls of men. Their enemy is a fowler possessed of the basest and most astounding cunning; we must outwit him with the guile of honesty, the craft of grace. But the art is to be learned only by divine teaching, and herein we must be wise and willing to learn.
The man who takes fish must also have some art in him. Washington Irving, I think it is, tells us of some three gentlemen who had read in Izaak Walton all about the delights of fishing. So they must needs enter upon the same amusement, and accordingly they became disciples of the gentle art. They went into New York, and bought the best rods and lines that could be purchased, and they found out the exact fly for the particular day or month, so that the fish might bite at once, and as it were fly into the basket with alacrity. They fished, and fished, and fished the live-long day; but the basket was empty. They were getting disgusted with a sport that had no sport in it, when a ragged boy came down from the hills, without shoes or stockings, and humiliated them to the last degree. He had a bit of a bough pulled off a tree, and a piece of string, and a bent pin; he put a worm on it, threw it in, and out came a fish directly, as if it were a needle drawn to a magnet. In again went the line, and out came another fish, and so on, till his basket was quite full. They asked him how he did it. Ah! he said, he could not tell them that, but it was easy enough when you had the way of it.
Much the same is it in fishing for men. Some preachers who have silk lines and fine rods, preach very eloquently and exceedingly gracefully, but they never win souls. I know not how it is, but another man comes, with very simple language, but with a warm heart, and, straightway, men are converted to God. Surely there must be a sympathy between the minister and the souls he would win. God gives to those whom He makes soul-winners a natural love to their work, and a spiritual fitness for it. There is a sympathy between those who are to be blessed and those who are to be the means of blessing, and very much by this sympathy, under God, souls are taken but it is as clear as noonday that, to be a fisher of men a man must be wise. "He that winneth souls is wise."
II. And now, brethren and sisters, you who are engaged in the Lord's work from week to week, and who seek to win men's souls to Christ, I am, in the second place, to illustrate this by telling you of SOME OF THE WAYS BY WHICH SOULS ARE TO BE WON.
The preacher himself wins souls best, I believe, when he believes in the reality of his work,when he believes in instantaneous conversions. How can he expect God to do what he does not believe God will do? He succeeds best who expects conversion every time he preaches. According to his faith so shall it be done unto him. To be content without conversions, is the surest way never to have them; to drive with a single aim entirely at the saving of souls, is the surest method of usefulness. If we sigh and cry till men are saved, saved they will be.
He will succeed best, who keeps closest to soul-saving truth. Now, all truth is not soul-saving, though all truth may be edifying. He that keeps to the simple story of the cross, tells men over and over again that whosoever believeth in Christ is not condemned, that to be saved, nothing is wanted but a simple trust in the crucified Redeemer; he whose ministry is much made up of the glorious story of the cross, the sufferings of the dying Lamb, the mercy of God, the willingness of the great Father to receive returning prodigals; he who cries, in fact, from day to day, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world," he is likely to be a soulwinner, especially if he adds to this much prayer for souls, much anxious desire that men may be brought to Jesus) and then in his private life seeks as much as in his public ministry to be telling out to others of the love of the dear Saviour of men.
But I am not talking to ministers, but to you who sit in the pew, and therefore to you let me turn myself more directly. Brothers and sisters, you have different gifts. I hope you use them all. Perhaps some of you, though members of the church, think you have none; but every believer has his gift, and his portion of work. What can you do to win souls?
Let me recommend to those who think they can do nothing, the bringing of others to hear the Word. That is a duty much neglected. I can hardly ask you to bring anybody here, but many of you attend other places which are not perhaps half filled. Fill them. Do not grumble at the small congregation, but make it larger. Take somebody with you to the very next sermon, and at once the congregation will be increased. Go up with the prayer that your minister's sermon may be blessed, and if you cannot yourselves preach, yet, by bringing others under the sound of the Word, you may be doing what is next best. This is a very common-place and simple remark, but let me press it upon you, for it is of great practical value. Many churches and chapels, which are almost empty, might soon have large audiences if those who profit by the Word would tell others about the blessing they have received, and induce them to attend the same ministry. Especially in this London of ours, where so many will not go up to the house of God, persuade your neighbours to come forth to the place of worship; look after them, make them feel that it is a wrong thing to stop at home on the Sunday from morning till night. I do not say, upbraid them, that does little good; but I do say, entice them, persuade them. Let them have your tickets for the Tabernacle, for instance, sometimes, or stand in the aisles yourself, and let them have your seat. Get them under the Word, and who knoweth what may be the result? Oh, what a blessing it would be to you if you heard that what you could not do,for you could scarcely speak for Christ,was done by your pastor, by the power of the Holy Spirit, through your inducing one to come within gunshot of the gospel!
Next to that, soul-winners, try after sermon to talk to strangers. The preacher may have missed the mark, but you need not miss it; or the preacher may have struck the mark, and you can help to make the impression deeper by a kind word. I recollect several persons joining the church who traced their conversion to the ministry in the Surrey Music Hall- but who said it was not that alone, but another agency co-operating therewith. They were fresh from the country, and some good man,I knew him well,think he is in heaven now,met them at the gate, spoke to them, said he hoped they had enjoyed what they had heard, heard their answer, asked them if they were coming in the evening, said he would be glad if they would drop into his house to tea; they did, and he had a word with them about the Master. The next Sunday it was the same, and at last, those whom the sermons had not much impressed, were brought to hear with other ears, till by-and-by, through the good old man's persuasive words, and the good Lord's gracious work, they were converted to God. There is a fine hunting-ground here, and indeed in every large congregation, for you who really want to do good. How many come into this house every morning and evening with no thought about receiving Christ! Oh, if you would all help me, you who love the Master, if you would all help me by speaking to your neighbours who sit near to you, how much might be accomplished! Never let anybody say, "I came to the Tabernacle three months, and nobody spoke to me;" but do, by a sweet familiarity, which ought always to be allowable in the house of God, seek with your whole heart to impress upon your friends the truth which I can only put into the ear, but which God may help you to put into the heart.
Further, let me commend to you, dear friends, the art of button-holing acquaintances and relatives. If you cannot preach to a hundred, preach to one. Get a hold of the man alone, and in love, quietly and prayerfully, talk to him. "One!" say you. Well, is not one enough? I know your ambition, young man; you want to preach here, to these thousands; be content, and begin with the ones. Your Master was not ashamed to sit on the well, and preach to one; and when He had finished His sermon, He had really done good to the whole city of Sychar, for that one woman became a missionary to her friends. Timidity often prevents our being useful in this direction, but we must not give way to it; it must not be tolerated that Christ should be unknown through our silence, and sinners unwarned through our negligence. We must school and train ourselves to deal personally with the unconverted. We must not excuse ourselves, but force ourselves to the irksome task till it becomes easy. This is one of the most honourable modes of soul-winning; and if it requires more than ordinary zeal and courage, so much the more reason for our resolving to master it. Beloved, we must win souls, we cannot live and see men damned; we must have them brought to Jesus. Oh! then, be up and doing, and let none around you die unwarned, unwept, uncared-for. A tract is a useful thing, but a living word is better. Your eye, and face, and voice will all help. Do not be so cowardly as to give a piece of paper where your own speech would be so much better. I charge you, attend to this, for Jesus' sake.
Some of you could write letters for your Lord and Master. To far-off friends, a few loving lines may be most influential for good. Be like the men of Issachar, who handled the pen. Paper and ink are never better used than in soul-winning. Much has been done by this method. Could not you do it? Will you not try? Some of you, at any rate, if you could not speak or write much, could live much. That is a fine way of preaching, that of preaching with your feet,I mean preaching by your life, and conduct, and conversation. That loving wife, who weeps in secret over an infidel husband, but is always so kind to him; that dear child, whose heart is broken by his father's blasphemy, but is so much more obedient than he used to be before conversion; that servant, at whom the master swears, but whom he could trust with his purse, and the gold uncounted in it; that man in trade, who is sneered at as a Presbyterian, but who, nevertheless, is straight as a line, and would not be compelled to do a dirty action, no, not for all the mint; these are the men and women who preach the best sermons; these are your practical preachers. Give us your holy living, and with your holy living as the leverage, we will move the world. Under God's blessing, we will find tongues if we can, but we greatly need the lives of our people to illustrate what our tongues have to say. The gospel is something like an illustrated paper. The preacher's words are the letterpress, but the pictures are the living men and women who form our churches; and as when people take up such a newspaper, they very often do not read the letterpress, but they always look at the pictures, so in a church, outsiders may not come to hear the preacher, but they always consider, observe, and criticise the lives of the members. If you would be soul-winners, then, dear brethren and sisters, see that you live the gospel. I have no greater joy than this, that my children walk in the truth.
One thing more, the soul-winner must be a master of the art of prayer. You cannot bring souls to God if you go not to God yourself. You must get your battle-axe, and your weapons of war, from the armoury of sacred communion with Christ. If you are much alone with Jesus, you will catch His Spirit; you will be fired with the flame that burned in His breast, and consumed His life. You will weep with the tears that fell upon Jerusalem when He saw it perishing; and if you cannot speak so eloquently as He did, yet shall there be about what you say somewhat of the same power which in Him thrilled the hearts and awoke the consciences of men. My dear hearers, specially you members of the church, I am always so anxious lest any of you should begin to lie upon your oars, and take things easy in the matters of God's kingdom. There are some of youI bless you, and I bless God at the remembrance of you,who are in season, and out of season, in earnest for winning souls, and you are the truly wise; but I fear there are others whose hands are slack, who are satisfied to let me preach, but do not themselves preach; who take these seats, and occupy these pews, and hope the cause goes well, but that is all they do. Oh, do let me see you all in earnest! A great host of nearly five thousand members, what ought we not to do if we are all alive, and all in earnest? But such a host, without the spirit of enthusiasm, becomes a mere mob, an unwieldy mass, out of which mischief grows, and no good results arise. If you were all firebrands for Christ, you might set the nation on a blaze. If you were all wells of living water, how many thirsty souls might drink and be refreshed!
Beloved, there is one question I will ask, and I have done, and that is, Are your own souls won? You cannot win others else. Are you yourselves saved? My hearers, every one of you, under that gallery there, and you behind here, are you yourselves saved? What if this night you should have to answer that question to another and greater than I am? What if the bony finger of the last great orator should be uplifted instead of mine? What if his unconquerable eloquence should turn those bones to stone, and glaze those eyes, and make the blood chill in your veins? Could you hope, in your last extremity, that you were saved? If not saved, how will you ever be? When will you be saved if not now? Will any time be better than now? The way to be saved is simply to trust in what the Son of man did when He became man, and suffered punishment for all those who trust Him. For all His people, Christ was a Substitute. His people are those who trust Him. If you trust Him, He was punished for your sins; and you cannot be punished for them, for God cannot punish sin twice, first in Christ, and then in you. If you trust Jesus, who now liveth at the right hand of God, you are this moment pardoned, and you shall for ever be saved. Oh, that you would trust Him now! Perhaps it may be now or never with you. May it be now, even now, and then, trusting in Jesus, dear friends, you will have no need to hesitate when the question is asked, "Are you saved?," for you can answer, "'Ay, that I am, for it is written, 'He that believeth in Him is not condemned.'" Trust Him, then, trust Him now; and then God help you to be a soul-winner, and you shall be wise, and God shall be glorified!
Chapter 13: Soul-Saving Our One Business
"I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some."1 Corinthians 9:22.
IT is a grand thing to see a man thoroughly possessed with one master-passion. Such a man is sure to be strong, and if the master-principle be excellent, he is sure to be excellent, too. The man of one object is a man indeed. Lives with many aims are like water trickling through innumerable streams, none of which are wide enough or deep enough to float the merest cockleshell of a boat; but a life with one object is like a mighty river flowing between its banks, bearing to the ocean a multitude of ships, and spreading fertility on either side. Give me a man not only with a great object in his soul, but thoroughly possessed by it, his powers all concentrated, and himself on fire with vehement zeal for his supreme object, and you have put before me one of the greatest sources of power which the world can produce. Give me a man engrossed with holy love as to his heart, and filled with some masterly celestial thought as to his brain, and such a man will be known wherever his lot may be cast, and I venture to prophesy that his name will be remembered long after the place of his sepulchre shall be forgotten.
Such a man was Paul. I am not about to set him upon a pedestal, that you may look at him and wonder, much less that you may kneel down and worship him as a saint. I mention Paul, because what he was we ought every one of us to be; and though we cannot share in his office, not being apostles; though we cannot share in his talents or in his inspiration, yet we ought to be possessed by the same spirit which actuated him, and let me also add we ought to be possessed by it in the same degree. Do you demur to that? I ask you what there was in Paul, by the grace of God, which may not be in you, and what had Jesus done for Paul more than for you? He was divinely changed; and so have you been if you have passed from darkness into marvellous light. He had much forgiven; and so have you also been freely pardoned. He was redeemed by the blood of the Son of God; and so have you been,at least, so you profess to have been. He was filled with the Spirit of God; and so are you, if you are truly such as your Christian profession makes you out to be. Owing, then, your salvation to Christ, being debtors to the precious blood of Jesus, and being quickened by the Holy Spirit, I ask you why there should not be the same fruit from the same sowing? Why not the same effect from the same cause? Do not tell me that the apostle was an exception, and cannot be set up as a rule or model for commoner folk, for I shall have to tell you that we must be such as Paul was if we hope to be where Paul is. Paul did not think that he had attained, neither that he was already perfect. Shall we think him to be soso think him to be so as to regard him as inimitable, and so be content to fall short of what he was? Nay, verily, but let it be our incessant prayer, as believers in Christ, that we may be followers of him so far as he followed Christ, and wherein he failed to set his feet in his Lord's footprints may we even outstrip him, and be more zealous, more devoted to Christ than even the apostle of the Gentiles was. Oh, that the Holy Spirit would bring us to be like our Lord Jesus Himself!
At this time, I shall have to speak to you upon Paul's great object in life; he tells us it was, to "save some"; we will then look into Paul's heart, and show you a few of the great reasons which made him think it so important that some at least should be saved; then, thirdly, we will indicate certain of the means which the apostle used to that end; and all with this view, that you, my dear hearers, may seek to "save some" that you may seek this because of potent reasons which you cannot withstand, and that you may seek it with wise methods such as shall in the end succeed.
I. First, then, brethren, WHAT WAS PAUL'S GREAT OBJECT IN HIS DAILY LIFE AND MINISTRY? He says it was, to save some.
There are ministers of Christ present at this hour, together with City missionaries, Bible-women, Sunday-school teachers, and other workers in my Master's vineyard, and I make bold to enquire of each one of them,Is this your object in all your Christian service? Do you above all things aim at saving souls? I am afraid that some have forgotten this grand object but, dear friends, anything short of this is unworthy to be the great end of a Christian's life. I fear there are some who preach with the view of amusing men; and as long as people can be gathered in crowds, and their ears can be tickled, and they can retire pleased with what they have heard, the orator is content, and folds his hands, and goes back self-satisfied. But Paul did not lay himself out to please the public, and collect the crowd. If he did not save them, he felt that it was of no avail to interest them. Unless the truth had pierced their hearts, affected their lives, and made new men of them, Paul would have gone home crying, "Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?"
It seems to be the opinion of a large party in the present day that the object of Christian effort should be to educate men. I grant you that education is in itself an exceedingly valuable thing, so valuable that I am sure the whole Christian Church rejoices greatly that at last we have a national system of education, which only needs to be carefully carried out and every child in this land will have the keys of knowledge in his hand. Whatever other price others may set upon ignorance, we are promoters of knowledge, and the more it can be spread the better shall we be pleased. But if the Church of God thinks that it is sent into the world merely to train the mental faculties, it has made a very serious mistake, for the object of Christianity is not to educate men for their secular callings, or even to train them in the politer arts, or the more elegant professions, or to enable them to enjoy the beauties of nature or the charms of poetry. Jesus Christ came not into the world for any of these things, but He came to seek and to save that which was lost; and on the same errand has He sent His Church, and she is a traitor to the Master who sent her if she is beguiled by the beauties of taste and art to forget that to preach Christ and Him crucified is the only object for which she exists among the sons of men. The business of the Church is salvation. The minister is to use all means to save some; he is no minister of Christ if this be not the one desire of his heart. Missionaries sink far below their level when they are content to civilize; their first object is to save. The same is true of the Sunday-school teacher, and of all other workers among children; if they have merely taught the child to read, to repeat hymns, and so forth, they have not yet touched their true vocation. We must have the children saved. At this nail we must drive, and the hammer must come down upon this head always,that we might by all means save some, for we have done nothing unless some are saved.
Paul does not even say that he tried to moralize men. The best promoter of morality is the gospel. When a man is saved, he becomes moral; he becomes more, he becomes holy. But to aim first at morality is altogether to miss the mark; and if we did attain it,as we shall not,yet we should not have attained that for which we were sent into the world. Dr. Chalmers' experience is a very valuable one to those who think that the Christian ministry ought to preach up mere morality, for he says that in his first parish he preached morality, and saw no good whatever arising out of his exhortations. But, as soon as he began to preach Christ crucified, then there was a buzz, and a stir, and much opposition, but grace prevailed. He who wishes for perfumes must grow the flowers; he who desires to promote morality must have men saved. He who wants motion in a corpse should first seek life for it, and he who desires to see a rightly ordered life should first desire an inward renewal by the Holy Spirit. We are not to be satisfied when we have taught men their duties towards their neighbours, or even their duties towards God; this would suffice for Moses, but not for Christ. The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. We teach men what they ought to be, but we do far more; by the power of the gospel, applied by the Holy Ghost, we make them what they ought to be by the power of God's Spirit. We put not before the blind the things that they ought to see, but we open their eyes in the name of Jesus. We tell not the captive how free he ought to be, but we open the door, and take away his fetters. We are not content to tell men what they must be, but we show them how this character can be obtained, and how Jesus Christ freely presents all that is essential to eternal life to all those who come and put their trust in Him.
Now observe, brethren, if I, or you, or any of us, or all of us, shall have spent our lives merely in amusing men, or educating men, or moralizing men, when we shall come to give in our account at the last great day, we shall be in a very sorry condition, and we shall have but a very sorry record to render; for of what avail will it be to a man to be educated when he comes to be damned? Of what service will it be to him to have been amused when the trumpet sounds, and heaven and earth are shaking, and the pit opens wide her jaws of fire, and swallows up the soul unsaved? Of what avail even to have moralized a man if still he is on the left hand of the Judge, and if still, "Depart, ye cursed," shall be his portion? Blood-red with the murder of men's souls will be the skirts of professing Christians, unless the drift, and end, and aim of all their work has been to "save some." Oh! I beseech you, especially you, dear friends, who are working in Sunday and Ragged Schools, and elsewhere, do not think that you have done anything unless the children's souls are saved. Settle it that this is the top and bottom of the business, and throw your whole strength, in the name of Christ, and by the power of the Eternal Spirit, into this objectif by any means you may save some, and bring some to Jesus that they may be delivered from the wrath to come.
What did Paul mean by saying that he desired to save some? What is it to be saved? Paul meant by that nothing less than that some should be born again; for no man is saved until he is made a new creature in Christ Jesus. The old nature cannot be saved; it is dead and corrupt; the best thing that can be done with it is to let it be crucified, and buried in the sepulchre of Christ. There must be a new nature implanted in us by the power of the Holy Ghost, or we cannot be saved. We must be as much new creations as if we had never been; we must come a second time as fresh from the hand of the Eternal God as if we had been to-day moulded by divine wisdom as Adam was in Paradise. The great Teacher's words are, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." "Except a man be born again (from above), he cannot see the kingdom of God." This, then, Paul meant, that men must be new creatures in Christ Jesus, that we may never rest till we see such a change wrought upon them. This must be the object of our teaching, and of our praying, indeed, the object of our lives, that "some" may be regenerated.
He meant, beside that, that some might be cleansed from their past iniquity through the merit of the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God. No man can be saved from his sin except by the atonement. Under the Jewish law it was written, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them." That curse has never been reversed, and the only way to escape from it is this: Jesus Christ was made a curse for us, as it is written, "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." Now, he who believes in Jesus, who puts his hand upon the head of Jesus of Nazareth, the Scapegoat of His people, has lost his sins. His faith is sure evidence that his iniquities were of old laid upon the head of the great Substitute. The Lord Jesus Christ was punished in our room, and we are no longer obnoxious to the wrath of God. Behold, the sin-atoning sacrifice is slain, and offered on the altar, and the Lord has accepted it, and is so well pleased that he has declared that whosoever believeth in Jesus is fully and eternally forgiven. Now, we long to see men thus forgiven. We pine to bring the prodigal's head into the Father's bosom, the wandering sheep to the good Shepherd's shoulder, the lost piece of money into the Owner's hands; and until this is done, nothing is done, I mean, brethren, nothing spiritually, nothing eternally, nothing that is worthy of the agony of a Christian's life, nothing that can be looked upon as deserving of an immortal spirit's spending all its fires upon it. O Lord, our soul yearns to see Jesus rewarded by the salvation of the blood-bought! Aid us by Thine effectual grace to lead souls to Him.
Once more, when the apostle wished that he might save some, he meant that, being regenerated, and being pardoned, they might also be purified and made holy, for a man is not saved while he lives in sin. Let a man say what he will, he cannot be saved from sin whilst he is the slave of it. How is a drunkard saved from drunkenness whilst he still riots as before? How can you say that the swearer is saved from blasphemy while he is still profane? Words must be used in their true meaning. Now, the great object of the Christian's work should be that some might be saved from their sins, purified, and made white, and made examples of integrity, chastity, honesty, and righteousness, as the fruit of the Spirit of God; and where this is not the case, we have laboured in vain, and spent our strength for nought.
Now, I do protest before you all that I have in this house of prayer never sought anything but the conversion of souls, and I call heaven and earth to witness, and your consciences, too, that I have never laboured for anything except this, the bringing of you to Christ, that I might present you at last unto God "accepted in the Beloved." I have not sought to gratify depraved appetites either by novelty of doctrine or ceremonial, but I have kept to the simplicity of the gospel. I have kept back no part of the price of God's Word from you, but I have endeavoured to give you the whole counsel of God. I have sought out no fineries of speech, but have spoken plainly, and right straight at your hearts and consciences; and if you be not saved, I mourn and lament before God that up to this day, though I have preached hundreds of times to you, yet I have preached in vain. If you have not closed in with Christ, if you have not been washed in the fountain filled with blood, you are waste pieces of soil from which no harvest has yet come.
You tell me, perhaps, that you have been kept from a great many sins, that you have learned a great many truths by coming here. So far, so good; but could I afford to live for this, merely to teach you certain truths, or keep you back from open sins? How could this content me if I knew all the while that you were still unsaved, and must, therefore, after death, be cast into the flames of hell? Nay, beloved, before the Lord, I count nothing to be worthy of your pastor's life, and soul, and energy, but the winning of you to Christ. Nothing but your salvation can ever make me feel that my heart's desire is granted. I ask every worker here to see to this, that he never turns aside from shooting at this target, and at the centre of this target, too, namely, that he may win souls for Christ, and see them born to God, and washed in the fountain filled with blood. Let the workers' hearts ache, and yearn, and their voices cry till their throats are hoarse; but let them judge that they have accomplished nothing whatever until, at least, in some cases, men are really saved. As the fisherman longs to take the fish in his net, as the hunter pants to bear home his spoil, as the mother pines to clasp her lost child to her bosom, so do we faint for the salvation of souls; and we must have them, or we are ready to die. Save them, O Lord, save them for Christ's sake
But now we must leave that point for another.
II. THE APOSTLE HAD GREAT REASONS FOR ELECTING SUCH AN OBJECT IN LIFE.
Were he here, I think he would tell you that his reasons were something of this kind. To save souls! If they be not saved, how is God dishonoured! Did you ever think over the amount of dishonour that is done to the Lord our God in London in any one hour of the day? Take, if you will, this prayer-hour, when we are gathered here ostensibly to pray. If the thoughts of this great assembly could all be read, how many of them would be dishonouring to the Most High! But outside of every house of prayer, outside of every place of worship of every kind, think of the thousands, and tens of thousands, the hundreds of thousands, who have all this day neglected the very semblance of the worship of the God who has made them, and who keeps them in being! Think of how many times the door of the gin-palace has swung on its hinges during this holy hour, how many times God's name has been blasphemed at the drinking-bar! There are worse things than these, if worse can be, but I shall not lift the veil. Transfer your thoughts to an hour or so later, when the veil of darkness has descended. Shame will not permit us even to think of how God's name is dishonoured in the persons of those whose first father was made after the image of God, but who pollute themselves to be the slaves of Satan and the prey of bestial lusts! Alas! alas! for this city, it is full of abominations, of which the apostle said, "It is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret."
Christian men and women, nothing but the gospel can sweep away the social evil. Vices are like vipers, and only the voice of Jesus can drive them out of the land. The gospel is the great besom with which to cleanse the filthiness of this city, and nothing else will avail. Will you not, for God's sake, whose name is every day profaned, seek to save some? If you will enlarge your thoughts, and take in all the great cities of the Continent; ay, further still, take all the idolaters of China and Hindostan, the worshippers of the false prophet and antichrist, what a mass of provocation have we here! What a smoke in Jehovah's nose must this false worship be! How He must often put His hand to the hilt of His sword as though He would say, "Ah! I will ease Me of Mine adversaries." But He bears it patiently. Let us not become indifferent to His longsuffering, but day and night let us cry unto Him, and daily let us labour for Him, if by any means we may save some for His glory's sake.
Think, dear friends, also, of the extreme misery of this our human race. It would be a very dreadful thing if you could get any idea of the aggregate of the misery of London at the present moment in the hospitals and workhouses. Now, I would not say half a word against poverty, wherever it comes it is a bitter ill but you will mark as you notice carefully that, while a few are poor because of unavoidable circumstances, a very large mass of the poverty of London is the sheer and clear result of wastefulness, want of forethought, idleness, and, worst of all, of drunkenness. Ah, that drunkenness! That is the master-evil. If drink could but be got rid of; we might be sure of conquering the very devil himself. The drunkenness created by the infernal liquor-dens which plague-spot the whole of this huge city is appalling. No, I did not speak in haste, or let slip a hasty word; many of the drink-houses are nothing less than infernal: in some respects they are worse, for hell has its uses as the divine protest against sin, but as for the gin-palace, there is nothing to be said in its favour. The vices of the age cause three-fourths of all the poverty. If you could look at the homes,the wretched homes where women will tremble at the sound of their husband's foot as he comes home, where little children will crouch down with fear upon their little heap of straw because the human brute who calls himself "a man" will come reeling home from the place where he has been indulging his appetites,if you could look at such a sight, and remember that it will be seen ten thousand times over to-night, I think you would say, "God help us by all means to save some!" Since the great axe to lay at the root of the deadly upas tree is the gospel of Christ, may God help us to hold that axe there, and to work constantly with it till the huge trunk of the poison tree begins to rock to and fro, and we get it down, and London is saved, and the world is saved from the wretchedness and the misery which now drip from every bough!
Again, dear friends, the Christian has other reasons for seeking to save some; and chiefly because of the terrible future of impenitent souls. That veil which hangs before me is not penetrated by every glance but he who has his eye touched with heavenly eye-salve sees through it, and what does he see? Myriads upon myriads of spirits in dread procession passing from their bodies, and passingwhither? Unsaved, unregenerate, unwashed in precious blood, we see them go up to the solemn bar whence in silence the sentence comes forth, and they are banished from the presence of God, banished to horrors which are not to be described nor even to be imagined. This alone is enough to cause us distress day and night. This decision of destiny has about it a terrible solemnity. But the resurrection trumpet sounds. Those spirits come forth from their prison-house. I see them returning to earth, rising from the pit to the bodies in which they lived: and now I see them standmultitudes, multitudes, multitudes, multitudesin the Valley of Decision. And He comes, sitting on a great white throne, with the crown upon His head, and the books before Him; and there they stand as prisoners at the bar. My vision now perceives themhow they tremble! How they quiver, like aspen leaves in the gale! Whither can they flee? Rocks cannot hide them, mountains will not open their bowels to conceal them! What shall become of them? The dread angel takes the sickle, reaps them as the reaper cuts up the tares for the oven; and as he gathers them, he casts them down where despair shall be their everlasting torment. Woe is me, my heart sinks as I see their doom, and hear the terrible cries of their too-late awaking. Save some, O Christians! By all means, save some. By yonder flames, and outer darkness, and the weeping, and the wailing, and the gnashing of teeth, seek to save some! Let this, as in the case of the apostle, be your great, your ruling object in life, that by all means you may save some.
For, oh! if they be saved, observe the contrast. Their spirits mount to heaven, and after the resurrection their bodies ascend also, and there they praise redeeming love. No fingers more nimble on the harp-strings than theirs! No notes more sweet than theirs, as they sing, "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever." What bliss to see the once-rebellious brought home to God, and heirs of wrath made possessors of heaven! All this is involved in salvation. Oh, that myriads may come to this blessed state! "Save some"oh! save some, at least. Seek that some may be there in glory. Behold your Master. He is your pattern. He left heaven to save some. He went to the cross, to the grave, to "save some": this was the great object of His life, to lay down His life for His sheep. He loved His Church, and gave Himself for her, that He might redeem her unto Himself. Imitate your Master. Learn His self-denial and His blessed consecration, if by any means you may save some.
My soul yearneth that I personally may "save some", but broader is my desire than that. I would have every one of you, my beloved friends, associated here in church-fellowship, to become spiritual parents of children for God. Oh, that every one of you might "save some"! Yes, my venerable brethren, you are not too old for service. Yes, my young friends, ye young men and maidens, ye are not too young to be recruits in the King's service. If the kingdom is ever to come to our Lord,and come it will,it never will come through a few ministers, missionaries, or evangelists preaching the gospel. It must come through every one of you preaching it,in the shop and by the fireside, when walking abroad and when sitting in the chamber. You must all of you be always endeavouring to "save some." I would enlist you all afresh to-night, and bind anew the King's colours upon you. I would that you would fall in love with my Master over anew, and enter a second time upon the love of your espousals. There is a hymn of Cowper's which we sometimes sing,
May we get to have a closer walk with Him; and if we do so, we shall also feel a more vehement desire to magnify Christ in the salvation of sinners.
I would like to press the enquiry upon you who are saved,How many others have you brought to Christ? You cannot do it by yourself, I know; but I mean, how many has the Spirit of God brought by you? How many, did I say? Is it quite certain that you have led any to Jesus? Can you not recollect one? I pity you, then! The Lord said to Jeremiah, concerning Coniah, "Write ye this man childless." That was considered to be a fearful curse. Shall I write you childless, my beloved friends? Your children are not saved, your wife is not saved, and you are spiritually childless. Can you bear this thought? I pray you, wake from your slumbering, and ask the Master to make you useful. "I wish the saints cared for us sinners," said a young man. "They do care for you," answered one, "they care very much for you." "Why don't they show it, then?" said he, "I have often wished to have a talk about good things, but my friend, who is a member of the church, never broaches the subject, and seems to study how to keep clear of it when I am with him." Do not let them say so. Do tell them about Christ and things divine and make this your resolve, every one of you, that if men perish they shall not perish for want of your prayers, nor for want of your earnest and loving instructions. God give you grace, each one of you, to resolve by all means to save some, and then to carry out your resolution!
III. But my time is almost gone, and therefore I have to mention, in the last place, THE GREAT METHODS WHICH THE APOSTLE USED.
How did he who so longed to "save some" set about it? Why, first of all, by simply preaching the gospel of Christ. He did not attempt to create a sensation by startling statements, neither did he preach erroneous doctrine in order to obtain the assent of the multitude. I fear that some evangelists preach what in their own minds they must know to be untrue. They keep back certain doctrines, not because they are untrue, but because they do not give scope enough for their ravings, and they make loose statements because they hope to reach more minds. However earnest a man may be for the salvation of sinners, I do not believe that he has the right to make any statement which his sober judgment will not justify. I think I have heard of things said and done at revival meetings which were not according to sound doctrine, but which were always excused by "the excitement of the occasion." I hold that I have no right to state false doctrine, even if I knew it would save a soul. The supposition is, of course, absurd; but it makes you see what I mean. My business is to bring to bear upon men, not falsehood, but truth; and I shall not be excused if; under any pretence, I palm a lie upon the people. Rest assured that, to keep back any part of the gospel, is not the right, nor the true method for saving men. Tell the sinner all the doctrines. If you hold Calvinistic doctrine, as I hope you do, do not stutter about it, nor stammer over it, but speak it out. Depend upon it, many revivals have been evanescent because a full-orbed gospel was not proclaimed. Give the people every truth, every truth baptized in holy fire, and each truth will have its own useful effect upon the mind.
But the great truth is the cross, the truth that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Brother, keep to that. That is the bell for you to ring. Ring it, man! Ring it! Keep on ringing it. Sound forth that note upon your silver trumpet, or if you are only a ram's horn, sound it forth, and the walls of Jericho will come down. Alas, for the fineries of our "cultured" modern divines! I hear them crying out, and denouncing my old-fashioned advice. This talking about Christ crucified is said to be archaic, conventional, and antique, and not at all suitable to the refinement of this wonderful age. It is astonishing how learned we have all grown lately. We are getting so very wise, I am afraid we shall ripen into fools before long, even if we have not arrived at it already. People want "thinking" nowadays, so it is said; and the working-men will go where science is deified, and profound "thought" is enshrined. I have noticed that, as a general rule, wherever the new "thinking" drives out the old gospel, there are more spiders than people, but where there is the simple preaching of Jesus Christ, the place is crowded to the doors. Nothing else will crowd a meeting-house, after all, for any length of time, but the preaching of Christ crucified. But as to this matter, whether it be popular or unpopular, our mind is made up, and our foot is put down. Question we have none as to our own course. If it be foolish to preach up atonement by blood, we will be fools; and if it be madness to stick to the old truth, just as Paul delivered it, in all its simplicity, without any refinement, or improvement, we mean to stick to it, even if we be pilloried as being incapable of progressing with the age, for we are persuaded that this "foolishness of preaching" is a divine ordinance, and that the cross of Christ, which stumbles so many, and is ridiculed by so many more, is still the power of God and the wisdom of God. Yes, just the old-fashioned truthif thou believest, thou shalt be saved,that will we stick to, and may God send His blessing upon it according to His own eternal purpose! We do not expect this preaching to be popular, but we know that God will justify it ere long. Meanwhile, we are not staggered because
As childish dotage, and delirious dreams;
The danger they discern not they deny;
Laugh at their only remedy, and die."
Next to this, Paul used much prayer. The gospel alone will not be blessed; we must pray over our preaching. A great painter was asked what he mixed his colours with, and he replied that he mixed them with brains. 'Twas well for a painter, but if anyone should ask a preacher what he mixes truth with, he ought to be able to answerwith prayer, much prayer: When a poor man was breaking granite by the roadside, he was down on his knees while he gave his blows, and a minister passing by said, "Ah, my friend, here you are at your hard work; your work is just like mine; you have to break stones, and so do I." "Yes," said the man, "and if you manage to break stony hearts, you will have to do it as I do, down on your knees." The man was right, no one can use the gospel hammer well except he is much on his knees, but the gospel hammer soon splits flinty hearts when a man knows how to pray. Prevail with God, and you will prevail with men. Straight from the closet to the pulpit let us come, with the anointing oil of God's Spirit fresh upon us. What we receive in secrecy we are cheerfully to dispense in public. Let us never venture to speak for God to men, until we have spoken for men to God. Yes, dear hearers, if you want a blessing on your Sunday-school teaching, or any other form of Christian labour, mix it up with fervent intercession.
And then observe one other thing. Paul went to his work always with an intense sympathy for those he dealt with, a sympathy which made him adapt himself to each ease. If he talked to a Jew, he did not begin at once blurting out that he was the apostle of the Gentiles, but he said he was a Jew, as Jew he was. He raised no questions about nationalities or ceremonies. He wanted to tell the Jew of Him of whom Isaiah said, "He is despised and rejected of men, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," in order that he might believe in Jesus and so be saved. If he met a Gentile, the apostle of the Gentiles never showed any of the squeamishness which might have been expected to cling to him on account of his Jewish education. He ate as the Gentile ate, and drank as he did, sat with him, and talked with him; was, as it were, a Gentile with him; never raising any question about circumcision or uncircumcision, but solely wishing to tell him of Christ, who came into the world to save both Jew and Gentile, and to make them one. If Paul met with a Scythian, he spoke to him in the Barbarian tongue, and not in classic Greek. If he met a Greek, he spoke to him as he did at the Areopagus, with language that was fitted for the polished Athenian. He was all things to all men, that he might by all means save some.
So let it be with you, Christian people; your one business in life is to lead men to believe in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, and every other thing should be made subservient to this one object; if you can but get them saved, everything else will come right in due time. Mr. Hudson Taylor, a dear man of God, who has laboured much in Inland China, finds it helpful to dress as a Chinaman, and wear a pigtail. He always mingles with the people, and as far as possible lives as they do. This seems to me to be a truly wise policy. I can understand that we shall win upon a congregation of Chinese by becoming as Chinese as possible; and if this be the case, we are bound to be Chinese to the Chinese to save the Chinese. It would not be amiss to become a Zulu to save the Zulus, though we must mind that we do it in another sense than Colenso did. If we can put ourselves on a level with those whose good we seek, we shall be more likely to effect our purpose than if we remain aliens and foreigners, and then talk of love and unity. To sink myself to save others is the idea of the apostle. To throw overboard all peculiarities, and yield a thousand indifferent points, in order to bring men to Jesus, is our wisdom if we would extend our Master's kingdom. Never may any whim or conventionality of ours keep a soul from considering the gospel,that were horrible indeed. Better far to be personally inconvenienced by compliance with things indifferent, than to retard a sinner's coming by quarrelling about trifles.
If Jesus Christ were here to-day, I am sure he would not put on any of those gaudy rags in which the Puseyite delights himself. I cannot imagine our Lord Jesus Christ dressed out in that style. Why, the apostle tells our women that they are to dress themselves modestly, and I do not think Christ would have His ministers set an example of tomfoolery: but yet even in dress something may be done on the principle of our text. When Jesus Christ was here, what did He wear? To put it in plain English, He wore a smock frock. He wore the common dress of his countrymen, a garment woven from the top throughout, without seam; and I think he would have His ministers wear that costume which is most like the dress which their hearers wear in common, and so even in dress associate with their hearers, and be one among them. He would have you teachers, if you want to save your children, talk to them like children, and make yourselves children if you can. You who want to get at young peoples' hearts must try to be young. You who wish to visit the sick must sympathise with them in their sickness. Get to speak as you would like to be spoken to if you were sick. Come down to those who cannot come up to you. You cannot pull people out of the water without stooping down and getting hold of them. If you have to deal with bad characters, you must come down to them, not in their sin, but in their roughness and in their style of language, so as to get a hold of them. I pray God that we may learn the sacred art of soul-winning by adaptation. They called Mr. Whitefield's chapel at Moorfields, "The Soul-trap." Whitefield was delighted, and said he hoped it always would be a soul-trap. Oh, that all our places of worship were soul-traps, and every Christian a fisher of men, each one doing his best, as the fisherman does, by every art and artifice, to catch those he fishes for! Well may we use all means to win so great a prize as a spirit destined for eternal weal or woe. The diver plunges deep to find pearls, and we may accept any labour or hazard to win a soul. Rouse yourselves, my brethren, for this God-like work, and may the Lord bless you in it!
Chapter 14: Instruction in Soul-Winning
"And He saith unto them, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."Matthew 4:19
WHEN Christ calls us by His grace, we ought not only to remember what we are, but we ought also to think of what He can make us. It is "Follow Me, and I will make you." We should repent of what we have been, but rejoice in what we may be. It is not, "Follow Me, because of what you are already." It is not, "Follow Me, because you may make something of yourselves;" but, "Follow Me, because of what I will make you." Verily, I might say of each one of us as soon as we are converted, "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." It did not seem a likely thing that lowly fishermen would develop into apostles, that men so handy with the net would be quite as much at home in preaching sermons and in instructing converts. One would have said, "How can these things be? You cannot make founders of churches out of peasants of Galilee." That is exactly what Christ did; and when we are brought low in the sight of God by a sense of our own unworthiness, we may feel encouraged to follow Jesus because of what He can make us. What said the woman of a sorrowful spirit when she lifted up her song? "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes." We cannot tell what God may make of us in the new creation, since it would have been quite impossible to have foretold what He made of chaos in the old creation. Who could have imagined all the beautiful things that came forth from darkness and disorder by that one fiat, "Let there be light"? And who can tell what lovely displays of everything that is divinely fair may yet appear in a man's formerly dark life, when God's grace has said to him, "Let there be light"? O you who see in yourselves at present nothing that is desirable, come you and follow Christ for the sake of what He can make out of you! Do you not hear His sweet voice calling to you, and saying, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men"?
Note, next, that we are not made all that we shall be, nor all that we ought to desire to be, when we are ourselves fished for and caught. This is what the grace of God does for us at first; but it is not all. We are like the fishes, making sin to be our element, as they live in the sea; and the good Lord comes, and with the gospel net He takes us, and He delivers us from the life and love of sin. But He has not wrought for us all that He can do, nor all that we should wish Him to do, when He has done this; for it is another and a higher miracle to make us who were fish to become fishers,to make the saved ones saviours,to make the convert into a converter,the receiver of the gospel into an imparter of that same gospel to other people. I think I may say to every person whom I am addressing,If you are yourself saved, the work is but half done until you are employed to bring others to Christ. You are as yet but half formed in the image of your Lord. You have not attained to the full development of the Christ-life in you unless you have commenced in some feeble way to tell others of the grace of God; and I trust that you will find no rest to the sole of your foot till you have been the means of leading many to that blessed Saviour who is your confidence and your hope. His word is, "Follow Me, not merely that you may be saved, nor even that you may be sanctified; but, 'Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.'" Be following Christ with that intent and aim; and fear that you are not perfectly following Him unless in some degree He is making use of you to be fishers of men. The fact is, that every one of us must take to the business of a man-catcher. If Christ has caught us, we must catch others. If we have been apprehended of Him, we must be His constables, to apprehend rebels for Him. Let us ask Him to give us grace to go a-fishing, and so to cast our nets that we may take a great multitude of fishes. Oh, that the Holy Ghost may raise up from among us some master-fishers, who shall sail their boats in many a sea, and surround great shoals of fish!
My teaching at this time will be very simple, but I hope it will be eminently practical; for my longing is that not one of you that love the Lord may be backward in His service. What says the Song of Solomon concerning certain sheep that come up from the washing? It says, "Every one beareth twins, and there is not one barren among them." May that be so with all the members of this church, and all the Christian people who hear or read this sermon! The fact is, the day is very dark. The heavens are lowering with heavy thunder-clouds. Men little dream of what tempests may soon shake this city, and the whole social fabric of this land, even to a general breaking up of society. So dark may the night become that the stars may seem to fall like blighted fruit from the tree. The times are evil. Now, if never before, every glow-worm must show its spark. You with the tiniest farthing candle must take it from under the bushel, and set it on a candlestick. There is need of you all. Lot was a poor creature. He was a very, very wretched kind of believer; but still, he might have been a great blessing to Sodom had he but pleaded for it as he should have done. And poor, poor Christians, as I fear many are, one begins to value every truly converted soul in these evil days, and to pray that each one may glorify the Lord. I pray that every righteous man, vexed as he is with the conversation of the wicked, may be more importunate in prayer than he has ever been, and return unto his God, and get more spiritual life, that he may be a blessing to the perishing people around him. I address you, therefore, at this time first of all upon this thought. Oh, that the Spirit of God may make each one of you feel his personal responsibility!
Here is for believers in Christ, in order to their usefulness, something for them to do: "Follow Me." But, secondly, here is something to be done by their great Lord and Master: "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." You will not of yourselves grow into fishers, but that is what Jesus will do for you if you will but follow Him. And then, lastly, here is a good illustration, used according to our great Master's wont; for scarcely without a parable did He speak unto the people. He presents us with an illustration of what Christian men should befishers of men. We may get some useful hints out of it, and I pray the Holy Spirit to bless them to us.
I. First, then, I will take it for granted that every believer here wants to be useful. If he does not, I take leave to question whether he can be a true believer in Christ. Well, then, if you want to be really useful, here is SOMETHING FOR YOU TO DO TO THAT END: "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."
What is the way to become an efficient preacher? "Young man," says one, "go to college." "Young man," says Christ, "follow Me, and I will make you a fisher of men." How is a person to be useful? "Attend a training-class," says one. Quite right; but there is a surer answer than that,Follow Jesus, and He will make you fishers of men. The great training school for Christian workers has Christ at its head and He is at its head, not only as a Tutor, but as a Leader: we are not only to learn of Him in study, but to follow Him in action. "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." The direction is very distinct and plain, and I believe that it is exclusive, so that no man can become a fisherman by any other process. This process may appear to be very simple; but assuredly it is most efficient. The Lord Jesus Christ, who knew all about fishing for men, was Himself the Dictator of the rule, "Follow Me, if you want to he fishers of men. If you would be useful, keep in My track."
I understand this, first, in this sense: be separate unto Christ. These men were to leave their pursuits they were to leave their companions; they were, in fact, to quit the world, that their one business might be, in their Master's name, to be fishers of men. We are not called to leave our daily business, or to quit our families. That might be rather running away from the fishery than working at it in God's name but we are called most distinctly to come out from among the ungodly, and to be separate, and not to touch the unclean thing. We cannot be fishers of men if we remain among men in the same element with them. Fish will not be fishers. The sinner will not convert the sinner. The ungodly man will not convert the ungodly man; and, what is more to the point, the worldly Christian will not convert the world. If you are of the world, no doubt the world will love its own; but you cannot save the world. If you are dark, and belong to the kingdom of darkness, you cannot remove the darkness. If you march with the armies of the wicked one, you cannot defeat them. I believe that one reason why the Church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the Church. Nowadays, we hear Nonconformists pleading that they may do this, and they may do that,things which their Puritan forefathers would rather have died at the stake than have tolerated. They plead that they may live like worldlings, and my sad answer to them, when they crave for this liberty, is, "Do it if you dare. It may not do you much hurt, for you are so bad already. Your cravings show how rotten your hearts are. If you have a hungering after such dog's meat, go, dogs, and eat the garbage! Worldly amusements are fit food for mere pretenders and hypocrites. If you were God's children, you would loathe the very thought of the world's evil joys, and your question would not be, 'How far may we be like the world?' but your one cry would be, 'How far can we get away from the world? How much can we come out from it?' Your temptation would be rather to become sternly severe, and ultra-Puritanical in your separation from sin, in such a time as this, than to ask, 'How can I make myself like other men, and act as they do?"'
Brethren, the use of the Church in the world is that it should be like salt in the midst of putrefaction; but if the salt has lost its savour, what is the good of it? If it were possible for salt itself to putrefy, it could but be an increase and a heightening of the general putridity. The worst day the world ever saw was when the sons of God were joined with the daughters of men. Then came the flood; for the only barrier against a flood of vengeance on this world is the separation of the saint from the sinner. Your duty as a Christian is to stand fast in your own place, and to stand out for God, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh, resolving like one of old that, let others do as they will, as for you and your house, you will serve the Lord.
Come, ye children of God, you must stand with your Lord outside the camp. Jesus calls you to-day, and says, "Follow Me." Was Jesus found at the theatre? Did He frequent the sports of the race-course? Was Jesus seen, think you, in any of the amusements of the Herodian court? Not He. He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." In one sense, no one mixed with sinners so completely as He did when, like a physician, He went among them healing His patients; but, in another sense, there was a gulf fixed between the men of the world and the Saviour, which He never essayed to cross, and which they could not cross to defile Him.
The first lesson which the Church has to learn is this: Follow Jesus into the separated state, and He will make you fishers of men. Unless you take up your cross, and protest against an ungodly world, you cannot hope that the holy Jesus will make you fishers of men.
A second meaning of our text is very obviously this: abide with Christ, and then you will be made fishers of men. These disciples whom Christ called were to come and live with Him. They were every day to be associated with Him. They were to hear Him teach publicly the everlasting gospel, and in addition they were to receive choice explanations in private of the Word which He had spoken. They were to be His body-servants and His familiar friends. They were to see His miracles and hear His prayers; and, better still, they were to be with Himself, and become one with Him in His holy labour. It was given to them to sit at the table with Him, and even to have their feet washed by Him. Many of them fulfilled that word, "Where thou dwellest, I will dwell:" they were with Him in His afflictions and persecutions. They witnessed His secret agonies, they saw His many tears, they marked the passion and the compassion of His soul, and thus, after their measure, they caught His spirit, and so they learned to be fishers of men.
At Jesus' feet we must learn the art and mystery of soul-winning: to live with Christ is the best education for usefulness. It is a great boon to any man to be associated with a Christian minister whose heart is on fire. The best training for a young man is that which the Vaudois pastors were wont to give, when each old man had a young man with him who walked with him whenever he went up the mountainside to preach, and lived in the house with him, and marked his prayers, and saw his daily piety. This was a fine course of instruction, was it not? But it will not compare with that of the apostles who lived with Jesus Himself, and were His daily companions. Matchless was the training of the twelve. No wonder that they became what they were with such a heavenly Tutor to saturate them with His own spirit. His bodily presence is not now among us; but His spiritual power is perhaps more fully known to us than it was to the apostles in those two or three years of the Lord's corporeal presence. There be some of us to whom He is intimately near. We know more about Him than we do about our dearest earthly friend. We have never been able quite to read our friend's heart in all its twistings and windings, but we know the heart of the Well-beloved. We have leaned our head upon His bosom, and have enjoyed fellowship with Him such as we could not have with any of our own kith and kin. This is the surest method of learning how to do good. Live with Jesus, follow Jesus, and He will make you fishers of men. See how He does the work, and so learn how to do it yourself. A Christian man should be bound apprentice to Jesus to learn the trade of a Saviour. We can never save men by offering a redemption, for we have none to present; but we can learn how to save men by warning them to flee from the wrath to come, and setting before them the one great effectual remedy. See how Jesus saves, and you will learn how the thing is done: there is no learning it anyhow else. Live in fellowship with Christ, and there shall be about you an air and a manner as of one who has been made in heart and mind apt to teach, and wise to win souls.
A third meaning, however, must be given to this "Follow Me," and it is this: "Obey Me, and then you shall know what to do to save men." We must not talk about our fellowship with Christ, or our being separated from the world unto Him, unless we make Him our Master and Lord in everything. Some public teachers are not true at all points to their convictions; how can they look for a blessing? A Christian man, anxious to be useful, ought to be very particular as to every point of obedience to his Master. I have no doubt whatever that God blesses our churches even when they are very faulty, for His mercy endureth for ever. When there is a measure of error in the teaching, and a measure of mistake in the practice, He may still vouchsafe to use the ministry, for He is very gracious; but a large measure of blessing must necessarily be withheld from all teaching which is knowingly or glaringly faulty. God can set His seal upon the truth that is in it, but He cannot set His seal upon the error that is in it. Out of mistakes about Christian ordinances and other things, especially errors in heart and spirit, there may come evils which we never looked for. Such evils may even now be telling upon the present age, and may work worse mischief upon future generations.
If we desire, as fishers of men, to be largely used of God, we must copy our Lord Jesus in everything, and obey Him in every point. Failure in obedience may lead to failure in success. Each one of us, if he would wish to see his child saved, or his Sunday-school class blessed, or his congregation converted, must take care that, bearing the vessels of the Lord, he is himself clean. Anything we do that grieves the Spirit of God must take away from us some part of our power for good. The Lord is very gracious and pitiful; but yet He is a jealous God. He is sometimes sternly jealous towards His people who are living in neglect of known duty, or in associations which are not clean in His sight. He will wither their work, weaken their strength, and humble them until at last they each one say, "My Lord, I will take Thy way after all. I will do what Thou biddest me to do, for else Thou wilt not accept me." The Lord said to His disciples, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature: he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;" and He promised them that signs should follow, and so they did follow, and so they will. But we must get back to apostolic practice and to apostolic teaching; we must lay aside the commandments of men and the whimseys of our own brains, and we must do what Christ tells us, as Christ tells us, and because Christ tells us. Definitely and distinctly, we must take the place of servants; and if we will not do that, we cannot expect our Lord to work with us and by us. Let us be determined that, as true as the needle is to the pole, so true will we be, as far as our light goes, to the command of our Lord and Master. Jesus says, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." By this teaching He seems to say, "Go beyond Me, or fall back away from Me, and you may cast the net; but it shall be night with you, and that night you shall take nothing. When you shall do as I bid you, you shall cast your net on the right side of the ship, and you shall find."
Again, I think that there is a great lesson in my text to those who preach their own thoughts instead of preaching the thoughts of Christ. These disciples were to follow Christ that they might listen to Him, hear what He had to say, drink in His teaching, and then go and teach what He had taught them. Their Lord said, "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops." If they will be faithful reporters of Christ's message, He will make them "fishers of men." But you know the boastful method, nowadays, is this: "I am not going to preach this old, old gospel, this musty Puritan doctrine. I will sit down in my study, and burn the midnight oil, and invent a new theory; then I will come out with my brand-new thought, and blaze away with it." Many are not following Christ, but following themselves, and of them the Lord may well say, "Thou shalt see whose word shall stand, Mine or theirs:" Others are wickedly prudent, and judge that certain truths which are evidently God's Word, had better be kept back. You must not be rough, but must prophesy smooth things. To talk about the punishment of sin, to speak of eternal punishment, why, these are unfashionable doctrines. It may be that they are taught in the Word of God, but they do not suit the genius of the age; we must pare them down! Brothers in Christ, I will have no share in this. Will you? O my soul, come not thou into their secret! Certain things not taught in the Bible our enlightened age has discovered. Evolution may be clean contrary to the teaching of Genesis, but that does not matter. We are not going to be believers of Scripture, but original thinkers. This is the vainglorious ambition of the period.
Mark you, in proportion as the modern theology is preached, the vice of this generation increases. To a great degree, I attribute the looseness of the age to the laxity of the doctrine preached by its teachers. From the pulpit they have taught the people that sin is a trifle. From the pulpit these traitors to God and to His Christ have taught the people that there is no hell to be feared. A little, little hell, perhaps, there may be; but just punishment for sin is made nothing of. The precious atoning sacrifice of Christ has been derided and misrepresented by those who were pledged to preach it. They have given the people the name of the gospel, but the gospel itself has evaporated in their hands. From hundreds of pulpits the gospel is as clean gone as the dodo from its old haunts; and still the preachers take the position and name of Christ's ministers. Well, and what comes of it? Why, their congregations grow thinner and thinner and so it must be. Jesus says, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men;" but if you go in your own way, with your own net, you will make nothing of it, and the Lord promises you no help in it. The Lord's directions make Himself our Leader and Example. It is, "Follow Me, follow Me. Preach My gospel. Preach what I preached. Teach what I taught, and keep to that." With that blessed servility which becomes one whose ambition it is to be a copyist, and never to be an original, copy Christ even in jots and tittles. Do this, and He will make you fishers of men; but if you do not do this, you shall fish in vain.
I close this head of my discourse by saying that we shall not be fishers of men unless we follow Christ in one other respect; and that is, by endeavouring, in all points, to imitate His holiness. Holiness is the most real power that can be possessed by men or women. We may preach orthodoxy, but we must also live orthodoxy. God forbid that we should preach anything else; but it will be all in vain, unless there is a life at the back of the testimony. An unholy preacher may even render truth contemptible. In proportion as any of us draw back from a living and zealous sanctification, we shall draw back from the place of power. Our power lies in this word, "Follow Me." Be Jesus-like. In all things endeavour to think, and speak, and act as Jesus did, and He will make you fishers of men. This will require self-denial. We must daily take up the cross. This may require willingness to give up our reputation,readiness to be thought fools, idiots, and the like, as men are apt to call those who are keeping close to their Master. There must be the cheerful resigning of everything that looks like honour and personal glory, in order that we may be wholly Christ's, and glorify His name. We must live His life, and be ready to die His death, if need be. O brothers, sisters, if we do this, and follow Jesus, putting our feet into the footprints of His pierced feet, He will make us fishers of men! If it should so please Him that we should even die without having gathered many souls to the cross, we shall speak from our graves. In some way or other, the Lord will make a holy life to be an influential life. It is not possible that a life which can be described as a following of Christ should be an unsuccessful one in the sight of the Most High. "Follow Me," and there is an "I will" such as God can never draw back from: "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."
Thus much on the first point. There is something for us to do: we are graciously called to follow Jesus. Holy Spirit, lead us to do it!
II. But, secondly, and briefly, there is SOMETHING FOR THE LORD TO DO. When His dear servants are following Him, He says, "I will make you fishers of men," and be it never forgotten that it is He that makes us follow Him; so that, if the following of Him be the step to being made a fisher of men, yet this He gives us. 'Tis all of His Spirit. I have talked about catching His spirit, and abiding in Him, and obeying Him, and hearkening to Him, and copying Him; but none of these things are we capable of apart from His working them all in us. "From Me is thy fruit found," is a text which we must not for a moment forget. So, then, if we do follow Him, it is He that makes us follow Him; and so He makes us fishers of men.
But, further, if we follow Christ, He will make us fishers of men by all our experience. I am sure that the man who is really consecrated to bless others will be helped in this by all that he feels, especially by his afflictions. I often feel very grateful to God that I have undergone fearful depression of spirits. I know the borders of despair, and the horrible brink of that gulf of darkness into which my feet have almost gone; but hundreds of times I have been able to give a helpful grip to brethren and sisters who have come into that same condition, which grip I could never have given if I had not known their deep despondency. So I believe that the darkest and most dreadful experience of a child of God will help him to be a fisher of men if he will but follow Christ. Keep close to your Lord, and He will make every step a blessing to you. If God in providence should make you rich, He will fit you to speak to those ignorant and wicked rich who so much abound in this city, and so often are the cause of its worst sin. And if the Lord is pleased to let you be poor, you can go down and talk to those wicked and ignorant poor people who so often are the cause of sin in this city, and so greatly need the gospel. The winds of providence will waft you where you can fish for men. The wheels of providence are full of eyes, and all those eyes will look this way to help us to be winners of souls. You will often be surprised to find how God has been in a house that you visit: before you get there, His hand has been at work in its chambers. When you wish to speak to some particular individual, God's providence has been dealing with that individual to make him ready for just that word which you could say, but which nobody else but you could say. Oh, be you following Christ, and you will find that He will, by every experience through which you are passing, make you fishers of men!
Further than that, if you will follow Him, He will make you fishers of men by distinct monitions in your heart. There are many monitions from God's Spirit which are not noticed by Christians when they are in a callous condition; but when the heart is right with God, and living in communion with God, we feel a sacred sensitiveness, so that we do not need the Lord to shout, but His faintest whisper is heard. Nay, he need not even whisper. He will guide us with His eye. Oh, how many mulish Christians there are, who must be held in with bit and bridle, and receive a cut of the whip every now and then! But the Christian who follows his Lord shall be tenderly guided. I do not say that the Spirit of God will say to you, "Go near, and join thyself to this chariot," or that you will hear a word in your ear; but yet in your soul, as distinctly as the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near, and join thyself to this chariot," you shall hear the Lord's will. As soon as you see an individual, the thought shall cross your mind, "Go and speak to that person." Every opportunity of usefulness shall be a call to you. If you are ready, the door shall open before you, and you shall hear a voice behind you saying, "This is the way; walk ye in it." If you have the grace to run in the right way, you shall never be long without an intimation as to what the right way is. That right way shall lead you to river or sea, where you can cast your net, and be a fisher of men.
Then, too, I believe that the Lord meant by this that He would give His followers the Holy Ghost. They were to follow Him, and then, when they had seen Him ascend into the holy place of the Most High, they were to tarry at Jerusalem for a little while, and the Spirit would come upon them, and clothe them with a mysterious power. This Word was spoken to Peter and Andrew; and you know how it was fulfilled to Peter. What a host of fish he brought to land the first time he cast the net in the power of the Holy Ghost! "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."
Brethren, we have no conception of what God could do by this company of believers gathered in the Tabernacle to-night. If now we were to be filled with the Holy Ghost, there are enough of us to evangelize London. There are enough here to be the means of the salvation of the world. God saveth not by many nor by few. Let us seek to be made a benediction to our fellow-creatures; and if we seek it, let us hear this directing voice, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." You men and women that sit before me, you are by the shore of a great sea of human life swarming with the souls of men. You live in the midst of millions; but if you will follow Jesus, and be faithful to Him, and true to Him, and do what He bids you, He will make you fishers of men. Do not say, "Who shall save this city?" The weakest shall be strong enough. Gideon's barley cake shall smite the tent, and make it lie along the ground. Samson, with the jawbone, taken up from the earth where it was lying bleaching in the sun, shall smite the Philistines. Fear not, neither be dismayed. Let your responsibilities drive you closer to your Master. Let horror of prevailing sin make you look into His dear face who long ago wept over Jerusalem, and now weeps over London. Clasp Him, and never let go your hold. By the strong and mighty impulses of the divine life within you, quickened and brought to maturity by the Spirit of God, learn this lesson from your Lord's own mouth: "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." You are not fit for it, but He will make you fit. You cannot do it of yourselves, but He will make you do it. You do not know how to spread nets and draw shoals of fish to shore, but He will teach you. Only follow Him, and He will make you fishers of men.
I wish that I could somehow say this as with a voice of thunder, that the whole Church of God might hear it. I wish I could write it in stars athwart the sky, "Jesus saith, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." If you forget the precept, the promise shall never be yours. If you follow some other track, or imitate some other leader, you shall fish in vain. God grant us to believe fully that Jesus can do great things in us, and then do great things by us for the good of our fellows!
III. The last point you might work out in full for yourselves in your private meditations with much profit. We have here A FIGURE FULL OF INSTRUCTION. I will give you but two or three thoughts which you can use. "I will make you fishers of men." You have been fishers of fish: if you follow Me, I will make you fishers of men.
A fisher is a person who is very dependent, and needs to be trustful. He cannot see the fish. One who fishes in the sea must go and cast in the net, as it were, at a peradventure. Fishing is an act of faith. I have often seen, in the Mediterranean, men go with their boats, and enclose acres of sea with vast nets; and yet, when they have drawn the net to shore, they have not had as much result as I could put in my hand. A few wretched silvery nothings have made up the whole take. Yet they have gone again, and cast the great net several times a day, hopefully expecting something to come of it. Nobody is so dependent upon God as the minister of God. Oh, this fishing from the Tabernacle pulpit! What a work of faith! I cannot tell that a soul will be brought to God by it. I cannot judge whether my sermon will be suitable to the persons who are here, except that I do believe that God will guide me in the casting of the net. I expect Him to work salvation, and I depend upon Him for it. I love this complete dependence, and if I could be offered a certain amount of preaching power, which should be entirely at my own disposal, and by which I could save sinners, I would beg the Lord not to let me have it, for it is far more delightful to be entirely dependent upon Him at all times. It is good to be a fool when Christ is made unto you wisdom. It is a blessed thing to be weak if Christ becomes more fully your strength. Go to work, you who would be fishers of men, and yet feel your insufficiency. You that have no strength, attempt this divine work. Your Master's strength will be seen when your own has all gone. A fisherman is a dependent person, he must look up for success every time he puts the net down; but still he is a trustful person, and therefore he casts in the net joyfully.
A fisherman who gets his living by it is a diligent and persevering man. The fishers are up at dawn. At day-break, our fishermen off the Dogger-bank are fishing, and they continue fishing till late in the afternoon. As long as hands can work, men will fish. May the Lord Jesus make us hard-working, persevering, unwearied fishers of men! "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand; for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that."
The fisherman in his own craft is intelligent and watchful. It looks very easy, I dare say, to be a fisherman, but you would find that it was no child's play if you were to take a real part in it. There is an art in it, from the mending of the net right on to the pulling it to shore. How diligent the fisherman is to prevent the fish leaping out of the net! I heard a great noise one night in the sea, as if some huge drum were being beaten by a giant; and I looked out, and I saw that the fishermen of Mentone were beating the water to drive the fish into the net, or to keep them from leaping out when they had once encompassed them with it. Ah, yes! and you and I will often have to be watching the corners of the gospel net lest sinners who are almost caught should make their escape. They are very crafty, these fish, and they use this craftiness in endeavouring to avoid salvation. We shall have to be always at our business, and to exercise all our wits, and more than our own wits, if we are to be successful fishers of men.
The fisherman is a very laborious person. It is not at all an easy calling. He does not sit in an armchair and catch fish. He has to go out in rough weathers. If he that regardeth the clouds will not sow, I am sure that he that regardeth the clouds will never fish. If we never do any work for Christ except when we feel up to the mark, we shall not do much. If we feel that we will not pray because we cannot pray, we shall never pray; and if we say," I will not preach to-day because I do not feel that I could preach," we shall never preach any preaching that is worth the preaching. We must be always at it, until we wear ourselves out, throwing our whole soul into the work in all weathers, for Christ's sake.
The fisherman is a daring man. He tempts the boisterous sea. A little brine in his face does not hurt him; he has been wet through a thousand times, it is nothing to him. He never expected, when he became a deep-sea fisherman, that he was going to sleep in the lap of ease. So the true minister of Christ, who fishes for souls, will never mind a little risk. He will be bound to do or say many a thing that is very unpopular; and some Christian people may even judge his utterances to be too severe. He must do and say that which is for the good of souls. It is not his to entertain a question as to what others will think of his doctrine, or of him; but in the name of the Almighty God he must feel, "If the sea roar and the fulness thereof, still at my Master's command I will let down the net."
Now, in the last place, the man whom Christ makes a fisher of men is successful. "But," says one, "I have always heard that Christ's ministers are to be faithful, but that they cannot be sure of being successful." Yes, I have heard that saying, and one way I know it is true, but another way I have my doubts about it. He that is faithful is, in God's way and in God's judgment, successful, more or less. For instance, here is a brother who says that he is faithful. Of course, I must believe him, yet I never heard of a sinner being saved under him. Indeed, I should think that the safest place for a person to be in if he did not want to be saved would be under this gentleman's ministry, because he does not preach anything that is likely to arouse, impress, or convince anybody, This brother is "faithful"; so he says. Well, if any person in the world said to you, "I am a fisherman, but I have never caught anything," you would wonder how he could be called a fisherman. A farmer who never grew any wheat, or any other crop,is he a farmer? When Jesus Christ says, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men," He means that you shall really catch men, that you really shall save some; for he that never did get any fish is not a fisherman. He that never saved a sinner after years of work is not a minister of Christ. If the result of his life-work is nil, he made a mistake when he undertook it. Go thou with the fire of God in thy hand, and fling it among the stubble, and the stubble will burn. Be thou sure of that. Go thou and scatter the good seed; it may not all fall in fruitful places, but some of it will. Be thou sure of that. Do but shine, and some eye or other will be lightened thereby. Thou must, thou shalt succeed. But remember this is the Lord's word, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." Keep close to Jesus, and do as Jesus did, in His spirit, and He will make you fishers of men.
Perhaps I speak to an attentive hearer who is not converted at all. Friend, I have the same thing to say to you. You also may follow Christ, and then He can use you, even you. I do not know but that He has brought you to this place that you may be saved, and that in after years He may make you speak for His name and glory. Remember how He called Saul of Tarsus, and made him the apostle of the Gentiles. Reclaimed poachers make the best game-keepers; and saved sinners make the ablest preachers. Oh, that you would run away from your old master to-night, without giving him a minute's notice; for if you give him any notice, he will hold you. Hasten to Jesus, and say, "Here is a poor runaway slave! My Lord, I bear the fetters still upon my wrists. Wilt Thou set me free, and make me Thine own?" Remember, it is written, "Him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out." Never runaway slave came to Christ in the middle of the night without His taking him in; and He never gave one up to his old master. If Jesus make you free, you shall be free indeed. Flee away to Jesus, then, on a sudden. May His good Spirit help you, and He will by-and-by make you a winner of others to His praise! God bless you! Amen.
Chapter 15: Encouragement To Soul-Winners
"Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins."James 5:19-20
JAMES is pre-eminently practical. If he were, indeed, the James who was called "The Just", I can understand how he earned the title, for that distinguishing trait in his character shows itself in his Epistle; and if he were "the Lord's brother", he did well to show so close a resemblance to his great Relative and Master, who commenced His ministry with the practical Sermon on the Mount. We ought to be very grateful that, in the Holy Scriptures, we have food for all classes of believers, and employment for all the faculties of the saints. It was meet that the contemplative should be furnished with abundant subjects for thought,Paul has supplied them; he has given to us sound doctrine, arranged in the symmetry of exact order; he has given us deep thoughts and profound teachings; he has opened up the deep things of God. No man who is inclined to reflection and thoughtfulness will be without food so long as the Epistles of Paul are extant, for he feeds the soul with sacred manna. For those whose predominating affections and imagination incline them to more mystic themes, John has written sentences aglow with devotion, and blazing with love. We have his simple but sublime Epistles,Epistles which, when you glance at them, seem in their wording to be fit for children, but when examined, their sense is seen to be too sublime to be fully grasped by the most advanced of men. You have from that same eagle-eyed and eagle-winged apostle the wondrous visions of the Revelation, where awe, devotion, and imagination may enlarge their flight, and find scope for the fullest exercise.
There will always be, however, a class of persons who are more practical than contemplative, more active than imaginative, and it was wise that there should be a James, whose main point should be to stir up their pure minds by way of remembrance, and help them to persevere in the practical graces of the Holy Spirit. The text before me is perhaps the most practical utterance of the whole Epistle. The whole Epistle burns, but this ascends in flames to heaven it is the culmination as it is the conclusion of the letter. There is not a word to spare in it. It is like a naked sword, stripped of its jewelled scabbard, and presented to us with nothing to note but its keen edge. I wish I could preach after the fashion of the text; and if I cannot, I will at least pray that you may act after the fashion of it. Downright living for the Lord Jesus is sadly wanted in many quarters; we have enough of Christian garnishing, but solid, everyday, actual work for God is what we need. If our lives, however unornamented they may be by leaves of literary or polite attainments, shall nevertheless bring forth fruit unto God in the form of souls converted by our efforts, it will be well; they will then stand forth before the Lord with the beauty of the olive tree, which consists in its fruitfulness.
I call your attention very earnestly to three matters. First, here is a special case dealt with. "If any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him." While speaking of that special case, the apostle declares a general fact: "he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." When I have spoken of these two points, I mean, thirdly, to make a particular application of the text,not at all intended by the apostle, but I believe abundantly justified,an application of the text to increased effort for the conversion of children.
I. First, then, here is A SPECIAL CASE DEALT WITH. Read the verse, and you will see that it must relate to a backslider from the visible Church of God. The words, "If any of you," must refer to a professed Christian. The erring one had been named by the name of Jesus, and for a while had followed the truth but in an evil hour he had been betrayed into doctrinal error, and had erred from the truth. It was not merely that he fell into a mistake upon some lesser matter, which might be compared to the fringe of the gospel, but he erred in some vital doctrine, he departed from the faith in its fundamentals. There are some truths which must be believed; they are essential to salvation, and if not heartily accepted, the soul will be ruined. This man had been professedly orthodox, but he turned aside from the truth on an essential point. Now, in those days, the saints did not say, as the sham saints do now, "We must be largely charitable, and leave this brother to his own opinion; he sees truth from a different standpoint, and has a rather different way of putting it, but his opinions are as good as our own, and we must not say that he is in error." That is at present the fashionable way of trifling with divine truth, and making things pleasant all round. Thus the gospel is debased, and "another gospel" propagated.
I should like to ask modern broad churchmen whether there is any doctrine of any sort for which it would be worth a man's while to burn or to lie in prison. I do not believe they could give me an answer, for if their latitudinarianism be correct, the martyrs were fools of the first magnitude. From what I see of their writings and their teachings, it appears to me that the modern thinkers treat the whole compass of revealed truth with entire indifference; and, though perhaps they may feel sorry that wilder spirits should go too far in free thinking, and though they had rather they would be more moderate, yet, upon the whole, so large is their liberality that they are not sure enough of anything to be able to condemn the reverse of it as a deadly error. To them black and white are terms which may be applied to the same colour, as you view it from different standpoints. Yea and nay are equally true in their esteem. Their theology shifts like the Goodwin Sands, and they regard all firmness as so much bigotry. Errors and truths are equally comprehensible within the circle of their charity. It was not in this way that the apostles regarded error. They did not prescribe large-hearted charity towards falsehood, or hold up the errorist as a man of deep thought, whose views were "refreshingly original"; far less did they utter some wicked nonsense about the probability of there living more faith in honest doubt than in half the creeds. They did not believe in justification by doubting, as our neologians do; they set about the conversion of the erring brother; they treated him as a person who needed conversion; and viewed him as a man who, if he were not converted, would suffer the death of his soul, and be covered with a multitude of sins. They were not such easygoing people as our cultured friends of the school of "modern thought", who have learned at last that the Deity of Christ may be denied, the work of the Holy Spirit ignored, the inspiration of Scripture rejected, the atonement disbelieved, and regeneration dispensed with, and yet the man who does all this may be as good a Christian as the most devout believer! O God, deliver us from this deceitful infidelity, which, while it does damage to the erring man, and often prevents his being reclaimed, does yet more mischief to our own hearts by teaching us that truth is unimportant, and falsehood a trifle, and so destroys our allegiance to the God of truth, and makes us traitors instead of loyal subjects to the King of kings!
It appears from our text that this man, having erred from the truth, followed the natural logical consequence of doctrinal error, and he erred in his life as well; for the twentieth verse, which must of course be read in connection with the nineteenth, speaks of him as "a sinner converted from the error of his way." His way went wrong after his thought had gone wrong. You cannot deviate from truth without, ere long, in some measure, at any rate, deviating from practical righteousness. This man had erred from right acting because he had erred from right believing. Suppose a man shall imbibe a doctrine which leads him to think little of Christ, he will soon have little faith in Him, and become little obedient to Him, and so will wander into self-righteousness or licentiousness. Let him think lightly of the punishment of sin, it is natural that he will commit sin with less compunction, and burst through all restraints. Let him deny the need of the atonement, and the same result will follow if he acts out his belief. Every error has its own outgrowth, as all decay has its appropriate fungus. It is in vain for us to imagine that holiness will be as readily produced from erroneous as from truthful doctrine. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? The facts of history prove the contrary. When truth is dominant, morality and holiness are abundant; but when error comes to the front, godly living retreats in shame.
The point aimed at with regard to this sinner in thought and deed was his conversion,the turning of him round, the bringing him to right thinking and to right acting. Alas I fear many professed Christians do not look upon backsliders in this light, neither do they regard them as hopeful subjects for conversion. I have known a person who has erred, hunted down like a wolf. He was wrong to some degree, but that wrong has been aggravated and dwelt upon till the man has been worried into defiance; the fault has been exaggerated into a double wrong by ferocious attacks upon it. The manhood of the man has taken sides with his error because he has been so severely handled. The man has been compelled, sinfully I admit, to take up an extreme position, and to go further into mischief, because he could not brook being denounced instead of being reasoned with. And when a man has been blameworthy in his life, it will often happen that his fault has been blazed abroad, retailed from mouth to mouth, and magnified, until the poor erring one has felt degraded, and having lost all self-respect, has given way to far more dreadful sins. The object of some professors seems to be to amputate the limb rather than to heal it. Justice has reigned instead of mercy. Away with him! He is too foul to be washed, too diseased to be restored. This is not according to the mind of Christ, nor after the model of apostolic churches.
In the days of James, if any erred from the truth and from holiness, there were brethren found who sought their recovery, and whose joy it was thus to save a soul from death, and to hide a multitude of sins. There is something very significant in that expression, "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth." It is akin to that other word, "Considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted," and that other exhortation, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." He who has erred was one of yourselves, one who sat with you at the communion table, one with whom you took sweet counsel; he has been deceived, and by the subtlety of Satan he has been decoyed; but do not judge him harshly; above all, do not leave him to perish unpitied. If he ever was a saved man, he is your brother still, and it should be your business to bring back the prodigal, and so to make glad your Father's heart. Still, for all slips of his, he is one of God's children; follow him up, and do not rest till you lead him home again. And if he be not a child of God, if his professed conversion was a mistake, or a pretence, if he only made a profession, but had not the possession of vital godliness, yet still follow him with sacred importunity of love, remembering how terrible will be his doom for daring to play the hypocrite, and to profane holy things with his unhallowed hands. Weep over him the more if you feel compelled to suspect that he has been a wilful deceiver, for there is sevenfold cause for weeping. If you cannot resist the feeling that he never was sincere, but crept into the church under cover of a false profession, I say, sorrow over him the more, for his doom must be the more terrible, and therefore the greater should be your commiseration for him. Seek his conversion still.
The text gives us clear indications as to the persons who are to aim at the conversion of erring brethren. It says, "If any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him." One what? One minister? No, any one among the brethren. If the minister shall be the means of the restoration of a backslider, he is a happy man, and a good deed has been done; but there is nothing said here concerning preachers or pastors, not even a hint is given,it is left open to any one member of the church; and the plain inference, I think, is this,that every church-member, seeing his brother err from the truth, or err in practice, should set himself, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to this business of converting this special sinner from the error of his way. Look after strangers by all means, but neglect not your brethren. It is the business, not of certain officers appointed by the vote of the church thereunto, but of every member of the body of Jesus Christ, to seek the good of all the other members. Still, there are certain members upon whom in any one case this may be more imperative. For instance, in the case of a young believer, his father and his mother, if they be believers, are called upon by a sevenfold obligation to seek the conversion of their backsliding child. In the case of a husband, none should be so earnest for his restoration as his wife, and the same rule holds good with regard to the wife. So also if the connection be that of friendship, he with whom you have had the most acquaintance should lie nearest to your heart; and when you perceive that he has gone aside, you should, above all others, act the shepherd towards him with kindly zeal. You are bound to do this to all your fellow-Christians, but doubly bound to do it to those over whom you possess an influence, which has been gained by former intimacy, by relationship, or by any other means. I beseech you, therefore, watch over one another in the Lord, and when ye see a brother overtaken in a fault, "ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness." Ye see your duty; do not neglect it.
Brethren, it ought to cheer us to know that the attempt to convert a man who has erred from the truth is a hopeful one, it is one in which success may be looked for, and when the success comes, it will be of the most joyful character. Verily, it is a great joy to capture the wild, wandering sinner; but the joy of joys is to find the lost sheep which was once really in the fold, and has sadly gone astray. It is a great thing to transmute a piece of brass into silver, but to the poor woman it was joy enough to find the piece of silver which was silver already, and had the king's stamp on it, though for a while it was lost. To bring in a stranger and an alien, and to adopt him as a son, suggests a festival; but the most joyous feasting and the loudest music are for the son who was always a son, but had played the prodigal, and yet after being lost was found, and after being dead was made alive again. I say, ring the bells twice for the reclaimed backslider; ring them till the steeple rocks and reels. Rejoice doubly over that which had gone astray, and was ready to perish, but has now been restored. John was glad when he found poor backsliding but weeping Peter, who had denied his Master; he cheered and comforted him, and consorted with him, till the Lord Himself had said, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?" It may not appear so brilliant a thing to bring back a backslider as to reclaim a harlot or a drunkard, but in the sight of God it is no small miracle of grace, and to the instrument who has performed it it shall yield no small comfort. Seek ye, then, my brethren, those who were of us but have gone from us; seek ye those who linger still in the congregation, but have disgraced the church, and are put away from us, and rightly so, because we cannot countenance their uncleanness; seek them with prayers, and tears, and entreaties, if peradventure God may grant them repentance that they may be saved.
Here I would say to any backsliders who are present, let this text cheer you if you have a desire to turn to God Return, ye backsliding children, for the Lord has bidden His people seek you. If He had not cared for you, He would not have spoken of our search after you; but having put it so, and made it the duty of all His people to seek those who err from the faith, there is an open door before you, and there are hundreds who sit waiting like porters at the gate to welcome you. Come back to the God whom you have forsaken; or if you never did know Him, oh, that this day His Spirit may break your hearts, and lead you to true repentance, that you may in real truth be saved! God bless you, poor backsliders! If He do not save you, a multitude of sins will be upon you, and you must die eternally. God have mercy upon. you, for Christ's sake
II. We have opened up the special case, and we have now to dwell upon A GENERAL FACT.
This general fact is important, and we are bound to give it special attention, since it is prefaced with the words, "Let him know." If any one of you has been the means of bringing back a backslider, it is said, "Let him know." That is, let him think of it, be sure of it, be comforted by it, be inspirited by it. "Let him know" it, and never doubt it. Do not merely hear it, beloved fellow-labourer, but let it sink deep into your heart When an apostle inspired of the Holy Ghost says, "Let him know," I conjure you, do not let any indolence of spirit forbid your ascertaining the full weight of the truth.
What is it that you are to know? To know that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death. This is something worth knowing, is it not? To save a soul from death, is no small matter. Why, we have men among us whom we honour every time we cast our eyes upon them, for they have saved many precious lives; they have manned the lifeboat, or they have plunged into the river to rescue the drowning; they have been ready to risk their own lives amid burning timbers that they might snatch the perishing from the devouring flames. True heroes these, far worthier of renown than your blood-stained men of war. God bless the brave hearts! May England never lack a body of worthy men to make her shores illustrious for humanity! When we see a fellow-creature exposed to danger, our pulse beats quickly, and we are agitated with desire to save him. Is it not so?
But the saving of a soul from death is a far greater matter. Let us think what that death is. It is not non-existence; I do not know that I would lift a finger to save my fellow-creature from mere nonexistence. I see no great hurt in annihilation; certainly nothing that would alarm me as a punishment for sin. Just as I see no great joy in mere eternal existence if that is all that is meant by eternal life, so I discern no terror in ceasing to be; I would as soon not be as be, so far as mere colourless being or not being is concerned. But "eternal life" means in Scripture a very different thing from eternal existence; it means existing with all the faculties developed in fulness of joy; existing not as the dried herb in the hay, but as the flower in all its beauty. "To die," in Scripture, and indeed in common language, is not to cease to exist. Very wide is the difference between the two words to die and to be annihilated. To die, as to the first death, is the separation of the body from the soul; it is the resolution of our nature into its component elements; and to die the second death, is to separate the man, soul and body, from his God, who is the life and joy of our manhood. This is eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power; this is to have the palace of manhood destroyed, and turned into a desolate ruin, for the howling dragon of remorse, and the hooting owl of despair, to inherit for ever.
The descriptions which Holy Scripture gives of the second death are terrible to the last degree. It speaks of a "worm that never dies," and a "fire that never can be quenched," of "the terror of the Lord," and "tearing in pieces", of "the smoke of their torment which goeth up for ever and ever," and of "the pit which hath no bottom." I am not about to bring all these terrible things together, but there are words in Scripture which, if pondered, might make the flesh to creep, and the hair to stand on end, at the very thought of the judgment to come. Our joy is, that if any of us are made, in God's hands, the means of converting a man from the error of his way, we shall have saved a soul from this eternal death. That dreadful hell the saved one will not know, that wrath he will not feel, that being banished from the presence of God will never happen to him. Is there not a joy worth worlds in all this? Remember the addition to the picture. If you have saved a soul from death, you have introduced it into eternal life; by God's good grace, there will be another chorister amongst the white-robed host to sing Jehovah's praise, another hand to smite eternally the harpstrings of adoring gratitude, another sinner saved to reward the Redeemer for His passion. Oh, the happiness of having saved a soul from death
And it is added that, in such a case, you will have covered a multitude of sins. We understand this to mean that the result of the conversion of any sinner will be the covering up of all his sins by the atoning blood of Jesus. How many those sins are, in any case, none of us can tell; but if any man be converted from the error of his way, the whole mass of his sins will be drowned in the Red Sea of Jesus' blood, and washed away for ever. Now, remember that your Saviour came to this world with two objects: He came to destroy death, and to put away sin. If you convert a sinner from the error of his way, you are made like to Him in both these works; after your manner, in the power of the Spirit of God, you overcome death, by snatching a soul from the second death, and you also put away sin from the sight of God by hiding a multitude of sins beneath the propitiation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do observe here that the apostle offers no other inducement to soul-winners: he does not say, "If you convert a sinner from the error of his way, you will have honour." True philanthropy scorns such a motive. He does not say, "If you convert a sinner from the error of his way, you will have the respect of the church, and the love of the individual." Such will be the case, but we are moved by far nobler motives. The joy of doing good is found in the good itself; the reward of a deed of love is found in its own result. If we have saved a soul from death, and hidden a multitude of sins, that is payment enough, though no ear should ever hear of the deed, and no pen should ever record it. Let it be forgotten that we were the instruments if good be but effected; it shall give us joy even if we be not appreciated, and are left in the cold shade of forgetfulness. Yea, if others wear the honours of the good deed which the Lord has wrought by us, we will not murmur, it shall be joy enough to know that a soul has been saved from death, and a multitude of sins has been covered.
And, dear brethren, let us recollect that the saving of souls from death honours Jesus, for there is no saving souls except through His blood. As for you and for me, what can we do in saving a soul from death? Of ourselves nothing, any more than that pen which lies upon the table could write The Pilgrim's Progress; yet let a Bunyan grasp the pen, and the matchless work is written. So you and I can do nothing to convert souls till God's eternal Spirit takes us in hand; but then He can do wonders by us, and get to Himself glory by us, while it shall be joy enough for us to know that Jesus is honoured, and the Spirit magnified. Nobody talks of Homer's pen, no one has encased it in gold, or published its illustrious achievements; nor do we wish for honour among men: it will be enough for us to have been the pen in the Saviour's hand with which He has written the covenant of His grace upon the fleshy tablets of human hearts. This is golden wages for a man who really loves his Master; Jesus is glorified, sinners are saved.
Now I want you to notice particularly that all that is said by the apostle here is about the conversion of one person. "If any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death." Have you never wished you were a Whitefield? Have you never felt, young man, in your inmost soul, great aspirations to be another McCheyne, or Brainerd, or Moffat? Cultivate the aspiration, but at the same time be happy to bring one sinner to Jesus Christ, for he who converts only one is bidden to know that no mean thing has been done; for he has saved a soul from death, and covered a multitude of sins.
And it does not say anything about the person who is the means of this work. It is not said, "If a minister shall convert a man, or if some noted eloquent divine shall have wrought it." If this deed shall be performed by the least babe in our Israel, if a little child shall tell the tale of Jesus to its father, if a servant girl shall drop a tract where some one poor soul shall find it and receive salvation, if the humblest preacher at the street corner shall have spoken to the thief or to the harlot, and such shall be saved; let him know that he that turneth any sinner from the error of his way, whoever he may be, hath saved a soul from death, and covered a multitude of sins.
Now, beloved, what comes out of this but these suggestions? Let us long to be used in the conversion of sinners. James does not speak concerning the Holy Ghost in this passage, nor of the Lord Jesus Christ, for he was writing to those who would not fail to remember the important truths which concern both the Spirit and the Son of God; but yet it may be meet here to remind you that we cannot do spiritual good to our fellow-creatures apart from the Spirit of God, neither can we be blessed to them if we do not preach to them "Jesus Christ and Him crucified." God must use us; but, oh, let us long to be used, pray to be used, and pine to be used! Dear brethren and sisters, let us purge ourselves of everything that would prevent our being employed by the Lord. If there is anything we are doing, or leaving undone, any evil we are harbouring, or any grace we are neglecting, which may make us unfit to be used of God, let us pray the Lord to cleanse, and mend, and scour us, till we are vessels fit for the Master's use. Then let us be on the watch for opportunities of usefulness; let us go about the world with our ears and our eyes open, ready to avail ourselves of every occasion for doing good; let us not be content till we are useful, but make this the main design and ambition of our lives. Somehow or other, we must and will bring souls to Jesus Christ. As Rachel cried, "Give me children, or I die," so may none of you be content to be barren in the household of God. Cry and sigh until you have snatched some brand from the burning, and have brought at least one sinner to Jesus Christ, that so you also may have saved a soul from death, and covered a multitude of sins.
III. And, now, let us turn for a few minutes only to the point which is not in the text. I want to make A PARTICULAR APPLICATION of this whole subject to the conversion of children.
Beloved friends, I hope you do not altogether forget the Sabbath-school, and yet I am afraid a great many Christians are scarcely aware that there are such things as Sabbath-schools at all; they know it by hearsay, but not by observation. Probably, in the course of twenty years, they have never visited the school, nor concerned themselves about it. They would be gratified to hear of any success accomplished, but though they may not have heard anything about the matter one way or the other, they are well content. In most churches, you will find a band of young and ardent spirits giving themselves to Sunday-school work; but there are numbers of others who might greatly strengthen the school who never attempt anything of the sort. In this they might be excused if they had other work to do; but, unfortunately, they have no godly occupation, but are mere killers of time, while this work which lies ready to hand, and is accessible, and demands their assistance, is entirely neglected. I will not say there are any such sluggards here, but I am not able to believe that we are quite free from them, and therefore I will ask conscience to do its work with the guilty parties.
Children need to be saved; children may be saved; children are to be saved by instrumentality. Children may be saved while they are children. He who said, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven," never intended that His Church should say, "We will look after the children by-and-by when they have grown up to be young men and women." He intended that it should be a subject of prayer and earnest endeavour that children as children should be converted to God.
The conversion of a child involves the same work of divine grace, and results in the same blessed consequences as the conversion of the adult. There is the saving of the soul from death in the child's case, and the hiding of a multitude of sins, but there is this additional matter for joy, that a great preventive work is done when the young are converted. Conversion saves a child from a multitude of sins. If God's eternal mercy shall bless your teaching to a little prattler, how happy that boy's life will be compared with what it might have been if he had grown up in folly, sin, and shame, and had only been converted after many days! It is the highest wisdom and the truest prudence to pray for our children that, while they are yet young, their hearts may be given to the Saviour.
To mind religion young;
Grace will preserve their following years,
And make their virtues strong."
To reclaim the prodigal is well, but to save him from ever being a prodigal is better. To bring back the thief and the drunkard is a praiseworthy action, but so to act that the boy shall never become a thief or a drunkard is far better; hence Sabbath-school instruction stands very high in the list of philanthropic enterprises, and Christians ought to be most earnest in it. He who converts a child from the error of his way, prevents as well as covers a multitude of sins.
Moreover, this gives the Church the hope of being furnished with the best of men and women. The Church's Samuels and Solomons are made wise in their youth; David and Josiah were tender of heart when they were tender in years. Read the lives of the most eminent ministers, and you shall usually find that their Christian history began early. Though it is not absolutely needful, yet it is highly propitious to the growth of a well-developed Christian character, that its foundation should be laid on the basis of youthful piety. I do not expect to see the Churches of Jesus Christ ordinarily built up by those who have through life lived in sin, but by the bringing up in their midst, in the fear and admonition of the Lord, young men and women who become pillars in the house of our God. If we want strong Christians, we must look to those who were Christians in their youth. Trees must be planted in the courts of the Lord while they are yet young if they are to live long and to flourish well.
And, brethren, I feel that the work of teaching the young has at this time an importance superior to any which it ever had before, for at this time there are abroad those who are creeping into our houses, and deluding men and women with their false doctrine. Let the Sunday-school teachers of England teach the children well. Let them not merely occupy their time with pious phrases, but teach them the whole gospel and the doctrines of grace intelligently, and let them pray over the children, and never be satisfied unless the children are turned to the Lord Jesus Christ, and added to the Church, and then I shall not be afraid of Popery. Popish priests said of old that they could have won England back again to Rome, if it had not been for the catechising of the children. We have laid aside catechisms, I think with too little reason; but, at any rate, if we do not use godly catechisms, we must bring back decided, plain, simple teaching, and there must be pleading and praying for the immediate conversion of the children unto the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God waits to help us in this effort. He is with us if we be with Him. He is ready to bless the humblest teacher, and even the infant classes shall not be without a benediction. He can give us words and thoughts suitable to our little auditory. He can so bless us that we shall know how to speak a word in season to the youthful ear. And oh, if it be not so, if teachers are not found, or, being found, are unfaithful, we shall see the children that have been in our schools go back into the world, like their parents, hating religion because of the tedium of the hours spent in the Sunday-school, and we shall produce a race of infidels, or a generation of superstitious persons; the golden opportunity will be lost, and most solemn responsibility will rest upon us! I pray the Church of God to think much of the Sunday-school. I beseech all lovers of the nation to pray for Sunday-schools; I entreat all who love Jesus Christ, and would see His kingdom come, to be very tender towards all youthful people, and to pray that their hearts may be won to Jesus.
I have not spoken as I should like to speak, but the theme lies very near my heart. It is one which ought to press heavily upon all our consciences; but I must leave it. God must lead your thoughts fully into it; I leave it, but not till I have asked these questions:What have you been doing for the conversion of children, each one of you? What have you done for the conversion of your own children? Are you quite clear upon that matter? Do you ever put your arms around your boy's neck, and pray for him, and with him? Father, you will find that such an act will exercise great influence over your lad. Mother, do you ever talk to your little daughter about Christ, and Him crucified? Under God's hands, you may be a spiritual as well as a natural mother to that well-beloved child of yours. What are you doing, you who are guardians and teachers of youth? Are you clear about their souls? You week-day schoolmasters, as well as you who labour on the Sabbath, are you doing all you should that your boys and girls may be brought early to confess the Lord? I leave it with yourselves.
You shall receive a great reward if, when you enter heaven, as I trust you will, you shall find many dear children there to welcome you into eternal habitations; it will add another heaven to your own heaven, to meet with heavenly beings who shall salute you as their teacher who brought them to Jesus. I would not wish to go to heaven alone;would you? I would not wish to have a crown in heaven without a star in it, because no soul was ever saved by my means;would you? There they go, the sacred flock of blood-bought sheep, the great Shepherd leads them; many of them are followed by twins, and others have, each one, their lamb; would you like to be a barren sheep of the great Shepherd's flock? The scene changes. Hearken to the trampings of a great host. I hear their war music, my ears are filled with their songs of victory. The warriors are coming home, and each one is bringing his trophy on his shoulder, to the honour of the great Captain. They stream through the gate of pearl, they march in triumph to the celestial Capitol, along the golden streets, and each soldier bears with him his own portion of the spoil. Will you be there? And being there, will you march without a trophy, and add nothing to the pomp of the triumph? Will you bear nothing that you have won in battle, nothing which you have ever taken for Jesus with your sword and with your bow? Again, another scene is before me. I hear them shout the "harvest home", and I see the reapers bearing every one his sheaf. Some of them are bowed down with the heaps of sheaves which load their happy shoulders: they went forth weeping, but they have come again rejoicing, bringing their sheaves with them. Yonder comes one who bears but a little handful, but it is rich grain; he had only a tiny plot, and a little seed corn entrusted to him, yet it has multiplied well according to the rule of proportion.
Will you be there without so much as a solitary ear? Never having ploughed nor sown, and therefore never having reaped? If so, every shout of every reaper might well strike a fresh pang into your heart as you remember that you did not sow, and therefore could not reap. If you do not love my Master, do not profess to do so. If He never bought you with His blood, do not lie unto Him, and come unto His table, and say that you are His servant; but if His dear wounds bought you, give yourself to Him; and if you love Him, feed His sheep and feed His lambs. He stands here unseen by my sight, but recognised by my faith, He exhibits to you the marks of the wounds upon His hands and His feet, and He says to you, "Peace be unto you! As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature; and this know, that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." Good Master, help us to serve Thee! Amen.