Sermon 854. Fire-the Need of the Times
Delivered on Lord's-day Morning, FEBRUARY 7, 1869, by
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!"- Luke 12:49.
OUR Lord was here certainly alluding to the opposition and persecution which the Gospel would excite. This is clear from thecontext, in which He declares that He is not come to send peace on the earth but a sword, and from the parallel passages inthe other Gospels, where our Lord is forewarning His disciples that they must look for persecution. Albeit, that this wasthe first direction of the Savior's thought, He here delivers Himself of a Truth of God of a far wider application and revealsa great peculiarity of the Gospel which causes men to oppose it. He bears witness that the Gospel is an ardent, fervent, flamingthing-a subject for enthusiasm, a theme for intense devotion, a matter which excites men's souls and stirs them to the lowestdepths-and for this reason, mainly, it arouses hostility.
If the Gospel were a mere propriety of ceremonies, a truth which would slumber in the creed or lie entombed in the brain.If it were not a spiritual principle which lays hold upon the innermost nature, rules the emotions and fires the affections-ifit were not all this it would remain unopposed. But because it is so living and forcible a principle, the powers of evil arein arms to stop its course. The subject then, of this morning's meditation will be the fiery nature of the religion of JesusChrist! And to bring this clearly before you we shall first and foremost CONSIDER THE HISTORY OF THE GOSPEL.
Practically, so far as the most of us are concerned, it begins with a revelation contained in this Book-we come to the Bible,therefore, to find out what the Gospel is. Bending over the pages we are struck with the extraordinary doctrines revealed.We find them far from being matters for the curious and the philosophical, but practical truths, touching upon everyday lifeand bearing upon common human nature. Truths, indeed, so powerful over humanity that they seem to wear the key of man's hearthanging at their belt. We find in this Book the master Truth of the love of God plainly and repeatedly stated.
Right golden are these words, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shouldnot perish, but have everlasting life." We see revealed to us a love of God so vast as to be incomprehensible! So generousas to be a theme for adoring wonder throughout eternity, since the Father gives up His equal Son that He may bleed and diethat we, who are rebellious and undeserving, may live through Him! As we believe the doctrine of Divine love, we feel it tobe a Truth which sets the soul on fire with joy, gratitude and love. As we peruse the Gospel, we perceive that Divine lovehas been manifested in connection with a most astonishing display of justice and severity towards sin.
We see God willing to forgive, but not willing to allow His Law to be dishonored, and therefore giving up His only-begottenSon to die a death of pain and ignominy, in order that the penalty of a broken Law might be rendered to justice and yet mercydisplayed to rebels! We behold the Savior bleeding on the tree as much to manifest the justice as the love of God. And now,as we behold our Lord's passion, thoughts that burn full into our bosom-holy detestation of sin lifts the torch of heart-searchingand the flame of true love burns up our lusts. He dies, the Friend of Sinners dies! Murdered by human sin! Who will not, therefore,loathe the murderous thing? It is impossible to read aright in the illuminated volume of the Cross, printed in crimson characters,without feeling our hearts burn within us with an ardor unquenchable.
As we study more fully the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, we perceive that in consequence of the death of the Crucified and byreason of the love of God, eternal salvation by Divine Grace is freely proclaimed to everyone that believes in Christ! Thiscreates, at first, a fire of opposition to the doctrine of Free Grace, given not for works of righteousness which we havedone, but according to the decree of God-for naturally we choose to be saved by our own goodness and
we prefer, like Luther on Pilate's staircase, to please ourselves with acts of humiliating penance rather than submit to thatvoice which says, "By the works of the Law there shall no flesh living be justified." Before long, through God's Spirit, anotherfire burns in our soul of intense gratitude that God should condescend to make a covenant with man and ordain faith in Jesusas the great way of obtaining reconciliation!
Brothers and Sisters, these three Truths-the love of God, the atoning death of Christ and of justification by faith-are doctrineswhich cannot sleep! They must be active! Like the sword of God, they cannot be quiet. They are a seed which must grow, a leavenwhich must spread, a fire which must burn on forever! Take any other Truth of the Gospel and you will find it to be of thesame energetic character-as, for instance, that of the universal priesthood of all Believers. Priestcraft, throughout allits domains, is stirred to bitterest hate by this Truth of God. How cardinals and bishops gnash their teeth! How priests andfriars revile this teaching, "You are a royal priesthood"!
This does away with the pride of a clerical caste-the commerce in pardons and confessions. Every man who believes in JesusChrist is at once a priest and as much a priest as any other of the saints, so that no man has any right to arrogate untohimself in particular the title of priest, or to suppose or imagine that there is any sacerdotal rank in the Church but suchas is common to all Believers in Christ Jesus! This Truth of God coming into a man's soul makes him blaze and burn with zeal!Am I consecrated to God, ordained to stand as a priest between the living and the dead and to offer acceptable sacrifice throughJesus Christ? Then I will purge myself from uncleanness and diligently serve my God!
"Am I and all my Brethren priests?" asks the Believer. "Then down with priestcraft! We will be no longer duped by pretenderswho claim to be channels of Divine Grace and anointed dispensers of the Divine favor." If the Gospel of Jesus Christ had beena mystic philosophy which only a few could comprehend, it would not have been a matter of fire! If it had been a mere pompousbunch of ceremonies which the people could only look upon and admire, it would have had no ardent influence! If it had beena mere orthodoxy, to be learnt by heart and every jot and tittle to be accepted without consideration, or if it had been amere law of civilities and legalities, a mere ordinance of propriety and rule and regulation, it would never have been whatChrist says it is! But, inasmuch as it is a principle which affects the heart, which takes possession of our entire manhood,changes, renews, uplifts and inspires us, making us akin with God and filling us with the Divine fullness, it becomes in thisworld a thing of flame and fire, burning its way to victory! "I came to send fire on the earth."
I have commenced the history of the Gospel with the Bible, but remember, the Gospel does not long remain a mere writing-itis no sooner thoroughly read and grasped than the reader becomes, according to his ability, a preacher. We will suppose whena preacher whom God has truly called to the work, proclaims this Gospel, you will see for a second time that it is a thingof fire. Observe the man! If God has sent him, he is little regardful of the graces of oratory. He counts it sheer folly thatthe servants of God should be the mimics of Demosthenes and Cicero. He learns in another school how to deliver his Master'smessage. He comes forward in all sincerity, not in the wisdom of words, but with great plainness of speech and tells to thesons of men the great message from the skies!
The one thing of all others he abhors is to deliver that message with bated breath, with measured cadence and sentences thatchill and freeze as they fall from ice-bound lips. He speaks as one who knows that God has sent him-like a man who believeswhat he says, and moreover, feels that his message is a burden on his own soul-a burden which he must be delivered from-afire within his bones which rages till he gives it vent, for woe is unto him if he preach not the Gospel! I would not uttertoo sweeping a sentence, but I will venture to say that no man who preaches the Gospel without zeal is sent of God to preachat all.
When I turn to sermons such as Blair's, so faultless and yet so lifeless, I wonder whether by any possibility a soul couldhave been converted under them! The absence of enthusiasm in a sermon is fatal! It is the lack of its essential element, theone thing necessary to raise the discourse above the level of a mere essay. In Whitefield's sermons, of which we have butthe rough notes, one perceives coals of juniper and hot thunderbolts which mark him out to be a true Boanerges. Mark, my Brethren,that the fire in the preacher sent of God is not that of mere excitement, nor that alone of an intelligent judgment actingupon the passions. No, but there is also a mysterious influence resting on God's servants which is irresistible.
The Holy Spirit sent down from Heaven anoints all true evangelists and is the true power and fire. The more we believe inthe Presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the more likely shall we be to see the Gospel triumphant in our
ministry. Brethren, there is nothing in the Gospel, apart from the Spirit of God, which can win upon man, for man hates theGospel with all his heart. Though the reasonableness of the Gospel of Jesus ought to make the belief of it universal, yetits plain dealing with human sin excites deadly antagonism, and, therefore, the Gospel itself would make no progress wereit not for the Divine power. There is an invisible arm which pushes forward the conquests of the Truth of God! There is afire unfed of human fuel which burns a way for the Truth of Jesus Christ into the hearts of men!
In tracing this history of the Gospel, I would have you observe the effect of the preaching of such a one as I have described.While he is delivering the Truth of God of a crucified Savior and bidding men repent of sin and believe in Christ. While heis pleading and exhorting with the Holy Spirit sent down from Heaven, do you see the fire flakes descend in showers from onhigh? One of them has dropped just yonder and fallen into a heart that had been cold and hard before-observe how it meltsall that was hard and iron-like-and tears begin to flow from channels long dried up! Can you hear the sobbing of that anxiousone as she confesses her sins and asks for mercy? Do you notice the inward anguish of yonder youth who is convicted of sin,of righteousness and of judgment to come and who is ready to cry out, "What must I do to be saved?"
Do you notice the opposite effect in another quarter? Yonder sinner has heard of Jesus and now believes in Him. Mark wellthe joy he feels! He is not like a man who has learned fresh mathematical truths of a cold, unemotional nature, but he isready to clap his hands! He has as much as he can do to restrain himself, he feels so overjoyed! Do you observe that man whohas now heard that Gospel for some few months? Do you notice that the fire still continues to burn within him? He gives tothe cause of God what seems to others to be a lavish waste. He does for Christ what some would think to be a work of fanaticism.He is bold, he is in earnest, he is mighty in prayer-he is, in fact, consecrated, given up, devoted-the zeal of God's Househas eaten him up as it did the Psalmist, so that his meat and his drink is to do the will of Him that sent him. Herein yousee the true character of the Gospel! Like fire it thaws the iceberg heart, it makes the iron flow forth to be molded intoa Divine shape. It sets the sacrifice on a blaze and man's whole nature goes up in sacred smoke of gratitude and praise tothe Most High!
And now, as surely as God glorifies His Truth and gives seals to the Christian ministry, opposition is aroused. If the preacheris supposed to live in the middle ages, his history will be told in a few words. He preaches at first to a crowd. Convertsare made. The priests hear of it. He is abhorred and marked for extermination. He resorts to lone places among the hills.He preaches in cottages and private assemblies-converts are still brought in. The hunt grows hotter! The Hell hounds are out,eager for blood. The man is secreted. He takes his pen to write if he cannot use his tongue to speak. At last he is seized.He is dragged before the tribunals. He burns and blazes with sacred eloquence before his judges, but he is condemned to die.
And now he stands upon a fiery pulpit, the firewood blazing all around him! And, if he utters not a single word, yet his deathis eloquent. The fire of his earnestness is met by the fire of their malice-we know which of the two fires will win the day!In these times we are screened by a gracious Providence from the Satanic cruelty of persecution. Nowadays it takes anothershape-the preacher is no sooner successful than it is reported that he is actuated either by covetous or ambitious designs.It is also currently reported that he said this or that ridiculous or blasphemous thing. There are some who heard him saywhat he never dreamed of and others stand prepared to be godfathers to the lie and add another of their own invention. Andso the slander flies abroad and opposition finds barbed shafts to fling at the too valiant champion.
Parties are made and sides taken for and against-and thus, again, is fulfilled the Master's saying-"I came not to send peace,but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father and the daughter against her mother and the daughter-in-lawagainst her mother-in-law." You may depend upon it, there is no good doing if Satan does not howl! When there is no oppositionfrom the infernal powers, it is because there is nothing to oppose. "Let them be," says Satan, "let them be! A comfortablecongregation, a sober minister-all asleep-let them be! Drive on!" he says to his charioteer, "I need not alight here. Anothersmall congregation-more pews than people-sleepy nothings! Drive on!" he says, "no trouble here for my empire. Drive on toyonder Meeting House where there is an earnest preacher and a people much given to prayer. Stop," he says, "I must use mybest endeavors to stop this invasion of my kingdom."
Straightway Satan comes to do his best or his worst to hinder the kingdom of Christ. In Hell's opposition we discern a signof hopefulness, for where that fire of malice burns against the Gospel there God's fire of Divine Grace is burning,
also! When the fire of conversion has kindled the fire of persecution, it proves its own infinite energy by subjecting evenpersecution to itself. That famous master in Israel and servant of God, Farel, the Swiss Divine, was converted to God by thesight of a martyr burnt in one of the streets of Paris. The wonderful demeanor of the saint as he stood in the midst of thefire to die, made an impression on his youthful spirit which was never afterwards shaken off.
It has often been through opposition that the Church has made her greatest advances. Hence partly the reason for our Lord'ssaying, "How I wish it were already kindled!" as if our Lord had meant, "What does My kingdom care if opposition comes?" Letit come! It is so fruitful a thing to the Church of God, that the sooner it shall come the better! We might almost say, today,if there could be a return to the persecutions of the past, if it were not for the sin which would be caused, "How I wishit were already kindled!"
The Christian man who is slandered and opposed can afford to smile with a sacred contempt at all that can be done againstthe Gospel of Christ. It was during the persecution which raged against the saints at Jerusalem that the Church obtained oneof the greatest pillars that have ever strengthened and adorned her fabric-I mean the Apostle Paul. Breathing out threatsagainst the people of God, he is on the road to Damascus, but the blaze of heavenly fire blinds him, strikes him to the groundand afterwards he becomes a chosen vessel to carry, like an uplifted cresset, that very fire throughout the nations of theearth!
I look, Brothers and Sisters, for recruits to the Truth of God from the ranks of our enemies. Never despair, the brightestpreacher of Christ may yet be fashioned out of the wretched raw material of Roman Catholic and Anglican priests! In politics,one of the leaders of reform has come to us from the hostile party-and we may expect in religious matters to see the same,or even more wonderful enlightenments! A monk reformed Germany! A parish priest was the morning star of England's day of light!The Lord can send out His warrant to arrest a ringleader in the army of Satan and to say to him, "You shall be no more againstMe. You are Mine. Enlist beneath My banner and from this day be a champion for the Truth which you have despised."
Never let us fear! The fire of God which Christ has cast among us shall go on to burn, let man do what he will to quench it!Thus I have given you a very brief abstract of the history of the Gospel from the Bible and the man, to the convert and thepersecution, until opposition, valiantly met, yields up its spoils.
II. Secondly, LET US STUDY MORE CAREFULLY THE QUALITIES OF THE GOSPEL AS FIRE. First, fire and the Gospel are notable forspiritual purity. The most refined form of idolatry that has ever existed has been the Parsee worship of fire. There is akind of sentiment connected with the sun, the great parent of light and fire, which casts a halo around the error which itcannot excuse. Behold the enlightening flame, so immaterial, so spiritual, so akin to spirit- behold it and see to what theGospel may be compared!
God Himself, though He has no earthly likeness, has been pleased to say of Himself, that He is "a consuming fire," fire beingas instructive a symbol of God as earth can afford. The Gospel is like fire because it is so pure a thing-there is no admixtureof error or unholiness in it. Fire has little of earth. It has no dross. It is a simple element, I was about to say, but whatit is no man knows. We scarcely can put it among the component parts of this material earth, it is so pure. Even so, the Gospelis very pure, like silver purified seven times, free from every earthly alloy. Moreover, it is exceedingly spiritual, so spiritualthat few understand it. Yes, none but those to whom it is given of the Father. It is but the spiritual man, enlightened ofthe Spirit of God, who receives of the things which are of God.
It is so different from the trash of Rome! It talks not of the material flesh of Christ as if it could literally dwell inbread and wine! It talks not of aqueous regeneration worked by drops of water! It never consecrates holy places, or imputesholiness to material substances. It declares that God is a Spirit and that they who worship Him must worship Him in spiritand in truth. The Altar of Christianity is the Person of an unseen Savior. The offering of Christianity is prayer and praise.The worship of Christianity is the uprising of the heart-it is not at all a matter for the eyes and hands and nostrils-butaltogether spiritual, sublime, elevated, pure, God-like.
Happy are they who have accepted a spiritual and perfect Gospel! The Gospel is like fire, again, because of its cheering andcomforting influence. He that has received it finds that the cold of this world no longer pinches him. He may be poor, butthe Gospel's fire takes away the chilliness of poverty. He may be sick, but the Gospel gives his soul to rejoice even in thebody's decay. He may be slandered and neglected, but the Gospel honors him in the sight of God. The Gospel, where it is fullyreceived into the heart, becomes a Divine source of matchless consolation. Fire, in addition to its
warmth, gives light. The flaming beacon guides the mariner or warns him of the rocks. The Gospel becomes to us our guide throughall the darkness of this mortal life. And if we cannot look into the future, nor know what shall happen to us tomorrow, yetby the light of the Gospel we can see our way in the present path of duty, yes, and see our end in future immortality andblessedness! Life and immortality are brought to light by the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
Brothers and Sisters, I need not enlarge here, because your lives are a daily homily upon this subject. You bear about withyou this heavenly flame. It is this which cheers and guides you. You have, day by day, found that godliness with contentmentis great gain. You have learned to rejoice in the Lord always and to be happy in the favor of the Most High, in the salvationof Jesus and in the consolation of the blessed Comforter. Thus do you show to others that Christ has sent fire upon the earth.
A third likeness between the Gospel and fire is its testing qualities. No test like fire. That piece ofjewelry may seem tobe gold. The color is an exact imitation. You could scarcely tell but what it was the genuine metal. Yes, but the meltingpot will prove all-put it into the crucible and you will soon see. Thus in this world there are a thousand things that glitter,things which draw admirers that are advocated in the name of philanthropy and philosophy and I know not what beside. But itis amazing how different the schemes of politicians and the devices of wise men appear when they are once put into the refiningpot of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Despotic rulers and kings are very wise to try and keep the Gospel out of their dominions,for if they have anything crooked in the statute book, the Gospel is sure to show it! If there is anything rotten in the foundationsof the government, there is nothing like a preached Gospel to discover and unveil it!
What is the reason, today, that we enjoy such precious liberties in this realm? Liberties which I venture to say are not excelledby those possessed by any people under Heaven-what has been the groundwork of our freedom, but this-that the Gospel preachedamong us, evermore like a fire, is testing and trying everything in our institutions and that which is not right is sure inthe end to give way! Much which now stands, but is not according to the Master's will, is marked to be consumed-and thankGod it is so-for we shall be all the better for the overthrow of moss-grown injustice and wrong. The Gospel proves all thingsand is the great ultimate test as to right and wrong.
Ah, how the fire of the Gospel will test a man's heart. Many a man thinks he carries something good within him and he wrapshimself up in the robes of his own righteousness until the Gospel comes-and then he finds that he is naked and poor and miserable!Many a professor imagines that he is serving God and doing well-until, in the Gospel fire, his wood, hay and stubble vanishin smoke! All through this world of ours, the Gospel will burn up with unquenchable fire everything that is evil, and leavenothing but that which is just and true. Of all things under Heaven, the most intolerant is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "What,"you ask, "intolerant?" Yes, I say, intolerant! The Gospel enables us to proclaim liberty of conscience to all men! The Gospelwields no temporal sword. It asks for no cannon balls to open the gates of a nation for its ministry. The true Gospel preparesno dungeon and no rack. It asks not Peter's sword to cut off Malchus' ear-but while it gives freedom from all bondage, itdemands obedience to itself!
Within its own realm its power is absolute! Its arguments cut and kill error! Its teachings lay low every proud hope and exposeevery false way! The Gospel is merciful to the sinner, but merciless to sin! It will not endure evil, but wars against itto overturn it and to set up a throne for Him whose right it is to reign. The Gospel of Jesus Christ will never join handswith infidelity or Popery! It will never enter into league with idolatry! It cannot be at peace with error! False religionscan lie down, side by side with one another, for they are equally a lie and there is a brotherhood between them-but the truereligion will never rest until all superstitions are utterly exterminated and until the banner of the King eternal, immortal,invisible, shall wave over every mosque and minaret, temple and shrine! Fire cannot be made tolerant of that which can beconsumed-it will burn the stubble until the last particle is gone and the Truth of God is of the same kind.
A further parallel between the Gospel and fire lies in their essential aggressiveness. Take a few live coals, put them downin a wheat stack or corn rick and tell the fire, "I have given you a bundle of straw to burn. Now burn-burn away to your heart'scontent, for that straw is yours. But you must go no further-burn with propriety and within bounds. Do not begin making sparksand flames, for we will have none of your fierce attacks." While you are thus talking in this senseless way, the fire hasblazed up vehemently, burning the materials surrounding it and if you do not take to your heels you will probably be consumedyourself!
Fire is not to be talked to in that way. It knows nothing about moderation and keeping to itself. Have I not often heard thiskind of theory laid down: "You religionists have your own liberty. Keep yourselves respectable and quiet and enjoy yourselves,but leave other people alone. You have no business to be propagandists, compassing sea and land to make proselytes. Why fallinto fanaticism? Sit still, now. You have cushioned seats-be comfortable upon them. The minister has his stipend and his pulpit-lethim mind his own congregation-it will be as much as he can do if he pleases his own disciples. Why must a man become a firebrand,bigotedly intruding his peculiar views where they are not
Yes, that is just what the world desired in Christ's day, no doubt. Idolaters would have been satisfied if Christianity hadkept itself to the handful of disciples which Christ had gathered. Christians might have been ridiculed at first, but by degreesthey would have cooled down into a respectable sect like the Pharisees and Sadducees, especially after those uneducated fishermenhad died out and some respectable tradesmen in Jerusalem and, perhaps, a squire or two from beyond Jordan had joined the community.
But Christianity did not happen to be a thing that would so soon be frozen. The Gospel of Jesus was a thing of fire! Jerusalem,alone, would not serve its purpose. All Judea and Galilee could not escape from it-
"More and more the kingdom grows, Ever mighty to prevail."
Asia Minor is set upon a blaze by that fanatical firebrand, Saul of Tarsus, and even that is not enough! The fire burns sofiercely in Asia that the sparks fly across the Bosphorus! Paul is working in Macedonia. He is heard of in Athens, he is talkedabout in Corinth-and even that is not enough-that restless soul must cross the sea and is found in Rome thundering at thegates of Caesar's palace! Right away in Spain the new religion is gaining ground. Proconsuls, what are you doing? The godsof Rome defied in far-off Spain?
No, the emissaries have crossed beyond Gaul into the savage land of Britain! They have dared to stand in Albion and proclaimthe name of Him that was crucified! Will they never rest? Let us torture them! Rack them! Shut them up in prison! But look!-theycome to the tribunals eagerly, and confess themselves Christians with enthusiasm! Pliny writes home to know what is to bedone with these people who seem so anxious to die! Well, bring them into the amphitheatre! Fling them to the wild beasts!Let the bears and lions see what they can do with them! Make them die a gladiator's death amidst the shouts of Rome's matronsand senators!
It does not stop them, Sir. They have entered the senate! They have disciples among the patricians! The name of Christ wasspoken the other day right in the midst of the senate to the Emperor's own face! Yes! They even say that there are some highin rank and of imperial blood who worship the Crucified! Yes, and as years roll on, you priests of Jupiter and Saturn, listento the tale and be astonished-your gods are rolled away from their pedestals! You who are called Pontiff and Pontifex Maximus-allyou are sent away-your temples are turned into churches and your places where idolatry reigned supreme become the assemblinghouses of the saints of the living God!
Will this Gospel of Christ ever stop? Will it not pause today? No, Sirs, it never will, nor can! The true religion of JesusChrist is essentially warlike. As the heathens spoke of Minerva leaping armed from the head of Jove, so did the religion ofChrist spring armed from the very heart of Jesus Christ and it stands in the midst of the world an enemy of all unrighteousness!It is the foe of all oppression, the friend of the poor and needy and the enemy of everything that is at enmity to God! Youare no Christian if such is not your Christianity, for Jesus Christ brought not a slumbering faith, but fire onto the earth!
Our religion is like fire, again, because of its tremendous energy and its rapid advance. Who shall be able to estimate theforce of fire? Our forefathers standing on this side the river, as they gazed many years ago upon the old city of London wrappedin flame, must have wondered with great astonishment as they saw cottage and palace, church and hall, monument and cathedralall succumbing to the tongues of flame. It must be an amazing sight, if one could safely see it, to behold a prairie rollingalong in great sheets of flame, or to gaze upon Vesuvius when it is spouting away at its utmost force. When you deal withfire you cannot calculate-you are among the imponderables and the immeasurable. I wish we thought of that when we are speakingof religion. You cannot calculate concerning its spread.
"How many years would it take to convert the world?" asks somebody. Sir, it need not take 10 minutes, if God so willed it-becauseas fire, beyond all reckoning, will sometimes, when circumstances are congenial, suddenly break out and spread-so will theTruth of God. Truth is not a mechanism-and does not depend upon engineering. A thought in one mind, why not the same thoughtin fifty? That thought in 50 minds, why not in fifty thousand? The Truth of God which affects a village and stirs it fromend to end-why not a town, a city-why not a nation? Why not all nations? God may, when
He wills it, bring all human minds into such a condition that one single text such as this, "This is a faithful saying andworthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," may set all hearts on a blaze!
Vainly do we reckon the missionary costs so much, and only so many can, therefore, be sent! Yes, but God works most by weakestmeans full often and sometimes achieves by His poorest saints works which He will not perform by those who have every visibleappliance. Perhaps no men have ever been more useful than the Moravians, yet what poor men the Moravians have always been!How inadequate their means, yet they make it their lives' duty to propagate the Truth of God as it is in Jesus in every landand God is with them! The Lord has but to stir up the Church in England to a proper sense of her duty and endow her with confidencein Christ and a conviction that God is about to bless her, and you and I, before these hairs shall be gray, may see such sightsas we would not have believed though a man should tell it unto us!
I can believe anything about fire. Let a man tell me that in a house just now a bundle of rags have begun to burn. Let himtell me in five minutes that the shop is on fire. Let him tell me in five minutes more that it is blazing through the shutters,or that the next story is burning, or that the roof is coming in, I could believe it all! Fire can do anything! And so withthe Gospel of Jesus-given but an earnest preacher, given but the Truth of God fully declared! Given an earnest people determinedto propagate the Gospel and I can understand a nation converted to God, yes, and all the nations of the earth suddenly shakenwith the majesty of the Truth of God!
Once more, the Gospel resembles fire in this, that it will ultimately prevail. It is clearly revealed in Scripture that asthe world was once destroyed by water, it will a second time be destroyed by fire. Perhaps they are correct who tell us thatthe center of the earth is all a molten mass and we dwell but upon the cool crust of it. Perhaps it may be so, that thesegreat volcanoes are the ventilators of subterranean fires. But surely is it predestined that earth and all the works thatare in it shall be burnt up, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat. Fire will win the day! Old ocean, you may rollon in your pride and laugh at fire, but fire will lick you up with its tongues of flame! Men, you may erect your machinerywith which to protect your cities, but there shall not be a wreck of all your cities left!
Like old Babel's tower, of which only a heap of dust and ruins remains, your pompous cities shall utterly vanish away! Sowith the Gospel. The seas of iniquity may slow, for awhile, the fire of the Gospel from spreading, but that sea shall be utterlyremoved by the energy of Divine Truth. The day shall come when the fire of the Gospel shall make the whole world to be a burnt-offeringunto the Lord Most High! Let us have courage! Let us look forward to the flight of time and expect the advent of our Master-forthe day shall come when He shall reign from the river even to the ends of the earth! And from sea and land, from mountainand valley there shall come up the universal song, "Hallelujah, hallelujah, the Lord God Omnipotent reigns."
III. Lastly, if the Gospel is thus like fire, LET US CATCH THE FLAME! If this fire shall really burn within us, we shall becomefrom this very moment fearless of all opposition. That retired friend will lose the strings which bind his tongue-he willfeel that he must speak as God shall bid him. Or if he cannot speak, he will act with all his might in some other way to spreadabroad the savor of Immanuel's name! That coward who hid his head and would not own his profession, when the fire burns, willfeel that he had rather court opposition than avoid it. There may be some young man here who is about to take up his cross-ithas come to this-he must decide which it shall be. Let him do so without fear, for the Master whom he serves will bear himthrough all opposition!
The fondest relationship which can be lost by our decision for Christ shall be more than made up for us by the union whichit cements with Jesus Himself. Better that we lost every friend and all our kinsfolk and had the bad word of all the neighborhood,than that we lost the love of God which passes knowledge. Cast in your lot, dear Friends, with Christ, and fling down thegauntlet to the world! Let them say their worst. Let them howl, let them bark, yes, let them bite-little shall it matter tothe man to whom persecution has become an occasion for rejoicing-because now is he made like unto the Prophets which werebefore him!
If we catch this flame, we shall, after having defied all opposition, tire utterly of the mere proprieties of religion whichat this present time crush down like a nightmare the mass of the religious world. Do you believe that if Jesus Christ cameinto this world He would call nine-tenths of our modern religion the Christianity which He preached? Is it the least bit likeHis own zeal? Many think that all the faith Christianity requires is to put on your best things on Sunday and go to your placeof worship with your Bible or hymn-book, or prayer-book. Then you sit there decorously and look at other people's bonnetsand dresses. And then you come home again!
Others think it is sufficient to listen to the sermon discreetly, perhaps making a few observations upon the discourse, perhapsmaking none because there is not enough in the sermon to be a peg to hang a remark upon! The religion of many professors isnothing more than that-if it is hardly that. Do you not know of people who believe the articles and do not
doubt them because they never think of them? They have packed them away in the iron safe, with their title deeds which theyfeel so sure about that they do not care to read them. They are orthodox, but they feel no power in their own souls producedby these Truths of God! They feel no depression because the Truth of God convicts them of sin. There is no exhilaration becausethe Truth shows them their safety in Christ.
Many, if they get to a supposed saving faith, get no farther. They are saved themselves and that seems to be all they careabout. Their neighbors in the next pew may be damned, but what do they care? All down the street in which they live theremay be scarcely a person attending a place of worship, but what business is that of theirs? They belong to the denominationof Cain-they say, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Such men have denied the faith! The selfishness which reigns supreme in themis as antichristian as even covetousness, or adultery, or murder could be! The spirit of Christianity is unselfishness andlove to others, care of other's souls, a devotedness to the increase of the Master's kingdom.
O Brothers and Sisters, it is sickening work to think of your cushioned seats, your chants, your anthems, your choirs, yourorgans, your gowns and your bands, and I know not what besides, all made to be instruments of religious luxury, if not ofpious amusement, while you need far more to be stirred up and incited to holy ardor for the propagation of the Truth of Godas it is in Jesus! One would think Christ came into the world to administer an opiate to the sons of men, or prepare downfor all sleepers! But instead of it He came to send fire on the earth-and where His true Gospel is, it is a fire that willnot rest and be quiet amidst mere proprieties and rounds of performances.
If we catch this fire, we shall not only become dissatisfied with mere proprieties, but we shall, all of us, become instantin prayer. Day and night our soul will go up with cries and moans to God, "O God, how long, how long, how long? Will You notavenge Your own elect? Will not Your Gospel prevail? Why are Your chariots so long in coming? Why does not Christ reign? Whyis not the Truth triumphant? Why do You suffer idolatry to rule and priestcraft to reign? Make haste, O God, grasp Your two-edgedsword and strike and let error die and let Truth win the victory!" It is thus we shall be always pleading if this fire burnsin our spirits.
This will lead us to eager service. Having this fire in us, we shall be trying to do all we can for Christ. We shall neverthink we have done enough! We shall be uneasy if for a moment we rest! We shall seek, if possible, to snatch souls from theburning-to preach Christ where He is not known and to bring Him fresh jewels for His crown. Brethren, this is a large Church,numbering now nearly 4,000 souls and if you grow cold and lose your earnestness, I would sooner have 40 warmhearted men andwomen than the whole multitude of you if you are chilled! For what are you who are cold and indifferent but a clog upon thechariot? What are you but like the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt? Sin begins among you, but no strength do you ministerto the Lord's host.
The warm-hearted, earnest, thorough Christian is the life of the Church! And if we cannot all be as we would, may the fieryspirits among us never be retarded by those who are more lethargic. May they live above the influences that would drag themdown! May we never be content to do as much as others, to pray as much as others, to give as much as others-but may it beour resolve that we will outstrip all-not out of any emulation, but out of a love to Him who has done so much, forgiven somuch, secured so much, promised so much to us who are His people!
O lovers of Christ, come and bow at His feet and ask Him to let His love supply you with fire this morning! Come to the PiercedOne! Gaze upon the crown of thorns! Look into the hole which the soldier's spear has made! Gaze into the nail prints and sayunto your soul-
'Now, for the love I bear His name, What was my gain I count my loss. My former pride I call my shame And nail my glory toHis Cross. Yes, and I must and will esteem All things but loss for Jesus' sake. O may my soul be found in Him, And of Hisrighteousness partake." God bless you for Christ Jesus' sake. Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON-Luke 12:13-53.