Sermon 1009. Travailing for Souls
Delivered on Lord's-day Morning, September 3rd, 1871, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children."-Isaiah 66:8.
ISRAEL had fallen into the lowest condition, but an inward yearning of heart was felt in the midst of God's people for thereturn of the divine blessing; and no sooner had this anxious desire become intense, than God heard the voice of its cry,and the blessing came. It was so at the time of the restoration of the captives from Babylon, and it was most evidently soin the days of our Lord. A faithful company had continued still to expect the coming of the Lord's anointedmessenger; they waited till he should suddenly come in his temple; the twelve tribes, represented by an elect remnant,cried day and night unto the Most High, and when at last their prayers reached the fulness of vehemence, and their anxietywrought in them the deepest agony of spirit, then the Messiah came; the light of the gentiles, and the glory of Israel. Thenbegan the age of blessedness in which the barren woman did keep house and become the joyful mother of children. The Holy Ghostwasgiven, and multitudes were born to the church of God, yea we may say, a nation was born in a day. The wilderness and thesolitary place were glad for them, and the desert rejoiced and blossomed as the rose. We are not, however, about to enterinto the particular application of our text as Isaiah uttered it: the great declarations of revelation are applicable to allcases, and, once true, they stand fast for ever and ever. Earnestly desiring that God may give a large spiritual blessingto hischurch this morning, through the subject to which my mind has been directed, I shall first ask you to note that in order to the obtaining of an increase to the church, there must be travail, and that, secondly, this travail is frequently followed by surprising results. I shall then have to show why both the travail and the result are desirable, and pronounce woe on those who stand back and hinder it, and a blessing on such as shall be moved by God's own Spirit totravail for souls.
I. It is clear from the text, "As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children," that THERE MUST BE THE TRAVAILbefore there will be the spiritual birth.
Let me first establish this fact from history. Before there has fallen a great benediction upon God's people, it has been preceded by great searchings of heart. Israelwas so oppressed in Egypt, that it would have been very easy, and almost a natural thing, for the people to become so utterlycrushed in spirit as to submit to be hereditary bond-slaves, making the best they could of their miserable lot; but God wouldnot have it so; he meant to bring them out "with ahigh hand and an outstretched arm." Before, however, he began to work, he made them begin to cry. Their sighs and criescame up into the ears of God, and he stretched out his hand to deliver them. Doubtless, many a heart-rending appeal was madeto heaven by mothers when their babes were torn from their breasts to be cast into the river. With what bitterness did theyask God to look upon his poor people Israel, and avenge them of their oppressors. The young men bowed under the cruel yokeandgroaned, while hoary sires, smarting under ignominious lashes from the taskmaster, sighed and wept before the God of Israel.The whole nation cried, "O God visit us; God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, remember thy covenant, and deliver us." Thistravail brought its result; for the Lord smote the field of Zoan with mighty plagues, and forth from under the bondage ofthe sons of Misraim, the children of Israel marched with joy.
As we shall not have time to narrate many instances, let us take a long leap in history to the days of David. The era of theson of Jesse was evidently a time of religious revival. God was honored and his service maintained in the midst of Judea'sland in the days of the royal bard; but it is clear to readers of the Scriptures that David was the subject of spiritual throesand pangs of the most intense kind. His bosom throbbed and heaved like that of a man made fit to bethe leader of a great revival. What yearnings he had! He thirsted after God, after the living God! What petitions he pouredforth that God would visit Zion, and make the vine which he had planted to flourish once again. Even when his own sins pressedheavily upon him, he could not end his personal confession without entreating the Lord to build the walls of Jerusalem, andto do good in his good pleasure unto Zion. Now, David was only the mouth of hundreds of others, who with equal fervencycried unto God that the blessing might rest upon his people. There was much soul-travail in Israel and Judah, and theresult was that the Lord was glorified, and true religion flourished.
Remember also the days of Josiah, the king. You know well now the book of the law was found neglected in the temple, and whenit was brought before the king, he rent his clothes, for he saw that the nation had revolted, and that wrath must come uponit to the uttermost. The young king's heart, which was tender, for he feared God, was ready to break with anguish to thinkof the misery that would come upon his people on account of their sins. Then there came a gloriousreformation which purged the land of idols, and caused the passover to be observed as never before. Travails of heartamong the godly produced the delightful change.
It was the same with the work of Nehemiah. His book begins with a description of the travail of his heart. He was a patriot,a man of nervous, excitable temperament, and keen sensibility for God's honor, and when his soul had felt great bitternessand longing, then he arose to build, and a blessing rested on his efforts.
In the early dawn of Christian history, there was a preparation of the church before it received an increase. Look at theobedient disciples sitting in the upper room, waiting with anxious hope; every heart there had been ploughed with anguishby the death of the Lord, each one was intent to receive the promised boon of the Spirit. There, with one heart and one mind,they tarried, but not without wrestling prayer, and so the Comforter was given, and three thousand soulswere given also.
The like living zeal and vehement desire have always been perceptible in the Church of God before any season of refreshing.Think not that Luther was the only man that wrought the Reformation. There were hundreds who sighed and cried in secret inthe cottages of the Black Forest, in the homes of Germany, and on the hills of Switzerland. There were hearts breaking forthe Lord's appearing in strange places, they might have been found in the palaces of Spain, in the dungeonsof the Inquisition, among the canals of Holland, and the green lanes of England. Women, as they hid their Bibles, lesttheir lives should be forfeited, cried out in spirit, "O God, how long?" There were pains as of a woman in travail, in secretplaces there were tears and bitter lamentations, on the high places of the field there were mighty strivings of spirit, andso at length there came that grand revulsion which made the Vatican to rock and reel from its foundation to its pinnacle.Therehas been evermore in the history of the church, the travail before there has been the result.
And this, dear friends, while it is true on the large scale, is true also in every individual case. A man with no sensibilityor compassion for other men's souls, may accidentally be the means of a conversion; the good word which he utters will notcease to be good because the speaker had no right to declare God's statutes. The bread and meat which were brought to Elijahwere not less nourishing because the ravens brought them, but the ravens remained ravens still. Ahard-hearted man may say a good thing which God will bless, but, as a rule, those who bring souls to Christ are thosewho first of all have felt an agony of desire that souls should be saved. This is imaged to us in our Master's character.He is the great Saviour of men; but before he could save others, he learned in their flesh to sympathize with them. He weptover Jerusalem, he sweat great drops of blood in Gethsemane; he was, and is, a high priest who is touched with the feelingof ourinfirmities. As the Captain of our salvation, in bringing many sons unto glory he was made perfect by sufferings. EvenChrist went not forth to preach until he had spent nights in intercessory prayer, and uttered strong cryings and tears forthe salvation of his hearers. His ministering servants who have been most useful, have always been eagerly desirous to beso. If any minister can be satisfied without conversions, he shall have no conversions. God will not force usefulness on anyman. It isonly when our heart breaks to see men saved, that we shall be likely to see sinners' hearts broken. The secret of successlies in all-consuming zeal, all-subduing travail for souls. Read the sermons of Wesley and of Whitfield, and what is therein them? It is no severe criticism to say that they are scarcely worthy to have survived, and yet those sermons wrought marvels,and well they might, for both preachers could truly say-
"The love of Christ doth me constrain
To seek the wandering souls of men;
With cries, entreaties, tears, to save,
To snatch them from the fiery wave."
In order to understand such preaching, you need to see and hear the man, you want his tearful eye, his glowing countenance,his pleading tone, his bursting heart. I have heard of a great preacher who objected to having his sermons printed, "Because,"said he, "you cannot print me." That observation is very much to the point. A soul-winner throws himself into what he says. As I have sometimes said, wemust ram ourselves into our cannons, we must fire ourselves at ourhearers, and when we do this, then, by God's grace, their hearts are often carried by storm. Do any of you desire yourchildren's conversions? You shall have them saved when you agonize for them. Many a parent who has been privileged to seehis son walking in the truth, will tell you that before the blessing came he had spent many hours in prayer and in earnestpleading with God, and then it was that the Lord visited his child and renewed his soul. I have heard of a young man who hadgrown upand left the parental roof, and through evil influences, had been enticed into holding skeptical views. His father andmother were both earnest Christians, and it almost broke their hearts to see their son so opposed to the Redeemer. On oneoccasion they induced him to go with them to hear a celebrated minister. He accompanied them simply to please them, and forno higher motive. The sermon happened to be upon the glories of heaven. It was a very extraordinary sermon, and was calculatedto makeevery Christian in the audience to leap for joy. The young man was much gratified with the eloquence of the preacher,but nothing more; he gave him credit for superior oratorical ability, and was interested in the sermon, but felt none of itspower. He chanced to look at his father and mother during the discourse, and was surprised to see them weeping. He could notimagine why they, being Christian people, should sit and weep under a sermon which was most jubilant in its strain. When hereachedhome, he said, "Father, we have had a capital sermon, but I could not understand what could make you sit there and cry,and my mother too?" His father said, "My dear son, I certainly had no reason to weep concerning myself, nor your mother, butI could not help thinking all through the sermon about you, for alas, I have no hope that you will be a partaker in the brightjoys which await the righteous. It breaks my heart to think that you will be shut out of heaven." His mother said, "The verysame thoughts crossed my mind, and the more the preacher spoke of the joys of the saved, the more I sorrowed for my dearboy that he should never know what they were." That touched the young man's heart, led him to seek his father's God, and beforelong he was at the same communion table, rejoicing in the God and Saviour whom his parents worshiped. The travail comes beforethe bringing forth; the earnest anxiety, the deep emotion within, precede our being made the instruments of the salvationof others.
I think I have established the fact; now for a minute or two let me show you the reason for it. Why is it that there must be this anxiety before desirable results are gained? For answer, it might suffice us to say thatGod has so appointed it. It is the order of nature. The child is not born into the world without the sorrows of the mother,nor is the bread which sustains life procured from the earth without toil: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,"wasa part of the primeval curse. Now, as it is in the natural, so is it in the spiritual; there shall not come the blessingwe seek, without first of all the earnest yearning for it. Why, it is so even in ordinary business. We say, "No sweat no sweet,""no pains no gains," "No mill no meal." If there be no labor there shall be no profit. He that would be rich must toil forit; he that would acquire fame must spend and be spent to win it. It is ever so. There must ever be the travail and then thedesire cometh. God has so appointed it: let us accept the decree.
But better still, he has ordained this for our good. If souls were given us without any effort, anxiety or prayer it wouldbe our loss to have it so, because the anxieties which throb within a compassionate spirit exercise his graces; they producegrateful love to God; they try his faith in the power of God to save others; they drive him to the mercy-seat; they strengthenhis patience and perseverance, and every grace within the man is educated and increased by his travailfor souls. As labor is now a blessing, so also is soul-travail; men are fashioned more fully into the likeness of Christthereby, and the whole church is by the same emotion quickened into energy. The fire of our own spiritual life is fanned bythat same breath which our prayers invite to come from the four winds to breath upon the slain. Besides, dear friends, thezeal that God excites within us is often the means of effecting the purpose which we desire. After all, God does not giveconversions to eloquence, but to heart. The power in the hand of God's Spirit for conversions is heart coming in contact with heart. This is God's battle-axe andweapons of war in his crusade. He is pleased to use the yearnings, longings, and sympathies of Christian men, as the meansof compelling the careless to think, constraining the hardened to feel, and driving the unbelieving to consider. I have littleconfidence in elaborate speech and polished sentences, as the means of reachingmen's hearts; but I have great faith in that simple-minded Christian woman, who must have souls converted or she willweep her eyes out over them; and in that humble Christian who prays day and night in secret, and then avails himself of everyopportunity to address a loving word to sinners. The emotion we feel, and the affection we bear, are the most powerful implementsof soul-winning. God the Holy Ghost usually breaks hard hearts by tender hearts.
Besides, the travail qualifies for the proper taking care of the offspring. God does not commit his new-born children to peoplewho do not care to see conversions. If he ever allows them to fall into such hands, they suffer very serious loss thereby.Who is so fit to encourage a new-born believer as the man who first anguished before the Lord for his conversion? Those youhave wept over and prayed for you will be sure to encourage and assist. The church that nevertravailed, should God send her a hundred converts, would be unfit to train them; she would not know what to do with littlechildren, and would leave them to much suffering. Let us thank God, brethren, if he has given us any degree of the earnestanxiety and sympathy, which marked soul-wining men and women, and let us ask to have more for, in proportion as we have it,we shall be qualified to be the instruments in the hand of the Spirit, of nursing and cherishing God's sons and daughters.
Once more, there is a great benefit in the law which makes travail necessary to spiritual birth, because it secures all theglory to God. If you want to be lowered in your own esteem, try to convert a child. I would like those brethren who believeso much in free will, and the natural goodness of the human heart, to try some children that I could bring to them, and seewhether they could break their hearts and make them love the Saviour. Why, sir, you never think yourselfso great a fool as after trying in your own strength to bring a sinner to the Saviour. Oh! How often have I come backdefeated from arguing with an awakened person whom I have sought to comfort: I did think I had some measure of skill in handlingsorrowful cases, but I have been compelled to say to myself, "What a simpleton I am! God the Holy Ghost must take this casein hand, for I am foiled." When one has tried in a sermon to reach a certain person who is living in sin, you learn afterwardsthat he enjoyed the sermon which he ought to have smarted under; then, you say, "Ah, now I see what a weak worm I am,and if good be done, God shall have the glory." Your longing, then, that others should be saved, and your vehemence of spirit,shall secure to God all the glory of his own work; and this is what the Lord is aiming at, for his glory he will not giveto another, nor his praise to an arm of flesh.
And now, having established the fact, and shown the reasons for it, let us notice how this travail shows itself.
Usually when God intends greatly to bless a church, it will begin in this way:-Two or three persons in it are distressed atthe low state of affairs, and become troubled even to anguish. Perhaps they do not speak to one another, or know of theircommon grief, but they begin to pray with flaming desire and untiring importunity. The passion to see the church revived rulesthem. They think of it when they go to rest, they dream of it on their bed, they muse on it in thestreets. This one thing eats them up. They suffer great heaviness and continual sorrow in heart for perishing sinners;they travail in birth for souls. I have happened to become the centre of certain brethren in this church; one of them saidto me the other day, "O sir, I pray day and night for God to prosper our church; I long to see greater things; God is blessingus, but we want much more." I saw the deep earnestness of the man's soul, and I thanked him and thanked God heartily, thinkingitto be a sure sign of a coming blessing. Sometime after, another friend, who probably now hears me speak, but who did notknow any thing about the other, felt the same yearning, and must needs let me know it; he too is anxious, longing, begging,crying, for a revival; and thus from three or four quarters I have had the same message, and I feel hopeful because of thesetokens for good. When the sun rises the mountain tops first catch the light, and those who constantly live near to God willbethe first to feel the influence of the coming refreshing. The Lord give me a dozen importunate pleaders and lovers ofsouls, and by his grace we will shake all London from end to end yet. The work would go on without the mass of you, Christians;many of you only hinder the march of the army; but give us a dozen lion-like, lamb-like men, burning with intense love toChrist and souls, and nothing will be impossible to their faith. The most of us are not worthy to unloose the shoe-latchesofardent saints. I often feel I am not so myself, but I aspire and long to be reckoned among them. Oh, may God give us thisfirst sign of the travail in the earnest ones and twos.
By degrees the individuals are drawn together by sacred affinity, and the prayer-meetings become very different. The brotherwho talked twenty minutes of what he called prayer, and yet never asked for a single thing, gives up his oration and fallsto pleading with many tears and broken sentences: while the friend who used to relate his experience and go through the doctrinesof grace, and call that a prayer, forgets that rigmarole and begins agonizing before the throne.And not only this, but little knots here and there come together in their cottages, and in their little rooms cry mightilyto God. The result will be that the minister, even if he does not know of the feeling in the hearts of his people, will growfervent himself. He will preach more evangelically, more tenderly, more earnestly. He will be no longer formal, or cold, orstereotyped; he will be all alive. Meanwhile, not with the preacher only will be the blessing, but with his hearers who lovethe Lord. One will be trying a plan for getting in the young people; another will be looking after the strangers in theaisles, who come only now and then. One brother will make a vehement attempt to preach the gospel at the corner of the street;another will open a room down a dark court; another will visit lodging-houses and hospitals; all sorts of holy plans willbe invented, and zeal will break out in many directions. All this will be spontaneous, nothing will be forced. If you wantto getup a revival, as the term is, you can do it, just as you can grow tasteless strawberries in winter, by artificial heat.There are ways and means of doing that kind of thing but the genuine work of God needs no such planning and scheming; it isaltogether spontaneous. If you see a snowdrop next February in your garden, you will feel persuaded that spring is on theway; the artificial-flower maker could put as many snow-drops there as you please, but that would be no index of coming spring.Soyou may get up an apparent zeal which will be no proof of God's blessing; but when fervor comes of itself, without humandirection or control, then is it of the Lord. When men's hearts heave and break, like the mould of the garden under the influenceof the reviving life which lay buried there, then in very deed a benediction is on the way. Travail is no mockery, but a realagony of the whole nature. May such be seen in this our church, and throughout the whole Israel of God.
II. Now, with great brevity, let us consider that THE RESULT IS OFTEN VERY SURPRISING. It is frequently surprising for rapidity. "As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children." God's works are not tied by time. The more spiritual a forceis the less it lies within the chains of time. The electric current, which has a greater nearness to the spiritual than thegrosser forms of materialism, is inconceivably rapid from that very reason, and by it time isall but annihilated. The influences of the Spirit of God are a force most spiritual, and more quick than any thing beneaththe sun. As soon as we agonize in soul the Holy Spirit can, if he pleases, convert the person for whom we have pleaded. Whilewe are yet speaking he hears, and before we call he answers. Some calculate the expected progress of a church by arithmetic;and I think I have heard of arithmetical sermons in which there have been ingenious calculations as to how many missionariesit would take to convert the world, and how much cash would be demanded. Now, there is no room here for the applicationof mathematics; spiritual forces are not calculable by an arithmetic which is most at home in the material universe. A truthwhich is calculated to strike the mind of one man to-day may readily enough produce a like effect upon a million minds to-morrow.The preaching which moves one heart needs not be altered to tell upon ten thousand. With God's Spirit our presentinstrumentalities will suffice to win the world to Jesus; without him, ten thousand times as much apparent force wouldbe only so much weakness. The spread of truth, moreover, is not reckonable by time. During the ten years which ended in 1870,such wondrous changes were wrought throughout the world that no prophet would have been believed had he foretold them. Reformshave been accomplished in England, in the United States, in Germany, in Spain, in Italy, which according to ordinary reckoning,would have occupied at least one hundred years. Things which concern the mind cannot be subjected to those regulationsof time which govern steamboats and railways; in such matters God's messengers are flames of fire. The Spirit of God is ableto operate upon the minds of men instantaneously: witness the case of Paul. Between now and to-morrow morning he could exciteholy thought in all the minds of all the thousand millions of the sons of Adam; and if prayer were mighty enough, and strongenough, why should it not be done on some bright day? We are not straitened in him, we are straitened in our own bowels.All the fault lies there. Oh for the travail that would produce immediate results.
But the result is surprising, not only for its rapidity, but for the greatness of it. It is said, "Shall a nation be born at once?" As soon as ever Zion was in distress concerning her children, tens of thousandscame and built up Jerusalem, and re-established her fallen state. So, in answer to prayer, God not only bestows speedy blessings,but great blessings. There were fervent prayers in that upper room "before the day of Pentecost had fully come," and whatagreat answer it was when, after Peter's sermon, some three thousand were ready to confess their faith in Christ, and tobe baptized. Shall we never see such things again? Is the Spirit straitened? Has his arm waxed short? Nay, verily, but weclog and hinder him. He cannot do any mighty work here because of our unbelief; and, if our unbelief were cast out, and ifprayer went up to God with eagerness, and vehemence, and importunity, then would a blessing descend so copious as to amazeus all.
But enough of this, for I must needs pass on to the next point.
III. THIS TRAVAIL AND ITS RESULT ARE ABUNDANTLY DESIRABLE; pre-eminently desirable at this hour. The world is perishing fora lack of knowledge. Did any one among us ever lay China on his heart? Your imagination cannot grapple with the populationof that mighty empire, without God, without Christ, strangers to the commonwealth of Israel. But it is not China alone; thereare other vast nations lying in darkness; the great serpent hath coiled himself around the globe, andwho shall set the world free from him? Reflect upon this one city with its three millions. What sin the moon sees! Whatsin the Sabbath sees! Alas for the transgressions of this wicked city. Babylon of old could not have been worse than Londonis, nor so guilty, for she had not the light that London has received. Brethren, there is no hope for China, no hope for theworld, no hope for our own city, while the church is sluggish and lethargic. Through the church the blessing is usually bestowed.Christ multiplies the bread, and gives it to the disciples; the multitudes can only get it through the disciples. Oh,it is time, it is high time that the churches were awakened to seek the good of dying myriads. Moreover, brethren, the powersof evil are ever active. We may sleep, but Satan sleepeth never. The church's plough lies yonder, rusting in the furrow; doyou not see it to your shame? But the plough of Satan goes from end to end of his great field, he leaves no headland, butheploughs deep while sluggish churches sleep. May we be stirred as we see the awful activity of evil spirits and personswho are under their sway. How industriously pernicious literature is spread abroad, and with what a zeal do men seek for freshways of sinning. He is eminent among men who can invent fresh songs to gratify the lascivious tongue, or find new spectaclesto delight unclean eyes. O God, are thine enemies awake, and only thy friends asleep? O Sufferer, once bathed in bloody sweatinGethsemane, is there not one of the twelve awake but Judas? Are they all asleep except the traitor? May God arouse usfor his infinite mercy's sake.
Besides this, my brethren, when a church is not serving God, mischief is brewing withing herself. While she is not bringingothers in, her own heart is becoming weak in its pulsations, and her entire constitution is a prey to decline. The churchmust either bring forth children unto God, or else die of consumption: she has no alternative but that. A church must eitherbe fruitful or rot, and of all things, a rotting church is the most offensive. Would God we could bury ourdead churches out of our sight, as Abraham buried Sarah, for above ground they breed a pestilence of scepticism; for mensay, "Is this religion?" and taking it to be so, they forego true religion altogether.
And then, worst of all is, God is not glorified. If there be no yearning of heart in the church, and no conversions, whereis the travail of the Redeemer's soul? Where, Immanuel, where are the trophies of thy terrible conflict? Where are the jewelsfor thy crown? Thou shalt have thine own, thy Father's will shall not be frustrated; thou shalt be adored; but as yet we seeit not. Hard are men's hearts, and they will not love thee; unyielding are their wills, and they willnot own thy sovereignty. Oh! weep because Jesus is not honored. The foul oath still curdles our blood as we hear it, andblasphemy usurps the place of grateful song. Oh! by the wounds and bloody sweat, by the cross and nails, and spear, I beseechyou followers of Christ, be in earnest, that Jesus Christ's name may be known and loved through the earnest agonizing endeavorsof the Christian church.
IV. And now I must come near to a close, by, in the fourth place, noticing THE WOE WHICH WILL SURELY COME TO THOSE WHO HINDERTHE TRAVAIL OF THE CHURCH, and so prevent the bringing forth of her children. An earnest spirit cannot complete its exhortationsto zeal without pronouncing a denunciation upon the indifferent. What said the heroine of old who had gone forth against theenemies of Israel, when she remembered coward spirits? "Curse ye Meroz, saith the angel of theLord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the Lord against the mighty." Somesuch curse will assuredly come upon every professing Christian who is backward in helping the church in the day on her soul'stravail. And who are they that hinder her? I answer, every worldly Christian hinders the progress of the gospel. Every memberof a church who is living in secret sin, who is tolerating in his heart any thing that he knows to be wrong, who is notseeking eagerly his own personal sanctification, is to that extent hindering the work of the Spirit of God. "Be ye cleanthat bear the vessels of the Lord," for to the extent that we maintain known unholiness, we restrain the Spirit. He cannotwork by us as long as any conscious sin is tolerated. It is not over breaking of commandments that I am now speaking of, brethren,but I include worldliness also-a care for carnal things, and a carelessness about spiritual things, having enough gracejust to make us hope that you are a Christian, but not enough to prove you are; bearing a shriveled apple here and thereon the topmost bough, but not much fruit; this I mean, this partial barrenness, not complete enough to condemn, yet completeenough to restrain the blessing, this robs the treasure of the church, and hinders her progress. O brethren, if any of youare thus described, repent and do your first works; and God help you to be foremost in proportion as you have been behind.
They are also guilty who distract the mind of the church from the subject in hand. Anybody who calls off the thoughts of thechurch from soul-saving is a mischief maker. I have heard it said of a minister, "He greatly influences the politics of thetown." Well, it is a very doubtful good in my mind, a very doubtful good indeed. If the man, keeping to his own calling ofpreaching the gospel, happens to influence these meaner things, it is well, but any Christian ministerwho thinks that he can do two things well, is mistaken. Let him mind soul-winning, and not turn a Christian church intoa political club. Let us fight out our politics somewhere else, but not inside the church of God. There our one business issoul-winning, our one banner is the cross, our one leader is the crucified King. Inside the church there may be minor thingsthat take off the thoughts of men from seeking souls,-little things that can be made beneath the eye that is microscopical,toswell into great offences. Oh, my brethren, let us, while souls are perishing, waive personal differences. "It must needbe that offences come, but woe unto him by whom the offence cometh;" but, after all, what can there be that is worth takingnotice of, compared with glorifying Christ. If our Lord and Master would be honored by your being a doormat for his saintsto wipe their feet on, you would be honored to be in the position; and if there shall come glory to God by your patient endurance,even of insult and contumely, be glad in your heart that you are permitted to be nothing that Christ may be all in all.We must by no means turn aside to this or that; not even golden apples must tempt us in this race! There lies the mark, anduntil it is reached, we must never pause, but onward press, for Christ's cause and crown.
Above all, my brethren, we shall be hindering the travail of the church if we do not share in it. Many church members thinkthat if they do nothing wrong, and make no trouble, then they are all right. Not at all, sir; not at all. Here is a chariot,and we are all engaged to drag it. Some of you do not put out your hands to pull; well, then, the rest of us have to laborso much the more; and the worst of it is we have to draw you also. While you do not add to the strengthwhich draws, you increase the weight that is to be drawn. It is all very well for you to say, "But I do not hinder;" youdo hinder, you cannot help hindering. If a man's leg does not help him in walking, it certainly hinders him. Oh, I cannotbear to think of it. That I should be a hindrance to my own sou's growth is bad indeed; but that I should stand in the wayof the people of God and cool their courage, and damp their ardor-my Master, let it never be! Sooner let me sleep among theclodsof the valley, than be a hindrance to the meanest work that is done for thy name.
V. And now I shall close, not with this note of woe, but with A WORD OF BLESSING. Depend upon it there shall come a greatblessing to any of you who feel the soul travail that brings souls to God. Your own heart will be watered. You know the oldillustration, so often used that it is now almost hackneyed, of the two travelers, who passed a man frozen in the snow, andthought to be dead; and the one said, "I have enough to do to keep myself alive, I will hasten on;" but theother said, "I cannot pass a fellow-creature while there is the least breath in him." He stooped down and began to warmthe frozen man by rubbing him with great vigor; and at last the poor fellow opened his eyes, came back to life and animation,and walked along with the man who had restored him to life; and what think you was one of the fist sights they saw? It wasthe man who so selfishly took care of himself frozen to death. The good Samaritan had preserved his own life by rubbing theotherman; the friction he had given had caused the action of his own blood, and kept him in vigor. You will bless yourselvesif you bless others.
Moreover, will it not be a joy to feel that you have done what you could? It is always well on a Sunday evening for a preacherto feel when he gets home, "Well, I may not have preached as I could wish, but I have preached the Lord Jesus, and pouredforth all my heart and I could do no more." He sleeps soundly on that. After a day spent in doing all the good you can, evenif you have met with no success, you can lean your head on Christ's bosom and fall asleep, feeling thatif souls be not gathered, yet you have your reward. If men are lost, it is some satisfaction to us that they were notlost because we failed to tell them the way of salvation. But what a comfort it will be to you supposing you should be successfulin bringing some to Christ. Why it will set all the bells of your soul ringing. There is no greater joy except the joy ofour own communion with Christ, than this of bringing others to trust the Saviour. Oh seek this joy and pant after it. Andwhat ifyou should see your own children converted? You have long hoped for it, but your hopes have been disappointed; God meansto give you that choice blessing when you live more nearly to him yourself. Yes, wife, the husband's heart will be won whenyour heart is perfectly consecrated. Yes, mother, the girl shall love the Saviour when you love him better. Yes, teacher,God means to bless your class, but not until first of all he has made you fit to receive the blessing. Why, now, if your childrenwere to be converted through your teacher, you would be mightily proud of it: God knows you could not bear such success,and does not mean to give it until he has laid you low at his feet, and emptied you of yourself, and filled you with himself.
And now I ask the prayers of all this church, that God would send us a time of revival. I have not to complain that I havelabored in vain, and spent my strength for nought; far from it. I have not even to think that the blessing is withdrawn fromthe preaching of the word, even in a measure, for I never had so many cases of conversion in my life as I have known sinceI have been restored from sickness; I have never before received so many letters in so short a time,telling me that the sermons printed have been blest, or the sermons preached here; yet I do not think we ever had so fewconversions from the regular congregation. I partly account for it from the fact, that you cannot fish in one pond alwaysand catch as many fish as at first. Perhaps the Lord has saved all of you he means to save; sometimes, I am afraid he has;and then it will be of little use for me to keep on preaching to you, and I had better shift quarters and try somewhere else.Itwould be a melancholy thought if I believed it:-I do not believe it, I only fear it. Surely it is not always to be truethat strangers, who drop in here only once, are converted, and you who are always hearing the gospel remain unaffected. Strange,but may it not be strangely, lamentably true of you? This very day may the anxiety of your Christian friends be excited foryou, and then may you be led to be anxious for yourselves, and give your eyes no slumber till you find the Saviour. You knowthe way of salvation; it is simply to come with your sins and rest them on the Saviour; it is to rely upon or trust inthe atoning blood. Oh that you may be made to trust this morning, to the praise of the glory of his grace. The elders meanto meet together tomorrow evening to have a special hour of prayer; I hope, also, the mothers will meet and have a time wrestling,and that every member of the church will try to set apart a time for supplication this week, that the Lord may visit againhischurch, and cause us to rejoice in his name. We cannot go back; we dare not go back. We have put our hand to the plough,and the curse will be upon us if we turn back. Remember Lot's wife. It must be onward with us; backward it cannot be. In thename of God the Eternal, let us gird up our loins by the power of his Spirit, and go onward conquering through the blood ofthe Lamb. We ask it for Jesus' sake. Amen.
PORTIONS OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON-Isaiah 66.
Of this sermon, a copy was sent to every Baptist and Congregational minister in Great Britain, and several letters have beenreceived, acknowledging the quickening thereby received. May the like result be far more abundant in the New World.