A great and solemn truth has been entrusted to us, for which we are responsible. Too often this truth is presented in cold theory. Sermon after sermon upon doctrinal points is delivered to people who come and go, some of whom will never have another as favorable opportunity of being convicted and converted to Christ. Golden opportunities are lost by delivering elaborate discourses, which display self, but do
not magnify Christ. A theory of the truth without vital godliness cannot remove the moral darkness which envelops the soul.
Most precious gems of truth are often rendered powerless by the wisdom of words in which they are clothed, while the power of the Spirit of God is lacking. Christ presented the truth in its simplicity; and He reached not only the most elevated, but the lowliest men of earth. The minister who is God's ambassador and Christ's representative on the earth, who humbles himself that God may be exalted, will possess the genuine quality of eloquence. True piety, a close connection with God, and a daily, living experience in the knowledge of Christ, will make eloquent even the stammering tongue.
As I see the wants in young churches, as I see and realize their great need of vital godliness and their deficiency in true religious experience, my heart is sad. I know that those who bear the message of truth to them do not properly instruct them on all points essential to the perfection of a symmetrical character in Christ Jesus. These things may be neglected too long by the teachers of the truth. Speaking of the gospel, Paul says: "Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles [mark the explanation of the mystery]; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily."
Here the ministers of Christ have their work, their qualifications, and the power of God's grace working in them, clearly defined. God has been pleased recently to show me a great deficiency in many who profess to be representatives of Christ. In short, if they are deficient in faith and in a
knowledge of vital godliness they are not only deceiving their own souls, but are making a failure in the work of presenting every man perfect in Christ. Many whom they bring into the truth are destitute of true godliness. They may have a theory of the truth, but they are not thoroughly converted. Their hearts are carnal; they do not abide in Christ and He in them. It is the duty of the minister to present the theory of the truth; but he should not rest with having done this merely. He should adopt the language of Paul: "I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily."
A vital connection with the Chief Shepherd will make the undershepherd a living representative of Christ, a light indeed to the world. An understanding of all points of our faith is indeed essential, but it is of greater importance that the minister be sanctified through the truth which he presents for the purpose of enlightening the consciences of his hearers. In a series of meetings not one discourse should be given consisting of theory alone, nor should one long, tedious prayer be made. Such prayers God does not hear. I have listened to many prosy, sermonizing prayers that were uncalled for and out of place. A prayer with one half the number of words, offered in fervor and faith, would have softened the hearts of the hearers; but, instead of this, I have seen them wait impatiently, as though wishing that every word would end the prayer. Had the minister wrestled with God in his chamber until he felt that his faith could grasp the eternal promise, "Ask, and ye shall receive," he would have come to the point at once, asking with earnestness and faith for what he needed.
We need a converted ministry; otherwise the churches raised up through their labors, having no root in themselves, will not be able to stand alone. The faithful minister of Christ will take the burden upon his soul. He will not hunger after popularity. The Christian minister should never enter the desk until he has first sought God in his closet and has come into close connection with Him. He may, with humility, lift his thirsty soul to God and be refreshed with the dew of grace before he shall speak to the people. With an unction of the
Holy Spirit upon him, giving him a burden for souls he will not dismiss a congregation without presenting before them Jesus Christ, the sinner's only refuge, making earnest appeals that will reach their hearts. He should feel that he may never meet these hearers again until the great day of God.
The Master who has chosen him, who knows the hearts of all men, will give him tongue and utterance, that he may speak the words he ought to speak at the right time and with power. And those who become truly convicted of sin, and charmed with the Way, the Truth, and the Life, will find sufficient to do without praising and extolling the ability of the minister. Christ and His love will be exalted above any human instrument. The man will be lost sight of because Christ is magnified and is the theme of thought. Many are converted to the minister who are not really converted to Christ. We marvel at the stupor that benumbs the spiritual senses. There is a lack of vital power. Lifeless prayers are offered, and testimonies are borne which fail to edify or strengthen the hearers. It becomes every minister of Christ to inquire the cause of this.
Paul writes to his Colossian brethren: "As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellow servant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. [Not an unsanctified love of the smartness, ability, or oratory of the preacher, but a love born of the Spirit of God, which His servant represented in his words and character.] For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, unto all patience and long- suffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
Ministers who labor in towns and cities to present the truth should not feel content, nor that their work is ended, until those who have accepted the theory of the truth realize indeed the effect of its sanctifying power and are truly converted to God. God would be better pleased to have six truly converted to the truth as the result of their labors than to have sixty make a nominal profession and yet not be thoroughly converted. These ministers should devote less time to preaching sermons and reserve a portion of their strength to visit and pray with those who are interested, giving them godly instruction, to the end that they may "present every man perfect in Christ Jesus."
The love of God must be living in the heart of the teacher of the truth. His own heart must be imbued with that deep and fervent love which Christ possessed; then it will flow out to others. Ministers should teach that all who accept the truth should bring forth fruit to the glory of God. They should teach that self-sacrifice must be practiced every day; that many things which have been cherished must be yielded; and that many duties, disagreeable though they may appear, must be performed. Business interests, social endearments, ease, honor, reputation, -- in short, everything, must be held in subjection to the superior and ever-paramount claims of Christ. Ministers who are not men of vital piety, who stir up an interest among the people, but leave the work in the rough, leave an exceedingly difficult field for others to enter and finish the work they failed to complete. These men will be proved; and if they do not do their work more faithfully, they will, after a still further test, be laid aside as cumberers of the ground, unfaithful watchmen.
God would not have men go forth as teachers who have not studiously learned their lessons and who will not continue to study that they may present every point of present truth in an intelligent, acceptable manner. With a knowledge of the theory they should continually be obtaining a more thorough knowledge of Jesus Christ. Rules and studies are necessary;
but with them the minister should combine earnest prayer that he may be faithful, not building upon the foundation wood, hay, or stubble, which will be consumed by the fires of the last day. Prayer and study should go hand in hand. The fact that a minister is applauded and praised is no evidence that he has spoken under the influence of the Spirit.
It is too frequently the case that young converts, unless guarded, will set their affections more upon their minister than upon their Redeemer. They consider that they have been greatly benefited by their minister's labors. They conceive that he possesses the most exalted gifts and graces, and that no other can do equally as well as he; therefore they attach undue importance to the man and his labors. This is a confidence that disposes them to idolize the man and look to him more than to God, and in doing this they do not please God nor grow in grace. They do great harm to the minister, especially if he is young and developing into a promising gospel laborer.
These teachers, if they are really men of God, receive their words from God. Their manner of address may be faulty and need much improvement, yet if God breathes through them words of inspiration, the power is not of man, but of God. The Giver should have the glory and the heart's affections, while the minister should be esteemed, loved, and respected for his work's sake, because he is God's servant to bear the message of mercy to sinners. The Son of God is often eclipsed by the man standing between Him and the people. The man is praised, petted, and exalted, and the people scarcely get a glimpse of Jesus, who, by the precious beams of light reflected from Him, should eclipse everything besides.
The minister of Christ who is imbued with the Spirit and love of his Master will so labor that the character of God and of His dear Son may be made manifest in the fullest and clearest manner. He will strive to have his hearers become intelligent in their conceptions of the character of God, that His glory may be acknowledged on the earth. A man is no sooner converted than in his heart is born a desire to make
known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus; the saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut up in his heart. The Spirit of Christ illuminating the soul is represented by the light, which dispels all darkness; it is compared to salt, be cause of its preserving qualities; and to leaven, which secretly exerts its transforming power.
Those whom Christ has connected with Himself will, as far as in them lies, labor diligently and perseveringly, as He labored, to save souls who are perishing around them. They will reach the people by prayer, earnest, fervent prayer, and personal effort. It is impossible for those who are thoroughly converted to God, enjoying communion with Him, to be negligent of the vital interests of those who are perishing outside of Christ.
The minister should not do all the work himself, but he should unite with him those who have taken hold of the truth. He will thus teach others to work after he shall leave. A working church will ever be a growing church. They will ever find a stimulus and a tonic in trying to help others, and in doing it they will be strengthened and encouraged.
I have read of a man who, journeying on a winter's day through the deep, drifted snow, became benumbed by the cold, which was almost imperceptibly stealing away his vital powers. And as he was nearly chilled to death by the embrace of the frost king, and about to give up the struggle for life, he heard the moans of a brother traveler, who was perishing with cold as he was about to perish. His humanity was aroused to rescue him. He chafed the ice-clad limbs of the unfortunate man, and, after considerable effort, raised him to his feet; and as he could not stand, he bore him in sympathizing arms through the very drifts he had thought he could never succeed in getting through alone. And when he had borne his fellow traveler to a place of safety, the truth flashed home to him that in saving his neighbor he had saved himself also. His earnest efforts to save another quickened the blood which was freezing in his own veins, and created a healthful warmth in the extremities of the body.
These lessons must be forced upon young believers continually, not only by precept, but by example, that in their Christian experience they may realize similar results. Let the desponding ones, those disposed to think the way to life is very trying and difficult, go to work and seek to help others. In such efforts, mingled with prayer for divine light, their own hearts will throb with the quickening influence of the grace of God; their own affections will glow with more divine fervor, and their whole Christian life will be more of a reality, more earnest, more prayerful.
The minister of Christ should be a man of prayer, a man of piety; cheerful, but never coarse and rough, jesting or frivolous. A spirit of frivolity may be in keeping with the profession of clowns and theatrical actors, but it is altogether beneath the dignity of a man who is chosen to stand between the living and the dead, and to be mouthpiece for God.
Every day's labor is faithfully chronicled in the books of God. As men claiming spiritual illumination, you will give moral tone to the character of all with whom you are connected. As faithful ministers of the gospel, you should bend all the energies of the mind and all the opportunities of your life to make your work wholly successful, and present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. In order to do this, you must pray earnestly. Ministers of the gospel must be in possession of that power which wrought such wonders for the humble fishermen of Galilee.
Moral and intellectual powers are needed in order to discharge with fidelity the important duties devolving upon you; but these may be possessed, and yet there may be a great lack of godliness. The endowment of the Holy Spirit is indispensably essential to success in your great work. Said Christ: "Without Me ye can do nothing." But through Christ strengthening you, you can do all things.