How To Meet the Evils of the Age
ELOVED friends, allow me to welcome you all most heartily. I have already received a blessing in the prayers which have been offered; and we have all, I think, enjoyed the earnest of a Divine refreshing during the first hallowed hour of our meeting. Let us continue in the believing confidence that He, who has already deigned to visit us, will tarry with us until the time shall come for us all to say," Let us go hence."
So far as I remember, every year has been an exceedingly critical period; and so far as I can see in history, almost every six months some fervid spirit or another has written about "the present solemn crisis." There are persons who always believe in the imminent peril of the universe in general and of the Church of God in particular, and a sort of popularity is sure to be gained by always crying "Woe! Woe!" Prophets who will spiritually imitate Solomon Eagle, who went about the streets of London in the time of the plague, naked, with a pan of coals on his head, crying "Woe! Woe!" are thought to be faithful, though they are probably dyspeptic. We are not of that order: we dare not shut our eyes to the evils that surround us, but we are able to see the Divine power above us, and to feel it with us, working out its purposes of grace. We say to each of you what the Lord said to Joshua in the chapter we have just read, "Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." Our trust is in the living God, who will bring ultimate victory to His own cause.
Still, it is a wise thing to admit that these days have their own peculiar perils and trials. The kaleidoscope shifts, the scenes presented to our gaze are changed, whether for good or evil; good has infinite varieties, and so has evil. We are not troubled, as our Puritan forefathers were, by persecution and oppression such as would take from us our civil rights and our liberty to worship God. Evil has assumed quite another form with us, and we must meet it as we find it. The battle-front is altered, but do not imagine that the conflict will be less severe. I look for a sterner struggle than we have ever yet engaged in, and we must be prepared for it. During the progress of a battle, the Duke of Wellington was observed riding along the lines to a certain part of the field, and a soldier said to his fellow, "There goes the Duke, and there's sure to be warm work." Brethren, we have evidence that the Lord Jesus is with us, let us therefore set the battle in array. He is not a general who rides about for mere parade, He means fighting wherever He comes, and we may expect warm work. When He girds His sword upon His thigh, and rides forth on His white horse, you may rest assured that His sword will smite heavily, and His arrows will fly thick and fast, while on the other hand His enemies will furiously rage.
First among the evils of the age, we must notice the return of superstition. Ritualism has sprung up among us, and spread as most ill weeds do. It is, I suppose, distinguishable from Romanism by omniscience, but it is also probable that omniscience sees more of its likeness to Romanism than we do. It is sadly spreading,spreading everywhere. It suits our Evangelical brethren in the Church of England to speak of "a noisy minority practising Ritualism," and to remind us that each denomination has its difficulties; but to us, who are impartial onlookers, it seems that the most vital and vigorous part of the Anglican Church is that which is tainted with this error. The difference in the two parties is most marked, for, the Ritualists are brave as lions, and the Evangelicals are timid as hares. You have only to go into the churches immediately around us, or into those of large towns, such as Brighton, to see the strength, the force, the determination, in a word, the detestable vitality of Ritualism. Every doctrine of Romanism is preached by these men except the infallibility of the Pope, and perhaps the celibacy of the clergy;the presence of certain rosy-cheeked boys and girls in the rectory garden proving many Anglicans to be soundly Protestant upon that point. I am persuaded that there are many priests in the Church of Rome who preach more gospel, and understand it better, than do these pretended priests in the Church of England.
The worst of it is, that the growth of sacramentalism in the Established Church is not like that of the mistletoe or a fungus upon an oak, it is a real and legitimate branch of the parent stem. There is no man living, and there never was a man, and never can be one, who believes the whole of the Book of Common Prayer in its natural signification. The only way in which it can be done is by some such device as that of the two nuns who had borrowed a mule which would not go without being sworn at. As neither of them could be so profane as to swear, one good sister pronounced the first syllable of the French word sacre, and the other finished it, and thus between the two the mule was made to go. So must it be with belief in the Prayer-book, no one man can believe it all; possibly High Church, Low Church, and Broad Church can manage it between them. But if I were driven, at the point of the bayonet, to certify that one of the parties was a grain or two more consistent with the Prayer-book than the others, I must declare in favor of the High Church party. It is true that the Articles are against them, but what are the Articles? They are only read over perhaps once in a lifetime. The. mischief is in the Catechism and. the service book which are in constant use. We have not to deal with a parasitical evil, but with a natural offshoot of the national vine, which will remain as long as the Book of Common Prayer is unrevised; and when will it be revised?
Then, too, this mischief is carried on by men who mean it. They are in downright earnest. I believe there is among them a remnant who, despite their ceremonialism and their mummeries, are true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. With them, there is a host of mere believers in postures, masquerading, and drapery, and all that kind of rubbish; but there is, nevertheless, a gracious company, whose sweet spirit breathes in holy hymns, and in devout, Herbert-like utterances concerning our Lord, which we should be sorry to have missed. As a party, they are earnest, they compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and great are the sacrifices which they make for the cause which they have espoused. This system, my brethren, is well entrenched, and you have to dislodge it.
This superstition, too, is in harmony with the innate idolatry of the human heart; it offers gratification to the eye and to the taste, it sets up a visible priest and outward symbols, and these man's fallen heart craves after. It offers to save men the necessity of thought by offering an outward service, and furnishing a priest to do their religion for them; but, alas! it takes man off from the real and spiritual, it consoles him without true regeneration, and buoys him up with hope though he has not submitted himself to the righteousness of Christ.
A second, and what I regard as an equally terrible evil, is abounding unbelief. I am not speaking now of that coarse kind of infidelity which rails at the Scriptures, and blasphemes the Name of the Lord our God. There is not much mischief in such a devil as that; he is too black, too plainly a fiend of hell! There is a more dangerous spirit now abroad, entering into Nonconformist churches, climbing into their pulpits, and notably perverting the testimony of some who count themselves somewhat, and are regarded as leaders by those who reckon themselves to be men of culture and intellect. Macaulay rightly said that theology is immutable; but these men are continually contradicting that opinion in the most practical manner, for their theology is fickle as the winds. Landmarks are laughed at, and fixed teaching is despised. "Progress" is their watchword, and we hear it repeated ad nauseam. Very far are we from denying that men ought to make progress in the knowledge of the truth, for we are aiming at that ourselves; and by daily experience, by study, and by the teaching of the Holy Ghost, we trust that, in some humble measure we are gaining it. But words need interpreting,what is intended by "progress" in this case? Which way does it go?
It is too often progress from the truth, which, being interpreted, is progressing backwards. They talk of higher thought, but it is an ascending downwards. I must use their terms, and talk of progress; but their progress is a going from, and not a going to, the place of our desires. Evidently, it is progress from usefulness. They invite us to follow them in their advance towards a barren Socinianism, for thither the new theology tends, or to something worse. Now, we know, at the present time, certain ancient chapels shut up, with grass growing in the front of them, and over the door of them is the name Unitarian Baptist Chapel. Although it has been said that he is a benefactor of his race who makes two blades of grass grow where only one grew before, we have no desire to empty our pews in order to grow more grass. We have in our eye certain other chapels, not yet arrived at that consummation, where the spiders are dwelling in delightful quietude, in which the pews are more numerous than the people, and although an endowment keeps the minister's mouth open, there are but few open ears for him to address.
It is pretty certain that Christ is not lifted up there, for He does not draw all men unto Him. There is no attractive force, no power, no influence for good; it is a frost-bound religion, and we are not at all desirous of making an excursion to that sea of ancient ice. "Sir," we say to the preacher, "you are immensely clever; we often wonder how one small head can carry all you know; but, for all your cleverness, we cannot give up the old, old gospel, for the results of your preaching do not fascinate us. Where are your converts? Where are your hearers? Where will your members soon be found?" Handel, on one occasion, played the organ in a country church; and, at the close of the service, he gave a voluntary of such a sort that all the people lingered to hear it. The old organist was indignant, and said, "Now, let that organ alone, you can't play the people out; let me do it." These progressive gentlemen certainly can play the people out. Their gifts of dispersion are amazing. Put them down in any warm-hearted Christian community, and see if they will not scatter and divide it; place them in any town you may select, and though they may be at first attractive (for some people are attracted by any novelty, however erroneous), yet, after a short time, there being no life, there will be no power to retain the people. We remember the experiment of Daventry, under that eminently godly man, Dr. Doddridge, and we are not inclined to try the like under any circumstances. That worthy man did not dogmatize to "the dear young men" who came to his College, but adopted the plan of letting them hear the argument upon each side, that they might select for themselves. The result was as disastrous as if error had been taught, for nothing is worse than lukewarmness as to truth. Dissent became enervated with a faint-hearted liberalism, and we had a generation of Socinians, under whom Nonconformity almost expired. Both General and Particular Baptists have had enough of this evil leaven, and we are not inclined to put it again into the people's bread.
Besides, we are invited to follow the guidance of men who are not qualified to be leaders. I have waited, with a good deal of interest, to see whether modern thought would be capable of producing a man, a man of mark, of profound mind, and philosophic genius; but where is he? Where is the man who will found a school, and sway his fellows; a man for the orthodox to tremble at, a great Goliath, head and shoulders above his fellows? Truly, there are some who think they have power, and so they have amongst those young gentlemen whose moustachios are on the point of developing; but they have no influence over those who read their Bibles, have had experience, and are accustomed to "try the spirits."
The great lights are the literary men who produce articles in certain Reviews which are the oracles of the elite, or of those who think themselves so. I wonder how many of these precious Reviews are sold; but that, of course, is of small consequence, because the quality of their readers is so high! See what airs a man gives himself because he reads a Review! Are these things so very clever? I am unable to see it. I used to hear that Evangelical writers produced platitudes; I believe they did, but surely they never wrote more watery trash than is published in the present day in opposition to the orthodox faith; but then, you see, it is given out in such a Latinized jargon that its obscurity is mistaken for profundity. If you have the time and patience to read a little of what is written by the modern-thought gentlemen, you will not be long before you are weary of their word-spinning, their tinkering of old heresies into original thought, and their general mystifying of plain things. It only needs a man of power to smash them up like potters' vessels, but then the result would only be pieces of broken pottery. "Show us a man worth following," say we, "and when you do, we will not follow him, but fight with him; at the present, we are not likely to leave Calvin, and Paul, and Augustine, to follow you."
We are invited, brethren, most earnestly to go away from the old-fashioned belief of our forefathers because of the supposed discoveries of science. What is science? The method by which man tries to conceal his ignorance. It should not be so, but so it is. You are not to be dogmatical in theology, my brethren, it is wicked; but for scientific men, it is the correct thing. You are never to assert anything very strongly; but scientists may boldly assert what they cannot prove, and may demand a faith far more credulous than any we possess. Forsooth, you and I are to take our Bibles, and shape and mould our belief according to the ever-shifting teachings of so-called scientific men. What folly is this! Why, the march of science, falsely so-called, through the world, may be traced by exploded fallacies and abandoned theories. Former explorers, once adored, are now ridiculed; the continual exposure of false hypotheses is a matter of universal notoriety. You may tell where the learned have encamped by the debris left behind of suppositions and theories as plentiful as broken bottles. As the quacks, who ruled the world of medicine in one age, are the scorn of the next, so has it been, and so will it be, with your atheistical savants and pretenders to science. But they remind us of facts. Are they not yet ashamed to use the word? Wonderful facts, made to order, and twisted to their will to overthrow the actual facts which the pen of God Himself has recorded! Let me quote from "Is the Book Wrong?" by Mr. Hely Smith, a pamphlet worthy of an extensive reading:
"For example, deep down in the alluvial deposits in the delta of the Nile were found certain fragments of pottery. Pottery, of course, implies potters; but these deposits of mud, Sir Charles Lyell decreed, must have taken 18,000 years to accumulate, therefore there must have been men carrying on the occupations of civilized life at least 7,000 years before the creation of man as recorded in Scripture. What clearer proof could be wanted that the Book was wrong? For who would presume to suspect Sir C. Lyell of making a mistake in his work? A mistake, however, he had made, for, in the same deposits of mud, at the same depth in which this 'pre-Adamite pottery' was discovered, there also turned up a brick bearing the stamp of Mahomet Ali! [Yet we were bound to shift the Bible to suit that 'fact 'muddy fact!] Again, some curiously-shaped pieces of flint were discovered in 1858 in what has been called 'the famous cavern at Brixham.' It was at once decided that the flints showed signs of human workmanship, and as they were found in company with the bones of extinct animals, it was also at once considered proved that man must have existed in immensely remote ages, and the evidence was said to have 'revolutionized the whole of Western Europe on the question of man's antiquity.' The history of these flints is remarkable. For fourteen years, they were kept under lock and key in the rooms of the Geological Society; but public curiosity was gratified by plaster casts shown at the cavern, and by illustrated descriptions published in an imposing volume. According to the evidence thus afforded to the public, there seemed no doubt left but that these flints bore the marks of the mind and hand of man, thus associating man with a pre-Adamite race of animals. The cause of truth owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Nicholas Whitley, Honorary Secretary of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, for the acuteness which led him to suspect that there was something wrong, the perseverance with which he followed up his suspicions, and the boldness with which he made public the result, which was simple, but suggestive. The plaster casts the drawings and descriptions, were not the casts, drawings, or descriptions of the real flints found in the cavern! The originals were, with one or two exceptions, evidently purely natural specimens of flints; and persons who have seen the landscape stones, and the marvellous likeness of human faces on inaccessible rocks, will not be disposed to overthrow the whole of Revelation because of one or two curiously-shaped stones found in company with the remains of extinct animals. If the cause had not been so weak, what was the necessity for trying to strengthen and supplement it by presenting the public with false statements? With regard to all these supposed flint implements and spears and arrow-heads, found in various places, it may be as well to mention here the frank confession of Dr. Carpenter. He has told us from the presidential chair of the Royal Academy that no 'logical proof can be adduced that the peculiar shapes of these flints were given them by human hands.'"
So the bubbles go on bursting, and meanwhile more are being blown, and we are expected to believe in whatever comes, and wait with open mouth to see what comes next. But we shall not just yet fall down and worship the image of human wisdom, notwithstanding all the flutes, harps, sackbuts, psalteries, dulcimers, weekly papers, quarterly reviews, and boastful professors. Show us a man of science worthy of the name, and then we will not follow him if he dares to oppose revealed truth; but show us one in whom the next generation will believe; at present, there is not one alive worthy to be compared with Newton and other master-minds reverent to the Scriptures, compared with whom these men are mere pretenders. See, my brethren, we have unbelief, scientific and otherwise, to contend with, and we must meet it in the Name of the Lord.
Another manifest evil of this our time is not so serious, but it is exceedingly annoying; I refer to the spirit of disintegration which infects portions of the Church of God, and causes much heartburn and discord in certain quarters. Years ago, when a man was converted, he used, as a matter of course, to unite with that church with which he most nearly agreed, and work for the Lord in connection with it; but now, a brother does not like to go to the place where most of the Christians in the town or village assemble, but he prefers to hold a meeting in his own room, in order to show that he dislikes sectarianism, and believes in Christian unity. Not caring to work with any recognized organization, because it is denominational, he feels bound to form a little denomination of his own. We would not, in an angry spirit, forbid these brethren because they follow not with us; but we cannot conceal the fact that, by thus working alone, they are injuring themselves, weakening our churches, and robbing us of those who ought to be our most efficient helpers. I fear that some are bitten with the notion that work outside the church is more useful than regular efforts; but a little experience will, I hope, teach many of them better. Christian labors, disconnected from the church, are like sowing and reaping without having any barn in which to store the fruits of the harvest; they are useful, but incomplete. I trust the evil of Ishmaelitish enterprise will gradually cure itself, but meanwhile it goes on, and loving, earnest people are decoyed away from our fellowship. On the other hand, it is a good thing for some brethren, who "count themselves something though they be nothing," to have the opportunity of finding a sphere of activity, where they will probably be less troublesome to us than they would have been nearer home. Some persons, distinguished by a kind of piety which might be called mag-piety, are happiest where they can talk most. They are fond of hearing themselves speak, and can sing, "How charming is the sound!" Such people are best accommodated in assemblies of their own convening. We have this to deal with, and to some brethren it is a cause of heartbreak, and has bowed them down with grief of soul. Many an earnest pastor can testify to this.
The fourth evil is one to which I call your very earnest attention, the growth of wickedness in the land, especially in two forms, which we ought not to overlook. One is, the growing worldliness among professing Christians. They are indulging in extravagance in many ways; in luxurious habits, dress, equipages, feastings, and so on, and wasting the substance of which they are stewards. When a man is giving liberally to the cause of God, I count it very foolish to forbid his spending liberally in other ways, for men usually spend by scale. It would be absurd to hold up a wretched miser, who gives nothing either to God or man, as an example to a liberal spender; but there is too much of ostentatious extravagance abroad, which wastes the Master's money in worldly pleasures and doubtful amusements, yea, and amusements worse than doubtful. Some, who are called ministers of Christ, have in these days even defended amusements which.moralists have felt bound to abandon, but let us hope that such ministers will not repeat the mistake. We must be careful, wise, and yet decided in our dealings with this growing evil, or we shall lose all spirituality from the churches.
But, beside this, have you not noticed with horror the increase of the national sin of drunkenness throughout the land? Only look at the bill for intoxicating drinks! That amount cannot be expended annually without producing a terrible record of drunkenness, crime, disease, and death. Ten years ago, it is pretty certain that men drank quite enough; to what must we impute this ever-growing consumption? The evil is positively appalling. I look upon the law permitting the sale of wines and spirits at the grocers' as one of the most mischievous pieces of modern legislation. To my grievous knowledge, the sin of intoxication among women has been suggested in some instances, and promoted in others, by this easy and respectable method of obtaining strong drink. For women to drink, is loathsome even to men who can freely indulge in it themselves. Is it really more shameful that women should be drunken than men? It has that appearance, and the frequency of the evil among them proves that the drink cancer is getting nearer to the heart of the body politic.
I was in France, at the Carnival at Mentone, and I remarked again and again that I saw no sign of intoxication. All day long, the peasants and townspeople amused themselves with masks, and music, and confetti,amusements fit for little children; but I saw no drunkenness, and do not think there was any. Yet France is a Popish country: do we not blush to think that it should excel us in so ordinary a virtue as sobriety? One of my friends said to me, "If this Carnival had been held in England, these people would all have been drunk before they started the procession." Several years ago, when staying on the island of Heligoland, I noticed with regret a regulation that no more than four English sailors should come ashore at one time, and then each one must be attended by a soldier till he returned to the boat. I saw hale and hearty sailors come to the little town, and walk up the street; but how differently they reeled back, and how difficult it seemed to get them safely away! Are our fellow-countrymen to become the scorn of mankind for their drunkenness? The world will begin to cry shame upon the Christian Church unless something is done in this matter. Consider the suffering and poverty which arise out of the waste of money involved in this vice, and the crime which is its inevitable result. The whole land reeks before the Lord, and is corrupt with this sin. If Christians do not labour to stay this evil, who will do it? If ministers do not seek to the utmost of their ability to apply a remedy, the world will think that their outcry against unbelief and other evils is not very sincere. He who does not cry out against the wolf cannot surely be at enmity with the lion.
These are the mischiefs. Now for THE REMEDY. What are we to do to meet this superstition, and this unbelief, and this disintegration, and this growing worldliness and drunkenness? I have only one remedy to prescribe, and that is, that we do preach the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in all its length and breadth of doctrine, precept, spirit, example, and power. To give but one remedy for many diseases of the body, is the part of an empiric; but it is not so in the affairs of the soul, for the gospel is so divinely compounded as to meet all the evils of humanity, however they may differ from one another. We have only to preach the living gospel, and the whole of it, to meet the whole of the evils of the times. The gospel, if it were fully received through the whole earth, would purge away all slavery and all war, and put down all drunkenness and all social evils; in fact, you cannot conceive a moral curse which it would not remove; and even physical evils, since many of them arise incidentally from sin, would be greatly mitigated, and some of them for ever abolished. The spirit of the gospel, causing attention to be given to all that concerns our neighbor's welfare, would promote sanitary and social reforms, and so the leaves of the tree which are for the healing of the nations would work their beneficial purpose. Keep to the gospel, brethren, and you will keep to the one universal, never-failing remedy. You have read of sieges, in which the poor inhabitants have been reduced to skeletons; and fevers and diseases, scarcely known at other times, have abounded: when the city has at last surrendered, if you wished to give the people what would meet all their wants, you would begin by giving them food. Hunger lies at the bottom of the fever, hunger has caused the other diseases, gaunt and grim; and when the constitution is again built up by food, it will throw off most of the other ills. Give the bread of life to the multitude, and the maladies and diseases of fallen humanity will be divinely removed; I am sure it is so.
It is evident enough that the gospel meets superstition. In the Revelation we read, "Babylon is fallen, is fallen," and we see her cast like a millstone in the flood. But was it not because, as we read a little before, "I saw another angel fly in the midst of Heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth"? Between the flight of the angel and the fall of Babylon there was an intimate connection. If you were to enter a ruin, and could not bear the hooting of the owls and the presence of the bats, and wanted to disperse them, if you could let the blessed light shine into the deserted halls, the bats and owls would soon find their wings. Let the flambeaux blaze in every corner, and the creatures of darkness will quit the scene. Do you wish to put an end to baptismal regeneration, the lie of lies? Proclaim spiritual regeneration by the Holy Ghost, and exalt the work of the Spirit of the Lord. Would you make men see through the sham of Romish and Anglican priesthood? Proclaim the everlasting priesthood of our great Melchisedec. If you would end belief in sacraments, proclaim the substance, of which ordinances can never be more than the shadow. You will find men turn away from the husks when you set before them solid food, God by His Spirit being with you to give them the wisdom to discern between things that differ.
As to the unbelieving business, my brethren, I bear my witness that the preaching of the gospel confronts it well. I was speaking to a brother-minister concerning the number of young men who fall into one form or another of false doctrine. When I told him that I was very little troubled in that way, he replied, "I don't suppose you are. Calvinism drives them away, it does not allow them enough scope. A man of that kind would not come to hear you many times." Now I am bold to say that, in some preaching, dovecots are provided for the birds of doubt, and I am not surprised that they fly in clouds, and as doves to their windows. Preach the doctrines of grace, dear brethren, and. those who like not your Lord will either be changed themselves or change their minister. Preach the gospel very decidedly and firmly, no matter what people may say of you, and God will be with you. Some would like us to treat the Bible as if it were a peal of bells, sounding forth from a church steeple, which we can make to say whatever we please; rather let us sound forth Scriptural truth like a trumpet, giving a certain sound, that people may know that there is a meaning in it, and may learn at the same time what that meaning is.
I give the progressive gentlemen at motto to be engraved on their escutcheon, for which I hope they will be very grateful; it is this,"Ever learning." It is their boast that they are ever learning. Accept it, gentlemen, but take the whole of it: "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (2 Timothy 3:7.) They themselves confess that they do not come to definite knowledge, for they are always telling us that what they teach to-day they may repudiate to-morrow, for a process of development is going on, so that, having commenced with the oyster of Calvinism, they may yet reach the superlative manhood of atheism, for where else will it stop? Preach the truth with all your hearts as God teaches it to you, and this plague will be stayed.
As to disintegration, I know of no way of keeping God's people together like giving them plenty of spiritual meat. The simple shepherd said that he tied his sheep by their teeth, for he gave them such good food that they could not find better, and so they stayed with him. Be this our custom as the Holy Spirit shall help us. Let us also labour, by our preaching, to make church-fellowship a great deal more real. Have we not many times heard the remark, perhaps a pardonable one, "I will never go to another church-meeting"? Why should it be so? An old story furnishes me with an illustration. A clergyman was burying a corpse, and not knowing whether to use the word "brother" or" sister" in the service, he turned to one of the mourners, and asked, "Is it a brother or a sister?" "No relation at all, sir," was the prompt reply, "only an acquaintance." We are always talking about beloved brethren and sisters; but, on examination, how much of real brotherhood is there in most churches? Does it not amount to this,"No relation at all, only an acquaintance"? Do you wonder that people start a little meeting of their own, where they hope that there will be a little more communion? Try to make church-fellowship full of life and love by preaching and living the gospel of love and brotherhood. Be to your people like a father among his children, or an elder brother among his brethren, that you may be the means of blessing to them, and at the same time meet the evil of disintegration.
As to that terrible matter of drunkenness, I believe there are many palliations for the disease, but I am equally certain that there is no complete and universally applicable cure for it except the gospel. The best way to make a man sober is to bring him to the foot of the cross. It is a practical question, well worth your pondering, whether, in order to bring him there, it may not be necessary to get him sober first, for we cannot hope to see men converted when they are drunk. You may find it wise to use with vigor all the appliances which the temperance movement has so amply provided; but whether you personally agree to do so or not, if you see others earnestly warring with the demon of drink, even though they use weapons which you do not admire, do not despise them, nor treat them otherwise than as allies. Let your own personal habits be such as shall tend to overthrow the evil, and to encourage those who are laboring to that end. Let the current and tone of your conversation be always friendly to the man who fights this foe, even if he does not come upon your platform, for the enemy is so strong and so all-devouring that no honest helper may be scorned. But, after all, the gospel is the needle-gun of the conflict. If you could make every man in England sign the pledge of total abstinence, you could not secure sobriety for any length of time, since pledges are too often broken; but if men's hearts are changed, and they become believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, then the stamina of principle will, by Divine grace, be given to the mental constitution, promises will be kept, and vices will be forsaken.
So far you have followed me in the general truth, I will now give you a few practical exhortations. The old, old gospel is to be preached; it is not to be ground out, like tunes from a barrel organ; but to be preached in the very best way; and, by God's blessing, we are so to work up the church that both ourselves and our fellow-members shall confirm the witness of the gospel, and be hearty and unanimous in spreading it.
To begin with, we must have more knowledge of the gospel. It is not every minister who understands the gospel; many ministers, who understand its elements, have never attempted to grasp and to preach the whole of it, and even he who knows most of it needs to understand it better. You must preach the whole of the gospel. The omission of a doctrine, or an ordinance, or a precept, may prove highly injurious. Even points which others think trivial must not be trivial to the man who would make full proof of his ministry.
Do not, for instance, fail to be faithful upon believers' baptism; for if that part of your testimony be left out, an ingredient essential to meet superstition will be wanting. Though it may seem, at first sight, as if you might very well leave out a minor doctrine without mischief, do not so; for, since the God who put it into the Word is supremely wise, he is not a wise man who would leave it out. Fulfil the whole of your commission: "teaching them," says your Lord, "to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." Preach the gospel North, South, East, and West; but be sure that you preach the whole gospel as far as God has taught it to you, and preach nothing else.
To accomplish this, we are bound to search and study in order to know more and more of the inspired Word. Have you not found that the precious gospel is like a cavern into which you must enter bearing the torch of the Holy Spirit, who alone can show you all things? Were you not astonished as you stood in the first chamber, and saw its clear soft silver light? What treasures were all around you, for all its walls were slabs of silver, and the roof was hung with filagree of the precious metal! "I have found it! I have found it!" you cried, for very joy. But, just then, one of the shining ones touched you on the shoulder, and said, "Come hither, and I will show thee greater things than these." You passed through a portal hitherto unobserved, and, lo! there opened up another chamber, more lofty and more spacious than the last. The floor, the roof, and the pendant stalactites were all of gold,pure gold, like unto transparent glass; and then you said, "Now have I entered the innermost shrine of truth." Yet was there more to be seen, for again the shining one touched you, another secret door flew open, and you were in a vast hall, where every form of precious stone flashed forth upon you; rubies, and jaspers, and emeralds, and amethysts emulated each other's beauties, while all in a blaze of light the terrible crystal and all manner of choice gems made the cavern to shine like a thousand firmaments crowded with stars. Then you marvelled indeed. And now, perhaps, having seen such treasures, you are of opinion that nothing more remains; but no mortal hath fully seen God's glory as yet, and the Divine Spirit waits to lead you by study and prayer to a yet clearer vision of the deep things of God.
In order to preach the gospel well, we must have such a knowledge of it that we are practically conversant with it. We must have it in our hearts, and also, as the common saying has it, at our fingers' ends. We must be rich that we may scatter treasures. We must be scribes well instructed that we may be apt to teach. Let us see well to this, dear brethren; and if any of you have at all slurred your private studies, and your communion with God, and your deep searching of the Word, I pray you do not so; for you may get on a little while with the stores you have on hand, but they will soon be spent, or become mouldy. Gather fresh manna every morning; gather it fresh from Heaven. Manna is all very well out of a brother's omer if I cannot go where it falls, but God's rule is for each man, to fill his own omer. Borrow from books if you will; but do not preach books, but the living Word. Get much inward knowledge, and then deal it out to your people.
Secondly, we must seek after a deeper and more experimental acquaintance with the gospel. The word "experimental" is one which theology has manufactured; but it is not correct, for true religion is no expemnent. Surely it is a well-ascertained fact, a force the result of which may safely be predicted, for no cause more certainly ensures its effect. But we mean "experiential"that which groweth out of experience,pardon the uncomely coinage. Does a man know any gospel truth aright till he knows it by experience? Is not this the reason why God's servants are made to pass through so many trials, that they may really learn many truths not otherwise to be apprehended? Do we learn much in sunny weather? Do we not profit most in stormy times? Have you not found it sothat your sick-bedyour bereavementyour depression of spirit, has instructed you in many matters which tranquillity and delight have never whispered to you? I suppose we ought: to learn as much by joy as by sorrow, and I hope that many of my Lord's better servants do so; but, alas! others of us do not; affliction has to be called in to whip the lesson into us.
Brethren, a minister who handles the Word of God as one who has tried and proved it, is known at once by his congregation. Even the unconverted recognize the touch of the practised surgeon of souls. If a woman, who had never nursed anybody before, were to come to your bedside to attend to you during an illness, you would find it out without being told. But mark the skilled nurse. Note the wonderful way in which she makes up your pillow! What an art she has in putting on the bandages! How downy are her fingers when she touches the wounded flesh! And if she has ever been afflicted as you now are, how pleasantly she says, "Ah, I know how you suffer! I understand that feeling; for I have felt the same." Why, you feel that nurse to be the very one you needed. There is a way of talking about the gospel, and its privileges and duties, in a style which does not come home to the heart at all. I once read the following criticism upon a certain preacher. I do not think it was at all just as applied to him, so I shall not mention his name; but the remarks were as follows:"He preaches as if you had no father or mother, no sister or brother, no wife or child, no human struggles and hopes; as if the great object of preaching was to fill you with Biblical pedantry, and not to make you a better, wiser, stronger man than before. Perhaps it may be, because this is the case, that the church is so thronged. You need not tremble lest your heart be touched, and your darling sin withered up by the indignant denunciations of the preacher. He is far away in Genesis or in Revelation, telling you what the first man did, or the last man will do; giving you, it may be, a creed that is Scriptural and correct, but that does not interest you, for it has neither life, nor love, nor power; it is as well adapted to empty space as to this gigantic Babel of competition, and crime, and wrong, in which we live and move."
Such a criticism would justly apply to many preachers. They do not treat the gospel as a practical thing, or as a matter of fact which immediately concerns the people before them. If the gospel referred only to certain unclothed humanities in the bush of Australia, they could not themselves appear to be less interested in it. A pleading experimental sermon from them we could not expect, nor even the simple gospel, except so far as they may occasionally condescend to men of low estate by abasing themselves from the serenities in which their highnesses exist in order to consider a few of the depravities of the lower classes! This will never do. No; we must have personal experience of the things of God. As to our own depravity, we must feel it, and mourn it; and as to the glorious power of the grace of God, and the wondrous riches of Christ, we must go on to realize these in our own souls more and more, if we are to preach with power, and meet the evils of the times.
I have to say, thirdly, that we must keep to the gospel more continually. I do not know any audience to whom there is less need to say this than to the present; but, still, let me "stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance." It is worth while stirring up that which is pure; the impure will be best let alone. Seeing that ye have these things, let me excite you to have them more abundantly. Often, very often, ought we to teach the simple rudiments of the gospel. It is astonishing, after all the preaching that there has been in England, how little the gospel is understood by the mass of men. They are still children, and have need to be told the A B C of the gospel of Christ. Keep most to those themes, brethren, which are most soul-saving,to those which are practically useful to the people. Keep close to the cross of Christ. Point continually to the atoning sacrifice, and to the doctrine of justification by faith, which, when preached aright, are never preached without the Divine approbation. Every truth is important, let it have its due place; but do not suffer any secondary truth to take you away from the first. Aristotle, in his wonderfully unnatural natural history, tells us that, in Sicily, the herbs in the woods and fields smell so exceedingly sweet that the dogs lose all scent of their prey, and so are unable to hunt. Let us beware of such herbs. There is to our mindsto mine, I know,a great fascination in poetry, in true science, in metaphysics, and the like; but you, I trust, dear brethren, will prove to be dogs of so keen a scent that the perfume of none of these shall prevent your following closely after the souls of men, for whom you hunt at your Master's bidding. No doubt many are drawn off from the main pursuit, and think, when they have taken to frivolous philosophizings, that they have outgrown their fellow-Christians; but be not ye of their mind.
A woman was once very busy in fetching out of her burning house her pictures and her choicest pieces of furniture. She had worked a long while, toiling hard to save her little treasures; when, on a sudden, it came to her mind that one of her children was missing. The child had been left in the burning house; and when the mother rushed back again, that chamber had long ago been consumed, and the child had, doubtless, perished. Then did she wring her hands, and bitterly bewail her folly. She seemed to curse every bit of furniture that she had saved, and wished that she had not saved it, because, by looking after such poor stuff, she had lost her child. Even so, every little piece of curious learning, and quaint proverb, and deep doctrine, that you manage to save from the fire, will only accuse your conscience if you let men's souls perish. We must have them saved; and it is infinitely better that fifty of those admirable discourses upon a difficult point should lie by till we are dead than that we should bring them out, and waste fifty Sundays when precious souls are waiting for the good news of mercy.
I have often wondered why certain sermons were ever preached, what design the preacher had in concocting them. I would not suspect the preachers of wishing to display themselves; yet what else they were doing, I do not know. Caligula marched his legions, with the beating of drums, and sounding of trumpets, and display of eagles and banners, down to the sea-shore, to gather cockles! And there are sermons of that sort: beating drums, and sounding trumpets, and flaunting flags, and cockles! A beautiful story is told of the famous Bernard. He preached one day to a congregation with marvellous eloquence and poetic diction; he charmed them all; but when the sermon was done, Bernard was observed to walk away disquieted. He wandered into the wilderness, and spent the night alone, fasting because of his sadness. The next day, at the time for preaching, he was ready, and delivered himself of a commonplace discourse, of which the great gentlemen who had listened to him the day before thought nothing; but the poor of the people understood his words, and drank them in; and though he heard the censures of the critics, he was observed to walk away with a smile upon his face, and to eat his bread with a merry heart. When one asked him the reason, he said, "Heri Bernardum; hodie Jesum Christum." "Yesterday, I preached Bernard; but to-day, Jesus Christ." You, my brethren, will feel happy when you have preached unto them Jesus; and, whoever frowns, your sleep will be sweet to you, for your Master will have accepted you.
Keep to the gospel, then, more and more and more. Give the people Christ, and nothing but Christ. Satiate them, even though some of them should say that you also nauseate them with the gospel. At every meal, set out the salt without prescribing how much. If they do not like it (and there are creatures that cannot endure salt), give them all the more of it, for this is according to your Lord's mind.
I would add that, in our preaching, we must become more and more earnest and practical. That paragraph, which I read to you just now concerning a certain divine, must never be true concerning us. We must preach as men to men, not as divines before the clergy and nobility. Preach straight at them. It is of no use to fire your rifle into the sky when your object is to pierce men's hearts. To flourish your sabre finely is a thing which has been done so often that you need not repeat it. Your work is to charge home at the heart and conscience. Fire into the very centre of the foe. Aim at effect. "Oh! oh!" say you, "I thought we ought never to do that." No, not in the perverted acceptation of the term; but, in the right sense, aim at effect,effect upon the conscience and upon the heart.
Some preachers remind me of the famous Chinese jugglers, who not long ago were everywhere advertised. One of these stood against a wall. and the other threw knives at him. One knife would be driven into the board just above his head, and another close by his ear, while under his armpit and between his fingers quite a number of deadly weapons were bristling. Wonderful art to be able to throw to a hair's breadth and never strike! How many among us have a marvellous skill in missing! "Be not afraid," says the preacher, "I am never personal. I never give home-thrusts." Stand quite still, my friend! Open your arms! Spread out your fingers! Your minister has practised a very long while, and he knows how to avoid troubling you in the least with truth too severely personal. Brethren, cultivate that art if you desire to be damned, and wish your hearers also to be lost; but if you want to be the means of saving both yourselves and them that hear you, cry to your Lord for faithfulness, practicalness, real heart-moving power. Never play at preaching nor beat about the bush; get at it, and always mean business. Plutarch tells us of two men at Athens who were nominated for a public office. One of them was famous for his oratory; and to gain the election, he gave a description of what he could and would do if the citizens would choose him. He would have charmed them with his fine promises, but they knew him too well. His rival was a man of few words, and simply said, "All that this gentleman has said, I mean to do." Now, be ye of that kind, not speakers of the Word only, but doers also.
Have you not heard scores of sermons about the gospel, and about what the gospel is to do? Is it not a grand thing, at a public meeting, to give a glorious description of what the gospel has accomplished, and what it will accomplish, though you have contributed nothing to the grand result? But of what avail is it to preach about the gospel? Let us preach the gospel itself. Hope not to alarm the foe by a description of a Krupp-gun; but wheel up your artillery, and open fire. Do not be content with describing conviction of sin; but labour, in the power of the Spirit, to produce conviction at once. Do not satisfy yourself by picturing the peace which follows upon believing; but preach the truth which men are to believe, so that they may actually obtain the peace which you describe. We want more of what I call the "doing" preaching, and less of the "talking" preaching. Set yourselves steadily to labour with men even to an agony. Show them their sin; set it out before them, and say, "Sinners, is not this sin? Are you so blind that you cannot see it? If you cannot see it, I will mourn your blindness, and pray the ever-blessed Spirit to open your eyes. And, sinners, do you not see Christ? I have seen Him! It was the most blessed sight I ever beheld, for His wounds are my healing, and His death is my life. I have nothing to show you but Christ my Master; but a look at Him will save you. I will pray the Holy Spirit to illuminate you; but if you do not understand, it shall be the fault of your mind, and not of my language." We have heard sermons preached, in which the minister prayed God to save souls; but, unless He had departed from His usual laws of procedure, it was not possible even for the Almighty God to use such discourses for any such purpose, for they have consisted of mere trifling with words, or an exposition of some minute point of opinion, or a philosophizing away of the mind of the Spirit. Pray the Lord to save your hearers, and then drive at them as though you could save them yourself. Trust in God, and then employ such logical arguments as may convince the judgment, and such pathetic appeals as may touch the heart, so that, if effects depend upon causes, you may see them produced, God's hand being with you.
I need scarcely add to you, brethren, that we must be more and more simple and clear in the preaching of the gospel. I think we are pretty clear and plain already; but, sometimes, young men are fascinated by some famous preacher whose style is grandiose, sublime, or involved. They see the thing done very splendidly, and as they look on, they marvel, and by degrees they think they will try that style, too; and so they put on the seven-league boots, large enough for them to live in, and the result is ridiculous, nay, worse than that, it is spiritually useless. When a man tries to do the magnificent, with elaborate sentences, and pompous diction, and grandeur of manner, it must and will come to nought. There is also a tendency, among some young gentlemen, to go off into excessive quotation of poetry. There are superfine young men who probably were born with a rose between their lips, and with a nightingale singing above their bed when first their infant cries were heard, and they seem to be consecrated to the sublime and beautiful. Every breeze wafts to them from the mountains of Araby the sweet odors of poetic thought. It was concerning a man of this school that Samuel Butler wrote,
His mouth, but out there flew a trope."
That style of speaking is very fine, brethren; but do not you be beguiled by it. As much as ever you can, avoid all artificial oratory, or what simpletons nowadays mistake for eloquence. The word is shamefully misused; but, in the common acceptation of the term, the most detestable thing is eloquence. Speak from your heart, and never mind about eloquence. Do not speak after the manner of the orator; speak as a lover of souls, and then you will have real eloquence. The oratory which allies itself with the dancing-master, and practises before a looking-glass, and is fond of classical quotations, and obscure verses from unknown poets, is for ever to be abhorred by you. Perishing sinners do not want your poetry, they want Christ. If you are poetical, ride on the back of your poetry, but do not let it ride you. What you have to do is to be the means of saving souls, and look you well to that. If soldiers can win a battle and sing sweetly at the same time, by all means let them sing; but if it so happens that, while regarding the harmonies, they miss a cut at their enemies, let the singing come to an end at once. There, young warrior, give over your crochets and quavers, and vault into your saddle! Regard your pulpit as your steed, and dash into the battle like Khaled of old, smiting right and left with dauntless valour; and when you come back, you will have more honour from your Master than he will who stayed at home to arrange the plumes of his helmet, and then at length rode out bedizened to admiration, only to come home like that inglorious hero of whom the poet sings,
Went up a hill, and so came down agen."
I must hasten on to notice that, if we are to make the gospel meet the evils of the time, we must be quite sure to exemplify it in our lives when out of the pulpit. I thank God I know, in the case of numbers of brethren here, that the gospel which they preach is illustrated in their lives by their self-denials and self-sacrifices. It charms me when I hear a brother say, "I left my position to go to one where my income would be twenty pounds a year less, for I felt that there was a wider sphere of usefulness before me, and that I should not be building on another man's foundation, but conquering new territory for Christ." I glory in God's grace as shown in many of you, because of your zeal, your endurance of poverty, and your faith in God. The Lord will bless you. It delights my soul to think that the spirit of the apostles and martyrs is in many of you. You make sacrifices for Christ, and say nothing about them, content to do grandly though none proclaim it. Go on, my brethren, in the Name of the Lord. I hope you will not have to suffer more than needs be; but where there is a needs be, take you the suffering joyfully. If we cannot conquer without the loss of a few men, do not let us hesitate for a moment. If we cannot take this Malakoff without filling the trench with dead bodies, let us leap in. Let us never shrink from poverty, rebuke, or hard labour; but determine that the old flag shall be carried to the top of the fortress, and, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, error shall be trodden under foot as straw is trodden for the dunghill. It is a cause worthy of your utmost zeal; if you could spill your blood in a thousand martyrdoms a day, the cause deserves it. It is the cause of God, the cause of Christ, the cause of humanity. Preach the gospel, brethren, preach it all, and preach it with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven, and you shall yet be the means of helping to save this perishing world; but may God give you grace to live in the spirit of the gospel, or else you will surely fail.
I am afraid that there are some ministers who get into a pulpit, intending to stick there. There is no moving them, and they never move the people. It is sometimes remarked to me, "Some of your men move about a good deal." "Yes," I reply, "many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased." I like the self-sacrifice of a man who feels that he can move, and will move when he can do more good elsewhere. Never move or stay for selfish reasons, but hold yourself at your great Captain's beck and call. An old Scotch minister, as he was riding along, saw, according to his own description, something coming which greatly alarmed him. It was a gipsy riding aloft upon an ass which he had loaded high with faggots. The beast, which the minister was riding, was alarmed as well as its rider, set its feet down very firmly, and put its ears back, after the manner of amiable horses! "And," said the minister in describing it, "I prepared myself for a fall, so that I fell somewhat more easily." "But," said a friend, "I should have got off." That idea had never crossed the worthy man's mind. So it is with some ministers, they prepare themselves to be dismissed by their people, but never propose to remove of their own will. It is within my knowledge that a brother, not of our Conference, said to his people, when they were in a most earnest manner endeavoring to get rid of him, "It was the Spirit of God that brought me here, and I shall never go till the Spirit of God leads me to go away, and that will be a very long while." The last sentence cast suspicion on all that preceded it, for, surely, he could not foretell what the mind of the Spirit might be. Stay or move, brethren; go to Africa, or America, or Australia, or flit from. John O' Groat's house to the Land's End, only do accomplish your mission, and glorify God. Be holy, be gracious, be prayerful, be disinterested, be like the Lord Jesus; thus only will your lives be consistent with the gospel you are called to preach.
One thing more, and it is this. Let us, dear brethren, try to get saturated with the gospel. I always find that I can preach best when I can manage to lie a-soak in my text. I like to get a text, and find out its meaning and bearings, and so on; and then, after I have bathed in it, I delight to lie down in it, and let it soak into me. It softens me, or hardens me, or does whatever it ought to do to me, and then I can talk about it. You need not be very particular about the words and phrases if the spirit of the text has filled you; thoughts will leap out, and find raiment for themselves. Become saturated with spices, and you will smell of them; a sweet perfume will distil from you, and spread itself in every direction;we call it unction. Do you not love to listen to a brother who abides in fellowship with the Lord Jesus? Even a few minutes with such a man is refreshing, for, like his Master, his paths drop fatness. Dwell in the truth, and let the truth dwell in you. Be baptized into its spirit and influence, that you may impart thereof to others. If you do not believe the gospel, do not preach it, for you lack an essential qualification; but even if you do believe it, do not preach it until you have taken it up into yourself as the wick takes up the oil. So only can you be a burning and a shining light. Personally, to me, the gospel is something more than a matter of faith; it has so mingled with my being as to be a part of my consciousness, an integral part of my mind, never to be removed from me. Faith in the old orthodox creed is not a matter of choice with me now. I am frequently told that I ought to examine at length the various new views which are so continually presented. I decline the invitation; I can smell them, and that satisfies me. I perceive in them nothing which glorifies God or magnifies Christ, but much that puffs up human nature, and I protest that the smell is enough for me.
Assault my faith with treacherous art,
I'd call them vanity and lies,
And bind the gospel to my heart."
I hope the truths of the gospel have become our life; experience has incorporated them with our being. Be laid low with pain, and nothing will then suffice you but gracious realities. Bind philosophy around an aching heart, and see if it will relieve the agony. Take a draught of modern thought, and see if it will cure despair. Go to death-beds, where men are looking into eternity, and see if the principles of the sceptical school can help the sick to die in triumph.
Brothers, I beseech you keep to the old gospel, and let your souls be filled with it, and then may you be set on fire with it! When the wick is saturated, let the flame be applied. Fire from Heaven is still the necessity of the age. They call it "go", and there is nothing which goes like it; for when fire once starts upon a vast prairie or forest, all that is dry and withered must disappear before its terrible advance. May God Himself, who is a consuming fire, ever burn in you as in the bush at Horeb! All other things being equal, that man will do most who has most of the Divine fire. That subtle, mysterious element called fire,who knoweth what it is? It is a force inconceivably mighty. Perhaps it is the motive force of all the forces, for light and heat from the sun are the soul of power. Certainly fire, as it is in God, and comes upon His servants, is power omnipotent. The consecrated flame will, perhaps, consume you, burning up the bodily health with too great ardour of soul, even as a sharp sword wears away the. scabbard; but what of that? The zeal of God's house ate up our Master, and it is but a small matter that it should also consume His servants. If, by excessive labour, we die before reaching the average age of man, worn out in the Master's service, then, glory be to God, we shall have so much less of earth and so much more of Heaven! And suppose we should be abused, misrepresented, and slandered for Christ's sake, then glory be to God that we had a reputation to lose for His sake, and blessed be our Lord who counted us worthy to lose it! Be on fire within yourselves with perfect consecration to God, and then you will blaze in the pulpit.
There are the evils, brethren. I have tried to set them forth; you will not forget them. But we have, only one remedy for them; preach Jesus Christ, and let us do it more and more. By the roadside, in the little room, in the theatre, anywhere, everywhere, let us preach Christ. Write books if you like, and do anything else within your power; but whatever else you cannot do, preach Christ. If you do not always visit your people (though I pray God you may not be blameworthy there), yet be sure to preach the gospel. The devil cannot endure gospel preaching; nothing worries him so much as preaching. The Pope cannot bear it; nothing makes him so ill as preaching. Preaching is our great weapon, so use it perpetually. Preaching is the Lord's battering-ram, wherewith the walls of old Babylon are being shaken to their foundations. Work on with it, brothers, work on. Preach, preach, preach, preach, preach, preach, till you can preach no more, and then go above to sing the praises of God in Heaven, and to make known to the angels the wonders of redeeming love.