Y BELOVED BRETHREN,I might even say with Paul, "My dearly-beloved and longed-for,"it gives me intense delight to look into your faces once again; and yet I feel weighted with a solemn responsibility in having to direct your thoughts at this time, so as to give the key-note to our solemn Conference. I ask your continued prayers that I may speak aright, saying the right thing in the right way.
There is considerable advantage in the freedom of the usual inaugural address. It may take the methodical form of a sermon, or it may wear looser garments, and come forth in the undress of a speech. Certain freedoms, which are not usually accorded to a set sermon, are allowed me in this discursive discourse. You shall call my talk by what name you choose, when I have done; but it will be a sermon, for I have a very definite and distinct text in my mind, and I shall keep to it with at least an average closeness. I may as well announce it, for it will furnish you with a clue to my intent. You will find the passage in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, in the first and second verses of the fourth chapter:
"Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful."
The apostle was anxious to be rightly accounted of, and well he might be; for ministers are not often estimated rightly; as a rule, they are either gloried in, or else despised. At the commencement of our ministry, when our stories are fresh, and our energies are full; when we blaze and flash, and spend much time in the firework factory, people are apt to think us wonderful beings; and then the apostle's word is needed, "Therefore let no man glory in men" (1 Corinthians 3:21). It is not true, as flatterers insinuate, that in our case the gods have come down in the likeness of men; and we shall be idiots if we think so. In due time, foolish expectations will be cured by disappointment; and then we shall hear unwelcome truth, mingled with unrighteous censure. The idol of yesterday is the butt of to-day. Nine days, nine weeks, nine months, or nine years; be it more or less, time works disenchantment, and changes our position in the world's account. The Primrose-day is over, and the nettle months have come. After the time of the singing of birds has passed away, we come nearer to the season of fruit; but the children are not half so pleased with us as when they wandered in our luxuriant meadows, and strung our daisies and buttercups into crowns and garlands. In our more autumnal years, the people miss our flowers and greenery. Perhaps we are becoming sensible that it is so. The old man is solid and slow; whereas the young man rode upon the wings of the wind. It is clear that some think too much of us, and some think too little of us; it would be far better if they all accounted of us soberly "as the ministers of Christ." It would be for the advantage of the Church, for our own benefit, and for the glory of God, if we were put in our right places, and kept there, being neither over-rated, nor unduly censured, but viewed in our relation to our Lord, rather than in our own personalities. "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ."
We are MINISTERS. The word has a very respectable sound. To be a minister, is the aspiration of many a youth. Perhaps, if the word were otherwise rendered, their ambition might cool. Ministers are servants: they are not guests, but waiters; not landlords, but labourers. The word has been rendered "under-rowers", men who tug at the oars on the lowest bench. It was hard work to row a galley; those rapid strokes consumed the life-forces of the slaves. There were three banks of rowers: those on the upper bank had the advantage of fresh air; those who were beneath them were more closely shut in; but I suppose that the lowest bank of rowers would be faint with heat, as well as worn out with sore travail. Brethren, let us be content to wear out our lives even in the worst position, if by our labour we can speed the passage of our great Caesar, and help the progress of the trireme of the Church in which He has embarked. We are willing to be chained to the oar, and to work on through life to make His barque cleave the waves. We are not captains, nor owners of the galley, but only the oarsmen of Christ.
Let us remember that we are the servants in our Lord's house. "Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." Let us be willing to be door-mats at our Master's entrance-hall. Let us not seek honour for ourselves, but put honour upon the weaker vessels by our care for them. In every well-ordered house,as I have already reminded you,it is a matter of fact that "baby is king," because of his weakness. In our Lord's Church, let the poor, the feeble, the distressed have the place of honour, and let us who are strong bear their infirmities. He is highest who makes himself lowest; he is greatest who makes himself less than the least. "Who is offended, and I burn not?" said the great apostle. If there be any scandal to be borne, let us rather suffer it than allow it to grieve the Church of God. As we are, by office, servants in a special sense, let us cheerfully bear the chief part of the self-denial and travail of the saints.
The text, however, does not call us simply ministers or servants, but it adds, "of Christ." We are not the servants of men, but of the Lord Jesus. Esteemed sir, if you think, because you subscribe to my support, that I am bound to do your bidding, you are under a mistake. Truly, we are "ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake;" but, in the highest sense, our sole responsibility is to Him whom we call Master and Lord. We obey superior orders; but we cannot yield to the dictation of our fellow-servants, however influential they may be. Our service is glorious, because it is the service of Christ: we feel honoured in being permitted to wait upon Him whose shoe's latchet we are not worthy to unloose.
We are also said to be "STEWARDS." What are stewards? That is our office. What is required of stewards? This is our duty. We are not now speaking of anybody outside, but of you, brethren, and myself; therefore, let us make a personal application of all that is said.
1. First, a steward is a servant, and no more. Perhaps he does not always remember this; and it is a very pitiful business when the servant begins to think that he is "my lord." It is a pity that servants, when honoured by their master, should be so apt to give themselves airs. How ridiculous Jack-in-office makes himself! I do not refer now to butlers and footmen, but to ourselves. If we magnify ourselves, we shall become contemptible; and we shall neither magnify our office nor our Lord. We are the servants of Christ, and not lords over His heritage.
Ministers are for churches, and not churches for ministers. In our work among the churches, we must not dare to view them as estates to be farmed for our own profit, or gardens to be trimmed to our own taste. Some men talk of a liberal polity in their church. Let them be liberal with what is their own; but for a steward of Christ to boast of being liberal with his Master's goods, is quite another matter. As stewards, we are only upper servants; and may the Lord maintain in us the spirit of hearty obedience! If we do not carefully keep our right place, our Master will not fail to chide us, and give our pride a taking down. How many of our afflictions, failures, and depressions, arise out of our being unduly lifted up! I feel sure that no man, who is honoured of God in public, is quite a stranger to that chastening behind the door which keeps proud flesh from being unduly exalted. How often have I prayed, "Dismiss me not Thy service, Lord!" For a dismissed steward is a pitiable object among his lord's servants. He was once great and mighty, riding the high horse; but when he is out of a place, he is of less account than the smallest cowboy. See how glad he is to be received, as a grateful guest, into the humble cottages of those who once looked up to him with a sort of awe when he represented his lordship! Take heed that you be not exalted above measure, lest you come to nothing.
2. A steward is a servant of a peculiar kind, for he has to superintend the other servants, and that is a difficult thing to do. An old friend of mine, who is now with God, once said, "I have always been a shepherd. Forty years I was a shepherd of sheep, and another forty years I was a shepherd of men, and the last flock was a deal more sheepish than the first." This witness is true. I think I have heard that a sheep has as many diseases as there are days in the year; but I am sure that the other sort of sheep are liable to ten times as many. A pastor's work is an anxious one. All sorts of difficulties occur with our fellow-servants; and, alas! unwise stewards make a great many more than there need be by expecting perfection in others, although they do not possess it themselves. Our fellow-servants are, after all, wisely selected; for He who put them into His household knew what He was doing; at any rate, they are His choice, and not ours. It is not our place to find fault with our Lord's own election. It is very common with some to revile the Church; but as the Church is the bride of Christ, it is rather dangerous work to criticize the Lord's beloved. I feel towards the Church somewhat as David felt towards Saul; I dare not lift up my hand against the Lord's anointed. Better far will it be for us to find fault with ourselves rather than with our people, when there is anything wrong with them.
Still, our church-members are men, and the best of men are but men at the best: to direct, instruct, console, and aid so many different minds, is no easy task. He who rules among men, for God, should be a man; and what is more, he should be a man of God. He should be graciously endowed, a kingly man, head and shoulders above his fellows. Men will gladly yield to real superiority, but not to official pretensions. The superior position must be supported by superior attainments. The steward must know more than the ploughman and the thatcher. He must be of higher intelligence than the gamekeeper and the carter, and he should have a more reliable character than Mary and John, who have to take orders from him. Brethren, as stewards, we must have abundant grace, or we shall not fulfil the duties of our office, or earn to ourselves a good degree.
The other servants will take their cue from us. A steward, who is dull, inert, and slow, will have a slow team of servants about him, and the business of his lordship will fare badly. Those who travel must have noticed that the servants in a hotel are very much like the landlord; if the landlord is cheery, attentive, and obliging, all the maids and waiters partake of his geniality; but if he looks sourly at you, and treats you with indifference, you will find that the whole establishment is of a disdainful order. A minister soon gets round him people like himself: "like priest, like people." Oh, that we may always be alive and earnest in the service of the Lord Jesus, that our people may be alive also! I have read of a Puritan divine, that he was so full of life that his people said he lived like one who fed on live things. Oh, for a life sustained by living bread!
We shall not be good stewards in the management of our fellow-servants unless we are ourselves filled with the grace of God. We must set our fellow-servants an example of' zeal and tenderness, constancy, hopefulness, energy, and obedience. We must ourselves practise constant self-denial, and select as our own part of the work that which is hardest and most humiliating. We are to rise above our fellows by superior self-forgetfulness. Be it ours to lead the forlorn hopes, and to bear the heaviest burdens. Archdeacon Hare was giving a lecture at Trinity College when a cry of "Fire!" was raised. His pupils rushed away, and formed themselves into a line to pass buckets of water from the river to the burning building. The tutor saw a consumptive student standing up to his waist in the water, and cried to him, "What! you in the water, Sterling?" The reply was, "Somebody must be in it, and why not I as well as another?" Let us say to ourselves, "Some fellows must be doing the drudgery of the Church, and labouring in the hardest places, and why should not we take that post?" Those whom the Lord will promote are those who have no choice of their own, but are ready for anything, and ready for everything. He who has been fearless in one hour of peril shall have for his reward the privilege of exhibiting still greater courage. He who is faithful over a small charge shall be selected for a post of harder work and sterner trial; this is the promotion to which loyal servants of our King aspire.
3. Next, remember that stewards are servants under the more immediate command of the great Master. We should be as the steward who daily goes into his lord's private room to receive orders. John Ploughman was never in the squire's parlour, but the steward is often there. If he neglected to consult the squire, he would soon be doing amiss, and involving himself in heavy responsibility. How often ought you and I to say, "Lord, show me what Thou wouldst have me to do!" To cease to look up to God, so as to learn and practise His will, would be to quit our true position. What shall be done to a steward who never communicates with his master? Give him his wagers, and let him go. He who does his own will, and not his master's, is of no value as a steward.
Brethren, we must wait upon God continually. The habit of going to Him for our orders must be cultivated. How grateful should we be that our Master is always within call! He guides His servants with His eye; and with His guidance, He also gives the needful power. He will make our faces to shine before the eyes of our fellows, if we commune with Him. Our example must encourage others to wait upon the Lord. As our business is to tell them the mind of God, let us study that mind very carefully. I trust I do not address a single man who has fallen into the slovenly habit of going to his work without first communing with his Master; for such an unhappy person, being out of touch with his Lord, will exercise an injurious influence over the rest of the household, making them idle, or indifferent, or dissatisfied, or dispirited. If the steward does not care for his master's interests; or if he is wilful, and would fain alter or reverse his lord's orders, if he dared; or if he in any way tampers with the estate, as did the unjust steward in the parable, then the servants under him will learn disloyalty. I might indicate how much of this is done in certain churches, but I refrain. The Master will come speedily, and woe to the steward whose account will prove him to have been unfaithful!
4. Again, stewards are constantly giving account. Their account is given as they go along. A businesslike proprietor requires an account of outgoings and incomings, from day to day. There is great truth in the old proverb that "short reckonings make long friends." If we make short reckonings with God, we shall be long friends with Him. I wonder if any of you keep account of your faults and shortcomings. Perhaps the time will be better spent in constant efforts to serve your Master, and increase His estate. We ought each one to ask himself, "What am I doing by my preaching? Is it of the right kind? Am I giving prominence to those doctrines which my Lord would have me put in the forefront? Am I caring for souls as He would have me care for them?" It is a good thing thus to review one's whole life, and enquire, "Do I give sufficient time to private prayer? Do I study the Scriptures as intensely as I should? I hurry about to many meetings, but am I in all this fulfilling my Master's orders? May I not be gratifying myself with the appearance of doing much, whereas I should really be doing more if I were more attentive to the quality than to the quantity of the work?" Oh, to go often to the Master, and to be right and clear in our accounts with Him!
5. To come to the main point: a steward is a trustee of his master's goods. Whatever he has, belongs to his master; and choice things are put into his custody, not that he may do as he likes with them, but that he may take care of them. The Lord has entrusted to each one of us certain talents, and these are not our own. Gifts of knowledge, and thought, and speech, and influence, are not ours to glory in, but ours in trust for the Lord alone. It is His pound that gains five pounds.
We ought to increase our capital stock. Are all the young brethren doing that? Are you increasing in gift and capacity? My brethren, do not neglect yourselves. I observe that some brethren grow, and others stand still, dwarfed and stunted. Men, like horses, are very disappointing creatures; good colts drop suddenly lame, or develop a vice of which they were never before suspected. Alas! too many young men destroy our hopes; they are extravagant in their expenses, make an unfortunate marriage, fall into ill humours, wander after novel opinions, give way to laziness and self-indulgence, or in some other way fail to improve themselves. Yet the most needful and profitable labour is that which we spend upon our own mental and spiritual improvement. Whatever you do, take heed unto yourselves, and to your doctrine. Those who neglect thinking in order that they may be everlastingly "jawing", are very foolish; they resemble a bailiff who does nothing on the farm, but talks at great length about what ought to be done. Dumb dogs cannot bark, but wise dogs are not always barking. To be always giving out, and never taking in, tendeth to emptiness.
Brethren, we are "stewards of the mysteries of God;" we are "put in trust with the gospel." Paul speaks of the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to his trust. I hope none of you have ever had the misfortune to be made a trustee. It is a thankless office. In executing a trust, there is little scope for originality; we are bound to carry out the trust with literal exactness. One person wishes to receive more money, and another desires to alter a clause in the deed; but the faithful trustee falls back upon the document, and abides by its provisions. I hear him say, as they worry him, "Dear friends, I did not make this trust; I am simply the administrator of it, and I am bound to carry it out." The gospel of the grace of God needs great improvement;at least, so I am informed;but I know that it is no business of mine to improve it, my part is to act upon it. No doubt many would improve God Himself from off the face of the earth, if they could. They would improve the Atonement until it vanished. Great alterations are demanded of us, in the name of "the spirit of the age." Of course, we are warned that the very notion of punishment for sin is a barbarous relic of mediaeval ages, and must be given up, and with it the doctrine of substitution and many other old-fashioned dogmas. We have nothing to do with these demands; we have only to preach the gospel as we find it.
As a trustee, if my course of action is disputed, I keep to the letter of the bond; and if any quarrel over it, they must take their complaints to the proper Court, for I have no power to alter the record. We are simply administrators; and if we are not allowed to act, we will throw the whole thing into the heavenly Chancery. The dispute is not between us and modern thought, but between God and the wisdom of men. "Oh!" they say, "it is barbarous to go on prosing with this old, old story." We care not how old the story is; since it came from God, we repeat it in His Name. Call it what you like, it is in the Book from which we derive our authority. "But you surely have a judgment of your own?" May be we have, and as much of it as those who oppose us; but our judgment does not invent a trust, it simply guides us in the carrying of it out. Stewards must keep to their orders, and trustees must carry out the terms of their trust.
My brethren, we are at this present hour "set for the defence of the gospel." If ever men were called to this office, we are so called. These are times of drifting: men have pulled up their anchors, and are driven to and fro with winds and tides of divers kinds. As for me, I have in this hour of danger not only let down the great bower anchor, but I have cast four anchors out of the stern. That may be quite the wrong place; but in these times we need anchoring both fore and aft. Now am I fixed. Sceptical reasonings might have moved me at one time, but not now. Do our enemies ask us to lay down our swords, and cease to fight for the old faith? Like the Greeks said to Xerxes, we answer, "Come and take them." The other day, the advanced thinkers were going to sweep the orthodox into limbo; but as yet, we survive their assaults. These boasters do not know the vitality of Evangelical truth. No, glorious gospel, thou shalt never perish! If we are to die, we will die fighting. If we shall personally pass away, fresh evangelists will preach upon our graves. Evangelical truths are like the dragon's teeth which Cadmus sowed, they breed men all armed for the fray. The gospel lives by dying. Brethren, at any rate, in this contest, if we are not victorious, we will at least be faithful.
6. A steward's business is to dispense his master's goods according to their design. He is to bring forth things new and old; to provide milk for babes and strong meat for men, giving to each one his portion of meat in due season. At some tables, I fear the strong men have been waiting a long time for the meat, and there is small hope of its yet appearing; the milk-and-water is more plentiful by far. Someone went to hear a certain preacher, last Sunday, and complained that he did not preach Christ. Another remarked that perhaps it was not the due season; but, my brethren, the due season for preaching Christ is every time you preach. God's children are always hungry, and no bread will satisfy them but that which comes down from Heaven.
A wise steward will maintain the proportion of truth. He will bring forth things new and old; not always doctrine, not always practice, and not always experience. He will not always preach conflict, nor always victory; not giving a one-sided view of truth, but a sort of stereoscopic view, which shall make truth stand out "evidently set forth" before them. Much of the preparation of spiritual food lies in the correct proportion of the ingredients. One spoke incorrectly of using in his sermons three grains of Calvinism and two of Arminianism; meaning, as I afterwards learned, that he preached both a full gospel and a free gospel: in that which he intended, I fully agree with him. Let us give a wide range of experience, not forgetting that higher life which consists in increased lowliness of mind. To make full proof of our ministry, will require great discrimination; for a want of balance in preaching has done serious injury to many a church. The line of wisdom is as fine as a razor's edge, and we shall need Divine wisdom to keep us to it. We are not always to harp upon one string. Our Master's servants will murmur if we give them nothing but "rabbits hot and rabbits cold." We must bring forth, out of the Master's stores, a rich variety of food fit for the building up of spiritual manhood. Excess in one direction, and failure in another, may breed much mischief; let us therefore use weight and measure, and look up for guidance.
Brethren, take care that you use your talents for your Master, and for your Master only. It is disloyalty to our Lord if we wish to be soul-winners in order to be thought to be so. It is unfaithfulness to Jesus if we even preach sound doctrine with the view of being thought sound, or pray earnestly with the desire that we may be known as praying men. It is for us to pursue our Lord's glory with a single eye, and with our whole heart. We must use our Lord's gospel, and our Lord's people, and our Lord's talents, for our Lord, and for Him alone.
7. The steward should also be the guardian of his master's family. Look to the interests of all who are in Christ Jesus, and let them all be as dear to you as your own children. Servants, in the olden times, were often so united to the family, and so interested in their masters' affairs, that they spoke of our house, our land, our carriage, our horses, and our children. Our Lord would have us thus identify ourselves with His holy business; and, especially, He would have us love His chosen. We, beyond all others, should lay down our lives for the brethren. Because they belong to Christ, we love them for His sake. I trust we can each one of us heartily say,
"There's not a lamb in all Thy flock
I would disdain to feed."
Brethren, let us heartily love all whom Jesus loves. Cherish the tried and suffering. Visit the fatherless and the widow. Care for the faint and the feeble. Bear with the melancholy and despondent. Be mindful of all parts of the household, and thus shall you be a good steward.
8. I shall cease from this picture when I have said that the steward represents his master. When the master is away, everybody comes to the steward for orders. He had need to behave himself well who represents such a Lord as ours. A steward should speak much more carefully and wisely when he speaks for his lord than when he speaks on his own account. Unless he is guarded in his utterances, his lord may be forced to say to him, "You had better speak for yourself: I cannot allow you thus to misrepresent me." My beloved brethren and fellow-servants, the Lord Jesus is compromised by us if we do not keep His way, declare His truth, and manifest His spirit Men infer the Master from the servant; are they not to be excused if they so do? Ought not the steward to act after his master's manner? You cannot dissociate the squire from the steward, the Lord from His representative. A Puritan was told that he was too precise; but he replied, "I serve a precise God." We should be gentle, for we represent the gentle Jesus. We should be zealous, for we represent One who was clad with zeal as with a cloak. Our best guide, when we are uncertain as to what to do, will be found in the answer to the question, "What would Jesus do?" When deliberating about going to a place of amusement, you may end the deliberation by saying, "I will go if my Master would have gone." If moved to speak with warmth, take heed that it is only such warmth as your Lord would have exhibited.
If urged to utter your own thoughts rather than revealed truth, follow Jesus, who spake not His own thoughts, but those of the Father. In this way, you will be acting as a steward should do. Here lies your wisdom, your comfort, and your strength. It was a sufficient vindication for a steward, when one accused him of folly, that he could reply, "Say what you please of what I did, for therein I followed my master's orders." Caviller, do not blame the steward. The man has done according to the command of his superior; what else would you have him do? Our conscience is clear, and our heart is restful, when we feel that we have taken up our cross, and have followed the footprints of the Crucified One. Wisdom is justified of her children. If not to-day, yet in the long run, it shall be seen that obedience is better than originality, and teachableness is more to be desired than genius. The revelation of Jesus Christ will outlive the speculation of man. We are content, nay, anxious, not to be regarded as original thinkers and original doers; we wish to make known the thoughts of God, and finish the work which He worketh in us mightily.
The second part of my address will be occupied with OUR OBLIGATIONS AS STEWARDS. "It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful." It is not required that a man be found brilliant, or that he be found pleasing to his associates, or even that he be found successful. All that is required is, that he be found faithful, and, truly, this is no small matter. It will need the Lord Himself to be both our wisdom and our strength, or we shall surely fail. Many are the ways by which we may come short of this requirement, however simple it may seem to be.
1. We may fail to be faithful through acting as if we were chiefs instead of servants. A difficulty arises in the church, which might readily be settled by loving forbearance, but we "stand upon our dignity;" and then the servant grows out of his livery. We can be very high and mighty, if we please; and the smaller we are, the more easily do we swell out. No cock is greater in fight than a bantam; and no minister is more ready to contend for his "dignity" than the man who has no dignity. How foolish we look when we play the grandee! The steward thinks he has not been treated with proper respect, and he will "let the servants know who he is." The other day, his master was roughly used by an angry tenant, and he took no notice, for he had too much sense to be put out by so small a matter; but his steward passes by nothing, and fires up at everything: is this as it should be? I think I see the gentle master lay his hand upon his furious servant's shoulder, and I hear him say, "Can you not bear it? I have borne far more than this."
Brethren, our Master "endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself," and shall we be weary and faint in our minds? How can we be stewards of the gentle Jesus if we behave ourselves haughtily? Let us never ride the high horse, nor attempt to be lords over God's heritage; for He will not have it so, and we cannot be faithful if we give way to pride.
We shall also fail in our duty as stewards if we begin speculating with our Master's money. We may play "ducks and drakes" with our own, but not with our Lord's money. We are not bidden to speculate, but to" occupy" till He comes. Honest trading with His goods, is one thing; but to play a high game, and run unlawful risks, is quite another. I do not intend to speculate with my Master's gospel, by dreaming that I can improve it by my own deep thinking, or by soaring aloft with the philosophers. We will not, even with the idea of saving souls, speak other than the gospel. If I could create a great excitement by delivering novel doctrine, I would abhor the thought. To raise a revival by suppressing truth, is dealing deceitfully; it is a pious fraud, and our Lord wants no profit which might be supposed to come by such a transaction. It is ours simply and honestly to trade with our Master's pounds, and to bring to Him such increase as they gain in fair dealing.
We are stewards, and not masters, and hence we must trade in our Master's Name, and not in our own. It is not ours to fabricate a religion, but to proclaim one; and even that proclamation is not to be made by our own authority, but it is ever to be based on that of our Lord. We are "labourers together with Him." If a brother sets up in business for himself, he will make a mess of it, and fall into spiritual bankruptcy before long. His credit will soon run out when his Master's Name is gone. We can do nothing in our heavenly merchandise without our Lord. Let us not attempt to act on our own account, but keep our place near our Chief in all lowliness of mind.
2. We may become false to our trust by acting as men-pleasers. When the steward studies the good pleasure of the ploughman, or the whims of the servant-maid, everything must go wrong, for everything is out of place. We are influenced by one another, and we influence one another. The greatest are unconsciously affected in some measure by the least. The minister must be overwhelmingly influenced by the Lord his God, so that other influences may not warp him from his fidelity. We must resort continually to headquarters, and receive the Word from the mouth of the Lord Himself, so that we may be kept straight and true; otherwise, we shall soon be biassed, although we may not be aware of it. There must be no holding back to please one person, no rushing forward to satisfy another, no moving an inch even to gratify the whole community. We must not harp upon a certain string to win the approval of this party, neither must we be silent upon an important doctrine to avoid offending that clique. What have we to do with idols, dead or alive? O brethren, if you go in for pleasing everybody, you have indeed set yourselves a task! The toils of Sisyphus and the labours of Hercules are nothing to this! We must not flatter men; we must speak plain words, and words which conscience will approve. If we please men, we shall displease our Lord; so that success in our self-imposed task would be fatal to our eternal interests. In trying to please men, we shall not even succeed in pleasing ourselves. To please our Lord, though it may seem very difficult, is an easier task than pleasing men. O steward, have thine eye alone upon thy Master!
3. We shall not be found faithful stewards if we are idlers and triflers. Do you ever meet with lazy ministers? I have heard of them; but when mine eye sees them, my heart abhors them. If you plan to be lazy, there are plenty of avocations in which you will not be wanted; but, above all, you are not wanted in the Christian ministry. The man who finds the ministry an easy life will also find that it will bring a hard death. If we are not labourers, we are not true stewards; for we are to be examples of diligence to the King's household. I like Adam Clarke's precept: "Kill yourselves with work, and then pray yourselves alive again." We shall never do our duty either to God or man if we are sluggards.
Yet some, who are always busy, may still be unfaithful, if all that they do is done in a jaunty, trifling manner. If we play at preaching, we have chosen an awful game. To shuffle texts like cards, and make literary essays out of themes which move all Heaven and hell, is shameful. We must be serious as death in this solemn work. There are boys and girls who are always giggling, but who never laugh; and they are the very image of certain ever-jesting preachers. I like an honest laugh; true humour can be sanctified, and those who can stir men to smile can also move them to weep. But even this power has limits which the foolish soon exceed. It is not, however, of the earnest eccentric that I now speak. The men I mean are sardonic and sarcastic. An earnest brother makes a mistake in grammar, and this they observe with a sneer; another devout believer errs in a classical allusion, this also affords them pleasure. The earnestness and the devotion go for nothing; or, rather, these are the secret reasons for the contempt of these superfine and superficial critics. The gospel is nothing to them; cleverness is their idol. As for themselves, these gentlemen are mainly concerned to find out what will bring them most honour in the philosophical school to which they belong. They have neither convictions nor beliefs, but only tastes and opinions, and the whole matter is a sport from first to last. I pray you, above all things, to keep clear of the scorner's chair and the trifler's camp-stool. Be seriously in earnest. Live like men who have something to live for; and preach like men to whom preaching is the highest exercise of their being. Our work is the most important under Heaven, or else it is sheer imposture. If you are not earnest in carrying out your Lord's instructions, He will give His vineyard to another; for He will not put up with those who turn His service into trifling.
4. When we misuse our Master's property, we are false to our trust. We are entrusted with a certain amount of talent, and strength, and influence, and we have to use this trust-money with a single purpose. Our purpose is to promote the Master's honour and glory. We are to seek God's glory, and nothing else. By all means, let every man use his best influence on the right side in politics; but no minister has liberty to use his position in the church to promote party ends. I do not censure workers for temperance; but even this admirable movement must not push out the gospel: I trust it never does. I hold that no minister has a right to use his ability or office to cater for the mere amusement of the multitude. The Master has sent us to win souls: all is within the compass of our commission which tends towards that end; but that is chiefly our work which drives directly and distinctly at that end. The danger lies, at this time, in setting up theatricals, semi-theatricals, concerts, and so forth. Until I see that the Lord Jesus Christ has set up a theatre, or planned a miracle-play, I shall not think of emulating the stage or competing with the music-hall. If I mind my own business, by preaching the gospel, I shall have enough to do. One object is enough for most men: one such as ours is enough for any minister, however many his talents, however versatile his mind.
Do not misapply your Master's goods, lest you be found guilty of embezzlement. If your consecration is true, all your gifts are your Lord's, and it will be a sort of felony to use them for any other than your Lord. You are not to make a fortune for yourself; I do not think you will be likely to do that in the Baptist ministry. In no other way are you to have a second aim or object. "Jesus only" must be the motive and motto of your life-course. It is the duty of a steward to be devoted to the interests of his master; and if he forgets this for any other object, however laudable that object may be, he is not faithful. We cannot afford to let our lives run in two channels; we have not enough life-force for two objects. We need to be whole-hearted. We must learn to say, "One thing; I do." In every item and particular of life, the mark of consecration must be seen, and we must never allow it to be illegible. There will come a day in which all details will be gone into at the final audit; and it behoves us, as stewards, to have an eye to our Lord's scrutiny in every item of our lives.
5. If we would be faithful as stewards, we must not neglect any one of the family, nor neglect any portion of the estate. I wonder whether we practise a personal observation of our hearers. Our beloved friend, Mr. Archibald Brown, is right when he says that London needs not only house-to-house visitation, but room-to-room visitation. We must in the case of our people go further, and practise man-to-man visitation. By personal intercourse alone, can certain persons be reached. If I had a number of bottles before me, and were to play upon them with a fire-engine, how much of the water would be lost; if I want to make sure of filling them, I must take them up one by one, and carefully pour the liquid into them. We must watch over our sheep one by one. This is to be done not only by personal talk, but by personal prayer.
Dr. Guthrie relates that he called upon a sick man who greatly refreshed his soul, for he told him that he was wont to accompany his minister in his visits. "While I lie here, I shall follow you in your visitation. I keep on remembering house after house in my prayer, and I pray for the man, and his wife, and his children, and all who dwell with him." Thus, without moving a step, the sick saint visited Macfarlane, and Douglas, and Duncan, and all the others whom his pastor called to see. We ought thus to beat the bounds of our parish, and go round and round our congregations, forgetting none, despairing of none, bearing all upon our hearts before the Lord. Especially let us think of the poor, the crotchety, the desponding. Let our care, like the hurdles of a sheepfold, enclose all the flock.
Brethren, let us hunt up destitute localities, and see that no district is left without the means of grace. This applies not only to London, but also to villages, hamlets, and little groups of cottages. Heathenism hides away among the lone places, as well as in the crowded slums of our mammoth cities. May every piece of ground be rained upon by gospel influences!
6. Another thing must not be overlooked; in order to faithfulness,, we must never connive at evil. This injunction will be warmly commended by certain brethren whose only notion of pruning a tree is to cut it down! A gardener comes to a gentleman's house, and when he is told that the shrubs are a little overgrown, he answers, "I will see to them." In a few days, you walk round the garden. He has seen to them with a vengeance; he has done the garden, and done for it! Some persons cannot learn the balance of virtues; they cannot kill a mouse except by burning down the barn. Did I hear you say, "I was faithful, I never connived at evil"? So far, so good; but may it not happen that, by a bad temper, you yourself produced more evil than that which you destroyed? "Keep that child quiet," says the mother to the nurse, and the nurse immediately throws it out of the window. She has obeyed her mistress, and effectually quieted the child; but small will be her praise. So you fly into a passion, and you "give it" to the people, because they are not all they ought to be: are you all you ought to be? Do you say, "I will let them know that I am master here"? Is that so? Are you master?
But you are, perhaps, moved to answer me by saying, "Do not you, yourself, hold a high position in your own church?" I do; but how have I gained it? I gave no power but that which gentleness and love have brought me. How have I used my influence? Have I sought pre-eminence? Ask those who are round about me. But I forbear, and return to what I was saying: we must not allow sin to go unrebuked. Yield in all things personal, but be firm where truth and holiness are concerned. We must be faithful, lest we incur the sin and penalty of Eli. Be honest to the rich and influential; be firm with the wavering and unsteady; for the blood of these will be required at our hand. Brothers, you will need all the wisdom and grace you can get in order to fulfil your duties as pastors. There is an adaptation to rule men which would seem to be quite absent from certain preachers, and the place of it is supplied by an adaptation to set a house on fire, for they scatter firebrands and burning coals wherever they go. Be ye not like unto them. Strive not, and yet wink not at sin.
7. Some neglect their obligations as Christ's stewards by forgetting that the Master is coming. "He will not come yet," whisper some; "there are so many prophecies to be fulfilled; and it is even possible that He will not come at all, in the vulgar sense of the term. There is no particular need for us to make haste." Ah, my brethren! it is the unfaithful servant who says, "My Lord delayeth His coming." This belief allows him to put off labour and travail. The servant will not clean the room by daily duty, because the Master is away; and the servant of Christ thinks that he can have a great clear up, in the form of a revival, before his Lord arrives. If we would each feel that each day may be our last day, we should be more intense in our work. While preaching the gospel, we may some day be interrupted by the blast of the trumpet, and the cry, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet Him."
This expectation will tend to quicken our pace. The time is short; our Lord is at the door; we must work with all our might. We must not be eye-servants except in this sense that we labour in the Lord's presence since He is so near. I am impressed with the rapid flight of time, the swift approach of the last great audit. These Annual Conferences return so speedily: to some of us, it seems only a day or two since last year's gathering, the last of them hastens on. I shall soon be giving in the account of my stewardship; or, if I should survive for a while, others of you may be summoned to meet your Lord; you will soon go home to your Lord if your Lord does not soon come to you. We must work on from hour to hour with our eye upon the audit, that we may not be ashamed of the record which will be found in the volume of the book.
We ought to pray much about this faithfulness to our stewardship, for the penalty of unfaithfulness is terrible. In the Doges' Palace at Venice, we have seen the portraits of those potentates ranged in long succession round a great hall; one square is noteworthy, for it is a blank. If you do not look at any one of the portraits with attention, you will be sure to fix your eye upon that blank, and ask, "What meaneth this?" There are the Doges in all their splendour, and there is this vacant place. Marinus Falierus dishonoured his office, and the great council of the city ordered his effigies to be blackened over. Shall this be the portion of any steward here? Shall we be immortal in disgrace? Shall everlasting shame and contempt be measured out to us as traitors to our Redeemer? Remember the word of the Lord Jesus, when He says of the unfaithful servant, that his Lord shall "cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Can any of you fathom that abyss of horror?
The reward of all faithful stewards is exceeding great: let us aspire to it. The Lord will make the man who was faithful in a few things to be ruler over many things. That is an extraordinary passage where our Saviour says, "Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that He shall gird Himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them." It is wonderful that our Lord has already served us; but how can we comprehend that He will serve us again? Think of Jesus rising up from His throne to wait upon us! "Behold!" He cries, "here comes a man who served Me faithfully on earth; make way for him, ye angels, and principalities, and powers! This is the man whom the King delighteth to honour." And, to our surprise, the King girds Himself, and waits upon us. We are ready to cry, "Not so, my Lord." But He must, and will, keep His Word. This unspeakable honour He will pay to His true servants. Happy man, to have been the poorest and most despised of ministers, to be now served by the King of kings! Oh, to be of the number of those who follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth! Brethren, can ye abide in your steadfastness? Can ye drink of His cup, and be baptized with His baptism? Remember that the flesh is weak. The trials of the present age are peculiarly subtle and severe. Cry to the Strong for strength, and yield yourselves to His almighty love.
Beloved brethren, we are bound to go forward, cost us what it may, for we dare not go back; we have no armour for our backs. We believe ourselves to be called to this ministry, and we cannot be false to the call. We are sometimes charged with saying terrible things about hell. We will not justify every expression we may have used, but we have never yet described misery so deep as that which will await an unfaithful minister. Ah, my brethren, the future of the lost surpasses all conception, if we view it by the light of the expressions used by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself! The almost grotesque figures of Dante, and the horrors depicted by the mediaeval preachers, do not exceed the truth taught by our Lord when He spoke of the worm which dieth not, and the fire which is not quenched. To be cast into outer darkness, to crave in vain for a drop of cold water, or to be cut asunder, are unrivalled horrors. Alas, that men will run the risk of these! A thousand times, alas! that any minister should do so; that any mortal man should climb the pinnacle of the temple, and from thence cast himself down to hell. If I must be a lost soul, let me be lost as a thief, a blasphemer, or a murderer, rather than as an unfaithful steward to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is to be a Judas, a son of perdition, indeed.
Remember, if any of you are unfaithful, you win for yourselves a superfluity of condemnation. You were not forced to be ministers. You were not compelled to enter upon this sacred office. By your own choice you are here. In your youth, you aspired to this holy service, and thought yourselves happy in attaining your desire. Brethren, if we meant to be untrue to Jesus, there was no necessity to have climbed this sacred rock in order to multiply the horrors of our final fall. We could have perished quite sufficiently in the ordinary ways of sin. What need to qualify ourselves for a greater damnation? This will be a dreadful result if this is all that comes of our College studies, and our burning of the midnight oil in acquiring knowledge. My heart and my flesh tremble while I contemplate the possibility of any one of us being found guilty of treachery to our charge, and treason to our King. May the good Lord so abide with us that, at the last, we may be clear of the blood of all men! It will be seven heavens in one to hear our Master say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."