|A Church We Know of|
by C. H. Spurgeon
From the April 1877 Sword and Trowel
PTNESS TO DISCOVER and report faults is a very common gift. A good nose for heresy and a quick ear for slander are very ordinary endowments. In the Book of Record there are innumerable entries concerning the worldliness, discord, and general declension of the churches, and some of these are as full of lamentation as the prophet's roll. If it be faithfulness to publish failures and sins on the part of God's people, there has certainly been no lack of faithfulness in these last days; it even strikes us that the virtue has been a little overdone. Wise men and fools have been alike eager to try their pens at writing bitter things against the degenerate church of God. One could have wished that there had been more plentiful traces of tears blotting the record, and that the penman's hand had quivered a little with sorrowful emotion; but still the memorial has been made with stern fidelity, and nothing has been extenuated. A ruthless severity which has never fallen short of the truth has drawn the indictment, collected the evidence, and commented thereon unsparingly. Well, there may have been a need for all this; at least it will be wisest for the church to receive it all in the spirit of the saint who said, "Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness, and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent oil which shall not break my head." At any rate let us, hope that those who penned the charges and reported the evil deeds were themselves all the easier when they had relieved their minds.
Let the way of the faithful faultfinders shine with honor: we have, however, no wish to follow in their track while speaking of a church and people that are just now in our thoughts, and we could not if we would, for it would require us to be false to facts and untrue to our own heart. If all churches were as a church we know of, if all manifested the same unity, concord, and zeal, the very smallest drop of gall which ever entered into the composition of ink would be far too much to write out the complaints of a century. The reader may accuse us of partiality, but we cannot help it: if others have taken leave to vilify dissenting churches, both in the measured language of distinct accusation and by the sneering caricatures of fiction, we also will have our say and give forth our opinion and experience concerning the one church of which we are better able to judge than any other living man. Facts are facts, and ought to be as freely stated to honor as to dishonor. Is detraction necessarily more impartial than praise? Must justice of necessity condemn? Is it not as faithful to praise the good as to censure the evil? So far as we can judge, the popular part is that of the censorious critic, while he who praises will certainly be suspected and will probably be condemned as a flatterer, or an injudicious partisan. We accept the difficult and unenviable position, and will speak the truth come what may of it.
The pastor of a church which we know of was weary in mind and needed rest. He had but to intimate the need, and he was urged to wished him to do as he judged best, and what is better, they furnished him with the means to make holiday whenever he pleased. Quietly and unostentatiously this was attended to as a matter of course, but it was none the less gratefully received. No one had any wish but that the pastor whom they loved should find refreshment from mental strain, and come back full of the blessing of the gospel of peace.
In due time the pastor was gonewhat then? Did matters flag, congregations fall off, and prayer-meetings decline? Far otherwise. Of course there was less of a crowd of outsiders at Sabbath services, but the people, the flock, did not wander; it was their point of honor to fill the house, and let the good men who occupied the pastor's place feel that they were appreciated. Good old Dr. Liefchild used to tell a merry story of his chapel-keeper, which is worth repeating. "Ah. Doctor," said the old lady, "there is one point in which I admire you above all the preachers I ever knew, for the most of them when they go away fill up their pulpits with any sticks they can find, but you never do that. I was only saying the other day that you never go out but what you sent us a better preacher than yourself." The pastor we are writing of always endeavors to imitate Dr. Liefchild in this point, and if he does not elicit quite so outspoken an eulogium he at any rate tries to deserve it. Yet even with the best substitutes, certain fickle ones will not be kept at home, and therefore it is the more pleasant to meet with a church which is free from this fault. Nothing can be worse than to see a people scattered hither and thither because their elect preacher is unavoidably absent; it looks as if the work depended upon a single, life, and it raises the suspicion that the faith of the hearers stands rather in the force of human teaching than in the power of the Holy Ghost. If ever a church member should vacate his seat it should not be in the minister's absence, for it sets an ill example and tends greatly to the discouragement of the servant of the Lord who has undertaken to minister temporarily in the congregation. The people of whom we write escape all just remark on this score, though from the absence of the strangers and the mixed multitude of curiosity-hearers some have taken opportunity to offer ungenerous and untruthful insinuations.
But what of the prayer-meetings? The church which is now in our mind's eye has always been given to prayer, and its assemblies for supplication constitute its main peculiarity and its source of strength. Some have hinted that interesting addresses are the potent attraction and that the presence of the pastor is a lodestone to many. How then did the preacher's absence tell upon the gatherings? Did the numbers dwindle down? No, they were greater rather than less. The praying people felt all the more their responsibility to sustain the sacred work of intercession, and therefore they mustered in full force; they would not desert the junior pastor, and the deacons and elders, rather did they feel that they must rally round them, and make the meetings for supplication more hearty and more prevalent. The senior pastor was prayed for with all the greater freedom because of his absence, and all his helpers were also the more fervently commended to the divine keeping because of the extra duties which devolved upon them. The Holy Spirit gave life to the supplications, and the praying brethren being many, and well led by earnest officers, the prayer-meetings were memorably excellent, and full of refreshment.
But it will at least be imagined that special efforts would slacken, or perhaps be suspended. Cruel sneers at the "one-man ministry" are often backed up by the question, "If the one man. were gone, what would you do?" The church of which we are now writing is a fair specimen of this much-decried one-man ministry, and what is its fruit, what are its capacities when the despised "one man" is out of the way? Why, it is so soundly vital, so universally at work, so independent of any one individual, that it of its own accord selected the period of the senior pastor's vacation for the holding of special services that there might be no call upon him for extra exertion, and that there might be an additional hold upon the young people to compensate for his absence. Those services under the divine blessing were attended with the best results. At the very commencement interest was excited, and very soon enthusiasm was amused; the officers were punctually at their posts, and the members who are addicted to soul-winning were there too; speakers were found among themselves, and, supplemented by brother ministers, sufficed to arouse and sustain the revival spirit. Week after week the services went on with growing energy, backsliders were restored, saints quickened, and sinners converted. The brethren, as one man, put their necks to the work of the Lord, and labored, with double diligence. Beloved leaders were to the front, but there was, no lack of the rank and file. The people needed no eloquent appeals or pressing exhortations, they had a mind to the Redeemer's glory, and therefore each one conscientiously took his place and filled it, and the Lord smiled on the united and earnest work of his people. No one could ascribe honor to the one man in the conversions wrought during his absence, and at the same time there was no fear of his instrumentality being despised among so attached a people, and therefore it seemed good unto the Lord to bless the efforts of his servants very remarkably. What a joy is this to the minister! How deeply he loves, and how greatly he honors the brethren who have thus dealt faithfully to the great Head of the church! What union of heart he feels with his noble band of helpers! God is very gracious in having raised up such men, and in having made them able to go in and out before the Lord's people with zeal and discretion clothed with the divine power.
Content, yea, delighted, to consecrate their substance and their gifts to the common cause, some of them labor more abundantly for the church than for their own secular business, while others to whom worldly possessions are denied do not envy their fellows, but heap up such things as they have upon the altar of the Lord, and by the unceasing sacrifice of time and toil for the good of the church earn unto themselves a good degree. Strife as to which shall be the greatest is altogether banished, but a sacred emulation as to which shall best conduct his own department still remains. Imperfect tempers, and erring dispositions are kept in check by the divine Spirit, and a powerful public sentiment of love and unity rules the little commonwealth, so that incipient evils are nipped in the bud. The Lord has done it, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Poor human nature could never compass a score years of peaceful fellowship, but a baptism into the one Spirit has accomplished it, and works mightily still to the same end. Glory be to God for it.
But did no work flag? None. The over-looking eye doeth much; did not some things drag when in some measure let alone? No, not so much as one. The workers were more than ordinarily diligent, and the various agencies were rather quickened than retarded. Contributions did not fall off, the weekly offering was up to its general average; in fact, in the direction of liberality certain special matters were devised, arranged, and carried through with peculiar promptitude, and were reported to the pastor only as accomplished facts. The watchman's eye fails to detect a failure anywhere, and it is lifted to heaven. in adoring gratitude because "all is well."
These things are not written to magnify man, nor out of mere personal affection, but that they may stimulate others. This church prospers with the increase of God, and do you wonder? Where there is little love between pastor and people can the good work succeed? Where everything depends upon incessant whip and spur can there be real prosperity? Where the work of the Lord is official business, and the members find little else to do except to gossip, dispute, and quarrel, can the Holy Spirit dwell with them? There must be the graces of love, unity, zeal, or we cannot expect to see the hand of the Lord stretched out in power. We are afraid that there are churches still in existence where every church-meeting is anticipated with anxiety lest it should be made a season of debate, where family feuds poison the springs of Christian fellowship, and where differences of opinion upon vital doctrines effectually prevent any approach to spiritual unity. Under such conditions edification may be sighed for in vain, and the conversion of sinners may be regarded as most improbable. Surely there has been enough of that scrupulosity which wars a fierce warfare about microscopic points, and it is time to turn our care and energy into a more profitable direction. To remove everything which genders unto strife, to overcome evil with no weapon but love, to be eager to do service to the least of the Lord's people, and to be on a blaze with zeal for his causethis is far, far better than cold decorum and watchful suspicion. Whatever else is lacking in a church, love must be present, or the best sign of blessing is absent. How sweetly does the inspired poet rehearse the praises of fraternal unity! But his warmest expressions are justified by experience.
Behold how good a thing it is,
And how becoming well,
Together such as brethren are
In unity to dwell."
Let churches do less in criticizing their minister, and do more in praying for him; let them expect less from him and more from God; let them, as a whole, arise and put on strength; let them have no strife but which shall best serve the brotherhood to edification, and they will yet see the windows of heaven opened and a blessing poured out upon them unspeakably beyond their largest hopes. "The same God over all is rich unto all that call upon him." He is a sovereign, but yet he acts according to recognized rule, and when a people are loving, living, laboring, and longing for his presence, that presence will be vouch-. safe. When church fellowship is not a mere name, but a blessed,. joyful, active reality, when those who are called "brethren," are really so, then may we look for the blessing which maketh rich. Only the Lord can give to a church the condition requisite for success, but when he gives it he will not fail to send the corresponding increase. Churches need to be more loving within if they would be more powerful without. They must be more hearty, and more like a family; the shepherd and the flock must be on more tender terms, and brotherhood must be brotherhood indeed, and then shall we see greater things than these.
We have not space to give the letters which the pastor from Sabbath to Sabbath addressed to his loving people, but one telegram which he sent and the reply are worthy to be remembered, as they fairly express the mutual love and esteem which fills their hearts. The telegram from the pastor ran thus:"To my beloved church. John's Second Epistle, third and twelfth verses." This, when written out in full, reads as follows:"Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink; but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full."
The answer sent was as follows:"Yours to hand. Our reply. To our beloved Pastor. We give thanks always to God for you, making mention of you in our prayers. Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope, in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father."