Bring Sinners to the Saviour
“And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away : and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out ; and they could not. He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you bring him unto me. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.” — Mark ix. 17— 20.
I DO not intend to speak so much upon the whole of this text as to use the latter part of it as a sort of motto for an appeal to Christian people to be diligent in the service of their Lord. If we wish to do good to our fellow-creatures, the best thing that we can do for them is to bring them to the Lord Jesus Christ. At the feet of Jesus we ourselves obtained salvation if we are saved; we never had any true peace of heart until we came to Christ, and we never should have had any if we had remained apart from him. The great Physician, who healed our soul-sickness, was Christ Jesus the Lord; and if we are to be the means of blessing to the sons of men, we must recommend to them the Physician whom we have proved to be so exceedingly useful to ourselves. They cannot be blessed, any more than we could be, until they are brought to Jesus.
When any of us desire to be of service to others, it is well for to learn the best way of setting about our task; for if we do not know how to go to work, all our earnestness may be expended upon that which is useless; but when we understand what we are at, and concentrate all our powers upon wise and proper efforts, then are we likely to succeed. To my mind, the first thing that we have to strive after, in the name of God, and by the help of the Holy Ghost, is to bring men to Jesus Christ; and God forbid that we should ever lift even a finger to point them anywhere else for salvation. Each true believer, as well as every Christian minister, should say, —
“’Tis all my business here below
To cry, ‘Behold the Lamb!’”
We are to point sinners to Jesus, — ourselves looking at him all the while, and praying that they also may look unto him, and live.
I think I need hardly remind you that every Christian is bound to give himself to the blessed work of bringing sinners to the Saviour. Common humanity should lead us to attempt this task. Is it necessary for me to bid you love your fellows, and seek their good? Why, even they who have no Christianity are often exceedingly generous, and humane, and kind. Some persons whose religious opinions are full of error, have, nevertheless, manifested great tenderness and sympathy towards the sick, and the suffering, and the poor; and they have set a noble example of what others might do for the needy. Much more, then, ought the followers of the loving Christ to have tender, sympathetic hearts, and anxiously to desire to do the most they can for their fellow-men. I shall take it for granted, my dear hearers, that you, who are members of this church, or of any other true Christian church, are desirous to be the means of blessing to those who are about you, and that you also believe that the surest way to bless them is to bring them to Christ.
I. So, coming to our text, I begin by remarking that PARENTS ARE THE FIRST PERSONS WHO SHOULD LABOUR TO BRING THEIR CHILDREN TO CHRIST.
In the 17th verse, we read that the epileptic youth was, in a sense, brought to Christ by his father. “Master,” said the poor man, “I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit.” He hardly knew how to set to work, for he somehow confounded Christ with his disciples; so, as the Lord Jesus was away upon the mountain, he brought his son to the disciples. They could not cast out the devil, yet it was a right thing, on the part of the father, to bring his child to them; it showed a loving spirit, and a desire to see him cured. I am afraid there are some fathers, who even call themselves Christians, who have not yet done as much for their sons and daughters as that father did for his boy, for they have not asked for the sympathy and help of Christian people on behalf of their own children. I am utterly ashamed of some professors of religion who say that they really must leave that matter to their children. I have heard of one man who said that he did not like to prejudice his boy, so he would not say anything to him about religion. The devil, however, was quite willing to prejudice the lad, so very early in life he learnt to swear, although his father had a foolish and wicked objection to teaching him to pray. If you ever feel it incumbent upon you not to prejudice a piece of ground by sowing good seed in it, you may rest assured that the weeds will not imitate your impartiality, but they will take possession of the land in a very sad and shocking manner. Where the plough does not go, and the seed is not sown, the weeds are quite sure to multiply; and if children are left untutored and untrained, all sorts of evils will spring up in their hearts and lives.
If a professedly Christian parent has not even put his children under godly tuition, what shall I say of him? He must be a Christian watered down to a very low point, or beaten out to extreme thinness. There must be very little, if any, grace left in such a man as that. We have known wealthy Christian men send their boys to school where the whole influence was altogether against religion, or else utterly neutral. Girls have sometimes been sent abroad, to learn a foreign language in the midst of those who are steeped in gross error; and it does not seem to have occurred to the parents that they ought first to have cared about the souls of their daughters. Oh, dear me! are such people as these worthy to be called Christians at all; or do they merely wear the Christian label upon their breasts without having the grace of God in their hearts? Dear brother or sister, if you cannot speak to your own children altogether as you can wish about their souls, do follow the example of this man, and bring your dear ones to the disciples, that they may see what they can do for them in the Master’s name. Still, recollect that there was a mistake in this father’s action, because, at first, he made the disciples the terminus of his journey instead of merely coming to them en route to Christ. We may make Christian men the way by which we try to get to Christ; but to stop at them, and not to bring the children to Christ himself, will be fatal to all our desire for the salvation of their souls.
This man did not see his child cured by the disciples, yet he persevered after his first failure. “Master,” said he, “I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit. . . I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.” In effect, he said, “They have failed, so I have brought him to thee.” So, if the Sabbath-school teacher has not been blessed to your girl, — if the instruction in that Bible-class, to which she has gone for years, has not been the means of her conversion, — if your boy after having had the best religious training, remains unsaved, go straight away to the great Master in your earnest prayers, and so bring your dear children to Christ. I am not a believer in the theory that some hold, — that children do not grow up in the fear of God if they have been trained in it. It is true that there have been many ministers’ sons who have been ungodly young men, I have had very sad proof of that fact; yet I fear that some of those ministers may have neglected their own families while they were preaching to others. It is very easy for a man— especially if his wife does not help him to train their children aright, — to neglect the affairs of his own family while he is continually busy about the work of the church; and thus they are not trained up in the way they should go. I wish that this evil was not so common as it is; but I do know that some have grown up ungodly because there was not due attention paid to them. The vineyard at home was neglected while other people’s vineyards were being kept.
If you have no family prayer, and your children do not grow up to be Christians, how can you expect that they will? If there is no altar in the house, is it right to call it God’s house at all? Wherever Abraham pitched his tent, he built an altar too; and that is the custom of all those who live near to God, they sanctify their dwellings with daily prayer and praise; but if that practice is neglected, and the father keeps his religion in the background, and does not let it be seen at home, I do not marvel if his boys and girls grow up to say that there is nothing in it. It is a sad thing when children can say, “Father made a profession of religion, but his life was not consistent with it. Mother also professed to be a Christian, but we never heard her speak of Christ. She never prayed with us, or, in our hearing, for us.” Where no influence is used, it is not probable that there can be any result. I told you, the other night, of a dear brother who said, when I exhorted my hearers to select somebody to pray for, that he had prayed for one person for twenty years, and that he is not converted yet. So I said to him, “Have you spoken to your friend personally about his soul? Have you made it your business to go down to his house, and tell him that you are anxious about him?” “No,” he replied, “I cannot say that I have done so.” “Well, then,” I asked, “do you expect God to hear prayers of that kind? Suppose I were to pray that it might be a good harvest over in that field, and yet, for twenty years, I did not sow any corn there; the probability is that, when I did sow some, I should get my prayers answered, and gather in the harvest.” If we pray for anything, God expects us to use the proper means of obtaining it; and if we neglect the means, we have no right to expect him to believe in the sincerity of our prayer. If a father and mother pray for their children, but never pray with them, or speak to them personally about the welfare of their souls, they must not wonder if they are not brought to Christ.
II. But, secondly, although parents should be the first persons to bring their children to Christ, WE MAY, EACH ONE OF US, HELP IN THIS BLESSED WORK. Our text says, “They brought him unto him;” that is, the disciples helped the father to bring this poor epileptic child to Jesus.
In seeking to bring sinners to the Saviour, we shall find that some are brought to him by almost unconscious influence. I believe that, when a man is full of the grace of God, he is like a Leyden jar that is charged with electricity; if he possesses true holiness, he will give some of it to others almost without knowing that he is doing so. I have met with many singular instances of that indirect way of doing good. Some three or four months ago, there was a working man, whose wife, being suddenly taken ill, needed a certain Christian woman to come and attend her. The husband went to her house to try to find her. It was on the Sabbath evening, so she was where she ought to be at that time, in the house of God, in a little chapel not many miles from here. The man knew that he must have this good woman to go to his wife, so he went to the chapel, and as he could not get her at once, he waited for a few minutes, and listened to the preacher. He was interested in what he heard, so he went to that chapel again the next Sabbath morning. Before long, he was brought to know the Lord, and now he has joined the church, and by his earnest work is a great help to the minister. Well, now, if that good woman had not been a Christian, she might not have been in that chapel. If she had not been a regular attendant on the means of grace, she would not have been there, and the man would not have had to go to the place where he found blessing to his soul. I know of another case that may seem equally strange. A man and his wife went to live in a certain street where nobody, to their knowledge, attended any place of worship. It is dreadful to think that, in London, you may go into street after street where a person, who goes to either a church or a meeting-house, is quite an exception to the general rule; it is sad that it should be so, but so it certainly is. These two people regularly went to a place of worship, and it happened there was living in the same street a man who, when he resided in the country, was a regular attendant on the means of grace; and, as these people went by his window, Sunday after Sunday, although they did not know him, and never said a word to him, and were even quite unconscious of their influence over him, they were preaching to him by their action, for it rebuked him, and he said to himself, “What would my mother think if she knew how I spend my Sabbath days? There are two good people, who are just like my father and mother at home, who, about this time, are going to the meeting-house.” He brushed himself up for the evening service, found his way to the house of God, and soon became a Christian.
When you are doing anything that is right, you cannot tell how much blessing you are scattering. Any man or woman, a master or a servant, may be of essential service in bringing others to Jesus, simply by a happy, cheerful, kind, gentle behaviour. You may not have the opportunity of saying much for Christ; perhaps it might not be proper in your position that you should do so; but those about you watch you, they note your genial spirit, and they begin to like you. They observe your consideration for others, and they admire it; then they see your cheerfulness, and they wonder what is the secret of it. Possibly, you are ill, and someone comes to visit you; you are very patient, you even sing in the midst of your pain. Persons who see and hear you, and who note how you bear it all, say to themselves, “There is something within these people that we do not understand;” and thus you exercise an influence over them although you may have said very little to them. The fact that you are a Christian is one of the most practical and powerful means of bringing others to enquire what this religion is which elevates, sweetens, softens, and yet strengthens, and makes people to be manifestly like their Father in heaven.
I remember hearing Mr. Jay, of Bath, tell the story of a good girl, a servant, who attended his meeting-house. Her master and mistress were very strict Church-people, and when they found out that Jane went to the meeting-house, they talked to her very roughly, and said that she must give up going there. She answered very gently, that she must go where her own soul was fed, and she could not meet their wishes in that matter, though she was willing to do so in everything else. “Very well, Jane,” they replied; “then you must take a month’s notice, for we cannot have any of these horrible Dissenters living with us,” That evening, as the lady and gentleman sat talking together, one of them said, “She is really a good girl, do you not think we are treating her very badly? Suppose she were to insist that we should go to the meeting-house with her, we should say that it was very wrong for her to tyrannize over us, so is it not wrong for us to try to tyrannize over her?” “She took it so gently, too,” said the other; “we should not have stood it as she did. Suppose we go and see what this Mr. Jay is like whom she goes to hear; for if he is a good man, she may as well go to the meeting-house as to the church.” They went; and, in telling the story, Mr. Jay said, “they have continued to come and hear Mr. Jay up to the present time.” So, you see, that the servant had, by her consistent Christian character, brought her master and mistress round to her way of thinking, although they could not coerce her to theirs; and you can judge what influence you also may exert over others if you have the grace of God - abounding in you. May God fill us full of it, that we may be the means of bringing many sinners to the Saviour! Yet we must not be content with unconscious influence; and I hope none of us will be like the young gentleman, who advertised that he would like board and lodging where his Christian example would be considered to be an equivalent for what he received.
In many instances, much good has been done in bringing souls to Christ by casual seed-sowing. Eternity alone will disclose the good results that have sometimes followed from the utterance of one short word. I trace all the light I have upon a certain subject to a remark made by the usher in a school where I was many years ago; he was teaching geography, and he let drop a sentence, which I need not repeat, but I remember it to this day, and it had an influence upon my whole after career and character. I also recollect a few gracious words that were spoken to me by a godly old woman, who used to read her Gospel Herald, and talk to me about the power of divine grace. I rejoiced to get a grip of the grand old Calvinistic doctrine, very much through half a dozen sentences that fell from the lips of that poor, humble, Christian woman, whom it was my great happiness to help, in later years, when she was in poverty. I felt that I owed so much to her that I must do anything I could to comfort her. You will often prove that, as George Herbert says, —
“A verse may find him who a sermon flies,” —
and that a short sentence may strike and stick where a long address may altogether fall flat. Give away a tract whenever you can; better still, give a little book that will not be torn up, one that has a cover on it, for you will probably see it upon the table when you call again. Speak a word for the Master whenever it is possible; and offer a short prayer at every convenient opportunity. I think we should make it a rule, whenever we hear a foul or blasphemous word in the street, — (and, alas! we constantly do so,) — always to pray for the person who utters it. Perhaps then the devil might find it expedient not to stir up people to swear, if he knew that it excited Christians to pray. Try it, at all events, and see whether it may not have a subtle power to stop the profanity which is so terribly on the increase.
Over and above all this indirect service, there ought to be direct effort, made by all Christians, for the conversion of those around them. Try what you can each one do by personally addressing other people. I have heard of one, an utter stranger to religion, who was brought to Christ through a gentleman tapping him on the shoulder, and saying to him, “Well, my brother, how does your soul prosper to-day?” The one, to whom he spoke, turned round, having never heard such a question before, and the other, as he saw his face, exclaimed, “I beg a thousand pardons; I thought you were my old friend So-and-so, who has been in the habit of putting that question to me.” It was a mistake, but it was a very blessed mistake, for the Spirit of God used it to the awakening of a conscience that was lying dormant; an honest conscience, which only needed to be aroused by some such startling enquiry as that. Dear friends, do try to speak personally to some friends about their immortal souls. I know that it is not easy work for some of you to break the ice, and make a beginning in such service; but I can assure you that you will do it better and better the more often you attempt it.
Beside that, bring people to the means of grace definitely with a view to their conversion. Help me all you can in trying to preach to the people. Get any, in whom you are concerned, to come to the house of God. A young man, who grew up to be a most useful minister of Christ, had been entirely careless about divine things until a neighbour said to him, “I have a sitting in the Tabernacle; if you will come with me, you can use my ticket.” The friend, who made that kind suggestion, stood, all the service through, where he could see the young man, and he was earnestly praying for him all the while. The result of lending his seat, on that one occasion, was that the young man was brought to the Saviour; he was soon in the Sabbath-school as a teacher, and, afterwards, as I told you, he became a most useful minister. Are there not more of you who might try that plan? I know that some of you have done this; then do it over and over again. Deny yourself of a Christian privilege for the sake of bringing others where the Lord will be likely to meet with them, especially if you back up the preacher’s word with your continual prayer on behalf of those whom you have brought to listen to his message.
Then, if you really want to bring souls to Christ, remember that there are the young to be taught. Just now, all our schools are languishing for lack of teachers. O you, who would have your crown studded with gems, seek them among the little ones! It is a happy task, however arduous it may be, so give yourselves to it with your whole heart and soul. Others of you, if you do not feel called to take a class of children, might sometimes speak words of warning to the grosser sinners with whom you come into contact, and words of encouragement to those who are seeking the Saviour. There is many and many a poor sinner, floundering in the Slough of Despond, who only wants someone, rightly named Help, to come and point out to him where the stepping-stones are, or to lend him a hand lest he should altogether sank under his crushing burden of guilt.
This I know, dear Christian friends; if you are not trying to bring sinners to the Saviour, you are missing the chief end of your being, and you are also missing the most joyous work that can ever occupy your attention. Oh, if you bring a soul to Jesus, the joy of it is unspeakable! I have before my mind’s eye, at this moment, a little cottage in the country, in which lived the first person of whom I heard that I had been the means of bringing her to Jesus. After preaching for some little time, I wanted some seal to my service; and when the deacon of the little church of which I was the minister said to me, “There was a poor woman cut to the quick, the other Sunday night; and I believe she has found the Saviour,” I posted off directly to see her. Those of you who have had a similar experience can imagine the joy I had in hearing her tell the story. She went home years ago, — perhaps the first of those who have gone to heaven, whom God has called by my means; but I was so glad, so happy, so delighted with my first convert that I say to you, “Do seek the same joy, if you yourself know the Lord.”
So that is my second point, that all of us, who are believers in Christ, may bring others to him.
III. My third observation is, that THERE ARE SOME OCCASIONS THAT NEED UNITED EXERTIONS.
God, the Holy Spirit, of course does the whole work in the conversion of a soul, but he works by instrumentalities; and there are some desperate cases in which he does not work upon a soul through one instrument alone, but he moves a number of persons to act together to that end. Our text says, “They brought him unto him.” This poor youth was foaming and gnashing with his teeth, and tearing himself just as you have seen persons do in an epileptic fit, so that it took several persons to hold him; together they grasped him, and, with one desperate, united effort, they brought him to the feet of Jesus, and Jesus cast out the evil spirit, and healed the poor sufferer.
In this way, people and minister may unite in bringing sinners to the Saviour. There may be some persons, who come here, who will never be converted until you and I join in seeking their salvation. Somebody must preach, but other bodies must pray; and if a score of you should be praying about any one person in the congregation, I believe that it will not be long before that epileptic is cured. The devil himself shall be defeated by the united prayers of many believers, especially if they are those mighty prayers of which our Saviour spoke when he said, “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting,” — when the praying souls hunger for the salvation of the suffering one, and unitedly cry to God to effect it. We have had much happy union in Christian work, let us have more of it; say to one another, “While the pastor preaches, we will pray; nay, more than that, we will continually remember him in our prayers, for we know that he needs them, and prizes them.” That is quite true, dear friends; for it is no small thing to minister, every Sabbath day, to this great company of people, and then, through the printed page, to address tens of thousands of readers, even to the utmost ends of the earth. Yes, I do indeed need your prayers and your help; give them to me, for then we may be sure that “they” — that is, all of us together, — shall bring many to Jesus.
Another form of co-operation is when there is a soul that has been prayed for, but no answer has come, so you call a few praying people to meet in your house, and you tell them the details of the case, and make a point of praying specially for that person. I have known instances in which brethren have collected a score of Christian friends, who, perhaps, never before met in one place; but they pledged themselves to pray about one particular case; and their united prayers have, with God’s blessing, accomplished what previously seemed to be impossible. It has been truly said that, if you have a very hard thing, you can cut it with something harder; and if any heart is especially hard, God can use the hard, strong, persistent vehemence of other mighty, passionate souls to pray the blessing of eternal life into that stubborn, rebellious heart. I would like to hear more frequently of friends banding themselves together, and meeting in their private houses to pray about somebody or other, making the person about whom they are interested the subject of special supplication; that would be the way to bring him to Jesus.
Then, add to that prayer, distinct united effort. Perhaps, if one friend should speak to that person, he may resent it. Then, if another should address him, he may receive it coolly. But when another speaks to him, he may begin to listen a little more attentively; and the next one may be able to put the key into the keyhole, and be the means, in the hand of God, of opening the closed door of that man’s heart. If God moves us to join in effort for any soul, I do not believe that we shall often find it to be a failure. At any rate, if a man will go down to hell, I should like that we should make it very difficult for him to get there; if he will not turn to Christ, I would that we were resolved that it should not be for want of being prayed for, or for lack of being earnestly pleaded with. We will be clear of his blood; we will shake off the very dust of our feet against such as determine to remain impenitent; and resolve that, to the utmost of our capacity, Christ shall be set forth, so that, if men reject him at all, they shall wilfully reject him.
Oh, that my words might stir up all of you who profess to be Christians! We have over five thousand church-members, — nearly six thousand. Oh, if all were alive unto God, and earnest in his service, — “all at it, and always at it,” — what might not be done, God the Holy Spirit blessing our labours? But, alas! there are many people here, like the camp-followers of an army, who do not fight when the battle comes on. Those who do the fighting are often hampered by these other people; and, sometimes, they almost feel as if they wanted to clear the ground of such loiterers and hinderers; but, instead of doing that, I beg all of you, dear friends, to wake up, and see what you can do for the Christ who has done so much for you. Let us all ask to be aroused again, and to be thoroughly stirred up in the service of the Saviour. God grant that this South of London— and the North, and West, and East, too, — may be permeated and saturated with your earnest endeavours to bring sinners to the Saviour! The Lord bless you, for Christ’s sake! Amen.