Cheer for the Worker, and Hope for London
“Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision. Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.”— Acts xviii. 9, 10.
IT is clear from this, dear friends, that even he who was not a whit behind the chief of the apostles sometimes needed special comfort. It is possible that even the bravest of the brave may be afraid. Sinking of heart assailed even Samson while as yet the thousand slain lay in heaps around him. Moses was cast down in the desert, and David on the throne. Even iron will melt, much more a heart of flesh. Remember the faintness of Elijah when he said, “Let me die, I am no better than my fathers,” and recollect that this was a lion-like man, one of those ministers of God who are as a flame of fire. The second Elias, he who rebuked Herod to his face, was sadly staggered while he lay in prison: John the Baptist sent to Jesus to enquire, “Art thou he that should come?” No doubt those heroes who have fought the battle of the truth, and have driven back its adversaries, have been men of like passions with us, and some of them of more than ordinary sensitiveness of feeling. Luther said, “Because I seem to be always strong and merry, men think that I walk on a bed of roses; but God knows how it is with me.” Perhaps no man ever experienced such mighty joys and such tremendous despairs as did that mighty man, who shook the papacy to its foundation. Even Paul was not without his tendency to fear. Ha writes in one of his epistles: “When we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears.” Do not think, therefore, my dear brother or sister, if in working for Christ you get thoroughly cast down and sick of yourself, that you are undergoing an experience, unknown to the sons of God. It is by no means so. Trembling takes hold on all in turns; faintness is common enough on all hands. Fear, like the mist of the valley, steals over the very garden of the Lord, and there is not a flower in all the borders which is not at times bowed down with the weight of the chilly damp. But the Lord took care to visit his servant when he was in a measure of trouble, or afraid of being so. He came to him in the visions of the night. We do not expect to see the Lord Jesus Christ in visions now, for “we have a more sure word of prophecy to which we do well to take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place”— we have the word of God, inspired and infallible. We have the whole of the divinely written roll: we can read it when we will, and from its page God speaks with a clear and certain voice. A dream of the night might, peradventure, be only a dream, even in those olden times when God did speak in visions; but this word of the Lord is no delusion. It stands fast for ever and ever, and every promise is sure, being made yea and amen in Christ Jesus. When by faith we take the promise, it is as if Christ did speak it over again to each one of us, for the promise is never exhausted. It is as fresh to-day when I read it as when the eyes of saints a thousand years ago found comfort in it. God is always appearing to you who have believing eyes. God is never silent until we are deaf. He speaks to us morning by morning, and he has precept upon precept for the quiet hours of eventide. The Lord did but appear to Paul during one night, for visions are short and few; but any night you like to wake and open the Scriptures, and seek for the power of the Spirit to rest upon them, you shall hear Jesus speaking to you; and any day you turn to that passage in Isaiah, you shall hear the very words that Jesus spoke to Paul, “Fear not, I am with thee,” with these additional words, “I am thy God. When thou goest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”
Besides, visions and such like things belong to the infancy of the church: now that she has grown strong, she exercises a grander faith in God, and needs not that the Invisible should be supplemented by signs and wonders. If you plant a tree in an orchard, it is very common to put a big stake by the side of it to hold it up. Nobody thinks of putting a post to support an apple tree which has been there for the last fifty years. In fact, it could hold the stake rather than borrow support from it. When a ship leaves the docks and passes down the river, you will see it towed out till it reaches the sea; but that same vessel will by-and-by spread all her sails, and with a heavenly breeze to bear her along, she will need no tug to tow her to the desired haven. The church of God to-day is a tree that needs no support of miracle and vision, a vessel that has braved two thousand years the battle and the breeze, and will still, till Christ cometh, outride every storm. At this time, O servants of Jesus, you have the word of God, which is better than visions. Oh, that, to-night, the Lord Jesus would take of his own word, and, by his Spirit, speak it home to all who love him, then will they be as much refreshed as though they were in Patmos with the beloved disciple. My prayer has been especially that the Lord would say to each one here present who knows his name, “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.” I am to be understood as speaking to every blood-bought man and woman, with the anxious desire that the words of the text should be laid home to the heart of each one. O Spirit of God, make thy servant’s word to be as fire among stubble, that so the gospel flame may spread abroad.
I. And, first, brethren, notice briefly THE TENDENCY OF OUR WEAKNESS.
That tendency is revealed in the first word— “Be not afraid.” We feel when we newly find Christ, that we must speak for Jesus, and we do so; but after awhile a foolish fear freezes many a tongue, and keeps many a lip silent that ought to be telling out the wondrous story of redeeming love. We get to be afraid. We are not nowadays afraid, as the first Christians might have been, of the amphitheatre and the lions, or of Nero and his sword. Happily we are delivered from almost all open persecution; but there are other things which evidently frighten a good many. For instance, some are afraid to speak for Jesus because of the defects of their education. They fancy that, when educated persons are present, if they say anything for Christ they will make a mistake in grammar or mispronounce a word, and the very learned folks will discover their ignorance, and set them down for dunces. I have heard a young preacher say that, in his early days, when he saw a gentleman with a white cravat come into the village chapel, he felt that he could not preach. Something very dreadful about that, no doubt! Somebody from London has entered the cottage where the dear brother has been trying to talk about Christ, and he is in a cold sweat, he hardly knows why. The stranger has a respectable black coat on, and is very different from the agricultural labourers who make up the usual congregation, and for fear of him the champion of the cross is quaking. Do you not notice that the good brother’s voice has undergone a serious toning down? He cannot speak with freedom, and yet, if he only knew it, his best friend in the whole congregation is that well-dressed stranger. He is afraid of a brother who would best sympathise with him and most earnestly could pray for him— the very brother who would encourage him most if they, have a half-hour’s talk together. Friend, over yonder, are you blushing because this incident has happened once and again to yourself? Do you not think that whenever you have been checked in that way it has been very foolish? Has not pride been at the bottom of it? Should we not be willing to be called blunderers? We should endeavour to do our Lord’s work in the best possible manner, but if our education be deficient, and we cannot overcome early disadvantages, ought we therefore to hold back? Should we not be willing to save a soul anyhow? If we can declare the gospel in a masterly manner, by all means let us do it, but if we are slow of speech and uncouth in utterance let not these things silence us. Was not Moses slow of utterance? Was he silent? Did not Isaiah own that his lips were unfit to deliver the message? Was he therefore idle? If a man is learned and educated, let him reckon that his learning should help him to simplicity; and if he is not educated let him talk about Jesus Christ in his own way, with the words that come freshest from his own heart, and let him never be afraid.
I have known others fearful, on the other hand, because they have not gathered educated people to listen to them, but are surrounded by a rough lot, whose manners and habits distress them. Sensitive Christians have shrunk from speaking to such characters, for they said, “Ah, they will turn it all to ridicule, and we must not throw pearls before swine.” Brother, are you quite sure that you have any pearls and are you quite sure that the people are swine? I generally feel as if what I had to say was not so pearly that I need be alarmed about the swine treading on it; and, also, I have felt concerning my congregation that, as they have immortal souls, there is a somewhat about them which differences them from swine; and who am I to be so particular about the reception which men give to my words? Christ spake even to those who refused him, and shall not I do the same? Our Saviour did not mean by that expression what you think he did. Some parts of our experience are choice as pearls, and these we may only tell to God’s own people, and not to those who cannot appreciate them; but, as to the gospel, preach it before all the swine that ever can be gathered together, for to such is it sent. What were all the nations in our Lord’s day but a swinish multitude, and yet he bade us preach the gospel to every creature. The worse the men the more they need the gospel, and the more we are bound to carry it to them. Brethren in Christ, it is your business, whoever may be around you, still to tell out what Jesus Christ has done for you. “But they would laugh at it.” Well, well, there are worse things than that in the world. Making people laugh is not the worst thing that can be done. I would sooner increase mirth in the world than sorrow. If I made men’s hearts ache about nothing, as our novelists often do, I would throw away my pen, and hold my tongue; but if, in consequence of some awkwardness or eccentricity, people smile at me,— well, if they are the happier, it cannot hurt me. Why should they not laugh at me? And am I not, after all, ridiculous? “No,” says one, “I do not think I am.” Ah, but my brother there is a comic side to you as well as to everybody else, and there is something about you, I dare say, that is ridiculous. I have generally found that the man who could not bear to be ridiculed was some precise kind of body who was the very person to excite remark. Oh, be content to take a little of the rough with the smooth for your Master’s sake. Some hearts cannot be got at until, first of all, they feel a keen aversion to what they hear. Better that they should rave with wrath than feel nothing. We must get the oyster open somehow, and if this may be done by a tempting bait as well as by sheer force, then let us try the gentle experiment. It may be the creature will only open out of spite, and perhaps it thinks to nip us when it shuts its shell, but we thrust in the knife of the gospel, and the deed is done. While they are criticizing our manner, we can stab at their sin. Sometimes the aversion which people display, and the contempt which they profess to feel for the preacher may only be a secondary means of enabling the gospel to get at them the better; and, if it be so, why should we be afraid?
We have known brethren who have trembled at the slightest degree of publicity. They are tender souls, and do not like to be seen. I would not harshly condemn all, for certain minds are quiet and timid, and must be allowed to do good by stealth. But I cannot thus excuse all, for some are blameably deficient in courage. There is a beautiful modesty about them; but I would have them recollect that modesty is not ail the virtues, nor can it be a substitute for them. The soldier who was so very modest that he retired before the battle, I have heard say, was shot. And as for Christian people who are so very modest that they get out of the way of everything that is to be done for Christ, I do not know how they will answer for it to their superior Officer at the last. Come, dear brother, yon sang the other day—
“Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own his cause,
Or blush to speak his name?”
and so on; and yet you are a coward. Yes, put it down in English: you are a coward. If anybody called you so you would turn red in the face; and perhaps you are not a coward in reference to any other subject. What a shameful thing it is that while you are bold about everything else you are cowardly about Jesus Christ. Brave for the world and cowardly towards Christ!! A Christian ought to be afraid to be afraid, for his Lord has said, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory oi his Father with the holy angels.” “Oh, but I am naturally timid,” says one. It is to you, then, that the Lord’s word is addressed: “Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not.” I have heard, and I think I have observed, that the bravest men in the hour of danger are timid in the prospect of it. They say that a fire-eater who dashes to the battle is often the man who fails; but he who stands trembling at the first shot, in his inmost soul dreading death, is, nevertheless, the very man to act the hero’s part if he is so overpowered by a stern sense of duty that he masters fear and steadily keeps his position with cool, immovable resolve.
“The brave man is not he who feels no fear,
For that were stupid and irrational;
But he whose noble soul its fear subdues,
And bravely dares the danger nature shrinks from.”
Up, then, ye tremblers, and play the man. In the matter of speaking for Jesus this should not be a severe ordeal. Oh, do not, I pray you, let timidity so check you that you cannot speak a word to your own children— cannot pray with your own girl, cannot plead as a father with your own boy, cannot speak as a neighbour or a fellow-workman to the man who works side by side with you at the bench. May God help you to get out of the cold shade of cowardice, for the text says, “Be not afraid.”
Still I hear you say, “I am afraid to speak out for religion because I should bring down upon myself a world of opposition at home.” That is painful, my dear friend, but though painful it is a part of the cost which you reckoned upon when you took up the cross to follow Jesus. It is a part of the cost that “a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” “The brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child,” says Christ. It was so in old times; it is so now. It is terrible to think of what some young people have had to suffer for being faithful to their convictions; but when we consider that it is all for Jesus’ sake, happy are they who are honoured to endure on that account! For his sake, what were it if we were martyred? What were it if all men did forsake us? We ought to have such an esteem for Jesus that if all were to become our foes, and to hunt us to death, we should still say, “It is well, since hereby I become a living sacrifice for Christ.”
Now, I charge every Christian here to be speaking boldly in Christ’s name, according as he has opportunity, and especially to take care of this tendency of our flesh to be afraid; which leads practically to endeavours to get off easily and save ourselves from trouble. Fear not; be brave for Christ. Live bravely for him who died lovingly for you.
II. Come we now to the second point— and this we will also speak upon briefly— it is THE CALLING OF OUR FAITH:— “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace.”
It is the vocation of faith to be a speaker. When the heart believeth the mouth follows suit and makes confession. Faith made Noah a preacher, and caused it to be said of Abel “he being dead yet speaketh.” “I believed,” said David, “therefore have I spoken”; and others unite with him in saying, “We believe, and therefore speak.” Paul says of the Thessalonians, “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything.” You see their faith had a sound about it as of a trumpet, and the gospel was made known thereby in all regions. Faith lives on the word, and then gives a voice to that word. A dumb faith is a questionable grace. Faith first speaks to Christ, and then speaks for Christ. It hears his voice, and then acts as an echo by repeating it.
Why ought those that believe in Christ to speak for him?
I answer, first, because, brethren, we are debtors; we are put in trust with the gospel for other people; let us not be false to our trusteeship, but faithful stewards of the mysteries of God. Let us take care that the light be not hid under a bushel, and that the talent be not wrapped in a napkin. We have the bread of life in our houses; let it not be hoarded, neither let a single hungry soul knock at our door in vain, because we are asleep or too idle to attend to the call. We are the reservoirs of God’s gospel that it may flow out of a hundred pipes to thirsty souls, who may come from all quarters of the earth and drink. Paul says, “I am debtor, both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and to the unwise.” We owe something to every man that lives. “Oh,” says one, “I do not see that.” But hath not the Lord said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”? That is a word of very wide range, for every human being is your neighbour. The Samaritan was neighbour to the Jew; the Roman Catholic is neighbour to the Protestant; the Mahometan is neighbour to the Christian; and the heathen is neighbour to us all. You never pass “a heathen Chinee,” or a Zulu in the street without owing him something, according as you have an opportunity to do him good. We are all of us of one family, and, because of the tie of the one blood; there is a debt of brotherhood from all who are enlightened to those who are yet in darkness. Who can tell what we owe to Christ? He seems to say, “Pay it back to my brethren. If ye love me, feed my sheep; feed my lambs. If you want to do good to me, do good to mine. Bring in those that I have redeemed with blood; for this is the best reward you can give me for having laid down my life for you.” You are a keeper of the gospel oracles, my brother; take care, then, that you speak, and are not silent.
But, next, you and I were saved by the testimony of other people who spoke to us personally. I owe a great deal of my being brought to Christ to my parents, to whom I would always be grateful for their spiritual care of me; and as a parent, I am to repay that obligation by teaching my own children. I owe very much to a very excellent teacher in a day school. I did try, when I personally taught children, to pay back my teacher by teaching others. I owed still more to such men as Baxter and Bunyan, who left their books for me to read. I have tried to write earnest books, that I may recompense as well as I can the church of God for the loan which it made to me in that direction. Most of all, I owe my decision, under God, to a man I never knew, who humbly and simply preached Christ crucified to me; and I would desire to be always preaching Christ crucified to others, as the best way of making some sort of return. Undoubtedly the most of us were brought to Christ by the personal testimony of others, and therefore we are in duty bound to pass on the sacred deposit. Even in those few cases in which no living voice was used, yet the word of God was made useful to the soul; and where would the word of God have been if it had not been for Wickliffe, and Tyndale, and those holy men who preserved it to us at the peril of their lives, and wrote out a translation of it for the common people, dipping their pens in their own heart’s blood to accomplish the deed? We are debtors to the church of God, and let us repay the boon. We shall be shamefully ungrateful unless we do this.
Next, let me say, how are we to expect the gospel to be kept alive in the world if we do not hand it on to the next generation as the former generation handed it down to us. It is from one lip to another that the word of God is passed, with a kind of living flame which books are not likely to communicate. Oh, shall it ever be said a century hence, “The people of 1880 never thought of us of 1980? They let the gospel go: they allowed the doctrines to be denied one after the other, and here are we without it to perish in the darkness”? The people of the Tabernacle knew the priceless truth of God, but they cared not to make it known, and here are we in ignorance through their indifference!” Oh, let it never be so. Let not the next century have to rebuke the professors of the present one, and say, “You were false to God. You men never preached the gospel, though you had the gift! You women never told it out to those about you, and so the light flickered and almost went out, and we are now left to suffer for your negligence.” May God grant that we may be clear of the blood of souls. What a crime it will be if we murder generations of men by our cowardly silence!”
Besides, it seems to me that common humanity calls upon every Christian to seek the salvation of others. They are perishing! Will you let them perish? “God have mercy oil them,” say you? Yes. Is that all? Have you nothing but that hurried prayer to give them? “Be ye warmed; be ye filled,” ye say to the hungry, and ye fill them not from your own stores. God’s curse will light on such inhuman conduct. It is ours to labour by pleadings and entreaties to snatch our infatuated neighbours from the fiery wave which will soon overwhelm impenitent sinners, and if we do not earnestly seek them, they shall perish, but their blood will God require at the watchman’s hands. He has set each one of his people to take a part of the watch for the souls of men. Are we awake at our post? Oh, see ye well to this, I pray you, each man, each woman, for himself or herself! If we love God, we must love our brother also. If the gospel has saved us, we must wish to see others saved. Unless we are hypocritical altogether, we must burn with strong desire to bring others to the Saviour. I have been pleased as I have looked round to see such a goodly number of young men here to-night. Never was the weather worse, and yet our numbers are great, and among us are young men in their hundreds. Comrades, I welcome you! I would fain enlist you this night into the service of Christ. Come as volunteers! Or if you cannot manage that, come as pressed men. Oh, that the Lord Jesus Christ may lay his pierced hand on some young men and say, “You are studying; but what for? Study for me and my cause.” And to another, “You are working hard to prosper in business, but you have another call and you must consecrate yourself more directly to me.” Or to another man, “You are in business, making money, are you using it for me? Are you laying it out for the spread of my kingdom?” I would to God that he would call out to himself a troop of valiant ones at this good hour. I feel somewhat to-night in thinking about London as Farel did when he met with Calvin. Calvin was yet a young man. He had written his famous “Institutes,” and Farel, at Geneva, saw what mental force there was in him. Here is the story from Bungener:—
“Farel, alike humble and courageous, had often asked if another would not succeed better than he, and a sort of presentiment had bidden him wait in hope of such a man. Calvin was unwilling to undertake the work, he was not made, he said, for such an office. He was willing to be a labourer in the great harvest which was ripening, or to be a soldier of the Lord, but this, he is convinced, is not his task. If he had rendered some service, it was by means of a book, the fruit of silence and of study. . . . Farel is urgent. . . . Calvin educed fresh reasons, and it seemed as though he wanted to deter Farel by exhibiting to him the defects of his future colleague. He knew himself, he said, he was tenacious and obstinate. Once more he asked that he might be left in obscurity to busy himself in studies: for it was only thus he could be of any value. Then Farel broke out, ‘Thy studies are a pretext; I tell thee that if thou refusest to associate thyself with my work, God will curse thee for having sought thyself and not Christ.’ Calvin yielded to God and not to man; and the man ever remained dear and venerable in his eyes.” Calvin was henceforth prompt and sincere in the work of the Lord, even when his body was tortured with diseases and worn down with pain. Would God I might find some such man here who would this night hearken to the voice saying to him “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace.” A youth looks round and says, “I wonder whether that young man is sitting next to me?” Never mind about your neighbour, look to yourself. Are you the young man? Are you the consecrated woman? Take heed lest a curse light on you if you are disobedient to the heavenly vision.
III. But now, thirdly, THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF OUR SERVICE. Let us dwell on that a little while. “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace, for I am with thee.”
There is the first encouragement— God’s presence, “I am with thee.” When a man speaks for God, God speaks in him. We never go a warfare for God at our own charges: he is sure to be with the man who is with him. If thou seekest thyself, thou wilt run without God; if thou desirest honour among men, thou shalt have no honour from God; but if thy heart be set upon the blessing of thy fellow men, and the extension of thy Redeemer’s kingdom, God is with thee. He never was away from any man who sought holiness, virtue, and eternal life. What cause, then, can there be for fear? If God be with thee, who can be against thee? Have God with thee, and thou hast strength enough, wit enough, gold enough,— for thou hast grace enough. Does he not say, “My grace is sufficient for thee”? He will give thee thought, and judgment, and utterance; and within all, and above all, a mysterious power which none shall be able to resist. He will help thee to acquire what thou hast not, and wisely to use what thou hast. If he give thee not the tongue of the learned, he will use thee where thy want of learning cannot hinder thee. He has a sphere for thee somewhere. Only trust thou in him, and be not afraid. O that precious word, “I am with thee.” What more can the most fearful require? Come, be of good courage. Take up thy cross: take up thy daily service; in these shall lie a present comfort and a future reward, and thy God saith, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.”
The next consolation is Gods protection. “No man shall set on thee to hurt thee.” The Jews dragged Paul before the judgment-seat of Gallio, and Paul must have been amazed when he saw the persecutors themselves beaten. The great King knew how to protect his own ambassador. When men meddle with one of God’s burning and shining lights they will sooner or later burn their own fingers. There is a disposition about some ungodly men to fly at Christian ministers just as gnats do at candles, and they generally meet with the gnats’ fate. “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm,” is still the shelter of God’s ministers. “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper, and every tongue that riseth in judgment against thee thou shalt condemn,” is a promise which abides the same. “Still,” says one, “I am half afraid.” But then the Lord is your protection, and who is he that shall harm you if ye follow that which is good? How feeble all your enemies are. Who art thou that thou shouldst be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man that is but as dust. “Fear not them which can kill the body, but afterwards have no more that they can do; but fear him who after he hath killed hath pow’er to cast into hell. Yea, I say unto you fear him.” The protection of God should be a constant fountain of comfort to God’s people.
The last comfort is Gods predestination. Predestination is an ugly word to some people, but I cannot help that. Here is the doctrine in the text,— “I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee, for I have much people in this city”; that is to say, many who belonged to Christ, though they were as yet heathens. The Lord does not speak of those who were converted. Paul did not need a revelation in the night to tell him that God had much people in that city, if by that was meant the persons who professed faith in Christ, for he knew all about them; night and day had he watched over them. But God knew that he had an elect people in Corinth whom he must save— a redeemed people that Christ specially bought from among men to be his own people, of whom the Lord had said, “Other sheep have I that are not yet of this flock.” Paul was cheered by the good news that God had many chosen and redeemed ones in Corinth, whom he must save.
I learn from this that the doctrine of God’s predestination is no check to labour. “If there are so many that will be saved,” says one, “then why do you preach?” That is why we do preach. If there are so many fish to be taken in the net, I will go and catch some of them. Because many are ordained to be caught, I spread my nets with eager expectation. I never could see why that should repress our zealous efforts; it seems to me to be the very thing that should awaken us to energy— that God has a people, and that these people shall be brought in. Why, it nerves me to labour when I remember that his word shall not return void; it shall prosper in the thing whereto he has sent it. If God has ordained to save men, yet it is a part of the ordinance that they shall be saved through the preaching of the word, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”; and not without faith and the word shall any man be saved; nor has God ever said that any should, or ever purposed that any should. The purpose embraces the means for the carrying out of the purpose, and that decree which predestinates the salvation of many in Corinth predestinates that Paul shall come there, and that he shall stop there a year and a half, and night and day with tears shall seek the souls of men.
What a comfort it ought to be to all earnest workers that God has many people yet unsaved whom he will save and must save; thus we go to work under the sweet shadow of the divine decree, stimulated by it to labour with all our might.
The next thing we learn is that the certainty of success should be a great stimulus to us. That is why the Lord said to Paul, “I have much people in this city.” You and I are bound to preach the gospel, even if never a soul were converted by it; for the great object of the gospel is the glory of God, and God is glorified even in those who reject the gospel. Still, it is a very sweet help to earnestness, when we know that we shall not labour in vain, or spend our strength for nought. “I have much people in this city” nerves Paul to go forth and tell out bravely in every place that word which is to bring the people of God home to himself.
But, next, we see very clearly that old means and methods are quite sufficient to save souls. Our Lord did not say, “Paul, be not afraid, but deliver a Sunday afternoon lecture with a nonsensical title and little or no gospel in it.” No, no; but “Speak, and hold not thy peace, for I have much people in this city.” God’s way of saving souls is the best way, after all. You and I may get up all sorts of inventions, and he may wink at our follies, and let us go on with them, but his way of saving souls is speaking the gospel, and nothing other than the gospel. I should like to see in the world again a revival like that under Jonathan Edwards, in which there were no extravagances, no utterances of false doctrine, no making a noise and a riot, but just the preaching of the old-fashioned doctrines of grace. Those truths brought on a revival of a deep and enduring kind. Men were filled with an awful fear of God, and they repented bitterly, and mended their ways, and sought to Jesus in dreadful earnest, and rested not till they found him. They did not sing jigs, but they wept as one that is in bitterness for her firstborn. They flaunted no banners, but they laid hold on Jesus in the secret of their souls. They did not often shout, but they went home and talked one to another of what God had been doing in their souls, and they lived near to him. I would like to see that old kind of work and life among us again. The Holy Ghost may work as he pleases, but still that order of revival seemed to be deep and permanent, and the results were found after many days; whereas, nowadays, where are the converts of your revivals? Where are the converts after a little time has passed? All Paul did when he knew there was much people in that city was just to go and speak the gospel and not be afraid: I, for one, mean to keep to the old-fashioned way.
Once again, dear friends, usefulness, according to the text, is the lest protection a man can have. Notice that. “No man shall set on thee to hurt thee, for I have much people in this city.” When God means to save people by any man, that man will live till the chosen are ingathered. He may go to sea, but storms cannot drown him; he may be waylaid by ungodly men, but robbers cannot hurt him; he is immortal till his work is done. There is no protection for anybody, depend upon it, like usefulness; the branch that bears fruit God will not allow the goat to browse upon, or the blast to wither. Men of God have gone into fever lairs, using all care and precaution, and they have been protected from the pestilence. It has happened that Christian men have been in perils by robbers, perils by false brethren, perils everywhere, but they have survived all, and triumphed in all: and when they have not been thus upheld it may have been because their ministry was ended. They went home because their day’s work was over. Where should they go else? They went back to their Father, for their Father had no more need of them abroad. As long as God has anything for you to do nothing will ever kill you, my brother. Go a-head, and fear not. “I have much people in this city,” go thou to win them, and thou shaft be safe.
I believe that our position at this time is very much that of Paul, for we, too, hope, trust, and believe that God has much people in this city. What a city it is! Not one among us has any idea of the size of London. You shall go to-day to a well-remembered spot and find yourself on a sudden in a region which you never saw before— a township which has sprung up in a night. I remember an old oak tree, and a pond with geese, and cowslips growing in the meadow. It is a mile in town at the present moment, and the tree is gone and everything about it. Instead of a hedgerow I sigh to see an endless wilderness of brown bricks and stucco. Oh, this great city! It grows at an awful rate, but God has much people in it depend upon it. I believe in London. God means to bless it largely. You will say, “Why?” Well, I look back upon its past history, and I have hope. The martyrs’ blood lies here. When all the country was yielding its martyrs London furnished its full share. On this very spot where we now are three were burnt for the truth’s sake, old Chronicles say, “At the Butts at Newington, three Anabaptists were burnt.” These were among the earliest of martyrs, before Protestants were known or thought of. Always were Anabaptists a prey, and they who killed them thought they did God service. Members of our ancient persecuted church were often in London burnt for the truth’s sake and for Christ’s sake, and from the ground their blood is calling still. All over this London of ours, the preaching of the gospel was precious in the old times. You hear the name of “Gospel Oak,” as you travel in the North of London, and the tree was so called because there the gospel was preached, and crowds gathered beneath its shade to listen to the joyful sound. All about the city secret bands met to worship God after the gospel way. Now, the Lord will never let the blood of the martyrs die out; it will for ever be the seed of the church.
See, again, how London kindled with holy fire in the days of Whitfield and Wesley. Go but a mile from this place, and notice Kennington Park, once Kennington Common. What thousands used to gather there to hear the gospel preached! The men of the south of London loved the gospel, multitudes of them, and they do still. I feel sure that God will bless London yet, because at this very moment, if the gospel is preached so that people can understand it, they will throng to hear it. Alas, poor men cannot understand half the preachers. They preach Latin fit for drawing-rooms. If they would go to Billingsgate and learn English, they might get on. You say, “That would be very rough English!” Well, but the roughest of English might be better than the Latinized jargon of most of our pulpits. When men preach the gospel plainly and simply, they will never lack a congregation in this great city, I am certain of it. Away in a back street, down in a hollow way just beyond Barclay and Perkins’s brewery, where there are no cabs, or other public conveyances, right out of the world and into the mud, the crowds came and found out a boy years ago, and they followed him because he preached the gospel in a way which they could understand. They will find a man out anywhere if he will but preach the gospel of Christ. I am sure that the Lord has much people in this city because there is a hungering and thirsting after the gospel, if they could but get at it. Go ahead, then, brothers and sisters. Talk about Christ. Talk about him everywhere. Talk about him in the workshop. Speak about him quietly and modestly, prudently, and gently, but do carry out the blessed words of my text: “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace.” Be this to each one his word of good cheer, “For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.”
God bless you, for Christ’s sake. Amen and amen.