Called and Sent.
Notes of an Address by Mr. Alexander Stewart at Kingsway Hall. 1912
THAT we cannot improve upon the apostolic gospel will be readily admitted by all Christians. But, further, we cannot improve upon the apostolic methods of carrying on the work of preaching the gospel, though here there may—even among Christians—be a difference of opinion. The conditions of life, it may be urged, have become changed since the days of the apostles, and new means of making known the gospel must be adopted. Now, while there is no law laid down in the New Testament to regulate this matter, there are to be found there principles to guide us in the work, and apostolic examples which it is our wisdom to follow. In the 13th chapter of Acts, verses 1-4, the sending forth of Barnabas and Saul on a missionary journey is recorded, and the narrative may well be studied by those who, in these days, have to do with the forth-going of missionaries. In reading the passage, we see (1) the church at Antioch, (2) certain prophets and teachers in that church, (3) Barnabas and Saul, the missionaries, and (4) the Holy Ghost.
1. The Church. The church is the ordinance of God, even as the family is. It is true, that the church is not now as it was in the beginning of its history, and it has been shorn of certain gifts with which it was once endowed, but the church, in some form, has existed and continues to exist, and as Barnabas and Saul went forth from the bosom of the church, having that behind them, even so should the present-day missionary.
2. The prophets and teachers. There were, within the church at Antioch, certain prophets and teachers, men distinguished not only by their specific gifts, but men of faith, prayer and obedience, as appears from the record. They were men of spiritual character—exercised men. They ministered to the Lord, they prayed and fasted, and when it was made plain to them that Barnabas and Saul were called to the work, they expressed in act, by laying their hands upon them, their concurrence in the apostles' mission.
3. Barnabas and Saul. The Spirit of God said, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." This communication was made, it may be presumed, by the prophetic voice, and such utterances have ceased to be heard in the church. But although the voice of the prophet is heard no longer, yet to those who wait upon God, the mind of the Spirit in such matters is still made clear. As to the character of Barnabas and Saul, there could have been no question, nor as to the doctrine which they would preach when they went forth, and these two—doctrine and character—should correspond in the case of all missionaries, as need scarcely be said. If it is necessary that the doctrine should be sound, it is requisite also that the man who preaches it should be sound. "As a jewel of gold in a swine's snout " is a Scripture simile to express what is unbefitting, and such a conjunction is no more incongruous than it is for the gospel to be preached by one whose life does not tally with his teaching. When Paul, at a later date, bade farewell to the elders of the church at Ephesus (Acts xx), he told them, in the first place, what manner of man he had been among them, and then what manner of doctrine he had preached. "Ye know," he said, "from the first day I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews, and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house." Such was Paul, and such was the scope of his ministry—a ministry exercised in humility, wet with tears, and not addressed to the congregation only, but penetrating to the houses of the people. Having thus stated the manner of his life, he goes on to state the substance of the doctrine which he had preached. He says that he had testified (1) repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 21), (2) the gospel of the grace of God (v. 24), (3) the kingdom of God (v. 25), and (4) all the counsel of God (v. 27). And he had done this with wisdom; he kept back nothing that was profitable (v. 20). Whatever reserves there may have been, owing to the condition of his hearers or to other causes, nothing that was for edification was withheld.
4. The Holy Ghost. He it was by whom the missionaries were sent forth. It is said in the text that the prophets and teachers sent them away, but the word there used is different from the word employed with reference to the sending by the Holy Ghost. The prophets and teachers let them go (for such is the significance of the term), but it was the Holy Ghost who sent them. Whatever ties bound them to their brethren at Antioch, they were released from these, but their mission was of the Spirit of God. The action of the prophets and teachers in laying hands upon them was not, it need hardly be said, ordination—prophets and teachers do not ordain apostles—it was an act of commendation. The missionary circuit which was begun at Antioch was completed at that city, and we read in Acts xiv., from thence they had been "recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled."
The doctrine of the Scriptures concerning the Holy Ghost may easily be let slip, and needs to be firmly held. And while the truth of His relation to the individual believer has by some been much insisted on in late years, and that is well, the fact of His presence and personal action in the Christian assembly has not been taught in equal proportion. If we assemble in the faith of this truth, we shall find that the Holy Ghost still empowers and leads the gathered believers, and that He indicates with clearness to those who wait upon God, who those are that are called to go forth abroad with the gospel.
There are Christian assemblies—rightly described as such, though it does not belong to them to pretend that they are the church of God in this or that city—and within these, there may be found godly men of spiritual weight and discernment. There are also those, both men and women, who are fitted to go forth in the work of the gospel to the lands which lie beyond the seas which bound these islands. Above all, there is the Holy Ghost, Who, according to the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, has come and has not departed. Consideration of the passage in the 13th of Acts, above dealt with, will show the places respectively of the church, the elders and the missionaries. And it will be seen how much, in the matter of mission work, falls upon the men who in these days answer in some sort to the prophets and teachers at Antioch. Let such take up the burden and continue in prayer and waiting upon God, and they may expect that the Spirit, Who is the sender, will make plain to them who are the persons called to go forth, and these they will then be ready, without misgiving, to commend heartily for the work.