The Work of Today.
An address given at The Conference on Foreign Missions
at Mildmay on 7th October 1886.
I wish to say a few words about the evangelization of the world, and specially that part of it with which we are more immediately concerned—home work. I want to remind you of THE WORK THAT IS TO BE ACCOMPLISHED. Now we are not left in doubt as to this. It is not the conversion of the world, but its evangelization; and therefore, I want to remind you that that must be accomplished according to God's purpose before the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, for which return we are constantly watching and praying. He has said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." There is our distinct commission. He has also said that the gospel "shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations: and then shall the end come. We are also told in Scripture what is God's purpose in the evangelization of the world; it is to gather out a people for His name. (Acts xv. 14) "Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name." It is not the conversion of the world just now, but the preaching of the gospel, in order that God's purpose should he accomplished in the gathering out of a people for His name. That is what has been going on for the last eighteen hundred years. Though the gospel has not yet been preached in all nations or to every creature, still God has been steadily carrying on His work, and fulfilling His purpose of gathering out a people for His name; so to-day, He is adding to the number of the redeemed. Then we have another purpose of this work; it is none other than the hastening of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter distinctly exhorts the Christians of his day to be hasting the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter iii. 12)
Thus the work set before the Church of God is to evangelize the world, to preach the gospel in all nations for a witness, not necessarily for the conversion of the world, but instrumentally, to gather out a people for His name, and to hasten the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ—that coming not taking place till the number of His elect is completed, and for the accomplishment of that purpose the gospel of the grace of God is to be proclaimed in all nations. Now let us keep this clearly and definitely before us individually, for each of us has a part in this most blessed work, and having got an intelligent idea of these divine purposes, let us not lose heart, but go about the Master's work in faith and love, and I trust, also having the confident knowledge of His presence and power.
Now a word as to THE MEANS BY WHICH THIS IS TO BE ACCOMPLISHED. We are distinctly told that it is by "the foolishness of preaching that God saves them that believe;" "but how shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall they preach except they be sent?" The preaching of the gospel then to every creature is to be by men who have themselves been saved by the gospel; that is God's Own way. He does not send angels to preach the gospel, He sends men. But God does not send unconverted men, He sends saved men or women—for I use the word as representing both men and women, and we have abundant testimony that He is using both, His name be praised! The Lord gave the Word, and still greater may the company be of those women who shall publish it, whether in the Zenanas of India, or elsewhere. Saved men or women then are to be the instruments. It is not often that He saves people through their own sermons, as in the case where the Methodist discerned the new power in the preaching of the parish vicar [William Haslam], and shouted, "Praise God, the parson is converted!" It is not often a man is a preacher first, and a converted soul afterwards. God's way is first to save men by the power of the gospel, and then, being saved, the word to them is, "Let him that heareth say, Come."
Such instruments are sanctified by the Spirit of God. It is not enough to be saved. God would have us know the power of the gospel, not simply to save from sin's guilt and condemnation, but to separate us from the world, from self, and from the things around us—to realize what it is to be separated unto God, so that from that moment, we seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and in many cases to be wholly given up to His work, as Wesley said, with so much truth in his case, and it should be in ours—
"Tis all my business here below
To cry, Behold the Lamb!"
Then, being saved and sanctified, we have to recognize that we are sent. God sends His servants. Jesus Christ reminded us of this in these memorable words of His, "As Thou hast sent Me into the world, so have I sent them into the world." And to every true gospeller, to every true evangelist, to every true Christian, seeking to promote the spread of the gospel, He says, "As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you." We must be sent.
Therefore the great point with each of us to know is, first, that we are saved. We have nothing to do with preaching the gospel unless we are. We heard of a case to-day, at one of the meetings, of one who desired to enter missionary work; but when he was asked if he had been converted, he inquired what new doctrine that was. I entered a huge building the other day, and looking around, asked the attendant how many conversions they had witnessed there lately. "Conversions," he replied, "we do not believe in that sort of thing here.'' Well, a man must he saved and separated by the grace of God, to Him and to His work, if he is to be sent to preach the gospel; for him to live henceforth must be Christ.
Then when we get to this, we realize our calling and get our commission from Heaven, and are sent out to do the Master’s business; sent by Him Who said, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" and in the end could say, "I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do." If it is the case with you, beloved hearers, that you are saved, what a mercy! You owe an eternity of praise to God for that. If you are sanctified and separated to His blessed service, then you should be ready to be sent anywhere in His precious work. Surely His mercy in saving us, calls for whole-hearted surrender, and should lead us to say—
“Lord, take me, body, spirit, soul,
Only Thou possess the whole."
But now mark the DIFFICULTIES IN THE WAY OF THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE PURPOSES OF GOD. First, there are the obstacles without. There is the natural indifference of the human heart; and we are seeing something of that in this country and in the Colonies, as well as in the great heathen lands to which our attention has been called in the addresses at this Conference. What indifference on the part of people generally to the great realities of God and of eternity! There might be no God, and they would live just the same kind of life; there might be no Heaven to gain or hell to shun, and they would live pretty much the same as now. They are fast asleep, utterly indifferent. Oh, what a sight the world is to a soul whose eyes have been opened by God, and who has been delivered from the state in which he was by nature! How awful it is to look around on the world, to see the millions in this city of London, living as if there were no God, no Heaven, and no hell! Oh, may God impress us with the fact that men are thus utterly indifferent about this greatest of all questions, and make us wide awake about it; seeking in the light of eternity, of Heaven and hell, to arouse our own souls and the souls of others on this great subject!
Another obstacle is the opposition of science, falsely so called. We are met on every hand with this just now; Huxleyism and Spencerism—the negation of everything. We meet it every day. Why, a man said to me at a certain hall lately, "My dear friend, I admire your zeal and earnestness; but you are fifty years too late with your theology, it was all exploded long ago." He was an agnostic, a know-nothing. Like this man, many in the counting-houses [businesses] and the schools talk at second-hand. That is a great obstacle in England at this time; and not in England only, but in the Colonies too. A friend wrote to me last week, "While Christians are slumbering, Ceylon is being flooded with evil literature; tons of infidel publications coming over to us in shiploads." That is a solemn state of things, and yet it is true. To many, the infidelity of to-day appears so unanswerable; it is indeed an obstacle to the spread of the gospel.
Then there are obstacles within the professing church. There we find formalism, and multitudes are carried away by this; yes, even true Christians sometimes. Then we have ritualism and rationalism turning so many aside from the straight paths. Not only so, but we see the worldliness of professing Christians, and the disunion among God's Own people, bearing such sad fruit on every hand. When we think of the disunion of God's Own people, it should make our hearts bleed. With one blessed hope, knowing the one loving Saviour, endued with the one quickening Spirit, and going to one glorious home, yet having so little in common, so many Christians keep off and stand aloof. Remember when God's people were blessed in olden time, it was when they "dwelt together in unity." Thank God for the unity often witnessed in this and kindred places! But this disunion is indeed a mighty obstacle. Why, a friend from the Colonies told me to-day that sectarianism in Australia was worse than at home. It must be very bad indeed, for I could tell you of many incidents to show how sad is this spirit of disunion in this country, and how Christians will not work together.
Then there is the prayerlessness in our churches. How sorrowful it is to hear of instances where the prayer meeting has entirely ceased. There are churches without a single weekly prayer meeting. The other night I went to hear that honoured servant of God, Mr. Spurgeon, and we got to the prayer meeting. When I heard how these brethren prayed I said, "This accounts for it. No wonder, when men pray like that before the service, that God's blessing is so manifested with the preaching." When on the Monday evenings 2000 people assemble for prayer in the Tabernacle, no wonder the sermons are full of power. No wonder Archibald Brown has such gatherings and such blessing, when a thousand people assemble for prayer, laying hold of God. Prayerlessness is the secret of the powerlessness of the churches and pulpits. If you want to find where the real life in any centre of work is, go to the prayer meeting; that will indicate the state of things very clearly. What failures our united prayer meetings often are! A doctor of divinity may preach, a Moody or a Sankey may come, and the place will he crowded till they go; then the meetings fall away. It is well for us to look this thing in the face. This prayerlessness is an obstacle to the advance of the gospel to-day.
You remember the revival of 1859-60—some here at least will remember that time. You know how all through the night watches, till the morning sun had risen, Christians often continued praying, and the blessing came. There was prayer in the power of the Holy Ghost. If by God's grace this prayerlessness in the church were broken down, if we gathered in larger numbers, and were more fervent in supplication, we should see times of reviving again. There is machinery enough. Look at the churches and chapels erected, and many are half empty because there is no prayer and no power.
Then again, there is unconsecrated wealth in the church. For 1800 years, the gospel has been in the world, and still the greater part thereof is not evangelized. There are millionaires in the church whose wealth might well be spent in the circulation of God's truth; but there are others than millionaires who do not give even a tenth of their income. Alas! this matter of consecration must also be met and looked fairly in the face. If we were all found bringing the tithes into the storehouse, then might we expect the windows of Heaven to be opened. I do not know if I am right, but I think Mr. Wilkinson reads it thus: "Prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of Heaven and pour you out a blessing till Heaven itself be exhausted."
Well, then, let us CONSIDER IN WHICH THIS WORK SHOULD BE CARRIED ON. It should be in a spirit of grateful love, with a sense of our indebtedness to Christ. What did Paul say?—"The love of Christ constraineth us." How can we contemplate the great theme of Christ's redeeming love, and not work for Him! Those Christians who are not at work in any field have surely never yet understood the character of that love, have never yet been constrained by the subduing power of Christ's love. "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again." (II Cor. v. 14, 15) Oh, if we could but realize what that love of Christ was that led Him from the heights of Heaven to the depths of Calvary, from the glory of His throne, to the humiliation of Golgotha, all for us! Should we not truly say—
"Drops of grief can ne'er repay
The debt of love I owe.
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
'Tis all that I can do"?
Then again, it must be in a spirit of deep humility—real, not mock humility—that accounts itself nothing but a poor sinner saved by divine grace, that looks up from self-abasement and says, "Lord, what wouldest Thou have me to do?” and goes forth in the consciousness that we are nothing apart from divine grace. Depend upon it, God will then use us, whether in heathen lands beyond, or at home, or in the Colonial Empire. Let us ever remember that "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence."
Then we need the spirit of indomitable courage. God wants courageous men. He said to Joshua, "Be strong and of good courage." One of the devil's most successful plans is to get the courage out of the Lord's servants, and he often uses God's own people for this purpose. But if we have our work from God, let us stick to it; and stick to it with the courage of men who know that their work is from God, and who will do it in spite of all who oppose. Mr. Moody rightly said, "God never uses discouraged men." If you want God's workers to be useless, just get them discouraged; draw a long face, and by your cold and criticizing words and looks drive all the courage out of them, and then they will be of little service in the work of the Lord. Oh, friends, God wants us to be strong and of good courage. You remember how in Deuteronomy xx., all who were faint-hearted were told to go back, lest they made their brethren's hearts to faint. God did not want them. Men so full of self and of their own thoughts that they cannot go forward must fail. If, with faith, we boldly say, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me," the Lord will use us then.
Once again, our spirit must he one of unflagging zeal. "It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing." It is good that the Lord's work should be carried on with all our heart and soul. We should do it—how? Feebly, spasmodically, irregularly? No; but with all our heart and strength. As Mr. Spurgeon has said, "My brethren, ram yourselves into the gun." You know what he meant—ram the true shot of the gospel into the gun and throw yourselves with unreserved zeal into the firing of it. Well, we want to get this spirit. There are so many half-hearted workers who seem to lack the fire, the zeal, the energy—call it what you like. We want go- workers who shall not turn back in the day of discouragement, or in the day of battle; workers ready, when men criticize and condemn, to stand in the gap full of holy courage and untiring zeal.
Then lastly, we must be full of expectancy of results. Many do not expect to see conversions, while some are content with but very few. And, notwithstanding, that one of the greatest and most eloquent preachers from America was pleased to tickle the ears of his audience the other day by laughing to scorn the idea of immediate conversion. We have the Bible in our hands, which teaches us to expect this result. Paul says that he was sent to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, "that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith;” and the other apostles speak of conversion and immediate salvation. When we have a message of that kind, let us have expectancy of result.
I have only time to add one word as to THE POWER BY WHICH THE DIVINE PURPOSE IS ACCOMPLISHED. Not by our power, or courage, or zeal, or faith, but by the power of the Holy Ghost. "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord." "Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high."
Look at this London to-day; think of the solemn testimony borne just now, that not one in four of its population attend any of those places erected for the worship of God. But our plans need altering. The masses fight shy of churches and chapels, which are often built at enormous cost; vast sums are spent on ornate buildings that would be better employed in erecting plain convenient mission halls and in sustaining living agents. Well, after a quarter of a century's experience, I can truly say that the people were never more anxious to hear the gospel than they are to-day. Where the gospel is preached earnestly, with the good old ring of the Book about it, men will come and listen. Not to my praise, but to His praise, I tell it. I have seen thousands converted and pass into the fellowship of the church of God during these last twenty years in London and the provinces, and what I have seen you may also see. There are halls where the gospel is preached, holding from six hundred to five thousand people, and these are for the most part filled every Sunday. Go to Mr. Charrington's large hall in the East-end, and see how the people are thirsting for the gospel, and ask yourself whether you may not seek, by the power of God, to bring this glorious gospel of salvation to some of the dying thousands around you.
God grant you may go forth impelled by that power for which we have been supplicating here to-night, and encouraged by all the evidence of six thousand years, and having your zeal awakened by the wide doors, everywhere open before you, go forth saying, "Here am I, send me." Give Him no rest till He send you. Then you will have that great joy—and there is none like it—the joy of winning souls day by day, till they come as a great host, thanking God that they have heard the gospel through you. They shall be your crown of rejoicing at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. May God bless you all, and stir every heart to do something for Him during the little while "till He come."