The Propagation of the GospelA mere glance at the employments and labours of men, with the slightest knowledge of the human constitution, must convince every impartial observer that mankind are not now in the situation in which they were at first placed by their Creator. Every other animal has a mode of life and employment entirely suitable to its nature; and though it may share in the common misery, all the attributes of its nature have their full scope. Its work is as high as its rank in creation; and no principle of its constitution remains without its proper exercise. Not so with man. He has a soul possessing powers capable of the most astonishing exertions, and of making endless progress in knowledge; yet, he is found in a state of the utmost degradation, with employments little above those of the brutes. The man of science and the savage have every principle of human nature in common. What a difference in their attainments and in their employments!
By Alexander Carson (1776-1844)
“. . . Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13).
Nor is this unsuitableness of the employment of man to his high mental dignity exclusively to be found in savage life. It is to be found in the most advanced state of civilized society. In all countries, and in all ages, the great body of men are almost constantly employed either in manual labour, or in toilsome business. Indeed we need not to look solely to the great masses of society for proof that man is doomed to toil. It is a law from which there is no exemption. Every man has the proof in himself. From the sovereign to the meanest subject, all, all labour under the same curse. The very honours of royalty are a load, which vanity itself cannot sustain without weariness.
The highest aim of the legislator is to provide reward for labour; and his object is fully accomplished when all hands are employed, and labour is adequately remunerated. The millennium of the statesman, as well as of the chartist is, “a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work:” when men have work and wages he sees nothing amiss in the lot of human nature. But the eye of the Christian should penetrate men deeply. In the incessant and universal toils of mankind he should perceive the curse of God against the first sin. From the cradle to the grave it is work, work, work.
The man of God is not exempt from the labours and toils of life. God feeds His people as well as He feeds the fowls of heaven; He clothes them as well as He does the lilies of the valley; but He neither feeds them as He does the fowls, nor clothes them as He does the lilies. He feeds and clothes them by means; and they must toil and spin, and sow and reap, and gather into barns. But blessed be God, the cure is in some measure turned into a blessing. All the labours which we are called to perform, and all the sufferings which we are called on to endure, are to be performed and endured to the glory of God. When the poor man toils to earn a scanty subsistence, and trudges home at night with a weary body, he can console himself with the reflection; if he has faith in Christ, that he is labouring in the Lord’s service. His work is not merely to man: it is to God.
The words which I have chosen as the subject of discourse, remind us that Jesus confers certain talents on His servants; and that He requires the diligent use of these talents. The injunction extends to every talent, and to every department of life. But I shall confine my observations to that which is the more immediate object of this meeting - the employment of our talents in the propagation of the gospel presenting some encouragements - to the vigorous prosecution of the work.
1. My first observation on the subject is, that the gospel being destined to pervade the earth, Christians are the appointed means to convey it to its destination.
It may not be without profit that we turn our attention for a moment to the wisdom of God in appointing His people as the means of propagating His gospel. To human wisdom these means appear inadequate; and in despair of success from these means, Christians, following their own wisdom, are prone to look for others more effectual. In all ages and countries the people of Christ generally are poor and despised. How is it possible, then, that the gospel can be effectually propagated and supported by them? Did Christ place this burden on the shoulders of His people, because He was destitute of other resources? Is He poor, that He requires the labours and the earnings of His poor people; in order to the extending of His empire? If He possesses all power in Heaven and on earth, could He not propagate His gospel without burdening His own servants, who generally have little to spare? Could He not lay His taxes on His enemies? Yes; our great Lord commands all the resources of the universe; and could execute His will by a greater variety of means than we can conceive; or He could communicate the knowledge of salvation altogether without means. He could reveal to the heirs of salvation the truth which interests them in the blessings of His death immediately with His Spirit, without any instrumentality at all. Atonement for sin through the blood of Christ was necessary, that grace might reign through righteousness; and that all the attributes of God might harmonize in the salvation of the guilty. But sinners might have been made acquainted with that salvation, and sanctified by faith in it, without any external revelation, either spoken or written. The Spirit of God could speak to the hearts of men in every part of the earth, as well without instrumentality as with it. Why then has not Jesus chosen this plan? To human wisdom it has many advantages; yet, when divine wisdom has not chosen it, whatever may be its appearance to us, it is not the best plan. One thing is obvious in this procedure by means - it is analogous to God’s way of working in other things. Jehovah manifests Himself in the works of creation and providence; yet He lies hidden by His way of working. In like manner, He reveals Himself in His Word; yet, while the light shines in darkness the darkness perceives it not.
But if instrumentality is to be used, an instrumentality might have been found more convenient for man, and apparently more effectual than that of Christians. Christ could have sent the gospel through the world by the ministry of angels. How admirably, in the estimation of human wisdom, would the means be suited to the end! Christian missionaries need food and raiment while they are engaged in preaching the gospel; they must be carried to their stations by expensive conveyances; and they are subject to the violence of the enemies of their Lord. The angels needed no earthly supplies; they could convey the news of salvation to every quarter of the globe without expense, without loss of time, and without danger. Human missionaries must, with a great expense of labour and time, make themselves acquainted with the languages of all the nations they address. The angels could, in this, have no difficulty. Why, then, was not this plan chosen? It has innumerable advantages in the estimation of human wisdom. Yet, as it was not chosen, it cannot be the best plan. So far from employing only the ministration of angels in the propagation of the gospel, when on one occasion divine wisdom sent an angel to Cornelius, he was commissioned not to preach the gospel, but to charge the centurion to send for Peter, to “tell him words whereby he should be saved.” It is not difficult to see, in fact, the wisdom of not employing this instrumentality. Had the angels been the heralds of the gospel, its efficacy would have been ascribed to the instruments, and not to the power of God. While the angels have a certain employment about the gospel, the propagation of it is confided on those who are higher than the angels by being one with the Son of God.
Another possible means of propagating the gospel, which more than any other has always been the favourite of human wisdom, is the employment of the powers of this world. If our Lord Jesus Christ rules over the world, He surely could employ its rulers in the propagation of His gospel. How admirably does the plan appear, to carnal wisdom, suited to the end! This will not only prevent persecution, but it will open to the gospel every country under Heaven. Will Christ burden His people while He can avail Himself of the revenues of kingdoms? Will He take the mite from the poor widow while all the treasures of the earth are His? Yet Jesus has not adopted this plan. While civil government is His institution, and while He employs the rulers of the world invariably for His own purposes, He as enjoined on His disciples to propagate His gospel, and support His kingdom. Instead of choosing to be introduced to the world, and to have His kingdom raised and maintained by the kingdoms of this world, He chose to make His way through the enmity and most malignant opposition of the rulers of this world for several hundred years. Instead of preventing persecution, it is after His wisdom that persecution should exist. The propagation of the gospel is a miracle of providence. Jesus has left it on the waters like the ark of bulrushes which carried Moses, yet it has not yet sunk, and it will never sink. In this way the power is seen to be not of men, but of God. And while Christ is head over all things for the good of His church; while He makes everything serve His purpose with respect to it, there is a wisdom and a propriety in raising, extending, and maintaining it, through the means of His own subjects. His kingdom is not of this world, and the management of it could not consistently be given to the kingdoms of this world, which, in general, are hostile to it. Sometimes people talk foolishly, as if to employ the means which God has appointed to effect an end is to take the thing out of the hands of God. But, surely, to employ means that God has not appointed, neglecting the means which He has appointed, is to take the thing out of the hands of God.
Fellow Christians, then, I call your attention to your duty, and to your honourable service. God has not thought proper to convey the knowledge of salvation to men by His Spirit, without the use of means - He has not employed the ministry of angels, but that of men - He has not appointed to this high service the rulers of this world; but He has committed it to the zeal and devotedness of His disciples. Will you not show yourselves worthy of such a trust? Will you not manifest by your alacrity in this service, that you feel the honour conferred on you by your Lord? Think not of it merely as a duty, but also as a privilege. Jesus calls not on you from His poverty, but to prove your faithfulness, and His own almighty power. If He has given you all that you possess, will you grudge for His cause a portion of the worldly good things which He has bestowed on you? If He has bought you with His blood, has He not a right to your property and your lives? How many thousands have been spent in doing honour to her majesty in her late visit to Scotland! That expenditure was useful to her only as it manifested the dutiful affection of her subjects. The money lavished on decorations that could last but for a day, were considered important as a manifestation of allegiance and of love. She could have borne the expense of all herself, without feeling it as a burden; yet she received the tokens of affection at the expense of all who offered them. A trifle expended for her gratification in this way, would give her more pleasure than presents expended out of her own treasures. How highly, then, are you honoured, my fellow Christians, when Jesus Christ gives you an opportunity to manifest your allegiance to Him, by contributing of your substance to the extension and support of His gospel. How greatly was He pleased with the woman who showed her affection to Him by anointing Him with a box of precious ointment. “Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily, I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her” (Matthew 26:6-13).
2. My second observation is, that the duty of exertion to propagate the gospel extends to all Christians without exception. Every Christian is a soldier; and every Christian soldier must fight to put his Lord in possession of His rightful dominions. More is required of some than of others; but something is required of every one. And the passage from which I have selected the foundation of this discourse shows us that the Lord requires of His people in proportion to the talents which He confers on them. The great body of Christians may not be able to address public assemblies, but there is not one of them who may not tell his neighbour the way to Heaven. Cannot the simplest man make known to others the ground on which he rests his own hope of salvation? If he knows the truth so as to be saved by it, he may declare it to others so as to save them. What can make it improper for an uneducated man to speak to his companions on the one thing needful? Can he speak to them on matters of worldly business, and can he not speak to them on the truth that saves the soul? Can he teach the mysteries of his trade, and can he not teach the way in which God’s justice and mercy harmonize in the justification of the ungodly by faith in Christ Jesus.
Uneducated Christians, even the poorest, have in private life more favourable opportunities of communicating the gospel to their associates, than the most learned and the most elevated in rank. The manners of the world make it difficult, if not impossible, to introduce the gospel into certain circles. When the rich wish to preach the gospel, they must, in general, go to the poor. They seldom have access to the ear of their own circle. Even the highest Christian nobility will find their efforts impeded by innumerable obstacles in the forms of life in the upper ranks. When God designed that Caesar, and the mighty men of Rome, should hear the gospel of Paul, He sent him as a prisoner to stand for his life before the emperor. Had Paul gone to Rome as a preacher, though he had been a Demosthenes, he might never have gained a hearing from Caesar. Priests and princes would have represented him merely as a fanatic, and the ear of majesty might never have heard the gospel from his lips. In proportion to a man’s elevation in rank is he shut out from the gospel, and in this respect the poor have the highest privileges. They hear and are saved, while the rich and the mighty perish without hearing it, though it may sound every where around them. How is this manifested and confirmed by town missionaries. The word of life can be sent into the hovels of vice, while the lordly palace, which has perhaps more need of it, must be passed by. The poor are always accessible, and the poorest Christian may have, every day, opportunities of declaring the truth, from which the highest Christian may be excluded. If the people about him are wicked, still he may find means to gain their ear about the value of the soul, and the redemption that is in Christ. The poorest and weakest member of a church may have access to innumerable persons from whom the pastor is entirely shut out; and will be heard when the pastor would give intolerable offence. That deadly heresy which confines the preaching of the gospel to office conveyed by a certain succession, is an infernal machine for destroying the souls of men. It is one of the great artifices of Satan to spike the cannon on the gospel batteries. What can more effectually serve the kingdom of darkness than a conviction that it is a sin to proclaim the kingdom of light? But it is unscriptural as it is irrational. The Scriptures know nothing of such a succession. It is the invention of the man of sin, calculated to extinguish the light, and promote the empire of darkness. And whatever may be the mode of conveying office, the preaching of the gospel, either publicly or privately, is not confined to office. Every Christian has a right to preach the gospel, and according to his abilities and his opportunities it is his duty to preach it. This vile dogma of Oxford is self-evidently false. If the gospel is true, can there be any danger of sin in proclaiming its truths? If the gospel is salvation, and if God wills the salvation of men, can it be sinful to tell them of that which saves from Hell? What would you think of a senator who should rise up in the British senate house, declaring that no watchmen ought to be employed in the city of London, but those who have a regular succession from the watchmen who lived at the foundation of the city, and that, though the city were fired at innumerable points, no man had a right to cry “Fire, fire,” but the legal watchmen! It is only in religion that the effusions of folly and absurdity are dignified as wisdom.
Nothing can be more clearly established from the history of the Acts of the Apostles, than that Christians, without exception, were employed in disseminating the gospel. Here the Spirit of inspiration refutes by anticipation that anti-Christian heresy that confines the preaching of the gospel to office. Every Christian may not be able to make a long public discourse. Learned and talented men may not be able to do this at a moment. But to preach the gospel is no more than a declaration of the good news of salvation to the guiltiest of men, through faith in the atonement of Christ. He who knows how God can be just, yet the justifier of the ungodly, can preach the gospel at a moment’s warning. Illiterate Christians are not to affect eloquence, nor to stalk in the pomp of the schools. This, indeed, would be ridiculous. But what Christian is there who may not in private speak the great things of God in his own manner? And though his language may be homely, it is suitable to those addressed, and, even if addressed to the most elevated in rank, may be blessed to the salvation of the soul. No man expects the graces of oratory from those who have no pretensions to them. It is only when illiterate men affect fine speaking that they become harlequins. . . Of the importance of the pastoral office I have the strongest convictions. It cannot be too highly valued when viewed in the light of Scripture. It is an ordinance of God, without which, when it is attainable, a church cannot prosper. To dissenters, perhaps, there is as much need to inculcate a sense of its importance, as it is to others to prove that it is overvalued. If some deify their teachers, and swallow everything that is poured out of the pulpit, that is no reason why others should not highly respect them, and value their teaching, as far as it accords with the Word of God. But it does not impair the importance of the pastoral office to assert that the preaching of the gospel belongs to all Christians as far as they are qualified, and that the interest of Christ’s kingdom requires that this be done as extensively as possible. As Moses said to Joshua when he was jealous for the honour of his master, “Would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets” (Numbers 11:29); so should we all say, “Would God that all the Lord’s people were preachers of the gospel.” Had all the people of Israel been prophets, it would not have affected the office of Moses, nor in the smallest degree have impaired his dignity. If all Christians were employed in preaching the gospel, it would not render it unnecessary to have pastors in the churches, nor impair their true dignity. The true dignity of bishops consists in their qualifications - not on the forms of their appointment. All the authorities on earth could not make a man a bishop who does not posses the qualifications required in Scripture.
Now, dear brethren, if this is true, it is a point of vast importance for the prosperity of the cause of Christ. Let it, then, be reduced to practice. What a wonderful assistance it would be to pastors, if every member of the churches were through the week to avail himself of every opportunity of sowing the seed of the Word! If every one felt himself bound to do something personally to convert sinners, how many more might be expected to be added to the churches! How widely are the members of a church scattered through the week, and with what a number of persons have they intercourse! If everyone, then, were deeply impressed with the duty of bringing in recruits for the army of Christ, is it not likely that there would be great success? I beseech you, then, dear brethren, as you love your master and the souls of men, arise to action. Soldiers of Christ, will you decline to use the weapons of the gospel? They will be mighty by the power of the mighty God.
3. My third observation is, that the duty of assisting in spreading the gospel must be viewed with reference to the different talents conferred on the people of God. All may, in one way or other, do something; and if they avail themselves of their opportunities, the meanest of them may do much. But our present object requires that I should particularly refer to contributions for enabling the spreading of the gospel in foreign and distant countries. The present times are very unpropitious for raising money. The resources even of the wealthy are affected by the state of trade, while many of the poor of the churches may be in straits. But instead of being a reason to stand back, or to curtail, this ought to excite all who are able, to make double exertion. Let the rich curtail other expenses, and deny themselves rather than the cause of Christ. Let not their economy single out the gospel as a sacrifice. Let it have a fair dividend on the assets of the bankrupt. And the Apostle Paul, by the example of one of the churches, shows us that even deep poverty may abound to the riches of liberality. . . . The poorest may do something; and if every one does something the aggregate will be a large sum. Would not the poorest member of the body of Christ desire to do something for the increase of the body? Who is it that would not wish a partnership in the firm? Jesus has no need of the widow’s mite; yet He accepts it with the highest approbation.
If the poor may do something, those in better circumstances may do much. . . . When Christians act upon the principle that nothing is to be done for the cause of God, till there is something of superabundance in their circumstances, they will never do much, and oftener they will do nothing at all. Let every one consider that even the man who works with his own hands, is to appropriate a share in the profits of his work for the kingdom of Christ. . . .
But is this a grievance? Is it not the highest privilege? Who gave you what you possess? Who can make it a blessing to you? How ought you to exult if God has opened your hearts to honour Him with your substance! Jesus said to a certain rich man, “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house” (Luke 19:5). This day His providence says to every Christian in this assembly, “I require a share of the good things which I have bestowed on you.” Remember, He does not ask as one who needs. He asks as your liege Lord. He asks to prove your allegiance, and manifest your love to Him and the souls of whom He suffered. Is it not more blessed to give, than to receive? How many men squander on folly, and in abominable vices! How many spend on the mere vanities of life! How many are ruined by gambling and debauchery! These are the fools. They are fools for both worlds. But is he a fool whose heart inclines him to make a noble gift to the cause of the Redeemer, for the spreading of that gospel that brings glory to God and salvation to man? This is the wise man. His treasure is not dissipated; it is laid up in Heaven, where moth cannot corrupt, and where thieves cannot break through and steal.
In addressing the Baptists of England, there is no need of rebuke with respect to liberality. On the contrary, not to praise, would be as injurious to the gospel as it would be unjust to the many instances of noble-minded liberality. The body, in general, are doing well: many of them have done nobly. Let them hear this praise from their brethren, as they will have their reward from their Lord. Let the example be imitated; and let those who have done well, not be weary in well-doing. If any wealthy Christians among you have hitherto kept back, let them now come forward, and press to the help of the Lord against the mighty. Let every resource be put in requisition. Your views of the kingdom of Christ and His ordinances, exclude you in a great measure from the co-operation of the great bulk of Christians. You must support this war yourselves, or allow the troops to leave the field in dishonour. Show, then, that as God has hitherto enabled you to do the work, you are still willing to carry it on, as He may assist you. Can there be a greater honour than that your Master has assigned you this work?
When a door is opened for the gospel, the wealth of the people of God may be employed to great profit. Happily, on the present occasion, there is no need of doubt or speculation on this subject. Since Jesus was on earth, there has not been a time in which a wider door was opened for the gospel than is now opened. Press forward, then, ye Christians, and embark in this good cause.
4. Another observation is, that a church, in its meetings for its own edification, ought to have constantly in view the conversion of sinners. It is necessary that churches be taught all things that Jesus has commanded. All the doctrines and laws, and ceremonies of the house of God are to have due attention in their proper places. But it ought never to be forgotten, in any meeting of the saints, that the gospel, in one way or other, should be exhibited for the salvation of those who have not yet believed. Without this, how can sinners be brought to the knowledge of the truth? How can we be clear of their blood, if we allow them to depart without showing them the way of the remission of sin? Today I may be discoursing of some duty or ordinance of Christ. Let me, then, keep to my subject. But if in some part of the sermon I cannot find an opening to tell sinners the way to Heaven, I am but a bungling workman. Why is a church called the pillar of the truth, if it is not a finger-board, constantly pointing to Heaven? Refuge, refuge, ought to be so plainly inscribed on it, that he that runs may read. . . .
If a church of Christ is thoroughly alive and active, the gospel will sound out from it even among those who have never been present at its meetings. Many will be brought to the knowledge of the truth, and die in the faith of the Lord Jesus, who will never be united with the church on earth. We ought to be careful, then, that while we are not ashamed of any part of the will of God, nor backward to teach it on proper occasions, the truth that saves the soul be the chief object of our zeal. The most scriptural order will not profit, without a clear and pure gospel. Let us aim to be more distinguished for our profound views of truth, than for zeal for our own peculiarities, however scriptural they may be. Our finger should ever point to the new and living way into the presence of God, through the blood of His dear Son. This is the only thing that can ever make true converts. In this way the churches that sprinkle any country, will gradually approximate, like different fires in a forest, till at last they will meet in one universal flame. “From you,” says Paul to the Thessalonians, “sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to Godward is spread abroad” (I Thessalonians 1:8). Every church is a missionary of the most effectual kind, if it is truly a candlestick to hold up the light to the world. . . .
5. A fifth observation on this subject is this - we ought not to think it enough to labour zealously ourselves individually, we should endeavour to communicate the same spirit of zeal to all our brethren with whom we come in contact. Some people have a happy talent for setting all around them to work, and of diffusing a spirit of zeal among the people of God. You cannot be in their company without catching some of their fire. This is a most important talent, and should be diligently cultivated where it is possessed. Constant reflections on the miserable state of the world without the knowledge of Christ, will always in some degree communicate it, and every opportunity of employing it ought to be improved. In this way we may have a share in the glory of the labours and success of others. Brethren, then, in your intercourse with each other, let it be your aim to excite one another’s zeal. We are all prone to sleep, and we have need of being constantly kept awake by mutual encouragement. . . .
Let the pastors of the churches especially, then, avail themselves of their peculiar advantages in this respect. Let their souls burn with zeal, and the same spirit will be communicated to the brethren. One of the most important duties of a general is to keep up the order of the soldiers. Devotedness and zeal in an army, is of much more importance than numbers. If a minister of Christ, by his address to the church over which he labours, succeeds in kindling the zeal of the brethren, how much might be effected before the end of the day on which he addresses them? Onward, then, onward, fellow-soldiers; fight, and press forward others to the fight.
6. My sixth observation is, that should a Christian be so unhappily situated as to stand alone in any place, he must not fear to encounter the enemy. One man may engage with a host without the charge of rashness. There is never any propriety in saying, “I am but an individual, what good can I do?” You may do much good. Were you the only Christian in a kingdom, you might fight the battles of the Lord with success. This is an amazing peculiarity in the Christian warfare. What is the duty of the soldiers of Christ, might be imprudence and recklessness in the soldiers of a temporal kingdom. When a body of troops are so outnumbered that there is no rational hope of success, their duty, not only to themselves, but to their country, and to their sovereign, calls on them to surrender. But there is no surrender in the Christian warfare. A single Christian must stand against the world. He may die, but he will conquer. Faith in the God of Israel stirred up Jonathan, with his armour-bearer, to attack all the hosts of the Philistines. If this was not faith, it was madness. It was not madness, but faith; for the God of Israel gave him victory and immortal glory. “There is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few” (I Samuel 14:6).
Christian soldiers, here is scope for the prodigality of heroism. Here is encouragement for the brave souls which burn with zeal to do exploits in the cause of the Lord Jesus. Have you not read of the deeds of the mighty men of David? Have you not been fired with emulation of their heroism? Is there no man among you who will dare to lift up his spear against eight hundred men? Where is the race of heroes? Are the soldiers of the Son of David dwindled down into a race of little men? Not so, not so, my fellow-soldiers; we have men who have lifted up their spears against thousands. . . .
If you stand alone in a court or in a coal-pit, in a senate or in a workshop, aim at the conversion of all about you. If you make but one convert, that one will make others, and there is no end to the increase. . . .
7. Another observation on the subject is, that an ardent spirit of prayer is essential to the prosperity of the churches, and the success of their missions.
It is God Who at first shone out of darkness, shines into the heart, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. When the Lord intends to do great things for His people, He usually pours out on them a spirit of prayer to ask great things from Him. How much Paul valued the prayers of the saints, is seen from his letters to the churches. He entreats the brethren to pray for him, and the success of the gospel in his hands. “Finally, brethren,”says Paul to the Thessalonians, “pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you” (II Thessalonians 3:1). Paul was equally distinguished for praying for the brethren. “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10). Should not, then, constant prayer be made by the churches for the success of their missions, and for the opening of the world to the gospel of God?
8. I would call your attention to another observation, which is, that it is God Who opens a door for the gospel in any place; and when God opens a door, it should be entered. Paul tells us, that a door was opened to him of the Lord at Troas; and that a great and effectual door was opened to him at Ephesus, which induced him to remain there for some time. Now, as God has opened many doors to you, is it not your duty to enter and occupy? Is not this a call from your great Lord to advance and mount the breach which he has opened in the enemy’s walls? Could any command be given in more intelligible language? Press forward, then, ye devoted men, who have given yourselves to the Lord, to make His name known among the heathen. Fear not to enter the door that the Captain of Salvation hath opened to you. Come forward, ye redeemed of the Lord, and enable the soldiers of the cross to take the field. When your sovereign has so clearly intimated His pleasure, would it not be a breach of your allegiance to decline acting? Should one of her majesty’s generals decline entering a besieged city, when it was proved penetrable, would he not be condemned by a court-martial? His life and his honour would be the forfeit of his treason. Is less to be expected from the soldier of the cross? Enter, then, my fellow-soldiers; enter the breach that God has made before your eyes in the walls of the enemy.
9. The last observation which I shall submit to your consideration on this subject is, that they who preach the gospel, especially to ignorant heathens, should do it not only in all godly sincerity, but in all plainness and simplicity. I am convinced that nothing more powerfully mars the effect of the gospel, even where it is preached in truth, than an affection of eloquence and of deep research. Theological writings have for some time appeared to aim at an abstruse, metaphysical, and technical phraseology, as if the object were to conceal rather than illustrate. It is still worse if this style is brought into the pulpit. A book may be read a second time, but if an audience does not catch the meaning as it flies, it is lost for ever. On philosophical subjects, let us speak as philosophers; but in speaking on the great things of God, let our aim be to be understood. Let us use the utmost plainness. If we are not understood, we cannot be useful. It is by entering the understanding that the gospel succeeds. Every effort, then, ought to be made, that the most ignorant may apprehend the meaning. How awful is it to occupy our mind about the glitter of words, in speaking to ignorant sinners about the way of escaping the wrath to come through the redemption of Christ Jesus? It is loathsome in the sight of God; it is contemptible in the estimation of every sensible man. Who would think of dazzling expressions in directing perishing mariners to a way of escape from a shipwreck. The language that is likely to be most intelligible is always to be preferred; and that language would be suggested by the occasion to a heart that feels. Even in point of eloquence, the most essential quality in style is perspicuity. Nothing can be eloquent that is not intelligible to those addressed. The man who makes his audience understand him most easily, is always the best speaker; and it is not necessary to be either quaint or vulgar, in order to be interesting even to the lowest of the people. . . . Look at the discourses of Jesus. Was ever language so perspicuous? Was ever eloquence so insinuating and commanding? His figurative language was taken from the most common objects; but it was never mean. It never wanted dignity. He affected no oddity or extravagance of manner or diction; yet He always commanded attention. It was impossible not to listen to Him. Innumerable multitudes pressed to hear Him; and while His enemies gnashed on Him with their teeth, they could not keep themselves from hearing Him.
I would, then, earnestly entreat my younger brethren, who have an eye to the ministry, to attend to this observation. . . He who cannot make himself understood by his audience – he who cannot command it, is not gifted for public usefulness. More is to be expected from the most unpolished speaker, when he is urged on by a burning zeal for the salvation of sinners, than from the most brilliant diction, when its object appears to be to captivate the imagination.
This obstacle to the success of the gospel was anticipated by the spirit of inspiration, and Paul reprehends it with the most indignant zeal. “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (I Corinthians 1:17). Here we see that even the cross of Christ, or the true gospel, will be made unsuccessful by an affectation of human eloquence. It is worthy of consideration how much of the want of success in the preaching of the gospel, by the servants of Christ, is owing to this wisdom of words. If Paul’s gospel is presented to the world in a dress in which Paul would not exhibit it, lest it should thereby become ineffectual, is it to be wondered that the cause should still produce the dreaded effect? “And I, brethren,” says the same apostle to the same people, “when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:1-5).
[From Christopher Cockrell, Editor, The Berea Baptist Banner, On-line edition, March, 2016. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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