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A Silent But Effective Testimony
By Dr. T. T. Shields
Gospel of John, Chapter 11
The Gospel Witness, 1938
I.

      THERE IS NOTHING so important in life as that people should believe on Jesus. We may all afford, without loss, to be ignorant of many things, to call many commonly believed matters in question. But it is, above all things, important that we should believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. There never was a day, I suppose, in the world's history when it needed more the revelation and presence in it of Someone Who could be absolutely believed.

      When we were little children, we found it easy to trust people. The older we grow, the more frequently we find ourselves betrayed, and discover that our confidence has been misplaced, and the more cautious we become. There was a time when in large matters, men in responsible positions, who were representative of other people, of nations, were accustomed to regard their word as being of some value. Here in our own country we do not question the dependability of the Government that stands behind, let us say a dollar bill. We should not look with favour on any company of men in official life whose word was consistently broken. And yet we have come to a day when it is difficult to believe in anybody, and we have seen public confidence destroyed on a very large scale.

      It is only a little while ago that I spoke from Jarvis Street Baptist Church Pulpit - I think it was two weeks ago last Sunday evening - about what seemed to me to be the utter folly of placing any reliance whatsoever upon any promise made by Hitler's Germany. But the British Government accepted the assurances of Hitler, who had been proved a hundred times like his father the devil, a liar and a murderer. But they trusted him. And since that time the Prime Minister has had to admit in the House of Commons that there was not a word of truth in Hitler's assurances. He broke faith with everyone, lied to everyone. And we find a good deal of that in all walks of life. Perhaps it is not surprising when in high places you find men of that sort, if you discover that people generally have come to think very lightly of their pledged word.

      From every point of view, HOW NECESSARY IT IS THAT THERE SHOULD BE SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE, WHO CAN BE TRUSTED, WHO CAN BE BELIEVED IN ABSOLUTELY. And particularly does it appear to be so to us who are Christians. We want everyone to know Who Jesus is, and to believe in Him as we have believed in Him, and to reap the benefits of such faith in the sinners' Saviour. It is for that the church of the firstborn is left in the world. It is for that, you and I are allowed to live, that we may propagate the Gospel, and get people to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, we know that men believe only as they are enabled so as to do by the Spirit of God. But it is God's way to use human instruments to enable the people to know who Jesus Christ is. That is the purpose of our Sunday School, the purpose of all our preaching and witnessing - to testify to an unbelieving world that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, that believing, men may have life through His name.

      That is a mere commonplace to which we all subscribe. We recognize that as the supreme end of all our ministry.

II.

      This story tells of HOW SOME PEOPLE WERE LED TO BELIEVE IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. They were led to faith in Him through a particular man: "Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus." That ought to be the ambition of every one of us, that by reason of what we are and say and do, other people should believe en Jesus. And perhaps it will help us to be useful in the Lord's service if we consider how the Lord used this man, and how and why it came to pass that by reason of him many believed in Jesus.

      What sort of man was he? Why did they believe in Jesus because of him? First of all it was not because of anything he said. It is well that our tongues should be consecrated to the holy service of witnessing for Christ. It is well that we should be thoroughly informed respecting the great doctrines of the Gospel so that we shall be able to teach and preach the things that are revealed in this Word. It is important that we should be able to speak His praises, and very often people are led to believe in Jesus because of what they hear.

      On one occasion it is said in the Acts of the Apostles that they so spake that many believed. It is possible for us so to speak in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, and so clearly to enunciate the principles of the Gospel that people, hearing, will believe on Christ. But there are many people who are not gifted in the matter of speech. There are many people who cannot open their lips in public. When I was quite young I had an inward protest against the appeal of certain societies when it was assumed that it was the duty of everybody to speak. We have it in one of our hymns, "Now speak, or sing, or pray." There were services in which people were exhorted until in utter weariness some of them put themselves where they could no longer hear the exhortation. They were exhorted to "take part." I put no premium upon the value of silence. We ought to speak, if we can speak. Our tongues ought to be loosed to speak His praise, and yet I have been long enough a minister to know that there have been many devout Christians who really love the Lord who do not speak, and cannot speak. There are some here this evening, I think, whose voices I have never heard in public testimony. I should like to hear them, and please do not assume that anything I say this evening is a justification for our failure to witness for Christ, if we are able to do so. But there are people who cannot speak, and even those who do speak may not always speak effectively. What I desire to point out is that there are other ways whereby people may be led to believe in Jesus than by hearing what we say.

      So far as we know, Lazarus said nothing. No single word of his is written in the Book. So far as we know, he never publicly prayed, nor publicly witnessed for Christ by word of mouth. And yet, though nothing is reported of his speech, it is said, "by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus."

      I believe it is possible, even if we were dumb, and had no tongues at all to speak for Him - it is, by God's grace, possible for even a dumb man or woman so to witness for Christ that others would go away and believe on Jesus.

      So if you find it hard to speak, if only occasionally you are able to utter a word in His name in public, do not allow yourselves to be persuaded that therefore you are of no service to Him, for here is the story of a man through whom a great multitude of people were led to Christ, who, so far as we know, never uttered one word by way of public testimony.

      What, then, did he do? Perhaps I ought to pause and say that it is quite possible for us to do a great deal of speaking, and lead nobody to Christ. It is quite possible for us to speak too much and so to destroy our influence.

      Another thing may be observed of Lazarus. People were not led to Christ by what he said, nor by what he did, It does not appear that he was a man of any special influence. It does not appear that he was a particularly active spirit. I should suppose from the record that although he appears to have been the only man of the house, he was outclassed in personal force by his two sisters. It sometimes happens that a man in the house is the silent partner! Sometimes he has to be; sometimes he chooses to be. It may have been that Martha's readiness of speech and her quick action led Lazarus to feel that one of that sort in a single family was enough. Be that as it may. We have no record of any of his accomplishments. We are not told that he was a particularly industrious man. No deeds of charity are written to his credit. He not only said nothing in public, but he did nothing spectacular. It was not what he said, nor what he did that led people to believe in Jesus. We ought to be full of good works, always going about doing good. There are many ways in which, by many acts of kindness, we may show that we have been with Jesus. It is quite possible by what we do to show that we are Christians. We are, indeed, admonished to let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven. "We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."

      I put no premium whatever upon religious idleness. We ought to be active in the Lord's service. Two or three weeks ago I spoke to you from the text: "Be not weary in well doing." We ought to be busily engaged all the time. Nothing is written to the credit of Lazarus, and yet many went away, and believed on Jesus through him.

      Sometimes we reproach ourselves because we do so little. Well, if we deserve the rebuke, let us accept it. If we have been idle in the vineyard of the Lord, let us repent, and say to the Lord of the vineyard, not only, "I go, sir," but let us actually go and do His will.

      But there are times when one scarcely knows what to do. You remember how Jehoshaphat said on one occasion in respect to a situation with which he was faced: "Neither know we what to do." I suppose we have all been in such situations. We have had to ask ourselves what to do. It may be someone here this evening will say, "Well, sir, I cannot say that I have done anything to-day. I am not always as I have been to-day. There are days when I am busy for the Lord, but this has been one of the days when I could not find any particular task that I could do, and I feel distressed because if I were asked to write down what I have done, perhaps I should have to say, 'I am afraid I have done nothing.'"

      Lazarus though silent, and perhaps temporarily idle, yet "by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus."

      What was it? It must have been what he was in himself. Something had been done for him; something had been done in him, and by reason of him many believed on Jesus. How slow people are to recognize that the beginning of the Christian life is not in doing, but in being! "If any man be in Christ" - what does it say? Not that he will speak eloquently; not that he will work faithfully - "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation." A change has been effected in his very nature. There is something in his spiritual being, what he really is, which testifies for Christ. A piece of gold does not need to speak or to move. To the eye of the expert it testifies to its own character, that it is genuine metal. It is really gold. In the view of the vast majority of people in our day, Christianity consists primarily in doing. People are being perpetually exhorted to "do!" - "do!" - "do!" The Gospel that is preached is a Gospel of salvation by works. If men are to be saved, they are to be saved by what they do! and therefore they are always to be doing, and the more they do in many instances, the less disposed people are to believe on the Lord Jesus.

      I do not discount doing, but we must be careful to observe the divine order, and to insist upon being before doing. It was what Lazarus was that made him a witness for Christ.

      Now here is something that no man can explain. Of what Is that personality of yours composed"? What is that ego, that essential something which makes you an individual, and which differentiates you from everybody else, and which makes you personally responsible to God? What is it? We are often conscious of our own defects of character, our dispositions, our moods, our peculiar besetments, and sometimes we mourn over particular defects. Sometimes we have to mourn as did Paul, of our defects in their totality, and cry: "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" You know what I am speaking about. And you can answer the questions to your own consciousness, though you cannot formulate an answer in words, when I say, "What is that which is yourself?" You say, "I cannot answer that, but I know that I am myself - I am what I am. I cannot help it, I did not make myself." No, you did not. And when you became a Christian, and you believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, it may be that your mind was exercised with some objective statement of truth, a passage of Scripture, or the truth of Scripture set forth perhaps in uninspired words, or exemplified perhaps in a Christian life, and your mind perceived that truth and dealt with it, and went out to it, and laid hold upon it, and you believed. That is the mental process. You were convinced of the truth, and you yielded the assent of your mind to the truth. It entered into your heart, and you believed. I know all that; but what happened then? "I cannot tell you." Did anything take place? "Yes." What was it: "Well, I suppose you would call it being born again." Where did that change that was effected in you, happen? You would say, "I cannot answer any particular except to say that it took place within somehow." Well, then, in your very being, in what the Scripture calls "the inner man" you became different, did you not? "Oh, yes." How do you know? "I had different desires, different tastes; things that were once attractive became repugnant to me, and things in which I found no pleasure, I later found a great delight in, and I knew there was something different that had changed me." You became a Christian. Are you sure? "Yes." And are you sure because of anything you did? "No." Why are you sure? "I suppose it is because of what I am. I am different."

      And that is true of everyone who is a Christian. That miracle has been wrought within, and the man or woman is different. And, mark, where that miracle has really taken place, by reason of that stupendous fact, many people will go away and believe on Jesus.

      Perhaps our story will still further illustrate the truth. Why did they go away and believe on Jesus? I have said it was because of what Lazarus was. "Yes, hut cannot you particularize a little?" It is a different Lazarus who sits at the table with Jesus, from the Lazarus who was laid in the rocky sepulchre. I said just now that there has been a change of which we ourselves are conscious, but if we have really been made new creatures in Christ, other people will be conscious of it, too. You remember there was a time but a day or so ago when the sisters of Lazarus were afraid of him; and when Jesus proposed the opening of that sepulchre, they were filled with horror at the very thought of it. They did not want to look upon the loved form after it had been laid away for days. But they have no objection to seeing him now, because he is a different man. His features may have been the same. Had photography been known in that day, and had a photograph been taken of him when in health, you might have examined it and said, "That is the same man. In outward form he was just the same, and yet he was not the same." Put your finger upon his pulse. It is the pulse of a man in exuberant health. You would have said of him, had you observed him: "That is a vigorous man; he is all alive." But he was not, when they laid him in the sepulchre.

      My dear friends, there is an unconscious influence that radiates from every one of us that will proclaim our oneness with Christ, if we are really His. You cannot help it. If you are really a Christian, you won't need a text embroidered on your coat. I remember seeing a man walking down the street of Los Angeles once with a text of Scripture sewn on the back of his coat. It reminded me of the story of the artist who inscribed under the representation of a certain quadruped, for the information of those who otherwise would never have known it - "This is a horse." If you need to have inscribed on you, "I am a Christian," I suppose you must; but it is a pretty poor type of Christian who does need it. If we are in exuberant spiritual health, our very speech, even though it be not of a religious character, will have a flavour of salt about it. A Christian is never off duty. And if we are His, by our very attitude toward life in general, by our everyday walk, by the way we sit at the table, people will know whether or not we are Christians.

      I have spent a good deal of time in restaurants and hotels, in places where people live publicly, and I have watched sometimes as people were seated at the table, and more than once, though no word was spoken, I have observed someone, and I know that there was a renewed heart uplifted to God. And I have seen others who said nothing, but I knew there was no recognition of God. In both cases all they did was, like Lazarus, sit at the table. Yes; we can show whether we are Christians when we sit at the table, or when we sit in a street car, or wherever we sit, or wherever we walk. Go into a rose garden at the proper season. Oh, we have a little of it here, but sometimes I wish I were rich enough to charter a ship and take you all to dear old England! Go in season, perhaps in June into some garden of flowers. Ask someone to blindfold you, if you like, until you cannot see a thing. Let there be silence, and in a little while you will say, ''My, there are roses here! There are honeysuckles." And if you were versed in the floral life of that dear Old Land, you would recognize - I had almost said - the voices of the flowers. Why? Simply because they were alive, and the very sound was calling forth an expression of their life, and you could not go where they were without knowing that the flowers were in bloom. The church of Christ is never likened to a factory, but to a garden.

      Do you know a weed they call "Old man"? Some like it, and some do not. Well, some people like Wintergreen. There is no accounting for taste! I thought Old Man was about the most objectionable weed that could be discovered anywhere. And it has this peculiarity that if you get your hand in it, it needs a thorough scouring to get rid of it. Someone told me that he once heard the great Archibald Brown preach, and he referred to that weed. He said, "Sometimes it is in the Lord's garden." Then he described a boy coming in, and there was silence between father and mother. Mother was not in a very good mood. The boy went over to his father and said, "Father, there is a bit of 'old man' about mother today." Another time, perhaps, it would be reversed, and father would be a bit out of sorts, and that boy would say, "Mother, a bit of old man' about father to-day, don't you think?" There is a good deal of the "old man" in the garden of the Lord. One of the little girls in our Sunday School one day was doing something for which her mother rebuked her and said, "You must ask the Lord Jesus to take that little devil out of you." She said, "I am not going to. I like that little devil in there."

      Yes; it is possible sometimes to let the old man gain the ascendency, and to get to like him. But if we are where we ought to be, and what we ought to be, not growing into grace, but growing in grace, already planted in grace, and growing up in the garden of the Lord, there will be a savour of Christ about us, something that will suggest to the people generally that we are a bit different from others. Lazarus was not what he once was; he was not where he once was. He was in the sepulchre when Jesus came to Bethany, and called him forth. And this chapter opens with this verse: "Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served; but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him."

      Our stations in life, our choice of circumstances, our choice of our surroundings, everything ought to indicate, if we are really Christians, that the Lord has done something for us:

"My heart refuseth joys like these,
Since I have known the Lord."

      It is quite possible for you or for me to go to a certain place and say nothing, and do nothing, but by the mere fact of being there, bringing dishonour to our Lord. A sepulchre is all right for one who is dead, but it is no place for a living man. If one has never known the Lord, I am not surprised that such an one will go to springs of earth to find satisfaction. But surely it must be admitted that those of us who are Christians, by our own choice place ourselves in a situation other than that in which we are found by another.

      It was not only what he was, but where he was, that testified for the Lord Jesus. Where was he? He was in the company of Jesus Himself. He walked with Him; he talked with Him, perhaps. No word is recorded. But he sat with them at all events at the table, in the presence of the Lord Jesus.

      I used to know two men, one I believe was really a godly man, but a man who was very easily influenced. The other man always sounded to me like "sounding brass" and "tinkling cymbal." But I could always tell when man number one had been in the company of man number two. He had a strange influence upon him. There was a noticeable deterioration in the quality of the man.

      There are some folks we cannot afford to find ourselves with. There is nothing that will lead people astray so quickly as to get into bad company, and the only way to keep out of bad company is to keep always in good company, and the only really good company is the company of the Lord Jesus Himself. And if we abide in Him, and His word abides in us, and we live in His presence, people will discover it.

      There is a story in the Acts of the Apostles of certain people in Jerusalem who denied that Jesus was risen from the dead. They actually said He was still dead. But when they heard Peter and John it is said, "they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus." There was a savour of Christ about them. They spoke as He had spoken; they acted as He had acted. They were bold and courageous as He had showed Himself to be, and when others saw Peter and John, they said, "They remind us of the Lord Jesus."

      An old lady went up, in the days of the great Spurgeon, to London, specially to hear the great preacher. She was a member of a church that had for its pastor one of Mr. Spurgeon's students. And after she had heard Mr. Spurgeon preach, someone asked her how she liked him. "Oh," she said, "I thought he was wonderful, but I should have liked him a great deal better if he had not imitated our young minister so much."

      Why? The young minister was quite unconscious that he was imitating Spurgeon. He had sat under him. He had looked up to him, and quite unconsciously he had become like him. And when the dear soul saw the master himself, she said, "I have a pastor who is very much like him." We ought to be so much in the company of Christ that we shall become like Him, and we shall remind other people of Him. It was what Lazarus was, the company he kept, that led people to go away and believe on Jesus,

III.

      And WHAT DID THEY BELIEVE ABOUT JESUS? They did not say, "He must be a wonderful Teacher!" They did not say, "He must be a wonderful Man!" No. What did they believe about Jesus? They believed that Jesus had done something for Lazarus which no man could possibly do. I am sure when they saw Lazarus, when they knew what he had been, and where he had been, they said, "Ah, no man did that. That is not man's work: that is God's work," God pity us if we are no better than man-made Christians. We have but little influence, real influence, for good if people say, "Oh, he is just the product of a certain teacher, or preacher." No; there ought to be something in us that will advertise to the world that something has been done for us which only God can do. And when the Scripture says they went away and believed on Jesus, it means that they believed Jesus for what He really was, the Son of the living God, the Saviour of the world.

      That is the testimony we must give. Pay no compliments to my Lord Jesus. Save your adjectives in seeking to describe Him Who is God: our only appropriate attitude is prostrate before Him, like Thomas, crying, "My Lord, and my God." If our life is of such a character that it will prociaim to the world that to us Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, and God the Son, the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sin of the world, seeing us sitting at the table, many will go away and believe on Jesus,

      May the Lord make us just such witnesses as that, at home, at our place of business, in all circumstances, and in ail relationships of life. Let us pray that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith, that men who see us may, in us, see Him, and go believe on Him.

      Let us pray:
      We thank Thee, O Lord, for the high privilege which is ours, of witnessing to Thy saving and sanctifying power. Bless, we beseech Thee, our simple meditation this evening, and bring us ail and keep us all in such relationship to Thyself that no one can ever doubt the reality of our experience of Thy saving grace. For Jesus' sake we ask it, Amen.

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[From The Gospel Witness, March 17, 1938, via The Message of Grace, 1971, Fairborn, OH, Pastor Paul Kirkman. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]



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