HALF-A-DOZEN words from a tender mother to a boy who is just leaving home for an apprenticeship, may drop like gentle dew from heaven upon him. A few sentences from a kind and prudent father given to the daughter, still unconverted, as she enters upon her married life, and to her husband, kindly and affectionately put, may make that household for ever a house of God. A kind word dropped by a brother to a sister, a little letter written from a sister to her brother, though it should be only a line or two, may be God's arrow of grace. I have known even such little things as a tear or an anxious glance work wonders.
You perhaps may have heard the story of Mr. Whitefield, who made it his wont wherever he stayed to talk to the members of the household about their souls—with each one personally; but stopping at a certain house with a Colonel, who was all that could be wished except a Christian, he was so pleased with the hospitality he received and so charmed with the general character of the good Colonel and his wife and daughters, that he did not like to speak to them about decision as he would have done if they had been less amiable characters. He had stopped with them for a week, and during the last night, the Spirit of God visited him so that he could not sleep. "These people," said he, "have been very kind to me, and I have not been faithful to them; I must do it before I go; I must tell them that whatever good thing they have, if they do not believe in Jesus they are lost." He arose and prayed. After praying he still felt contention in his spirit. His old nature said, "I cannot do it," but the Holy Spirit seemed to say, "Leave them not without warning." At last he thought of a device, and prayed God to accept it; he wrote upon a diamond-shaped pane of glass in the window with his ring these words:—"One thing thou lackest." He could not bring himself to speak to them, but went his way with many a prayer for their conversion. He had no sooner gone than the good woman of the house, who was a great admirer of him, said, "I will go up to his room: I like to look at the very place where the man of God has been." She went up and noticed on the window-pane those words, "One thing thou lackest." It struck her with conviction in a moment. "Ah!" said she, "I thought he did not care much about us, for I knew he always pleaded with those with whom he stopped, and when I found that he did not do so with us, I thought we had vexed him: but I see how it was; he was too tender in mind to speak to us." She called her daughters up. "Look there, girls!" said she, "see what Mr. Whitefield has written on the window! 'One thing thou lackest.' Call up your father." And the father came up and read that too, "One thing thou lackest!" and around the bed whereon the man of God had slept they all knelt down and sought that God would give them the one thing they lacked, and ere they left that chamber they had found that one thing, and the whole household rejoiced in Jesus.
It is not long ago since I met with a friend, one of whose church members preserves that very pane of glass in her family as an heirloom. Now, if you cannot admonish and warn in one way, do it in another: but take care to clear your soul of the blood of your relatives and friends, so that it may never crimson your skirts and accuse you before God's bar. So live and so speak and teach, by some means or other, that you shall have been faithful to God and faithful to the souls of men.
Earnestness often gives prudence, and puts a man in the possession of tact, if not of talent. Andrew used what ability he had. If he had been as some young men are of my acquaintance, he would have said, "I should like to serve God. How I should like to preach! And I should require a large congregation." Well, there is a pulpit in every street in London, there is a most wide and effectual door for preaching in this great city of ours beneath God's blue sky. But this young zealot would rather prefer an easier berth than the open air; and because he is not invited to the largest pulpits, does nothing. How much better it would be if, like Andrew, he began to use the ability he had among those who are accessible to him, and from that stepped to something else, and from that to something else, advancing year by year! If Andrew had not been the means of converting his brother, the probabilities are that he never would have been an apostle. Christ had some reason in the choice of His apostles to their office, and perhaps the ground of His choice of Andrew as an apostle was this: "He is an earnest man," said He, "he brought me Simon Peter; he is always speaking privately to individuals; I will make an apostle of him." Young men, if you become diligent in tract distribution, diligent in the Sunday-school, you are likely men to be made into ministers; but if you stop and do nothing until you can do everything, you will remain useless—an impediment to the Church instead of being a help to her. Dear sisters in Jesus Christ, you must none of you dream that you are in a position in which you can do nothing at all. That were such a mistake in providence as God cannot commit. You must have some talent entrusted to you, and something given you to do which no one else can do. Find out, then, what your sphere is, and occupy it. Ask God to tell you what is your niche, and stand in it, occupying the place till Jesus Christ shall come and give you your reward. Use what ability you have, and use it at once.
Andrew proved his wisdom in that he set great store by a single soul. He bent all his efforts at first upon one man. Afterwards, Andrew, through the Holy Spirit, was made useful to scores, but he began with one. What a task for the arithmetician, to value one soul! One soul sets all heaven's bells ringing by its repentance. One sinner that repenteth maketh angels rejoice. What if you spend a whole life pleading and labouring for the conversion of that one child? If you win that pearl it shall pay you your life worth. Be not therefore dull and discouraged because your class declines in numbers, or because the mass of those with whom you labour reject your testimony. If a man could earn but one in a day he might be satisfied. "One what?" saith one. I meant not one penny, but one thousand pounds. "Ah," say you, "that would be an immense reward." So if you earn but one soul you must reckon what that one is; it is one for numeration, but for value it exceeds all that earth could show. What would it profit a man if he gained the whole world and lost his soul? and what loss would it be to you, if you did lose all the world, and gained your soul, and God made you useful in the gaining of the souls of others? Be content, and labour in your sphere, even if it be small, and you will be wise.
You may imitate Andrew in not going far afield to do good. Many Christians do all the good they can five miles off from their own house, when the time they take to go there and back might be well spent in the vineyard at home. I do not think it would be a wise regulation of the parochial authorities if they required the inhabitants of St. Mary, Newington, to remove the snow from the pavement of St. Pancras, and the inhabitants of St. Pancras to keep clean the pavement of St. Mary, Newington. It is best and most convenient that each householder should sweep before his own door; so it is our duty to do, as believers, all the good we can in the place where God has been pleased to locate us, and especially in our own households. If every man has a claim upon me, much more my own offspring. If every woman has some demand upon me as to her soul, so far as my ability goes, much more such as are of my own flesh and blood. Piety must begin at home as well as charity. Conversion should begin with those who are nearest to us in ties of relationship. I stir you up, not to be attempting missionary labours for India, not to be casting eyes of pity across to Africa, not to be occupied so much with tears for popish and heathen lands, as for your own children, your own flesh and blood, your own neighbours, your own acquaintance. Lift up your cry to heaven for them, and then afterwards you shall preach among the nations. Andrew goes to Cappadocia in his after-life, but he begins with his brother; and you shall labour where you please in years to come, but first of all your own household, first of all those who are under your own shadow must receive your guardian care. Be wise in this thing; use the ability you have, and use it amongst those who are near at hand.
Perhaps somebody will be saying, "How did Andrew persuade Simon Peter to come to Christ?" He did so, first, by narrating his own personal experience: he said, "We have found the Messiah." What you have experienced of Christ tell to others. He did so next by intelligently explaining to him what it was he had found. He did not say he had found some one who had impressed him, but he knew not who he was; he told him he had found the Messiah, that is, Christ. Be clear in your knowledge of the gospel and your experience of it, and then tell the good news to those whose soul you seek. Andrew had power over Peter because of his own decided conviction. He did not say, "I hope I have found Christ," but, "I have found him." He was sure of that. Get full assurance of your own salvation. There is no weapon like it. He that speaks doubtingly of what he would convince another, asks that other to doubt his testimony. Be positive in your experience and your assurance, for this will help you.
Andrew had power over Peter because he put the good news before him in an earnest fashion. He did not say to him, as though it were a commonplace fact, "The Messiah has come," but no, he communicated it to him as the most weighty of all messages with becoming tones and gestures, I doubt not, "We have found the Messiah, which is called Christ." To your own kinsfolk tell your belief, your enjoyments, and your assurance, tell all judiciously, with assurance of the truth of it, and who can tell whether God may not bless your work?
Andrew won a soul, won his brother's soul, won such a treasure! He won no other than that Simon, who at the first cast of the gospel net, when Christ had made him a soul-fisherman, caught three thousand souls at a single haul! Peter, a very prince in the Christian Church, one of the mightiest of the servants of the Lord in all his usefulness, would be a comfort to Andrew. I should not wonder but what Andrew would say in days of doubt and fear, "Blessed be God that He has made Peter so useful! Blessed be God that ever I spoke to Peter! What I cannot do, Peter will help to do; and while I sit down in my helplessness, I can feel thankful that my dear brother Peter is honoured in bringing souls to Christ." Your fingers are yet to wake to ecstasy the living lyre of a heart that up till now has not been tuned to the praise of Christ; you are to kindle the fire which shall light up a sacred sacrifice of a consecrated life to Christ. Only be up and doing for the Lord Jesus, be importunate and prayerful, be zealous and self-sacrificing. I make no doubt of it, that, when we have proved our God by prayer, He will pour down such a blessing that we shall not have room to receive it.
EVERY believer should be an ambassador from heaven. "As My Father hath sent Me," said the Well-beloved," even so send I you." You are sent to gather together the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and, like your Master, to seek and to save that which is lost. I speak solemnly to you who have wept over Jerusalem, and who are proving your true love to souls by your exertions for them, and I remind you that it is a glorious work to seek to save men, and that for its sake you should be willing to put up with the greatest possible inconveniences.
The angels never hesitated when they were bidden to go to Sodom. They descended without demur and went about their work without delay. Although the report of Sodom's detestable iniquity had gone up to heaven, and the Lord would bear no longer with that filthy city, yet, from the purity of heaven, the angels did not hesitate to descend to behold the infamy of Sodom; where God sent them, they failed not to go. "There came two angels to Sodom at even." What, angels? Did angels come to Sodom? To Sodom, and yet angels? Ay, and none the less angelic because they came to Sodom, but all the more so, because in unquestioning obedience to their Master's high behests they sought out the elect one and his family, to deliver him and his from impending destruction. However near to Christ you may be, however much your character may be like that of your Lord, you who are called to such service, must never say, "I cannot talk to these people, they are so depraved and debased; I cannot enter that haunt of sin to tell of Jesus; I sicken at the thought; its associations are altogether too revolting to my feelings; but, because you are there wanted, men of God, you must there be found. To whom should the physician go but to the sick, and where can the distributer of the alms of mercy find such a fitting sphere as among those whose spiritual destitution is extreme. Be ye angels of mercy each one of you, and God speed you in your soul-saving work. As ye have received Christ Jesus into your hearts, so imitate Him in your lives. Let the woman that is a sinner receive of your kindness, for Jesus looked on her with mercy; let the man who has been most mad with wickedness be sought after, for Jesus healed demoniacs; let no type of sin, however terrible, be thought by you to be beneath your pity, or beyond your labour, but seek ye out those who have wandered farthest, and snatch from the flame the firebrands which are already smoking in it.
When you go to lost souls, you must, as these angels did, tell them plainly their condition and their danger. "Up," said they, "for God will destroy this place." If you really long to save men's souls, you must tell them a great deal of disagreeable truth. The preaching of the wrath of God has come to be sneered at nowadays, and even good people are half-ashamed of it; a maudlin sentimentality about love and goodness has hushed, in great measure, plain gospel expostulations and warnings. But, if we expect souls to be saved, we must declare unflinchingly with all affectionate fidelity, the terrors of the Lord. "Well," said the Scotch lad, when he listened to the minister who told his congregation that there was no hell, or at any rate only a temporary punishment, "Well," said he, "I need not come and hear this man any longer, for if it be as he says, it is all right, and religion is of no consequence, and if it be not as he says, then I must not hear him again, because he will deceive me." "Therefore," says the apostle, "Knowing the terrors of the Lord we persuade men." Let not modern squeamishness prevent plain speaking. Are we to be more gentle than the apostles? Shall we be wiser than the inspired preachers of the word? Until we feel our minds overshadowed with the dread thought of the sinner's doom we are not in a fit frame for preaching to the unconverted. We shall never persuade men if we are afraid to speak of the judgment and the condemnation of the unrighteous. None so infinitely gracious as our Lord Jesus Christ, yet no preacher ever uttered more faithful words of thunder than He did. It was He who spoke of the place "where their worm dieth not and their fire is not quenched." It was He who said, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment." It was He who spake the parable concerning that man in hell who longed for a drop of water to cool his tongue. We must be as plain as Christ was, as downright in honesty to the souls of men, or we may be called to account for our treachery at the last. If we flatter our fellows into fond dreams as to the littleness of future punishment, they will eternally detest us for so deluding them, and in the world of woe they will invoke perpetual curses upon us for having prophesied smooth things, and having withheld from them the awful truth.
When we have affectionately and plainly told the sinner that the wages of sin will be death, and that woe will come because of his unbelief, we must go farther, and must in the name of our Lord Jesus, exhort the guilty to escape from the deserved destruction. The angels, though they understood that God had elected Lot to be saved, did not omit a single exhortation or leave the work to itself, as though it were to be done by predestination apart from instrumentality. They said, "Arise, take thy wife and thy two daughters which are here, lest thou be consumed." How impressive is each admonition! What force and eagerness of love gleams in each entreaty! "Escape for thy life; look not behind thee; neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed." Every word is quick and powerful decisive and to the point. Souls want much earnest expostulation and affectionate exhortation to constrain them to escape from their own ruin. Were they wise, the bare information of their danger would be enough, and the prospect of a happy escape would be sufficient; but they, as they are utterly unwise, as you and I know, for we were once such as they are, they must be urged, persuaded, and entreated to look to the Crucified that they may be saved. We should never have come to Christ unless divine constraint had been laid upon us, neither will they; that constraint usually comes by instrumentality; let us seek to be such instruments. If it had not been for earnest voices that spoke to us, and earnest teachers that beckoned us to come to the cross, we had never come. Let us therefore repay the debt we owe to the Church of God, and seek as much as lieth in us to do unto others as God in His mercy hath done to us. Be active to persuade men with all your powers of reasoning and argument, salting the whole with tears of affection. Do not let any doctrinal notions stand in the way of the freest persuading when you are dealing with the minds of men, for sound doctrine is perfectly reconcilable therewith.
I recollect great complaint being made against a sermon of mine, "Compel them to come in," in which I spake with much tenderness for souls. That sermon was said to be Arminian and unsound. It is a small matter to me to be judged of men's judgment, for my Master set His seal on that message; I never preached a sermon by which so many souls were won to God, as our church meetings can testify; and all over the world, where the sermon has been scattered, sinners have been saved through its instrumentality, and, therefore, if it be vile to exhort sinners, I purpose to be viler still. I am as firm a believer in the doctrines of grace as any man living, and a true Calvinist after the order of John Calvin himself; but if it be thought an evil thing to bid the sinner lay hold on eternal life, I will be yet more evil in this respect, and herein imitate my Lord and His apostles, who, though they taught that salvation is of grace, and grace alone, feared not to speak to men as rational beings and responsible agents, and bid them "strive to enter in at the strait gate," and "labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life." Cling to the great truth of electing love and divine sovereignty, but let not these bind you in fetters when, in the power of the Holy Ghost, you become fishers of men.
Where words suffice not, as they frequently will not, you must adopt other modes of pressure. The angel took them by the hand. I have much faith under God in close dealings with men; personal entreaties, by the power of the Holy Spirit, do wonders. To grasp a man's hand while you speak with him may be wise and helpful, for sometimes, if you can get one by the hand and show your anxiety by pleading with him, God will bless it. It is well to cast your words, as men drop pebbles into a well, right down into the depth of the soul, quietly, solemnly, when the man is alone. Often is such a means effectual where the preacher with his sermon has laboured in vain. If you cannot win men by words, you must say to yourself, "What can I do?" and go to the Lord with the same enquiry. By the pertinacity of your earnestness you must trouble them into thoughtfulness. As by continual coming the woman wearied the unjust judge, so do you by your continual anxiety and perseverance weary them in their sins till they will fain give you a little heed in order, if possible, to be rid of you, if for nothing else. If you cannot reach them because they will not read the Bible, yet you can thrust a good book in their way, which may say to them what you cannot say; you can write them a letter, short but earnest, and tell them how you feel; you can continue in prayer for them; you can stir up the arm of God, and beseech the Most High to come to the rescue. There have been cases in which, when everything else has failed, a tear, a tear of disappointed love, has done the work. I think it was Mr. Knill who, one day, when distributing tracts amongst the soldiers, was met by a man who cursed him, and said to his fellow soldiers, "Make a ring round him, and I will stop his tract distributing once for all," and then he uttered such fearful oaths and curses that Knill, who could not escape, burst into a flood of tears. Years afterwards, when he was preaching in the streets, a grenadier came up, and said, "Mr. Knill, do you know me?" "No, I do not," said he, "I don't know that I ever saw you." "Do you recollect the soldier who said, 'Make a ring round him and stop his tract-distributing,' and do you recollect what you did?" "No, I do not." "Why, you broke into tears, and when I got home those tears melted my heart, for I saw you were so in earnest, that I felt ashamed of myself, and now I preach myself that same Jesus whom once I despised." Oh that you might have such a strong love for perishing sinners that you will put up with their rebuffs and rebukes, and say to them, "Strike me if you will, but hear me; ridicule me, but still I will plead with you; cast me under your feet as though I were the off-scouring of all things, but at any rate, I will not let you perish, if it be in my power to warn you of your danger."
We ought to remember that we are the messengers of God's mercy to the sons of men. "The Lord being merciful unto him." The angels had not come to Lot of themselves; they were the embodiment and outward display of God's mercy. Christians in the world should view themselves as manifestations of God's mercy to sinners, instruments of grace, servants of the Holy Spirit. Now mercy is a nimble attribute. Justice lingers; it is shod with lead, but the feet of mercy are winged. Mercy delights to perform its office. So should it be with us a delight to do good to men. God can save men without instruments, but He very seldom does it. His usual rule is to work by means. Oh that the mercy of God would work mightily by us! Let us remember, as we mingle with society, that God has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. If angels were sent upon this ministry, surely they would be incessantly active; they would fly with all their might from place to place to do the Lord's will; shall we who are honoured in this be less active than they? As much as lieth in us, let us redeem the time, because the days are evil; let us be instant in season and out of season, let us sow beside all waters, and let it be our earnest endeavour to make full proof of our service, whatever that service may be, that at last it may be said, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things."
—Words of Counsel for Christian Workers