The key note of all our work for God should be FAITH. In all my life I have never seen men or women disappointed in receiving answers to their prayers, if those persons were full of faith, and had good grounds for their faith. Of course we must have a warrant in Scripture for what we expect. I am sure we have a good warrant in coming together to pray for a blessing on our friends and on our neighbors.
Unbelief is as much an enemy to the Christian as it is to the unconverted. It will keep back the blessing now as much as it did in the days of Christ. We read that in one place Christ could not do many mighty works because of their unbelief. If Christ could not do this, how can we expect to accomplish anything if the people of God are unbelieving? I contend that God's children are alone able to hinder God's work. Infidels, atheists, and sceptics cannot do it. Where there is union, strong faith, and expectation among Christians, a mighty work is always done.
In Hebrews we read that without faith it is impossible to please God. |For he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.| That is addressed to us who are Christians as much as to those who are seeking God for the first time. We are all of us seeking a blessing on our friends. We want God to revive us, and also that the outlying masses may be reached. We read in this passage that God blesses those who |diligently seek Him.| Let us diligently seek Him to-day; let us have great faith; and let our expectation be from God.
I remember when I was a boy, in the spring of the year, when the snow had melted away on the New England hills where I lived, I used to take a certain kind of glass and hold it up to the warm rays of the sun. These would strike on it, and I would set the woods on fire. Faith is the glass that brings the fire of God out of heaven. It was faith that drew the fire down on Carmel and burned up Elijah's offering. We have the same God to-day, and the same faith. Some people seem to think that faith is getting old, and that the Bible is wearing out. But the Lord will revive his work now; and we shall be able to set the world on fire if each believer has a strong and simple faith.
In the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews the writer brings up one worthy after another, and each of them was a man or a woman of faith; they made the world better by living in it. Listen to this description of what was accomplished by these men and women of faith: |Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again; and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy): they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.|
Surely no child of God can read these words without being stirred. It is said that |women received their dead raised to life again.| Many of you have children who have gone far astray, and have been taken captive by strong drink, or led away by their lusts and passions; and you have become greatly discouraged about them. But if you have faith in God they may be raised up as from the dead, and brought back again. The wanderers may be reclaimed; the drunkards and the harlots may be reached and saved. There is no man or woman, however low he or she may have sunk, but can be reached.
We ought in these days to have far more faith than Abel, or Enoch, or Abraham had. They lived away on the other side of the Cross. We talk about the faith of Elijah, and the Patriarchs and Prophets; but they lived in the dim light of the past, while we are in the full blaze of Calvary, and the Resurrection. When we look back and think of what Christ did, how He poured out His blood that men might be saved, we ought to go forth in His strength and conquer the world. Our God is able to do great and mighty things.
You remember that the Roman Centurion sent for Christ to heal his servant; when the Savior drew near, the Centurion sent to Him to say that He need not take the trouble to come into his house; all that was needed was that He should speak the word and his servant would live. Probably he thought that if Christ had the power to create worlds, to say |Let there be light,| and there was light, to make the sea and the earth bring forth abundantly, He could easily say the word and raise up his sick servant. We are told that when Christ received the Roman soldier's message He marvelled at his faith. Dear friends, let us have faith at this moment that God will do great things in our midst.
Caleb and Joshua were men of faith. They were worth more to Israel than all the camp of unbelievers and the other ten spies put together. We read that Moses sent out twelve men to spy out the land. Let me say that faith never sends out any spies. You may perhaps reply that Moses was commanded by God to send them out; but we read that it was because of the hardness of their hearts. If they had believed in God, they would have taken possession of the land at Kadesh Barnea. I suppose these twelve men were chosen because they were leading men and influential men in the twelve tribes.
After they had been gone some thirty days they came back with what we might call a minority and a majority report. All the twelve admitted that the land was a good land, but the ten said, |We are not able to take it. We saw giants there -- the sons of Anak.| You can see these ten spies in camp the night they returned; great crowds are gathered around them listening to their reports. Probably there were very few gathered to hear Caleb and Joshua. It really seems sometimes that people are much more ready to believe a lie than to believe the truth. So these unbelieving men gathered around the ten spies. One of them is describing the giants in the land, and he says: |Why, I had to look right up in order to see their faces; they made the earth tremble at their tread. The mountains and valleys are full of them. Then we saw great walled cities. We are not able to take the land.|
But Caleb and Joshua had quite a different story to tell. Those mighty giants seemed to be as grasshoppers in their sight. These men of faith remembered how God had delivered them out of the hand of Pharaoh and brought them through the Red Sea; how He had given them bread from heaven to eat, and water to drink from the rock in the wilderness. If He marched with them surely they could go right up and take possession of the land. So they said: |Let us go up at once and possess it; we are well able to take it.|
What do we see in the Church of God to-day? About ten out of every twelve professed Christians are looking at the giants, at the walls, and at the difficulties in the way. They say: |We are not able to accomplish this work. We might do it if there were not so many drinking saloons, and so much drunkenness, and so many atheists and opposers.| Let us not give head to these unbelieving professors. If we have faith in God we are well able to go up and possess the land for Christ. God always delights to honor faith.
It may be some sainted weak woman, some bed-ridden one who is not able to attend the meetings, who will bring down the blessing. In the day when every man's work is tested, it may be seen that some hidden one who honored God by a simple faith was the one who caused such a blessing to descend upon our cities as shall shake the land from end to end.
Again, in these Bible histories we find that faith is always followed by COURAGE. Caleb and Joshua were full of courage, because they were men of faith. Those who have been greatly used of God in all ages have been men of courage. If we are full of faith we shall not be full of fear, distrusting God all the while. That is the trouble with the Church of Christ to-day -- there are so many who are fearful, because they do not believe that God is going to use them. What we need is to have the courage that will compel us to move forward. Perhaps if we do this we may have to go against the advice of lukewarm Christians. There are some who never seem to do anything but object, because the work is not always carried on exactly according to their ideas. They will say: |I do not think that is the best way to do things.| They are very fruitful in raising objections to any plans that can be suggested. If any onward step is taken they are ready to throw cold water on it; they will suggest all kinds of difficulties. We want to have such faith and courage as shall enable us to move forward without waiting for these timid unbelievers.
In the second book of Chronicles we read that King Asa had to go right against his father and mother; it took a good deal of courage to do that. He removed his mother from being queen, and cut down the idols and burnt them. There are times when we have to go against those who ought to be our best friends. Is it not time for us to launch out into the deep? I have never seen people go out into the lanes and alleys, into the hedges and highways, and try to bring the people in, but the Lord gave His blessing. If a man has the courage to go right to his neighbor and speak to him about his soul, God is sure to smile upon the effort. The person who is spoken to may wake up cross, but that is not always a bad sign. He may write a letter next day and apologize. At any rate it is better to wake him up in this way than that he should continue to slumber on to death and ruin.
You notice when God was about to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Midianites, how he taught this lesson to Gideon. Gideon had gathered around him an army of thirty-two thousand men. He may probably have counted them, and when he knew that the Midianites had an army of a hundred and thirty-five thousand he said to himself: |My army is too small; I am afraid I shall not succeed.| But the Lord's thoughts were different. He said to Gideon: |You have too many men.| So He told him that all those among the thirty-two thousand who were fearful and afraid might go back to their own homes, to their wives and their mothers; let them step to the rear. No sooner had Gideon given this command than twenty-two thousand men wheeled out of line. It may be Gideon thought the Lord had made a mistake as he saw his army melt away. If two-thirds of a great audience were to rise and go out you would think they were all going.
The Lord said: |Gideon, you have too many men yet. Take your men down to the brook and try them once more. All those who take the water up in their hands and drink as they pass by can stay; those who stoop down to drink can go back.| Again he gave the word, and nine thousand seven hundred wheeled out of line and went to the rear, so that Gideon was left with three hundred men. But this handful of men whose hearts beat true to the God of heaven, and who were ready to go forward in His name, were worth more than all the others who were all the time sowing seeds of discontent and predicting defeat. Nothing will discourage an army like that. Nothing is more discouraging in a Church than to have a number of the people all the time expecting disaster and saying: |We do not think this effort will amount to anything; it is not according to our ideas.|
It would be a good thing for the Church of God if all the fearful and faithless ones were to step to the rear, and let those who are full of faith and courage take their empty pitchers and go forward against the enemy. This little band of three hundred men who were left with Gideon routed the Midianites; but it was not their own might that gave them the victory. It was |the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.| If we go on in the Name of the Lord, and trusting to His might, we shall succeed.
Before Moses went up to heaven he did all he could to encourage Joshua, to strengthen and cheer him. There was no sign of jealousy in the heart of Moses, although he was not permitted to go into the land. He went up to the top of Pisgah and saw that it was a good land; and he tried to encourage Joshua to go forward and take possession of it. After Moses had gone, we read that three times in one chapter God said to Joshua: |Be of good courage.| God cheered his servant; |There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life.| Soon after that Joshua took a walk around the walls of Jericho. As he walked around he saw a man stand before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua was not afraid, but he said: |Art thou for us or for our adversaries?| His courage was rewarded, for the man replied: |As Captain of the host of the Lord am I now come.| He had been sent to encourage him and to lead him on to victory.
So you will find all through the Scriptures that God uses those who have courage, and not those who are looking for defeat.
Another thought: I never knew a case where God used a discouraged man or woman to accomplish any great thing for Him. Let a minister go into the pulpit in a discouraged frame of mind and it becomes contagious. It will soon reach the pews, and the whole church will become discouraged. So with a Sabbath-school teacher; I never knew a worker of any kind who was full of discouragement and who met with success in the Lord's work. It seems as if God cannot make any use of such a man.
I remember a man telling me he preached for a number of years without any result. He used to say to his wife as they went to church that he knew the people would not believe anything he said; and there was no blessing. At last he saw his error; he asked God to help him, and took courage, and then the blessing came. |According to your faith it shall be unto you.| This man had expected nothing and he got just what he expected. Dear friends, let us expect that God is going to use us. Let us have courage and go forward, looking to God to do great things.
Elijah on Mount Carmel was one man; Elijah under the juniper tree was quite another man. In the one case he was a giant, and nothing could stand before him. When he lost heart and got terrified at Jezebel's message, and wished himself dead, God could not use him. The Lord had to go to him and say: |What doest thou here, Elijah?| I wish God would speak to many professing Christians who have their harps on the willows, and are out of communion with Him, so that they are of no use in His cause.
When Peter denied his Master he was a very different man from what he was on the day of Pentecost. He got out of communion with his Lord, and the word of a servant nearly frightened him out of his life. He denied his Master with oaths and cursing. How terribly a man falls when he loses faith and courage.
But he was restored; look at him on the day of Pentecost. If that maid whose question made him tremble had been present, and heard him preach the marvellous sermon recorded in the Acts, I can imagine she would be the most amazed person in all Jerusalem, |Why,| she says, |I saw him a few days ago, and he was terribly alarmed at being called a disciple of Christ; now he stands up boldly for this same Christ; he has no shame now.| God used him mightily on the day of Pentecost, as he preached to that vast congregation, some of whom were the very murderers of his Lord and Master. But he could not use Peter till he had repented of his cowardice and had been restored to faith and courage. So when any man who is working for Christ loses heart and gets discouraged, the Lord has to lay him aside.
I remember a number of years ago I got cast down for a good many weeks. One Sunday in particular I had preached and there did not seem to be any result. On the Monday I was very much cast down. I was sitting in my study and was looking at myself, brooding over my want of success. A young man called upon me, who had a Bible class of 100 adults in the Sabbath-school which I conducted. As he came in I could see he was away upon the mountain top, while I was down in the valley. Said he to me, |What kind of a day did you have yesterday?| |Very poor; I had no success, and I feel quite cast down. How did you get on?| |Oh, grandly; I never had a better day.| |What was your subject?| |I had the life and character of Noah. Did you ever preach on Noah? Did you ever study up his life?| |Well, no; I do not know as ever I made it a special study.| I thought I knew pretty well all there was about him in the Bible; you know all that is told us about him is contained in a few verses. |If you never studied it before, you had better do it now. It will do you good. Noah was a wonderful character.|
When the young man went out I got my Bible and some other books, and read all I could find about Noah, I had not been reading long before the thought came stealing over me: Here was a man who toiled on for a hundred and twenty years and never had a single convert outside of his own family. Yet he did not get discouraged. I closed up my Bible; the cloud had gone; I started out and went to the noon prayer-meeting. I had not been there long when a man got up and said he had come from a little town in Illinois. On the day before he had admitted a hundred young converts to Church membership. As he was speaking I said to myself: |I wonder what Noah would have given if he could have heard that. He never had any such result as that to his labors.|
Then in a little while a man who sat right behind me stood up. His hand was on the seat, and I felt it shake; I could realise that the man was trembling. He said: |I wish you would pray for me; I would like to become a Christian.| Thought I to myself: |wonder what Noah would have given if he had heard that. He never heard a single soul asking God for mercy, yet he did not get discouraged.| I have never hung my harp on the willows since that day. Let us ask God to take away the clouds of fear and unbelief; let us get out of Doubting Castle; let us move forward courageously in the name of our God and expect to see results.
If you cannot engage in any active work yourselves you can do a good deal by cheering on others. Some people not only do nothing, but they are all the time throwing discouragement on others, in every forward step they take. If you meet with them they seem to chill you through and through. I think I would as soon face the east wind in Edinburgh in the month of March, as come in contact with some of these so-called Christians. Perhaps they are speaking about some effort that has been made, and they say: |Well, yes, a good deal of work was done, but then many were not reached at all.| Such and such a thing ought to have been done in a different way, and I know not what. They are all the time looking at the dark side.
Let us not give heed to these gloomy and discouraging remarks. In the name of our great Commander let us march on to battle and to victory. There are some generals whose name alone is worth more than a whole army of ten thousand men. In our army in the Civil War there were some whose presence sent a cheer all along the line. As they passed on cheer upon cheer went up. The men knew who was going to lead them, and they were sure of having success. |The boys| liked to fight under such generals as that. Let us encourage ourselves in the Lord, and encourage each other; then we shall have good success.
We read in the book of First Chronicles that Joab cheered on those who were helping him in warfare. |Be of good courage, and let us behave ourselves valiantly for our people and for the cities of our God; and let the Lord do that which is good in His sight.| Let us go forward in this spirit, and the Lord will make us to triumph over our foes. If we cannot be in the battle ourselves let us not seek to discourage others. A Highland chief of the M'Gregor clan fell wounded at the battle of Sheriff-Muir. Seeing their leader fall, the clan wavered, and gave the foe an advantage. The old chieftain, perceiving this, raised himself on his elbow, while the blood streamed from his wounds, and cried out, |I am not dead, my children; I am looking at you to see you do your duty.| This roused them to new energy and almost superhuman effort. So, when our strength fails and our hearts sink within us, the Captain of our salvation cries: |Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world. I will never leave nor forsake thee. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.|
A friend of mine was telling me that a worker came to him very much cast down. Everything was going wrong, and he was greatly depressed. My friend turned upon him and said: |Do you have any doubt about the final result of things? Is Jesus Christ going to set up His Kingdom, and reign from the rivers to the ends of the earth? Is He going to succeed or not?| The man said that of course Christ was going to triumph; he had never thought of it in that light. If people would sometimes take a look into the future and remember the promises, they would not be cast down. Dear friends, Christ is going to reign. Let us go out and do the work He has given us to do. If it happens to be dark round about us, let us remember it is light somewhere else. If we are not succeeding just as we would like, others, it may be, are succeeding better.
Think of the opportunities we have, compared with the early Christians. Look at the mighty obstacles they had to encounter -- how they had often to seal their testimony with their blood. See what Peter had to fight against on the day of Pentecost, when the people looked on him with scorn. The disciples in those days had no committee to put up large buildings for their use, in which they could preach. They had no band of ministers sitting near by, to pray for them, and help them and cheer them on. Yet look at the wonderful results of Peter's preaching on the day of Pentecost.
Look at the dense darkness that surrounded Martin Luther in Germany. Look at the difficulties that John Knox had to meet with in Scotland. Yet these men did a mighty and a lasting work for God in their day and generation; we are reaping the blessed fruits of their faithful labors even now. Look at the darkness that brooded over England in the days of Wesley and Whitefield. See how God blessed their efforts; and yet they had a great many obstacles to contend with that we do not have in these days. They went forward with strong and courageous hearts, and the Lord gave them success.
I believe if our forefathers who lived in the last century could come back to this world in the flesh, they would be amazed to see the wonderful opportunities that we have. We have a great many advantages they did not possess, and probably did not dream of. We live in a grand and glorious day. It took John Wesley months to cross the Atlantic; now we can do it a few days. Think of the power of the printing press in these days; we can print and scatter sermons to all the corners of the earth. Look at the marvellous facilities that we have in the electric telegraph, Then we can take the railway train and go and preach at a distance of hundreds of miles in a few hours. Am I not right in saying that we live in a glorious day? Let us not be discouraged, but let us use all these wonderful opportunities, and honor God by expecting great things. If we do we will not be disappointed. God is ready and willing to work, if we are ready and willing to let Him, and to be used by Him.
It may be that some are old and feeble, and are saying to themselves: |I wish I were young again; I would like to go out into the thick of the battle.| But any one, young or old, can go into the homes of the people and invite them to come out to the meetings. There are large halls everywhere with plenty of room; there are many who will help sing the Gospel. The Gospel will also be preached, and there are many people who might be induced to come, who will not go out to the regular places of worship.
If you are not able to go and invite the people, as I have said, you can give a word of cheer to others, and wish them Godspeed. Many a time when I have come down from the pulpit, some old man, trembling on the very verge of another world, living perhaps on borrowed time, has caught hold of my hand, and in a quavering voice said, |God bless you!| How the words have cheered and helped me. Many of you can speak a word of encouragement to the younger friends, if you are too feeble to work yourselves.
Then again, you can pray that God will bless the words that are spoken and the efforts that are made. It is very easy to preach when others are all the time praying for you and sympathizing with you, instead of criticising and finding fault.
You have heard the story, I suppose, of the child who was rescued from the fire that was raging in a house away up in the fourth story. The child came to the window, and as the flames were shooting up higher and higher it cried out for help. A fireman started up the ladder of the fire-escape to rescue the child from its dangerous position. The wind swept the flames near him, and it was getting so hot that he wavered, and it looked as if he would have to return without the child. Thousands looked on, and their hearts quaked at the thought of the child having to perish in the fire, as it must do if the fireman did not reach it. Some one in the crowd cried, |Give him a cheer!| Cheer after cheer went up, and as the man heard them he gathered fresh courage. Up he went into the midst of the smoke and the fire, and brought down the child in safety. If you cannot go and rescue the perishing yourselves, you can at least pray for those who do, and cheer them on. If you do, the Lord will bless the effort.
|They helped every one his neighbor; and every one said to his brother, 'Be of good courage.'|
We are living, we are dwelling
In a grand and awful time,
In an age on ages telling --
To be living is sublime.
Oh, let all the soul within you
For the truth's sake go abroad!
Strike! let every nerve and sinew
Tell on ages -- tell for God!