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The Message And The Man by J. Dodd Jackson

CHAPTER II. Things to be Realized.

It is absolutely essential to the successful preaching of the Gospel that the preacher should realise the greatness and dignity of his position; and having once come into this realisation, it is also essential to continuance in well-doing that he abide in it. In himself he may have little in which to glory, but in his calling he has much indeed.

For what is the Christian preacher? He is the very messenger of Jesus Christ to men. He belongs to an order founded and recruited by the Master Himself. First He sent out |the seventy,| who probably soon returned; afterwards He sent forth |the twelve,| armed with a permanent commission. When, in the ranks of this early band, a vacancy arose through the unfaithfulness of one of its members, He made choice of another. From the opened skies He arrested Saul in his journey to Damascus that he might be a chosen vessel to bear the truth to the Gentiles. From that day to this He has been calling and sending, not less really, a succession of men every one of whom might with Paul have called himself an ambassador of the King of Kings. Of course there were preachers before the apostles and there was preaching before Pentecost. The prophets were preachers, and mighty was their proclamation of the divine message -- so mighty that though addressed primarily to their contemporaries it lives and burns to-day. Later, in the period lying between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New, there were notable preachers in Israel who kept alive the Messianic hope and sought to |prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight.| There was preaching in the synagogues in our Lord's own day, and He but observed an established custom when, |entering into the synagogue| at Nazareth, as was His practice |on the Sabbath day,| |He stood up for to read,| and |there was brought unto Him the book of the Prophet Esaias.| He had a text that day, and He preached from it, and, if the end of His discourse was that He was thrust out of the synagogue and was like to have been put to death, it was because of the unwelcomeness of the word He spoke, and not because He had introduced a new order of service into the sanctuary of an intensely conservative people. He preached in the synagogues of Capernaum, too, |and they were astonished at His doctrine, for the word was with power.| John the Baptist was a preacher who was more than a prophet, and to his preaching doubtless the Lord Himself listened more than once. |And John began to say unto men everywhere repent.| Such seems to have been the burden of his message until that hour when he suddenly found his sweetest music and cried |Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.| Yes, there were preachers before Christ, and long previous to His coming |it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching| to save them that believed. Jesus, however, gave to the order of the preacher a new institution. He put upon the lips of His servants a new message. They were to go, no longer to the children of one favoured nation only, but |out into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.| From all classes did He gather the men upon whom He put this glorious burden. Here was a fisherman fresh from his toil upon the deep; here a publican newly come up from the receipt of custom; here a husbandman from distant farm or vineyard, and each was commanded to go |in My name.| Each was the representative, the ambassador of the King. Each was promised His help; each the baptism through which memory was to be quickened to recall the words He had spoken -- the baptism which was to explain sentences which, at the moment of their utterance, were full of perplexing and affrighting mystery to such as heard. Almost His very last words on earth concerned their mission. Then came Pentecost, the gift of power, the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the waiting company in the Upper Room. Signs and wonders filled the hour. The word was with assurance and ran like fire among dry stubble. The multitude was pricked to the heart. Soon followed the Herodian persecution, and the preaching band was scattered abroad. As a result |they went everywhere preaching the word.| So the voice of the preacher proclaiming the new faith was heard throughout the countries of Asia Minor and in learned Greece and warlike Rome, on Mars Hill where walked and taught the philosophers in the presence of the admiring and novelty-seeking sons of Athens, in the palace of the Caesars whence ran the currents filling the arteries of the world. Westward, Eastward, all over the known earth they went, and still they preached, until, in years that seem very few, when we think of all that had to be done to make true the boast, it was said |the Christians are everywhere.|

And no preacher has ever risen to any true sublimity of service and success who has not connected his own place, and his own work, with the events of this great history. He is of the same company as were Peter, Paul, John, James, Apollos. The spiritual dignity conferred upon him, the responsibility laid upon his shoulders, are of the same kind as were theirs. We stand for a doctrine of Apostolic Succession, but it is not a succession dependent upon a ceremonial ordination dispensed by a privileged and ghostly class. It is a succession of gifts, of graces, of commission, of power, of victory. The true preacher is God's messenger. Does he stand before thousands -- a man of learning, of eloquence, of far flung fame? His highest glory is not in any one of these things, but in the fact that his commission is divine. Does he plod -- a poor |local brother| from mine or loom or plough or forge -- along dark lanes and over wild moorlands, in order that in some distant and lowly village sanctuary he may speak to a few simple souls of heavenly things? Let him not be depressed by the toil of the journey; let him not be disheartened by the smallness of the audience. Rather let him lift up his head in humble pride that he is counted worthy to make this errand, to utter this testimony, for in the King's stead he goes, and in the King's name he speaks!

A great, good thing would it be if only the divinity of their calling could be brought home to all who minister among us -- brought home, we mean, as a constantly realised truth, warming always and inspiring the hearts of our preachers and giving confidence and authority to their word. The oft-quoted prayer, |Lord, give us a good conceit of ourselves,| might well be offered with some small change of terms. We do need a |good conceit| of our office. From such a conceit so many great thoughts would flow, such a sense of the importance of our task! We should hear less complaint concerning |poor appointments|; we should hear less criticism of the sermons of humble but sincere men, if preacher and people alike remembered that this commission was given on the steps of the throne. Let the preacher think small things of the preaching office and small service will be the inevitable result, small sermons, small faithfulness, small harvests when the reaping time shall come. Let the preacher live in the great facts of his history! Let him realise -- he cannot magnify -- his office! This is the word we would speak into every preacher's ear throughout our Church. There would be little murmuring concerning poor sermons and forgotten appointments if only this fact could win home. We are persuaded that the cause of much of the poor and careless preaching, the preaching that is perfunctory and cold and lifeless, lies in this: -- That here and there are preachers who have never realised the glory of their delegation.

Another realisation into which the preacher must come before his preaching can reach its highest possibilities, both as to quality and results; and in which he must abide if his ministry has to remain upon the heights, is that of the supreme distinction of the message he has to proclaim. It is a divine message which has been divinely entrusted to him for conveyance to his fellow-men. In regard to this, too, he must occupy and speak from high ground. He is not merely one among the world's many teachers, not simply one among the many speculators who come with theories first ingeniously spun by the spindles of imagination, then woven in the looms of logic. He brings not a theory but a revelation. He is not |one of the philosophers| classified and catalogued with the rest. He is a messenger. Behind him is One who sent him; and the message is not a philosophy but a |way.| It is neither a guess, nor a speculation, nor a deduction; it is God's word to men!

Now it may seem a needless thing to insist with such emphasis upon this view of the substance of true Christian preaching, a view that we hear and repeat almost every day; but it is not so needless a thing as may appear. Is it not true that some preachers condescend too much from the word given unto them? Is it not a fact that some of us fail from very wont and use to live in the thought that our message is as far above every message as the Name it reveals is |above every name|? Has the preacher never been guilty of turning aside from this theme of his to what the Apostle called |cunningly devised fables|? It seemed to him that the old story had become so well worn that, for the sake of a little novelty, which might, perhaps, attract the people who stayed away, he might turn into some subject less hackneyed than the staple stock of pulpit addresses. The reason was a very plausible one, and the preacher altogether sincere. The people did come to hear him, too, as they had not come concerning the other matters he had been used to expound. There was a little mild sensation, and sensation is an agreeable variant of the dulness of grey and monotonous years. Most folks were pleased, it seemed -- indeed all were pleased who were of |any real account.| Many people even waxed complimentary and the preacher had hard work to keep his humility in flower. The only people who complained were those survivals of far past ages whose antediluvian notions accord so ill with the progressive spirit of our times. Of course they grumbled a little; said the preacher gave them less than the best, that he went to the newspapers for his subjects and to -- Heaven-only-knew-where for the treatment of the |topics| so selected. They complained, too, that the only advantage of leaving the old wells was that the effervescence of the new beverage drew larger congregations of a sort to whom effervescence is everything and they even made the amazing statement that the great purpose of preaching was not, after all, to draw great congregations which might be accomplished in association with failure as well as in association with success, but to change the hearts and lives of men and nations. They were actually so unkind as to remark that of this latter kind of work there could be little done excepting as a result of faithfulness to |the old Gospel| -- a term getting, nowadays, rather out of date. They said this, and they claimed to prove the statement by figures they unkindly produced. The thing for the preacher to do, they contended, was the work he was sent to do. The greatest subjects possible to him were the subjects given unto him. Christ's word, they held, was infinitely better worth repetition and interpretation than any other |word| the world had ever heard. Who shall say these critics were wrong? The preacher falls below the splendour of his high calling when he turns from the thoughts of God to the dreams of men.

Of this mistake, however, there need be little fear if in his own soul the preacher dwell upon the glory of his |treasure,| the preciousness of the seed he has to sow. |Thus saith the Lord.| With these words he will refresh his faith and courage what time he challenges the attention and demands the reverence of men. |God hath spoken, once have I heard this; nay twice,| so he sings to his spirit as he enters into controversy with those to whom he is sent. |Come, let us reason together, saith the Lord,| thus may he invite rebellious men into confidence concerning all those things that matter to the soul. To him, even him, God hath revealed Himself. Through the written word has He spoken directly to his heart and mind. To his prayerful inquiry and diligent searching has He made known His will, his mind being chosen as the organ of a revelation, honouring his devout spirit and earnest striving to know the truth. Through the varying phases of the experience of this messenger of His He has shown him the deep things of God and disclosed new applications of truths already known. God reveals Himself to men to-day. Let us at least allow ourselves the joy of believing that He has no favourites; that London or New York is as dear to Him as Jerusalem; that He will, and does speak as certainly through the prophets of our times as through those of any far-off century in the history of the race. Of this high doctrine every new sermon ought to bring fresh proof to the preacher's own soul as well as to the people who hear the latest word from heaven through the spokesman of the skies. So the wonder grows! -- An ambassador of the King, speaking the King's own word, spoken to me by the King Himself, my heart burning within me the while He talked with me by the way, my own soul growing strong in the incoming strength of living truth warm from the lips of God! Stand we here -- each for himself? Indeed we must do so; for unless we do, abiding in this consciousness as to our calling and our work, we shall lack full furnishing for toil and accomplishment, for noble battle, for glorious victory!

And if it comes to pass that sometimes the preacher fails to realise the greatness of his position and the true distinction of his message, and that his preaching suffers loss of effectiveness as a result of such failure, it also comes to pass, not infrequently, that he fails to realise, as he should, the great purpose his efforts are meant to serve. This failure also must hinder his preaching of the success it should command. Behind the labours of the humblest of the preaching army lies the purpose which lay back of all God's dealing with the race, which moved Him to give His only begotten Son; the purpose for which He who was rich and for our sakes became poor, came to earth and |was found in fashion as a man.| The purpose behind the preaching of the preacher is one with the purpose behind the cross; it is, in short, that purpose of infinite love which contemplates and designs the salvation of the race. |The Son of Man is come into the world to seek and to save that which was lost.| |That which was lost!| The meaning of this word is surely not exhausted in the application of the text to individual wanderers however great their number. The whole world |was lost,| and to seek and to save the world, |from the rivers to the ends of the earth,| He came -- to bring back all humanity to faith, obedience, love, purity, happiness and glory.

For the attainment of the highest possibilities wrapped up in himself and his work the preacher must be possessed by this imperial design. He must feel that he is fighting in a campaign for world conquest -- for that and no smaller end. We hear, in these days, a good deal about imperialism in politics. We are encouraged to teach this imperialism to our children, and the argument advanced in support of the advice is that the learning of the lesson will have influence on the way in which the scholar will perform the humblest tasks awaiting him in life. The Imperialist, it is said, will find himself saved by his imperialism from sordid views and actions, from all temptation to make small personal ends the measure of his service as the days go by. Experience, alas! has hardly justified the prophecy. We have seen the well instructed and professed Imperialist display much the same infirmities and proclivities as other men. We have heard of him speaking of the British flag, that most sacred symbol of his faith and hope, which it is his high mission to plant on every shore, as an |asset|; and we have found that questions relating to dividends were not altogether alien to his proud determination to |fling the red line further yet.| But there is an imperialism in religion which has a happier history. That man possesses it who thinks of every blow struck for God as a blow struck in an age-long and world-wide warfare. This imperialism does redeem the days, and has a royal and quickening effect upon the labours of all who are in bondage to its spell. Such an imperialist is no longer the servant of this denomination or that, a mere agent hunting recruits for his own little connexional |interest.| He may seek to attach men to his Church, but only because that Church is part of the great confederacy of states-divine. He goes to his appointment in yonder tiny hamlet, where but few are assembling to hear him, as went out Alexander to subdue the nations to his will. It is often said, and it is a saying too often received with small approval, that the Church which does most for the support and advocacy of missions to the heathen invariably does most for the spread of the Gospel within its own district as well. The saying, we repeat, is not always received with enthusiastic approval, but it is true nevertheless, and it is capable of easy explanation. This superior devotion to the spreading of the Gospel at home follows as a direct result of a realisation of that Gospel's all-embracing, all-conquering purpose. That purpose must be realised by the Church if she would get unto herself the victory. With no meaner proposals must she go into battle, or else the chariot wheels will run heavily and the young men will faint and be weary. What is true for the Church is, if possible, still more true for the preacher, for the tasks of leadership and inspiration are in his hands. He must hold firmly to the ideal of a new world wherein dwelleth righteousness. To labour for this, and no meaner dream, must be his constant and unfailing resolve.

And how are we to keep this sublime purpose of God ever in recollection, making it our own? Ah! here is a question! We have all heard and assented to this grand design of infinite love. We all believe that |through the ages one increasing purpose runs.| But to believe in the sense that we do not disbelieve, is one thing, and profoundly and constantly and vitally to realise a truth is another. It is so easy to forget a belief when everything around us seems to contradict the possibility of its fulfilment. The labour of the preacher is often very hard; often, in its immediate results, extremely disappointing. The present and immediate care, the difficulty to be faced here and now, so much concern and so much, at times, depress us. So much effort must be put forth even to keep living, so much patience even to hold up under the burden, that it is little wonder if, at times, we forget that our strenuous struggle is in fulfilment of a great plan to eventuate in the accomplishment of an eternal purpose. If we do hold the thought it is too often only in a theoretic way. It does not dominate us as it should, and as it would if once it seized us by the heart. Perhaps, more than in the case of most things to be realised, it requires great grace to make the soul able to grasp it. Perhaps, again, the purpose of God seems to ask more from us than we care to give, and the fear of the sacrifice required blinds us to the glory of that purpose. As long as the preacher's programme is parochial or merely patriotic his preaching will lack the clarion note. Small conceptions of the will of God make mean service. God's intention is to reign on earth as He reigns in Heaven. Let us live in this assurance if we would help His kingdom in.

But there is still more to be realised before the preacher has grasped all the golden truth with which God would fortify and cheer him for the task he is sent out to perform. Did we say that he must come into a consciousness of the true dignity of his office? Did we point out his need to discern the true glory of his message, which is that it alone is the message that is indeed from the heart of God? Did we emphasise the preacher's need of a clear view of the infinite, loving purpose behind the work he is sent to carry through? To all this he must add a clear and constant vision of the victory to come. In that vision he must live as though the music of the triumph were already falling upon his ear. There is no room in the pulpit for pessimists or pessimism. The man who thinks that the world is growing worse, and will grow worse, and still worse, moving down the slopes of inevitable perdition until the final catastrophe shall burst upon it -- that man has no right to pose as a preacher of the gospel of glad tidings to men. Not so did His Master look forward to the days to come when |for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame.| Such a vision was not in His eyes when He said, |And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.| Failure! That is a possibility the preacher must not admit, even in secret to himself, if he would not find his strength stolen and grey hairs upon him here and there!

And in the spirit of victory he not only must, but may live. There have been darker ages than this in which the preachers have alone held up the lamp of hope. Times of apparent unfruitfulness do come, times of drought do fall upon us, but they pass, for silently, secretly God works on and on. Let us believe in Him. His are the yet uncounted years. He prepareth His ways in the darkness, |and He will bring it to pass.| In that faith alone is great, true and mighty preaching possible.

Thus, with somewhat of the seer,
Must the moral pioneer,
From the future borrow;
Clothe the waste with dreams of grain,
And on midnight's sky of rain
Paint the golden morrow.

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