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The Message And The Man by J. Dodd Jackson

CHAPTER IV. The Note of Edification.

The preacher is appointed for the upbuilding of the Church and of the individual believer upon |the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone.| Upon this foundation, with almost infinite care, with untiring labour and solicitude and prayerfulness, has he to rear |a temple fitly framed together| of |gold, silver and precious stones;| upon this foundation he has to build the fabric of saintly character in men. Only that preacher is truly successful who, in the end, is able humbly to claim to have been in this sense a |wise master-builder;| who can point to the results of his labours in the beauty and strength of the churches in which he has toiled, in the saintliness of the men and women to whom he has spoken the re-creating, re-edifying word.

Now, in our day, it is, perhaps, specially needful that this part of the preacher's duty should be particularly emphasised. Of the Church it has to be said that she has fallen on somewhat evil times, for there is evidence of the growth of a tendency toward a Churchless Christianity. Many there are who take the view that union with the Church is of small importance to the development of Christian faith and character. There are more who regard such union as something which, while it may have certain advantages, is nevertheless entirely optional with the Christian believer. Again and again have we been told that Christianity consists of belief in Jesus Christ resulting in an attempt to imitate Him, and that, as this belief and this attempt can be achieved outside of any organised religious community, a man may be essentially a Christian without being a member of the Church. The reasons for this attitude are not far to seek. Among them are a selfishness which fears the sacrifice that membership of the Church might involve; a slothfulness anticipating with apprehension the possible demands for Christian service which the Fellowship might make, and a lack of real intensity and enthusiasm in conviction, which hesitates to make an out-and-out stand for Christ and truth.

From the same causes, in all ages, men have kept outside the organised flock of God and, therefore, such reasons as these need not greatly alarm us. But there is another objection to joining the Church which, alas! is often heard, which peculiarly concerns the preacher and ought to lead him to much careful inquiry. It is that objection which quotes against the Church her own condition. It is alleged that, nowadays, the faith of the Church is in a state of flux; that her enthusiasm has cooled to the point of chill; that her members are in such small degree better than the men and women outside their society that their company does not promise any moral and spiritual help to a man in search of saving and ennobling companionships. It is said, moreover, that the Church is so divided, sub-divided and sub-sub-divided that it is impossible to be sure as to where the true Church may be found. Finally, we are told that in all probability if Jesus Christ came to earth in the flesh, He would in these times be found outside the sanctuaries in which His name is supposed to be honoured.

Now, many of these assertions may surely be shown to be the result of misunderstanding, of delusion, even of prejudice, and so should not be taken too much to heart. They may serve, however, to remind us of two truths which ought to be often in mind. The first is that Christianity needs the Church; the second, that the Church needs Christianity. As to the former proposition: -- The Church is the Christian organism. It is principally through her agencies and activities that the purposes of Christianity are to be realised. This is true not only of those universal purposes which include the ideals of world-wide sovereignty, but, let men say what they will, it is true of those which relate to the realisation of Christ's will in the individual soul. It is not the fact that men find it as easy to live the Christian life outside the Church as within. This is sufficiently demonstrated by experience. Personal religion grows in the fellowship and the sacrifice, in the labours, the strength and inspiration consequent upon membership in a great and imperial family.

But the Church needs Christianity, and this, too, the preacher, for her sake, must deeply and constantly realise. The best antidote to the tendency toward a Churchless Christianity will be found, not in argument or command; certainly not in denunciations addressed to those who are outside the fold, but in the realisation by the Church herself of her glorious possibilities both as to character, labour and conquest. What is needed to save the Church from the opposing influences of our times is simply more of what she may have if she will. She needs a definite and not a nebulous belief. She needs a living and burning enthusiasm; a joy that will not be silent, and a hope that will not cower before the pessimism of the age. She needs such a piety as shall furnish a splendid contrast to the lives of all around her. In short, she must realise the ideals of her Founder, and every glorious prophecy shall be fulfilled. All the nations of the world shall flow into her. Kings shall come to the brightness of her rising. Men shall flock to her courts as doves to glowing windows from the cold and darkness of the wintry night.

So, for the sake of the world which cannot spare the Church, and for the sake of the Church which cannot dispense with what the preacher has to give, it is required that this duty of the Christian ministry be emphasised. Another reason must be stated that it may be underlined: -- Faith, piety and enthusiasm, labour, sacrifice and victory are vital to the inner health and joy of the Church herself. This, too, the preacher must remember. Solemn, indeed, is the obligation resting upon him, and solemnly have the great preachers of all ages taken this responsibility to heart. |The care of the churches!| -- how heavily it lay upon the shoulders of those early ambassadors whose confessions of fear concerning failure are written in the epistles. How it has driven to the Mercy Seat for help and guidance those whose work it has been in troublous times, to keep the flock of God committed to their custody! The feeding of the sheep in the wilderness, the care of the lambs, the strengthening of the weak, the endless, patient, prayerful striving needed in the pursuit of erring, foolish, falling ones, that all may be presented perfect in Christ Jesus -- what demands do these make upon the preacher's noblest powers! In the dressing and polishing, to change the figure, of each quarried stone that the result may be seen in a building after the similitude of a palace, flashing in the light of God -- here has lain the task in which many a glorious life has been gloriously spent; for even Jesus could not entrust to a man a grander or more onerous task than this!

And what manner of preaching is needed for the service of this saving and edifying end? It must surely be a preaching of the Church to the Church. It is to be questioned whether we have not largely failed to place before our people the New Testament doctrine of the Church. With such a failure may be associated another: -- To emphasise duly the importance of those sacraments which are the inheritance of the Church from age to age. Can we deny that there is among our members a tendency to view very lightly the privileges and obligations of their membership in what we call -- we have sometimes thought unhappily and with unfortunate effect -- our societies? Again, can it be denied that amongst us as a people the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper is undervalued? Faithfulness to the Church and to her sacraments run together. How many are there who have but the dimmest possible conception of what the Church is and of what membership in the Church really signifies and involves? There is much work to be done here -- spade work we might almost call it -- for the ground has hardly yet been broken amongst us. May we venture a suggestion that, among things inherited from an earlier day, the word |societies| as signifying churches should be dropped in favour of the nobler word, and that the preacher, in particular, should cease to use it in this relationship? Unless we are wrong in our reading of history this use of the term grew out of the view, long held by the founder of Methodism, that while the Anglican community was the Church, the assemblies collected by himself were merely groups of people meeting for mutual help in spiritual things. The time came, no doubt, when he would have been willing to allow to these assemblies, as to the great community of which they were the individual congregations, the title for which we plead; though he himself it must be remembered, remained a member of the Church of England until his death. Let the preacher take very high ground on this matter. This little band of lowly men and women meeting in their humble sanctuary by the wayside for intercourse on spiritual things, for the hearing of the word of life, for mutual encouragement in the celestial pilgrimage, for praise and prayer and breaking of bread; this little company |gathered together in My name,| Jesus being |in the midst;| this little circle upon which is shed abroad the Holy Ghost for the teaching, comforting, sanctifying and anointing of the heavenly Bride -- this little company, we say, is more than a |society.| Its members form a church, and theirs are the glory, the privileges, the obligations of that |upper room| of eternal memory. Let them be told this -- kept in remembrance of it -- led to delight in it -- encouraged to glory concerning it. Let it be laid down that it is not for this village fellowship to thank any man or woman, however exalted his or her social station, for condescending to membership therein, but that the honour of the association lies in being permitted an entrance into the fold, small as is the number of the flock and lowly as its members may be. We are confident that the scattered churches of our name need lifting into a realisation of their high dignity in Christ Jesus. Of all the subjects waiting for earnest study, and to which we as preachers, both ministers and laymen, need for the sake of present day necessities to turn our minds, none is more important than this. The Church can only retain, or rather, perhaps, we ought to have said -- can only enter into her power through self-realisation. Here is need for a systematic educational work, and, should it be left undone, we must not be astonished if our members wear the bonds of their union lightly, and easily find ways out of a fellowship whose true significance they have never understood. Another eventuality, too, must not astonish us: -- The Church of England does hold and preach a doctrine of the Church, preaches it diligently; preaches it, sometimes, with such limitations of application as we may well resent. The Roman Catholics do the same, and with limitations that are still more uncompromising. We of the Free Churches must not be astonished if, as a result of definite and positive teaching within other walls and a lack of such teaching within our own, the people drift away from us. To build up the Church we must preach the Church. She needs the sense of herself.

Important, however, as is the enunciation of the doctrine of the Church, the work of her edification will demand that the preacher have many other things to say. We have already referred to the presentation of a high idealism as essential to the completeness of the Christian message. It is indispensable to the adequate accomplishment of this duty that the preacher give himself to a systematic exposition of the Scriptures. May we even dare to say that it will be necessary for him to devote much of his strength to what has been termed doctrinal preaching? That these words will have a terrible sound in many ears we are aware. It is very unpopular, nowadays, to lay emphasis on the necessity for creed as well as for conduct -- for creed, indeed, for the sake of conduct. We will, nevertheless, make bold to remark that one of the great desiderata of the day is a revival of expository preaching, while another, equally great, is a renaissance of doctrinal preaching. There is not too much theology taught in the churches, but too little. We are told that the preacher's first business is to treat of what are called |living issues|; that he should, above all, exalt conduct and charity as the great concerns of the soul. It is contended that men need guidance on public questions and that the preacher, as the representative of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Church, should endeavour to meet that need. Of course there is truth in it all, but it is also true that men need, most of all, the knowledge of God, and that, whatever bewilderment may exist in relation to public questions and moral issues, there is bewilderment, even greater, as to |the faith once delivered to the saints.| There is no truly edifying preaching that is without theology. By such knowledge is the Church built up, and the preacher will teach it to his people in the form in which it can be assimilated. One thing he will surely not forget: -- That upon him rests a great responsibility, not only in regard to the Church of to-day, but also concerning the Church of to-morrow, as now gathered before him in the persons of the young people preparing for life and service. He ought, certainly, to provide strengthening food for them in view of responsibilities to come. It is a great charge, this of building up the body of Christ, and it is upon us all to ask ourselves to what extent we have endeavoured to discharge this obligation. We admit that the temptations to evade it are many. Doctrinal and expository preaching require so much thought, such careful preparation, such scrupulous exactness in expression. It is little wonder that, wearied by other activities, the preacher sometimes seeks for subjects which can be treated with greater ease and less expenditure of intellectual effort than those we have indicated.

And such wonder as we may have is further diminished when we recollect that the idea is very commonly held that the people do not want preaching of this type; that, even within the churches indeed, they prefer being pleased to being taught. Possibly this is not so true as has been assumed. Perhaps again, in that degree in which it is true, the lesson to be learned from the fact is not that such preaching should be withheld, but rather that an effort should be made to invest it with elements of interest and attractiveness which have possibly too often been lacking. On this point we will have something to say later on. Meanwhile we are open to maintain that people do not dislike exposition and theology as such. The late Doctor McLaren was an expository preacher, and his sermons were as charming as fairy tales, multitudes flocking, through a long course of years, to hear them. C. H. Spurgeon was a doctrinal preacher, and untold thousands hung entranced upon his lips. Each man built up a great congregation, in which the fruits of the spirit flourished in a perpetual harvest of virtues, works and sacrifice. To-day the greatest churches in London are, almost without exception, those whose members sit at the feet of great preachers who are also, according to their separate schools, great theologians and masters in the art of interpreting the Scriptures. We remember as we write a cold and depressing Sabbath evening last autumn when we turned into Westminster Chapel. Only a few years ago this great sanctuary was a wilderness in which might be realised the tragedy that is contained in the phrase |a down-town church.| At this moment it is the home of a mighty spiritual fellowship. On the night of our visit the immense temple was crowded from floor to ceiling. The congregation had obviously been drawn from all ranks and conditions of society. Professional men sat side by side with horny-handed sons of toil, fine ladies with servant girls, the old with the young. What new device of sensationalism had brought them together? What startling announcement had been flung out over the city to attract this mighty concourse? Absolutely none! The sermon was a closely reasoned doctrinal address, full of quotations from the Scriptures and of comparison of passage with passage. It was a sermon to tax attention. We mention this experience to show that doctrinal preaching need not mean empty sanctuaries, as is often asserted. Here was a great congregation and, better still, here was a living Church.

A further duty of the preacher, that the message may become approved in the building up of the Church, is that of impressing the demands of Jesus Christ upon those who bear His name. Preaching needs to be more exacting than it is. There are vast multitudes in the Church whose religious life -- if indeed they have such a life -- is absolutely parasitical. They render no service; they offer no sacrifice; their only confession of faith is a more or less intermittent attendance at the public sessions of worship. By such people, one has humourously said, the Church seems to be regarded as a Pullman car bound for glory. Their chief desires are that the train may run so slowly as to enable them to enjoy the scenery by the way; that the time-bill shall allow of frequent and lengthy stoppages on the journey, and especially that the conclusion of the trip shall be postponed to as late an hour as possible, as they labour under no extravagant anxiety to come to its end. Are we uncharitable in suspecting that the chief reason many of these people have for making some degree of preparation for Paradise is that they cannot remain on earth and that Heaven is, on the whole, to be preferred to the only other country available? Ah! the preacher has much of this kind of material on his hands and, notwithstanding its quality, the commission to build it up into strength and beauty still applies.

Clearly, in such cases, the duty of the edifying preacher is not to hide, but to emphasise the demands of Jesus Christ for active participation in some form of Christian service. |The harvest truly is plenteous but the labourers are few,| and altogether apart from the advantages to be gained by the Church from the bringing in of the sheaves, there is a benefit to be won by the reaper as he garners the grain, which is entirely beyond calculation. Our fathers made it their business in the case of every new convert to find him |something to do.| Sometimes the results were unfortunate, in that men were put to work they were not qualified to attempt; but the new employment kept many a man from falling, and often helped to make useful and polished instruments out of very unpromising material. Nearly a thousand years ago Peter the Hermit passed like a flame of fire across the provinces of Europe calling upon men to wrest the Holy places from the hands of the Saracen. In countless thousands they responded to his call, even little children arising and pressing eastward on the great emprise. Surely there is need enough for crusading to-day. Surely, too, there are multitudes who, for their own souls' sake, and for the sake of the Church, would be all the better for the health and vigour which a little crusading would bring. Upon us rests the obligation in Christ's name to call these hitherto unemployed and ineffective ones to the standard of the Cross.

And to this demand for service it is the preacher's duty to add, in view of the advantages to follow in the life and character, the faith and influence of the Church, an equally strong demand for sacrifice. It is no kindness of the pulpit to cut down the requirements of the Lord upon the time, the strength, the comfort and the substance of those who profess themselves His followers. He that would have life eternal |let him go and sell all that he hath and give to the poor.| |He that will be My disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.| |He that would save his life the same shall lose it.| In these figurative words lies one secret of spiritual growth and health.

So then it comes to this: -- That the edification of the Church and of the individual believer, so far as it forms part of the task of this, our messenger, is to be accomplished by the faithful preaching of such things as the Master has left on record for the learning of His followers, and by calling them to make proof of truth in the exercise of Christian activity, self-denial, sacrifice and self-culture. We believe, notwithstanding all that may be said to the contrary, that the Church and her children long to hear this message and that they will respond to it. Once more we admit that to the preacher, it may not be the easiest kind of preaching to attempt, for here he will soon be among the deep things of God, and he will have to ask for great endeavours and great surrenders. But the divine commission is in his hands, and has he not undertaken to speak what God shall teach him

|Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land|?

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