How light, life and love work together...Charles H. Spurgeon's practical advice for leaders in the Church
To that end, we must first get the light. Get light even of the commonest order, for all light is good. Education upon ordinary things is valuable, and I would stir up certain loitering brethren to make advances in that direction. Many among you entered the College with no education whatever; but when you left it, you had learned enough to have formed the resolution to study with all your might, and you have carried it out. I wish that all had done so. It is a great advantage to a minister to commence his public life in a small village, where he can have time and quiet for steady reading; that man is wise who avails himself of the golden opportunity. We ought not only to think of what we can now do for God, but of what we may yet be able to do if we improve ourselves. No man should ever dream that his education is complete:. I know that my friend Mr. Rogers, though he has passed his eightieth year, is still a student, and perhaps has more of the true student spirit about him now than ever: will any of the younger sort sit down in self-content? We shall continue to learn even in Heaven, and shall still be looking deeper and deeper into the abyss of Divine love: it were ill to talk of perfect knowledge here below. If a man says, "I am fully equipped for my work, and need learn no more; I have moved here after having been three years in the last place, and I have quite a stock of sermons, so that I am under no necessity to read any more;" I would say to him, "My dear friend, may the Lord give you some brains, for you talk like one who is deficient in that department." A brain is a very hungry thing indeed, and he who possesses it must constantly feed it by reading and thinking, or it will shrivel up or fall asleep. It is the child of the horseleech, and it crieth evermore, "Give, give." Do not starve it. If such mind-hunger never happens to you, I suspect that you have no mind of any consequence.
But, brethren, see to it that you have, in a sevenfold degree, light of a higher kind. You are to be, above all things, students of the Word of God; this, indeed, is a main point of your avocation. If we do not study Scripture, and those books that will help us to understand theology, we are but wasting time while we pursue other researches. We should judge him to be a foolish fellow who, while preparing to be a physician, spent all his time in studying astronomy. There is a connection of some kind between stars and human bones; but a man could not learn much of surgery from Arcturus or Orion. So, there is a connection between every science and religion, and I would advise you to obtain much general knowledge; but universal information will be a poor substitute for a special and prayerful study of the Scriptures, and of the doctrines contained in the revelation of God. We are to study men and our own hearts; we ought to sit as disciples in the schools of providence and experience. Some ministers grow fast because the great Teacher chastens them sorely, and the chastening is sanctified; but others learn nothing by their experience, they blunder out of one ditch into another, and learn nothing by their difficulties but the art of creating fresh ones. I suggest to you all the prayer of a Puritan who, during a debate, was observed to be absorbed in writing. His friends thought he was taking notes of his opponent's speech; but when they got hold of his paper, they found nothing but these words, "More light, Lord! More light, Lord!" Oh, for more light from the great Father of lights!
Let not this light be only that of knowledge, but seek for the light of joy and cheerfulness. There is power in a happy ministry. A lugubrious face, a mournful voice, a languor of manner,—none of these things commend us to our hearers; especially do they fail to attract the young. Certain strange minds find their happiness in misery, but they are not numerous. I once had a letter from a man, who told me that he came to the Tabernacle, but as soon as he entered, he felt that it could not be the house of God because there were so many present, and "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." When he looked at me, he felt sure that I was unsound in the faith, for I should not look so cheerful in the face, neither should I be so bulky in person, if I belonged to the tried people of God. Worst of all, when he looked round upon the congregation, and saw their happy countenances, he said to himself, "These people know nothing about the depravity of their hearts, or the inward struggles of believers." Then he informed me that he wended his way to a very small chapel, where he saw a minister, who looked as if he had been in the furnace; and though there were only eight persons present, they all looked so depressed that he felt quite at home. I suppose he sat down, and sang,—
"My willing soul would stay
In such a frame as this,
And sit and sing herself away
From everything like bliss."
I felt glad that the good man was enabled to enjoy a little comfortable misery with his brethren. I did not feel at all envious; nor do I think that such a ministry of misery will ever draw to itself a number that no man can number. The children of light prefer the joy of the Lord, for they find it to be their strength.
Get plenty of light, brethren, and when you have obtained it, give it out. Never fall into the notion that mere earnestness will suffice without knowledge, and that souls are to be saved simply by our being zealous. I fear that we are more deficient in heat than in light; but, at the same time, that kind of fire which has no light in it is of a very doubtful nature, and cometh not from above. Souls are saved by truth which enters the understanding, and so reaches the conscience. How can the gospel save when it is not understood? The preacher may preach with a great deal of stamping, and hammering, and crying, and entreating; but the Lord is not in the wind, nor in the fire;—the still small voice of truth is needed to enter the understanding, and thereby reach the heart. People must be taught. We must "go, and teach all nations," making disciples of them; and I know of no way in which you can save men without teaching on your part, and discipleship on theirs.
Some preachers, though they know a great deal, do not teach much, because they use such an involved style. Recollect that you are addressing people who need to be taught like children; for, though they are grown up, the major part of our hearers are still in a state of childhood as to the things of God; and if they are to receive the truth, it must be made very plain, and packed up so as to be easily carried away, and laid up in the memory. Therefore, brethren, give forth much holy instruction. Some give little instruction because of their involved style; but many fail for other reasons, and mainly because they aim at something else. Talleyrand defines a metaphysician as a man who is very clever in drawing black lines upon a black ground. I should like to draw black lines upon a white ground, or else white lines on a black ground, so that they could be seen; but certain preachers are so profound that no one understands them. On the other hand, have you not heard sermons with great oratorical display about them, and nothing more? You have looked on while the angel wrought wondrously. The preacher has been like Blondin on the tight-rope; and as we have looked at him, we have trembled, lest he should never reach the end of his lofty period. Yet he has balanced himself admirably, and moved along in his elevated position in a marvellous manner. But, when all is over, your mind is unsatisfied, for these acrobatic feats of rhetoric do not feast the soul. Brethren, we must not make it our aim to be grand orators. Certain men are eloquent by nature, and it is not possible for them to be otherwise than oratorical, any more than for nightingales to help singing sweetly; these I do not blame, but admire. It is not the duty of the nightingale to bring down its voice to the same tone as that of the sparrow. Let it sing sweetly if it can do so naturally. God deserves the best oratory, the best logic, the best metaphysics, the best of everything; but if ever rhetoric stands in the way of the instruction of the people, a curse on rhetoric! If any educational attainment, or any natural gift which we possess, should make it less easy for the people to understand us, let it perish! May God rend away from our thought and style everything which darkens the light, even though it should be like a costly veil of rarest lace! May we use great plainness of speech, that gospel light may shine out very clearly from our ministry!
At this time, there is a great necessity for giving much light, for a fierce attempt is being made to quench or dim the light. Many are scattering darkness on all sides. Therefore, brethren, keep the light burning in your churches, keep the light burning in your pulpits, and hold it forth in the face of men who love darkness because it favors their aims. Teach the people all truth, and let not our distinctive opinions be concealed. There are sheep-stealers about, who come forth in the night, and run away with our people because they do not know our principles,—the principles of Nonconformists, the principles of Baptists, or even the principles of Christianity. Our hearers have a general idea of these things, but not enough to protect them from deceivers. We are beset, not only by sceptics, but by certain brethren who devour the feeble. Do not leave your children to wander out without the guardianship of holy knowledge, for there are seducers abroad who will mislead them if they can. They will begin by calling them "dear" this, and "dear" that, and end by alienating them from those who brought them to Jesus. If you lose your members, let it be in the light of day, and not through their ignorance. These kidnappers dazzle weak eyes with flashes of novelty, and turn weak heads with wonderful discoveries and marvellous doctrines, which all tend towards division, and bitterness, and the exaltation of their own sect. Keep the light of truth burning, and thieves will not dare to plunder your house.
Oh, for a church of believers in Jesus who know why they believe in Him; persons who believe the Bible, and know what it contains; who believe the doctrines of grace, and know the bearings of those truths; who know where they are, and what they are, and who therefore dwell in the light, and cannot he deceived by the prince of darkness! Do, dear friends,—I speak specially to the younger brethren among us,—do let there be plenty of teaching in your ministry. I fear that sermons are too often judged by their words rather than by their sense. Let it not be so with you. Feed the people always with knowledge and understanding, and let your preaching be solid, containing food for the hungry, healing for the sick, and light for those who sit in darkness.
Some brethren never seem to be thoroughly alive. Their heads are alive, they are intelligent and studious; but, alas! their hearts are inactive, cold, lethargic. Many preachers never spy out opportunities, for death seems to have sealed up their eyes; and their tongue also is not more than half quickened, so that they mumble and stumble, and all around them sleep rules the hour. I have been told that, if certain preachers would only for once stamp a foot, or lift a handkerchief, or do anything out of their regular way, it would be a relief to their people. I hope none of you have become quite so mechanical and monotonous as that; but I know that some are heavy and yet not weighty, solemn and yet not impressive. My brother, I want you to be alive from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head, alive in brain and heart, in tongue and hand, in eye and ear. The living God should be served by living men.
Labour to be alive in all your duties. John Bradford, the martyr, used to say, "I never go away from any part of the service of God till I feel thoroughly alive in it, and know that the Lord is with me in it." Carry out this rule conscientiously. In confessing sin, go on confessing till you feel that your tears have washed the Saviour's feet. In seeking pardon, continue to seek till the Holy Spirit bears witness to your peace with God. In preparing a sermon, wait upon the Lord until you have communion with Christ in it, until the Holy Spirit causes you to feel the power of the truth which you are to deliver. "Son of man, eat this roll." Before you attempt to give out the Word to others, get it into yourself. Is there not too much dead praying, and dead preaching, and dead church work of all sorts? Do you not know churches which are like the ghostly ship in the legend,—the captain, the mate, and all the crew are dead men?
"The mariners all do work the ropes
As they've been wont to do;
They raise their limbs like lifeless tools,—
They are a ghastly crew.
"The body of my deacon's self
Stands by me knee to knee:
The body and I pull at one rope,
But nothing of life have we."
This is a grim business, but I have beheld such a sight, though never have I seen a ghost. I recollect, long ago, preaching for a church which was almost defunct externally, and altogether defunct internally; and after the service, during which I felt a terrible chill of soul, I went into the vestry, and there I saw two important persons leaning heavily against the mantelpiece. I said to them, "Are you the deacons of the church?" They answered, "Yes, sir." I replied, "I thought so!" I did not explain further. These pillars of the church evidently needed propping up; but sluggish ease will not do in the work of the Lord.
Brethren, we must have life more abundantly, each one of us, and it must flow out into all the duties of our office: warm spiritual life must be manifest in the prayer, in the singing, in the preaching, and even in the shake of the hand and the good word after service. I delight in these Conferences because they are living assemblies; the room does not feel like a vault, nor do you salute each other like a set of living skeletons without hearts, or a company of respectable mandarins fresh from the tea-shops, who nod and bow mechanically. I cannot endure meetings where the only exhibition of life is seen in heated discussions over points of order, amendments, and movings of "the previous question." One marvels at the little things over which an assembly will waste hours of precious time, contending as if the destiny of the whole world and the fate of the starry heavens depended upon the debate. How the mountain heaves, but how small a mouse is born! Brethren, may you be alive, and keep alive, and disseminate your life! We read in Plato that the Egyptian priests said concerning the Greeks," You Greeks are always youths, there is not an old man among you." Neither, sirs, is there an old man among us at this hour; we are full of youth even unto this day, and if you want to see one whose vigour and cheerfulness prove that his grey hairs are all external, there sits the man [pointing to Mr. George Rogers]. It is a grand thing to be perpetually renewing your youth, never getting into the ruts, but making new tracks with your glowing wheels. Those who are old when they are young, are likely to be young when they are old. I like to see the liveliness of the child associated with the gravity of the father; but especially do I rejoice to see a godly man keep up the vivacity, the joy, the earnestness of his first love. It is a crime to permit our fires to burn low while experience yields us more and more abundant fuel. Be it ours to go from strength to strength, from life to more abundant life.
Be full of life at all times, and let that life be seen in your ordinary conversation. It is a shocking state of things when good people say, "Our minister undoes in the parlour what he has done in the pulpit; he preaches very well, but his life does not agree with his sermons:" Our Lord Jesus would have us perfect even as our Father who is in Heaven is perfect. Every Christian should be holy; but we are laid under a sevenfold obligation to it: how can we expect the Divine blessing if it be not so? God help us so to live that we may be safe examples to our flocks!
In such a case, life will go out of us to others. The man whom God uses for quickening is the man who is himself quickened. May we and our people become like those ornamental waters which we have seen while travelling in foreign parts; the water leaps up as a fountain, and descends into a basin; when that basin is full, the crystal stream runs over the brink in a sparkling sheet, and rolls into another basin, and the process is repeated again and again till the result charms the eye. At our Conference, my brethren, may the living waters flow into us, and then flow from us till thousands shall receive a blessing, and communicate it to others! This is what your Lord desires, as He said, "He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." "This spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive." God fill you to the brim, and cause you to overflow! This is essential: life we must have. If among us there is a slumbering brother, who does everything in a slow way, let him wake up. If anyone among us performs his duty in a lifeless manner, as if he were paid by the pound, and would not give half an ounce over, let him also wake up. Our work requires that we serve the Lord with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength. Ours is no place for half-heartedness. Go, ye dead ones, take a chaplain's place at the cemetery, and bury your dead; but work among living men needs life,—vigorous, intense life. A corpse among angelic choirs would not be more out of place than a lifeless man in the gospel ministry. "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."
...The last thing, but not the least important, of which I have to speak, is LOVE. Assuredly, we must abound in love. It is a hard thing for some preachers to saturate and perfume their sermons with love; for their natures are hard, or cold, or coarse, or selfish. We are none of us all that we ought to be, but some are specially poverty-stricken in point of love. They do not "naturally care" for the souls of men, as Paul puts it. To all, but especially to the harder sort, I would say,—Be doubly earnest as to holy charity, for without this you will be no more than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. Love is power. The Holy Spirit, for the most part, works by our affection. Love men to Christ; faith accomplishes much, but love is the actual instrument by which faith works out its desires in the Name of the Lord of love.
Brethren, love your work. You will never preach well unless you are enamoured of it: you will never do well in any particular charge unless you love the people, and I would almost say the village and the meeting-house. I would have you believe that Slocum-in-the-Marsh is a gem among villages. Think that London may be all very well as a city, but as a village, Slocum bears the palm. Even your chapel, with all its plainness, should have charms for you: be of opinion that the Tabernacle is very well in its way, but that it has great deficiencies about it; that it is too big, for one thing,—at least, too big for you. Your meeting-house holds only three hundred and twenty; but, in your judgment, that is quite as large a number as one man can see after with any hope of success; at least, it involves a responsibility quite as large as you desire to bear. When a mother's love to her children leads her to believe that they are the sweetest in the parish, she takes more care in their washing and their dressing; if she thought them ugly, troublesome beings, she would neglect them; and I am sure that, until we heartily love our work, and love the people with whom we are working, we shall not accomplish much.
I can truthfully say that I do not know anybody in all the world with whom I would like to change places. "Ah!" say you, "that is very likely, for you have a fine position." I am quite of that opinion; but I thought just the same of my little pastorate at Waterbeach, and it was with the utmost reluctance that I removed from the first to the second. I still retain the belief that there were people in my first congregation whose like I shall never see again, and that, as a position of usefulness, there are great attractions about that Cambridgeshire village. It is a rule to which I know of no exception that, to prosper in any work, you must have an enthusiasm for it.
You must have also intense love to the souls of men, if you are to influence them for good. Nothing can compensate for the absence of this. Soul-winning must be your passion, you must be born to it; it must be the very breath of your nostrils, the only thing for which you count life worth the having. We must hunt after souls, even as the Swiss hunter pursues the chamois because the spirit of the chase has mastered him.
Above all, we must feel an intense love to God. Our dear brother, who led us in prayer this morning, rightly spoke of the power which girds us when we burn with love to God. Why is it that so many say to children and young people, "You must love Jesus in order to be saved "? That is not the gospel. The gospel is, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." We are careful to state the matter correctly to the grown people; why give it inaccurately to the young? If we make a difference at all, it will be wiser to tell the children to believe, and the old people to love: the error will be less injurious, for love is the great lack of most men. The holy grace of love needs to be more preached among us, and more felt by us. "Oh!" said a woman, when she was speaking of the Lord to her minister, "He has heard my prayer many a time, and I can have what I want of Him, for, by His grace, I am very thick with Him." She meant that communion had wrought sweet fellowship, and so her prayers were heard. Oh, that we lived on familiar terms with the Well-beloved, and felt His love within our bosoms always! Love to God will help a man to persevere in service when otherwise he would have given up his work. "The love of Christ constraineth us," said one whose heart was all his Master's. I heard one say, the other day, that "the love of Christ ought to constrain us." This is true, but Paul did not so much speak of a duty as of a fact; he said, "the love of Christ constraineth us."
Go on, brethren, preaching the same gospel; but preach it with more faith, and preach it better every day. Do not draw back: your place is to the front. Qualify yourselves for larger spheres, you who are in little places; but do not neglect your studies to look after better positions. Be prepared for an opening when it comes, and rest assured that the office will come to the man who is fit for the office. We are not so cheap that we need go hawking ourselves in every market; the churches are always on the lookout for really efficient: preachers. Men whose fitness for the ministry is doubtful are at a great discount nowadays; but for men of ability and usefulness there is great demand.
You cannot hide a candle under a bushel, and you cannot keep a really able man in an insignificant position. Patronage is of the smallest importance; fitness for the work, grace, ability, earnestness, and a loving disposition soon push the man into his place. God will bring His servant into his true position, if he has but faith to trust in Him. I put this word at the tail-end of my address, because I know the discouragements under which you labour. Do not be afraid of hard work for Christ; a terrible reckoning awaits those who have an easy time in the ministry, but a great reward is in reserve for those who endure all things for the elect's sake. You will not regret your poverty when Christ cometh, and calleth His own servants to Him. It will be a sweet thing to have died at your post, not turning aside for wealth, or running from Dan to Beersheba to obtain a better salary, but stopping where your Lord bade you hold the fort.
Brethren, consecrate yourselves to God afresh. Bring hither new cords; and bind the sacrifice again to the altar! Struggle as it may, anxious to escape the knife, fearful of the fire, yet bind it with cords, even with cords to the horns of the altar; for until death, and in death, we are the Lord's. Entire surrender of everything to Jesus is our watchword this day. Only may the Lord accept the living sacrifice, for Jesus Christ's sake! Amen.
Sincerely yours in Jesus through Mary,
Become like Jesus
Live for the Triune God
Seek the Light of Our Lord Jesus Christ
See you on the High Ground!
* - J.M.J. + O.B.T. + M.G.R. stands for:
Jesus, Mary and Joseph;
O Beata Trinitas;
St. Michael, St. Gabriel and St. Raphael