SERVANTS AND SERVICE
“He that has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? says the Lord.” — Jeremiah 23:28.
PREACH the truth. Take heed of giving thy own dreams and fancies in God’s name. All is chaff except the pure word of God. Oh stamp not God’s image on thine own coin! We live in high-flown times: many people are not content with truths that lie plainly in the Scriptures; and some, to please their wanton palates, have sublimated their notions so high, that they have flown out of the sight of the Scripture, and unawares run themselves, with others, into dangerous errors. Make not experiments upon the souls of people, by delivering what is doubtful. Better feed people with sound doctrine though it be a plain meal, than that thou shouldst, with an outlandish dish, light on a wild gourd, that brings death into their pot.
Preach with the fear of God. A little bread, with God’s blessing, may make a meal for a multitude; and great provision may soon shrink to nothing, if God help not in the breaking of it. It is not thy sermon in thy head, or notes in thy book, that will enable thee to preach, except God open thy mouth; acknowledge, therefore, God in all thy ways, and lean not to thy own understanding: the swelling of the heart, as well as of the wall, goes before a fall. How much may it provoke God, when thou goest to the pulpit, and passest by his door in the way, without calling for His assistance? . . . Not only the preparation of the heart, but the answer of the tongue, both are from the Lord (Prov. 16:1). God keeps the key of the mouth as well of the heart; not a word can be uttered, until God opens the door of the lips to give it a free egress. He opened the mouth of the ass, and stopped the mouth of that wicked prophet, its master (Num. 22:28-31): hear him confess as much to Balak: “Lo, I am come to thee: have I now any power at all to say anything? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak” (verse 38).
Preach without fear of man. There is nothing more unworthy than to see a people bold to sin, and the preacher afraid to reprove them. It is said of Tacitus, that he took the same liberty to write the emperors’ lives, that they took in leading them.
Man-pleasing is both endless and needless. If thou wouldst thou couldst not please all; and if thou couldst, there is no need, if thou pleasest Him that can turn all their hearts and bind their hands. They speed best that dare be faithful. Jonah was afraid of his work: O, he durst not go to such a great city with such a sad message: to tell them that they should be destroyed, was to set them at work to destroy him that brought the news; but how near was he to losing his life by running away to save it? Jeremiah seemed the only man likely to lose his life by his bold preaching; yet he had fairer quarter at last than the smooth preachers of his time. If thou art free and bold, thou mayest, indeed, be mocked by some, but thou wilt be reverenced by more: yea, even they that wag their heads at thee, carry that in their conscience which will make them fear thee: they are the flattering preachers who become base among the people (Mal. 2:9). It is not wisdom to provoke the judge, by flattering the prisoner.
Where one says, How shall I do this and sin against God? many in their hearts say, How shall I do this and anger man? Herod feared John, and did many things; had he feared God he would have laboured to have done everything.
Fall to the work God sets thee about, and thou engagest His strength for thee. “The way of the Lord is strength.” Run from thy work and thou engagest God’s strength against thee; He will send some storm or other after thee to bring home His runaway servant. How oft has the coward been killed in a ditch, or under some hedge, when the valiant soldier that stood his ground and kept his place, got off with safety and honours?
Preach with a good conscience. Keep a clear conscience: he cannot be a bold reprover, that is not a conscientious liver; such a one must speak softly, for fear of waking his own guilty conscience. Unholiness in the preacher’s life, either will stop his mouth from reproving, or the people’s ears from receiving. Oh how harsh a sound does such a cracked bell make in the ears of his auditors!
Preach definitely. He is the better workman, who drives one nail home with reiterated blows, than he which covets to enter many, but fastens none. Such preachers are not likely to reach the conscience, who hop from one truth to another, but dwell on none. Were I to buy a garment in a shop, I should like him better that lays one good piece or two before me that are for my turn, which I may fully examine, than him who takes down all his shop, and heaps piece upon piece, merely to show his store, till at last for variety I can look attentively on none, they lie so one upon another.
Preach faithfully. The preacher must read and study people as diligently as any book in his study; and as he finds them, dispense like a faithful steward to them. People complain, we are so oft reproving the same error or sin; and the fault is their own, because they will not leave it. Who will blame the dog for continuing to bark, when the thief is all the while in the yard? Alas, alas, it is not once or twice rousing against sin will do it!
“It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). The preacher’s faithfulness stands in relation to him that intrusts him. It is very unlikely that a steward, in giving out provision, should please all the servants in the house; such officers have least thanks when they do their work best. He that thinks to please men, goes about an endless and needless work. A wise physician seeks to cure, not to please his patient. He that chides when he is sick, for the bitterness of the potions, will give thee thanks for it when he is recovered.
Preach simply. The word of God is too sacred a thing, and preaching too solemn a work, to be toyed and played with, as is the usage of some, who make a sermon but matter of wit and fine oratory. Their sermon is like a child’s doll, from which if you take its dress, the rest is worth nothing. It is well indeed when the people can keep pace with the preacher. To preach truths and notions above the hearers’ capacity, is like a nurse that should go to feed a child with a spoon too big to go into its mouth.
Preach wisely. “Because the preacher was wise, he . . . sought to find out acceptable words” (Eccles. 12:9, 10). Not rude, loose, and indigested stuff, in a slovenly manner brought forth, lest the sluttery of the cook should turn the stomachs of the guests.
Preach gently. “The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle to all, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves” (2 Tim. 2:24, 25). Oh how careful is God that nothing should be in the preacher to prejudice the sinner’s judgment, or harden his heart against the offer of His grace! If the servant be proud and hasty, how shall they know that the Master is meek and patient? He that will take the bird must not scare it. A forward, peevish messenger is no friend to him that sends him. Sinners are not pelted into Christ with stones of hard provoking language, but wooed into Christ by heart-melting exhortations.
The oil makes the nail drive without splitting the board. The word never enters the heart more kindly, than when it falls most gently: “Ride prosperously, because of truth and meekness” (Ps. 45:4). Be as rough to thy people’s sins as thou canst, so thou be gentle to their souls. Dost thou take the rod of reproof into thine hand? Let them see that love, not wrath, gives the blow. The word preached comes, indeed, best from a warm heart.
“The words of wise men are heard in quiet” (Ecc. 9:17). Let the reproof be as sharp as thou wilt; but the spirit must be meek. Passion raiseth the blood of him that is reproved; but compassion turns his bowels. We must not denounce wrath in wrath.
Preach diligently. All the water is lost that runs beside the mill, and all thy thoughts are waste which help thee not to do God’s work withal in thy general or particular calling. The bee will not sit on a flower where no honey can he sucked, neither should the Christian. Why sittest thou here idle? thou shouldst say to thy soul, when thou hast so much to do for God and thy soul, and so little time to despatch it in?