All truth is precious, but not all truth is adapted to secure the immediate conversion and sanctification of men, any more than all medicine is adapted to cure heart-disease or rheumatism.
There are certain truths which, preached in the power of the Holy Ghost, are as much adapted to convert and sanctify souls as food to satisfy hunger, or fire to melt ice; while there are other truths, equally Biblical, that will no more secure such results than will the truths of the multiplication table comfort a brokenhearted mother while mourning for her lost children, or those of astronomy quiet a guilty conscience roused from the slumber of sin.
Some time since I read the amazing and humbling statement that "there were over 3,000 churches in two of the leading denominations of this country that did not report a single member added by profession of faith last year." Well may the writer add, "Think of more than 3,000 ministers in two denominations world-renowned for their schools and culture, preaching a whole year, and aided by deacons and Sabbath-school teachers and Christian parents and church members and prayer meetings and Sabbath schools and Christian Endeavor Societies, and helps and helpers innumerable, and all without one conversion!"
Why this stupendous failure? It cannot be that truth was not preached and taught in the Sunday schools and prayer meetings. These preachers and teachers and parents were orthodox, cultured, and skilled in Biblical lore. No doubt they preached and taught truth from one end of the year to the other, but it was not the truth -- the truth that saves, the truth that first smites the conscience, lays bare the secrets of the heart, and arouses the slumbering soul until, self-convicted, it feels that every man it meets is acquainted with its guilt, and every wind and every footfall is an accusing voice, and no cover can hide from God's searching eye, and when conviction has wrought its purpose, and penitence is complete, whispers of forgiveness and peace, and offers mercy and salvation full and free through the bleeding Lamb of God, "before the world's foundation slain."
Such truth preached faithfully and constantly in these pulpits and churches -- not timidly and feebly, like powder and shot buried by a child's hand, but rather with power, like thunderbolts from the cannon's mouth -- might have set the nation in a blaze of revival fire.
The fact is there are different kinds or grades of truth for different classes of people, just as there are different medicines for various diseases, and food for different ages and constitutions. Jesus declares this when He says, "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." (John 16:12.) The soul-winner must recognize this fact, and seek rightly to divide the word of truth. The Christian needs a different kind and application of truth from that needed by the sinner or backslider, and the sanctified man can receive the strong meat of God's Word, while babes in Christ must be fed on milk. (1 Cor. 3:1, 2; Heb. 5:12, 14.)
With the sinner, the principal attack should be made on the conscience and the will; he may be moral, and more or less amiable in his family and social relations, and honorable among his business associates, but be sure that under this is secret selfishness and heart sin. He seeks his own way, is disobedient to the light, careless to the dying love of Jesus, and in reality, if not in profession, he is an enemy to God, and must be convinced of these facts, and faithfully and lovingly and firmly warned of his utter ruin if he does not repent. Repentance, deep, thorough and heartfelt, that leads to a confession and an utter, eternal renunciation of all sin and a complete amendment of life and a making right as far as possible of all past wrong, must be presented as the "strait gate" through which alone he can enter the highway to heaven. We must insist on an immediate and unconditional surrender to all the light God gives, and offer him mercy and tender love through Jesus Christ only if he yields.
The motives that lead to repentance are drawn from eternity, and there is a whole armory of truth with which the sinner can and must be bombarded to bring him to terms, such as the certainty that what he sows he shall reap; that his sins will surely find him out; that death will speedily overtake him; and that if, refusing mercy, he presumes on the goodness of God, and continues in selfishness and sin, hell shall be his portion forever; while a life of peace and joy here, a happy deathbed, and eternal glory can be offered him as the alternative, on condition of obedient faith.
About the same kind of truth is necessary for the backslider, except that the proportions may have to be varied. If he is stubborn, thunder the law at him until he hoists the white flag and sues for mercy. If he is sorry he has backslidden, but fears it is vain to try again, then he should be encouraged in every possible way to look up and trust, and the infinite love and pity of God revealed in Jesus should be pressed upon his attention, and he should be urged to cast himself upon God's mercy.
If these foundation truths of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ are fully, affectionately, and prayerfully presented, and the sinner or backslider grasps and trusts them, he will be converted, accepted by the Lord, and adopted into His family. He must now be fed upon truths different from those he was fed on before. He will have a tender heart, and so it will be most unwise to thunder the law at him, though he should be fully instructed as to the spirituality of the law, and that it is the law by which God wishes us to order our conduct, and for which abundant grace will be given. Nor should he now be asked to surrender since he is saved; but he should be intelligently instructed as to the nature and extent of the consecration that is expected from him, and he should be urged, and wisely and tenderly encouraged to make the consecration, presenting his body a living sacrifice and yielding himself to God, "as those that are alive from the dead."
He should now be instructed as to the fact of inbred sin, which he will soon find stirring within him, and the importance and possibility of having this enemy cast out. Holiness should be presented not so much as a stern demand of a holy God, but rather as his glorious privilege as a child of God. He should be taught that it is an experience in which "perfect love casteth out fear" -- a rest of soul, in which, as our bones and sinews are so covered with flesh as to be unperceived, so the fact of duty, while still remaining in force, is yet clothed upon and hidden by love.
Therefore, while the necessity of holiness should be presented, and a gentle and constant pressure be brought to bear upon the will, yet the principal effort should be made to remove slavish fear by instructing the understanding, and so drawing out the confidence and affections that the soul which in conversion bowed at the feet of Jesus as its Conqueror, will now intelligently and rapturously yield to Him as its Heavenly Bridegroom and fall so desperately in love with Him by the incoming of the Holy Spirit that it shall cry out with David, "I delight to do Thy will, O God!" and with Jesus "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me."
If the soul-winner does not keep a clear, warm, tender experience of full salvation himself, there is a danger of driving the people to a legal experience instead of leading them into a "perfect-love" experience. A legal experience is one in which the man braces up to his duty because the law demands it, in which he is prodded and pushed up to it by the terrors of the law rather than led up to it by the sweet wooings and gentle drawings of love.
In a holiness meeting, where there are sinners and backsliders, there will be a strong temptation to address them, and as the kind of truth they need differs from that needed by converts, if this is done, confusion is likely to result and an uncertain experience engendered in the hearts of Christians. It will usually be found wisest to leave the sinners and backsliders alone in this meeting, and go straight for the Christians, to get them sanctified. The Lord has been pleased to give me victory along this line, and usually I find also there are some sinners saved in my holiness meetings.
Jesus likens a Christian to a sheep. Our duty then in the holiness meeting is not to club them with the law, but rather to feed them with the promises and assurances of the Gospel, and to teach them to discern the voice of the good Shepherd and to remove all fear, that they may gladly follow Him.
The staple diet of all saints should be the promises, seasoned with the commandments to give them a healthy relish.
The promises draw us on in the narrow way, and the commandments hedge us in that we do not lose the way. The promises should be so presented and the fullness there is in the Gospel and in Jesus so be brought to view that the souls of the people will run hard after Him and not need continual beatings to keep them from breaking through the hedge on to the devil's territory.
To discern clearly and apply skillfully the truth needed by the souls we are set to save, requires heavenly wisdom, and well does Paul exhort Timothy, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." But our study will be in vain unless we, in lowliness of mind, sit at the feet of Jesus, seek wisdom from God, and submit ourselves in glad, prayerful faith to the Spirit of truth who can and will guide "into all truth." (John 16:13.)
The Bible, which contains the revealed truth necessary to salvation, will surely puzzle and mystify all who come to it in the big and swelling conceit of worldly wisdom, but it will open its treasure to the plain and humble men who come to it full of the Spirit that moved holy men of old to write it.
O Lord, evermore give to Thy people leaders and teachers filled with this Spirit, and clothed with this wisdom!
Nothing is more completely hidden from wise and prudent folk than the blessed fact that there is a secret spring of power and victory in shouting and praising God.
The devil often throws a spell over people which can be broken in no other way. Many an honest, seeking soul, who might step forth into perfect and perpetual liberty if he would only dare to look the devil in the eye and shout "Glory to God!" goes mourning all his days under this spell. Frequently whole congregations will be under it. There will be a vacant or a listless or a restless look in their eyes. There is no attention, no expectation. A stifling stillness and the serenity of "death" settles upon them. But let a Spirit-baptized man, with a weight of glory in his soul, bless the Lord, and the spell will be broken. Every man there will come to his senses, will wake up, will remember where he is, and will begin to expect something to happen.
Shouting and praising God is to salvation what flame is to fire. You may have a very hot and useful fire without a blaze, but not till it bursts forth into flame does it become irresistible and sweep everything before it. So people may be very good and have a measure of salvation, but it is not until they become so full of the Holy Ghost that they are likely to burst forth in praises to their glorious God at any hour of the day or night, both in private and public, that their salvation becomes irresistibly catching.
The shouting of some people is as terrible as the noise of an empty wagon rolling over cobble stones; it is like the firing of blank cartridges. It is all noise. Their religion consists in making a racket. But there are others who wait on God in secret places, who seek His face with their whole hearts, who groan in prayer with unutterable longing to know God in all His fullness and to see His kingdom come with power; who plead the promises, who search the word of God and meditate on it day and night, until they are full of the great though and truths of God, and faith is made perfect. Then the Holy Ghost comes pressing down on them with an eternal weight of glory that compels praise, and when they shout it takes effect. Every cartridge is loaded, and at times their shouting will be like the boom of a big gun, and will have the speed and power of a cannon-ball.
An old friend of mine in Vermont once remarked, that "when he went into a store or railway station, he found the place full of devils, and the atmosphere choked his soul till he shouted; then every devil hied himself away, the atmosphere was purified, and he had possession of the place, and could say and do what he pleased." The Marechale once wrote: "Nothing fills all Hell with dismay like a reckless, dare-devil shouting faith." Nothing can stand before a man with a genuine shout in his soul. Earth and Hell flee before him, and all Heaven throngs about him to help him fight his battles.
When Joshua's armies shouted, the walls of Jericho "fell down flat" before them. When Jehoshaphat's people "began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushments against Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, and they were smitten." When Paul and Silas, with bruised and bleeding backs, in the inner dungeon of that horrible Philippian jail, at midnight, "prayed and sang praises unto God," the Lord sent an earthquake, shook the foundations of the prison, loosed the prisoners, and converted the jailer and all his family. And there is no conceivable difficulty that will not vanish before the man who prays and praises God.
When Billy Bray wanted bread, he prayed and shouted, to give the devil to understand that he felt under no obligation to him, but had perfect confidence in his Heavenly Father. When Dr. Cullis, of Boston, had not a penny in his treasury, and heavy obligations rested upon him, and he knew not how he could buy food for the patients in his home for consumptives, he would go into his office and read the Bible and pray and walk the floor, praising God and telling Him he would trust, and money would roll in from the ends of the earth. Victory always comes where a man, having poured Out his heart in prayer, dares to trust God and express his faith in praise.
Shouting is the final and highest expression of faith made perfect in its various stages. When a sinner comes to God in hearty repentance and surrender, and, throwing himself fully on the mercy of God, looks to Jesus only for salvation, and by faith fully and fearlessly grasps the blessing of justification, the first expression of that faith will be one of confidence and praise. No doubt, there are many who claim justification who never praise God; but either they are deceived, or their faith is weak and mixed with doubt and fear. When it is perfect, praise will be spontaneous.
And when this justified man comes to see the holiness of God, and the exceeding breadth of His commandment, and the absolute claim of God upon every power of his being, and realizes the remaining selfishness and earthiness of his heart; when he, after many failures to purify himself, and inward questionings of soul, and debatings of conscience, and haltings of faith, comes to God to be made holy through the precious Blood and the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire, the final expression of the faith that resolutely and perfectly grasps the blessing will not be prayer, but praise and hallelujahs.
And when this saved and sanctified man, seeing the woes of a lost world and feeling the holy passion of Jesus working mightily in Him, goes forth to war with "principalities, and powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world, and wicked spirits in heavenly places," in order to rescue the slaves of sin and Hell, after weeping and agonizing in prayer to God for an outpouring of the Spirit, and after preaching to, and teaching men, and pleading with them to yield utterly to God, and after many fastings and trials and conflicts, in which faith and patience for other men are made perfect and victorious, prayer will be transformed into praise, and weeping into shouting, and apparent defeat into overwhelming victory!
Where there is victory, there is shouting, and where there is no shouting, faith and patience are either in retreat, or are engaged in conflict, the issue of which for the time being seems uncertain. But:
Oh, for a faith that will not shrink Though pressed by every foe,
That will not tremble on the brink Of any earthly woe.
Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees, And looks to that alone,
Laughs at impossibilities, And cries, "It shall be done!"
And what is true in individual experience is revealed to be true of the Church in its final triumph. For after the long ages of stress and conflict and patient waiting and fiery trial; after the ceaseless intercessions of Jesus, and the unutterable groaning of the Spirit in the hearts of believers, the Church shall finally come to perfect faith and patience and unity of love, according to the prayer of Jesus in John xvli., and then "The Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God" (I Thess. iv. 16), and seeming defeat shall be turned into eternal victory.
But let no one hastily conclude that he should not shout and praise God unless he feels a mighty wave of triumph rushing through his soul. Paul says, "We know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom. viii. 26). But if a man refused to pray till he felt this tremendous pleading of the Spirit in his heart, which John Fletcher said is "like a God wrestling with a God," he would never pray at all. We must stir up the gift of prayer that is within us, we must exercise ourselves in prayer until our souls sweat, and then we shall realize the mighty energy of the Holy Ghost interceding within us. We must never forget that "the spirit of the prophets is subject unto the prophets." Just so we must stir up and exercise the gift of praise within us.
We must put our will into it. When Habakkuk the prophet had lost everything, and was surrounded with utter desolation, he shouted: "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of my salvation!" We are workers together with God, and if we will praise Him, He will see to it that we have something for which to praise Him. We often hear of Daniel praying three times a day, but we pass over the fact that at the same time "he gave thanks," which is a kind of praise. David says: "Seven times a day do I praise Thee." Over and over, again and again, we are exhorted and commanded to praise God and shout aloud and rejoice evermore. But if, through fear or shame, men will not rejoice, they need not be surprised that they have no joy and no sweeping victories.
But if they will get alone with God in their own hearts-note, alone with God, alone with God in their own hearts; there is the place to get alone with God, and a shout is nothing more or less than an expression of joy at finding God in our hearts -- and will praise Him for His wonderful works, praise Him because He is worthy of praise, praise Him whether they feel like it or not, praise Him in the darkness as well as the light, praise Him in seasons of fierce conflict as well as in moments of victory; they will soon be able to shout aloud for joy. And their joy no man will be able to take from them, but God will make them to drink of the river of His pleasures, and He Himself will be their "exceeding joy."
Many a soul, in fierce temptation and hellish darkness, has poured out his heart in prayer and then sunk back in despair, who, if he had only closed his prayer with thanks, and dared in the name of God to shout, would have filled Hell with confusion, and won a victory that would have struck all the harps of Heaven and made the angels shout with glee. Many a prayer meeting has failed at the shouting point. Songs were sung, testimonies had been given, the Bible had been read and explained, sinners had been warned and entreated, prayers had been poured forth to God, but no one wrestled through to the point where he could and would intelligently praise God for victory, and, so far as could be seen, the battle was lost for want of a shout.
From the moment we are born of God, straight through our pilgrim journey, up to the moment of open vision, where we are for ever glorified and see Jesus as He is, we have a right to rejoice, and we ought to do it. It is our highest privilege and our most solemn duty. And if we do it not, I think it must fill the angels with confusion, and the fiends of the bottomless pit with a kind of hideous joy. We ought to do it, for this is almost the only thing we do on earth that we shall not cease to do in Heaven. Weeping and fasting and watching and praying and self-denying and cross-bearing and conflict with Hell will cease; but praise to God, and hallelujahs "unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own Blood, and made us kings and priests unto God and His Father," shall ring through Heaven eternally. Blessed be God and the Lamb for evermore! Amen.