He does not in his labours draw strength from God. He depends upon an excitement to arouse his ambition. In labouring with a few, where there is no special excitement to stimulate, he loses his courage. When the labour goes hard and he is not borne up by this special excitement, he does not then cling the firmer to God and become more earnest to press through the darkness and gain the victory. Brother K, you frequently become childish, weak, and inefficient at the very time when you should be strongest. This should evidence to you that your zeal and animation are not always from the right source.
I was shown that here is the danger of young ministers who engage in discussion. They turn their minds to the study of the word to gather the sharp things, and they become sarcastic and, in their efforts to meet an opponent, too frequently leave God out of the question. The excitement of debate lessens their interest in meetings where this special excitement does not exist. Those who engage in debates are not the most successful labourers and the best adapted to build up the cause. By some, discussion is coveted, and they prefer this kind of labour above any other. They do not study the Bible with humility of
mind, that they may know how to attain the love of God; as Paul says: "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God."
Young preachers should avoid discussions, for they do not increase spirituality or humbleness of mind. In some cases it may be necessary to meet a proud boaster against the truth of God in open debate; but generally these discussions, either oral or written, result in more harm than good. After a discussion the greater responsibility rests upon the minister to keep up the interest. He should beware of the reaction which is liable to take place after a religious excitement, and not yield to discouragement himself.
Men who will not admit the claims of God's law, which are so very plain, will generally take a lawless course; for they have so long taken sides with the great rebel in warring against the law of God, which is the foundation of His government in heaven and earth, that they are trained in this labour. In their warfare they will not open their eyes or consciences to light. They close their eyes, lest they shall become enlightened. Their case is as hopeless as was that of the Jews who would not see the light which Christ brought to them. The wonderful evidences which He gave them of His Messiahship in the miracles that He performed, in healing the sick, raising the dead, and doing the works which no other man had done or could do, instead of melting and subduing their hearts, and overcoming their wicked prejudices, inspired them with satanic hatred and fury such as Satan possessed when he was thrust out of heaven. The greater light and evidence they had, the greater was their hatred. They were determined to extinguish the light by putting Christ to death.
The haters of God's law, which is the foundation of His government in heaven and earth, occupy the same ground as did the unbelieving Jews. Their defiant power will follow
those who keep the commandments of God, and any amount of light will be rejected by them. Their consciences have so long been violated, and their hearts have grown so hard by their choosing darkness rather than light, that they feel that it is a virtue in them, in order to gain their object, to bear false witness or stoop to almost any course of equivocation or deception, as did the Jews in their rejection of Christ. They reason that the end justifies the means. They virtually crucify the law of the Father, as the Jews crucified Christ.
Our work should be to embrace every opportunity to present the truth in its purity and simplicity where there is any desire or interest to hear the reasons of our faith. Those who have dwelt mostly upon the prophecies and the theoretical points of our faith should without delay become Bible students upon practical subjects. They should take a deeper draft at the fountain of divine truth. They should carefully study the life of Christ and His lessons of practical godliness, given for the benefit of all and to be the rule of right living for all who should believe on His name. They should be imbued with the spirit of their great Exemplar and have a high sense of the sacred life of a follower of Christ.
Christ met the case of every class in the subjects and manner of His teaching. He dined and lodged with the rich and the poor, and made Himself familiar with the interests and occupations of men, that He might gain access to their hearts. The learned and the most intellectual were gratified and charmed with His discourses, and yet they were so plain and simple as to be comprehended by the humblest minds. Christ availed Himself of every opportunity to give instruction to the people upon those heavenly doctrines and precepts which should be incorporated into their lives and which would distinguish them from all other religionists because of their holy, elevated character. These lessons of divine instruction are not brought to bear upon men's consciences as they should be. These sermons of Christ furnish ministers believing present truth with discourses which will be appropriate on almost any
occasion. Here is a field of study for the Bible student, in which he cannot be interested without having the spirit of the heavenly Teacher in his own heart. Here are subjects which Christ presented to all classes. Thousands of people of every stamp of character and every grade of society were attracted and charmed with the matter brought before them.
Some ministers who have been long in the work of preaching present truth have made great failures in their labours. They have educated themselves as combatants. They have studied out argumentative subjects for the object of discussion, and these subjects which they have prepared they love to use. The truth of God is plain, clear, and conclusive. It is harmonious and, in contrast with error, shines with clearness and beauty. Its consistency commends it to the judgement of every heart that is not filled with prejudice. Our preachers present the arguments upon the truth, which have been made ready for them, and, if there are no hindrances, the truth bears away the victory. But I was shown that in many cases the poor instrument takes the credit of the victory gained, and the people, who are more earthly than spiritual, praise and honour the instrument, while the truth of God is not exalted by the victory it gained.
Those who love to engage in discussion generally lose their spirituality. They do not trust in God as they should. They have the theory of the truth prepared to whip an opponent. The feelings of their own unsanctified hearts have prepared many sharp, close things to use as a snap to their whip to irritate and provoke their opponent. The spirit of Christ has no part in this. While furnished with conclusive arguments, the debater soon thinks that he is strong enough to triumph over his opponent, and God is left out of the matter. Some of our ministers have made discussion their principal business. When in the midst of the excitement raised by discussion, they seem nerved up and feel strong and talk strong; and in the excitement many things pass with the people as all right, which in themselves are decidedly wrong and a shame to him
who was guilty of uttering words so unbecoming a Christian minister.
These things have a bad influence on ministers who are handling sacred, elevated truths, truths which are to prove as a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death, to those who hear them. Generally the influence of discussions upon our ministers is to make them self-sufficient and exalted in their own estimation. This is not all. Those who love to debate are unfitted for being pastors to the flock. They have trained their minds to meet opponents and to say sarcastic things, and they cannot come down to meet hearts that are sorrowing and need comforting. They have also dwelt so much upon the argumentative that they have neglected the practical subjects that the flock of God need. They have but little knowledge of the sermons of Christ, which enter into the everyday life of the Christian, and they have but little disposition to study them. They have risen above the simplicity of the work. When they were little in their own eyes, God helped them; angels of God ministered unto them and made their labours highly successful in convincing men and women of the truth. But in the training of their minds for discussion they frequently become coarse and rough. They lose the interest and tender sympathy which should ever attend the efforts of a shepherd of Christ.
Debating ministers are generally disqualified to help the flock where they most need help. Having neglected practical religion in their own hearts and lives, they cannot teach it to the flock. Unless there is an excitement, they do not know how to labour; they seem shorn of their strength. If they try to speak, they do not seem to know how to present a subject that is proper for the occasion. When they should present a subject which will feed the flock of God, and which will reach and melt hearts, they go back to some of the old stereotyped matter and go through the arranged arguments, which are dry and uninteresting. Thus, instead of light and life, they bring darkness to the flock and also to their own souls.
Some of our ministers fail to cultivate spirituality, but encourage a show of zeal and a certain activity which rests upon an uncertain foundation. Ministers of calm contemplation, of thought and devotion, of conscience and faith, combined with activity and zeal, are wanted in this age. The two qualities, thought and devotion, activity and zeal, should go together.
Debating ministers are the most unreliable among us, because they cannot be depended upon when the work goes hard. Bring them into a place where there is but little interest, and they manifest a want of courage, zeal, and real interest. They depend as much upon being enlivened and invigorated by the excitement created by debate or opposition as does the inebriate upon his dram. These ministers need to be converted anew. They need to drink deep of the unceasing streams which proceed from the eternal Rock.
The eternal welfare of sinners regulated the conduct of Jesus. He went about doing good. Benevolence was the life of His soul. He not only did good to all who came to Him soliciting His mercy, but He perseveringly sought them out. He was never elated with applause or dejected by censure or disappointment. When He met with the greatest opposition and the most cruel treatment He was of good courage. The most important discourse that Inspiration has given us, Christ preached to only one listener. As He sat upon the well to rest, for He was weary, a Samaritan woman came to draw water; He saw an opportunity to reach her mind, and through her to reach the minds of the Samaritans, who were in great darkness and error. Although weary, He presented the truths of His spiritual kingdom, which charmed the heathen woman and filled her with admiration for Christ. She went forth publishing the news: "Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" This woman's testimony converted many to a belief in Christ. Through her report many came to hear Him for themselves and believed because of His own word.
However small may be the number of interested listeners,
if the heart is reached and the understanding convinced, they can, like the Samaritan woman, carry a report which will raise the interest of hundreds to investigate for themselves. While labouring in places to create an interest, there will be many discouragements; but if at first there seems to be but little interest, it is no evidence that you have mistaken your duty and place of labour. If the interest steadily increases, and the people move understandingly, not from impulse, but from principle, the interest is much more healthy and durable than it is where a great excitement and interest are created suddenly, and the feelings are excited by listening to a debate, a sharp contest on both sides of the question, for and against the truth. Fierce opposition is thus created, positions are taken, and rapid decisions made. A feverish state of things is the result. Calm consideration and judgement are wanting. Let this excitement subside, or let reaction take place by indiscreet management, and the interest can never be raised again. The feelings and sympathies of the people were stirred; but their consciences were not convicted, their hearts were not broken and humbled before God.
In the presentation of unpopular truth, which involves a heavy cross, preachers should be careful that every word is as God would have it. Their words should never cut. They should present the truth in humility, with the deepest love for souls and an earnest desire for their salvation, and let the truth cut. They should not defy ministers of other denominations and seek to provoke a debate. They should not stand in a position like that of Goliath when he defied the armies of Israel. Israel did not defy Goliath, but Goliath made his proud boasts against God and His people. The defying, the boasting, and the railing must come from the opposers of truth, who act the Goliath. But none of this spirit should be seen in those whom God has sent forth to proclaim the last message of warning to a doomed world.
Goliath trusted in his armour. He terrified the armies of Israel by his defiant, savage boastings, while he made a most
imposing display of his armour, which was his strength. David, in his humility and zeal for God and his people, proposed to meet this boaster. Saul consented and had his own kingly armour placed upon David. But he would not consent to wear it. He laid off the king's armour, for he had not proved it. He had proved God and, in trusting in Him, had gained special victories. To put on Saul's armour would give the impression that he was a warrior, when he was only little David who tended the sheep. He did not mean that any credit be given to the armour of Saul, for his trust was in the Lord God of Israel. He selected a few pebbles from the brook, and with his sling and staff, his only weapons, he went forth in the name of the God of Israel to meet the armed warrior.
Goliath disdained David, for his appearance was that of a mere youth untaught in the tactics of warfare. Goliath railed upon David and cursed him by his gods. He felt that it was an insult upon his dignity to have a mere stripling, without so much as an armour, come to meet him. He made his boast of what he would do to him. David did not become irritated because he was looked upon as so inferior, neither did he tremble at his terrible threats, but replied: "Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied." David tells Goliath that in the name of the Lord he will do to him the very things that Goliath had threatened to do to David. "And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord's, and He will give you into our hands."
Our ministers should not defy and provoke discussion. Let the defying be on the side of the opposers of God's truth. I was shown that Brother K and other ministers have acted too much the part of Goliath. And then after they have dared and provoked discussion they have trusted in their prepared arguments, as Saul wanted David to trust in his armour. They have not, like humble David, trusted in the God of Israel, and made Him their strength. They have gone forth confident and
boastful, like Goliath, magnifying themselves and not hiding behind Jesus. They knew the truth was strong, and therefore have not humbled their hearts and in faith trusted in God to give the truth the victory. They have become elated and lost their balance, and frequently the discussions have not been successful, and the result has been an injury to their own souls and to the souls of others.
I was shown that some of our young ministers are getting a passion for debating, and that, unless they see their danger, this will prove a snare to them. I was shown that Brother L is in great danger. He is training his mind in the wrong direction. He is in danger of getting above the simplicity of the work. When he gets on Saul's armour, if, like David, he has wisdom to lay it off because he has not proved it, he may recover himself before he goes too far. These young preachers should study the practical teachings of Christ as well as the theoretical, and learn of Jesus, that they may have His grace, His meekness, His humility and lowliness of mind. If they, like David, are brought into a position where God's cause really calls for them to meet a defier of Israel, and if they go forth in the strength of God, relying wholly upon Him, He will carry them through and cause His truth to triumph gloriously. Christ has given us an example. "Yet Michael the Archangel, when contending with the devil He disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee."
As soon as a preacher comes down from the position a minister should ever occupy, and descends to the comical to create a laugh over his opponent, or when he is sarcastic and sharp, and rails upon him, he does that which the Saviour of the world did not dare to do; for he places himself upon the enemy's ground. Ministers who contend with opposers of the truth of God do not have to meet men merely, but Satan and his host of evil angels. Satan watches for a chance to get the advantage of ministers who are advocating the truth, and when they cease to put their entire trust in God, and their
words are not in the spirit and love of Christ, the angels of God cannot strengthen and enlighten them. They leave them to their own strength, and evil angels press in their darkness; for this reason the opponents of the truth sometimes seem to have the advantage, and the discussion does more harm than real good.
God's servants should come nearer to Him. Brethren K, L, M, and N should be seeking to cultivate personal piety, rather than to encourage a love of debate. They should be seeking to become shepherds to the flock, rather than to be fitting themselves to create an excitement by swaying the feelings of the people. These brethren are in danger of depending more upon their popularity and their success with the people as smart debaters than upon being humble, faithful labourers and meek, devoted followers of Christ, co-workers with Him.