This solemn charge to one so zealous and faithful as was Timothy, is a strong testimony to the importance and responsibility of the work of the gospel minister. Summoning Timothy before the bar of God, Paul bids him preach the word, not the sayings and customs of men; to be ready to witness for God whenever opportunity should present itself,--before large congregations and private circles, by the way and at the fireside, to friends and to enemies, whether in safety or exposed to hardship and peril, reproach and loss.
Fearing that Timothy's mild, yielding disposition might lead him to shun an essential part of his work, Paul exhorted him to be faithful in reproving sin, and even to rebuke with sharpness those who were guilty of gross evils. Yet he was to do this "with all long-suffering and doctrine." He was to reveal the patience and love of Christ, explaining and enforcing his reproofs by the truths of the Word.
To hate and reprove sin, and at the same time to show pity and tenderness for the sinner, is a difficult achievement. The more earnest our own efforts to attain to holiness of heart and life, the more acute will be our perception of sin, and the more decided our
disapproval of it. We must guard against undue severity toward the wrong-doer; but we must also be careful not to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. There is need of showing Christlike patience and love for the erring one, but there is also danger of showing so great toleration for his error that he will look upon himself as undeserving of reproof, and will reject it as uncalled for and unjust.
A Burden for Souls
God's ministers must come into close companionship with Christ, and follow His example in all things --in purity of life, in self-denial, in benevolence, in diligence, in perseverance. To win souls to the kingdom of God must be their first consideration. With sorrow for sin and with patient love, they must work as Christ worked, putting forth determined, unceasing effort.
John Welch, a minister of the gospel, felt so great a burden for souls that he often rose in the night to send up to God his supplication for their salvation. On one occasion his wife pleaded with him to regard his health, and not venture on such exposure. His answer was, "O woman, I have the souls of three thousand to answer for, and I know not how it is with them."
In a town in New England a well was being dug. When the work was nearly finished, while one man was still at the bottom, the earth caved in and buried him. Instantly the alarm was sent out, and mechanics, farmers, merchants, lawyers, hurried breathlessly to the rescue. Ropes, ladders, spades, and shovels were brought by eager, willing hands. "Save him, O save him!" was the cry.
Men worked with desperate energy, till the sweat stood in beads upon their brows and their arms trembled with the exertion. At length a pipe was thrust down, through which they shouted to the man to answer if he were still alive. The response came, "Alive, but make haste. It is fearful in here." With a shout of joy they renewed their efforts, and at last he was reached and saved, and the cheer that went up seemed to pierce the very heavens. "He is saved!" echoed through every street in the town.
Was this too great zeal and interest, too great enthusiasm, to save one man? It surely was not; but what is the loss of temporal life in comparison with the loss of a soul? If the threatened loss of a life will arouse in human hearts a feeling so intense, should not the loss of a soul arouse even deeper solicitude in men who claim to realise the danger of those apart from Christ? Shall not the servants of God show as great zeal in labouring for the salvation of souls as was shown for the life of that one man buried in a well?
Starving for the Bread of Life
A godly woman once made the remark, "O that we could hear the pure gospel as it used to be preached from the pulpit! Our minister is a good man, but he does not realise the spiritual needs of the people. He clothes the cross of Calvary with beautiful flowers, which hide all the shame, conceal all the reproach. My soul is starving for the bread of life. How refreshing it would be to hundreds of poor souls like me, to listen to something simple, plain, and scriptural, that would nourish our hearts!"
There is need of men of faith, who will not only preach, but will minister to the people. Men are needed who walk daily with God, who have a living connection with heaven, whose words have power to bring conviction to hearts. Not that they may make a display of their talents and intelligence, are ministers to labour, but that the truth may cut its way to the soul as an arrow from the Almighty.
A minister, after preaching a Bible discourse which brought deep conviction to one of his hearers, was accosted with the question, "Do you really believe what you have preached?"
"Certainly," he answered.
"But is it really so?" asked the anxious questioner.
"Certainly," said the minister, as he reached for his Bible.
Then the man broke out, "O, if this is the truth, what shall we do?"
"What shall we do?" thought the minister-- "we"? What could the man mean? But the question forced its way to his soul. He went away to plead with God to tell him what to do. And as he prayed, there came to him with overwhelming force the thought that he had the solemn realities of eternity to present to a dying world. For three weeks his place in the desk was vacant. He was seeking an answer to the question, "What shall we do?"
The minister returned to his charge with an unction from the Holy One. He realised that his past preaching had made little impression on his hearers. Now he felt upon him the terrible weight of souls. As he came to his desk, he was not alone. There was a great work to be done, but he knew that God would
not fail him. Before his hearers he exalted the Saviour and His matchless love. There was a revelation of the Son of God, and a revival began that spread through the churches of the surrounding districts.
The Urgency of Christ's Work
If our ministers realised how soon the inhabitants of the world are to be arraigned before the judgement-seat of God, they would work more earnestly to lead men and women to Christ. Soon the last test is to come to all. Only a little longer will the voice of mercy be heard; only a little longer can the gracious invitation be given, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink."[2 JOHN 7:37.] God sends the gospel invitation to people everywhere. Let the messengers He sends work so harmoniously, so untiringly, that all will take knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus, and learned of Him.
Of Aaron, the high priest of Israel, it is written, He "shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgement upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually."[3 EX. 28:29.] What a beautiful and expressive figure this is of the unchanging love of Christ for His church! Our great High Priest, of whom Aaron was a type, bears His people upon His heart. And should not His earthly ministers share His love and sympathy and solicitude?
Divine power alone will melt the sinner's heart and bring him, a penitent, to Christ. No great reformer or teacher, not Luther, Melanchthon, Wesley, or White-field, could of himself have gained access to hearts, or
have accomplished the results that these men achieved. But God spoke through them. Men felt the influence of a superior power, and involuntarily yielded to it. To-day those who forget self and rely on God for success in the work of soul-saving, will have the divine co-operation, and their efforts will tell gloriously in the salvation of souls.
I feel constrained to say that the labours of many of our ministers lack power. God is waiting to bestow His grace upon them, but they pass on from day to day, possessing only a cold, nominal faith, presenting the theory of the truth, but presenting it without that vital force which comes from a connection with heaven, and which sends the spoken words home to the hearts of men. They are half asleep, while all around them are souls perishing in darkness and error.
Ministers of God, with hearts aglow with love for Christ and your fellow-men, seek to arouse those who are dead in trespasses and sins. Let your earnest entreaties and warnings pierce their consciences. Let your fervent prayers melt their hearts, and lead them in penitence to the Saviour. You are ambassadors for Christ, to proclaim His message of salvation. Remember that a lack of consecration and wisdom in you may turn the balance for a soul, and send it to eternal death. You cannot afford to be careless and indifferent. You need power, and this power God is willing to give you without stint. He asks only a humble, contrite heart, that is willing to believe and receive His promises. You have only to use the means that God has placed within your reach, and you will obtain the blessing.