A Convention Sermon
For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.—II Corinthians 4:5
Brother President and my dear fellow-workers of this Convention:
I would be allowed the privilege for a moment before coming to the text to say that I have a very deep sense of the marked courtesy that is done to any man who is asked to preach its Convention Sermon. Quite well do I understand that there is no more reason for my preaching this sermon than for any one of hundreds of my cherished fellow preachers who are in this Convention hall today, or who are scattered throughout this great State. Indeed, there are hundreds of God's preachers in this land whose voices are rarely ever heard in the sessions of a Convention, at whose feet this Convention would delight to sit to hear them tell about Jesus. I would cast myself upon your most brotherly sympathy and I would beseech you to help me today by your prayers.
Probably the most glorious week that our Baptist people ever have in this State is that week in which comes their annual Convention with its auxiliary meetings. What is said and done here to a remarkable degree sets the pace for our fellow-workers throughout all our broad land. Oh, what need of humility and heart-searchings when we come to the Convention! What need of the prayers for the light and leading of the Divine Spirit!
The text is in Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians, fourth chapter and fifth verse: "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake."
The most glorious exponent of the gospel ministry that this world has ever seen was the Apostle Paul. He is the highest product of Christianity, he is the greatest single personal credential that Christ's Gospel has ever produced. Long before Wesley said, "The world is my parish," Paul had made the world his parish. The greatest man that ever sailed the Mediterranean Sea was not Pericles, nor Alexander, nor Hannibal, nor Caesar, but the plain preacher Paul. He did the most gigantic missionary work that the ages have ever known when he became Christ's preacher; from that hour he gladly faced innumerable difficulties and braved untold hardships and suffering, all because of his devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verily Paul "magnified the ministry." The most important work in all the world is the work of the pulpit. There can be no substitute for the spoken word from a living pulpit. "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." Whatever the progress and triumphs of the schools and of civilization, with all its multiform organizations, there can never be any displacement of the work of the prophets of God. The halcyon days of Christianity have always been the days of the right kind of preaching. All the decadent days of Christianity have been the days of the wrong kind of preaching. The Christian pulpit cannot be what it ought to be, and what God designs, if it be without the right kind of men in the pulpit. The pulpit is not the place for men of anemic spirit; they had better stay out of it. It is not the place for prigs and fops and dandies and for men seeking selfish ends. The most robust and virile and masculine and heroic business that earth ever saw is the right kind of preaching. Life is epic with the true preacher. The preacher, first of all, must be a genuine man. Paul was that. John the Baptist was that. They tell us that "knowledge is power," and so it is, but character is far more so. It was the secret that explained Washington, Gladstone and Pitt. What a preacher is within himself counts far more than what he says. Phillips Brooks' definition of preaching is: "Truth plus personality"; and another great definition: "A great life telling a great truth." A little man cannot be a great preacher. It is a crime for any preacher to be a little man, to be petty and ungenerous and envious and self-seeking and mean. Kingdoms call for kings to rule them; a king is a man who can; empires call for emperors. The greatest message ever given to mortals calls for the right kind of messengers!
In this chapter from which the text is taken Paul gives us certain suggestions of vital qualities that ought to be regnant in the minister of Christ's gospel. They are summoned to courageous endurance: "Seeing that we have this ministry, we faint not." Courage is a qualification never to be lost sight of by God's prophet and preacher. The preacher is called to courageous endurance.
My personal belief is that no lazy man should ever be a preacher. The most indefatigable toiler the earth ever saw should be God's divinely appointed preacher and prophet. If his people believe him lazy, he is vitally shorn of his power. "Cursed is every one that doeth the work of the Lord negligently." The naturalists tells us that nature denies beauty to every lazy animal. The ugliest biped in the world is a lazy preacher. The true preacher is a man of purity, "renouncing the hidden things of shame." He is to be an example to the believer in works, in manner of life, in faith, in word, in purity. They that bear the vessels of the Lord must be clean men. Oh, the grief that the preacher, careless about his habits and example and his reputation and influence, brings to all serious men!
The right kind of preacher is a man of marked integrity. Paul describes him as "one not walking in ways of craftiness; one not handling the word of God deceitfully." The fundamental virtue for the preacher and for everybody else is sincerity. It is unpardonable for God's preacher not to be honest and genuine to the very center of his being. Life is a ghastly lie if the preacher is not sincere. I would as soon hear the Gospel from the lips of a drunkard as from a man who would tell a lie. Oh, my brothers, in this incomparable work of the Christian ministry, whatever else we may or may not be, let us by the grace of God, be the right kind of men.
Now in Paul's great text here, he sets forth the message and the mission and the motive in all Christian service: "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." The subject matter of all true preaching is stated there.
"We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord." Paul states it for us first negatively. "We preach not ourselves." He makes a disclaimer to start with. It is very easy for a preacher to preach himself, but that is very bad homiletics and very bad religion. A preacher preaches himself when he preaches his own vagaries, speculations, or opinions, or mere theories, or doubts. Christ's pulpit is no place for the spiritual stammerer. "I believe, therefore have I spoken." "We can but speak the things we have seen and heard."
A preacher preaches himself oftentimes by absurd methods and reverence-debauching themes. Take this list, culled from a recent series:
"Can a Man Love Twice?"
"Going up Salt River"
"Skinning the Major"
"Saul Seeking His Father's Asses"
"Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon"—a prophet of God out in the race with little cheap theatricals! If I could get the ear and heart of the young man beginning his ministry today, I would beseech him to shun—as he would shun the deadly poison—every tendency within him, every urge his heart feels for fame, popularity, and publicity in the ministry. Fame is nothing, publicity is nothing, popularity is nothing; doing the will of God modestly and faithfully is everything, and the record of it is kept on high. Most of the best work done in this world by preachers has been done, and is being done, by men back there in the quiet nooks, whose names never one time get into the papers. The world's great preachers cannot be guilty of the folly I have just depicted. Imagine B. H. Carroll giving a series of sermons on the themes I have named. Imagine Spurgeon, or Alexander Maclaren, or Phillips Brooks, or John A. Broadus, or any of the princes of the Christian pulpit giving such a series! Paul preached "Christ Jesus the Lord." If the mighty Apostle had that incomparable method, surely his brothers, lesser and weaker, need to walk in his steps. It will ever be true, my brothers, that the world's cry in its sin, shall be this: "Sir, we would see Jesus." And it will ever be true that the chief magnet to draw wearied, sinning men out of the sloughs, darkness, death and doom is this: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me."
Paul states his case positively. "We preach not ourselves, but we preach Christ Jesus the Lord." That collocation of names is not accidental; it is deeply significant: "Christ Jesus the Lord." We preach Jesus; not merely His humanity. We delight in His humanity. His perfect humanity; we love to think of Him as a babe on his mother's heart, to think of Him as a lad asking and answering questions in the Temple at twelve, to think of Him glorifying toil the world round and through the ages, to think of Him as brother; but if Jesus was only human, we have no Gospel at all. They placarded the walls of the public buildings in France years ago with the question: "Can faith in a dead man save you?" Not at all. We do not preach faith in a dead man; we preach faith in one who conquered death and brought life and immortality to light through His gospel. Jesus Christ is our message. We preach Jesus Christ, the anointed Messiah, the God-appointed Deliverer, the divinely-sent Saviour. Jesus was more than a perfect example.
You delight to think of one who walked the world without a taint of sin, but you and I should be in despair today if we had only the blameless example of Jesus. Jesus is the world's perfect teacher, but that is not enough. Yonder at Caesarea Philippi He asked His apostles, when He had them apart: "Whom do men say that I am?" They answered: "Some say John the Baptist; some Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." And then He came closer: "Whom do you say that I am?" Simon Peter made prompt reply: "Thou art the Christ." Then He made the glad response: "On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." You cannot build a church of Christ apart from His deity. A church mocking the deity of Christ is no more a scriptural church than is a grocery store on yonder street. Christ is God manifest in the flesh, God fore-shortened, making atonement for human sin. This is the world's hope. How the name Jesus takes on the meaning of infinite preciousness! "Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins." In the thought of God, man has only one enemy and that enemy is sin. This earth would be fair as the island valley of the Avalon if no sin were here. Why did the Lord Jesus come down from heaven among men? He was manifested to take away our sins; He was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil. "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save the lost." "And now, once in the end of the world, He hath appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." Jesus is the world's Saviour because of His essential humanity and His essential deity. And now His name takes on a meaning sweeter than the music from any Aeolian harp:
Sweetest note in seraph song,
Sweetest name on mortal tongue;
Sweetest carol ever sung,
Jesus, Blessed Jesus.
That is the name that heals like a medicine and soothes like anodyne; that is the name that quiets our fears, relieves our agonies and dispels our despair. That is the name that transfigures common men and women and sends them out to be the world's heroes and heroines. That is the name which the dear lips that are silent first taught us, when as prattling babes we all lay on our mother's heart, a name sweeter than even mother's name; and that is the name which, I trust, will be last on our lips before they are hushed into their last silence.
Jesus the name that calms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
'Tis music in the sinner's ears,
And life and joy and peace.
Since Jesus is the divine Saviour, we gladly go with His gospel to all the world and commend His grace and love to sinners everywhere. There are no incurables in the sight of Jesus. Sin is the one unbearable yoke of the world. It is the one ghastly tragedy, and certain cults about us are failing and must fail utterly because they deny the fact of sin. Their message has no power to loosen the slave and disenthrall those who are chained, but we have a gospel which can deliver from sin. The Bible does not paint in glowing colors the condition of men. It portrays sin in all his hideous and ghastly aspects, but it says: "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound"; and with that gospel we can go to earth's remotest bounds and tell sinners everywhere that they need not despair.
Certain ethnologists, sociologists, moralists, and others talk to us about submerged and helpless classes, but with this divine Saviour, you cannot write Dante's word: "Let all who enter here abandon hope." Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, even the chief of sinners. Although one's sins be as scarlet, that divine Saviour will make them as white as snow. Spurgeon said: "You can unlock the very chambers of hell; even the vilest sinner, if he will come to Jesus repentant of sin, that divine Saviour will absolve him from all sin."
Edward Irving tells us that he once went out to see a young man who was dying in an attic, a boy notorious for his sin. Others had talked to him but seemed to make no impression. Presently Irving bent over him and touched his forehead and said to him: "God loves you enough to die for you"; and he opened his eyes in staring wonder and said: "Does He? Then I will love Him back." And the boy went out of that place of squalor and wretchedness and doom up to the starry heights, clinging to Christ. This is our gospel—a divine Saviour, and with that gospel we will go to men the world round and tell them they need not die eternally.
But that is not all. "We preach Jesus as Lord." The supreme need for every human being is to have a Lord, to have a Master; men are made to obey. You say that man was made to be free, and so he was. Equally so, man was made to obey, and all is chaos in that human life which does not have the right kind of a Master, even Christ Jesus, the Lord. The Lordship of Christ is the basis for all our contentions. You ask us why we insist forever on believers' baptism, and that baptism a burial. We cite you back, without a word of controversy, to the Lordship of Christ. You ask us why we give our money and give our lives to making the name of Jesus known all around the world; we point you back to the Lordship of Christ. There is the blessedness that goes with education and with civilization in all its triumphs; there is a glory that attaches to chivalry, when chivalry cares for a woman, but passing by all these as superficial as compared with the other, we answer: "We are missionaries, from here to the ends of the earth, because our risen and glorified Lord said, 'All authority is given unto me in heaven and on earth; go ye therefore unto all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.' " There is our basis for missions and, whenever we get away from that, the nerve of missions is cut and paralyzed.
The Lordship of Christ involves some vital corollaries. For one thing, the human soul must be free to make its own approach to that divine Saviour. Personality in religion must ever be inscribed on all our banners; one must believe for himself, and repent for himself, and be baptized for himself, and pray for himself, and give for himself. The Lordship of the Christ involves the great doctrine that religion and the State must be utterly divorced and separate. "My kingdom is not of this world," said Jesus. The Pharisees came to Him one day and asked Him if it was lawful to pay tribute unto Caesar. He took their coin, which had on it the image and superscription of Caesar, and made the telling answer: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." In that sentence Jesus stated an aphorism of immeasurable wisdom. That significant statement started a new era for all the world. That sentence was the sunrise gun of a new day for humanity. When Caesar interferes with religion, he always makes a muddle of it. The age-long contention of our fathers has been that the human soul must be free. There must be no restraint nor constraint upon such soul in the matter of religion. No institution, whether Church or State, and no person—whether parent or preacher, or pope, or priest—must dare to come between that soul and its divine Lord. This is the crowning jewel of humanity—the freedom of the human soul in its approach unto the exalted Lord. Our fathers have made this age-long contention all down the centuries. A true Baptist could not persecute others. If anywhere you find so-called Baptists persecuting Protestants or Catholics, Gentile or Jew, pagan, heathen, sinner, or anybody else, they are belying the age-long contention of our people. Our fathers through the centuries have held to this great doctrine, even with the shedding of their blood. Every land on the continent of Europe has been stained by their blood because of their fealty to this principle. Yonder in one of the colonies, there is blood on the whipping post for our contention for this principle. Our plain Baptist preachers on both sides of the sea have said: "We prefer to lie in jails rather than take license from the civil governments to preach Christ's spiritual gospel." Let Caesar's dues be paid to Caesar and his throne, but consciences and souls were made for God, for the Lord, alone.
The Lordship of Christ is a supreme necessity for every human being. The great Doctor Wilkinson's aphorism is a true one, that our contention is based upon obedience to Christ, the governing principle in the kingdom of Christ. Obedience is vital in the home, and in the school, and in the army. In religion man must have a master, and the exalted Saviour once offered, by the sacrifice of Himself, to make atonement for human sin, stands before men as such Master. The supreme necessity for all human hearts is to have such a Master. Every grea�