"Take Heed Unto Yourselves" *
By Carlyle B. Haynes
As preachers, we are admonished to take heed unto ourselves, to make sure that we are saved from sin and are recipients of the full provisions of the gospel which we proclaim to sinners. And we must not only make sure that we are in a state of grace, but that we are living a life of victory over sin. It is only thus that our ministry will be truly fruitful.
The state of our Christian experience has an unconscious influence on the people to whom we preach. They know whether or not the preacher has experienced the message which he brings. With shame I confess that I have many times displayed to my flock the distemper of my own soul; for when my spiritual experience is cold, my preaching is lacking in the warm breath of the Holy Spirit; when my spiritual vision is blurred, my preaching is sure to be confused. We preachers are commissioned to feed the flock, but when we neglect to take food for ourselves, we fail to provide nourishment for those under our care, and soon their famished condition is manifest in spiritual leanness and listless discharge of duties. If we, as preachers, feed on unwholesome food, such as the sensational newspaper, or frivolous reading of any kind, our people are going to fare the worse for it. If we abound in zeal, faith, and love, these graces will be reflected in the lives of our people. Therefore, we should take heed to the influence which we exert by keeping under restraint lust, passion, and worldly inclination, and maintaining the life of faith and activity, love and zeal through constant communion with God. It is our daily duty to study our own hearts, to subdue the lower nature, and to walk with God. If we as preachers do not do this, everything will go wrong in our work, and the flock of God committed to our care will be starved, weakened, and neglected.
Aside from general watchfulness along all lines, we must take heed to ourselves in the matter of preparation of heart to enter the pulpit. If as we stand in the pulpit our heart is cold and barren of the love of God, how can we expect to bring the warm and healing rays of light to other hearts? Especially at such a time we should seek God for new life. We ought to be aware of the solemn weight of the subject we are to deal with; we should be conscious of the desperate need of the people, and recognize that the eternal destiny of some soul in the congregation hangs on our words. All this ought to inspire us with earnest zeal as we enter the pulpit.
There is need that we take heed to ourselves lest we contradict our preaching by our example, and thus place stumblingblocks which will lead to ruin. The life may such as to destroy all the good counsel of the tongue. In an hour's talk at the Sabbath service we may erect a spiritual structure of high proportions, only to be torn down by the influences of the week-day life. The man who means what he says ought to be willing to do what he says. Giving way to a hasty, proud, inconsiderate word, or performing one impatient, contemptuous act, may mean the utter weakening of the finest sermon, and result in a fruitless life.
Preachers ought to live what they preach, but it takes the grace of Christ to do it. We want success; we want to see souls saved in the kingdom of God; we want to see people brought into this faith and baptized into the church. Are we willing to pay the price,—willing to deny ourselves, willing to endure false accusations or personal injury or foul slander? Must we lose our temper, feel hurt, and go all to pieces when some one opposes us, goes contrary to our desires, or says something about us which is untrue? We certainly do not value success very highly if we permit such things to enter into our life.
I think we place emphasis on the wrong place when we study to preach exactly and perfectly, and give little thought to the daily life, to see that it is maintained according to the exact standard. Some preachers study a whole week in order to deliver a sermon for one hour, yet with some of us it seems altogether too much to study one hour in order to be able to live a whole week as a Christian preacher should. There are preachers who are very particular as to terminology and that there is no misplaced word in their sermons. That is right. It is both holy and important to preach correctly and acceptably. But there should be the same care exercised in order to refrain from misplaced affections, ill-advised words, or improper actions in the course of the life. Our lives have just as much to do with human salvation as our sermons; in fact, I am led to wonder if they do not have more influence. We must ever be tending to the needs of the flock, whether in the pulpit or out of it; and daily study how to use our money, and how to make our friendship and our service count for God, just as much as the sermons we preach. The minister of God is on duty not only when in the pulpit, but twenty-four hours of the day.
Let us take heed to ourselves lest we lack the qualifications essential to the preacher's work. The man who stands as a teacher of other men concerning the mysteries of regeneration and the new life, cannot himself remain a babe in such knowledge. The preacher's program is a difficult one. There are obscure texts to be explained, duties to be performed in such a manner as to make them minister grace and comfort to the needy; sins to be avoided, requiring foresight and understanding; temptations to be pointed out for the guidance and safety of the unwary; intricate and weighty questions of conscience to be solved. All these requirements cannot be met by unqualified men; they call for skill and understanding in all that pertains to divine service. Ministers cannot afford to be proud, or to be careless, or to be lazy. Every part of our work requires the finest and most delicate skill.
And while I have referred to the fact that the preaching of the sermon is not the most difficult thing in our work, yet it is here that the greatest knowledge, skill, and heaven-inspired tact is required, in order to make truth plain to the hearers, and to be so Yielded to the influences of the Holy Spirit as to cause conviction to touch hearts and bring sinners to Christ. We are servants of the great God, sent to deliver His message. The honor and dignity of such a calling should inspire the very best use of every natural and acquired endowment.
I think it is pitiful and altogether inexcusable when the messenger, intrusted with a message from God of everlasting importance to men, manifests conduct so imprudent and so altogether unskillful as to defeat entirely the purpose of his mission, and brings dishonor and reproach upon God's cause and the sacred brotherhood of the ministry. Reason and common sense indicate that no man should attempt to engage in such a high and holy calling as the ministry unless he is determined to spare no pains to qualify for the proper performance of that work. And such determination means more than to snatch a moment now and then for study. No such trifling will produce able, sound, and efficient ministers. Constant application, study, prayer, research, and practice are all required.
Therefore, let us anew take heed unto ourselves, lest we become weak through our own neglect, and thus mar the work of God.
Buenos Aires, Argentina.
* Ministerial Institute Study, No. 2.