Among those of us who have been entrusted with the God-given responsibility of caring for the souls of men there is apt to creep in a certain forgetfulness that may finally result in terrible loss to ourselves. Of this danger I was warned by an older worker in my first year in the ministry. After having talked for some time of the work in which we were engaged, the old man laid his hand on my young shoulder and said, "Brother, while laboring for souls never forget that you have a soul to save."
Here is the great danger—the loss of our own soul. Day and night without ceasing we carry the care of the souls of others: those with whom we are studying, those to whom we preach, those in our churches. There are visits and studies and the organizing of the evangelistic campaign. The apostle Paul, while engaged in all these things, expressed fear for the danger of his own soul: "lest . . . when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Cor. 9:27).
To all of us who have been made the keepers of the Lord's vineyard, the experience of Solomon deserves serious reflection: "They made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept" (S. of Sol. 1:6). A zealous worker for the salvation of the nations about his kingdom, he went to endless effort to bring the knowledge of the true God to those in darkness. But while thus engaged he so neglected his own soul's garden that when we consider it, it appears as "the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down" (Prov. 24:30, 31).
Is the neglected soul-garden experience of Solomon duplicated in our lives today? Without doubt we have felt as a little child, not knowing how to lead this so great a people, and have then experienced the bountiful blessings of heaven. There have been times when the God of heaven has let the fire of the Holy Spirit descend in answer to our humble prayers. But now, today, how is it with our souls? There was a time in Solomon's experience when his soul was well kept and he enjoyed the abundant blessing of God. The past experience can never atone for the present. How terrible that this man, who received so bountifully of heaven's storehouse, should wander so far as to worship at the shrines of heathen dieties before he finally realized his great need—the caring for and salvation of himself! The Lord's messenger, as if viewing this danger to us, says:
"My message to ministers, young and old, is this: Guard jealously your hours for prayer, Bible study, and self-examination. Set aside a portion of each day for a study of the Scriptures and communion with God."—Gospel Workers, P. 100.
Herein are listed those things which, when neglected, will mean the loss of our souls.
What of our prayer life?
"Christ's ministers must watch unto prayer. . . . Prayer is the breath of the soul. . . No other means of grace can be substituted, and the health of the soul be preserved. . . . Neglect the exercise of prayer, or engage in prayer spasmodically, now and then, as seems convenient, and you lose your hold on God. The spiritual faculties lose their vitality, the religious experience lacks health and vigor."—Ibid, pp. 254, 255.
The divine injunction, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God," means more than that study in which we engage in preparation for the feeding of the flock and for the presentation of the light to those in darkness. This study is that which wins the approval of God for our own souls, "to shew thyself approved unto God."
"Let ministers put the whole heart into the task of searching the Scriptures," is the counsel of the Spirit of prophecy. (Ibid., pp. 98, 99.) How many times, like the Master, after He had fed the thousands, we need to go apart to be refreshed ourselves! Today are our souls dying of starvation, dying for want of the Word of God?
"As our physical life is sustained by food, so our spiritual life is sustained by the word of God. And every soul is to receive life from God's word for himself. As we must eat for ourselves in order to receive nourishment, so we must receive the word for ourselves. . . . The word of God, received into the soul, moulds the thoughts, and enters into the development of the character."—The Desire of Ages, pp. 390, 391.
And thus our soul garden is nourished and grows according to God's plan.
Further than this comes the warning of Christ, "Take heed to yourselves" (Luke 21: 34). Paul admonishes, "Examine yourselves" (2 Cor. 13:5). Now, while time lingers, although it is borrowed time, we need to remember we have a soul of our own to save. We need to examine our garden. Have the weeds choked out the good seed? Has the enemy sown tares in our garden? Is the wall that separates that garden from the world broken down and no longer clearly defined? These questions I find myself asking as I examine my own heart today.
To a certain extent I find the words already quoted from the Proverbs true of my garden: thorns have grown; there are nettles in one corner; and in places the wall is crumbling. I am reminded that sooner or later all must face the divine decree: "This night thy soul shall be required of thee" (Luke 12:20).
Brethren, let it not be true of us that while keeping the Lord's vineyard we have neglected to eternal ruin our own soul's garden.