A LITTLE boy followed his father through the lengthening shadows. As darkness enveloped them, the father lighted a candle and led the way. Having fallen some distance behind, the son shouted, "Father, I cannot see you. Are you there?"
The father answered, "Yes, I am here. Can you see the light?"
"Yes," answered the boy, "I can see the light, but I cannot see you."
"Do not let that disturb you," replied the father. "Just follow the light and you will follow me."
"The Sweet Consciousness"
It is no mere coincidence that the command to preach was accompanied by the promise, "Lo, I am with you." Young's translation of Matthew 28:20 renders the verse thus: "Lo, I am with you all the days, —till the full end of the age." All that the minister is or may hope to accomplish is contained in this promise. With Christ all things are possible; without Him, nothing. God is faithful. He is with His messenger in fair weather and foul, in sickness and health, in a cave or on Carmel. Ahead lie years of uninterrupted companionship for the message-bearing creature and his Creator, for, said the Master, "I am with you all the days."
How this can be true in the light of human experience is the challenge of pure faith. An evangelist lies unconscious and bleeding outside the city gate. He has been stoned for performing his Master's will. And where was God while jagged rocks tore the apostle's flesh? The answer? "I am with you all the days." And where is God when an evangelist preaches his heart out with little response in attendance or baptisms? Where is God when strife riddles a board or business meeting and the minister cannot find his way? Where is God when the man of God is "promoted" to a smaller district in a remote locality, and where, incidentally, there is no church school for the education of his children? Where is He when death takes a child or a loved one in the very summertime of life?
These questions demand an answer. Yea, like the apocalyptic souls under the altar, they cry out for one. Then comes the reply, heaven born and heaven sent: "I am with you all the days."
It is the Living Presence in the message that attracts men to Christ. Pulpit charm, eloquence, and wisdom are of little avail in the conversion of a soul. "I . . . will draw all men" is the Master's promise. Every message should therefore be built around Him. He is every sermon outline. Peripheral details should surround Him like satellites in orbit. The minister need never wonder what to discuss next Sabbath. That was decided for him before his birth. He will talk about Jesus, of course. Whether his title theme is "The Origin of Life" or "The State of the Dead," his message must be a revelation of Jesus Christ. It is Christ in the message that gives it power. This involves more than the frequent use of the Master's name, or infrequent references to the suffering of Christ. The messenger must speak from a heart experience. Thus the power of God working through a yielded heart uses lips of clay to reach other hearts. Thus employed, there steals upon the rested soul of the minister "the sweet consciousness, I am with Thee!"
"The Bird Waketh"
In spring and summer the voice of the bird heralds the breaking of the day. His song of cheer is as refreshing as the morning air. One author has unerringly called the bird "the forerunner of the sun."
In this the bird is not unlike the church of the living God. Operating in 195 countries representing 98.98 per cent of the world population, and boldly declaring the whole counsel of God, the church is indeed the forerunner of the Son of God. Operating from 12,707 churches, through 637 institutions, and with 46,816 workers, the church is indeed set up to do a work in the world. One needs but visit one mission outpost to determine that the pulse beat at the extremities is as strong as at the heart. The church, glorifying God for her successes, repentant of her failures, wends her busy way toward the kingdom of God.
But less than a fourth part of the world membership is engaged in church effort. A few have a burden to do the work while the many are content to let them do it. The most explosive problem that the church must face is that of an inactive laity. Perhaps the following quotation pinpoints the need:
Just as soon as a church is organized, let the minister set the members at work. They will need to be taught how to labor successfully.—Evangelism, pp. 353, 354.
I reveal no secret in stating that this has not been the pattern of our labors. And with what result? Churches full of sleeping saints, whole congregations long inactive now infirm, expecting the minister to play nursemaid, often ministering to their self-induced maladies. Indeed, in many cases much of the trouble would disappear if they would begin an active life of personal witnessing.
God's people are to feel a noble, generous sympathy for every line of work carried on in the great harvest field. By their baptismal vows they are pledged to make earnest, self-denying efforts to promote, in the hardest parts of the field, the work of soulsaving. God has placed on every believer the responsibility of striving to rescue the helpless and the oppressed.—Ibid., pp. 354, 355.
Brethren, what man among us has pressed this program as he should? Which one of us can point tke finger at the other? I freely acknowledge this as the collective sin of the ministry, namely, failure to follow a steady plan of prescribing and supervising the work program of the individual church member. But enough of this lamentation. There are questions to be answered—vital questions. Is it not a fact that one man who can get ten men to work is more valuable than one man who does ten men's work?
And further, is not this complaint increasingly voiced that the organizational program leaves little time for public evangelism? The questions themselves emphasize the necessity of distribution of responsibility. The church program on the local level has been built around the pastor.
From the beginning it was not so. The broader, heaven-born concept of lay participation must supplement the pastor's personal effort.
When will some minister, somewhere, map out a weekly program of soul-saving effort for each member of his church, and through duly appointed supervision regulate those activities fifty-two weeks a year? This is the Bible concept. The Spirit of Prophecy supports it. The Holy Ghost will endorse this program with the fullness of His Presence. To quote Vance Havner: "There ought to be an urgency befitting the emergency, and the saints ought to be as desperate as the situation." Mr. Havner continues: "Anyone can start a revival, but few ever do."
There are many reasons for this. One is that the saints have the mistaken idea that their dollars can do it for them. And another is that most do not sense that personal witnessing is necessary to the maintenance of one's spirituality.
Why, then, is not this need urged upon the people? If a brother is delinquent in his tithe paying, he receives a personal visit and is exhorted to greater faithfulness. What means this lack of urgency in the matter of personal witnessing? Brethren, this is the hour of the "bird's awakening." Preach to him, prod him, visit him. Do anything but let him sleep, for upon his shrill cry hangs the spiritual destiny of a lost world.
"The Shadows Flee"
Picture in your minds an aroused church; members with hearts aglow, going from house to house with open Bibles; ministers to whom preaching the gospel is their first work; baptisms that occur so frequently that the statistical machinery breaks down; churches filled to overflowing for the midweek service; people meeting in rented halls and open fields for want of accommodation. The knowledge of God will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. An idle dream? Nay, verily, this is indeed the prophet's picture of the church in her final glory. Indeed, the "departure of the shadows" merely awaits "the waking of the bird."