Earnestness: Its Marring and Maintenance (Part 4)

Headings have been added. Read the series so far.

Physical Condition

Pardon my saying that the condition of your body must be attended to, especially in the matter of eating, for any measure of excess may injure your digestion and make you stupid when you should be fervent. From the memoir of Duncan Matheson I cull an anecdote which is much to the point:

“In a certain place where evangelistic meetings were being held, the lay preachers, among whom was Mr. Matheson, were sumptuously entertained at the house of a Christian gentleman. After dinner they went to the meeting, not without some difference of opinion as to the best method of conducting the services of the evening. ‘The Spirit is grieved; he is not here at all, I feel it,’ said one of the younger, with a whine which somewhat contrasted with his previous unbounded enjoyment of the luxuries of the table. ‘Nonsense,’ replied Matheson, who hated all whining and morbid spirituality; ‘Nothing of the sort. You have just eaten too much dinner, and you feel heavy.’”

Duncan Matheson was right, and a little more of his common sense would be a great gain to some who are ultra spiritual, and attribute all their moods of feeling to some supernatural cause when the real reason lies far nearer to hand. Has it not often happened that dyspepsia has been mistaken for backsliding, and a bad digestion has been set down as a hard heart? I say no more: a word to the wise is enough.

Many physical and mental causes may operate to create apparent lethargy where there is at heart intense earnestness. Upon some of us a disturbed night, a change in the weather, or an unkind remark, will produce the most lamentable effect. But those who complain of want of zeal are often the most zealous persons in the world, and a confession of want of life is itself an argument that life exists, and is not without vigor. Do not spare yourselves and become self-satisfied; but, on the other hand, do not slander yourselves and sink into despondency. Your own opinion of your state is not worth much: ask the Lord to search you.

Lack of Visible Success

Long continued labor without visible success is another frequent damp upon zeal, though if rightly viewed it ought to be an incentive to sevenfold diligence. Quaint Thomas Fuller observes that “herein God hath humbled many painstaking pastors, in making them to be clouds to rain, not over Arabia the happy, but over Arabia the desert and stony.” If non-success humbles us it is well, but if it discourages us, and especially if it leads us to think bitterly of more prosperous brethren, we ought to look about us with grave concern. It is possible that we, have been faithful and have adopted wise methods, and are in our right place, and yet we have not struck the mark; we shall probably be heavily bowed down and feel scarcely able to continue the work; but if we pluck up courage and increase our earnestness we shall one day reap a rich harvest, which will more than repay us for all our waiting. “The husbandman waiteth for the precious fruits of the earth”; and with a holy patience begotten of zeal we must wait on, and never doubt that the time to favor Zion will yet come.

Nor must it ever be forgotten that the flesh is weak and naturally inclined to slumber. We need a constant renewal of the divine impulse which first started us in the way of service. We are not as arrows, which find their way to the target by the sole agency of the force with which they started from tile bow; nor as birds, which bear within themselves their own motive power: we must be borne onward, like ships at sea, by the constant power of the heavenly wind, or we shall make no headway. Preachers sent from God are not musical boxes which, being once wound up.. will play through their set tunes, but they are trumpets which are utterly mute until the living breath causes them to give forth a Certain sound. We read of some who are dumb dogs, given to Slumber, and such would be the character of us all if the grace of God did not prevent. We have need to watch against; a careless, indifferent spirit, and if we do not so we shall soon be as lukewarm as Laodicea itself.

Principle, Not Passion

Remembering then, dear brethren, that we must be in earnest, and that we cannot counterfeit earnestness, or find a substitute for it, and that it is very easy for us to lose it, let us consider for a while the ways and means for retaining all our fervor and gaining more. If it is to continue, our earnestness must be kindled at an immortal flame, and I know of but one — the flame of the love of Christ, which many waters cannot quench. A spark from that celestial sun will be as undying as the source from whence it came. If we can get it, yea, if we have it, we shall still be full of enthusiasm, however long we may live, however greatly we may be tried, and however much for many reasons we may’ be discouraged. To continue fervent for life we must possess the fervor of heavenly life to begin with.

Have we this fire? We must have the truth burnt into our souls, or it will not burn upon our lips. Do We understand this? The doctrines of grace must be part and parcel of ourselves, interwoven with the warp and woof of our being, and this can only be effected by the same hand which originally made the fabric. We shall never lose our love to Christ and our love to souls if the Lord has given them to us. The Holy Spirit makes zeal for God to be a permanent principle of life rather than a passion: — does the Holy Spirit rest upon us, or is our present fervor a mere human feeling? We ought upon this point to be seriously inquisitorial with our hearts, pressing home the question, Have we the holy fire which springs from a true call to the ministry? If not, why are we here? If a man can live without preaching, let him live without preaching. If a man can be content without being a soul-winner — I had almost said he had better not attempt the work, but I had rather say — let him seek to have the stone taken out of his heart, that he may feel for perishing mere Till then, as a minister, he may do positive mischief by occupying the place of one who might have succeeded in the blessed work in which he must be a failure.

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