And now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.…
Here is one of those passages in the New Testament which make a forcible appeal to the conscience of every man who has undertaken or is undertaking to serve God in Holy Orders. The words are such as escape men at the turning points of life, at entering upon or taking leave of great responsibilities — compressed, fervid utterances of the deepest thought and of the strongest currents of feeling — of thought and feeling which for the moment will not, be pent up and restrained within the barriers of ordinary habit, or of studied reserve. St. Paul says that he had declared the whole mind — that is, the whole revealed mind — of God. Observe, of God. His language excludes that conception of religious truth which makes it merely the product of the truest, purest, deepest thoughts of the highest and largest minds among the sons of men. The whole counsel of God! It was God's Word, not man's; it was neither the result of a thoughtful speculation, nor yet an approximate guess, nor yet a cunningly devised fable. Being God's Word, it was as a whole worthy of the best thought and love that His creature could give it. When St. Paul asserts that he has not "shunned" to declare it, the word must remind us that there are many motives and hindrances calculated to keep a man back from doing that which must be done, if he fears his God, if he cares for his own soul, if he has any true love for the souls of those to whom of his own free will he undertakes to minister.
1. Now one cause of failure in this primary duty would seem to lie in a lack of religious knowledge. It is much more easy to be deficient in essential knowledge of religious truth than we are apt to assume. May we not lapse into a habit of thinking and speaking of the doctrines of the gospel as if they were like soldiers in a regiment, so many units, each adding something no doubt to the collective bulk and area of doctrine, while yet in no way essential to its organic completeness, and therefore each capable of being withdrawn, without inflicting any more serious injury upon the entire truth than that of diminished size? Do we not hear persons talk of the articles of the Creed in this way, as if each article was a perfectly separate and new truth, as if each was, I might almost say, a new and gratuitous infliction upon the reluctant intellect of man, as if each was round and perfect in itself, and had no relations whatever to any truth beyond it? They fail to perceive the connection, the interdependence, the organic unity of all truth that rests on the authority of God. Their view is too superficial to enable them to do justice to that marvellous adjustment of truth to truth, of faculty to object, of result to cause, which is a direct and obvious perception to souls who gaze prayerfully and steadily at the complete revelation of Christ. The faith is, if I may say so with reverence, so marvellously compacted, so instinct with a pervading life, as to resemble a natural organism, I had almost said a living creature. No one truth can be misrepresented, strained, dislocated, much less withdrawn, without a certain, and frequently an ascertainable injury resulting to other truths which are supposed to be still unquestioned and intact. For there are nerves and arteries which link the very extremities of revealed doctrine to its brain and heart; and the wound which a strain or an amputation may inflict, must in its effects extend far beyond the particular doctrine which is the immediate seat and scene of the injury.
2. A second hindrance is lack of courage. To represent God as He is — as just no less than merciful, as punishing sin no less certainly than rewarding faith and holiness — this, to be done well and honestly, requires courage. Of old they understood this well, who went forth uplifting the Cross, while yet baring their breasts to death. They knew that the patient to whom they were carrying the medicine that would cure him would often refuse the draught, and would punish the physician who dared to offer it. But they loved man, and they loved and feared their God too sincerely and too well, to infuse new ingredients, or to withdraw any of the bitter but needful elements of cure. They accepted civil and social prescription; they endured moral and physical agony; they embraced, one after another, with cheerful hearts, the very warrants and instruments of their death, because they had counted the cost, and had measured too well the greatness of their task, and the glories of their anticipated eternity, to shrink sensitively back at the first symptoms of opposition, or of difficulty. St. Paul might have foreseen the conduct of Demetrius, and the tumult in the amphitheatre; but this was no serious reason for considering the worship of Diana as a sort of modified or imperfect revelation, or as anything short of a hateful lie. He did not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God.
3. The want of spirituality of heart and soul is a third cause of defective representation of doctrine. To speak for God to the souls of men, a man must himself, in his inmost soul, have consciously stood face to face with that truth of which he speaks. He must speak of God as one who has known at once His dread awfulness and His tender love; of sin, as that which he feels to be the one master evil, and with which as such he has struggled in good truth within his secret self; of Christ, His Person, His propitiatory and atoning death, His life-giving sacraments, as of the Person and acts of a dear Friend, loved with the heart's warmest and best affection, which yet adored with the deepest homage and by the chiefest powers of his prostrate spirit; of eternity as of that for which he is himself making daily solemn preparation; of prayer and the care of conscience and the culture of purity and truth within, as of things of which he knows something by trial and exercise, perhaps even something more by failure. Himself a redeemed sinner speaking to sinners who need or who have found their Redeemer, he will speak in earnest.
4. Once more; here, as in the whole field of ministerial labour, let a man work and pray for the grace of an unselfish spirit. How often are not we, the representatives of Christ, constrained to rebuke ourselves, humble ourselves, condemn ourselves, by the words which we speak from the chair of truth! Or take another illustration of the need of an unselfish spirit. It is possible, nay, probable, that we may have what are called favourite doctrines, sections or sides of truth through which God has in a special sense spoken to us, moved us, sanctified us (as we trust), saved us. Of these, no doubt, we can speak with more power, because with more intimate perception of their bearing on the secret springs of life and death. But we also speak of such points with less of moral and intellectual effort than of others; and this greater facility is likely to be the real cause of our giving them an undue prominence in our cycle of teaching, while we endeavour to whisper to our consciences, and to persuade our friends that these points are the essentials of the gospel, and that all the rest is comparatively unnecessary. Thus men teach the Atonement, and ignore the sacraments; or they teach the need of faith, and ignore the need of love and holiness; or they teach the beauty of our Lord's character, and forget His propitiatory and sacrificial death; or conversely, they insist upon the outward duties of religion, and do scant justice to the spiritual and internal forces of the soul. We must teach all that God has revealed, because He has revealed it, leaving it to Him to touch one soul by this, and another soul by that portion of His revelation. Nothing, however, but a spirit of genuine self-sacrifice, nothing but a true love of the souls of men, can enable a man so to forego his own predilections, so to throw himself into the state of mind, and points of view, and peculiar difficulties, and narrower or broader horizons of his hearers, as to lose himself, and the little history of his own spirit, in the mighty work of proclaiming in its perfectness the truth of God. We know how the great apostle combined this perfect consideration for others, with an unflinching, chivalrous loyalty to the claims of truth (1 Corinthians 9:19-22).
Parallel VersesKJV: And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.