And it shall come to pass in the last days, said God, I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh…
(missionary sermon): —
1. Many visions have led to the most disastrous results. When ,Napoleon had a vision of a universal monarchy over which he should preside, he drenched the lands in blood. Many visions have been wretchedly delusive. Men have dreamed of finding the fairy pleasure in the dark forest of sin. Many dreams have been enervating. Many pass all their days building castles in the air. With fine capacities they have drivelled away existence: as their theory of life was born of smoke, so the result of their lives has been a cloud.
2. For all this, good and grand visions are not unknown which came from the excellent glory, and which, when young or old men have seen them, have filled them with wisdom, and grace, and holiness. Such visions are given to men whose eyes have been illumined by the Holy Spirit.
3. All Divine things, when they first come to men from the Lord, are as visions, because man is so little prepared to believe God's thoughts and ways, that he cannot think them to be real. They appear to us to be too great, too good to be real. It must be so while Jehovah's ways are higher than oar ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts. We must take care that we do not neglect heavenly monitions through fear of being considered visionary; we must not be staggered even by the dread of being styled fanatical, for to stifle a thought from God is no mean sin.
4. How much of good in this world would have been lost if good men had quenched the first half-fashioned thoughts which have flitted before them. Suppose Luther had taken the advice of his teacher when he said to him, "Go thy way, silly monk! and pray God, and if it be His will He will reform the abuses of this Church, but what hast thou to do with it?" And George Fox, that most eminent of dreamers, where had been all the testimonies for a spiritual religion, all the holy influences for benevolence, for peace, for anti-slavery, which have streamed upon this world through the agency of the Society of Friends, if the wild Quaker had been content to let his impressions come and go and be forgotten? These things,which nowadays are ordinary Christian doctrines, were considered in his day to be but the prattle of fanatics; even as the reforms which some of us shall live to see are denounced as revolutionary, or ridiculed as Utopian.
5. Many suggestions which come from God to men, are not so much visions to them as they are to the outside world. And need we wonder at this? Why, men of science and art have to endure the same ordeal. Stephenson declares that he will make a machine which will run without horse-power, at the rate of twelve miles an hour — and how the Tory benches of the House of Commons roared at the man as a born fool!
6. It too, have seen a vision. I have seen missionary spirit in England, awakened, and revived. I have seen — the wish was father to the sight — the ardour of our first; missionary days return.
I. LET US JUSTIFY OUR VISION. That which we have dreamed of is —
1. Evidently needed. There is a general flagging in missionary interest; and albeit that the funds may not much have fallen off, yet the annual recurrence of a debt, together with other matters, goes to show that missionary zeal needs rekindling. This results partly from the fact that the novelty of the thing has gone off, and partly because we have had few very startling incidents of ]ate to evoke a display of enthusiasm. That the missionary fire exists is certain, for the heart of the Church is alive; but it is slumbering, somehow. If there be any one point in which the Christian Church ought to keep its fervour at a white heat, it is concerning missions. How can we expect in such an enterprise that we shall ever succeed if any of our strength be left unused? Depend upon it, that the flagging of zeal at home acts like a canker abroad, and when the heart of Christianity in England does not throb vigorously, every single limb of the missionary body feels the decline.
2. It is very possible that it may be realised. It is not a thing too hard to look for. It is far harder surely to establish missions than to revive them. If we will but inquire into the causes of decline we shall not find them, I think, to be very deep, nor to be difficult of remedy. Lovingly correcting errors, carefully removing excrescences, and boldly advancing, the stone shall be rolled away from the sepulchre before we reach it, or if not, in God's name, and by His strength, we will roll it away ourselves.
3. It is very probable; for so it always has been. If ever God's Church has declined for a little while, unexpectedly there has been yielded a season of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. He is great at surprises: His best wine last amazes us all. When the devil is most secure upon his throne, then God sprints a mine, and blows his empire into atoms.
4. It is solemnly required of us. What are our personal obligations to the Crucified? Did our Saviour slumber in His life-work? Was He tardy in His service for our redemption? Then might we grow lax. But He claims of us, according to our measure, the same steadfastness of resolve, and perseverance of purpose, and sacrifice of self.
II. LET US PROCEED TO ELABORATE THE VISION. My dream seemed to take this shape.
1. In order that missionary work should be reformed, revived, and carried on with energy and with hope of success, it seemed necessary that especially among our young members there should be a revival of intense and earnest prayer, and anxious sympathy with the missionary work. The power of prayer can never be overrated. They who cannot serve God by preaching, need not regret it if they can be mighty in prayer. The true strength of the Church lies there. If a man can but pray, he can do anything. He that knows how to overcome the Lord in prayer, has heaven and earth at his disposal.
2. Next, if our young men who see visions will follow up their prayers with practical effort, then we shall see in our Churches a larger and more efficient staff of collectors and contributors. We should then find men who would give of their substance as a matter of principle, so that the kingdom of Christ should never have an empty exchequer.
3. Up till now my dream has been reasonable, you will say. I will now be more visionary. If we were all praying for missions, and all giving for their support, it might be very well asked of us, "What do ye more than others?" for what Romanist is there who is not zealous for the spread of his religion? What heathen is there who does not give quite as much as any of us give, ay, and a great deal more than we give, to his superstitions? But, supposing next to this, that there should be a number of young men who have been trained in the same sanctuary, nurtured in the same Church, who should meet together and say to one another, "Now, we are in business, and God is prospering us, but still we trust we are never going to permit ourselves to be swallowed up in a mere worldly way of living; now, what ought we to do for missions?" And suppose the inquiry should be put, "Is there one amongst us who could devote himself to go and teach the heathen for us? As we, most of us, may not have the ability, or do not feel called to the work, is there one out of twelve of us young men who feels called to go?" Let us make it a matter of prayer, and when the Holy Ghost saith, "Separate So-and-So to the work," then we, the other eleven who remain', will say to him, "Now, brother, you cannot stop at home to make your fortune; you are now giving yourself up to a very arduous enterprise, and we will support you; you go down into the pit, we will hold the rope, and bear the expense among ourselves." I wish we had such godly clubs as these. Why, on such a plan as that, I should think, they would give a hundred times as much as ever they are likely to give to an impersonal society, or to a man whose name they only know, but whose face they never saw.
4. Further, I have dreamed also that there would spring up in our Churches a very large number of young men who would count it to be the very highest ambition to give themselves up to the work of Jesus Christ abroad, and who will say, "The missionary society is in debt, and cannot take us; very well, send me out, and let me exercise my faith in God, only having this for my comfort, that you will stand at my back and give me what you can, while I will only draw upon you for what "I cannot get for myself." I set Paul before you, young men. He was a tent-maker, and he earned his own living. Are there no occupations in these days by which a man may earn his living, and yet preach the gospel? Are there not to be found physicians who, in China and in India, would not only procure a subsistence, but much more, and might proclaim the gospel at the same time? But are there no other occupations? I find men going out to India by scores, to make their fortunes, and ruin their constitutions. Have we no young men and women who will preach the gospel, intending to use their commercial pursuits as a means of introduction and support?
III. THE REALISATION OF THIS VISION? It must be —
1. By each individual's own personal piety mounting to the very highest degree of elevation. If holy work be a mere diversion for your leisure moments, you will do nothing; you must make a solemn occupation of it. When the Christian Church glows in this fashion, it will swell with an intense heat like a volcano, whose tremendous furnaces cannot be contained within itself, but its sides begin to move and bulge, and then after a rumbling and a heaving, a mighty sheet of fire shoots right up to heaven, and afterwards streams of flaming lava run from its red lips down, burning their way along the plain beneath. Oh! to get such a fire for God's cause into the heart of the Christian Church, till she began to heave and throb with unquenchable emotion, and then a mighty sheet of the fire-prayer should go up towards heaven, and afterwards the burning lava of her all-conquering zeal should flow over all lands.
2. By young men and young women feeding the flame of their zeal with greater information as to the condition of the world in reference to our mission-work. You may not have time to get through it all, but if you read some of it, I think you will feel a great accession to your zeal.
3. By keeping yourselves right in this matter by constant, energetic efforts in connection with works at home. Those who do not serve God at home, are of no use anywhere. It is all very well to talk about what you would do if you could speak to the Hindoos. You will be of no use whatever in Calcutta, unless you are of use in Poplar or Bermondsey. The human mind is the same everywhere. See what you can do for Jesus Christ in the shop, and in that little Bible-class of which you are a member. Rest assured that no missionary ardour really burns in the breast of that man who does not love the souls of those who live in the same house and neighbourhood.
4. But oh! do make sure that you are saved yourselves. Do make sure that you yourselves know the Christ whom you profess to teach. That missionary-box, what is it but an infamous sham if you put into it your offering, but withhold your heart?
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: