Why of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,…
(Ordination Sermon): —
1. Here was one of the noblest ventures of faith ever made by man. Viewed from the world's side, it was, as great faith always is, frivolous trifling or daring madness. A little company of ignorant men, in a small province of the Roman world, had for three years followed up and down their land a new teacher, who professed to come from God, but had been crucified and slain. They had been terrified and scattered, and now they gather together in an upper room, and talk of choosing one in the traitor's stead to complete their broken number. They speak great words: they seem to look forth into the wide world around, as though it waited for them, as though they had a message for it, and power over it. Either their minds were full of the darkest delusions, or they were acting in the very might of God. And which was the truth the event may tell us. Prom that completed company a voice awoke to which the world did listen, and before which it fell. No visible strength dwelt in them as they went forth on their errand. They were scourged, imprisoned, slain. Their weapons were endurance, submission, love, faith, martyrdom — and with these they triumphed. They preached "Jesus and the resurrection," and hard souls yielded and were gathered into the new company, and wore its cross and carried on its triumphs, until the world trembled at the change which was passing on itself. And so they have advanced with unfaltering step from that day to this, until all that is mightiest in power, and greatest in nobleness, and highest in intellect, has bowed down in adoration before that witness of the resurrection of Jesus.
2. The acts which we are here this day to do are but the carrying out of those which then were wrought, and we may see in the course of their work what should be the issue of ours. Here is —
I. THE STRENGTH IN WHICH EACH ONE OF THOSE SENT FORTH IS TO LABOUR, AND THE SPIRIT IN WHICH HE IS TO BE RECEIVED. Here is his strength — he is called by God to this office (and woe be to him if he rush into it uncalled), and goes about God's work: he may be, he ought to be, conscious of weakness, and therefore he may be strong; for conscious feebleness may drive him from himself to God in Christ. In spite of appearances, at all times in his ministry there is strength for him: "I witness not of myself, but of the resurrection of my Lord; my words are not mine, but His; I witness not by strength, but by weakness, glorying in infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." And as having such an office they are to be received, not for their natural eloquence or power, not for their acquired skill or learning, but for the supernatural presence which will make their weakness strong.
II. THE NATURE OF THEIR CHARGE — they are sent to bear the witness of Christ's resurrection. All is shut up in this. They come from God to the world with the message of reconciliation; and this message is the incarnation of the eternal Son, His death, His rising again, and from this the truth of the ever-blessed Trinity, and man's restored relation to his God. This is what man's heart longs for unconsciously, and what the asceticism of the natural man is so restlessly craving for where it can never find it.
III. HOW ARE WE TO DISCHARGE THIS GREAT VOCATION?
1. We must be deep students of God's Word. Where else are we to learn our witness of Christ's resurrection? Here it is written clear and full — in the Old Testament in type, prophecy, and promise; in the New in fulfilment, act, history, and grace. In it, day by day, we must live with Him. Thus must our message sink into our own hearts. Even as they "who companied with" Him "all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them," learned unawares, day by day, the truth they needed, so must it be with us.
2. We must be men of prayer. The union of these two is the essence of the apostolical character. "We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and the ministry of the Word"; and without prayer we cannot bear this burden. How without it shall we have an insight into Scripture? how turn what we read to profit? how have power with God or with our brethren? In prayer, in real, hearty, earnest prayer, all things around us are set into their proper places. In prayer our minds are armed for the coming temptations of the day; they are cooled, refreshed, and calmed after its vexations, fatigues, and anxiety. On our knees, if anywhere, we learn to love the souls of our people; to hate our own sins; to trust in Him who shows us then His wounded side and pierced hands, and to love Him with our whole heart. Nothing will make up for the lack of prayer. The busiest ministry without it is sure to become shallow and bustling. To come forth from secret communing with Him, and bear our witness, and to retire again behind the veil to pour out our hearts before Him in unceasing intercessions and devout adorations, this is, indeed, the secret of a blessed, fruitful ministry. Nor let us suppose that at once, and by the force of a single resolution, we can become men of prayer. The spirit of devotion is the gift of God; thou must seek it long and earnestly; and His grace will work it in thy heart. Thou must practise it and labour for it. Thou must pray often if thou wouldest pray well.
3. We must be men of holiness.
(1) Because without this there cannot be reality in our witness. We cannot testify of the resurrection of Christ unless we ourselves have known its power. Even though our lives be correct, yet our lives must be unreal unless the truths we speak have thoroughly pervaded our own souls. If we have for ourselves no living faith in a risen Saviour, we cannot speak of Him with power to others. We must be great saints if we would have our people holy. The pastor's character forms, to a great degree, the character of his flock. We must show them in our risen lives that Christ indeed is risen. This is a witness, from the force of which they cannot escape.
(2) Because we are in the kingdom of God's grace, and to us is committed a dispensation of His grace. Every act of ours will be real and effectual only so far as God's grace goes with it; and though He may be, and is, pleased to work by His grace even at the hands of the unholy, yet who can say how greatly such unfaithfulness does mar His work, how much is lost which might be gained? How can the other necessities of our character be supplied if we fail here? How can we be students of God's Word without God's grace? How can they pray for themselves or their people who have not the Spirit of grace and supplication? How can they draw down the blessed dew on others who even repel it from themselves? Who can have daily audience of our King but those who dwell within His courts?
(Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,