The Vision That Impels
by W. H. Bayles
Address delivered at the West Virginia Baptist Ministers Fraternal Union, Parkersburg, W. Va., Tuesday Evening, Oct. 12, 1915.
I am to speak to you of that within the preacher’s life that holds him without wavering, and with steadfast and joyful devotion to his ministry, a ministry at once the admiration and the disgust of an ungodly world. To it the preacher is an enigma. The spectacle of a life spent in proclaiming the reality of things beyond materialistic sense, unmoved by the allurements of fame or fortune, and, for all that can be seen, without adequate motive, is a thing to excite contempt. It is sheer folly and weakness. On the other hand when the preacher has poured out his life constantly and consistently in unselfish, sacrificial and useful ministry, that same unfriendly world is compelled to admire, and call him great.
To analyze the heart of a preacher is a task demanding humane and reverent treatment. His is the heart of a man, as big and warm and clean and strong as any that beats among all the sons of men. And just because it is so, having nothing to hide and therefore nothing to fear, we may, with loving friendliness and reverent respect, step inside and look about us and declare the things we see.
It is a wholesome place, filled with the fragrance of fruits and flowers. It is as well, the field of fierce battles, for ever and anon the forces of evil are arrayed against it, and the siege is never lifted. It is a restful place, calm and quiet in the confidence wherein is its strength. It is a happy place, filled with sweet friendships, alert and strong to serve, and fed from the stores of unfailing Grace.
Its windows open upward and outward. Looking upward there is to be seen the vision of a face, living, concrete, upernatural; a personality, throbbing with love and life, radiant with triumph through speechless agonies,and arrayed in the glory of the Eternal God. The eye of the soul is held in wonder and rapture, and as he gazes, the far away vision is no longer yonder in the heavens but here in the heart, an abiding Presence upon the throne. And we read this inscription “He shall glorify me, for He will take the things of mine and will show them unto you”. The soul recognizes in that Personality none other than the King of Glory and his Lord. He now knows that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, because that miracle of reconciliation has been wrought here within himself. Not all the systems of Theology with all their unveiling of truth, not Socialogy with its appeal to the sympathies in the interest of the downtrodden and the suffering, not Ethics with its stern demand for the moral conduct of life, can make this heart, wrecked by sin, and foul with shame, into a temple of God. But ONE has and that ONE has forever the right to sit upon the throne and command devotion to the uttermost. The “light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” has flooded his soul, and in that Light life is glorified. Some things deep and dark till now, become crystal clear in the light of that Presence. He that sits upon the throne is the MAN Christ Jesus, no “pale Gallilean,” no frozen-sympathied ascetic, but a MAN with red, warm blood and a brothers sympathy, the Mightiest of the mighty, and the Lowliest of the lowly, the Friend and the Brother of all, the noblest of all the sons of men. And this cannot describe Him. He is more. Humanity cannot contain Him. The Eternal Word was God, and was in Him flesh that men might behold His Glory, the Glory that could never be seen on land or sea, that could be known only as it was revealed in the “face”, the concrete personality, of a man. That “Godwas in Christ” becomes the bedrock of the soul’s redemption, and that “Christ in us” becomes the soul’s one hope of Glory. That Christ died for our sins and was raised again for our justification, thus cancelling the whole debt of our sin with all its guilt and stain, and assuring us of certain victory over it, giving Power for weakness, becomes the Soul’s glad song of rejoicing, his story of experience, his “Gospel.”
Through the windows opening outward the “light of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” upon the inner throne gleams as a search light into the life of the world about him. Behold the blackness of it. The whole hungry, hateful, helpless, hopeless world arrayed against the Lord of Life and Love. The vicious world with its nameless orgies, its painted foulness, its stench and rottenness, its speechless misery and woe, writhing in the Monster’s grip. The cultured world with its cold indifference to the Cross, its haughty, heartless hate of that against which it lifts up itself, its sham and veneer, with all its voiceless dread and despair. The poverty-stricken world with its gnawing hunger, its nakedness and cold, its unspeakable want and wretchedness and woe. The golden world with love of tinsel, its passion for display, drunk with pleasure, forgetful of God and the beggar without the gate. The criminal world with its plottings, its seductions and scandals, writhing in prison, or hiding from justice under the garb of office or the cloak of respectability. The religious world with its human creeds, its heartlessforms, its blinding ceremonialism, its superstition and despair, its pagan priestcraft and sacerdotalism, its beastly immorality, its bigotry and satisfied self righteousness. The warring, bloodthirsty world, drunk with its passion for power, staggering to its grave and sowing a million woes on its way. The WHOLE world in which among all its teeming millions of every class, condition and color, there is absolutely no difference with respect to the one thing that God hates, “for ALL have sinned”, nor with respect to what God most desires, for all “have come short of His glory”, nor with respect to the Grace of God necessary in redemption, for all are equally helpless and hopeless. And we read that “every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts is but evil continually” and that “the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?”
From his gaze on this black picture the soul looks up in horror to behold again “the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, upon his heart’s throne, and Behold! that face is radiant with triumph, a radiance born of deep agony, even unto blood, yea, even unto death. And the seraphim are chanting back and forth “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord, God of Hosts! The whole earth is full of his glory”! And out of the stillness a voice is heard, saying “The glory of the Lord shall fill the earth as the waters fill the channels of the deep”. And another answers “God shall not fail, nor be discouraged till he shall have established righteousness upon the earth.” With this vision of a renewed earth wherein dwelleth righteousness and the King of Glory enthroned over all its activities, the soul’s horror gives way to hope and he sees the mass of ungodly humanity no more as a hopeless mass, not heartlessly as so many heads, nor yet as so many names, but as so many souls aching in a nameless hunger, and throbbing with the possibility of a transformation such as he has himself known. No one of them is so deep dyed in sin that he may not become a temple of God the same as himself.
The vision is not yet complete. Not only does he behold a loving and glorious Personality enthroned within, and a world of souls without, dying in the Wicked One, but he begins to comprehend that his own life is a plan of God in His purpose to win the world back from its Captor. He begins to see that the loving and holy God from before the world began has been thinking of him and planning for the life he is now to live. God has set His love upon him. God has been thinking of him. God has been timing events for his coming. The word is distinct and clear in the hush of his meditation, “Before I formed thee I knew thee and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee. I have appointed thee a prophet unto the peoples.” It is a great discovery to find one’s work, and to know one is where God wants one to be. But it is greater still to find that that work and that life have been in the plan and thought of God from eternity. A great work must he done now. A great word must be spoken to this generation. God has been preparing for it. He has His man, His chosen vessel, ready. To realize himself to be raised up of God and set apart for the most magnificent task known, the revealing to men the Glory of God as it shines in the Face of Jesus Christ, is to find the one thing most needed in that life work to assure it steadfastnessand strength. And this is the conviction of the true preacher. God has been shaping his past, combining influences, experiences and privileges, leading up to this moment that He might have a man through whom to speak to the people. It is a solemn moment now, when God brings the soul face to face with its work. It is a crucial hour, for it is possible for him to refuse. “I will not go, for I cannot speak.” And who can measure the bitter consequences of such refusal. But to choose God’s plan is to rejoice henceforth in being a “Bondslave of Christ, according to the will of God” and a “Sent one” to make known the redeeming love of God in Christ.
This is the vision. The loving holy God in Christ, a concrete personality enthroned within the soul, transformed by that Presence into a temple of God; Earth’s teeming millions of human souls, each one capable of that same transformation; and himself, one of the many, as great a sinner as any, but laid hold of by God to reveal His son in him and send him forth as an embassador to the rest. God was indeed in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Surely the preacher finds in this a motive sufficient to impel him to repudiate the things that are unworthy, and seize upon the things that will make full proof of his ministry. He will be impelled to a life of Christian piety. He will recognize in his call to the ministry a call to the leadership of spiritual forces embracing the whole life of the church of Jesus Christ. He is sent forth for the perfecting the saints unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ. He will be impelled to ceaseless study to prepare himself for the ministry, that he may be a workman that need not be ashamed, either of himself or of his work.
The ministry to which such a vision as this impels will be vital, universal, cooperative, sacrificial and undiscouraged. It will be vital in that it will be an intensely personal and living fact. It is the Gospel of a person, the redeeming God in Christ, appealing to personality wrecked indeed and enslaved by sin, but capable of realizing yet the life of God’s sons-appealing through personality, the whole redeemed, blood-warm personality of the preacher. His is a gospel of glorious fact, of certainty as fixed as the eternal throne of God. “God so LOVED the WORLD that He Gave his only begotten Son that WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH in Him might not PERISH, but have everlasting LIFE”. No “if,” “perhaps,” or “perchance” looms large in his preaching. He knows WHOM he has believed. His belief is in an infinite, glorious, supernatural personality, and will not be contained within the limits of human creeds, systems, or institutions. His gospel is vastly more than these, more than Theology, more than Ethics, more than Sociology, more than Religion, much more than all of these. It comprehends them all and vastly more. It is the Light of the Knowledge of the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is a fact of history, the “Man of Galilee” of nineteen hundred years ago. There is no doubt of that. The evidence is incontestable. But more momentous than that is the fact of Christ in all these centuries of Christian history. It is He that has influenced the course of that history, and apart from Him it cannot be written. No single generation has escaped Him. The fact of Christ in history passes over by a strange transmutation into a fact of Conscience. It raises the question of our own whole moral life and character. The simple historic question “What think ye of Christ?” arouses another, “What shall I then do with Him?” and Conscience insists that the soul give answer to this question.
But more than this, his Gospel is a fact of personal experience, of glorious and joyful realization within his own soul. The Christ of the Sacred Scripture, of History and of Conscience, has become enthroned within him, and into every chamber of his soul has come the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. It is vital in that it is for a world of perishing men. It was the LOST whom Jesus came to seek and to save. The one vital need of the world is Christ. Christ is the Gospel, Christ the Crucified and Risen One who was dead and behold He is alive forevermore. In His death for the sins of sinners He released them from the bond of death and brought to them life, and in His resurrection assures to them daily and finally complete victory over all the power of sin through a risen and living Saviour. The two-fold vital need of the world is for PARDON and POWER, pardon for the guilt of sin, and power over its power. And this is the Gospel of the true preacher. Like his Master, he is come that ye might have LIFE and that ye might have it abundantly. All the tingling human interests are wrapped up in that. No interest or activity is outside of that. Life is the thing with which he has to deal. God’s preacher and his Gospel are therefore the most vital consideration in the world’s life. Little wonder that, constrained by the love of Christ, with the Gospel living in radiant joy in his soul, that the preacher goes forth to beseech as though God were beseeching through him, lost men to be reconciled to God. Little wonder if he seem to be beside himself.
The ministry toward which this vision impels is universal in its sympathies, its love, and its service. No class or color is outside the redeeming love of Christ or the brotherly embrace of the preacher. The blood that cleansed the preacher’s soul is also for the cleansing of every soul. We are by that blood akin in far closer relationship than that of common fatherhood in Adam. And this is not saying that all are by nature sons of God and therefore all are full brothers. But any one who will may now become a son of God. The heartbreaking agonies of Gethsemane and of Calvary were equally for all, and it is in the working out of the redemption of Grace that the preacher was appointed a preacher and a prophet, an ambassador to a lost world. The preacher becomes a part of God’s redeeming love of the lost, a real gift of love to the world. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe”. No people are so distant in space that he may not reach them with his love, the projection of his own personality in his intercession and his gifts of consecrated money. And the church to which he ministers will presently, in the wake of his leadership, be lifting upon its heart a whole world of lost ones and lifting them nearer the great heart of God. MISSIONS! The word may not matter, but the facts and the spirit will pulsate in every prayer and become the throbbing heart of every sermon.
Such a ministry will be also, in the fullest sense Co-operative. The preacher with this vision can have but one ruling passion, that this Glorious Christ may be loved by others. To this end he is devoting his own life.Realizing that in the union of forces there is multiplied power, he is eager to combine with other personalities in which the same love throbs, in a co-operative effort to win the hearts of men to Christ. All forces looking clearly to this end have his cordial and sympathetic support. The sensitive self-life dies hard indeed, but it dies in proportion as the vision grows, the vision of the victorious Christ on the heart’s throne, who is giving daily victory over self and all that hinders. Suspicion and jealous self-interest, and a host of other spirits of evil by which the heart is disturbed, must die or be barred outside. When we can present a solid front backed by just as solid a body in which the members are knit together by the constraining love of Christ and eager to utilize all the forces of each other, a new day will have dawned.
But while rejoicing in the substantial unity and worthiness of our preacher as a whole, behold! what a spectacle we see sometimes. What clashing of forces, and rooting and crowding and gouging of workers the years have witnessed! Some clamoring that others be sent beyond our borders. Some clamoring that others be reduced to the ranks. Some eagerly willing to lead but unwilling to follow. Some hotly demanding a Board with one head.Some hotly demanding a Board with three heads. Some contending for one policy, some for another, and neither willing to pull hard to make any policy other than his own a success, while others still contend that the whole policy of Co-operation and Boards is wrong and will have none of it. Preachers rooting each other out of pastorates, taking advantage of the natural miserliness of men in the church, preaching for the Gospel that which breeds contention and strife and opposition to the work and the workers, while the flock languishes for food and for leadership! And out of the piled-up wealth of our state (West Virginia) a miserly $40,000 a year for the sending of the Gospel to a lost world. But even sadder than this, is the supine and lifeless lethargic church that is not stirred that more than half the population of the state remains yet outside the pale of any church, and beyond, the “whole world lying in wickedness”. As we gather here we come rejoicing that the year has seen the largest ingatherings in our history in the state, more than 6,000 baptisms, and with a year of more than average prosperity in material things among our people. But with it all a failure to measure up in any worthy manner to our task, even with the figures of recent years as a basis, and this along almost every line of the churches’ missionary activity. What sort of revivals have these been? Where are the fruits? Where is the leadership? Where is the vision? God pity and forgive us! Give us men of the spirit of the loved D. T. C. Farrow who once said, when a measure which he had vigorously opposed was carried over his head, “Brethren, if I cannot have it my way I will help you have it yours.” In God’s plan, not methods but men are vital. The triumph of his Gospel depends not so much upon policies of procedure, but much upon the preachers who preach it. God clarify our vision till we may see and repudiate the things that are unworthy and embrace the things that make for the triumph of the Gospel; and may the vision of the Glory burn within us till as flaming heralds of a living Gospel we see these hills enrobed with the grandeur of the glory of the Lord.
Furthermore, the ministry to which this vision impels is a sacrificial one. The preacher is to be the friend of folks, of all kinds of folks. His delight is in that. But that is a costly thing. The draft upon him is little short of sacrifice. There is not in it the element of vicarious suffering. He cannot suffer in their place and stead, but he does suffer much and willingly in their interest and behalf. Heart aching, tears and pleadings, and reprovings for the straying ones of his flock, tender ministrations for the suffering and the sorrow stricken, passionate praying and loving entreaties for perishing lost ones, constant care for the vital spiritual needs of the congregation-these and many other duties crowd his nights and days. The daily draft upon his energies is appalling. But the sacrifice to which he is impelled by this vision of the “face of Christ” is far deeper and more vital than this. IT IS DEATH.For the love of Christ he enters alone into the Valley of Decision, his Garden of Gethsemane, and then comes forth and with deliberate purpose he nails to the Cross his quivering SELF that Christ may rule alone. Henceforth he lives, and yet it is not he, but Christ living in him, and the life he now lives is not unto himself, but unto Him who loved him and for his sake died and rose again. It is a confidential thing, a matter between himself and God, transacted in the loneliness of the inner soul. It is never proclaimed from the housetop. The world would never understand it. It is too sweet and sacred for exposure. It becomes the secret of the soul’s exulting joy, and not a thing of sorrowful remembrance. The inner lonely chamber where Self was crucified is not the chamber of death draped with mourning, but has become a palace royal where the King of Glory deigns to sit enthroned and fill thesoul with the sweetness of His fellowship. It is garlanded with flowers of unfading delight and imperishable fragrance. It is the Soul’s trysting place with God.
This leads me finally to say that the ministry to which this vision impels will be an undiscouraged one. The preacher is a part of God’s unconquerable plan. He is set as a leading figure in Christ’s church against which the gates of Hell shall not prevail. The church and her ministry may falter and here and there walk unworthily, but she cannot fail. Her God in the midst of her “shall not fail nor be discouraged till He shall have established righteousness upon the earth”. The preacher is called into the partnership of the undiscouraged God. Surely he shall not be discouraged. His is a ministry of hope. He is a messenger of hope, a hope-bringer. His word throbs with the exulting of a sure and steadfast hope, and there is nowhere in his message or his life for a note of doubt or despair. His unabating hopefulness is that which captures men. His optimism is unconquerable. Discouragement spells defeat. The world has more than enough of discouragement, and is hungry for hope, a living hope that is steadfast and sure. The preacher is commissioned to go forth with that message of hope for a hopeless world. He may be cast out but he cannot be cast down. He may suffer much, but he will not despair. They may kill him, but God will crown him. What matter. Perils on every hand do not move him. Things may seem to go against him but be does not grow sour and quit. He has learned to glory in his tribulations. He knows no defeat, and his constant shout is “Thanks be to God who is giving us the victory through the Lord Jesus Christ!” He can look the darkest prospect in the face and exclaim “The prospects are as bright as the promises of God!”
God bless our Preachers! Make us men too big for petty discords and divisions, too big for jealousy and self-interest, with a passion for death rather than dishonor, too loyal to a Cause to turn traitor in biting and devouring one another. Let the Devil’s work be done by the Devil, and may we with steady poise and deliberate coolness drive him to his den. With patience unwearied and zeal unflagging, in face of disappointment and apparent defeat, may we make full proof of our ministry. With faith as fixed as the stars in the wisdom and love of the Father in his dealings with us and with all men, unmoved by the lure of lucre or laurels, may we be as constant as the needle to its pole in our devotion to the fundamental interests of LIFE.