Wednesday, August 10, 2011

VICTORY OVER VULTURES

Fair Oaks Church
David R. Stokes
Series: What Would Jesus Tweet?
July 31, 2011
Transcript

Victory Over Vultures
Luke 17:31-37; Genesis 15:1-11

When I laid this series out, I communicated with the creative staff and particularly my son-in-law Mike who just sang. He is the leader of the creative arts team and lays out the services. He takes the theme I'll be preaching on and builds a wonderful service around it with the help of all of the other members of the team. I sent him these crisp, concise statements of Jesus that fit in that 140-character window—“WHAT WOULD JESUS TWEET?”

"Have faith in God," was the one for last week. "Render unto Caesar…" was an earlier one, and so forth. I got down to the one today and he wrote me back, "What are we going to do with this? Where are you going with this?" Most of them are pretty apparent. "Have faith in God." You know it's going to be about faith. "Render to Caesar and render to God." It's about patriotism, God, and country, and the balance. But this one was a little bit of a challenge. I sort of let it lay there for a little bit and let the curiosity grow…

The title of the talk this morning is Victory Over Vultures, which may seem to be an unusual title for a talk. Let’s look at the tweet du jour, which is found in Luke, chapter 17. I'm going to read several verses and the context of this is Jesus is talking about a future event that we know as Armageddon, the future event yet to come, the great end-time battle.

Jesus, in describing it, says this, "'On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot's wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.' 'Where, Lord?'" is the question of verse 37. "…they asked." (The disciples.) "He replied, 'Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.'" I sent that to Mike. "This is what I'm going to preach on on the 31st of July: 'Where there is a dead body, there the vultures…'" He wrote back, "Exactly where are you going with this?"

Now the context is of course Armageddon, which is described in Revelation chapter 19, that great end-time battle that is very real, and very much looming in the future. Armageddon is a term we throw onto everything. I've heard the term used for the whole debate about the debt ceiling and the default potential and all of that. But nothing rises to the standard of what will happen, and this is the second coming of Jesus and all the armies of the world railed against him. It will be a time of great carnage, and it says there at the last part of the 19th chapter of Revelation that the vultures will be gathered for the carnage.

In the opening scene of the movie Patton, at the Battle of Kasserine in World War II, there's a scene where the vultures are there preying on the dead bodies of the soldiers. It's a common theme. Vultures are ugly creatures. There are actually several different families of vultures. There are Old World vultures and New World vultures, but the commonality is they're birds of prey, and they feed on carrion. In other words, the dead, putrefying flesh of animals, or in some sad cases, humans.

The acid in their digestive system is so toxic and so strong, that it actually has the power to neutralize the diseases that would normally come from feeding off of putrefying flesh. So they are birds of prey, and the text that Jesus is saying here is actually a pretty common phrase. You know how we would say, "Where there's smoke there's fire"? It's one of those little phrases.

It was a common phrase in most cultures and languages because it was a clear thing. Where there is a dead body, a carcass, there the vultures will gather. Now where am I going with this? Well I want to talk about it in the context of our own lives and how to have victory over these things, and I need to take you back for a little foundational material.

Genesis chapter 15. Turn your Bible there if you have one. I want to read a passage, 11 verses. This is a story of Abram. This is before he becomes Abraham. He's in this period of life where God has already called him and God is continuing to speak to him, showing him things that must boggle his mind. This is certainly the case in Genesis 15.

For us here today, all these centuries later, this is really an important plot point in all of history, because it's a really important point in the chain of spiritual evidence that comes down to us to our day about how God redeems, and how God takes care of us and saves us, and about the principle of faith and sacrifice.

So Abram has had several experiences with his family, and it says in Genesis 15:1: "After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: 'Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.' But Abram said, 'O Sovereign Lord, what can You give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?'" Now God had already promised Abraham he was going to have this progeny, this tremendous seed, and out of his seed would all the nations of the earth be blessed, evidence of the covenant relationship with the Jewish people and the ultimate Messiah.

But by this time… That's in chapter 12. You get to chapter 15 and nothing has happened. He says, "'O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?'" He talks about: "This one of my household; will he inherit and be my heir?" Which would have happened. Verse 4: "Then the word of the Lord came to him: "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body…'" "You're going to have a child. A physical child coming from your body will be your heir."

Then God takes him outside and says, "'Look up at the heavens and count the stars, if indeed you can count them.'" Now this is pre-industrial, pre-the civilization as we know it, with incandescent lights, and powerful lights, and the illumination of all that is our modern world. If you've ever gone totally out into the country and totally away from any vestige of civilization and lights, and you see the night sky, it's illuminated much more distinctly and sharply with stars and the wonders of the heavens than it would be even in our area, because it's tempered, our ability to see is tempered by all that is around us, the light that comes from this area.

He says, "Look…if you can count them." Then He says, "'So shall your offspring be.'" He's going to have a bunch of kids. Verse 6 is one of the most important verses in all the Bible. Now you may never have heard it described that way, but it truly is, because everything flows from it to where we are this morning, to where I am in my spiritual journey and where you are.

"Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness." Abraham believed God. You go to Romans 4, talking about faith, leading to justification by faith in Romans 5, it goes back to this Abram story. Abram believed God, and God put it on his account, accounted it to him for righteousness. This is the Faith principle right there established.

Verse 7: "He also said to him, 'I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.' But Abram said, 'O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?'" In other words, "All right, you're telling me I'm going to have a progeny. Now you're telling me we're going to take possession of a land."

So this is what the Lord described, this ritual: "'Bring Me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.' Abram brought all these to Him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half." Now what's happening here? What's indicated, what's implied, is an altar, already something that was very present in society, the meeting place of God, this idea of sacrifice. Hebrews tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no remission. This is why Jesus died as the sacrifice for our sins on the cross, a bloody death.

So he has laid on the altar these animals. Then verse 11 says, "Then birds of prey (vultures in other translations) came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away." Now I want you to connect these two thoughts. The tweet today is, "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather." And here Abram is worshipping God, the principle of the covenant that God has made.

This is a promise that's being made by God to Abram. This is a promise that Abram is making to God that he believes this. The way he believes this is with this altar and this sacrifice, this ritual which is an act of worship. He is laying this down. He's not only laying these animals down, he's laying his own life down in a sense on this altar, saying, "I'm believing You, God. I'm charting my course with You."

While this happens, because of the presence of these dead animals, the presence of death on the altar, the birds of prey swoop in to try to take and partake of the carnage and he has to chase them away. So you have this dynamic where he's worshipping and he's chasing away the vultures. I want to talk to you about that today. I want to talk to you about how that relates to your spiritual journey.

Dietrich Bonheoffer, the German theologian who died in the last days of World War II, part of the Confessing Church, said in his book Cost of Discipleship, "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die." I don't know if you've ever noticed how often death is used in a positive sense as this process we must go through. Death speaks of separation. Death speaks of putting something behind. "…reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin…" (Romans, chapter 6) "…but alive to God…"

The altar is of course ultimately the cross. "We have an altar…" it says in Hebrews, chapter 13, and that's the cross of Calvary. But in a very real sense, as we worship God, what our worshipping God is about, what our journey is about, is God all the time saying, "I want this of you. I want you to get that out of your life. I want you to go in this direction. Here is My plan." It's this series of choices that we make, and when we make the choice that goes God's way, in a sense we're laying ourselves on this altar, and part of us is dying to the old life and alive to what God wants us to do.

That imagery is in Scripture. Romans 12: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices…" Sacrifices. That's altar language. "…holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." The language, and I've quoted this Scripture often, but in Galatians 2, this is how Paul sees his life: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."

In other words, Paul says, "The reason I'm able to do this stuff is because I realize that I'm crucified with Christ. I'm dead to the old me, and I've laid that on the altar. I've made these choices to go God's way. This altar is a place of death that brings forth life. This intersection of covenant and promise and obedience."

In the book of Colossians (we've talked about this), Paul tells them, "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God." Colossians 3:1. "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." Verse 3: "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ…" You're dead? Yes you were dead in trespasses, in sins; now you're dead, separated, disconnected from the world.

He follows it by saying this: "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry." In other words, in a real sense, the spiritual life is rejecting certain things as a lifestyle, embracing the lifestyle God would have, and he calls this "putting to death." Now this is not a legalistic thing. It's not about will power. It's not about beating yourself up. It's not about isolating yourself from all of the vestiges of modernity and civilization. But he says, "Put to death…" He uses that language. "Put to death."

In fact, in the King James it's the word mortify. Mortify. What's the word? Mortician. Mortuary. It's death. So the Christian life is not only about living for God, it's also about death in a very real sense. It's about the death of an old self. Now he goes on to say this in Romans, chapter 8: "Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation, but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live…"

Misdeeds put to death; same language as in Colossians. But here is the key: "By the Spirit." So we don't do this by will power, by legalism, by rules, by beating each other up, by beating ourselves up, we do this by yielding ourselves to the Spirit, and through spiritual power we're able to overcome the things of this flesh and the world. So I place myself on the altar. When God says, "This is the way," and I say, "I want to go that way," and I say yes to God, in a sense I'm putting myself on the altar. I'm alive to Him but I'm dead to the old life.

So when there is death, vultures will gather. "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will be gathered," Jesus said. What's the dead body? The dead body is the Christian who says, "I'm going to live as a sacrifice to God. I'm going to put to death my old life. Through the Spirit, I'm going to mortify my old life." Because there is that death there, there's the sincere desire of the Christian to live alive to God and dead to the world, and dead to sin, and dead to the Devil, the vultures gather sent by the Evil One, and a lot of our lives are spent chasing them away.

What they want to do is steal, rob, overtake your best intentions of doing what God would have you to do. This is why Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 15: "I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus…" Paul said he died every day. I think this is what this means. Every day when he got up he realized he had to make decisions that day along the lines of what God's plan was for his life, and not based on any other values. In a sense he had to remind himself every day that he was dead unto sin, but alive unto God.

If he didn't, he'd be surrendering to the vultures. "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather." Let me give you some truth about how you can live victorious over certain vultures. Let's talk about vultures that… When you're just open to God, you're letting go, you're laying it all out there, you're vulnerable before God: "Yes, Lord. No to the world. I'm dying to that. I'm saying yes to You." When you do that, and the vultures start to gather, what will happen?

1. The vulture of false teaching. Along the way, one of the things you'll deal with and have to swat away and chase away, is as soon as you have come to a place of clarity, inevitably there'll be something or someone that will try to twist your thinking away from what brought you to that place of obedience to God. Sometimes it's theological; sometimes it's secular.

There's a lot of bad theology out there. There are a lot of people who have twisted views of Scripture, who superimpose all kinds of stuff. I'll never cease to be amazed, and I've seen this happen time and again, where people get saved and God starts doing something in their lives. They lay stuff on the altar and they're an open book. "God, use me."

And people in their lives, who had professed to be Christians but never lifted a finger to tell them about Jesus, who didn't even tell them they went to a church, are the first ones to say, "Oh you're going to the wrong church. Oh you're doing it all wrong. Oh you need to have this, you have to have that. You have to have this, you have to have that." Those are vultures. That's not witness.

Sometimes the vultures will be secular, when you'll think, Well it's good advice no matter where it comes from. Not true. The Bible says, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly…" When you're going to get life advice… I'm not talking about advice on, you know, something benign like, "Is the fish here good at this restaurant?" I'm talking about advice on matters of life. Do you get your advice from people who share your values?

I mean Dr. Phil may be right sometimes, but a broken clock is right twice a day. Does it really come from biblical values? I'm not necessarily picking on him. How's that working for him? I'm not picking on him. But my point is this, that the false teaching sometimes comes in and instead of really selling out to God, you let sort of the things of the world and the way the world thinks about life, and you start thinking on the terms of reason and rationality rather than faith.

"Dear friends…" it says in 1 John, "…do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood." So you have to try the spirits, or test them.

2. The vulture of trouble or persecution. I mean seriously, a lot of people think that when you make a spiritual breakthrough (and maybe you've had this experience recently), and you're really saying yes to God, that that means everything should free up. Well there'll be a freeing, there'll be a release, and a relief that comes in your heart, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're not going to have trouble.

Because see, when you lay your life open to God and say yes, you may be relived and you may be obedient, and there may be a peace of heart and mind, but the vultures are going to circle and you're going to have trouble because the enemy is going to throw everything he can: trouble, persecution, difficulty. That's why Peter says, "Don't think it's strange when fiery trials try you."

So how in the world do you chase away that kind of trouble? This is the cool thing about trouble. Get this now. If you're trying to serve God and pressure comes and trouble comes, here's what you do: You welcome it. It says, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." Some years ago, when I was pastoring in Long Island, somebody started a rumor about me that was the most absurd untrue thing that has ever been said about me I think.

It was just a stupid thing but it really bothered me. It bothered me maybe that anybody believed it. It really brought me low. I was visiting with a Christian friend, not a member of my church, but a good Christian friend. He was a golf buddy. "How you doing, Dave?" "I'm a little down," and I described what was going on. I was sort of reaching for this friend to be sort of sympathetic, you know, "Oh poor Dave."

He says, "Praise the Lord!" I was like, "What?" His last name was Buttafuoco so I should have known something was wrong. "Praise the Lord!" I said, "Dan, what in the world are you talking about?" He says, "You must be doing something right, because Satan is out to stop you." And he was absolutely right. That wasn't where I went right at first, but it impacted my thinking.

Trouble, persecution, difficulty, did you ever think about this? Pastor Stokes, do you always welcome it? No! I'm telling you to do it. I don't always do this! I admit that. But I think it's good preaching and I sure need to do it. We all need it. It's difficult. It's counterintuitive. We want to push back, and God says, "Bring it on." Why? Because that's the best way to chase that vulture away, just bring him in nice and close. Oh he scares me. Yeah but see when you're in Christ, and you're obedient to Him, chasing away a big, bad, ugly, carnivorous vulture is easier than swatting a fly in the name of the Lord.

3. Worldly seduction. You're just trying to serve God. You want your values to be right and the world just has all kinds of pleasure stuff and fun stuff. Again I'm not an isolationist; I'm in the world. I like sports, I like entertainment, I like all kinds… But you know those things if you're not careful, they can run your life. So how do you keep it in balance? Keep your vision on Jesus Christ.

The old song says, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of this world will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace." Karen and I are grandparents. We have seven grandchildren. All of them call me, "Grandpa." I'm Grandpa, which is innovative and creative. I don't know how they came up with that.

For those of us who know the family real well, and a lot of the kids in the church do this, little kids, Karen's name is "Day." All the kids call her, "Day." You say, What's that about? That's because, and it usually works this way, the oldest grandchild (in this case David Vaughan who lives down in Lynchburg; he's 12 years old), sort of gets to pick you know the "Papaw," or the "Pepaw," or the "Mamaw," or "Nana" or whatever it might be, or "Hey you."

All the kids call Floyd White, "Dack." I don't know where "Dack" came from but that's… All of them call you "Dack." My son-in-law calls you "Dack." That's what my grandson calls you, and so I don't know. Mary, do you call him "Dack?" No. Good. That's a good thing. But I'm "Grandpa," and Karen is "Day." Where does that come from?

Well when David was real little, as he was learning to pronounce certain phonetics, Karen would talk to me, "Dave! Dave!" That's my name. She doesn't call me, "Pastor," or "Reverend," you know. "Dave!" And I'd answer it. He started to associate D-A, long A, that phonetic sound, with her, and began to think she was "Day," because that was the phrase coming out her mouth. "Dave, take out the garbage! Dave, you didn't take out the garbage! Dave, there are vultures on the garbage! Dave…" You know, whatever. So "Day," which is cute.

So she went with it. Now her email is daystokes, and she's "Day," and a lot of the little kids around here call her "Day." Now if I'm standing by myself in a room and one of my grandkids walks in, "Grandpa!" and they'll run over and jump up, and you know high-five, and "Down low and too slow" and all kinds of cool stuff.

But if I'm standing here and "Day" is standing there, I'm not like the moon; I'm like one of the moons of Saturn. I am so off the charts they don't even know I'm there. They'll just run right by me, never see, and embrace her. I'll try to talk to them and they're still talking to her. It's evil. She's a cult leader with my grandchildren.

"You want some Kool-Aid?" and so forth. I mean that's her. And she delights in doing that. She almost gets this, "Muhaha! I have another one!" Because when they're really young sometimes they actually like me you know, and they'll crawl up on me, but she's like, "Oh it's just a matter of time and I'll have them," you know. And sure enough, they go over to the dark side, or the "Day" side as the case may be.

In a sense, that's the way we ought to be with the Lord. If the Lord was as fascinating to us, and the kingdom of God was as fascinating to us as it ought to be, and all the things related to the kingdom of God, then everything else would pale in comparison, wouldn't exist, wouldn't even be on our radar. If you're on the altar saying, "God, I want to be used," and the vulture comes, and here's the world promising you all of this it cannot deliver, but it's right here, and the problem is, it's right here but God is far away. You have to begin to think by faith.

Listen to what it says in 1 John: "…everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith." Faith overcomes the world. What does this mean? What is faith? Well we said, "Conviction based on revelation that leads to action," last week, but according to Hebrews 11:1: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." You see the invisible.

Moses was able to do what he did, endured affliction with the people of God, how? Seeing Him who was invisible. Faith is when you see what nobody else can see. When you see God, and you see the kingdom of God, and the things of God, and the Word of God, so clearly and so closely, then you can't see the lights of this world and its seduction.

4. Fear. That's a vulture. Some people are just afraid. All kinds of fear. Phobias. I want to talk about one in particular this morning and that's the fear of serving God, the fear of obeying God. Some people are afraid they'll never keep their commitment. Some people are afraid they're going to get hurt. I want you to know something: It's fear that keeps people from making the right choices.

Have you ever wondered when you get to the end of the Bible, and you start reading the list of people who don't get to heaven, who are in hell, you know, whore mongers, idolaters, did you ever notice that in the list is the fearful? Why would that be a sin? Because people let their fears keep them from stepping out by faith and taking God at His word. It is fear that keeps people from getting saved, and I'm here to tell you it is fear many times that'll keep you from that next step in your spiritual journey, that next little thing or that next big thing God is calling you to do.

Let me ask you a question: Would you rather walk by sight and know for sure what is 10 steps ahead but be going in the way God doesn't want you to go, or would you rather not know the next 10 steps that are ahead but know that's the direction God wants you to go and He's going to hold your hand into that future? Who inhabits the future, my friends? Who stands outside of time and inhabits eternity according to Isaiah? It is God. Chase away that vulture of fear. "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made in perfect love. We love because He first loved us." What else?

5. Guilt. When you start getting things straightened out with God, the accuser… I messed up. God can't use me. God can't forgive me. You don't know what happened back then. You don't know the mistakes I've made. Listen, I understand what that is, but that's irrelevant now. Don't let the past paralyze your present. Take it before God, confess it, repent of it, forsake it, put it on the altar, be an open book before God, and say, "God, I want You to take my life where it is now."

Moses murdered a guy when he was 40, and it wasn't until he was 80 that he really got things straightened out enough for God to use him. But he finally did, and in the next 40 years he changed history. No matter where you are in your life, don't let guilt… Take that guilt to grace. The vultures will come and say, "You're a wretch. There is no way God can use you. There is no way you can be a help to anyone." No, God is in the business of grace.

Listen to this: "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." You can find true north and true south polar in this world, but not in the east and the west. It's illusive. It continues. That's as far from us as God removes our sins.

6. The vulture of anger. This one really gets a lot of people. Maybe some of the other vultures you swat away, but anger sort of sticks with you, because anger is so self-justifying. Especially if we feel justified being angry about something. But anger is a nonstarter, my friends. It's a terrible toxin. I have a piece out at townhall.com. It was out this weekend, entitled Anders Breivik (the Norway shooter) Is No Christian Fundamentalist. I was upset that he kept being labeled as a Christian fundamentalist.

I actually read the entire 1,568-page manifesto word for word, and there's no Christian fundamentalism in there. There's no Christian anything in there. And the stands he even talks about, spiritual issues, are so far removed from any evangelical or fundamentalist. I came from a fundamentalist background so I can speak to this. I departed from a lot of the stuff. You know, we couldn't go to movies; we couldn't swim with people of the opposite sex. They called it "mixed bathing," which I always thought was a weird thing to call it. We dressed like the Amish.

I've rejected that stuff, but I'm grateful for the doctrinal founding I got. This column talks about that. But I have to tell you also, I've been around conservative Christians all my life, and I will say this: There is far too much anger about a lot of things in conservative Christianity—politics, church, methodology, theology. I mean it's one thing to hold a conviction, but there are a lot of Christians who are just mad at everything and everybody. They're just mad at it all, not realizing that the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God. The servant of the Lord must not strive.

"Get rid of all anger," Paul says. "…all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." The book I wrote, which I don't talk much about here, is the story of a pastor who had a lot of gifts, but I believe he was consumed with anger, and because of that anger it acted out and he killed a guy.

In that strain of Christianity, that ultra-fundamentalist strain, there's a lot of good stuff, a lot of solid teaching about biblical truth. I'm grateful I got drilled into me the Word of God, but also there was a lot of meanness. And if that's not checked and repented of, that will work itself out in some very ungodly ways.

This is why a lot of kids who grow up in orthodox homes don't stay in church, because their parents were angry Christians. The Bible says, "Parents, provoke not your children to anger, but raise them up in the nurture and the admonition…" There has to be a loving environment. That's what I love about our church. We love kids at this church. Kids just rule this church. They can run around and do all kinds of stuff in this church. Why? Because they're the next generation. Thank God for that. And that's the way it ought to be.

7. Discouragement is a vulture. I must hasten. I don't have time to develop a story, but there was a time in David the King's life, before he was king, when he was greatly discouraged, almost at the end of his rope. It says this: "And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him…" This is the old King James. "…because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God."

There are times that people will be there to encourage you. It's nice when they are. It's nice when you can be there to encourage someone else. But understand something: Sometimes you have to encourage yourself in the Lord your God, and remind yourself, "Chase that vulture away that's trying to steal your obedience."

8. Success. A lot of people have let success ruin them, material success, and sometimes a spiritual success. In the book of Deuteronomy it says this: "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws, and His decrees that I am giving you this day."

A lot of people when they get successful, they sort of let up and it's no longer as serious to them. These are vultures. The message is: "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather." The dead body for our message this morning is the Christian who puts himself before God and says, "I want to die to the world. I want to die to sin. I want to die to the Devil. I want to live to You. I want to separate myself from the old. I want to build a new habit pattern, a new directive, and a new direction in my life."

When you put yourself there open before God, there's a death process that's happening, and the vultures will gather because they want to steal it. They want to pick on it and take it away. And like Abram of old, when you're in that place of covenant and faith, a lot of what you have to do is chase the vultures away. Maybe you've been trying to put yourself before God but you've not learned how to chase those vultures away. I hope I've helped you this morning.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Making of a Sermon ;-)

One of the questions I get a lot from church members and, in fact, from pastors, as well, is: How do you prepare your messages?

Well, every preacher, no matter what the training in homiletics, must eventually find his own “five smooth stones” when it comes to many things in ministry. This is particularly true in the area of preaching and preparation.

For me, because I preach most of the time in a “series” format, I have an idea about the subject matter—even the text—several weeks ahead of time (seldom earlier than that, though). However, the actual message, with its unique theme and focus, is not on my radar until—at the earliest—the Monday prior to the Sunday it will be delivered.

This blend of long-term planning with the actual sermon prepared in the days immediately before it is preached, is for me a good balance. And it is also a vital way to make sure that our excellent creative team at Fair Oaks Church has time to put together a compelling service.

Once I know the text, theme, and focus, the first thing I do is READ. Then I READ MORE, and YET MORE. In fact, it is not unusual for me to read anywhere from 200-400 pages of material even before I jot a note on paper.

What do I read? Books, articles, commentaries, and yes—even other sermons. I never preach another man’s sermons, but like J. Vernon McGee used to say, “Graze on every pasture, but give your own milk.”

And when I find stuff on the internet, I print it all out and bind it together for the reading (sorry, trees. That’s just me, I like print on paper).

When I preached a series based on the life and ministry of Elijah a while back, I read 11 books about the fascinating prophet.

Francis Bacon said, “Reading maketh a full man.” Spurgeon called this process, “Grist for the mill.

Indeed.

Then I write out my thoughts—not in narrative form, but in phrase form, looking for the makings of an outline. Francis Bacon also said, "Writing maketh an exact man." Once I have that skeleton, I put meat on the bones – sub points, illustrations, etc.

Sometimes I will fill up an entire yellow legal pad (8 ½ by 11), but usually about 20 pages or so of disjointed notes that would make no sense to anyone but me.

Finally, I distill it all down to usually a single page of main ideas and send that to the creative team (Joel Slater is the current recipient of these) so that the presentation can be made.

I hide those notes in my heart, but I do take a copy to the stage—and, of course, I have a screen showing me what is being projected.

Usually, I have the material to Joel Slater by mid-day Thursday, though occasionally on Friday. And sometimes, I have additions as late as Sunday morning.

But once I send the notes to Joel, I put it all away until early Sunday morning. I get up at 5:30 a.m. and review all the material.

By the way, after reviewing all the scribblings one final time--I throw them all away and only retain the single distilled page.

Now you know. Feel better? I KNOW I do☺. -- DRS

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Portrait of a Man of God: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

(This article appeared in PREACHING MAGAZINE)

A PREACHER'S PREACHER
By David R. Stokes

A short walk from the majestic dignity of Buckingham Palace, there is a church which has a royal history of its own. Princes of the pulpit have reigned there. Names such as John Henry Jowett and G. Campbell Morgan adorn the history of legendary Westminster Chapel. These men helped to create the spiritual climate of their times. They were giants of the faith, the English spoken word and biblical exposition.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was responsible for the most vital period in the life of Westminster Chapel. A man of unparalleled intellect and prodigious sermonic output, he left his mark on both sides of the Atlantic—and around the world.

Born in Wales in 1899, he grew up during the glow—and afterglow—of the great Welsh Revival, though he would come to spiritual maturity and clarity a bit later in life. The residual influences of that nation-wide awakening cannot be fully measured but were, no doubt, significant.

As a young student, Martyn was drawn to the sciences and ultimately to medicine, first as a study, then as a career. Following his schooling, he joined the staff of a teaching hospital and became clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Horder, one of the most famous heart physicians of the day.

Martyn was so young when he took his exams that he had to wait to become a full-fledged physician. Horder’s “Socratic” approach to logic and learning had a significant impact on the future preacher’s mind. Evidences of this color his later work as a preacher and writer.1

While on the road to fame and fortune as a doctor of medicine, God clearly had another plan. There was a battle raging in the soul of this brilliant man. The Great Physician was calling this young heart physician into the work of the healing of souls.

Lloyd-Jones was courting Bethany Phillips, who attended the same church. He shared his inner struggle with her. Soon they were married. Shortly thereafter he became a minister of the gospel.

He was called to lead a small congregation in Southern Wales: Bethlehem Forward Mission Church in Sandsfields, Abervon. This was a working-class congregation in a community beginning to feel the impact of economic depression. The region had become a stronghold for Marxist-Leninism—preying on the fears and prejudices of the labor class. Lloyd-Jones’ early and enduring success in this first pastorate is credited as one key factor in saving the region from Communism. Local Marxist leaders were converted under the power of his preaching and joined the church. This congregation grew from a gathering of about 90 people to more than 850 in slightly less than 12 years.2

Even in his first years of ministry, Martyn was marking himself as someone skilled at making the ancient text relevant to the contemporary need. One church member, a retired preacher in his 80s, who heard him in these formative years remarked, “Though you are a young man, you are preaching the old truths I have been trying to preach all of my life ... but you have put a modern suit on them.”3

The young preacher found himself preaching to a wider audience as opportunities presented themselves around the United Kingdom. Among those who heard him and came away moved and impressed was the great London pastor, G. Campbell Morgan.

Morgan was, by the late 1930s, winding up his second tenure as pastor of Westminster Chapel in London. Though reluctant at first, Lloyd-Jones agreed to an assistant role in London. As the nation basked in the short-lived euphoria of Neville Chamberlain’s Munich gambit in 1938, he moved his family to London. Soon, the world would be at war. This was the social backdrop for the beginning of a spiritual explosion God was preparing for this already historic church. For nearly five years, Lloyd-Jones and Morgan alternated conducting the morning and evening chapel services from month to month.

By 1943, Morgan was moving into retirement, and Lloyd-Jones was assuming a pulpit role that would help guide his nation through the end of the war and into the post-war/Cold-war world. Until his retirement from this post in 1968, he preached to capacity crowds of 2,500 on Sunday mornings and evenings and 1,200 each Friday night. Though there was clear and unmistakable numerical and spiritual success, it was noted by admirer James Packer that “to Lloyd-Jones the kind of revival he had known in his first pastorate had never been fully experienced in London.”4

Lloyd-Jones saw himself as building on Morgan’s foundation while simultaneously charting his own course as an expositor. Morgan had built his ministry around what could best be characterized as devotional preaching. Much of his teaching was based on the four Gospels. Lloyd-Jones, however, found his home and greatest preaching fulfillment in the exposition of the great doctrinal epistles, once remarking that Morgan had “left them for him.”5

The experience of following a legend made Lloyd-Jones particularly sensitive and considerate about how he treated and worked with those who had the unenviable task of following him. Westminster successor R.T. Kendall basked in a wonderful relationship with his great predecessor. They had a standing appointment every Thursday from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Mrs. Jones would serve lunch; Kendall would read every word

of Lloyd-Jones’ preparation for the upcoming three weekend services. He did this for four years! Kendall later wrote, “Surely no minister in this country had such a privilege.”6

The ministry of Lloyd-Jones was primarily a preaching ministry. The pulpit was central to every aspect of the spiritual program at Westminster. This was the food for growth and foundation for success.

Any pastor with a heart for biblical exposition who has come of age since the midpoint of the 20th century will inevitably find himself drawn to the

pastoral works of Lloyd-Jones. In fact, the books that bear his name have not only grown out of his pulpit work; they are nearly word-for-word transpositions of his spoken sermons or studies.

From his studies on the Sermon on the Mount to his work on revival, to a book on spiritual depression, to his Reflections on the Work of God’s Spirit (Joy Unspeakable), Lloyd-Jones tackled themes that resonated with the heart of his hearers. His thorough preparation, animated delivery and complete dependence on the power of God in the preaching moment bore the fruit of a ministry with a contemporary impact and lasting legacy.

From the standpoint of understanding Martyn Lloyd-Jones as a preacher of the Word, there is no greater key or resource than the fruit of what happened during six vital weeks when he was 70 years of age—The Westminster Seminary Lectures on Preaching. Those lectures remain available on audio-cassette and survive in printed form embodied in the classic book Preaching and Preachers.7

In the preface to this work, Jones said that he had been told by those at Westminster that he could lecture on any subject he might choose. He chose preaching, and preachers have been blessed ever since! He referred to his method in these discourses as “thinking aloud” with those studying for the ministry and called the style “conversational and intimate.” In fact, what is in print in Preaching and Preachers is, but for a few “minor corrections,” what he actually said in the lectures.

Early on in these messages, he discounted what he referred to as “Baldwinism.” This was a reference to a past Prime Minister of Great Britain—a man regarded as a “technocrat” in contrast to the typical orator-politicians of the era. Stanley Baldwin’s tenure as leader of that nation fell between men such as David Lloyd-George and Winston Churchill, both men noted for their eloquence. His leadership style was one of attention to detail and personal relationships, but he was definitely NOT a gifted speaker. He was seen by many as the political prophet of a new era — representing a new breed of political leader.

Martyn made the point that it was a mistake to think that the eloquence and rhetoric and the careful use of language had ceased to be relevant to ministry effectiveness. One can only imagine what the great preacher would think of what preaching has become in some circles in the early days of the 21st century. He would no doubt be less than impressed with any emphasis on methodology that de-emphasized preaching. To him preaching was paramount. He suggested, “The greatest men of action have been great speakers.” He had no patience with the trend “to discount the value and importance of speech and oratory.” One can only imagine how he would find the tendency to cut corners in our Internet age hard to bear. To him, preaching was to be “logic on fire.” Furthermore, he was of the opinion that a “revival of true preaching” is a time-honored method God uses to herald great spiritual movements and revivals. His thinking was “a theology which doesn’t take fire” is inherently suspect.

His favorite preacher was George Whitefield. One Lloyd-Jones biographer, Tony Sargent, has gone so far as to say, “Whitefield caused him to see the distinction between what is preached and the act of preaching.” A great actor of the 18th century, David Garrick, commenting on Whitefield’s power as a speaker, once said that he wished he could even utter the word “Mesopotamia” as he did. In other words, Whitefield was a master of the spoken word, obviously admired by Lloyd-Jones. This admiration translated itself into a distinctive philosophy of preaching as the supreme method of ministry—modern or otherwise.

The most thoroughly discussed aspect of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ view on preaching is of what he called “unction” in preaching. This was a term he used to describe a desired state in the preaching moment, one that saw intense and thorough preparation meet the clear empowerment of the Spirit of God. He believed that this “unction” produced greater clarity, power and boldness in preaching. It was more than a merely human expression of urgency. It was being lifted up by God’s power as the Word preached was going forth.

He reminded those students (and us by extension) that they were not “simply imparting information.” Rather, they were “dealing with pilgrims on the way to eternity ... dealing with matters not only of life in the world, but with eternal destiny.” To him nothing could be “more urgent.”

This “unction” has a mysterious element to it, as described by him. He saw it as something that could not be conjured or manipulated, but the work of a Sovereign Lord. Yet, it was, to him, something to be desired above all other aspects of the preaching life and experience. He described it this way:

It gives clarity of thought, clarity of speech, ease of utterance, a great sense of authority and confidence as you are preaching, an awareness of a power not your own thrilling through your own being, and an indescribable sense of joy. You are a man “possessed,” you are taken hold of, and taken up. I like to put it like this—and I know of nothing on earth that is comparable to this feeling—that when this happens you have a feeling that you are not actually doing the preaching, you are looking on. You are looking on at yourself in amazement as this is happening. It is not your effort; you are just the instrument, the channel, the vehicle: and Spirit is using you, and you are looking on in great enjoyment to this. That is what the preacher himself is aware of.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was known generally as an expositor; but a closer look reveals that, though he followed the expository tendency to preach through books of the Bible (his studies on Romans and Ephesians stand out), he was, in effect, a “textual-topical” preacher. He often used an “inverted pyramid, moving a small piece of text to what the Scripture as a whole taught on the subject and what its theological ramifications were.”8

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a man with one eye on eternity and the other on his times. As such, though his preaching consistently followed a sequential path (e.g., preaching through a book of the Bible), he found creative and compelling ways to weave the Word around current events. For example, while he was preaching a Sunday morning series on “The Kingdom of God,” the country found itself in the midst of a crisis. Called “The Profumo Affair,” it involved the resignation of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s Secretary for War, John Profumo, over an affair he had with a young women who was at the same time involved with a Soviet Naval Attaché—raising concerns about espionage. U.S. President Kennedy watched this closely for his own reasons as the MacMillan government was nearly brought down (the Prime Minister resigned a few months later for health reasons).

Tackling such an issue was not hard for Lloyd-Jones. His rich biblical approach enabled him to touch on sensitive issues—even moral and political scandal—in a dignified and responsible way. Never drifting into a morbid fascination with the details of evil, he instead proclaimed the values of God’s Kingdom standing in contrast to the compromises and corruptions of the kingdoms of this world, yet, at the same time remaining a loyal countryman.9

He was a man who could pray in the pulpit for 35 minutes before preaching. He shunned radio work on the BBC because he believed that the medium would not recognize and convey the “unction” that was so precious to him and vital to his ministry. Some who knew him well, and who had observed his mind at work and gifts of leadership and communication, strongly felt that—had he taken another path—he could have been Prime Minister of the nation one day (if Whitefield was his preacher hero, David Lloyd George was his political hero). But, his thinking was certainly akin to that of another great English preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who once said, “If God calls you to preach, don’t ever stoop to be a king!”

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones had to cancel all speaking engagements due to illness in 1979, and he wrestled with health problems for many months. By February of 1981 he was telling his family, “Don’t pray for healing; don’t try to hold me back from the glory.”

On March 1 he went home to be with the Lord. A special day to any Welshman—the first of March is known as “St. David’s Day.”

1. Christopher Catherwood, Five Evangelical Leaders, 1985.
2. Tony Sargent, The Sacred Anointing: The Preaching of D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, p. 53.
3. Ibid., p. 158.
4. Ibid., p. 151.
5. Warren Wiersbe, Living with the Giants, p. 187.
6. R.T. Kendall, The Anointing, introduction.
7. In this next section I quote liberally from Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Zondervan Publishing House, 1971).
8. Iain Murray, The First Forty Years, p. 328.
9. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Kingdom of God, p. 8.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Blind Eye & The Deaf Ear

Note from DRS: I read the following about once a year - and usually post it and send it along...it's been a while, but I came across it again today on vacation. It is from one of CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON'S lectures to his ministry students in the 19th century, but it applies well to many circumstances and endeavors...it's called:

THE BLIND EYE & THE DEAF EAR

Having often said in this room that a minister ought to have one blind eye and one deaf ear, I have excited the curiosity of several brethren, who have requested an explanation; for it appears to them, as it does also to me, that the keener eyes and ears we have the better. Well, gentlemen, since the text is somewhat mysterious, you shall have the exegesis of it.

A part of my meaning is expressed in plain language by Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes (7:21): "Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee." The margin says, "Give not thy heart to all words that are spoken"--do not take them to heart or let them weigh with you, do not notice them, or act as if you heard them.

You cannot stop people's tongues, and therefore the best thing is to stop your own ears and never mind what is spoken. There is a world of idle chit- chat abroad, and he who takes note of it will have enough to do. He will find that even those who live with him are not always singing his praises, and that when he has displeased his most faithful servants, they have, in the heat of the moment, spoken fierce words which it would be better for him not to have heard. Who has not, under temporary irritation, said that of another which he has afterwards regretted?
It is the part of the generous to treat passionate words as if they had never been uttered. When a man is in an angry mood it is wise to walk away from him, and leave off strife before it be meddled with; and if we are compelled to hear hasty language, we must endeavor to obliterate it from the memory, and say with David, "But I, as a deaf man, heard not. I was as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs." Tacitus describes a wise man as saying to one that railed at him, "You are lord of your tongue, but I am also master of my ears"--you may say what you please, but I will only hear what I choose.

We cannot shut our ears as we do our eyes, for we have no ear lids, and yet, as we read of him that "stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood," it is, no doubt, possible to seal the portal of the ear so that nothing contraband shall enter. We would say to the general gossip of the village, and of the unadvised words of angry friends--do not hear them, or if you must hear them, do not lay them to heart, for you also have talked idly and angrily in your day, and would even now be in an awkward position if you were called to account for every word that you have spoken, even about your dearest friend. Thus Solomon argued as he closed the passage which we have quoted--"For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise has cursed others."

BLIND EYE AND DEAF EAR IN BEGINNING A NEW MINISTRY

In enlarging upon my text, let me say first--when you commence your ministry make up your mind to begin with a clean sheet; be deaf and blind to the long-standing differences which may survive in the church. As soon as you enter upon your pastorate you may be waited upon by persons who are anxious to secure your adhesion to their side in a family quarrel or church dispute; be deaf and blind to these people, and assure them that bygones must be bygones with you, and that as you have not inherited your predecessor's cupboard you do not mean to eat his cold meat. If any flagrant injustice had been done, be diligent to set it right, but if it be a mere feud, bid the quarrelsome party cease from it, and tell him once for all that you will have nothing to do with it. The answer of Gallio will almost suit you: "If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you: but if it be a question of words and names, and vain janglings, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters."

When I came to New Park Street Chapel as a young man from the country, and was chosen pastor, I was speedily interviewed by a good man who had left the church, having, as he said, been "treated shamefully." He mentioned the names of half-a-dozen persons, all prominent members of the church, who had behaved in a very unchristian manner to him, he, poor innocent sufferer, having been a model of patience and holiness. I learned his character at once from what he said about others (a mode of judging which has never misled me), and I made up my mind how to act. I told him that the church had been in a sadly unsettled state, and that the only way out of the snarl was for every one to forget the past and begin again. He said that the lapse of years did not alter facts, and I replied that it would alter a man's view of them if in that time he had become a wiser and better man. However, I added, that all the past had gone away with my predecessors, that he must follow them to their new spheres, and settle matters with them, for I would not touch the affair with a pair of tongs. He waxed somewhat warm, but I allowed him to radiate until he was cool again, and we shook hands and parted.

He was a good man, but constructed upon an uncomfortable principle, so that he came across the path of others in a very awkward manner at times, and if I had gone into his narrative and examined his case, there would have been no end to the strife. I am quite certain that, for my own success, and for the prosperity of the church, I took the wisest course by applying my blind eye to all disputes which dated previously to my advent. It is the extreme of unwisdom for a young man fresh from college, or from another charge, to suffer himself to be earwigged by a clique, and to be bribed by kindness and flattery to become a partisan, and so to ruin himself with one-half of his people. Know nothing of parties and cliques, but be the pastor of all the flock, and care for all alike. Blessed are the peacemakers, and one sure way of peacemaking is to let the fire of contention alone. Neither fan it, nor stir it, nor add fuel to it, but let it go out of itself. Begin your ministry with one blind eye and one deaf ear.

BLIND EYE AND DEAF EAR IN REGARD TO SALARY

I should recommend the use of the same faculty, or want of faculty, with regard to finance in the matter of your own salary. There are some occasions, especially in raising a new church, when you may have no deacon who is qualified to manage that department, and, therefore, you may feel called upon to undertake it yourselves. In such a case you are not to be censured; you ought even to be commended. Many a time also the work would come to an end altogether if the preacher did not act as his own deacon, and find supplies both temporal and spiritual by his own exertions. To these exceptional cases I have nothing to say but that I admire the struggling worker and deeply sympathize with him, for he is overweighted, and is apt to be a less successful soldier for his Lord because he is entangled with the affairs of this life.

In churches which are well established, and afford a decent maintenance, the minister will do well to supervise all things, but interfere with nothing. If deacons cannot be trusted they ought not to be deacons at all, but if they are worthy of their office they are worthy of our confidence. I know that instances occur in which they are sadly incompetent and yet must be borne with, and in such a state of things the pastor must open the eye which otherwise would have remained blind. Rather than the management of church funds should become a scandal we must resolutely interfere, but if there is no urgent call for us to do so we had better believe in the division of labour, and let deacons do their own work.

We have the right with financial matters if we please, but it will be our wisdom as much as possible to let them alone, if others will manage them for us. When the purse is bare, the wife sickly, and the children numerous, the preacher must speak if the church does not properly provide for him; but to be constantly bringing before the people requests for an increase of income is not wise. When a minister is poorly remunerated, and he feels that he is worth more, and that the church could give him more, he ought kindly, boldly, and firmly to communicate with the deacons first, and if they do not take it up he should then mention it to the brethren in a sensible, business-life way, not as craving a charity, but as putting it to their sense of honour, that "the labourer is worthy of his hire." Let him say outright what he thinks, for there is nothing to be ashamed of, but there would be much more cause for shame if he dishonoured himself and the cause of God by plunging into debt: let him therefore speak to the point of a proper spirit to the proper persons, and there end the matter, and not resort to secret complaining.

Faith in God should tone down our concern about temporalities, and enable us to practice what we preach, namely--"Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink; or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." Some who have pretended to live by faith have had a very shrewd way of drawing out donations by turns of the indirect corkscrew, but you either ask plainly, like men, or you will leave it to the Christian feeling of your people, and turn to the items and modes of church finance a blind eye and a deaf ear.

BLIND EYE AND DEAF EAR TOWARD GOSSIP

The blind eye and the deaf ear will come in exceedingly well in connection with the gossips of the place. Every church, and, for the matter of that, every village and family, is plagued with certain Mrs. Grundys who drink tea and talk vitriol. They are never quiet, but buzz around to the great annoyance of those who are devout and practical. No one needs to look far for perpetual motion, he has only to watch their tongues. At tea-meetings, Dorcas meetings, and other gatherings, they practice vivisection upon the characters of their neighbours, and of course they are eager to try their knives upon the minister, the minister's wife, the minister's children, the minister's wife's bonnet, the dress of the minister's daughter, and how many new ribbons she has worn for the last six months, and so on ad infinitum.

There are also certain persons who are never so happy as when they are "grieved to the heart" to have to tell the minister that Mr. A. is a snake in the grass, that he is quite mistaken in thinking so well of Messrs. B. and C., and that they have heard quite "promiscuously" that Mr. D. and his wife are badly matched. Then follows a long string about Mrs. E., who says that she and Mrs. F. overheard Mrs. G. say to Mrs.

H. that Mrs. J. should say that Mr. K. and Miss L. were going to move from the chapel and hear Mr. M., and all because of what old N. said to young O. about that Miss P.

Never listen to such people. Do as Nelson did when he put his blind eye to the telescope and declared that he did not see the signal [to retreat], and therefore would go on with the battle.

Let the creatures buzz, and do not even hear them, unless indeed they buzz so much concerning one person that the matter threatens to be serious; then it will be well to bring them to book and talk in sober earnestness to them. Assure them that you are obliged to have facts definitely before you, that your memory is not very tenacious, that you have many things to think of, that you are always afraid of making any mistake in such matters, and that if they would be good enough to write down what they have to say the case would be more fully before you, and you could give more time to its consideration. Mrs. Grundy will not do that; she has a great objection to making clear and definite statements; she prefers talking at random.

I heartily wish that by any process we could put down gossip, but I suppose that it will never be done so long as the human race continues what it is, for James tells us that "every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed by mankind: but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." What can't be cured must be endured, and the best way of enduring it is not to listen to it. Over one of our old castles a former owner has inscribed these lines--

THEY SAY. WHAT DO THEY SAY? LET THEM SAY.

Thin-skinned persons should learn this motto by heart. The talk of the village is never worthy of notice, and you should never take any interest in it except to mourn over the malice and heartlessness of which it is too often the indicator.

Mayow in his Plain Preaching very forcibly says, "If you were to see a woman kill a farmer's ducks and geese for the sake of having one of the feathers, you would see a person acting as we do when we speak evil of anyone, for the sake of the pleasure we feel in evil speaking. For the pleasure we feel is not worth a single feather, and the pain we give is often greater than a man feels at the loss of his property."

Insert a remark of this kind now and then in a sermon, when there is no special gossip abroad, and it may be of some benefit to the more sensible:
I quite despair of the rest.

Above all, never join in tale-bearing yourself, and beg your wife to abstain from it also. Some men are too talkative by half, and remind me of the young man who was sent to Socrates to learn oratory. On being introduced to the philosopher he talked so incessantly that Socrates asked for double fees. "Why charge me double?" said the young fellow. "Because," said the orator, "I must teach you two sciences: the one how to hold your tongue and the other how to speak." The first science is the more difficult, but aim at proficiency in it, or you will suffer greatly, and create trouble without end.

BLIND EYE AND DEAF EAR TOWARD CRITICISM

Avoid with your whole soul that spirit of suspicion which sours some men's lives, and to all things from which you might harshly draw an unkind inference turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. Suspicion makes a man a torment to himself and a spy towards others. Once begin to suspect, and causes for distrust will multiply around you, and your very suspiciousness will create the major part of them. Many a friend has been transformed into an enemy by being suspected. Do not, therefore, look about you with the eyes of mistrust, nor listen as an eaves-dropper with the quick ear of fear.

To go about the congregation ferreting our disaffection, like a gamekeeper after rabbits, is a lowly employment, and is generally rewarded most sorrowfully. Lord Bacon wisely advises "the provident stay of enquiry of that which we would be loath to find." When nothing is to be discovered which will help us to love others, we had better cease from the enquiry, for we may drag to light that which may be the commencement of years of contention.

I am not, of course, referring to cases requiring discipline which must be thoroughly investigated and boldly dealt with, but I have upon my mind mere personal matters where the main sufferer is yourself; here it is always best not to know, nor wish to know, what is being said about you, either by friends or foes. Those who praise us are probably as much mistaken as those who abuse us, and the one may be regarded as a set off to the other, if indeed it be worthwhile taking any account at all of man's judgment.

If we have the approbation of our God, certified by a placid conscience, we can afford to be indifferent to the opinions of our fellow men, whether they commend or condemn. If we cannot reach this point we are babes and not men.

Some are childishly anxious to know their friend's opinion of them, and if it contain the smallest element of dissent or censure, they regard him as an enemy forthwith. Surely we are not popes, and do not wish our hearers to regard us as infallible! We have known men become quite enraged at a perfectly fair and reasonable remark, and regard an honest friend as an opponent who delighted to find fault; this misrepresentation on the one side has soon produced heat on the other, and strife ensued. How much better is gentle forbearance! You must be able to bear criticism, or you are not fit to be at the head of a congregation; and you must let the critic go without reckoning him among your deadly foes, or you will prove yourself a mere weakling.

It is wisest always to show double kindness where you have been severely handled by one of who thought it his duty to do so, for he is probably an honest man and worth winning. He who in your early days hardly thinks you fit for the pastorate may yet become your firmest defender if he sees that you grow in grace, and advance in qualification for the work; do not, therefore, regard him as a foe for truthfully expressing his doubts; does not your own heart confess that his fears were not altogether groundless? Turn your deaf ear to what you judge to be his harsh criticism, and endeavour to preach better.

Persons from love of change, from pique, from advance in their tests, and other causes, may become uneasy under our ministry, and it is well for us to know nothing about it. Perceiving the danger, we must not betray our discovery, but bestir ourselves to improve our sermons, hoping that the good people will be better fed and forget their dissatisfaction. If they are truly gracious persons, the incipient evil will pass away, and no real discontent will arise, or if it does you must not provoke it by suspecting it.

Where I have known that there existed a measure of disaffection to myself, I have not recognised it, unless it has been forced upon me, but have, on the contrary, acted towards the opposing person with all the more courtesy and friendliness, and I have never heard any more of the matter. If I had treated the good man as an opponent, he would have done his best to take the part assigned him, and carry it out to his own credit; but I felt that he was a Christian man, and had a right to dislike me if he thought fit, and that if he did so I ought not to think unkindly of him; and therefore I treated him as one who was a friend to my Lord, if not to me, gave him some work to do which implied confidence in him, made him feel at home, and by degrees won him to be an attached friend as well as a fellow-worker.

The best of people are sometimes out at elbows and say unkind things; we should be glad if our friends could quite forget what we said when we were peevish and irritable, and it will be Christlike to act towards others in this matter as we would wish them to do towards us. Never make a brother remember that he once uttered a hard speech in reference to yourself. If you see him in a happier mood, do not mention the former painful occasion:
if he be a man of right spirit he will in future be unwilling to vex a pastor who has treated him so generously, and if he be a mere boor it is a pity to hold any argument with him, and therefore the past had better go by default.

It would be better to be deceived a hundred times than to live a life of suspicion. It is intolerable. The miser who traverses his chamber at midnight and hears a burglar in every falling leaf is not more wretched than the minister who believes that plots are being spread. I remember a brother who believed that he was being poisoned, and was persuaded that even the seat he sat upon and the clothes he wore had by some subtle chemistry become saturated with death; his life was a perpetual scare, and such is the existence of a minister when he mistrusts all around him.

Nor is suspicion merely a source of disquietude, it is a moral evil, and injures the character of the man who harbours it. Suspicion in kings creates tyranny, in husbands jealousy, and in ministers bitterness; such bitterness as in spirit dissolves all the ties of the pastoral relation, eating like a corrosive acid into the very soul of the office and making it a curse rather than a blessing. When once this terrible evil has curdled all the milk of human kindness in a man's bosom, he becomes more fit for the detective police force than for the ministry; like a spider, he begins to cast out his lines, and fashions a web of tremulous threads, all of which lead up to himself and warn him of the least touch of even the tiniest midge [gnat]. There he sits in the centre, a mass of sensation, all nerves and raw wounds, excitable and excited, a self-immolated martyr drawing the blazing faggots about him, and apparently anxious to be burned.

The most faithful friend is unsafe under such conditions. The most careful avoidance of offence will not secure immunity from mistrust, but will probably be construed into cunning and cowardice. Society is almost as much in danger from a suspecting man as from a mad dog, for he snaps on all sides without reason, and scatters right and left the foam of his madness. It is vain to reason with the victim of this folly, for with perverse ingenuity he turns every argument the wrong way, and makes your plea for confidence another reason for mistrust. It is sad that he cannot see the iniquity of his groundless censure of others, especially of those who have been his friends and the firmest upholders of the cause of Christ.

"I would not wrong
Virtue so tried
by the least shade of doubt:
Undue suspicion is more abject baseness
Even than the guilt suspected."

No one ought to be made an offender for a word; but, when suspicion rules, even silence becomes a crime. Brethren, shun this vice by renouncing the love of self. Judge it to be a small matter what men think or say of you, and care only for their treatment of your Lord. If you are naturally sensitive do not indulge the weakness, nor allow others to play upon it.

Would it not be a great degradation of your office if you were to keep an army of spies in your pay to collect information as to all that your people said of you? And yet it amounts to this if you allow certain busybodies to bring you all the gossip of the place. Drive the creatures away. Abhor those mischief-making, tattling handmaidens of strife. Those who will fetch will carry, and no doubt the gossips go from your house and report every observation which falls from your lips, with plenty of garnishing of their own. Remember that, as the receiver is as bad as the thief, so the hearer of scandal is a sharer in the guilt of it. If there were no listening ears there would be no talebearing tongues. While you are a buyer of ill wares the demand will create the supply, and the factories of falsehood will be working full time. No one wishes to become a creator of lies, and yet he who hears slanders with pleasure and believes them with readiness will hatch many a brood into active life.

Solomon says "a whisperer separateth chief friends" (Proverbs 16:28). Insinuations are thrown out, and jealousies aroused, till "mutual coolness ensues, and neither can understand why; each wonders what can possibly be the cause. Thus the firmest, the longest, the warmest, and most confiding attachments, the sources of life's sweetest joys, are broken up perhaps forever."

This is work worthy of the arch-fiend himself, but it could never be done if men lived out of the atmosphere of suspicion. As it is, the world is full of sorrow through this cause, a sorrow as sharp as it is superfluous. This is grievous indeed! Campbell eloquently remarks, "The ruins of old friendships are a more melancholy spectacle to me than those of desolated palaces. They exhibit the heart which was once lighted up with joy all damp and deserted, and haunted by those birds of ill omen that nestle in ruins." O suspicion, what desolations thou hast made in the earth!

Because the persons who would render you mistrustful of your friends are a sorry set, and because suspicion is in itself a wretched and tormenting vice, resolve to turn towards the whole business your blind eye and your deaf ear.

Need I say a word or two about the wisdom of never hearing what was not meant for you. The eavesdropper is a mean person, very little if anything better than the common informer; and he who says he overheard may be considered to have heard over and above what he should have done.

Jeremy Taylor wisely and justly observes, "Never listen at the door or window, for besides that it contains in it a danger and a snare, it is also invading my neighbour's privacy, and a laying that open, which he therefore encloses that it might not be open."

It is a well worn proverb that listeners seldom hear any good of themselves. Listening is a sort of larceny, but the goods stolen are never a pleasure to the thief. Information obtained by clandestine means must, in all but extreme cases, be more injury than benefit to a cause. The magistrate may judge it expedient to obtain evidence by such means, but I cannot imagine a case in which a minister should do so. Ours is a mission of grace and peace; we are not prosecutors who search out condemnatory evidence, but friends whose love would cover a multitude of offences. The peeping eyes of Canaan, the son of Ham, shall never be in our employ; we prefer the pious delicacy of Shem and Japhet, who went backward and covered the shame which the child of evil had published with glee.

BLIND EYE TOWARD OPINIONS ABOUT YOURSELF

To opinions and remarks about yourself turn also as a general rule the blind eye and the deaf ear. Public men must expect public criticism, and as the public cannot be regarded as infallible, public men may expect to be criticized in a way which is neither fair nor pleasant. To all honest and just remarks we are bound to give due measure of heed, but to the bitter verdict of prejudice, the frivolous faultfinding of men of fashion, the stupid utterances of the ignorant, and the fierce denunciations of opponents, we may very safely turn a deaf ear.

We cannot expect those to approve of us whom we condemn by our testimony against their favourite sins; their commendation would show that we had missed our mark. We naturally look to be approved of by our own people, the members of our churches, and the adherents of our congregations, and when they make observations which show that they are not very great admirers, we may be tempted to discouragement if not to anger: herein lies a snare.

When I was about to leave my village charge for London, one of the old men prayed that I might be "delivered from the bleating of the sheep." For the life of me I could not imagine what he meant, but the riddle is plain now, and I have learned to offer the prayer myself. Too much consideration of what is said by our people, whether it be in praise or in depreciation, is not good for us. If we dwell on high with "that great Shepherd of the sheep" we shall care little for all the confused bleatings around us, but if we become "carnal, and walk as men," we shall have little rest if we listen to this, that, and the other which every poor sheep may bleat about us.

Perhaps it is quite true that you were uncommonly dull last Sabbath morning, but there was no need that Mrs. Clack should come and tell you that Deacon Jones thought so. It is more than probable that having been out in the country all the previous week, your preaching was very like milk and water, but there can be no necessity for your going round among the people to discover whether they noticed it or not. Is it not enough that your conscience is uneasy upon the point? Endeavour to improve for the future, but do not want to hear all that every Jack, Tom, and Mary may have to say about it.

On the other hand, you were on the high horse in your last sermon, and finished with quite a flourish of trumpets, and you feel considerable anxiety to know what impression you produced. Repress your curiosity: it will do you no good to enquire. If the people should happen to agree with your verdict, it will only feed your pitiful vanity, and if they think otherwise your fishing for their praise will injure you in their esteem. In any case it is all about yourself, and this is a poor theme to be anxious about; play the man, and do not demean yourself by seeking compliments like little children when dressed in new clothes, who say, "See my pretty frock." Have you not by this time discovered that flattery is as injurious as it is pleasant? It softens the mind and makes you more sensitive to slander. In proportion as praise pleases you, censure will pain you. Besides, it is a crime to be taken off from your great object of glorifying the Lord Jesus by petty considerations as to your little self, and, if there were no other reason, this ought to weigh much with you. Pride is a deadly sin, and will grow without your borrowing the parish water-cart to quicken it.

Forget expressions which feed your vanity, and if you find yourself relishing the unwholesome morsels, confess the sins with deep humiliation. Payson showed that he was strong in the Lord when he wrote to his mother, "You must not, certainly, my dear mother, say one word which even looks like an intimation that you think me advancing in grace. I cannot bear it. All the people here, whether friends or enemies, conspire to ruin me. Satan and my own heart, of course, will lend a hand; and if you join, too, I fear all the cold water which Christ can throw upon my pride will not prevent its breaking out into a destructive flame. As certainly as anybody flatters and caresses me my heavenly Father has to whip me: and an unspeakable mercy it is that he condescends to do it. I can, it is true, easily muster a hundred reasons why I should not be proud, but pride will not mind reason, nor anything else but a good drubbing. Even at this moment I feel it tingling in my fingers' ends, and seeking to guide my pen."

Knowing something myself of those secret whippings which our good Father administers to his servants when he sees them unduly exalted, I heartily add my own solemn warnings against your pampering the flesh by listening to the praises of the kindest friends you have. They are injudicious, and you must beware of them.

A sensible friend who will unsparingly criticize you from week to week will be a far greater blessing to you than a thousand undiscriminating admirers if you have sense enough to bear his treatment, and grace enough to be thankful for it.

When I was preaching at the Surrey Gardens, an unknown censor of great ability used to send me a weekly list of my mispronunciations and other slips of speech. He never signed his name, and that was my only cause of complaint against him, for he left me in a debt which I could not acknowledge. I take this opportunity of confessing my obligations to him, for with genial temper, and an evident desire to benefit me, he marked down most relentlessly everything which he supposed me to have said incorrectly. Concerning some of these corrections, he was in error himself, but for the most part he was right, and his remarks enabled me to perceive and avoid many mistakes. I looked for his weekly memoranda with much interest, and I trust I am all the better for them. If I had repeated a sentence two or three Sundays before, he would say, "See same expression in such a sermon," mentioning number and page. He remarked on one occasion that I too often quoted the line,

"Nothing in my hands I bring,"

and, he added, "we are sufficiently informed of the vacuity of your hands." He demanded my authority for calling a man "covechus"; and so on. Possibly some young men might have been discouraged, if not irritated, by such severe criticisms, but they would have been very foolish, for in resenting such correction they would have been throwing away a valuable aid to progress. No money can purchase outspoken honest judgment, and when we can get it for nothing let us utilize it to the fullest extent. The worst of it is that of those who offer their judgments few are qualified to form them, and we shall be pestered with foolish, impertinent remarks, unless we turn to them all the blind eye and the deaf ear.

BLIND EYE AND DEAF EAR TOWARD FALSE REPORTS

In the case of false reports against yourself, for the most part use the deaf ear. Unfortunately liars are not yet extinct, and, like Richard Baxter and John Bunyan, you may be accused of crimes which your soul abhors. Be not staggered thereby, for this trial has befallen the very best of men, and even your Lord did not escape the envenomed tongue of falsehood. In almost all cases it is the wisest course to let such things die a natural death. A great lie, if unnoticed, is like a big fish out of water, it dashes and plunges and beats itself to death in a short time. To answer it is to supply it with its element, and help it to a longer life.

Falsehoods usually carry their own refutation somewhere about them, and sting themselves to death. Some lies especially have a peculiar smell, which betrays their rottenness to every honest nose. If you are disturbed by them the object of their invention is partly answered, but your silent endurance disappoints malice and gives you a partial victory, which God in his care of you will soon turn into a complete deliverance. Your blameless life will be your best defence, and those who have seen it will not allow you to be condemned so readily as your slanderers expect.

Only abstain from fighting your own battles, and in nine cases out of ten your accusers will gain nothing by their malevolence but chagrin for themselves and contempt for others.

To prosecute the slanderer is seldom wise. I remember a beloved servant of Christ who in his youth was very sensitive, and, being falsely accused, proceeded against the person at law. An apology was offered, it withdrew every iota of the charge, and was most ample, but the good man insisted upon its being printed in the newspapers, and the result convinced him of his own unwisdom. Multitudes, who would otherwise have never heard of the libel, asked what it meant, and made comments thereon, generally concluding with the same remark that he must have done something imprudent to provoke such an accusation. He was heard to say that so long as he lived he would never resort to such a method again, for he felt that the public apology had done him more harm that the slander itself.

Standing as we do in a position which makes us choice targets for the devil and his allies, our best course is to defend our innocence by our silence and leave our reputation with God.

Yet there are exceptions to this general rule. When distinct, definite, public charges are made against a man he is bound to answer them, and answer them in the clearest and most open manner. To decline all investigation is in such a case practically to plead guilty, and whatever may be the mode of putting it, the general public ordinarily regard a refusal to reply as a proof of guilt. Under mere worry and annoyance it is by far the best to be altogether passive, but when the matter assumes more serious proportions, and our accuser defies us to a defence, we are bound to meet his charges with honest statements of fact.

In every instance counsel should be sought of the Lord as to how to deal with slanderous tongues, and in the issue innocence will be vindicated and falsehood convicted.

Some ministers have been broken in spirit, driven from their position, and even injured in character by taking notice of village scandal. I know a fine young man, for whom I predicted a career of usefulness, who fell into great trouble because he at first allowed it to be a trouble and then worked hard to make it so. He came to me and complained that he had a great grievance; and so it was a grievance, but from beginning to end it was all about what some half-dozen women had said about his procedure after the death of his wife. It was originally too small a thing to deal with--a Mrs. Q. had said that she should not wonder if the minister married the servant then living in his house; another represented her as saying that he ought to marry her, and then a third, with a malicious ingenuity, found a deeper meaning in the words, and construed them into a charge. Worst of all, the dear sensitive preacher must needs trace the matter out and accuse a score or two of people of spreading libels against him, and even threaten some of them with legal proceedings. If he could have prayed over it in secret, or even have whistled over it, no harm would have come of the tittle-tattle; but this dear brother could not treat the slander wisely, for he had not what I earnestly recommend to you, namely, a blind eye and a deaf ear. ...

Is not this a sufficient explanation of my declaration that I have one blind eye and one deaf ear, and that they are the best eye and ear I have? have one blind eye and one deaf ear, I have excited the curiosity of several brethren, who have requested an explanation; for it appears to them, as it does also to me, that the keener eyes and ears we have the better. Well, gentlemen, since the text is somewhat mysterious, you shall have the exegesis of it.

A part of my meaning is expressed in plain language by Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes (7:21): "Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee." The margin says, "Give not thy heart to all words that are spoken"--do not take them to heart or let them weigh with you, do not notice them, or act as if you heard them.

You cannot stop people's tongues, and therefore the best thing is to stop your own ears and never mind what is spoken. There is a world of idle chit- chat abroad, and he who takes note of it will have enough to do. He will find that even those who live with him are not always singing his praises, and that when he has displeased his most faithful servants, they have, in the heat of the moment, spoken fierce words which it would be better for him not to have heard. Who has not, under temporary irritation, said that of another which he has afterwards regretted?
It is the part of the generous to treat passionate words as if they had never been uttered. When a man is in an angry mood it is wise to walk away from him, and leave off strife before it be meddled with; and if we are compelled to hear hasty language, we must endeavor to obliterate it from the memory, and say with David, "But I, as a deaf man, heard not. I was as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs." Tacitus describes a wise man as saying to one that railed at him, "You are lord of your tongue, but I am also master of my ears"--you may say what you please, but I will only hear what I choose.

We cannot shut our ears as we do our eyes, for we have no ear lids, and yet, as we read of him that "stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood," it is, no doubt, possible to seal the portal of the ear so that nothing contraband shall enter. We would say to the general gossip of the village, and of the unadvised words of angry friends--do not hear them, or if you must hear them, do not lay them to heart, for you also have talked idly and angrily in your day, and would even now be in an awkward position if you were called to account for every word that you have spoken, even about your dearest friend. Thus Solomon argued as he closed the passage which we have quoted--"For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise has cursed others."

BLIND EYE AND DEAF EAR IN BEGINNING A NEW MINISTRY

In enlarging upon my text, let me say first--when you commence your ministry make up your mind to begin with a clean sheet; be deaf and blind to the long-standing differences which may survive in the church. As soon as you enter upon your pastorate you may be waited upon by persons who are anxious to secure your adhesion to their side in a family quarrel or church dispute; be deaf and blind to these people, and assure them that bygones must be bygones with you, and that as you have not inherited your predecessor's cupboard you do not mean to eat his cold meat. If any flagrant injustice had been done, be diligent to set it right, but if it be a mere feud, bid the quarrelsome party cease from it, and tell him once for all that you will have nothing to do with it. The answer of Gallio will almost suit you: "If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you: but if it be a question of words and names, and vain janglings, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters."

When I came to New Park Street Chapel as a young man from the country, and was chosen pastor, I was speedily interviewed by a good man who had left the church, having, as he said, been "treated shamefully." He mentioned the names of half-a-dozen persons, all prominent members of the church, who had behaved in a very unchristian manner to him, he, poor innocent sufferer, having been a model of patience and holiness. I learned his character at once from what he said about others (a mode of judging which has never misled me), and I made up my mind how to act. I told him that the church had been in a sadly unsettled state, and that the only way out of the snarl was for every one to forget the past and begin again. He said that the lapse of years did not alter facts, and I replied that it would alter a man's view of them if in that time he had become a wiser and better man. However, I added, that all the past had gone away with my predecessors, that he must follow them to their new spheres, and settle matters with them, for I would not touch the affair with a pair of tongs. He waxed somewhat warm, but I allowed him to radiate until he was cool again, and we shook hands and parted.

He was a good man, but constructed upon an uncomfortable principle, so that he came across the path of others in a very awkward manner at times, and if I had gone into his narrative and examined his case, there would have been no end to the strife. I am quite certain that, for my own success, and for the prosperity of the church, I took the wisest course by applying my blind eye to all disputes which dated previously to my advent. It is the extreme of unwisdom for a young man fresh from college, or from another charge, to suffer himself to be earwigged by a clique, and to be bribed by kindness and flattery to become a partisan, and so to ruin himself with one-half of his people. Know nothing of parties and cliques, but be the pastor of all the flock, and care for all alike. Blessed are the peacemakers, and one sure way of peacemaking is to let the fire of contention alone. Neither fan it, nor stir it, nor add fuel to it, but let it go out of itself. Begin your ministry with one blind eye and one deaf ear.

BLIND EYE AND DEAF EAR IN REGARD TO SALARY

I should recommend the use of the same faculty, or want of faculty, with regard to finance in the matter of your own salary. There are some occasions, especially in raising a new church, when you may have no deacon who is qualified to manage that department, and, therefore, you may feel called upon to undertake it yourselves. In such a case you are not to be censured; you ought even to be commended. Many a time also the work would come to an end altogether if the preacher did not act as his own deacon, and find supplies both temporal and spiritual by his own exertions. To these exceptional cases I have nothing to say but that I admire the struggling worker and deeply sympathize with him, for he is overweighted, and is apt to be a less successful soldier for his Lord because he is entangled with the affairs of this life.

In churches which are well established, and afford a decent maintenance, the minister will do well to supervise all things, but interfere with nothing. If deacons cannot be trusted they ought not to be deacons at all, but if they are worthy of their office they are worthy of our confidence. I know that instances occur in which they are sadly incompetent and yet must be borne with, and in such a state of things the pastor must open the eye which otherwise would have remained blind. Rather than the management of church funds should become a scandal we must resolutely interfere, but if there is no urgent call for us to do so we had better believe in the division of labour, and let deacons do their own work.

We have the right with financial matters if we please, but it will be our wisdom as much as possible to let them alone, if others will manage them for us. When the purse is bare, the wife sickly, and the children numerous, the preacher must speak if the church does not properly provide for him; but to be constantly bringing before the people requests for an increase of income is not wise. When a minister is poorly remunerated, and he feels that he is worth more, and that the church could give him more, he ought kindly, boldly, and firmly to communicate with the deacons first, and if they do not take it up he should then mention it to the brethren in a sensible, business-life way, not as craving a charity, but as putting it to their sense of honour, that "the labourer is worthy of his hire." Let him say outright what he thinks, for there is nothing to be ashamed of, but there would be much more cause for shame if he dishonoured himself and the cause of God by plunging into debt: let him therefore speak to the point of a proper spirit to the proper persons, and there end the matter, and not resort to secret complaining.

Faith in God should tone down our concern about temporalities, and enable us to practice what we preach, namely--"Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink; or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." Some who have pretended to live by faith have had a very shrewd way of drawing out donations by turns of the indirect corkscrew, but you either ask plainly, like men, or you will leave it to the Christian feeling of your people, and turn to the items and modes of church finance a blind eye and a deaf ear.

BLIND EYE AND DEAF EAR TOWARD GOSSIP

The blind eye and the deaf ear will come in exceedingly well in connection with the gossips of the place. Every church, and, for the matter of that, every village and family, is plagued with certain Mrs. Grundys who drink tea and talk vitriol. They are never quiet, but buzz around to the great annoyance of those who are devout and practical. No one needs to look far for perpetual motion, he has only to watch their tongues. At tea-meetings, Dorcas meetings, and other gatherings, they practice vivisection upon the characters of their neighbours, and of course they are eager to try their knives upon the minister, the minister's wife, the minister's children, the minister's wife's bonnet, the dress of the minister's daughter, and how many new ribbons she has worn for the last six months, and so on ad infinitum.

There are also certain persons who are never so happy as when they are "grieved to the heart" to have to tell the minister that Mr. A. is a snake in the grass, that he is quite mistaken in thinking so well of Messrs. B. and C., and that they have heard quite "promiscuously" that Mr. D. and his wife are badly matched. Then follows a long string about Mrs. E., who says that she and Mrs. F. overheard Mrs. G. say to Mrs.

H. that Mrs. J. should say that Mr. K. and Miss L. were going to move from the chapel and hear Mr. M., and all because of what old N. said to young O. about that Miss P.

Never listen to such people. Do as Nelson did when he put his blind eye to the telescope and declared that he did not see the signal [to retreat], and therefore would go on with the battle.

Let the creatures buzz, and do not even hear them, unless indeed they buzz so much concerning one person that the matter threatens to be serious; then it will be well to bring them to book and talk in sober earnestness to them. Assure them that you are obliged to have facts definitely before you, that your memory is not very tenacious, that you have many things to think of, that you are always afraid of making any mistake in such matters, and that if they would be good enough to write down what they have to say the case would be more fully before you, and you could give more time to its consideration. Mrs. Grundy will not do that; she has a great objection to making clear and definite statements; she prefers talking at random.

I heartily wish that by any process we could put down gossip, but I suppose that it will never be done so long as the human race continues what it is, for James tells us that "every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed by mankind: but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." What can't be cured must be endured, and the best way of enduring it is not to listen to it. Over one of our old castles a former owner has inscribed these lines--

THEY SAY. WHAT DO THEY SAY? LET THEM SAY.

Thin-skinned persons should learn this motto by heart. The talk of the village is never worthy of notice, and you should never take any interest in it except to mourn over the malice and heartlessness of which it is too often the indicator.

Mayow in his Plain Preaching very forcibly says, "If you were to see a woman kill a farmer's ducks and geese for the sake of having one of the feathers, you would see a person acting as we do when we speak evil of anyone, for the sake of the pleasure we feel in evil speaking. For the pleasure we feel is not worth a single feather, and the pain we give is often greater than a man feels at the loss of his property."

Insert a remark of this kind now and then in a sermon, when there is no special gossip abroad, and it may be of some benefit to the more sensible:
I quite despair of the rest.

Above all, never join in tale-bearing yourself, and beg your wife to abstain from it also. Some men are too talkative by half, and remind me of the young man who was sent to Socrates to learn oratory. On being introduced to the philosopher he talked so incessantly that Socrates asked for double fees. "Why charge me double?" said the young fellow. "Because," said the orator, "I must teach you two sciences: the one how to hold your tongue and the other how to speak." The first science is the more difficult, but aim at proficiency in it, or you will suffer greatly, and create trouble without end.

BLIND EYE AND DEAF EAR TOWARD CRITICISM

Avoid with your whole soul that spirit of suspicion which sours some men's lives, and to all things from which you might harshly draw an unkind inference turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. Suspicion makes a man a torment to himself and a spy towards others. Once begin to suspect, and causes for distrust will multiply around you, and your very suspiciousness will create the major part of them. Many a friend has been transformed into an enemy by being suspected. Do not, therefore, look about you with the eyes of mistrust, nor listen as an eaves-dropper with the quick ear of fear.

To go about the congregation ferreting our disaffection, like a gamekeeper after rabbits, is a lowly employment, and is generally rewarded most sorrowfully. Lord Bacon wisely advises "the provident stay of enquiry of that which we would be loath to find." When nothing is to be discovered which will help us to love others, we had better cease from the enquiry, for we may drag to light that which may be the commencement of years of contention.

I am not, of course, referring to cases requiring discipline which must be thoroughly investigated and boldly dealt with, but I have upon my mind mere personal matters where the main sufferer is yourself; here it is always best not to know, nor wish to know, what is being said about you, either by friends or foes. Those who praise us are probably as much mistaken as those who abuse us, and the one may be regarded as a set off to the other, if indeed it be worthwhile taking any account at all of man's judgment.

If we have the approbation of our God, certified by a placid conscience, we can afford to be indifferent to the opinions of our fellow men, whether they commend or condemn. If we cannot reach this point we are babes and not men.

Some are childishly anxious to know their friend's opinion of them, and if it contain the smallest element of dissent or censure, they regard him as an enemy forthwith. Surely we are not popes, and do not wish our hearers to regard us as infallible! We have known men become quite enraged at a perfectly fair and reasonable remark, and regard an honest friend as an opponent who delighted to find fault; this misrepresentation on the one side has soon produced heat on the other, and strife ensued. How much better is gentle forbearance! You must be able to bear criticism, or you are not fit to be at the head of a congregation; and you must let the critic go without reckoning him among your deadly foes, or you will prove yourself a mere weakling.

It is wisest always to show double kindness where you have been severely handled by one of who thought it his duty to do so, for he is probably an honest man and worth winning. He who in your early days hardly thinks you fit for the pastorate may yet become your firmest defender if he sees that you grow in grace, and advance in qualification for the work; do not, therefore, regard him as a foe for truthfully expressing his doubts; does not your own heart confess that his fears were not altogether groundless? Turn your deaf ear to what you judge to be his harsh criticism, and endeavour to preach better.

Persons from love of change, from pique, from advance in their tests, and other causes, may become uneasy under our ministry, and it is well for us to know nothing about it. Perceiving the danger, we must not betray our discovery, but bestir ourselves to improve our sermons, hoping that the good people will be better fed and forget their dissatisfaction. If they are truly gracious persons, the incipient evil will pass away, and no real discontent will arise, or if it does you must not provoke it by suspecting it.

Where I have known that there existed a measure of disaffection to myself, I have not recognised it, unless it has been forced upon me, but have, on the contrary, acted towards the opposing person with all the more courtesy and friendliness, and I have never heard any more of the matter. If I had treated the good man as an opponent, he would have done his best to take the part assigned him, and carry it out to his own credit; but I felt that he was a Christian man, and had a right to dislike me if he thought fit, and that if he did so I ought not to think unkindly of him; and therefore I treated him as one who was a friend to my Lord, if not to me, gave him some work to do which implied confidence in him, made him feel at home, and by degrees won him to be an attached friend as well as a fellow-worker.

The best of people are sometimes out at elbows and say unkind things; we should be glad if our friends could quite forget what we said when we were peevish and irritable, and it will be Christlike to act towards others in this matter as we would wish them to do towards us. Never make a brother remember that he once uttered a hard speech in reference to yourself. If you see him in a happier mood, do not mention the former painful occasion:
if he be a man of right spirit he will in future be unwilling to vex a pastor who has treated him so generously, and if he be a mere boor it is a pity to hold any argument with him, and therefore the past had better go by default.

It would be better to be deceived a hundred times than to live a life of suspicion. It is intolerable. The miser who traverses his chamber at midnight and hears a burglar in every falling leaf is not more wretched than the minister who believes that plots are being spread. I remember a brother who believed that he was being poisoned, and was persuaded that even the seat he sat upon and the clothes he wore had by some subtle chemistry become saturated with death; his life was a perpetual scare, and such is the existence of a minister when he mistrusts all around him.

Nor is suspicion merely a source of disquietude, it is a moral evil, and injures the character of the man who harbours it. Suspicion in kings creates tyranny, in husbands jealousy, and in ministers bitterness; such bitterness as in spirit dissolves all the ties of the pastoral relation, eating like a corrosive acid into the very soul of the office and making it a curse rather than a blessing. When once this terrible evil has curdled all the milk of human kindness in a man's bosom, he becomes more fit for the detective police force than for the ministry; like a spider, he begins to cast out his lines, and fashions a web of tremulous threads, all of which lead up to himself and warn him of the least touch of even the tiniest midge [gnat]. There he sits in the centre, a mass of sensation, all nerves and raw wounds, excitable and excited, a self-immolated martyr drawing the blazing faggots about him, and apparently anxious to be burned.

The most faithful friend is unsafe under such conditions. The most careful avoidance of offence will not secure immunity from mistrust, but will probably be construed into cunning and cowardice. Society is almost as much in danger from a suspecting man as from a mad dog, for he snaps on all sides without reason, and scatters right and left the foam of his madness. It is vain to reason with the victim of this folly, for with perverse ingenuity he turns every argument the wrong way, and makes your plea for confidence another reason for mistrust. It is sad that he cannot see the iniquity of his groundless censure of others, especially of those who have been his friends and the firmest upholders of the cause of Christ.

"I would not wrong
Virtue so tried
by the least shade of doubt:
Undue suspicion is more abject baseness
Even than the guilt suspected."

No one ought to be made an offender for a word; but, when suspicion rules, even silence becomes a crime. Brethren, shun this vice by renouncing the love of self. Judge it to be a small matter what men think or say of you, and care only for their treatment of your Lord. If you are naturally sensitive do not indulge the weakness, nor allow others to play upon it.

Would it not be a great degradation of your office if you were to keep an army of spies in your pay to collect information as to all that your people said of you? And yet it amounts to this if you allow certain busybodies to bring you all the gossip of the place. Drive the creatures away. Abhor those mischief-making, tattling handmaidens of strife. Those who will fetch will carry, and no doubt the gossips go from your house and report every observation which falls from your lips, with plenty of garnishing of their own. Remember that, as the receiver is as bad as the thief, so the hearer of scandal is a sharer in the guilt of it. If there were no listening ears there would be no talebearing tongues. While you are a buyer of ill wares the demand will create the supply, and the factories of falsehood will be working full time. No one wishes to become a creator of lies, and yet he who hears slanders with pleasure and believes them with readiness will hatch many a brood into active life.

Solomon says "a whisperer separateth chief friends" (Proverbs 16:28). Insinuations are thrown out, and jealousies aroused, till "mutual coolness ensues, and neither can understand why; each wonders what can possibly be the cause. Thus the firmest, the longest, the warmest, and most confiding attachments, the sources of life's sweetest joys, are broken up perhaps forever."

This is work worthy of the arch-fiend himself, but it could never be done if men lived out of the atmosphere of suspicion. As it is, the world is full of sorrow through this cause, a sorrow as sharp as it is superfluous. This is grievous indeed! Campbell eloquently remarks, "The ruins of old friendships are a more melancholy spectacle to me than those of desolated palaces. They exhibit the heart which was once lighted up with joy all damp and deserted, and haunted by those birds of ill omen that nestle in ruins." O suspicion, what desolations thou hast made in the earth!

Because the persons who would render you mistrustful of your friends are a sorry set, and because suspicion is in itself a wretched and tormenting vice, resolve to turn towards the whole business your blind eye and your deaf ear.

Need I say a word or two about the wisdom of never hearing what was not meant for you. The eavesdropper is a mean person, very little if anything better than the common informer; and he who says he overheard may be considered to have heard over and above what he should have done.

Jeremy Taylor wisely and justly observes, "Never listen at the door or window, for besides that it contains in it a danger and a snare, it is also invading my neighbour's privacy, and a laying that open, which he therefore encloses that it might not be open."

It is a well worn proverb that listeners seldom hear any good of themselves. Listening is a sort of larceny, but the goods stolen are never a pleasure to the thief. Information obtained by clandestine means must, in all but extreme cases, be more injury than benefit to a cause. The magistrate may judge it expedient to obtain evidence by such means, but I cannot imagine a case in which a minister should do so. Ours is a mission of grace and peace; we are not prosecutors who search out condemnatory evidence, but friends whose love would cover a multitude of offences. The peeping eyes of Canaan, the son of Ham, shall never be in our employ; we prefer the pious delicacy of Shem and Japhet, who went backward and covered the shame which the child of evil had published with glee.

BLIND EYE TOWARD OPINIONS ABOUT YOURSELF

To opinions and remarks about yourself turn also as a general rule the blind eye and the deaf ear. Public men must expect public criticism, and as the public cannot be regarded as infallible, public men may expect to be criticized in a way which is neither fair nor pleasant. To all honest and just remarks we are bound to give due measure of heed, but to the bitter verdict of prejudice, the frivolous faultfinding of men of fashion, the stupid utterances of the ignorant, and the fierce denunciations of opponents, we may very safely turn a deaf ear.

We cannot expect those to approve of us whom we condemn by our testimony against their favourite sins; their commendation would show that we had missed our mark. We naturally look to be approved of by our own people, the members of our churches, and the adherents of our congregations, and when they make observations which show that they are not very great admirers, we may be tempted to discouragement if not to anger: herein lies a snare.

When I was about to leave my village charge for London, one of the old men prayed that I might be "delivered from the bleating of the sheep." For the life of me I could not imagine what he meant, but the riddle is plain now, and I have learned to offer the prayer myself. Too much consideration of what is said by our people, whether it be in praise or in depreciation, is not good for us. If we dwell on high with "that great Shepherd of the sheep" we shall care little for all the confused bleatings around us, but if we become "carnal, and walk as men," we shall have little rest if we listen to this, that, and the other which every poor sheep may bleat about us.

Perhaps it is quite true that you were uncommonly dull last Sabbath morning, but there was no need that Mrs. Clack should come and tell you that Deacon Jones thought so. It is more than probable that having been out in the country all the previous week, your preaching was very like milk and water, but there can be no necessity for your going round among the people to discover whether they noticed it or not. Is it not enough that your conscience is uneasy upon the point? Endeavour to improve for the future, but do not want to hear all that every Jack, Tom, and Mary may have to say about it.

On the other hand, you were on the high horse in your last sermon, and finished with quite a flourish of trumpets, and you feel considerable anxiety to know what impression you produced. Repress your curiosity: it will do you no good to enquire. If the people should happen to agree with your verdict, it will only feed your pitiful vanity, and if they think otherwise your fishing for their praise will injure you in their esteem. In any case it is all about yourself, and this is a poor theme to be anxious about; play the man, and do not demean yourself by seeking compliments like little children when dressed in new clothes, who say, "See my pretty frock." Have you not by this time discovered that flattery is as injurious as it is pleasant? It softens the mind and makes you more sensitive to slander. In proportion as praise pleases you, censure will pain you. Besides, it is a crime to be taken off from your great object of glorifying the Lord Jesus by petty considerations as to your little self, and, if there were no other reason, this ought to weigh much with you. Pride is a deadly sin, and will grow without your borrowing the parish water-cart to quicken it.

Forget expressions which feed your vanity, and if you find yourself relishing the unwholesome morsels, confess the sins with deep humiliation. Payson showed that he was strong in the Lord when he wrote to his mother, "You must not, certainly, my dear mother, say one word which even looks like an intimation that you think me advancing in grace. I cannot bear it. All the people here, whether friends or enemies, conspire to ruin me. Satan and my own heart, of course, will lend a hand; and if you join, too, I fear all the cold water which Christ can throw upon my pride will not prevent its breaking out into a destructive flame. As certainly as anybody flatters and caresses me my heavenly Father has to whip me: and an unspeakable mercy it is that he condescends to do it. I can, it is true, easily muster a hundred reasons why I should not be proud, but pride will not mind reason, nor anything else but a good drubbing. Even at this moment I feel it tingling in my fingers' ends, and seeking to guide my pen."

Knowing something myself of those secret whippings which our good Father administers to his servants when he sees them unduly exalted, I heartily add my own solemn warnings against your pampering the flesh by listening to the praises of the kindest friends you have. They are injudicious, and you must beware of them.

A sensible friend who will unsparingly criticize you from week to week will be a far greater blessing to you than a thousand undiscriminating admirers if you have sense enough to bear his treatment, and grace enough to be thankful for it.

When I was preaching at the Surrey Gardens, an unknown censor of great ability used to send me a weekly list of my mispronunciations and other slips of speech. He never signed his name, and that was my only cause of complaint against him, for he left me in a debt which I could not acknowledge. I take this opportunity of confessing my obligations to him, for with genial temper, and an evident desire to benefit me, he marked down most relentlessly everything which he supposed me to have said incorrectly. Concerning some of these corrections, he was in error himself, but for the most part he was right, and his remarks enabled me to perceive and avoid many mistakes. I looked for his weekly memoranda with much interest, and I trust I am all the better for them. If I had repeated a sentence two or three Sundays before, he would say, "See same expression in such a sermon," mentioning number and page. He remarked on one occasion that I too often quoted the line,

"Nothing in my hands I bring,"

and, he added, "we are sufficiently informed of the vacuity of your hands." He demanded my authority for calling a man "covechus"; and so on. Possibly some young men might have been discouraged, if not irritated, by such severe criticisms, but they would have been very foolish, for in resenting such correction they would have been throwing away a valuable aid to progress. No money can purchase outspoken honest judgment, and when we can get it for nothing let us utilize it to the fullest extent. The worst of it is that of those who offer their judgments few are qualified to form them, and we shall be pestered with foolish, impertinent remarks, unless we turn to them all the blind eye and the deaf ear.

BLIND EYE AND DEAF EAR TOWARD FALSE REPORTS

In the case of false reports against yourself, for the most part use the deaf ear. Unfortunately liars are not yet extinct, and, like Richard Baxter and John Bunyan, you may be accused of crimes which your soul abhors. Be not staggered thereby, for this trial has befallen the very best of men, and even your Lord did not escape the envenomed tongue of falsehood. In almost all cases it is the wisest course to let such things die a natural death. A great lie, if unnoticed, is like a big fish out of water, it dashes and plunges and beats itself to death in a short time. To answer it is to supply it with its element, and help it to a longer life.

Falsehoods usually carry their own refutation somewhere about them, and sting themselves to death. Some lies especially have a peculiar smell, which betrays their rottenness to every honest nose. If you are disturbed by them the object of their invention is partly answered, but your silent endurance disappoints malice and gives you a partial victory, which God in his care of you will soon turn into a complete deliverance. Your blameless life will be your best defence, and those who have seen it will not allow you to be condemned so readily as your slanderers expect.

Only abstain from fighting your own battles, and in nine cases out of ten your accusers will gain nothing by their malevolence but chagrin for themselves and contempt for others.

To prosecute the slanderer is seldom wise. I remember a beloved servant of Christ who in his youth was very sensitive, and, being falsely accused, proceeded against the person at law. An apology was offered, it withdrew every iota of the charge, and was most ample, but the good man insisted upon its being printed in the newspapers, and the result convinced him of his own unwisdom. Multitudes, who would otherwise have never heard of the libel, asked what it meant, and made comments thereon, generally concluding with the same remark that he must have done something imprudent to provoke such an accusation. He was heard to say that so long as he lived he would never resort to such a method again, for he felt that the public apology had done him more harm that the slander itself.

Standing as we do in a position which makes us choice targets for the devil and his allies, our best course is to defend our innocence by our silence and leave our reputation with God.

Yet there are exceptions to this general rule. When distinct, definite, public charges are made against a man he is bound to answer them, and answer them in the clearest and most open manner. To decline all investigation is in such a case practically to plead guilty, and whatever may be the mode of putting it, the general public ordinarily regard a refusal to reply as a proof of guilt. Under mere worry and annoyance it is by far the best to be altogether passive, but when the matter assumes more serious proportions, and our accuser defies us to a defence, we are bound to meet his charges with honest statements of fact.

In every instance counsel should be sought of the Lord as to how to deal with slanderous tongues, and in the issue innocence will be vindicated and falsehood convicted.

Some ministers have been broken in spirit, driven from their position, and even injured in character by taking notice of village scandal. I know a fine young man, for whom I predicted a career of usefulness, who fell into great trouble because he at first allowed it to be a trouble and then worked hard to make it so. He came to me and complained that he had a great grievance; and so it was a grievance, but from beginning to end it was all about what some half-dozen women had said about his procedure after the death of his wife. It was originally too small a thing to deal with--a Mrs. Q. had said that she should not wonder if the minister married the servant then living in his house; another represented her as saying that he ought to marry her, and then a third, with a malicious ingenuity, found a deeper meaning in the words, and construed them into a charge. Worst of all, the dear sensitive preacher must needs trace the matter out and accuse a score or two of people of spreading libels against him, and even threaten some of them with legal proceedings. If he could have prayed over it in secret, or even have whistled over it, no harm would have come of the tittle-tattle; but this dear brother could not treat the slander wisely, for he had not what I earnestly recommend to you, namely, a blind eye and a deaf ear. ...

Is not this a sufficient explanation of my declaration that I have one blind eye and one deaf ear, and that they are the best eye and ear I have?