Jesus the Ideal Evangelist
This discourse was delivered on Friday Evening August 8, 1906, at the Northfield General Conference for Christian Workers, at Northfield, Massachussetts. A. T. Pierson (1837-1911), was a much loved and blessed writer and speaker who wrote over fifty books, and preached over 13,000 sermons. He also succeeded Charles Spurgeon for two years, following Spurgeon's death. Among his books are "George Müller of Bristol" and "Acts of the Holy Spirit."
The call for this conference struck, as the keynote, Evangelism. It seems fitting, therefore, that this opening address should harmonize with that keynote. Let us read a few verses from the gospel according to Mark, i. 14, 15, 32-39.
"Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.’ And at even, when the sun did set, they brought onto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him. And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. And Simon and they that were with him followed after him. And when they had found him, they said unto him. ‘All men seek thee.’ And he said unto them. ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth.’ And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devils."
Ideals are the world's masters; to them we owe all that is noblest and best in the real. An ideal suggests perfection, but this is rather a help than a hindrance: for like Paul, we need always to feel that we have "not yet attained, neither are already perfect," otherwise we have nothing to "follow after." When Thorwaldsen, the great Danish sculptor, had completed his masterpiece, he was discouraged, and said, "For once I have reached my own ideal and henceforth I shall accomplish nothing." And so it proved. An ideal becomes a perpetual inspiration to aspiration, feeds desire, stimulates hope and encourages effort. The point, invisible yesterday, becomes the goal to-day, and the starting point to-morrow; so that the very fact that we never attain perfection leaves always something to reach after.
We have, in these few verses, a glimpse of the Lord Jesus as the Ideal Evangelist. He was the perfection of manhood, yet He "left us an example, that we should follow his steps": the secrets of His character and life are open secrets, and in all His work among men He presents a perfect ideal and example to quicken aspiration and challenge imitation.
I. He was Conscious of His Divine Mission
In looking at Him as "an evangelist, the first feature that impresses us is His CONSCIOUSNESS OF HIS DIVINE MISSION. He said to Pilate, "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I unto the world, that I should bear witness to the truth." He was raised up for a definite purpose, to witness to the truth; as to God, His nature and His attitude towards men; as to men, their relation to God and how antagonism and condemnation could be exchanged for sympathy and reconciliation. This was the purpose for which He came into the world, and He never lost sight of it; He kept it always before Him, and to it He subordinated every other consideration and relation.
But, though thus conscious of His mission, He made no undue haste to enter upon it. That is one great lesson of His life. His birth and His baptism mark the two stages of His career; from birth He had His commission; but only from His baptism His equipment; therefore He was content to spend those unhistoried years in Nazareth—nine tenths of the entire period which He spent upon earth—in comparative silence and obscurity. All that we know about those years is comprised in less than three hundred words, and yet only three and one half years were left after His baptism to compass the entire period of His public ministry. If He thus, with such profound consciousness of His mission, could wait for thirty years to do the work of three and a half, there must be in this a deep lesson for us.
The word "evangelism" originally has the sense of preaching the gospel; but the whole work of soul saving, of Christian effort to bring the knowledge of Christ to the ignorant and indifferent, has come to be the practical meaning of the word. For all such Christian work there is, first, a divine call, and there must be then a divine equipment.
As to what constitutes a "call" to any kind of work for God—and particularly that of preaching the gospel—there are differing opinions. Those words in Hebrews (v. 4), "No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron," have been perverted from their original meaning and, by a confusion of dispensations, applied to the work of evangelism. But the position of high priest was unique and solitary; only one could occupy it at a time, and of course no man took such an honor to himself, but one divinely designated.
As to the call to the ministry or to any form of service, we are told that the Holy Spirit distributes the work of the evangelist as well as other functions in the body of Christ; but let us not forget that the same language used in 1 Corinthians xii. about the Spirit's distributing spiritual offices, is used in ch. vii. of what we call secular spheres. "As God has distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every man, so let him walk." Here the reference is to everyday affairs and occupations; to the position of master or servant, wife or husband, laborer or employer. To these "secular" spheres and duties the Spirit refers in ch. vii. as to the office" of apostle, prophet, pastor and teacher in ch. xii. In Exodus xxxv. we read that the God Who called Moses to the apostolate and Aaron to the high priesthood and filled them by the Spirit for their great work, also called Bezaleel and Aholiab to be workers in woods, metals, fabrics and precious stones, and filled them by His Spirit for that other work that we are apt to think so far beneath that of Moses and Aaron. One great lesson we need to learn is that whether one be a builder of a house or a builder up of the Church, a shoemaker or a sermon maker, a bootblack or a bishop, he may be called of God to his work and abide in his calling with God.
As to the call to the specific work of preaching the gospel, it is largely to be determined on a natural basis. Every believer is created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God has before ordained that he should walk in them (Eph. ii. 10). He is created for good works, and the good works are ordained for him, and the work and workman will come together, if there is proper prayer for divine guidance. To what kind of work for God or man one is called is largely determined by a drawing to it and a conscious fitness for it. Everybody has a bent. To discover it indicates the sort of work God would have us do. We are, therefore, to study ourselves humbly, candidly, to find out our proficiencies and deficiencies; and then study our opportunity, and watch the providence of God. We shall thus find our sphere and work, if we follow simple rules like these, even though we feel no supernatural impression, borne in upon our mind in some mysterious way.
But, whatever may be said with regard to the "call," we should never impatiently hurry into work. The command, ''Tarry .... until ye are endued with power from on high" has permanent value and emphasis. Sometimes while we quarrel over theories we forfeit practical results. Many believers are occupied with the question whether the Spirit of God was so given upon the day of Pentecost once for all, that no further enduement of the Spirit is to be expected or prayed for. Whatever the Holy Ghost has for you in the way of further furnishing for the work of God, never be content until you get it; and when you get that, be not content without seeking more, for you can never exhaust the fullness of this fountain. When we see our Lord Jesus Christ, patiently waiting through those thirty years, we learn the difference between being appointed and being anointed; and how necessary it is, even after the appointing, that there should be the anointing.
II. The Nature of Our Lord’s Message
Let us notice also the NATURE OF OUR LORD’S MESSAGE. As we have already seen, it was essentially to bear witness to the truth in Himself, to bring man to God, in reconciled relations; and one striking fact is His profound and unalterable conviction that He was speaking the truth. Through all the records of His public ministry, never do we once find the suggestion or whisper of a doubt. He was so certain of all He said that He never betrayed any uncertainty or hesitation.
Men want your convictions, not your doubts; they have enough doubts of their own without your peddling yours. And if you cannot help having doubts, hold your tongue until you get rid of them; be silent, until you have convictions, and then speak. Our blessed Lord always spoke with authority because always with unchangeable conviction, and the rock basis of such conviction was the Holy Scriptures, which so many are now undermining when they ought to be underpinning. These same Scriptures that, in these days, arc subject to such critical assault, our Lord never even questioned—even the stories of Jonah and the great fish, and of Lot's wife. He declared that the Scriptures "cannot be broken," even though only by substituting a plural noun for a singular one. The very basis of every God-given message is absolute conviction of its truth; and when, to this rational conviction is added the experimental, so that one can say, "I know that whereas I was blind, now I see," "I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day," what power the message has! We need not be surprised to find others believing our message, when we first believe it ourselves; nor to find others doubting it, when it is obvious we doubt it ourselves.
How simple our Lord's message was! What combination of simplicity and sublimity in His teaching! Even when He touched the profoundest truths and reached the highest elevations, He never lost His simplicity. Mark tells us that His initial message was, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel." Repent means, "Change your mind," your attitude. Believing, as John tells us, is equivalent to receiving (John i. 12). The substance of Christ's initial message was, therefore, "Change your attitude towards God and receive the good tidings." These are really two sides of one great truth: repentance is negative and faith positive. Three short phrases explain the epistle to the Hebrews: "lay aside," "lay hold," "hold fast." Repenting is laying aside; believing is laying hold and holding fast. Repentance is loosing hold on sin and faith is laying hold on eternal life. What a simple message with which the Son of God began His ministry in Galilee!
A like simplicity pervades all His teaching. Look at His parables and illustrations. Our illustrations are often cumbered with scientific learning and historic lore, so that, like a stained glass window in a cathedral, however beautiful in pattern, they let in little light. But when Christ built up His discourses, doctrines were the pillars, and illustrations the open windows to flood the whole with sunshine. How plain were His parables! Who does not know what a sheep and shepherd, vine and branches, seed and harvest, bread and water, stand for? what the difference is between blindness and sight? what a net is, and how it encloses fish? Yet such are the simple forms and figures of speech which were on the lips of the Master Teacher, Who spoke so that a little child could apprehend and understand the substance of His message. Not only had He the unwavering conviction that He was speaking the truth, that His feet rested on that rock of ages, inspired and infallible Scripture, but a peculiar simplicity pervaded all of His teaching, even on the sublimest topics, bringing His message within easy reach of the feeblest understanding.
III. The One Motive that Impelled Him
It is likewise interesting and instructive to notice The One Motive By Which Our Lord Was Impelled. His single aim was to glorify God in serving men. Everything else was subordinated to that. A motive is what moves. It thus moved Him to absolute obedience to God and absolute self-sacrifice for men. There never was such another illustration on earth of both obedience and self-renunciation. When Peter counseled Him, "Spare thyself,"— which is really the meaning of the phrase, "be it far from thee,"—He recognized in that advice a satanic suggestion, and looking past that ill-advising disciple to the devil back of him. He said, "Get thee behind me, Satan." His answer to that diabolical suggestion, "Spare thyself," was the divine maxim, "Deny thyself"; and the true cross of our Lord Jesus Christ was not the wooden cross that He bore once for all, fainting under its burden, but that daily cross, invisible to man, the cross of self-renunciation,—utter, complete, final self oblivion. It is very easy to talk about self-renunciation, but who of us knows anything about it?
The singleness of His aim appears when we think of the motives that too often sway us. We never connect with our Lord the slightest taint of a mercenary spirit. There is not a suggestion, in all the gospel narratives, that He ever did anything with reference to any form of human hire or worldly gain. Greed taints not only evangelism, but drags down any high and noble work to a low level. If the poet, painter or musician, on the mount where genius breathes its inspiration, stops to count and calculate what the product of his toil will bring in the market place, he has sunk his high art at once to the plane of the laborer with his penny a day, or at least to the level of the artisan. The poem, the painting, the oratorio, become the mere mechanical work of pen and pencil, losing the high exaltation of true inspiration. The Lord has "ordained that they that preach the gospel shall live of the gospel," but, when the gospel preacher, evangelist or Christian laborer puts the pay before him as an object, he has degraded his high divine calling, the genius of goodness has forsaken him.
How indifferent our Lord was to that outward success, which is so often our main motive! Mark His absolute indifference to numbers, which is perhaps the greatest snare into which Christian workers fall. We associate power with the throng. We are ready to preach the gospel to the multitude or labor in the midst of the crowd, but we shrink from personal work with individuals, one by one. The gospel narratives at every point reveal our Lord's indifference to all mere external signs of success. We never find Him once attempting to measure results or count converts. There are only two statements in the New Testament from which we can even conjecture as to the numerical results of His ministry: "The number of names together were about an hundred and twenty," is the record in Acts i. And the other statement is, "He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once" (1 Cor. xv.). These, we repeat, are the only two numerical statements as to the results of His work contained in the whole New Testament; one representing the assembly of believers in Jerusalem after His resurrection, and the other probably the gathering on the mountain in Galilee, the district where He spent two thirds of His ministry. How little our Lord cared for mere numbers is further seen in that discourse in Matt, xviii., where, in the first twenty verses, numbers are continually mentioned, but He never rises above one, two or three: one little child is not to be despised, or to be made to offend; one little lamb is to be sought by the shepherd; one erring brother is to be affectionately reclaimed. Two may "agree" to ask of God as well as two thousand, and two or three, gathered in His name, may claim His promised presence as well as any greater number. That is the greatest spiritual lesson on numbers ever uttered since the world began; and it shows our Lord's low estimate of external, numerical success. Philip must have learned of Him, when he left the thronged villages of Samaria, cheerfully, to go down to a desert road, and meet one inquiring soul; as willing to labor with one man as with one hundred or one thousand. Our blessed Lord "must needs go through Samaria" just to meet one outcast woman at the well; and journey from the lake of Galilee to the coasts of the Mediterranean and back, for the sake of that poor distressed Canaanitish woman. There is no record of one word spoken on the way or one act performed as He went or returned, save as connected with that outcast daughter of an accursed race whom He at first treated with silence and apparent scorn and whom, as men would say, He insulted before He blessed her.
What lessons on evangelism and Christian work we may learn from the Ideal Evangelist, so unselfish and self-oblivious that He never thought of money or any form of hire, but freely gave as He had freely received; and Who loved humanity with such a boundless passion that He would give Himself even to the least and the lowest. Mary Cowden Clark, in her "Iron Cousin," makes her heroine attempt work in city slums, but retire presently because she "can't stand the poor smell." But what of our Lord? Was there ever such a perfect gentleman as He was? ever such refined sensibilities, unblunted by even the thought of evil? He might have healed the leper without touching him, but that poor outcast had never felt the touch of a clean person, and so Jesus "put forth his hand and touched him," which ceremonially defiled and made Him a leper. See Him come into contact with that woman of Samaria, from whom most of us would shrink with loathing, and live in contact with those thousands of Syrian poor, so poor that they fainted for lack of bread and had nothing to eat, and so filthy that the traveler is glad they have little clothing, because there is the less room for vermin to hide! Yet here was our blessed Lord, spending His life with publicans and sinners, and sitting down and eating meal with them.
There is in all our work a class spirit that easily becomes a caste spirit. We naturally take to the upper part of the social pyramid, where the highborn and cultivated are found. But it is the few who are at the top; the vast multitude lie at the bottom; and we must learn to love man as man, and forget those arbitrary distinctions in human society which arc totally lost sight of when we get God's point of view.
IV. Christ’s Method of Working
About Christ's Method Of Working there is something still needing to be said.
First, His method of unceasing prayer. Prayer was not so much an act as an atmosphere, in which He lived and moved and had His being; and, in every crisis of His life he spent hours, if not whole nights, in prayer. Not only in the desert temptations, which was entirely occupied, no doubt, in such holy communion; or in Gethsemane, with its bloody sweat; but when about to choose His twelve apostles, and when the multitude would have made Him a king, He retired into aloneness with God, and spread out His spirit before the Father, as Gideon spread out his fleece on the plain of Jezreel, to be filled with the heavenly dew.
Because He could declare, "I do always the things that please him," He could also say, "I know that thou hearest me always." Never the slightest interruption of fellowship, or hindrance to communion, or disobedience to the Father, and hence always uninterrupted access to the Father in prayer with perfect confidence in His answer.
Let us not forget also that with Him, as with us, prayer is the voice of conscious dependence. Here is the true key to the enigma of the Kenosis—the self-emptying (referred to in Phil. ii.). It was part of our Lord's voluntary humiliation, in taking the form of a servant, that He consented to be under orders, and wait on the Father for knowledge of His will in every word and act of His human life. Hence He always claimed that the works He did and the words He spake were the very works and words wrought and spoken by the Father in and through Him. We shall never do any true work for God, in God's time and way, unless we feel so absolutely dependent on God as to venture nothing without guidance. And prayer, constant prayer, will be the voice of such dependence.
Then Christ had His own method of securing testimony. Mark records that when the demons confessed, "Thou art the Son of God," He suffered not the demons to speak. They told the truth, but He would not accept their witness. Testimony implies cooperation, if not sympathy and fellowship, and He would not accept any cooperation in His holy mission from the foes of God and man who had no sympathy with Him, but eternal antipathy towards all that is holy; so He silenced the demons, even when they bore true witness. A more mysterious fact it is, that, with rare exceptions, He would not even suffer those who were healed to bear Him direct testimony. We, in this day, regard such testimony from converts as not only legitimate but necessary. It is our method of advertisement, to let the people at large know what we are doing, and how well we are doing it, and to help us in our next field. But Christ never sought testimony even from friends; He never held any testimony meetings of those whom He had healed.
Why was this? Some say it was to avoid the publicity which already embarrassed Him so much that He had no freedom of movement, nor leisure even so much as to eat, His steps being continually thronged by the multitude. But that is an unsatisfactory reason. It had been prophesied by Isaiah, and is quoted by Matthew in connection with this very act of suppressing testimony, "He shall not strive nor cry aloud, nor shall any man hear his voice in the streets." There is the true explanation. He restrained man's witness for two or three reasons. First, because human testimony is almost always overdone. The healed and helped are prone to extravagant laudation of those to whom they owe blessing. Their enthusiasm passes proper bounds, so magnifying the instrument as to forget the great divine Helper and Healer. Our Lord was not willing to receive even such homage as was due Him, because it was not intelligent homage, therefore He said to the rich young ruler who addressed Him as "Good Master": "Why callest thou me good? None is good but one, that is, God." He saw that the man did not apprehend Him as God, and therefore He was not willing to receive from his lips even the title that He deserved, because it was not intelligently applied to Him. He would never have His Father's glory lessened by being Himself glorified, and there was danger of human witnesses so glorifying Him as to dim the glory of the Father.
Our Lord never sounded His own trumpet before Him, nor would He allow those whom He healed to sound a trumpet in His stead. He depended upon His works to bear testimony, and those works were sufficiently vocal. Let a blind man get sight, a leper be cleansed, a lame man walk, and a dead man rise, and such facts cannot be hid. But the testimony of such works is never too loudly voiced, never exceeds proper limits, never runs riot in wild enthusiasm, never leads men to glorify the servant at the expense of the Master. And so we find that even when our Lord suppressed this testimony of men, His works constrained the people to say, "We have seen strange things to-day," and they gave glory to God.
Thus, by looking upon the Master and thinking of His great mission and the way in which He waited to be equipped for it; of His conscious certainty of His message and its simplicity; of His divinely unselfish motives, absolute freedom from all mercenary spirit, or love of mere external show or pride of numbers; and of His method; how His whole work was bathed in the atmosphere of unceasing prayer, how He depended upon no mere human witnesses, and would not suffer His own fame to be trumpeted abroad, but appealed to the works that He performed in His Father's name to witness to His divine mission,— by all these reflections may we be fitted, under God, for larger work for Christ and nobler service to humanity !
This discourse was given on Friday evening. August 8, 1906. Taken from Record of Christian Work, Vol. 25. No. 10, October, 1906. (Northfield, MA: W. R. Moody, 1906), pp. 803=809.