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The Note Of Edification

The preacher is appointed for the upbuilding of the Church and of the
individual believer upon "the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone." Upon this
foundation, with almost infinite care, with untiring labour and
solicitude and prayerfulness, has he to rear "a temple fitly framed
together" of "gold, silver and precious stones;" upon this foundation
he has to build the fabric of saintly character in men. Only that
preacher is truly successful who, in the end, is able humbly to claim
to have been in this sense a "wise master-builder;" who can point to
the results of his labours in the beauty and strength of the churches
in which he has toiled, in the saintliness of the men and women to whom
he has spoken the re-creating, re-edifying word.

Now, in our day, it is, perhaps, specially needful that this part of
the preacher's duty should be particularly emphasised. Of the Church
it has to be said that she has fallen on somewhat evil times, for there
is evidence of the growth of a tendency toward a Churchless
Christianity. Many there are who take the view that union with the
Church is of small importance to the development of Christian faith and
character. There are more who regard such union as something which,
while it may have certain advantages, is nevertheless entirely optional
with the Christian believer. Again and again have we been told that
Christianity consists of belief in Jesus Christ resulting in an attempt
to imitate Him, and that, as this belief and this attempt can be
achieved outside of any organised religious community, a man may be
essentially a Christian without being a member of the Church. The
reasons for this attitude are not far to seek. Among them are a
selfishness which fears the sacrifice that membership of the Church
might involve; a slothfulness anticipating with apprehension the
possible demands for Christian service which the Fellowship might make,
and a lack of real intensity and enthusiasm in conviction, which
hesitates to make an out-and-out stand for Christ and truth.

From the same causes, in all ages, men have kept outside the organised
flock of God and, therefore, such reasons as these need not greatly
alarm us. But there is another objection to joining the Church which,
alas! is often heard, which peculiarly concerns the preacher and ought
to lead him to much careful inquiry. It is that objection which quotes
against the Church her own condition. It is alleged that, nowadays,
the faith of the Church is in a state of flux; that her enthusiasm has
cooled to the point of chill; that her members are in such small degree
better than the men and women outside their society that their company
does not promise any moral and spiritual help to a man in search of
saving and ennobling companionships. It is said, moreover, that the
Church is so divided, sub-divided and sub-sub-divided that it is
impossible to be sure as to where the true Church may be found.
Finally, we are told that in all probability if Jesus Christ came to
earth in the flesh, He would in these times be found outside the
sanctuaries in which His name is supposed to be honoured.

Now, many of these assertions may surely be shown to be the result of
misunderstanding, of delusion, even of prejudice, and so should not be
taken too much to heart. They may serve, however, to remind us of two
truths which ought to be often in mind. The first is that Christianity
needs the Church; the second, that the Church needs Christianity. As
to the former proposition:--The Church is the Christian organism. It
is principally through her agencies and activities that the purposes of
Christianity are to be realised. This is true not only of those
universal purposes which include the ideals of world-wide sovereignty,
but, let men say what they will, it is true of those which relate to
the realisation of Christ's will in the individual soul. It is not the
fact that men find it as easy to live the Christian life outside the
Church as within. This is sufficiently demonstrated by experience.
Personal religion grows in the fellowship and the sacrifice, in the
labours, the strength and inspiration consequent upon membership in a
great and imperial family.

But the Church needs Christianity, and this, too, the preacher, for her
sake, must deeply and constantly realise. The best antidote to the
tendency toward a Churchless Christianity will be found, not in
argument or command; certainly not in denunciations addressed to those
who are outside the fold, but in the realisation by the Church herself
of her glorious possibilities both as to character, labour and
conquest. What is needed to save the Church from the opposing
influences of our times is simply more of what she may have if she
will. She needs a definite and not a nebulous belief. She needs a
living and burning enthusiasm; a joy that will not be silent, and a
hope that will not cower before the pessimism of the age. She needs
such a piety as shall furnish a splendid contrast to the lives of all
around her. In short, she must realise the ideals of her Founder, and
every glorious prophecy shall be fulfilled. All the nations of the
world shall flow into her. Kings shall come to the brightness of her
rising. Men shall flock to her courts as doves to glowing windows from
the cold and darkness of the wintry night.

So, for the sake of the world which cannot spare the Church, and for
the sake of the Church which cannot dispense with what the preacher has
to give, it is required that this duty of the Christian ministry be
emphasised. Another reason must be stated that it may be
underlined:--Faith, piety and enthusiasm, labour, sacrifice and victory
are vital to the inner health and joy of the Church herself. This,
too, the preacher must remember. Solemn, indeed, is the obligation
resting upon him, and solemnly have the great preachers of all ages
taken this responsibility to heart. "The care of the churches!"--how
heavily it lay upon the shoulders of those early ambassadors whose
confessions of fear concerning failure are written in the epistles.
How it has driven to the Mercy Seat for help and guidance those whose
work it has been in troublous times, to keep the flock of God committed
to their custody! The feeding of the sheep in the wilderness, the care
of the lambs, the strengthening of the weak, the endless, patient,
prayerful striving needed in the pursuit of erring, foolish, falling
ones, that all may be presented perfect in Christ Jesus--what demands
do these make upon the preacher's noblest powers! In the dressing and
polishing, to change the figure, of each quarried stone that the result
may be seen in a building after the similitude of a palace, flashing in
the light of God--here has lain the task in which many a glorious life
has been gloriously spent; for even Jesus could not entrust to a man a
grander or more onerous task than this!

And what manner of preaching is needed for the service of this saving
and edifying end? It must surely be a preaching of the Church to
the Church. It is to be questioned whether we have not largely failed
to place before our people the New Testament doctrine of the Church.
With such a failure may be associated another:--To emphasise duly the
importance of those sacraments which are the inheritance of the Church
from age to age. Can we deny that there is among our members a
tendency to view very lightly the privileges and obligations of their
membership in what we call--we have sometimes thought unhappily and
with unfortunate effect--our societies? Again, can it be denied that
amongst us as a people the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper is
undervalued? Faithfulness to the Church and to her sacraments run
together. How many are there who have but the dimmest possible
conception of what the Church is and of what membership in the Church
really signifies and involves? There is much work to be done
here--spade work we might almost call it--for the ground has hardly yet
been broken amongst us. May we venture a suggestion that, among things
inherited from an earlier day, the word "societies" as signifying
churches should be dropped in favour of the nobler word, and that the
preacher, in particular, should cease to use it in this relationship?
Unless we are wrong in our reading of history this use of the term grew
out of the view, long held by the founder of Methodism, that while the
Anglican community was the Church, the assemblies collected by
himself were merely groups of people meeting for mutual help in
spiritual things. The time came, no doubt, when he would have been
willing to allow to these assemblies, as to the great community of
which they were the individual congregations, the title for which we
plead; though he himself it must be remembered, remained a member of
the Church of England until his death. Let the preacher take very high
ground on this matter. This little band of lowly men and women meeting
in their humble sanctuary by the wayside for intercourse on spiritual
things, for the hearing of the word of life, for mutual encouragement
in the celestial pilgrimage, for praise and prayer and breaking of
bread; this little company "gathered together in My name," Jesus being
"in the midst;" this little circle upon which is shed abroad the Holy
Ghost for the teaching, comforting, sanctifying and anointing of the
heavenly Bride--this little company, we say, is more than a "society."
Its members form a church, and theirs are the glory, the privileges,
the obligations of that "upper room" of eternal memory. Let them be
told this--kept in remembrance of it--led to delight in it--encouraged
to glory concerning it. Let it be laid down that it is not for this
village fellowship to thank any man or woman, however exalted his or
her social station, for condescending to membership therein, but that
the honour of the association lies in being permitted an entrance into
the fold, small as is the number of the flock and lowly as its members
may be. We are confident that the scattered churches of our name need
lifting into a realisation of their high dignity in Christ Jesus. Of
all the subjects waiting for earnest study, and to which we as
preachers, both ministers and laymen, need for the sake of present day
necessities to turn our minds, none is more important than this. The
Church can only retain, or rather, perhaps, we ought to have said--can
only enter into her power through self-realisation. Here is need for
a systematic educational work, and, should it be left undone, we must
not be astonished if our members wear the bonds of their union lightly,
and easily find ways out of a fellowship whose true significance they
have never understood. Another eventuality, too, must not astonish
us:--The Church of England does hold and preach a doctrine of the
Church, preaches it diligently; preaches it, sometimes, with such
limitations of application as we may well resent. The Roman Catholics
do the same, and with limitations that are still more uncompromising.
We of the Free Churches must not be astonished if, as a result of
definite and positive teaching within other walls and a lack of such
teaching within our own, the people drift away from us. To build up
the Church we must preach the Church. She needs the sense of herself.

Important, however, as is the enunciation of the doctrine of the
Church, the work of her edification will demand that the preacher have
many other things to say. We have already referred to the presentation
of a high idealism as essential to the completeness of the Christian
message. It is indispensable to the adequate accomplishment of this
duty that the preacher give himself to a systematic exposition of the
Scriptures. May we even dare to say that it will be necessary for him
to devote much of his strength to what has been termed doctrinal
preaching? That these words will have a terrible sound in many ears we
are aware. It is very unpopular, nowadays, to lay emphasis on the
necessity for creed as well as for conduct--for creed, indeed, for the
sake of conduct. We will, nevertheless, make bold to remark that one
of the great desiderata of the day is a revival of expository
preaching, while another, equally great, is a renaissance of doctrinal
preaching. There is not too much theology taught in the churches, but
too little. We are told that the preacher's first business is to treat
of what are called "living issues"; that he should, above all, exalt
conduct and charity as the great concerns of the soul. It is contended
that men need guidance on public questions and that the preacher, as
the representative of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Church, should
endeavour to meet that need. Of course there is truth in it all, but
it is also true that men need, most of all, the knowledge of God, and
that, whatever bewilderment may exist in relation to public questions
and moral issues, there is bewilderment, even greater, as to "the faith
once delivered to the saints." There is no truly edifying preaching
that is without theology. By such knowledge is the Church built up,
and the preacher will teach it to his people in the form in which it
can be assimilated. One thing he will surely not forget:--That upon
him rests a great responsibility, not only in regard to the Church of
to-day, but also concerning the Church of to-morrow, as now gathered
before him in the persons of the young people preparing for life and
service. He ought, certainly, to provide strengthening food for them
in view of responsibilities to come. It is a great charge, this of
building up the body of Christ, and it is upon us all to ask ourselves
to what extent we have endeavoured to discharge this obligation. We
admit that the temptations to evade it are many. Doctrinal and
expository preaching require so much thought, such careful preparation,
such scrupulous exactness in expression. It is little wonder that,
wearied by other activities, the preacher sometimes seeks for subjects
which can be treated with greater ease and less expenditure of
intellectual effort than those we have indicated.

And such wonder as we may have is further diminished when we recollect
that the idea is very commonly held that the people do not want
preaching of this type; that, even within the churches indeed, they
prefer being pleased to being taught. Possibly this is not so true
as has been assumed. Perhaps again, in that degree in which it is
true, the lesson to be learned from the fact is not that such preaching
should be withheld, but rather that an effort should be made to invest
it with elements of interest and attractiveness which have possibly too
often been lacking. On this point we will have something to say later
on. Meanwhile we are open to maintain that people do not dislike
exposition and theology as such. The late Doctor McLaren was an
expository preacher, and his sermons were as charming as fairy tales,
multitudes flocking, through a long course of years, to hear them. C.
H. Spurgeon was a doctrinal preacher, and untold thousands hung
entranced upon his lips. Each man built up a great congregation, in
which the fruits of the spirit flourished in a perpetual harvest of
virtues, works and sacrifice. To-day the greatest churches in London
are, almost without exception, those whose members sit at the feet of
great preachers who are also, according to their separate schools,
great theologians and masters in the art of interpreting the
Scriptures. We remember as we write a cold and depressing Sabbath
evening last autumn when we turned into Westminster Chapel. Only a few
years ago this great sanctuary was a wilderness in which might be
realised the tragedy that is contained in the phrase "a down-town
church." At this moment it is the home of a mighty spiritual
fellowship. On the night of our visit the immense temple was crowded
from floor to ceiling. The congregation had obviously been drawn from
all ranks and conditions of society. Professional men sat side by side
with horny-handed sons of toil, fine ladies with servant girls, the old
with the young. What new device of sensationalism had brought them
together? What startling announcement had been flung out over the city
to attract this mighty concourse? Absolutely none! The sermon was a
closely reasoned doctrinal address, full of quotations from the
Scriptures and of comparison of passage with passage. It was a sermon
to tax attention. We mention this experience to show that doctrinal
preaching need not mean empty sanctuaries, as is often asserted. Here
was a great congregation and, better still, here was a living Church.

A further duty of the preacher, that the message may become approved in
the building up of the Church, is that of impressing the demands of
Jesus Christ upon those who bear His name. Preaching needs to be more
exacting than it is. There are vast multitudes in the Church whose
religious life--if indeed they have such a life--is absolutely
parasitical. They render no service; they offer no sacrifice; their
only confession of faith is a more or less intermittent attendance at
the public sessions of worship. By such people, one has humourously
said, the Church seems to be regarded as a Pullman car bound for glory.
Their chief desires are that the train may run so slowly as to enable
them to enjoy the scenery by the way; that the time-bill shall allow of
frequent and lengthy stoppages on the journey, and especially that
the conclusion of the trip shall be postponed to as late an hour as
possible, as they labour under no extravagant anxiety to come to its
end. Are we uncharitable in suspecting that the chief reason many of
these people have for making some degree of preparation for Paradise is
that they cannot remain on earth and that Heaven is, on the whole, to
be preferred to the only other country available? Ah! the preacher has
much of this kind of material on his hands and, notwithstanding its
quality, the commission to build it up into strength and beauty still

Clearly, in such cases, the duty of the edifying preacher is not to
hide, but to emphasise the demands of Jesus Christ for active
participation in some form of Christian service. "The harvest truly is
plenteous but the labourers are few," and altogether apart from the
advantages to be gained by the Church from the bringing in of the
sheaves, there is a benefit to be won by the reaper as he garners the
grain, which is entirely beyond calculation. Our fathers made it their
business in the case of every new convert to find him "something to
do." Sometimes the results were unfortunate, in that men were put to
work they were not qualified to attempt; but the new employment kept
many a man from falling, and often helped to make useful and polished
instruments out of very unpromising material. Nearly a thousand years
ago Peter the Hermit passed like a flame of fire across the provinces
of Europe calling upon men to wrest the Holy places from the hands of
the Saracen. In countless thousands they responded to his call, even
little children arising and pressing eastward on the great emprise.
Surely there is need enough for crusading to-day. Surely, too, there
are multitudes who, for their own souls' sake, and for the sake of the
Church, would be all the better for the health and vigour which a
little crusading would bring. Upon us rests the obligation in Christ's
name to call these hitherto unemployed and ineffective ones to the
standard of the Cross.

And to this demand for service it is the preacher's duty to add, in
view of the advantages to follow in the life and character, the faith
and influence of the Church, an equally strong demand for sacrifice.
It is no kindness of the pulpit to cut down the requirements of the
Lord upon the time, the strength, the comfort and the substance of
those who profess themselves His followers. He that would have life
eternal "let him go and sell all that he hath and give to the poor."
"He that will be My disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his
cross and follow Me." "He that would save his life the same shall lose
it." In these figurative words lies one secret of spiritual growth and

So then it comes to this:--That the edification of the Church and of
the individual believer, so far as it forms part of the task of this,
our messenger, is to be accomplished by the faithful preaching of such
things as the Master has left on record for the learning of His
followers, and by calling them to make proof of truth in the exercise
of Christian activity, self-denial, sacrifice and self-culture. We
believe, notwithstanding all that may be said to the contrary, that the
Church and her children long to hear this message and that they will
respond to it. Once more we admit that to the preacher, it may not be
the easiest kind of preaching to attempt, for here he will soon be
among the deep things of God, and he will have to ask for great
endeavours and great surrenders. But the divine commission is in his
hands, and has he not undertaken to speak what God shall teach him

"Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land"?

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