Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“Who knows whether you are come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Esther the beautiful was the wife of Ahasuerus the abominable. The time had come for her to present a petition to her infamous husband in behalf of the Jewish nation, to which she had once belonged—and, by blood, still belonged. She was afraid to undertake the assignment lest she should lose her life; but her uncle, Mordecai, who had reared her and still served as her mentor, encouraged her that probably she had been raised up of God for that peculiar mission. “Who knows whether you are come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Esther had her God-appointed work; you and I have ours. It is my business to tell you what kind of men and women you ought to be to meet the demand of the age in which you live. If you have come expecting to hear abstractions discussed, or dry technicalities of theology glorified, you have come to the wrong church; but if you want to know what this age has a right to expect of you as Christian men and women, then I am ready in the Lord’s name to look you in the face and tell you.
When two armies have rushed into battle, the officers of either army do not want a philosophical discussion about the chemical properties of human blood or the nature of gunpowder. They want someone to man the batteries and swab the guns. And now, when all the forces of light and darkness, of heaven and hell, have plunged into the fight, it is no time to give ourselves to the definitions, formulas, technicalities, and conventionalities of a belief system. What we want is practical, earnest, concentrated, enthusiastic, and triumphant faith.
To meet the special demand of this age, you need to be an unmistakably aggressive Christian. The world does not need anymore half-hearted Christians. The Church of Jesus Christ will be better without ten thousand of them. They are the chief obstacle to the Church’s advancement.
I am speaking of another kind of Christian: a whole-hearted Christian. All the appliances for your becoming an earnest Christian are at your hand, and there is a straight path for you into the broad daylight of God’s forgiveness. You may have come into this Tabernacle the bondsman of the world, and yet before you go out of these doors you may become a prince of the Lord God Almighty.
You remember what excitement there was in this country, years ago, when the Prince of Wales came here—how the people rushed out by hundreds of thousands to see him. Why? Because they expected that someday he would sit on the throne of England. But what was all that honor compared with the honor to which God calls you—to be sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty? yea, to be queens and kings to God? “They shall reign with Him forever and forever” (Revelation 22:5).
My friends, you need to be aggressive Christians, not like those persons who spend their lives in hugging their Christian graces and wondering why they do not make any progress. How much robust health would a man have if he hid himself in a dark closet? A great deal of the piety of the day is too exclusive. It hides itself. It needs more fresh air, more outdoor exercise. There are many Christians who are giving their entire life to self-examination. They are feeling their pulse to see what is the condition of their spiritual health. How long would a man have robust physical health if he kept all the days, weeks, months, and years of his life feeling his pulse instead of going to active, earnest, everyday work?
I was once standing among the wonderful, bewitching cactus growths of North Carolina. I never was more bewildered with the beauty of flowers; and yet when I took up one of these cactuses and pull the leaves apart, the beauty disappeared. You could hardly tell that it had been a flower. In the same way, a great many Christian people in this day are pulling apart their Christian experiences to see what there is in them and finding there is nothing left. Such self-examination is a disadvantage to Christian character.
When I was a boy, I used to have a small piece in the garden that I called my own, and I planted corn there, and every few days I would pull it up to see how fast it was growing. Now, the self-examination of a great many Christian people in this day merely amounts to the same thing: pulling up what they planted only yesterday or the day before.
O my friends! if you want to have a stalwart Christian character, plant your experience right out-of-doors in the great field of Christian usefulness, and though storms may come, and the hot sun of trial may try to consume it, it will thrive until it becomes a great tree, in which the fowls of heaven may have their habitation. I have no patience with these flower-pot Christians. They keep themselves under shelter, and all their Christian experience in a small, exclusive circle, when they ought to plant it in the great garden of the Lord, so that the whole atmosphere can be aromatic with their Christian usefulness. What we want in the Church of God is more brawn of piety!
The century plant is wonderfully suggestive and wonderfully beautiful, but I never look at it without thinking of its parsimony [stinginess]. Whole generations pass before it puts forth one blossom. So I have more heartfelt admiration when I see the dewy tears in the blue eyes of the violets, for they come every spring. My Christian friends, time is going by so rapidly that we cannot afford to be idle. We cannot wait for another time or age; we have to make use of this one.
A recent statistician says that human life now has an average of only thirty-two years. From these thirty-two years you must subtract the time you spend sleeping, eating, and exercising; that will leave you about sixteen years. From those sixteen years you must subtract the time you are engaged in earning a livelihood. That will leave you about eight years. From those eight years you must take the days, weeks, months, and years passed in childhood and sickness, leaving you about one year in which to work for God. O Soul, wake up! How dare you sleep in harvest-time and with so few hours in which to reap? So, I state it as simple fact—at least from the viewpoint of this statistician—that all the time the majority of us will have for the exclusive service of God will be less than one year!
“But,” says some man, “I liberally support the gospel, the church is open, and the gospel is preached. All the spiritual advantages are spread before men. If they want to be saved, let them be saved. I have discharged my responsibility.”
Ah! is that the Master’s spirit? Is there not an old Book somewhere that commands us to go out into the highways and the hedges and compel the people to come in (Luke 14:23)? What would have become of you and me if Christ had not come down off the hills of heaven, if He had not come through the door of the Bethlehem caravansary, if He had not with the crushed hand of the crucifixion knocked at the iron gate of the sepulcher of our spiritual death, crying, “Lazarus, come forth” (cf John 11:43)?
O my Christian friends, this is no time for inertia, when all the forces of darkness seem to be in full blast; when steam printing presses are publishing infidel tracts; when express railroad trains are carrying messengers of sin; when fast clippers are laden with opium and rum; when the night air of our cities is polluted with the laughter that breaks up from the ten thousand saloons of dissipation and abandonment; when the fires of the second death already are kindled in the cheeks of some who, only a little while ago, were incorrupt!
Oh, never since the curse fell on the earth has there been a time when it was such an unwise, such a cruel, such an awful thing for the Church to sleep! The great audiences are not gathered in the Christian church. The great audiences are gathered in temples of sin—tears of unutterable woe their baptism, the blood of crushed hearts the awful wine of their sacrament, blasphemies their litany, and the groans of the lost world the organ dirge of their worship!
Again, if you want to be qualified to meet the demands of this age, you must, on the one hand, avoid reckless iconoclasm and, on the other hand, not stick too much to things because they are old. The air is full of new plans, new projects, new theories of government, and new theologies. I am amazed to see how many Christians want only novelty; and so they vacillate or swing to and fro. Consequently, they are useless; they are unhappy. New plans—secular, ethical, philosophical, cisatlantic [this side of the Atlantic], transatlantic—long enough to make a line reaching from the German universities to Great Salt Lake City. Ah, my brother, do not take hold of a thing merely because it is new. Test it by the realities of a Judgement Day.
But, on the other hand, do not adhere to anything merely because it is old. There is not a single enterprise of the Church or of the world that has not at sometime been scoffed at. There was a time when men derided Bible societies. When a few young men met near a haystack in Massachusetts (1806) and organized the first missionary society in this country, there went laughter and ridicule all around the Christian Church. They said the undertaking was preposterous.
And so also the work of Jesus Christ was assailed. People cried out, “Who ever heard of such theories of ethics and government? Who ever noticed such a style of preaching as Jesus has?” Ezekiel had talked of mysterious wings and wheels. Here came a Man from Capernaum and Gennesaret, and He drew His illustration from the lakes, from the sand, from the ravine, from the lilies, from the cornstalks. How the Pharisees scoffed! How Herod derided! How Caiaphas hissed! And this Jesus they plucked by the beard, they spat in His face, and they called Him “This fellow” (Matthew 26:61). All the great enterprises in and out of the Church have at times been scoffed at. A great multitude have thought that the chariot of God’s truth would fall to pieces if it once got out of the old rut.
And so, there are those who have no patience with anything like improvement in church architecture, or with anything like good, hearty, earnest church singing. They deride any form of theological discussion that goes down walking among everyday men rather than taking excursions on rhetorical stilts.
Oh, that the Church of God would wake up to an adaptability of work! We must admit the simple fact that the church of Jesus Christ in this day does not reach the great masses. There are 50,000 people in Edinburgh who never hear the gospel. There are 1.0 million people in London who never hear the gospel. There are at least 300,000 souls in the city of Brooklyn who come not under the immediate ministration of Christ’s truth. And the Church of God in this day, instead of being a place full of living “epistles, read and known of all men” (2 Corinthians 3:2), is more like a dead-letter post office!
“But,” say the people, “the world is going to be converted. You must be patient. The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of Christ [Revelation 11:15].”
Never will the gospel reach the uttermost corners of the globe (cf Acts 1:8) unless the Church of Jesus Christ puts on more speed and energy. Instead of the Church converting the world, the world is converting the Church!
Here is a great fortress. How shall it be taken? An army comes, lays siege, encircles it, cuts off the supplies, and waits until from exhaustion and starvation the fortress has to surrender. Weeks, months, perhaps a year, passes, and finally, the fortress gives up. But, my friends, the fortresses of sin are never to be taken in that way. If they are taken for God, it will be by storm. You will have to bring up the great siege guns of the gospel to the very wall and wheel the flying artillery into line; and when the armed infantry of heaven shall confront the battlements, you will have to give the quick command, “Forward! Charge!”
Ah, my friends, there is work for you and me to achieve this grand accomplishment! Here is my pulpit, and I preach in it. Your pulpit is the bank. Your pulpit is the store. Your pulpit is the editorial chair. Your pulpit is the anvil. Your pulpit is the house scaffolding. Your pulpit is the mechanic’s shop. I may stand in this place and, through cowardice or through self-seeking, may keep back the word I ought to utter. You, with sleeve rolled up and brow sweated wet with toil, may utter the word that will jar the foundations of heaven with the shout of a great victory.
Oh, that this morning this whole audience might feel that the Lord Almighty was putting on each and everyone the hands of ordination. I tell you, everyone, go forth and preach this gospel! You have as much right to preach as I have, or as any man has. Only find the pulpit where God will have you preach, and there preach.
Hedley Vicars was a wicked man in the English army. The grace of God came to him. He became an earnest and eminent Christian. They scoffed at him and said, “You are a hypocrite; you are as bad as ever you were.” Still he kept his faith in Christ; and after a while, finding that they could not turn him aside by calling him a hypocrite, they said to him, “Oh, you are nothing but a Methodist.” That did not disturb him. He went on performing his Christian duty until he had formed all his troop into a Bible class, and the whole encampment was shaken with the presence of God.
So Henry Havelock went into the heathen temple in India while the English army was there, placed a candle in the hand of each of the heathen gods that stood around in the heathen temple, and by the light of those candles, held up by the idols, General Havelock preached righteousness, temperance, and Judgement to come. Who will say, on earth or in heaven, that Havelock had not the right to preach?
In the minister’s house where I prepared for college, worked a man by the name of Peter Croy. He could neither read nor write, but he was a man of God. Often theologians would stop in the house—grave theologians—and at family prayers Peter Croy would be called on to lead; and all those wise men sat around, wonderstruck at his prayerful efficiency. When he prayed, he reached up and seemed to take hold of the very throne of the Almighty. He talked with God until the very heavens were bowed down into the sitting room. Oh, if I were dying, I would rather have plain Peter Croy kneel by my bedside and commend my immortal spirit to God than the greatest archbishop, arrayed in costly canonicals!
Go preach this gospel. You say you are not licensed. In the name of the Lord Almighty, this morning, I license you. Go preach this gospel—preach it in the Sabbath schools, in the prayer meetings, in the highways, in the hedges. Woe be to you if you preach it not!
KEEP THE FAITH
I remark, again, that to be qualified to meet your duty in this particular age, you want unbounded faith in the triumph of the Truth and the overthrow of wickedness. How dare the Christian Church ever get discouraged? Have we not the Lord Almighty on our side? How long did it take God to slay the hosts of Sennacherib or burn Sodom or shake down Jericho? How long will it take God, when He arises in His strength, to overthrow all the forces of iniquity?
Between this time and that there may be long seasons of darkness—the chariot wheels of God’s gospel may seem to drag heavily. But here is the promise, and yonder is the throne. When Omniscience has lost its eyesight, when Omnipotence falls back impotent, when Jehovah is driven from His throne, then the Church of Jesus Christ can afford to be despondent! But never until then! Despots may plan and armies may march, and the congresses of the nations may think they are adjusting all the affairs of the world, but the mighty men of the earth are only the dust of the chariot wheels of God’s providence (cf Nahum 1:3).
Perhaps before the sun of this century sets, the last tyranny will fall; and with a splendor of demonstration that will be the astonishment of the universe, God will set forth the brightness, pomp, glory, and perpetuity of His eternal government. Out of the starry flags and the emblazoned insignia of this world God will make a path for His own triumph, and, returning from universal conquest, He will sit down, the grandest, strongest, highest throne on earth His footstool.
So shall one Nation’s song ascend
To Thee, our Ruler, Father, Friend,
While Heaven’s wide arch resounds again
With Peace on earth, good-will to men!” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Hymn (1865)
I preach this sermon because I want to encourage all Christian workers in every possible department. Hosts of the living God, march on! march on! His Spirit will bless you. His shield will defend you. His sword will strike for you. March on! march on! Despots will fall, pagans will burn their idols, Muslims will give up their false prophet, Jews will confess the true Messiah, and the great walls of superstition will come down in thunder and wreck at the long, loud blast of the gospel trumpet. March on! march on!
Our warfare will soon be ended. Only a few more steps on the long way, only a few more sturdy blows, only a few more battle cries, then God will put the laurel on your brow, and from the living fountains of heaven will bathe off the sweat, the heat, and the dust of the conflict. March on! march on! The time for work will soon be passed. Surrounded by the outflashings of the Judgement throne, the trumpeting of Resurrection angels, the upheaving of a world of graves, and the hosanna of the saved and the groaning of the lost, we shall be rewarded for our faithfulness or punished for our stupidity!
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 41:13; 106:48).
“And let the whole earth be filled with His glory! Amen and Amen” (72:19).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Queensboro Bridge (c 1901)
Featured for this series are photographs of old New York.
*Adapted from “The Day We Live In,” Thomas DeWitt Talmage [1832-1902], New Tabernacle Sermons Vol I (New York: George Munro, 1886). Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.