AN UNWORLDLY MINISTER
Brethren Of The Graduating Class :—A recent book called " Coronation" has suggested to me a theme. It is the story of a devout but eccentric minister of Cape Cod. He is possessed with the idea that work is useless without power, and that power comes only from communion with God. Hence he wanders much upon the lonely seashore; he passes whole summer nights in prayer upon the hills. He is much oftener away from his people than he is with them; he counts himself to be only God's messenger; unless he has some word of God to speak, some gift of God to communicate, he remains in retirement. But in the depths of the forest he gathers energy; when he does appear, it is with a strange intensity of emotion and of utterance; he is an electric battery fully charged; men yield to his reasonings and to his appeals in spite of themselves; with his mysterious flitting to and fro they come to associate the blowing, where it listeth, of the Spirit of God.
Was not this the life that Elijah led? Would those momentary appearances to Ahab have been so aweinspiring and subduing, if Elijah had not come from the immediate presence of the Holy One? And the second Elijah, John the Baptist, is not this the meaning of his dwelling in the deserts before the time of his manifestation to Israel? Do you say that our Lord reversed all this, that he stayed with men? Well, he prepared for that stay by thirty years of privacy; and the more of public work he had to do, the longer and
more frequent were his turnings aside for solitary intercourse with God. Even the classic story tells us that Hercules, after his greatest labors, retired into wildernesses that he might reflect upon his divine origin and might renew his vigor. But Jesus is the true Hercules, and he gives us the model for the life of his ministers. "They are not of the world," he says, "even as I am not of the world."
An Unworldly Minister—this is what I urge each one of you to be. In urging this, I am quite aware that I am running counter to some of the strongest currents of our times. The minister, it is said, must put off his monkish seclusion; he must come out into the open, live among men, attend weddings, take part in politics, sympathize with all the interests of society, set every class and age to work in the institutional church. And I have no objection to this,—I commend it indeed, provided only it can be realized in the spirit and manner of Christ. He did not himself go out of the world, nor does he pray that his servants may be taken out of the world. But he does pray that they may be kept from the evil; that they may be not of the world, even while they are in the world; that they may be living manifestations, in this present evil world, of the powers of the world to come.
Men are won, not by conformity, but by non-conformity; by the exhibition of a higher life; by a purity, a sweetness, a power to which they are strangers. It is not the words of the sermon that challenge attention, so much as it is the rapt and commanding air of the preacher, the tones of conviction, the beseeching of love. The pulpit needs to become a visible and audible embodiment of the spiritual world; with such a demonstration before them, men can no more deny the truth, or their need of it, than they can deny the reality and value of the sunlight; they can remain indifferent, as little as when they come in contact with a heavily charged Leyden jar. Here was the power of apostles, prophets, martyrs; here is the power of many ministers to-day. Shall we call it supernatural influence? It is nothing but the natural influence, upon worldly people, of a life that is hid with Christ in God, that has stored up the results of divine communion, and that simply rays out into the darkness something of the light and love and energy of the Infinite One.
Only the unworldly minister knows what is meant by "the hiding of power." It is a phrase of Habakkuk. The coming of God is compared to the sun rising over the hills of Edom and Sinai. Yet this glorious appearance is not God himself: it is but the veil in which he wraps his omnipotence; the light is a garment which conceals, even while it reveals him; there is the hiding of his power. What is true of God is true in its measure of God's servants. After Moses has been in the mount with Jehovah, he must cover his face, lest the light reflected from it should overawe the people. How many another face, since that of Moses, has shone after communion with God! There is an element of mystery in all true preaching, because it is the utterance of one who has just come down from the mount. Behind the words there is a unique personality; in and through the preacher shines and speaks the Lord himself; there are unlimited reserves of energy; the exhibition of power is at the same time a hiding of power.
Will not such a preacher as this have satisfactions which the worldly minister can never compass? Of course he will have to pay the price. Many secular amusements he will have to forego,—but the joy of the Lord will be his strength. He cannot read so deeply in science or philosophy,—but he can delve into the treasures of the Bible. He will have no time to make money,—but Jehovah will be his inheritance. He will have that peace above all earthly dignities, a still and quiet conscience; he will have a friendship more stimulating and ennobling than earthly companionships, even the intimacy of God. The promise, "I will dwell with them and walk with them," is peculiarly to him. There will be secret meetings in which the Father and the Son will come to him; nay, they will take up in him a continuous abode. The Holy Spirit will reproduce in him the departed Christ, and will make him to all intents and purposes, and up to the measure of his powers, a bodying forth of the grace and life of his Redeemer.
Is it worth the while? Ah, is it not the only rational ambition, to say with Paul: "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord "? To be an unworldly minister, there is but one way, and that is to give up the world—not God's world of beauty or truth or goodness, but Satan's world of selfish gratifications, of deluding hopes, of insatiable desires—and to seek our joy above the world, in God.
My young brethren, you have made this decision once, but it is a decision that needs evermore to be repeated, and never so much as now, when your life-work is opening before you. Just as his ministry began Jesus was confronted by Satan, and all the kingdoms of the world were offered to him at the cost of only one prostration before the Evil One. Christ chose to be an unworldly minister, even though he had to take the way of the garden and the cross. Will you follow in his steps? Will you choose the lonely path, the path of prayer, the path of sacrifice, the path of suffering, the path of possible defeat and loss, but the path that has Christ for its companion and eternal glory for its goal?
Before you too, the arch-enemy spreads his bait tonight. You are summoned to make your decision between a worldly and an unworldly ministry, between the present world and the world to come, between the god of this world and the God who has loved and redeemed you. I am persuaded that in your secret hearts you make your decision for God, and that you will stand with him and for him. Be sure that he will stand with you and for you. Be content to stand alone, if need be; with God, you are in the majority; your very isolation may be your power. The unworldly minister conquers by the very dignity and uniqueness of his life. But whether he is seen to conquer or not, he is joined to God in the bonds of an imperishable communion, and all things are his, whether the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are his; and he is Christ's; and Christ is God's.