THE TEACHER'S GUlDE AND HELPER.*
This word "ministers" does not designate the class of persons whom we call preachers or pastors. It means simply "servants," "helpers," "purveyors." In this sense every Christian is a minister, for every Christian is a servant of the gospel. I take the text, therefore, as the basis of an address to Sabbath school teachers, and in fact to all who are called to instruct the yonug or to exert religious influence over others. All such are set in various ways to teach the truth. It is a most serious responsibility. Paul felt it to be so in his own case. In the passage that immediately precedes the text, he likens his teaching to the perfumes scattered to the air, at the trinmphal entry of a conqueror. To the victorious soldiery, those floating odors were the signs of freedom and reward after the toils of the campaign; to the captives whom they guarded, those same odors were the sign that the time had come for them to die. So all teaching of Christian truth is, to those who hear it, a savor of life unto life or of death unto death. It makes a higher heaven for those who are saved, but a deeper hell for those who perish.
Every earnest teacher will surely echo Paul's own words: "Who is sufficient for these things?" It is well that he can add as Paul does : "But our sufficiency is of God, who has qualified us to be ministers or servants or purveyors of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit." It is the Holy Spirit of whom Paul speaks. Over against the powerless letter of the Old Testament or Covenant, he sees the Spirit of life and power that distinguishes the New. To be the ministers or servants of this New Covenant is to be the ministers or servants of tho Holy Spirit. This is the characteristic blessing and strength of every true teacher that he is an assistant or helper of the Holy Spirit, qualified for this sendee by being filled and guided, illuminated and energized, by the Holy Spirit whom he serves.
We are familiar with the thought that the teacher is a minister and servant of Christ. We are not so familiar with the thought that the teacher is a minister and servaut of the Holy Spirit. My object to-day is to show that this latter conception of the teacher's vocation is of the greatest doctrinal and practical importance. Not only God's methods and nature, but also man's ignorauce and powerlessness, make it indispensable that tho teacher .should maintain this continuous relation to the Holy Spirit. The text implies all this. When it calls the teacher a minister of the Spirit, it implies two things: first, that he is a receiver from God; and secondly, that he is a com
* A sermon preached before the Sunday School Convention, Boston, May 20, 1877, on the text, 2 Cor. 3: 6—"Able ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of tho Spirit."
municator to men of what he has received. Let us consider the teacher's need of the Holy Spirit from each of these points of view.
My first proposition then is this: that the teacher is wholly dependent upon the Holy Spirit, because God's methods and nature are such, that without the Holy Spirit's working there can be no reception of any spiritual blessing from God on the part of the teacher himself. Let us appropriate a phrase of recent scepticism to a Christian use. There is "a Power that makes for righteousness." That Power is no impersonal abstraction, but the personal Holy Spirit. And by this I do not mean that the Holy Spirit is simply the invisible presence of Christ. It is more than that. In a true sense, the work of the Spirit is a separate one from the work of Christ, and we may contrast the two. One feature of the contrast is this: While Christ is the organ of external revelation, the Holy Spirit is the organ or agent of internal revelation. And we learn what this means, by referring to our own inner experience. Christ had come, his cross had been set up, his death had been accomplished, his word had proclaimed salvation, but in spite of this external revelation we saw nothing in him to attract us. In his cross we saw no power to save. The great truths of Christianity were like the features of the landscape long before the sun has risen; mountain and plain and stream were there, but they were shrouded in darkness, or only half visible through the gloom. But when the Holy Spirit came, with his quickening power, it was as if, in an instant, that same landscape were flooded with the light and radiance of the morning sun. What was before hidden or uncertain, now stood out clear and bright and glorious. Mountain and plain and stream were there before; the light did not create, it only revealed them. So the Hj>ly Spirit was the sunlight that made real to us the truth of Christ — truth which existed before, but which was as hidden from us, as if it had not been. Or suppose a blind man led out, in the broad noonday, into the centre of that same landscape,— you may describe the beauty of it, but to the blind man your description is but empty words. But now, imagine that some oculist of surpassing skill could, even while the blind man stood there, remove the cataract from his eyes, and perfectly restore the sight. At once the whole glory of the scene bursts upon him. So, until the Holy Spirit works a change within us, Christ and his truth are hid. They are there — eternal verities of God,— but we have no eyes to see them. Until the Holy Spirit gives spiritual discernment, and so turns the outer word into an inner word, the natural mau will never see the truth.
This illustrates what I mean by saying that the Holy Spirit is the organ of internal revelation, while Christ is the organ of external revelation. But there is another point of contrast between the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of Christ. It is this: While all forth-putting, outgoing activity of the Godhead is the work of Christ, the returning movement, the drawing back to God, is the work of the Holy Spirit. Consider what this means. All forth-putting, outgoing activity of the Godhead is the work of Christ, whether it be exhibited in nature, in providence or in redemption. It is he through whom the world was created. He upholds and governs all things. Gravitation is the expression of his will. History is the marshaling of his forces. Incarnation and atonement are his comings into time, and creatureship, and obligation to law. Again I say, all forth-putting, outgoing activity of the Godhead is the work of Christ. But ou the other hand, the refluent wave, the returning movement, the drawing back to God, is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is through the eternal Spirit that Christ "offered himself without spot to God "; it is by this "one Spirit" that the church throughout the world has "access unto the Father"; it is through him that fallen creatures are "convinced of sin," are led to Christ, and are brought back to God. All true worship must be offered "in Spirit and in truth." All prayer and service, all aspiration and all life, are normal and noble, and worthy of regard from God or man, only as they are parts or results of that great movement of the Holy Spirit, which draws all things t >ward God, their end.
Go with me yet oue step further. We have been speaking of manifestations, but if the Son and the Holy Spirit are manifestations, they manifest something. Their work in time reveals a secret of eternity. The being of God is disclosed to us. Christ is the Word, spoken before creatures were, and when there was none but God to hear. God expresses himself, and knows himself, only through the Word. As the sun in the heavens is a true sun only as it pours forth its radiance, so God is truly God only as he shines foith in him who is the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person. The sunlight is derived from the sun, and yet is as old as the sun itself; and the Word is derived from God, yet there never was a time when he began to be. In the nature of God from eternity to eternity there is outgoing, expression, self-communication. Christ's " goings forth are from everlasting."
So the Spirit, and the work of the Spirit, belong not simply to time but to eternity. In the Spirit, we are to conceive of the divine activity and thought as returning whence it came, and as completing its movement. Here is a. ceaseless process of the divine mind ; but there is more than process — there is life, fulness of life, the energy of an infinite will, the blessedness of absolute and perfect communion. For it is a personal Spirit, just as it is a personal Word, of whom we speak. God without distinctions of personality would be the living God no longer, he would be a lonely being, dependent upon the unsatisfying association of a finite uerse, or an unconscious being, destitute of mind and heart, and identical with the uerse itself. If there be one God at all, theu that one God must be in some sense three. If we give up the Trinity, we must give up all idea of a living Unity.
And so we reach the proper point of view from which to regard the teacher's relation to the Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is necessary to human salvation, because it is necessary to God himself. All his being is grounded in this life-movement of the Spirit, as it is grounded in the lifemovement of the Son. Let us not make the finite and the infinite change places, and fancy God to be less than the things which he has made. The mighty tides of life that ebb and flow on the far shores of the uerse, only shadow forth the unseen and unseeable floods that go and return within the bosom of God himself. All finite things together are but the "breath of his mouth," a drop of dew upon the fringe of his garment, a "whisper of him," while the "thunder of his power" is heard and understood by none. And all the operations of his grace are only partial manifestations of that transcendent movement which goes on forever in God. By working love and holiness in us, and drawing us through Christ and in the Spirit unto the Father, he seeks to reproduce in us in our limited measure, the eternal process of the divine mind. There is One toward whom the whole creation moves, because it partakes of his internal movement toward himself. The Holy Spirit cau save men only by drawing them into his own etherial currents of affection and will, and thus bearing them on to the meeting-point of all his blessed winds, in God.
If any have been impatient of this peculiar treatment of my theme, as if it were too mysterious and lofty, I.ean only urge them to a close study of Scripture, and of their own experience. The teacher who has wearied of his own futile efforts, will not think it impractical or valueless to connect his labor for the recovery of others to their allegiance to God, with the ceaseless divine operation which draws all things, by the celestial gravitation of the Holy Spirit, to himself. The Scandinavian mythology tolls of a mortal who attempted to drain a goblet of the gods. The more he drank, the more there was to drink. His amazement grow, until he found that the goblet was invisibly connected with the sea, and that to empty it, ho must drink the ocean dry. Surely there can be no comfort or strength so groat as this, to find that in our labor for the souls of men our work is supervised and supplemented, and energized, by One whose resources are vaster than the ocean, and whoso activity is as all-reaching as the tidal wave that sweeps round the world.
But my second proposition demauds attention now, this namely, that the teacher is wholly dependent upon tho Holy Spirit, because without the Spirit's influences, he is utterly powerless to communicate to others the truth of God in such a way as to sanctify or save them. For, mark well the fact, that the teacher is a real communicator of the truth. Divine efficiency secures and honors the active exercise of his human powers. Tho Holy Spirit does not supersede or absorb the earthly means. Mind is to be reached through mind and heart through heart, and, in a just sense, true teaching by true teachers is the salvation of the world. Now the first element of true teaching is a real possession of the truth on the part of the teacher himself. And by the truth I do not mean truth of science, philosophy or history, but that particular truth with regard to God, man, and God's way of saving man, which is made known in Scripture. "The truth as it is in Jesus," the truth adapted to man's religious needs, this is the special truth of which the teacher needs to become possessor, and which is to be the substance of all his teaching. This truth may take as many forms as an element in chemistry. It may be crystalized into the Bible text; it may be held in solution in the mind; or it may float about in the shape of airy maxim and unconscious influence. But whatever its form or distinctness, some truth with regard to sin and Christ and salvation is the agency in connection with which the Holy Spirit works every change, whether of conversion or of sauctification. The Holy Spirit makes sensitive the heart as the photographer prepares his plate. But unless the object to be photographed is set before the camera, and the light from that object is poured in upon the plate, no picture results. And so, in conjunction with the direct work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart, there must go the presentation of God's truth in its proper light, if that truth is ever to be impressed upon the heart and to leave its image there.
Let us never forget, moreover, that truth with regard to conduct, if it is to have this transforming power, must be incarnated in living persons. Abstract precepts do not move us,— they must be translated into life. Therefore it is that he who is the personal Truth came in human form, and lived a human life. One look at the suffering love and the atoning purity of Christ, can do more to melt and mould the hard and the selfish than all the maxims of all the sages. And this same necessity of embodying the truth, leads to the appointment of Christian teachers. They are to speak the truth, and to lend to it, as they speak, the vividness of present reality. They are to exemplify the truth and to show it in its results — clarity of thought, purity of emotion, loftiness of aim. If you once think what it is to speak to others the truth with regard to Christ, you will see that, without the help of the Holy Spirit, it is not within the power of man. To speak the truth, one must have the truth and know the truth. No parrot-like repetition of the words of Scripture is true teaching. The words of Christ — the real substance of what he spoke — were spirit and life. It is the ideas behind the words, that are to be communicated. And to get possession of these ideas is, to use a German idiom, to think one's self into God's thought; it is to press through the veil into the inner sanctuary of divine truth; it is to see it for one's self, as Moses saw the Shekinah-glory, and to come forth from the holy place, to speak it with burning lips and rejoicing heart to others.
I do not know how any human being can thus get possession of the truth he is to give to others, without the help of the Holy Spirit. I see the Ethiopian eunuch, on the desert road, wearily and vainly pondering the words of the prophet. "Understandest thou what thou readest?" "How can I except some one should guide me?" Ah, man needs a guide! The eunuch needed the guidance of Philip,— but Philip could never have guided the eunuch, unless he himself had had the guidance of the Spirit. Only that enabled him to speak as the oracle of God, and to preach Jesus so that the Lord High Treasurer of Candace's empire was eager at once to profess his faith in the Crucified.
I see two other New Testament worthies, making their way into the temple. At the "Beautiful Gate," there crouches the pitiful shape of a lifelong cripple. There are few words from the apostles. But with the mention of the name of Jesus, that had wrought so many wonders, Peter fastens his eyes steadfastly on the lame man; he grasps him by the hand to lift him to new vigor and freedom; the very tone of Peter's voice electrifies the sufferer, as he commands him "in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth," to "rise up and walk." The faith of Peter flashes at once into the cripple's soul. He leaps to his feet, and praises God. It is a picture of a second element of all true teaching, namely, the believing utterance of the truth. True teaching is nothing else than a communication of ourselves, an impartation of our own life to others. Truth is not truth, unless it is enhaloed and ensphered in this atmosphere of faith. Teaching is not teaching, unless with the intellectual presentation of truth there goes the emotional intensity and fervor which indicate profound conviction on the part of the teacher. But with this element added, the least fragment of truth has power. Thesingle word converts a soul.
Do you know any way in which a naturally loveless and apathetic person can be filled with enthusiasm in view of truth, so that he utters it with boldness and irrepressible delight? Contagious zeal—the consuming zeal for purity and for right, that like a flame of fire kindles and brightens everything it touches — have you any recipe for this? The Bible gives us one. "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." There are little land-locked ponds, along our New England shore, that are shut away from the sea by heavy bars of sand. Weeks come and go, and the surface of those ponds is scarcely stirred. But on some favored day, a high tide overpasses the bar of sand; the halfstagnant waters are purified; the land-locked bay is united once more to its parent flood, and is stirred to its deepest depths by the pulsations of the great, deep sea. So they who in their natural state are sundered from the parent-heart of God, are brought by the Holy Spirit into union with him. What of themselves they could not feel, they feel now. The Spirit of God has communicated to them something of the infinite longing of God's heart, and his infinite love for the perishing. They not only pray with unutterable sighings for the salvation of men, but when they speak to them of God and of his mercy, it is with a confidence and power that none of their adversaries are able to gainsay or resist. Aud all because it is not they that speak, but the Holy Spirit.
True teaching has the truth, aud speaks the truth with self-propagating faith. But there is yet a third element in it. Besides this real possession of the truth, and believing utterance of the truth, there is also a wise adaptation of the truth to persons and to times. "He that winneth souls is wise." The teacher has a work of spiritual surgery to do. He must lay bare the sore and ugly spots of character, that he may persuade his patient to undergo the divine operation and be healed. He must touch with his scalpel the tenderest part — the soul's self-will and pride. Blunt instruments and misdirected treatment will not do. He must not imitate the mistakes of the apothecary, and administer a composing draught to the already narcotized soul. And on the other hand, "the servant of the Lord must not strive." Unhealthful excitement brings, by necessary law of reaction, a spiritual stupor exactly proportional to the waste of nervous power. 'What shall I speak?' is a difficult question for the conscientious teacher; 'when shall I speak?' is a more difficult question still. "There is a time to speak and there is a time to keep silence"—and the suppressed anxiety of a faithful friend has often spoken louder than words. To be "instant in season and out of season," and yet to be "courteous to all men;" to "redeem the time," so that no golden opportunity shall run to waste, and yet to give to each, not another's, but his own "portion, in due season," this, in matters of the soul, requires a spiritual discernment that is foreign to mere human nature.
But the labyrinth has a clue, the moment the teacher regards himself as a servant of the Spirit. He speaks now '' as the Spirit gives him utterance." He is practically, as well as theoretically, guided into the truth. He is enabled to interpret God's providences, so that they disclose to him his duty. And that, in no mystical way of new revelation apart from Scripture, but in the rational and Biblical way of quickening his intellectual powers, so that he exercises a common sense that is sanctified, and a judgment free from selfish bias. Have you noticed the steady and quiet strength of the man who tmst3 the Spirit's word: "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way that thou shalt go; I will guide thee with mine eye?" The Scriptures contrast the full tide of rational and satisfied life which fills the breast of the Christian, with the wild excitements and insatiable cravings of him whose dependence is upon physical stimulants. "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit." No, the atmosphere of the Spirit is not one of nitrous oxide,— it is the pure, cool air of the mountaintops of truth, and the more one breathes it, the more he recognizes it as a "spirit of power and of love and of sound mind." A wisdom that is not of this world, becomes his. The Holy Spirit makes him not only a ready but a trained and skilled assistant, in the work of bringing others to Christ.
Persons who are not naturally attractive have in these ways been made centres of saving influence. The bent piece of soft iron has no natural power to draw other iron to itself,— but attach it to the battery, and it becomes a magnet, that draws to itself everything within its range. Sunder its connection with the copper and the zinc, and all power is gone, but thus connected, it is its very nature to attract. So let God's Holy Spirit take possession of the teacher and he becomes a magnet, to draw those whom he instructs to God. Virtue goes forth from him. He becomes a living force for good. Borne himself upon the mighty current that sweeps toward the centre and source of all things, he finds that he is not left to go alone. Others are won to commit their barks to this same current, and so to accompany or follow him. Even though he may see no outward sign of the movement in himself, or of the power that he has on others, still he may be sure that the Holy Spirit uses him. You remember those Arctic explorers, who day after day with infinite toil and pain, made their way northward, as they thought, only to find at the week's end that their instruments indicated a progress of many miles in the opposite direction. They thought themselves going away from home and friends, but they found themselves nearer to them at the end than when they began. At last they solved the problem. They were not on solid ground at all, but rather upon an ice-floe of vast extent, and this whole mass, apparently solid as the granite hills, was moving toward the tropics every day upon the bosom of an ocean-current so broad and deep and still as to give no sign whatever of its power. So the teacher may seem to himself to be getting further and further away from the things he loves and the persons for whom he labors. But in spite of all appearances, God is furthering his work by invisible but tremendous operations of his providence and grace. He supplements our efforts, and guides them to ends which his wisdom, and not our skill, has set. Consciously or unconsciously, we are borne onward to the accomplishment of the plans and to the glory of the name of him, "of whom, and through whom, and to whom are all things."
Thus I have spoken of our need of the Spirit as grounded, first, in the methods and nature of God, and secondly, in the ignorance and powerlessness of man. Or to put it in plainer words, we need the Holy Spirit, first, because without him we can receive nothing from God. We need the Holy Spirit, secondly, because without him we can communicate nothing to men. And I have shown you that this last is certain, because only the Holy Spirit can make us real possessors of the truth, believing advocates of the truth, and wise adapters of the truth to the wants of those we teach. But the Holy Spirit can make us able teachers. And the gift of the Holy Spirit is within our reach. The power to bestow the Holy Spirit, and to make men teachers of his word, was part of the Savior's recompense for his sufferings. He could not give the Spirit, until he was glorified. But now, he sits at the right hand of power, for the express purpose of pouring into us, through the Spirit, the inexhaustible fulness of his divine life. I honor Christ my Lord, not when I hold back, from a sense of my unworthiness, and refuse to believe that so great a gift can be for me; I honor him only when I take the gift, in the same spirit in which it is offered, and use it gratefully in the service of him who gave it.
The decision whether I will have this Holy Spirit, this present Christ, this fulness of power and blessing, rests in a true sense with me. Unless I will to have it, it will never be mine. I must put in the link of connection between my soul and God's efficiency, by the exercise of faith. There is a great reservoir of sweet and limpid water up among the hills, all gathered there by the art of man, for the supply of the thirsty town. Conduits are built, and pipes are laid; my own house is provided with basin and faucet; but still the water does not run, and I am dry. What is lacking? Nothing but the touch of my hand,— yet without that, I may go thirsty all the day. My friends, Christ is a reservoir in which all the resources of the Godhead are gathered up, and gathered up for the use of each of us. The Holy Spirit is the conduit through which Christ's fulness comes to us. And yet we shall never be practical possessors of his power, until by a "personal act of surrender and of faith, we set the stream to running. Set it running, and let it never stop! Drinking it, you shall never thirst, and it shall be in you a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.
There is only one thing more. Let this water bless others, as well as yourself. Our Lord did not forget this, when he gave his promise. "In that last, that great day of the feast," when he "stood and cried, saying: Jl any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink," he added these words: "He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his heart"— stirred as it is with new-discovered truth and purified by nobler affections — "shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they which believe on him should receive." He only is a true servant of Christ, who receives in order to give. He shall receive abundantly, only in order that he may give abundantly. The spring that has gladdened his own heart shall gladden others. Widening and deepening as they flow, the waters from it, like those of Ezekiel's vision, shall carry life and verdure with them, until somewhere in the future, near or far, the ultimate result shall be the recovery of all the moral wastes that have been caused by sin. and the recreation of the earth in the beauty of our God.
On Easter morning at Jerusalem, the people gather together in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, long before the dawn, all carrying torches not yet lighted. The Archbishop enters the tomb in which tradition relates that the body of Christ was laid, and brings out from it a lighted torch, which he pretends to have been kindled there by supernatural power. One by one the people light their torches from its blaze, and others are lit from these, until the darkness of the great church is chased away by the flooding radiance of many thousand lamps. The people carry the sacred fire to their homes, lighting Still other torches as they go, until every Christian house in the great city is illuminated. So Christian influence widens and spreads. The fountain of its light and power is in the presence of the Lord — not in the sepulchre where his body lay, but in the secret place where the risen and glorified Redeemer meets with his chosen ones, and communicates to them his own life-giving Spirit. But he who has his own soul kindled there, gives light to those he meets, and is not impoverished but enriched by giving. Oh you, to whom is given the work of teaching others in the truth of God, regard the dignity of your vocation and fulfill it well! Recognize the Holy Spirit as the only source of power, and the Holy Spirit will prosper your labors! As you have the promise of the Father, put that promise to the test, and receive the Holy Ghost! So, enlightened and quickened by God himself, you shall be "servants of the Spirit," and successful participants in his great work — that work of which nature and history are but the preparation and arena — the work of bringing back a revolted humanity to its lost estate of holiness and of communion with God!