1888: A Son of Exhortation




Brethren Of The Graduating Class :—The early church had its Barnabas. His name was significant. The new version calls him "a son of exhortation." He had a peculiar gift of persuasive discourse. He helped, incited, guided, confirmed the saints. He " exhorted them that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost."

It is this zapdxfojotz (parak/esis), this function of the Christian ministry of which Barnabas was the type and example, which I wish to commend to your attention. As you go to your various posts of service I would have you cultivate it. I would have you "sons of exhortation" yourselves.

Our old version unduly narrowed the meaning of the word. It called Barnabas "a son of consolation." This comforting of Christians amid their sorrows and toils is unquestionably one of the duties of the ministry; and not simply a duty, but a privilege and an instinct, of all those who are "servants of the Spirit." As the great heavenly Father styles himself "the God of all consolation," and as Christ was "the consolation

of Israel," so the Holy Spirit is "the Comforter," and those who are "filled with the Spirit" will "comfort others with the comfort wherewith they are themselves comforted by God." It is a world of trial and of affliction. There is disappointment and bereavement. There are hopes deferred and losses for which there is no earthly recompense. You must stand by the bedside of the dying and pray by the coffin of the dead. Every Sabbath Day there will be within the sound of your voice those whose souls through all the weary week have looked forward to that day as the time when they might hear some word from God to remove their doubt, to enlighten their darkness, to assuage their sorrow. How hard his heart must be, and how destitute of the Spirit of Christ, who can refuse his sympathy to the afflicted people of God! Rather let us imitate God himself, who will finally wipe away all tears from their eyes.

And yet, since we are servants of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, let our ministry reflect the methods of God. I do not find that the work of Christ or of the Holy Spirit is mainly a work of mere comfort. Comfort is incidental, not primary. You cannot best comfort by dwelling on the occasions of sorrow, but rather by diverting the mind to thoughts that will lift it above its sorrow. You must have a sympathetic heart, indeed; but then you must not let your heart run away with your head and bury itself in the grief you seek to cure. That is the fault of some preachers and pastors. They forget that the gospel method of comfort is the method of bringing truth to bear upon human trouble, of presenting Christ in such a way that men may be led to look to him, and to "rejoice in the Lord." The plaintive and lachrymose manner is often the sign of a mistaken psychology and theology. A perpetually mournful voice in the pulpit misrepresents Christianity. The Old Testament had its Jeremiah, its "prophet of tears," but where in the New Testament can you find an apostle of tears? On the other hand, the atmosphere of the New Testament is the atmosphere of cheer and hope, and the comfort of the New Testament is not a pessimistic companioning in the bitterness of grief, but a pointing of the soul forward to "sorrow vanquished, labor ended, Jordan passed."

Now all this is contained in the description of a faithful minister of Christ with which I began. The ufoj xanaxtyouoz (huios parakleseos)—the "son of exhortation "—is precisely this. The verb itapaxuliw (j>arakaleo), from which the noun is derived, means "to call near," "to call to one's side." The corresponding verbal noun napdxXr^o^ (parakletos) means "one called near," "called to one's side." The idea is not therefore that of soothing and comforting, but rather that of helping, strengthening, confirming. The Holy Spirit is not primarily "the Comforter," but rather "the Helper." Since the best help is often that of Advocacy, the helper is often an Advocate,—Christ is our zapdxtyzoz {parakletos) or "Advocate with the Father," —and izapdxtyocz (paraklesis), the abstract noun, comes to mean advocacy, persuasive and helpful discourse, speech that stimulates, incites, and guides. To be "a son of exhortation," therefore, is to be more than a comforter of the saints; it is to be their instructor, persuader, encourager, to every good word and work.

I would have you notice that there is an element of intellect here. You are to give men reasons. You are to move them to no blind enthusiasms, no short-lived fervors. The "exhortation" required is not the stirring up of irrational impulse, but rather urgent appeal in view of the truth, the awakening of intense and overmastering convictions, the bringing to bear of infinite motives. It is "by manifestation of the truth" that we are to "commend ourselves to every man's conscience, in the sight of God." But notice also that "exhortation" implies more than the merely intellectual element. There is personality in it. To be "a son of exhortation" is something more than to discuss subjects in an abstract way. There must be will, determination, advocacy, urgency, appeal. The true minister of Christ must advocate God's cause as the lawyer pleads for the life of his client. There are many devil's advocates upon the other side that will use every device of Satan to rebut your arguments and to defeat your efforts. Your business is to throw yourselves into the advocacy of the truth, with such enthusiastic devotion, such personal magnetism, such loving aggressiveness, such selfforgetful propagandism, that the very weight of your onset shall itself bear down all opposition and become an argument and a victory for the truth.

Comfort then by instructing, by stimulating, by unfolding the treasures of God's word, by pointing out the joyfulness of Christian duty, by the exhibition of the exceeding great and precious promises, by urgent invitation to take part in the labor and the service and the fellowship and the sufferings and the triumph of Christ. Let the tone of hope and cheer, of lofty incitement and encouragement, ring like a clarion through your ministry. Let the critical and the polemic and the denunciatory have as little place in your preaching as possible. Rather let the proclamation of a positive gospel, and the leading of the churches to direct effort for men's salvation, take the place of wordy warfare and the refutation of error. Be true "sons of exhortation," content with nothing short of results in the shape of a sanctified church and of sinners saved, and you may leave error to die its natural death, while sorrow's clouds are first beautified, and then dispelled, by the light that streams from Christ, the risen Sun of Righteousness.

My brethren, you have been faithful and successful in your work of preparation. For you all we cherish high anticipations. Remember us who have taught you in the word of the Lord. Be examples and advocates of an educated ministry. Send other fit men to fill the places which you leave vacant. Preach the gospel of hope and triumph wherever God sends you. May God prosper you and the word you preach, and at the last may he bring us all together again—the sowers and the reapers—to rejoice together!