1893: All Things to All Men



Brethren Of The Graduating Class :—This is a happy hour both for you and for us. We share in your feeling of elation. You have successfully completed a long course of preparatory study. You are stepping forth into the great work of life. You have been gathering strength,—now you are to use it. You have been sharpening your tools,—now you are to test them. I do not doubt your faithfulness or your devotion to Christ; you have given us proof of these. My chief concern is that you should work freely; that you should not permit what you have learned to hamper you; that you should not be the slaves of method or of form. You are to apply the truth you have learned; to adapt it to men's special needs; and to do this each in his own way. My one word of counsel then is this: Be All Things To All Men.

Only, however, in the sense of the Apostle Paul. He was not a lawless man,—he did not assert his right to act arbitrarily or to follow the whim of the moment. He was not a selfish man,—he did not count gain to be godliness, or seek to make people serve his personal interests. He was not a weak man,—he did not change his views or his teaching to suit the opinions of those around him. He was not a dishonest man,—he did not conceal the truth, or declare that to be right which he knew to be wrong. Paul was just as far as possible from being a Jesuit; he never held that the end justifies the means; he never countenanced error or sin that he might make religion easy; he never lied for the glory of God. He was no Judaizer; he was the last man to accept externals in place of inward faith and obedience; he never fancied that morality or social reform would save the world. No, if you want a man to symbolize by the chameleon or the weathercock, you must go somewhere else than to the Apostle Paul.

When he tells us that he lias become all things to all

men, he means nothing inconsistent with his being under law to Christ, not his own but bought with a price, Christ's bondservant, with a stewardship to fulfill, a necessity laid upon him, with no right to reward, doing only his duty when he used all his powers in his Master's service. He has no choice of ends; there is but one purpose to his life—he must bring men under Christ's dominion. The very object of his becoming all things to all men is that he may by all means save some. His own eternal welfare is bound up with his faithfulness to this calling ; he devotes himself to it, that he too may be a joint partaker in the great salvation. He has but one means: the truth of God, the one, unchangeable gospel. He had no idea of saving men except by convincing their intellects and winning their hearts; they can be saved only by seeing and obeying the truth; they must confess and forsake their sins; they must accept Christ as Saviour and Lord. To the preaching of this gospel he is separated, set apart, even from his mother's womb. Like the earlier apostles, he withdraws from common cares that he may give himself to prayer and to the ministry of the word.

Do you say that all this sounds like slavery instead of liberty? Ah, the bondservant of Christ is also the Lord's freeman! Since he loves Christ and loves the souls for whom Christ died, this very insistence on Christ's ends and Christ's means permits a wonderful flexibility and adaptation to men and to circumstances. He can be all things to all men, not merely in spite of his service to Christ and his truth, but by virtue of his service to Christ and his truth. Faithfulness to Christ gives him a wide sympathy and charity. No pains or


sacrifice consistent with thorough integrity are too great, if he may only win men to Christ. In matters where principle is not involved, he will utterly forget his own comfort and his own preferences, if he may only get nearer to those whom he seeks to influence. He will please all men for their good to edification. So the Apostle Paul was entitled to Lord Lyttleton's praise: he was one of the finest gentlemen that ever lived; but only because he followed Christ's example, who, to diminish the distance between himself and us, took our nature upon him, entered into our life, conformed to our condition, bore our griefs, and carried our sorrows.

I would have you follow Paul's example, as Paul followed Christ. I would have you keep the unimportant tilings subordinate to the important. Do not let the form override the substance. Do not idolize the symbol, while you neglect the thing symbolized. Do not identify Christianity with mere externals. As Paul could be a Jew to the Jew and a Gentile to the Gentile, so you, so long as you do not sacrifice principle or compromise conviction, may conform yourselves to the customs and even the prejudices of those with whom you deal. As Paul adapted himself alternately to Jewish scruples and to Gentile freedom, now circumcising Timothy, but again refusing to circumcise Titus, now observing the seventh day, but again declaring himself unbound by the Mosaic law, now abstaining from meats but again calling all meats clean, so you in things indifferent may well consult the opinions and tastes of those around you. Many a young minister has lost all power to carry his people with him in matters of principle,

simply because he has insisted upon his own will and way in matters where no principle was involved. Yield in the small points, then, that you may win in the large. Let other people have their way in things of mere taste and arrangement, in order that you may have your way in things that are essential to true religion.

Do not insist unduly on your rights and dignity. You are not priests, nor are you lords over God's heritage. You are only members of the body of believers chosen to teach the truth and to point the way to your brethren. One is their Master, even Christ; and you are false to Christ and to them when you set yourselves in Christ's place and demand reverence for yourselves. A pastor can either rule his church or he can have the reputation of ruling; he rarely can do both. When he gets the reputation of ruling, the average Baptist church furnishes a sufficient number of brethren to dispute his claim; they are quite as ambitious to rule as he. But let him be eager only to serve, and by and by he shall find that, without intending it, he rules. Paul had a right to support from the churches, but he waived his right; by waiving it he won their confidence, and God did not suffer him to want; tentmaking supported him, and he had the glory before God and men of proving the perfect disinterestedness of his mission. I urge you in like manner to give over all undue anxiety about place or salary. Be willing to take the humblest place; serve for whatever is offered you; assert no precedence; trust only in God and the truth; and as God lives, bread shall be given you and your waters shall be sure.

Do not make too much of established methods. There are ministers who will not preach unless they can deliver elaborate orations. But that is just what Paul refused to do at Corinth. He abjured rhetoric and the wisdom of this world in order that the power might be only God's. We have come to worship sermons more than we worship the truth. In the early days it was not so; preaching then was more private than public; the preacher went from house to house beseeching every man with tears. Woe be to the minister who can preach only on Sundays and in the pulpit! He needs to get down from his high horse, to talk to his flock in the streets and on week days, to translate his message into the vernacular of common life. His business is not so much to make public exhibition of the truth as it is to reach men, to win them, to bring them to God Text or no text, sermon or no sermon, pulpit or no pulpit, he will deliver his message. He will think nothing foreign to him which will give him access to human hearts. The Rev. Mr. Creamcheese is no minister of Christ's gospel. The true servant of Christ can bare his arms for any work,—pew-renting, moneyraising, church-building. He can use any means,—the stereopticon, the circulating library, the public press. The "all things to all men," with the Pauline love and sincerity behind it, is a principle which will make preaching direct but not sensational, and will give pastoral work an adaptation to individual tastes and needs.

Do not confine your attention to any one class in the church or in the community. "All things to all men," says Paul. If I thought you would scorn the humble and the poor, I would entreat you not to enter the ministry. If I thought you would leave the rich unin

vited and unwarned, I should think you very unworthy preachers of Christ's gospel. No, all men are sinners, and for all men Christ has died. We are to know no classes, for all without exception need the grace of God. I have sympathy with what is coming to be called "institutional Christianity." Work for the newsboys, boy's brigades, Christian Endeavor, rescue-missions, Salvation Army,—all these are only efforts to reach classes which the church has hitherto forgotten. God bless them all, and God make you swift to lend your aid and sympathy to every means of carrying the good news of the kingdom to the needy and the lost! You have the duty laid upon you of applying the principles of the gospel to human affairs, of denouncing the violation of law, of urging men to discharge the obligations of citizenship, to purify legislation, to rectify injustice, to set up the kingdom of God in the State as well as in the Church.

To be "all things to all men,"—how large and how grand is your calling! It is simply to be prophets and representatives of God, preachers of the whole truth of Christ. The task would be too great if you went alone to your work. It is not too great if Christ goes with you. Who is sufficient to these things? Your sufficiency is of God. You can do all things through him who strengthens you. May he make you able ministers of the New Testament! May he give you great joy in your work! May he grant you many years of life, and make every year fruitful in the gathering in of redeemed souls! And when all your days have been spent, may you with us bring your sheaves to the Master's garner, crying "Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory!"