I believe that many weak ones [babes in Christ] in our churches are seriously injured, if not entirely broken down, by following the example of their ministers in matters wherein they come short of the Lord’s mind. How grievous it would be; if any believers were dwarfed through our conduct! May we not fear that there are some in our churches today who are not what they might have been had we properly guided them? No doubt some have been coddled into weakness, and others have been allowed to grow more in one direction than in others. Do you say, “We cannot help this; it is no business of ours “? I tell you it is our business. Strangers may talk in a careless way, but fathers are conscious of great responsibility as to their children. If a family is not well ordered, a wise father begins to mend his own ways. If our people do wrong, we fret and blame ourselves. If we were better, our church-members would be better. It is little use to scold them; our wiser way is to humble ourselves before God, and find out the reason why our ministry does not produce better results.
I was going to say that, as an earthly father stands in the place of God to his children, so do we [pastors & elders] in a certain measure. We do not aim at it, nor wish for it; but we are placed, by many weak and ignorant persons, in a position from which we would gladly escape if we could, for we abhor everything which wears the semblance of priest craft. Alas! there are simple souls who forget to look to the Lord’s mind as revealed in the Scriptures, but they look to us as their teachers and guides. I grant you that there may be an evil superstition in it, but there it is, and it must not be trifled with. In many instances, however, through their grateful respect, the members of our congregation gather lessons from what we do as well as from what we say, and this should make us very careful lest we lead them astray. Be holy, that others may be holy.
We had need be kind and courteous, for even such a small thing as shaking hands, or giving a nod, may have an influence. One who is now a member of our church told me that he had often stood to shake hands with me at the back gate, as I left the building, long before he had come inside to hear me preach. The mere fact of a kindly’ notice which I gave him on going out had made him think of me, and inclined him to hear. He assured me that this simple matter was the first link between him and religion. He was drunken, and wretched, and ungodly; but he had, by a happy accident, become the friend of a minister of Christ, and this bond, though slight as a spider’s thread, was the beginning of better things. Never be stiff and proud. “Be pitiful, be courteous.” Children expect kindness from a father; let them not he disappointed. It is ours to be all things to all men, if by any means we may save some.
Even to those who are without, we must show a tender consideration. Even to those who reject our gospel, we must display unbounded tenderness. It should fill us with deep sorrow that men refuse the Savior, and follow the way of destruction . . . Do you ever mourn over your hearers as one that weeps for the slain of his people? Can you bear that they should pass away to judgment unforgiven? Can you endure the thought of their destruction? I do not know how a preacher can be much blessed of God who does not feel an agony when he fears that some of his hearers will pass into the next world impenitent and unbelieving. . . .
O my brethren, as you are the sons of God, be also fathers in God! Let this be the burning passion of your souls. Grow to be leaders and champions. God give you the honor of maturity, the glory of strength! But courageously expect that He will then lay upon you the burden which such strength is fitted to bear. We need you to quit yourselves like men. In these evil days, when the shock of battle comes, it will have to be sustained by the fathers, or not at all. Our young and immature brethren are invaluable as light troops, leading the way, and advancing into the enemy’s territory; but the solid squares, which stand firm against the fury of the charge, must mainly be composed of the Old Guard. You of experience in the things of God; you experts, who have fought the battles of the Lord over and over again; you must stand fast, and having done all, you must still stand. I call upon you fathers to hold the fort till Jesus comes. You must be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. If you fail, where are we to look? It will be “as when a standard-bearer faints”. . . .
His Father’s work is that in which we also are engaged, and we cannot do better than imitate our Lord. Tell me, then, how Jesus set about it. Did He set about it by arranging to build a huge Tabernacle, or by organizing a monster Conference, or by publishing a great book, or by sounding a trumpet before Him in any other form? Did He aim at something great, and altogether out of the common line of service? Did He bid high for popularity, and wear Himself out by an exhausting sensationalism? No; He called disciples to Him one by one, and instructed each one with patient care. . . .
Let us grow more simple, natural, and father-like as we mature; and let us be more and more completely absorbed in our lifework. As the Lord shall help us, let us lay our all upon the altar, and only breathe for Him. . . .
May He use every man of us to the utmost of our capacity for being used, and glorify Himself by our health and our sickness, our life and our death! Amen. (“What We Would Be”)