What Shall I Cry?
George Everard, 1883
(An Ordination Sermon)
"What shall I cry?" Isaiah 11:6
These words come to me linked with the holy and devoted life of one of Christ's most faithful servants. For about forty years he labored in one town, for most of that time working incessantly in one large parish, gathering hundreds of men into his schools, raising up a body of 600 communicants; preaching often with his lips, and always by his life. Three years ago came the end. His dying room was a very Heaven; his lips were filled with the loving kindness of the Lord; his cup was running over. His lifelong prayer had been abundantly answered. His three children were all workers in the Lord's vineyard, and his only son had just been promised the church where he himself had so long been working.
It was on the study wall of this godly man, that I was first struck with the words of the text. It was one of his constant petitions. At home or abroad, for the church or the schoolroom, for the pulpit or the platform, his frequent prayer was, "Lord, what shall I cry?"
This day a voice seems to arise with the same question. "I am just entering upon a great work. I am called to be an ambassador, a watchman, a steward of the Lord Almighty--to teach, to feed, and provide for the Lord's family. How shall I best fulfill this work? Can you give me any guidance and help for this charge committed to me? 'What shall I cry?' 'What shall I cry?' It is a solemn question; for I am not sent to broach my own opinions, or theories, or doubts, or guesses after truth. As an ambassador of the great King, I must carry His message, and not my own. Must I not take heed to speak that which the Lord has put in my mouth?"
Nor is there any doubt what the message is. The context will tell us. It is His own inspired Word of truth, applied, as He may enable us, to the sins and sorrows, the cares and needs, of those committed to our care. "A voice says, "Cry out." And I said, "What shall I cry?" "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever." Isaiah 40:6-8
Again the question comes, "What shall I cry?" What are those great and prominent truths of Holy Scripture which I must specially take heed to proclaim? Four or five points stand out very distinctly.
(1.) Cry out the blackness, the deformity, and the terrible outcomes of sin.We must bring out the holy law of God and show the way in which it is broken. "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins."
The strictness of God's law is utterly beyond our utmost thoughts. Sin is hateful and abominable wherever it is found. Even Moses, so faithful to God, was shut out of Canaan for what might have seemed to many a trivial fault.
If you would be faithful, speak out manfully about sin. Don't be afraid to speak out about pride, covetousness, selfishness, intemperate habits, commercial dishonesty, the vice of gambling, and the immorality which is such a blot on our country. Don't be afraid to speak out about family faults, evil tempers, snappish, irritable words and ways. Don't be afraid to speak of the bitter fruits of sin. With all tenderness, but with all boldness, speak of judgment to come, eternal damnation, the worm that dies not, and the fire that is never quenched. Dare not to hide God's truth about this. True charity is not to speak smooth things--but to hold out the danger signal, to tell of the fiery wrath of God against sin--and then to weep and grieve over the perishing, and by all means to strive to win them for life and glory.
(2.) Cry out the immeasurable love of God in Christ.
Here is an ocean which we can never fathom.
Here is a land flowing with milk and honey.
Here is a glorious sun whose beams reach down to the darkest hovel of misery and sin.
Here is a mountain whose summit we can never climb.
Here is a fountain whose waters will never be exhausted.
Alas for souls where the ministry is full of reproof, warning, threatening, even scolding--but where there is little of the love of God and the love of Christ! Whatever else you leave out, never leave out the love of God. Let it shine forth in all its warmth, joy, and blessedness. Cry aloud of God's love. Go down to the most wicked and depraved, and tell him "There is love in the heart of God for you, if you will believe and repent. Perchance you have worn out every human love--the love of father or mother, brother or sister--but there is a place for you in the heart of God if you will have it. Go down into the coal-mines, into the streets and lanes of the city, go everywhere and tell of God's free love and mercy. Go to the child of sorrow, to the one who has buried his greatest earthly treasure--and tell him of the healing balm of God's love. Go tell men that though they be enemies and rebels, there is compassion for them in God, if only they will receive it. Go sound forth that Magna Charta of a sinner's hope, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
(3.) Cry out a present, complete, gratuitous justification received by the hand of faith.Thank God for that glorious and perfect robe of righteousness prepared for the sinner through the work of Christ! Thank God for a righteousness outside of us, outside of any work or services, outside of any virtues, or graces, or feelings of our own--a righteousness perfect, spotless, stainless, in which the believing soul may ever rejoice. Thank God that when a man has learned to see himself an utter bankrupt, an infinite debtor to God's justice, a criminal at God's bar--he may come and glory in a righteousness which is in Christ Jesus alone. Here is the foundation of all peace, the starting-post for a holy life, and a sure ground for confidence in the hour of death.
A few weighty words were once written by one of Europe's greatest benefactors--one, too, himself deeply bruised in the winepress of sore distress for sin: "Wearied at length with your own righteousness, rejoice and confide in the righteousness of Christ. Learn, brother, to know Christ and Him crucified, and to despair of yourself, and to sing to the Lord this song: 'Lord Jesus, You are my righteousness--but I am Your sin. You have taken what belonged to me; You have given me what was Yours. You became what You were not--that I might become what I was not myself."
(4.) Cry out the absolute necessity for a holy walk and a life consecrated to the service of God."What shall I cry?" "As He who has called you is holy--so you be holy in all manner of conversation." "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." "Be imitators of God as beloved children." "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."
The sort of religion which boasts of forgiveness, and yet is lax and careless as to holiness of life, is a sham, a delusion, and a cheat! It frustrates the whole purpose of redemption; it brings dishonor on the gospel of Christ; it puts a stumbling-block in the way of sinners, and is the greatest hindrance to the welfare of the Church.
Preach often the necessity of holiness.
Not one single word or action,
not one moment of time,
nor one region of the inner man--
is to be given up to sin, self, or the world.
The Word of God, the Love of God, the Spirit of God must rule the whole man. As you proclaim that a full Christ, all that is in Him, His righteousness, His unsearchable riches, His unfathomable love, His presence, His Spirit, His glorious inheritance--all belong to the believing soul; so proclaim no less clearly that every power, gift, faculty--every member of the body, and every inch of territory in the human soul--are to be wholly and unreservedly at the disposal of Christ.
In the matter of holiness two special thoughts arise. In a very special manner, "Holiness unto the Lord!" ought to be written over the porch of every clergyman's house. Who can tell the benefit to the Church, when simplicity of life, sincerity of love, the spirit of self-sacrifice, are plainly manifest in the Parsonage? Who can tell the benefit when the sweet savor of love to Christ and His people, the sweet savor of prayer, praise, and intercession, is the atmosphere of a minister's family? And who can tell the injury to the cause of Christ when gaiety, the love of dress, luxurious entertainments, and the spirit of worldliness carry the day?
Again, in the promotion of holiness, how exceedingly precious are those channels of blessing by which the Spirit of God sanctifies the believing soul. That feast of love where Christ by His Spirit manifests Himself to the soul of His true servant, that Word of life and peace whose promises reach to every need of our pilgrimage, that quiet retreat at the mercy-seat where the dew falls so richly on the parched ground, that fellowship of the saints where Christ is one in the midst--these must ever be declared to be as precious conduit-pipes by which the living waters fill the little cistern of the believer's heart.
(5.) Cry out that the Lord is at hand.Advent reminds us that the day hastens apace when the King shall come, and every eye shall see Him.
A few years ago I was at a little village in Sweden where the people gathered together from all the surrounding country. In their best dress, they came from hill and dale for miles around. Then there was a time of waiting. The evening shades began to prevail. Then, in the language of their country, there arose a cry, "The king is coming! the king is coming!" And so heartily and gladly they welcomed their good king Oscar.
We must take up the same cry. We must tell our flocks that "the King is coming!" True, evening shadows may darken our world, days of trouble, distress, unsettlement, may overshadow our Church and our land--but this may be only a sign of His appearing.
The King on the white horse will take the kingdom and reign forever! Then will the true value of our ministry be known.
What has been wood, hay, stubble;
what has been gold, silver, and precious stones;
what has been but the alloy and dross of human opinion;
what has been His own revealed truth--
all this, that day shall plainly declare.
Before we leave the subject another question ought to engage our attention--not only "WHAT shall I cry?" but "HOW shall I cry?"
1. First, the cry must cry from the depths of a sanctified, consecrated heart. What is the greatest of all causes for defection from the Church, coldness in the Church, a low standard of holiness, and a thousand other ills?
Why has the Church less power than in early ages? Why is so great a proportion of our population almost untouched? Is it not that there are those in the ministry who lack the power of a new life in the soul? Can we forget that there was one prophet who uttered most eloquent and glowing words--and who yet was the slave of covetousness, and perished among the enemies of Jehovah? Can we forget that among the chosen twelve, gathered by Christ Himself--one was a devil, and fell to his everlasting ruin? And may it not be so still?
If you would have your cry to be mighty to reach the souls of men, above all things let there be reality. Let there be reality of repentance, of faith, of love, of thirsting after God, of hungering for the heavenly manna.
Preach a crucified Savior, out of crucified hearts.
Preach a risen Savior, as risen with Him to a new and noble life.
Preach an ascended Savior, as having your affections set on things above.
Preach a coming Savior, as on the watch for His appearing.
Drink ever deeper and deeper of the well of life as you bid others partake of its life-giving waters.
"How shall I cry?"
2. Out of an ever-increasing store of treasured knowledge. Give quiet, thoughtful study to four books:
the Word of God,
the book of nature,
the book of the human heart,
and the book of everyday life--
and also such other books as may help you to the knowledge of these.
"How shall I cry?"
3. Boldly, lovingly, hopefully, with reality and with sanctified common-sense.
BOLDLY! Speak out manfully the deep convictions of your soul. Beware of man-pleasing. Beware of speaking smooth things. And for strength to do this, speak as in the presence of the Lord. "The presence of the Lord annihilates the largest congregation--and gives importance to the smallest."
LOVINGLY! Beware of all satire, sarcasm, and person attacks from the pulpit. Beware of anything that may give needless offence. Remember Henry Martyn, who never could speak of Hell, but with a tear in his eye.
HOPEFULLY! Believe that the message is from God, that He sends it, for it is His own Word. Then believe that He will bless it. Expect a blessing from each sermon you preach.
Let it be spoken with REALITY. Be real to your own experience and to the lives of those around you. Be real to the events that are happening around you.
Let there be SANCTIFIED COMMON-SENSE. Consider your congregation, their circumstances and position, and let your words suit their needs.
"How shall I cry?"
4. First to God--and then to man. For it is only in the mighty power of the Holy Spirit that the work can be done, and this must constantly be sought in earnest prayer. Remember the ten days in the upper chamber, and then in one single day, three thousand souls were saved. "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto Me unto the uttermost parts of the earth." Here is our only power--power for service, power for holiness, power for suffering.
And it is in quiet solitary PRAYER we can best gain this power. I would speak to you in words not my own: "Solitude has been the nurse of the strongest hearts the Church has ever seen. In solitary prayer, our Lord drew strength to meet every crisis of His life on earth.
In this restless and busy age, most of us live too much in public;
we spend our spiritual strength--and forget to renew it;
we multiply our engagements--and curtail our prayers;
we work--when we ought to pray;
we lose in calmness, in strength, in depth;
we grow feeble, and shallow, and distracted.
The unction has gone out of the messages, and the life has lost its power. The servant whom the Holy Spirit is to use, must resist "the tyranny of overwork." Here is your strength. Be filled with the Spirit. Cry unto God for this.
Wait upon God for this. Be content with nothing short of this. Then the old Pentecost days will return, and multitudes of souls be gathered unto the Church. At last you yourself shall hear the welcome words, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord!"