An Apostolic Requirement
James Smith, 1865
"By this time you ought to be teachers." Hebrews 5:12
Many people are not what they ought to be, either in state, qualifications, or practice. Some deny this — and, therefore, we cannot expect them to improve. Others admit it — but they make no effort to alter it, and consequently, are none the better for the admission. Truth is to spread through human instrumentality; and by the spread of truth, Christ is to be made known, sinners converted, and God glorified. For the spread of truth, teachers are required; and the church of God is to furnish the required instructors. In many quarters we hear the complaint that teachers are needed; and in many congregations we see professors sitting idle who "ought to be teachers." Let us, therefore, look very seriously at this declaration of the apostle.
Some of you ought to be qualified to teach, who are not. You have long professed Christ. You have had plenty of means at hand. You have had time to spare for other pursuits. Others, with no more means, with no more time — are qualified, and why should not you be? Are you so very dull? Is it so very difficult for you to acquire knowledge, or to acquire the ability to communicate what you know? Or, rather, is it not the love of ease, the indulgence of the flesh, and the prevalence of a selfish disposition — which has prevented you? You ought to be teachers, because you might have been qualified to teach. Why are you not? Let conscience answer this question as before God, and in the light of eternity.
You ought to be willing to teach. Many have the ability — but they have not the will — they are educated — they profess Christ — they are members of the church — they are respectable in society — they have a good degree of influence — but they are not teachers. Why? Ah! why? The Lord Jesus has commissioned his church to go and teach the nations. The commission is to the whole church, and applies to every member, according to his station, talent, and ability. Every Christian should teach. You are entrusted with the truth to preserve it, to spread it, to practice it, and to enjoy it. You ought to teach it, why do you not? Just because you lack the will. There are people ignorant of the truth to whom you could communicate it. They cannot be sanctified or saved without it. If they live and die ignorant of it — are you guiltless? Can you be guiltless?
You ought to be a teacher. By your daily conduct, by your general conversation, by your special efforts — you ought to teach. And you ought to hold yourself responsible, up to a certain point, for the ignorance that is in the world. Does not the apostle teach this, when he says, "Some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame" (1 Corinthians 15:34)?
You ought to be anxious to teach. Not perhaps in the pulpit; you may not be qualified for that. Not to teach your pastor or the aged members; ten to one if you have any fitness for that. But to teach the young, the ignorant in your own neighborhood, and in the villages near where you reside. You should never see a person ignorant of the truth, if it is at all probable that you can instruct him, or if it is consistent to endeavor to gain access to him — but you should be anxious to teach him. How can you be a Christian, and not be anxious to make known the Savior?
How can you be a consistent member of the church, and not be anxious to add to its numbers? How can you be a patriot, and not be anxious to instruct your fellow countrymen in the things which belong to their peace? How can you observe the law, which says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," and not be anxious to lead your neighbor in the good and the right way? How can you obey the gospel, which says, "Compel them to come in, that my house may be filled," "preach the gospel to every creature," if you are not anxious, by teaching, to bring every soul under its influence? If you are not anxious to teach, there is something radically wrong; and if you are anxious to teach, you will seek qualifications, grace, and opportunity to do so.
You ought to be employed in teaching. There need not be a child in Great Britain uneducated, or a person left without an acquaintance with the gospel, if the members of the church of Christ would only do their duty. We ought seriously to think of this; and I am sure, that the more seriously we think of it, and the more closely we examine it, the more thoroughly shall we be convinced of its truth.
Why are children left in ignorance, or handed over to the teaching of Puseyites and Papists, or people ignorant of the gospel? Just because those who ought to be teachers, are not. Why are our villages in darkness, and thousands in our crowded towns strangers to the gospel? Because the members of the church of Christ love ease, indulge the flesh, and many of them are too respectable, that is, too carnal, to be teachers. From every pulpit, from every religious periodical, the sound should be heard, addressed to every professor of religion, "By this time you ought to be teachers" until the drowsy are awakened, and the flesh-loving professor is made ashamed of his course. Beloved, your Savior speaks to you — he speaks in the accents of aggrieved love — he speaks from the throne of his glory. He says, "I wish that you were either hot or cold." He tells you, "It is high time to awake out of sleep."
You ought to be teachers, and you ought to be teaching. Souls are perishing. Error is spreading. Popery is working. Satan is deceiving the nations. Hell is filling. Earth and Hell seem to be moved and stirred to their very depths, and shall "we sit still?" In vain do you cry out against error — if you do not teach the truth. In vain do you protest against the aggressions of the Pope — if you do not spread the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. In vain do you complain of crime, ignorance, or cruelty — if you are not teachers, and if you are not teaching. Teach, then, "every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord" (Hebrews 7:2).
Teachers are needed in many of our Sunday-schools, and you could teach — but will not. What shall we say to you? Rather, what will your Lord say? Teachers are needed in many of our villages, and, perhaps, you could speak of Jesus acceptably, if you would try — but you will not. Teachers are needed in the cottages, cellars, garrets, and other residences, in the courts, lanes, alleys, and streets of our towns, and you could gain access to them, and set Christ before them, if you would — but you will not, and what shall we say?
Shall we not say that you are truly guilty concerning your brothers. They are bone of your bone — they are flesh of your flesh — they inhabit the same place — they speak the same language — they need the same Savior — they are traveling to the same solemn eternity — they must, with you, appear before the same solemn judgment-seat — they are in gross ignorance — they are laboring under a fearful delusion — they sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. You could visit them — you could carry the light of the gospel to them — you might be the means of snatching them as brands from the everlasting burnings, and be instrumental in their everlasting salvation — but you will not.
Where is your hatred to sin?
Where is your love for souls?
Where is your zeal for Christ?
Where is your opposition to Satan?
"By this time you ought to be teachers." You have been long enough in the church — you know more than thousands around you; many would willingly be taught by you; God, in his word, commands you; and the Holy Spirit would work by you. Awake, then, and arise, and go to work in right earnest. Infidels are in earnest spreading infidelity. Jesuits are in earnest spreading Popery. Puseyites are in earnest spreading Puseyism. The devil is in earnest ruining immortal souls. All appear in earnest — but the church of Christ. All are active — but those who should be.
Let us brethren, cast away the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts. Let us begin to work for God as we never began before. Let us go right up to the cross — and there entirely and forever consecrate ourselves to God. Let us draw near to the throne of grace, and seek special grace from God for special service in the cause of God.
Let us begin teaching in every way, up to the extent of our power, saying, by our conduct — if any perish in ignorance, it shall not be my fault. Let tracts be circulated by thousands; but let not the tract be a substitute for the living voice; but let the tongue, the hand, the pen, the press, the purse, the head, the heart — let all work, and all work together; and then, when our sincerity, perseverance, and purity of motive, have been tried — great and glorious results will follow. Churches of Jesus, awake, arise, and teach! Believers in the Son of God, go forth, everywhere preaching the word! Trust alone in the sacrifice of Jesus, exercise confidence in God, invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit — and yet work as if all depended on your working, and a glorious revival will soon be realized and enjoyed.