James Smith, 1865
"You, then, who teach others — do you not teach yourself?" Romans 2:21
We all need teaching; but, generally speaking, we love to teach — rather than to be taught. We instruct others — but neglect ourselves. This is true of preachers and Bible teachers especially. The language of Paul may be addressed to many of us, "You, then, who teach others — do you not teach yourself?" Let us endeavor for once to be impartial, and look at this point closely, soberly, and seriously.
You teach others to be temperate — but indulge yourself far beyond what nature requires! A variety of fine dishes must be provided, and, if positive gluttony is avoided — conscience has learned to be silent.
If two invitations are given — one to plain and poor meal, where the spare time will be taken up in prayer and godly conversation; and another to a sumptuous table, where gossip and entertainment will engage the attention — which will be preferred? "You, then, who teach others — do you not teach yourself?" "
You teach others self-denial — but do not practice the same yourself. Others are exhorted to make sacrifices — to work for God — to earn, that they may give, to give even out of their poverty. But the teacher is paid for all that he does, and gives little or nothing. Not a journey does he take — without some remuneration; not a sacrifice does he make, not a power does he overtax. He talks freely, urges warmly, illustrates eloquently, argues fervently; but he is ranked among some whom our Lord addressed, "They do not practice what they preach." Reader, is this at all like you? "You, then, who teach others — do you not teach yourself?"
You teach others to be humble; but is humility your characteristic? A proud man in the pulpit preaching humility — or a proud teacher in the class teaching humility — what an anomaly! And yet there are such things. They talk about humility; but their general bearing, their conduct towards others, their evident self-importance — proves that they are not humble. They appear to say, "Others should be humble — yet I may be proud. Others should be meek — yet I may be haughty. Others should submit — yet I may resent. Others should forbear — yet I may avenge myself." Or, "Do as I say — not as I do." Can this be right? How must it appear in the eyes of God?
Preacher, teacher, professor — are you proud? Is there the proud look? The haughty manner? The contemptuous sneer? The cold, distant, self-important bearing? Can this be approved by God? Will this pass the scrutiny of the Most High? Will the Holy Spirit fill your heart, or consecrate your body as his temple? Is it any wonder that you meet with no success? "You, then, who teach others — do you not teach yourself?"
You teach activity for God and immortal souls; but relaxation, the parlor, the worthless book, or some vain entertainment — occupies your time and attention. Others should go out into the streets and lanes of the city, and into the highways and hedges; others should visit the sick, relieve the poor, warn the rebellious, expostulate with the backslider, and carry the gospel to every creature. But you have not the tact, the talent, the time — in one word, you have not the disposition! If you would try — there is very much that you could do. Indeed, none of us know what we can do — until we try. The slothful man says, "There's a lion in the streets! If I go outside, I might be killed!" A likely thing — "A lion in the streets!" No, no! It is laziness, it is sloth and the love of ease in the heart. Be active yourself, or say nothing about it. Never blame others, unless you set them the example. "You, then, who teach others — do you not teach yourself?"
You teach, it may be, close walking with God; but, like Peter, you follow afar off yourself. What! is it good for others to get near to God, to live as under his eye, to speak always as within his hearing, and to endeavor to commend themselves to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator — and can it be well for you to live at a distance, to forget his presence, to speak as if he heard you not, and to walk as though he regarded not your conduct?
Many talk of close walking — who know but little about it. They are seldom closeted with God. They realize but little of his presence. They receive but few communications from him. They are but seldom thirsting for his presence. Alas! the frivolous conversation, the worldly spirit, the careless manner, and the lack of conformity to God — tell a tale which cannot be well misunderstood! You who urge others to walk closely with God — do you not teach yourself?
You teach also the importance of gospel ordinances; but are they prized by you? Do you frequent the prayer-meeting and the weekly sermon? Or, will a little weariness, a short distance, or a slight indisposition — satisfy your conscience as furnishing a sufficient excuse for your absence? If gospel ordinances are important, let them be treated with respect, and be observed with punctuality.
Have you been baptized on a profession of your faith? Why not? Do you regularly attend at the Lord's table? Is your place in the sanctuary regularly occupied? If ordinances are means of grace — do you not need grace? If you need grace, ought you not regularly to use the means through which grace is communicated? If you do not regularly use the means — is it not evident that you do not desire the grace that you need? If you teach at all — you should teach the value and importance of gospel ordinances; but if you do so teach — you ought to be very careful to corroborate by your conduct — what you teach with your tongue. "You, then, who teach others — do you not teach yourself?"
You teach that a man should be prepared for death, or stand ready for the coming of his Lord. But are you prepared to die? Are you ready, if the Bridegroom should come? Are you watching, waiting, and working? Do you live above the world, distinct from the world — aiming always to glorify God in the world? Is your hope laid up in Heaven? Can you prove that your treasure is there, because your hearty hopes and affections are there? Are you like the loving bride — who sighs, desires, and longs for the return of her beloved bridegroom? Are you looking for that blessed hope, even the glorious appearing of the great God our Savior, Jesus Christ? Or, are you living for the world, pleased with the world, scraping together the yellow dust of the world, and feeling the greatest reluctance to leave the world? Would the news of the Lord's coming today, or tomorrow — be unpleasant to you? Search, look, and allow me to ask, "You, then, who teach others — do you not teach yourself?"
Dear brethren, this subject requires the most solemn and serious consideration. How can we teach others consistently — if we do not teach ourselves, so as to practice what we teach?
How can we reprove others for gluttony — if we take as much or more ourselves?
How can we preach "owe no man anything" — if we contract debts and neglect to pay them?
How can we urge others to be meek and lamb-like — if we are passionate and roar like lions?
How can we exhort others to self-denial — if we indulge ourselves in pampering our appetites, in costly apparel, in expensive journeys, and unnecessary furniture?
How can we reprove others for inactivity — if we are dull, lifeless, and dronish?
How can we urge others to liberality — if we are close-fisted, covetous, and lovers of filthy lucre ourselves?
In a word, how can we reprove any sin — if we ourselves indulge in it!
How can we exhort to any duty — if we ourselves neglect it!
How can we urge to the attainment of any excellence — if we disregard it ourselves!
How can we be of much use, either to the world or the church — unless we ourselves live up to our profession?
"You, then, who teach others — do you not teach yourself?"
Holy Spirit! come down in all the fullness of your power upon all our pastors, preachers, and teachers — and so sanctify, influence, and transform us — that we may teach what is truth, and practice what we teach; and conform our lives to our profession — for the dear Redeemer's sake. Amen.