Hindrances to Conversion and Church Membership
James Smith, 1865
"Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering!" Luke 11:52
The Lord Jesus never brought an unjust charge against any, nor could he be charged with a lack of charity, or with defective orthodoxy. His views were clear, his heart was kind — and yet he says to some, You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering!" He refers to his kingdom, his church: some were affected, concerned, and thought of coming to him, and joining with him — but they were "hindered." Are any hindered now? Are there in our churches and congregations, those that hinder souls from coming to Christ, or joining with his people? We fear there are, and in every department of the church. Let us look —
First, at the PULPIT.What do we see there? Perhaps, the preacher is cold in his manner, perplexing in his style, and formal in his devotions — this proves an hindrance to many. They want to see warmth, to understand clearly; and to feel that while the preacher is in prayer — he is hearty, earnest, and desirous of their salvation. Unless our doctrine is sound, our manner energetic, our appeals pointed, our prayers fervent, and the whole unite to prove that we are in downright earnest — we shall hinder some. Let us look —
Secondly, at our DEACONS.What do we see there? Are they men full of the Holy Spirit and of faith? Do they say, by their regular and early attendance, by their kind and pleasant manners, by their constant activity and attention to all who attend the place — that they desire the conversion of souls, and the increase of the church? Are they first at the prayer-meetings, first in the public services, making it evident that their hearts are set upon the prosperity of the cause? If not — they will hinder some.
Next to the preacher, people look to the deacons to be serious, temperate, devout, active, and thoroughly devoted to God. But when deacons are worldly-minded, proud, lordly, cold, distant, and patrons of worldly amusements and carnal pleasures, it must be said of them: "You have hindered those who were entering!" We have heard of deacons who give balls, have dances, frequent concerts — and yet often neglect prayer-meetings, church-meetings, and visiting the sick; can it be any wonder, if the churches to which such deacons belong — dwindle, decline, become worldly, formal, and inactive? Let us look —
Thirdly, at the MEMBERS of our churches.And what meets us here? Here is one well known for his love of money and hard dealing; there is another who habitually gives way to his unholy temper; there is another who practices deception in business, because it is the custom of the trade; there is another who is never seen at the prayer meeting; there is another so much like the world that if we did not see him at the Lord's table, we would never imagine that he made any profession of religion; there is another as cold as marble, to sit by whom, is like coming into contact with an iceberg! And there is another . . . . but I forbear.
Let everyone look into his own church; yes, let every one look into his own heart, and at his own conduct, and then say, "Is it any wonder that our churches do not flourish?" I fear the professing church of Christ has much to answer for. It will not do to resolve it into the sovereignty of God alone. Prosperous times have been holy times, praying times, acting times. Ours are talking times, giving times — but something more is lacking. We have hosts of undecided people in our congregations, and hosts of half-hearted people in our churches. Many have attended our places for years, and have never been pointedly spoken to by one of our members as to the state of their souls. The minister preaches — but they never second his efforts. They seem to imagine that it is no part of their business. The gospel of Christ is hindered; the question is, who hinders it?
Paul was deeply concerned lest he should (1 Corinthians 9:12); but many professors now have no concern about it. They live, and speak, and conduct themselves — as if it was no concern of theirs. Souls are hindered — but who hinders them? The Jewish "experts in the law" did once — but other classes do now.
There is that marble statue that you see at the sermon — but nowhere else, who speaks to no one, appears to care for no one — he hinders.
There is that covetous man, who never comes to prayer-meeting lest he should miss taking sixpence — he hinders.
There is that grumpy, gloomy, uncouth professor — he hinders.
There is that light, vain, trifling professor — he hinders.
There is that proud, scornful, disdainful-looking character — he hinders.
There is that dressy body, who spends all God's money at the salons and drapers, so that she has none left for God's cause — she hinders.
There is that tittle-tattling, tale-bearing, scandalizing woman — she hinders.
There is that inflammatory, fiery, scolding professor, she hinders.
But where shall we end! Every inconsistent professor, who has not the mind of Christ, who does not copy his meekness, gentleness, activity, devotion, zeal, self-denial, and intense concern for the salvation of souls — in some measure hinders.
Here is the cool and calculating; there the dashing and
here the bold and conceited; there the fearful and shy;
here the self-willed and lordly; there the close-fisted and covetous;
and all these hinder, being stumbling blocks in the way.
A church composed of such members resembles:
the rocky desert — not the pleasant garden;
a cold ice-bound tundra — not a beautiful sun-lit field;
a barren plot covered with thorns — not a well-cultivated vineyard;
a shabby, rotten, miserable-looking hovel — not the well-built, roomy, cheerful dwelling.
How can we expect people to admire, desire, or seek union with such a church? True, few may be so bad — but in proportion as they, in whole or in part, resemble it — they hinder. Our churches must be happy, and happy-making churches, if they are to flourish. There must be freedom, fellowship, love, unity, peace, individual interest, and united concern felt for all who come into the congregation — or can he induced to come in, before we can expect them to be what we desire to see them. Ministers may preach, authors may write books, lively Christians may do their best — but something else is lacking. Every church-member must realize his responsibility, must agonize with God, must endeavor to persuade men, must lay aside whatever is forbidding and repulsive; and all must follow "whatever things are true, whatever things are honest or venerable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report," before we can expect our wishes to be fulfilled.
Ministers must be holy, energetic, simple, sound in the faith, with their hearts set upon the conversion of sinners, and the edification of the saints — or, like the "Jewish experts in the law", they will hinder.
Deacons must be spiritually-minded, active, sober, courteous, intent upon the church's prosperity, full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith — or they will more or less hinder.
Church-members must continue steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine and fellowship, every one must take his own place and keep it, every one must ascertain what is his own work and do it; every eye must be fixed on God's glory, every heart must rest on Christ's finished work, every hand must be employed in God's service, and each must esteem others better than himself, no one seeking his own things — but every one the things which are Jesus Christ's — or they will in some degree hinder.
Brethren, are we not more or less guilty? Do not our imperfections stare us in the face? Ought we not to humble ourselves deeply before God? Should we not set about an immediate reformation? Let us realize our sin, confess it before God, get it pardoned through the blood of Jesus, set out afresh in divine strength, purposing most solemnly, that the time past of our lives shall suffice us that we have wrought the will of the Gentiles, and determine that, let others do as they will, we will be very careful lest it should be said of us, "You have hindered those who were entering!"