Now, my brethren, two dangers, two simply terrible dangers, arise to every one of you out of all this matter of your ministers and their knowledge. 1. The first danger is,--to be frank with you on this subject,--that you are yourselves so ignorant on all the matters that a minister has to do with, that you do not know one minister from another, a good minister from one who is really no minister at all. Now, I will put it to you, on what principle and for what reason did you choose your present minister, if, indeed, you did choose him? Was it because you were assured by people you could trust that he was a minister of knowledge and knew his own business? Or was it that when you went to worship with him for yourself you have not been able ever since to tear yourself away from him, nor has any one else been able to tear you away, though some have tried? When you first came to the city, did you give, can you remember, some real anxiety, rising sometimes into prayer, as to who your minister among so many ministers was to be? Or did you choose him and your present seat in his church because of some real or supposed worldly interest of yours you thought you could further by taking your letter of introduction to him? Had you heard while yet at home, had your father and mother talked of such things to you, that rich men, and men of place and power, political men and men high in society, sat in that church and took notice of who attended it and who did not? Do you, down to this day, know one church from another so far as spiritual and soul-saving knowledge is concerned? Do you know that two big buildings, called churches, may stand in the same street, and have men, called ministers, carrying on certain services in them from week to week, and yet, for all the purposes for which Christ came and died and rose again and gave ministers to His church, these two churches and their ministers are farther asunder than the two poles? Do you understand what I am saying? Do you understand what I have been saying all night, or are you one of those of whom the prophet speaks in blame and in pity as being destroyed for lack of knowledge? Well, that is your first danger, that you are so ignorant, and as a consequence, so careless, as not to know one minister from another.
2. And your second danger in connection with your minister is, that you have, and may have long had, a good minister, but that you still remain yourself a bad man. My brethren, be you all sure of it, there is a special and a fearful danger in having a specially good minister. Think twice, and make up your mind well, before you call a specially good minister, or become a communicant, or even an adherent under a specially good minister. If two bad men go down together to the pit, and the one has had a good minister, as, God have mercy on us, sometimes happens, and the other has only had one who had the name of a minister, the evangelised reprobate will lie in a deeper bed in hell, and will spend a more remorseful eternity on it than will the other. No man among you, minister or no minister, good minister or bad, will be able to sin with impunity. But he who sins on and on after good preaching will be beaten with many stripes. 'Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for you.' 'Thou that hast knowledge,' says a powerful old preacher, 'canst not sin so cheap as another that is ignorant. Places of much knowledge'--he was preaching in the university pulpit of Oxford--'and plentiful in the means of grace are dear places for a man to sin in. To be drunken or unclean after a powerful sermon, and after the Holy Ghost has enlightened thee, is more than to have so sinned twenty times before. Thou mightest have sinned ten times more and been damned less. For does not Jesus Christ the Judge say to thee, This is thy condemnation, that so much light has come to thee?' And, taking the then way of execution as a sufficiently awful illustration, the old Oxford Puritan goes on to say that to sin against light is the highest step of the ladder before turning off. And, again, that if there are worms in hell that die not, it is surely gospel light that breeds them.
'My heart had great experience.'--The Preacher. 'I will give them pastors after Mine own heart.'
Experience, the excellent shepherd of the Delectable Mountains, had a brother in the army, and he was an equally excellent soldier. The two brothers--they were twin-brothers--had been brought up together till they were grown-up men in the same town of Mansoul. All the Experience family, indeed, had from time immemorial hailed from that populous and important town, and their family tree ran away back beyond the oldest extant history. The two brothers, while in all other things as like as two twin-brothers could be, at the same time very early in life began to exhibit very different talents and tastes and dispositions; till, when we meet with them in their full manhood, the one is a soldier in the army and the other a shepherd on the Delectable Mountains. The soldier-brother is thus described in one of the military histories of his day: 'A man of conduct and of valour, and a person prudent in matters. A comely person, moreover, well-spoken in negotiations, and very successful in undertakings. His colours were the white colours of Mansoul and his scutcheon was the dead lion and the dead bear.'
The shepherd-brother, on the other hand, is thus pictured out to us by one who has seen him. A traveller who has visited the Delectable Mountains, and has met and talked with the shepherds, thus describes Experience in his excellent itinerary: 'Knowledge,' he says, 'I found to be the sage of the company, spare in build, high of forehead, worn in age, and his tranquil gait touched with abstractedness. While Experience was more firmly knit in form and face, with a shrewd kindly eye and a happy readiness in his bearing, and all his hard-earned wisdom evidently on foot within him as a capability for work and for control.' This, then, was the second of the four shepherds, who fed Immanuel's sheep on the Delectable Mountains.
But here again to-night, and in the case of Experience, just as last Sabbath night and in the case of Knowledge, in all this John Bunyan speaks to children,--only the children here are the children of the kingdom of heaven. The veriest child who reads the Delectable Mountains begins to suspect before he is done that Knowledge and Experience are not after all two real and true shepherds going their rounds with their staves and their wallets and their wheeling dogs. Yes, though the little fellow cannot put his suspicions into proper words for you, all the same he has his suspicions that he is being deceived by you and your Sabbath book; and, ten to one, from that sceptical day he will not read much more of John Bunyan till in after-life he takes up John Bunyan never for a single Sabbath again to lay him down. Yes, let the truth be told at once, Experience is simply a minister, and not a real shepherd at all; a minister of the gospel, a preacher, and a pastor; but, then, he is a preacher and a pastor of no ordinary kind, but of the selectest and very best kind.
1. Now, my brethren, to plunge at once out of the parable and into the interpretation, I observe, in the first place, that pastors who are indeed to be pastors after God's own heart have all to pass into their pastorate through the school of experience. Preaching after God's own heart, and pastoral work of the same divine pattern, cannot be taught in any other school than the school of experience. Poets may be born and not made, but not pastors nor preachers. Nay, do not all our best poets first learn in their sufferings what afterwards they teach us in their songs? At any rate, that is certainly the case with preachers and pastors. As my own old minister once said to me in a conversation on this very subject, 'Even God Himself cannot inspire an experience.' No. For if He could He would surely have done so in the case of His own Son, to Whom in the gift of the Holy Ghost He gave all that He could give and all that His Son could receive. But an experience cannot in the very nature of things be either bestowed on the one hand or received and appropriated on the other. An experience in the unalterable nature of the thing itself must be undergone. The Holy Ghost Himself after He has been bestowed and received has to be experimented upon, and taken into this and that need, trial, cross, and care of life. He is not sent to spare us our experiences, but to carry us through them. And thus it is (to keep for a moment in sight of the highest illustration we have of this law of experience), thus it is, I say, that the apostle has it in his Epistle to the Hebrews that though Christ Himself were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things that He suffered. And being by experience made perfect He then went on to do such and such things for us. Why, for instance, for one thing, why do you think was our Lord able to speak with such extraordinary point, impressiveness, and assurance about prayer; about the absolute necessity and certainty of secret, importunate, persevering prayer having, sooner or later, in one shape or other, and in the best possible shape, its answer? Why but because of His own experience? Why but because His own closet, hilltop, all-night, and up-before- the-day prayers had all been at last heard and better heard than He had been able to ask? We can quite well read between the lines in all our Lord's parables and in all the passages of His sermons about prayer. The unmistakable traces of otherwise untold enterprises and successes, agonies and victories of prayer, are to be seen in every such sermon of His. And so, in like manner, in all that He says to His disciples about the sweetness of submission, resignation, and self-denial, as also about the nourishment for His soul that He got out of every hard act of obedience,--and so on. There is running through all our Lord's doctrinal and homiletical teaching that note of reality and of certitude that can only come to any teaching out of the long and deep and intense experience of the teacher. And as the Master was, so are all His ministers. When I read, for instance, what William Law says about the heart-searching and heart-cleansing efficacy of intercessory prayer in the case of him who continues all his life so to pray, and carries such prayer through all the experiences and all the relationships of life, I do not need you to tell me where that great man of God made that great discovery. I know that he made it in his own closet, and on his own knees, and in his own evil heart. And so, also, when I come nearer home. Whenever I hear a single unconventional, immediate, penetrating, overawing petition or confession in a minister's pulpit prayer or in his family worship, I do not need to be told out of what prayer-book he took that. I know without his telling me that my minister has been, all unknown to me till now, at that same school of prayer to which his Master was put in the days of His flesh, and out of which He brought the experiences that He afterwards put into the Friend at midnight, and the Importunate widow, as also into the Egg and the scorpion, the Bread and the stone, the Knocking and the opening, the Seeking and the finding.
His children thus most dear to Him, Their heavenly Father trains, Through all the hard experience led Of sorrows and of pains.