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III. What, then, is implied in really obeying this precept?
1. A sense of personal responsibility in respect to the salvation of the world. No man ever begins to obey this command who does not feel a personal responsibility in this thing which brings it home to his soul as his own work. He must really feel, “This is my work for life. For this I am to live and spend my strength.” It matters not on this point whether you are young enough to go abroad into the foreign field, or whether you are qualified for the Gospel ministry; you must feel such a sense of responsibility that you will cheerfully and most heartily do all you can. You can do the hewing of the wood or the drawing of the water, even if you can not fill the more responsible trusts. An honest and consecrated heart is willing to do any sort of toil—bear any sort of burden. Unless you are willing to do anything you can successfully and wisely do, you will not comply with the conditions of a prayerful state of mind.
Another element is a sense of the value of souls. You must see impressively that souls are precious—that their guilt while in unpardoned sin is fearful and their danger most appalling. Without such a sense of the value of the interests at stake, you will not pray with fervent, strong desire; and without a just apprehension of their guilt, danger, and remedy, you will not pray in faith for God’s interposing grace. Indeed, you must have so much of the love of God—a love like God’s love for sinners—in, your soul, that you are ready for any sacrifice or any labor. You need to feel as God feels. He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in Him might not perish. You need so to love the world that your love will draw you to make similar sacrifices and put forth similar labors. love for souls, the same in kind as God had in giving up His Son to die, and as Christ had in coming cheerfully down to make Himself the offering, each servant of God must have, or his prayers for this object will have little heart and no power with God. This love for souls is always implied in acceptable prayer, that God would send forth laborers into His harvest. I have often thought that the reason why so many pray only in form and not in heart for the salvation of souls, is that they lack this love, like God’s love, for the souls of the perishing.
Acceptable prayer for this object implies confidence in the ability, wisdom, and willingness of God to push forward this work. No man can pray for what he supposes may be opposed to God’s will, or beyond His ability or too complicated for His wisdom. If you ask God to send forth laborers, the very prayer assumes that you confide in His ability to do the work well, and in His willingness, in answer to prayer, to press it forward.
The very idea of prayer implies that you understand this to be a part of the divine plan—that Christians should pray for God’s interposing power and wisdom to carry forward this great work. You do not pray till you see that God gives you the privilege, enjoins the duty, and encourages it by assuring you that it is an essential means, an indispensable condition of His interposing His power to give success. You remember it is said, “I will yet for this be inquired of by the House of Israel to do it for them.”
Again, no one complies with the spirit of this condition who does not pray with his might—fervently and with great perseverance and urgency for the blessing. He must feel the pressure of a great cause, and must feel, moreover, that it can not prosper without God’s interposing power. Pressed by these considerations, He will pour out His soul with intensely, fervent supplications.
Unless the Church is filled with the spirit of prayer, God will not send forth the laborers into His harvest. Plainly the command to pray for such laborers implies that God expects prayer, and will wait until it be made, The prayer comes into His plan as one of the appointed agencies, and can by no means be dispensed with. Doubtless it was in answer to prayer that God sent out such a multitude of strong men after the ascension. How obviously did prayer and the special hand of God bring in a Saul of Tarsus and send him forth to call in whole tribes and nations of the Gentile world! And along with him were an host. “The Lord gave the word, great was the company that published it.”
That this prayer should be in faith, reposing in assurance on God’s everlasting promise, is too obvious to need proof or illustration.
Honest, sincere prayer implies that we lay ourselves and all we have upon His altar. We must feel that this is our business, and that our disposable strength and resources are to be appropriated to its prosecution. It is only, then, when we are given up to the work, that we can honestly ask God to raise up laborers and press the work forward. When a man’s lips say, “Lord, send forth laborers; “but his life in an undertone proclaims, “I don’t care whether a man goes or not; I’ll not help on the work,” you will, of course, know that he is only playing the hypocrite before God.
By this I do not imply that every honest servant of Christ must feel himself called to the ministry, and must enter it; by no means; for God does not call every pious man into this field, but has many other fields and labors which are essential parts of the great whole. The thing I have to say is that we must be ready for any part whatever which God’s providence assigns us.
When we can go, and are in a situation to obtain the needful education, then the true spirit of the prayer in our text implies that we pray that God would send us. If we are in A condition to go, then, plainly, this prayer implies that we have the heart to beg the privilege for ourselves that God would put us into His missionary work. Then we shall say with the ancient prophet, “Lord, here am I, send me.” Do you not suppose Christ expected His disciples to go, and to desire to go? Did He not assume that they would pray for the privilege of being put into this precious trust? How can we be in real sympathy with Christ unless we love the work of laboring in this Gospel harvest, and long to be commissioned to go forth and put in our sickle with our own hand? Most certainly, if we were in Christ’s spirit we should say—I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished? We should cry out, Lord, let me go! let me go—for dying millions are just now perishing in their sins. How can I pray God to send out others if I am in heart unwilling to go myself? I have heard many say—O that I were young; how I should rejoice to go myself. This seems like a state of mind that can honestly pray for God to send forth laborers.
The spirit of this prayer implies that we are willing to make any personal sacrifices in order to go. Are not men always willing to make personal sacrifices in order to gain the great object of their heart’s desire? Did ever a merchant, seeking goodly pearls, find one of great value but he was quite willing to go and sell all that he had and buy it?
Moreover, an honest heart before God in this prayer implies that you are willing to do all you can to prepare your selves to accomplish this work. Each young man or young woman should say God requires something of me in this work. It may be God wants you as a servant in some missionary family; if so, you are ready to go. No matter what the work may be no labor done for God or for man is degrading. In the spirit of this prayer, you will say—If I may but wash the feet of my Lord’s servants, I shall richly enjoy it. All young persons especially, feeling that life is before them, should say—I must devote myself, in the most effective way possible, to the promotion of my Saviour’s cause. Suppose a man bows his soul in earnest prayer before. God, saying, “O Lord, send out hosts of men into this harvest-field,” does not this imply that he girds himself up for this work with his might? Does it not imply that he is ready to do the utmost he can in any way whatever?
Again, this prayer, made honestly, implies that we do all we can to prepare others to go out. Our prayer, will be, “Lord, give us hearts to prepare others, and get as many ready as possible and as well prepared as possible for the gathering in of this great harvest.”
Of course it is also implied that we abstain from whatever would hinder us, and make no arrangements that would tie our hands. Many young Christians do this, sometimes heedlessly, often in a way which shows that they are by no means fully set to do God’s work, first of all.
When we honestly pray God to send out laborers, and our own circumstances allow us to go, we are to expect that He will send us. What! does God need laborers of every description, and will He not send us? Depend on it, He will send out the man who prays right, and whose heart is deeply and fully with God. And we need not be suspicious lest God should lack the needful wisdom to manage His matters well. He will put all His men where they should be, into the fields they are best qualified to fill. The good reaper will be put into his post, sickle in hand; and if there are feeble ones who can only glean, He puts them there.
When youth have health and the means for obtaining an education, they must assume that God calls them to this work. They should assume that God expects them to enter the field. They will fix their eye upon this work as their own. Thinking of the masses of God’s true children who are lifting up this prayer, “Lord, send forth laborers to gather in the nations to Thy Son,” they will assuredly infer that the Lord will answer these prayers and send out all His faithful, fit, and true men into this field. Most assuredly, if God has given you the mind, the training, the tact, the heart, and the opportunity to get all needful preparation, you may know He will send you forth. What! is it possible that I am prepared, ready, waiting, and the hosts of the Church praying that God would send laborers forth, and yet He will not send me! Impossible!
One indispensable part of this preparation is a heart for it. Most plainly so, for God wants no men in His harvest-field whose hearts are not there. You would not want workmen in your field who have no heart for their work. Neither does God. But He expects us to have this preparation. And He will accept of no man’s excuse from service, that he has no heart to engage in it. The want of a heart for this work is not your misfortune, but your fault, your great and damning sin.
This brings me to my next general proposition,
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