(pre July 1995)
"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!" (Isaiah 52:7)
"How shall they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14)
Recently I was privileged to give a message in a Sunday morning service that was to be followed by the ordination of a young man to the ministry. A topic had been printed in the church bulletin, and I felt some obligation to say something about that topic, which was on an important subject. As I thought and prayed early that morning, however, I felt impressed to spend some time preaching on another subject, the one you are reading about now.
Saint Paul was intensely interested in the salvation of the Gentiles, and called himself the Apostle to the Gentiles. He was also greatly burdened for the salvation of his own people, the Jews. He said, "my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved." (Romans 10:1) Later on in that passage he makes it clear that salvation comes only through faith in Christ, for Jew or Gentile.
Notice verse 9: "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." He goes on to say in the next verse that "with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."
Paul has no hesitation in making it clear that salvation is open to all: no one is excluded who will meet God's simple conditions. He emphasizes his point in verses 12 and 13. "There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Isn't that encouraging? No one need be left out.
Then he turns his attention to how people will be able to hear the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ and His atonement for our sins on the Cross of Calvary. "How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?"
While visiting our missionary headquarters in London I was given a copy of a new book which tells something of the preaching of John Wesley and his associates in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and even what is now the United States. Wesley himself was a tireless preacher of the Gospel, and during a long life of service for the Lord preached thousands of sermons in cities and towns, in churches and chapels, and in the open air. Many that never darkened the door of a church gladly listened to the message of salvation, early in the morning, in an open field, and their lives were transformed.
One of his associates, George Whitefield, the son of a tavern keeper, had similar experiences in England, and several times crossed the ocean to minister to the people in the Colonies (now the United States). It is said that his melodious voice was so powerful and penetrating that many thousands could clearly hear him, even at some distance, as he spoke in the open air.
Both John Wesley and George Whitefield, along with Charles Wesley, John's brother, the great hymn writer and evangelist and pastor, were graduates of Oxford, the oldest of the English universities. Many of the others who were mightily used of the Lord were labourers in the mines, factories or farms when they were "born again" and felt the call of the Lord to preach the Gospel. Many of these were men, and a surprising number were women.
Not having opportunity to speak in the pulpits of the established Church, these men and women preached wherever they could, including the street corners. One such itinerant preacher was giving out the Good News of the Gospel on a street corner in Limerick, Ireland. Thomas Walsh, a young lad of about eighteen, was passing by and heard the words of Christ, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28)
Thomas Walsh had attended church and knew something about forms and ceremonies, but he had never come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He gladly accepted the message of salvation, and soon felt the call to preach. Eagerly he studied the Bible, not only in Irish, his native tongue, but then in English, Hebrew and Greek! He became so proficient in his knowledge of the Bible in the original languages that if someone asked him what the Greek or Hebrew word was in such and such a passage, he could give the answer, and then tell where it was found in other parts of the Bible, and the meaning in each passage!
He was not content, however, merely to know the Bible well, he was interested in seeing people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, as he had. He preached wherever he could, "on mountains and highways, meadows, private houses, prisons and ships." How was he treated for his pains? Not very well, at times. "He was maligned, abused, beaten with sticks, pelted with stones," but the Lord used him to bring salvation to many.
John Wesley said of Thomas Walsh, some years later, "Such a master of Bible knowledge I never saw before, and never expect to see again." He died at the age of only twenty-eight!
The Lord is calling men and women into His service today. Are you one of them? There are great opportunities at home and abroad for the one who will fully consecrate himself or herself to follow the Lord, no matter what the cost.
Some may have to suffer the sort of persecution Thomas Walsh suffered, as he was "maligned, abused, beaten with sticks, pelted with stones." Others may have to endure different kinds of suffering or trial, but their faithful labors for the Lord will be rewarded with untold blessings in this life, and eternal life in the life to come.
Saint Paul wrote to his young associate in the preaching of the Gospel, Timothy, giving him words of encouragement and warning. They are applicable to you and me, and all who would live the Christian life and be of service in the world today:
"If we suffer, we shall also reign with
him: if we deny him, he also will deny us. . . . Study to show thyself
approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing
the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:12, 15)