Go to Them
In the tenth chapter of Romans the Spirit of God raises a simple yet profound question in relation to the proclamation of the Gospel to the unconverted. It is this:
“HOW SHALL THEY HEAR?” (v10)
Two answers to the question will come before us: Firstly the answer of professing Christians generally, as seen in their long–established methods, and secondly the answer of God as seen in the Scriptures.
Now it is quite remarkable with all the disunity in the professing Church that there should be almost universal agreement on how unbelievers are to hear. Substantially, the united answer is this: ‘We have provided the place of preaching, we have secured the preacher, we have fixed the hour and we gladly say to all, Come to us and hear it.’ Furthermore, this applies just as much to those who are able to present the Gospel in its primitive simplicity––full, clear and unadulterated––as to those who have only a hazy or mutilated expression of it.
How shall the unconverted hear? By coming to us says the Church. This then is the universally adopted method. What though of the outcome? Is it not time to ask ourselves whether the results have vindicated our answer to God’s question?
A man starts to cross a mountain. It is the first time he has done so and he seeks directions. He is told by one who ought to know that by taking a certain path the journey on foot will take him two hours. He starts in good spirits on the path pointed out to him. He walks on and on without any appearance of nearing his destination. Four weary hours are spent, but still there is no sign of it. Would it not, don’t you think, be high time for him to stop and enquire: Have I taken a wrong turn somewhere? That would be wisdom certainly. Now let us apply our figure to the matter before us. It is common knowledge that in this country there are millions of people who never attend church or chapel of any kind. How will they hear the Gospel? Millions who go nowhere! Is it not time with such facts before us that we begin to enquire, Have we not taken the wrong way as well?
If the man in our illustration had only idly sauntered along that mountain path he should not have been surprised that he had doubled the specified time without reaching his destination. Similarly if the professing church had shown any such lack of energy in making her plan successful, she need not be surprised at failure either. Yet this is not so! Far otherwise. Just about every available stratagem has been adopted. No pains have been spared in trying to get people to come to us. Costly structures have been erected to arrest the public eye. Mental culture provided for the pulpit to please the public mind. Music (both vocal and instrumental) has been laid on to gratify the public ear. Indeed, it might well be asked, What has been left undone in seeking to make successful the various competitive cries of COME TO US? Furthermore this desire of pleasing men and attracting them to ‘our places’ has opened the door for one of Satan’s most subtle devices: If you want to please men, tell them that which will make them pleased with themselves. Therefore, if you want to fill your pews, change your preaching to suit the popular ear! Deny or hide that part of Scripture which could make man ill at ease in his sins. Tell him that there is at least a little good in him, and that this germ of good only needs to be properly cultivated to make him fit for heaven. Show him that, consistent with this, neither new birth nor redemption by blood is necessary. Smile unbelievingly and assure him that to talk of Hell and eternal punishment is only the vulgar blunder of an out–of–date theology. With all this you may not reach his conscience, but you will at least have the satisfaction of reaching his ear. Your preaching will please him; his presence will please you! This, I believe, is one of the bitter fruits of our ‘come to us’ method.
We know that we have failed to get the unconverted to hear. So let me now ask another question: Does it concern us? Is it enough to heave a deep sigh and then settle down comfortably and unconcerned in the midst of these perishing millions? Indeed is not this what has been done until they have come to consider us nearly as indifferent about these things as they are? When the Lord Jesus was on the earth the sight of hungry thousands called forth those gracious words, “I have compassion on the crowd” (Matt. 15: 32). Millions today are in still greater need. How are we expressing our compassions? Seeing them is not serving them, nor is reckoning their number reaching their need. A certain man once excused himself for not loving his neighbour by pleading the difficulty he had in finding him (Luke 10: 29). Can we find such an excuse? Impossible! Like houseflies in August, those in need are to be found everywhere.
A factory in London caught fire and several employees perished. The poor victims could be seen at the upper windows looking in vain for deliverance, whilst crowds in the streets below anxiously witnessed their peril. Why were they not rescued? They could not be reached! So were there no fire–engine ladders of sufficient length to reach them? Yes, but they were not brought! Of activity there was no lack––many things were resorted to, but all proved inadequate. The sad event seemed to be a serious reflection upon those in charge, though it is quite possible that no real blame could be attached to anyone. What, however, if the fire brigade officials had sent a message like this to the scene of need: ‘We have splendid fire escapes here. If those who need them will only come to us we will do our best to teach them how to use them?’ Who in his right mind would thus trifle with the safety of men’s bodies? What then of men’s souls? What of the millions in the same city who have not yet been reached by the Gospel? Do we say ‘If they do not come to us, as far as we are concerned they shall not hear God’s message at all?’ God deliver us from even the appearance of such an attitude!
Having now seen man’s answer to the question and its results, let us seek now to discover God’s answer. Our way is that if sinners want to hear then they must come to us. In contrast, God says that if we would have them hear then we must go to them. The word of the Lord to the delivered demonic was: “Go to thine home to thine own people, and tell them how great things the Lord has done for thee” (Mark 5: 19). To the servant when all things were ready for the ‘great Supper’: “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city” (Luke 14: 21). To the apostles: “Go into all the world, and preach the glad tidings to all the creation” (Mark 16: 15), and later when delivered from prison. “Go ye and stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5: 20). To Philip the Evangelist: “Rise up and go southward … Approach and join this chariot” (Acts 8: 26, 29). (Note the eunuch was not told to go to Jerusalem to hear Philip preach.) To Peter: “Go with them, nothing doubting” (Acts 11: 12). (Cornelius was not sent to see Peter.) To Ananias: “Rise up and go into the street which is called Straight, and seek in the house of Judas one by name Saul, [he is] of Tarsus” (Acts 9: 11). (The Lord did not direct Saul to go to Ananias.) To Paul: “the nations, to whom I send thee” (Acts 26: 17). The Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 33, 34) came to the very spot where the helpless one lay. The Great Shepherd (Luke 15: 4) went out to seek His lost sheep, and did not cease until he had reached it where it was. Again, if Andrew found Simon, and Philip found Nathanael, it was the Lord Himself who would find Philip (John 1: 41, 43). Blessed Master! Happy the servants who serve after such a pattern.
Perhaps the greatest example is that of the feeding of the five thousand. Its importance is seen in the fact that each Gospel writer is inspired to record it. Furthermore, with the exception of the feeding of the four thousand, it is the only instance where all the disciples served together under the Lord’s own immediate oversight and personal direction. Note, therefore, how this service was performed. It was as though He had said, ‘Do not ask them to go elsewhere. Feed them here on the spot. Do not expect them to run after you for what they need. Ask them to sit down where they are, and I will honour you with the service of taking it to them.’ We can sum up the principle in ten words:
‘COME TO ME AND GET. GO TO THEM AND GIVE.’
It matters little that men are unwilling to come to us if we are willing to go to them. It is our waiting till they can be persuaded to come to us that has so seriously stood in the way of their hearing the Gospel at all. It is the “feet” willing to carry the message to them that God calls “beautiful” (Is. 52: 7; Rom. 10: 15).
What heart does not like to dwell on that delightful incident in John 4, where it is said “he must needs pass through Samaria” (v4). When God looked down upon that weary journey of His blessed Son from Judea to Sychar’s well, you may be sure if one admiring word could have expressed His thought of it, it would have been this word, “beautiful”. And does He not still express the same admiring word when He sees willing feet on similar errands?
That God takes a peculiar delight in the assembling of His saints together is without question. To devote such places of assembling to the proclamation of the Gospel is not only our privilege but God’s pleasure. To preach the Gospel in such sympathetic surroundings cannot fail to be a joy to any servant. Besides, it is a service of the greatest importance. The anxious and unestablished need it, and the most advanced will get his heart enlarged by it. If the unconverted are willing to come to such meetings we may well encourage them by all the means in our power, but let us never sin against the light of Scripture by limiting the scope of God’s harvest field to such places! Those who attend them have either been ‘found’ already, or are outwardly occupying the place of seekers. God says, “I have been found by those not seeking me; I have become manifest to those not inquiring after me” (Rom. 10: 20). How was this? Was it not because some of those “beautiful feet” had journeyed to them with the news which makes “manifest” what He is? How was the giving God made manifest to the woman of Samaria? Those beautiful feet, as we have seen, journeyed to where she was. She needed Him, but she wasn’t seeking Him. Having found her, He filled her heart with the manifestation of Himself, and made her feet beautiful too, for she soon left her water-pot and went to seek others!
Can there be any question then as to the way the Gospel was carried at the beginning, and the marvellous triumph accompanying it? In less than thirty years its power had been felt in all the three known continents––Europe, Asia and Africa! Yet this was not achieved by ‘Come to us’ methods. Whether in the Jewish synagogue or in some place of concourse like Mars Hill, or by a river side, Paul went to them “publicly and in every house” (Acts 20: 20). It is most significant that the Holy Spirit only mentions three buildings used as Christian meeting places, and not one of them an ecclesiastical edifice. We read of an “upper chamber” (Acts 1: 13), a “school” (Acts 19: 9) and an “upper room” (Acts 20: 8), and as far as we are told, these were for disciples only. That the unbeliever was free to go is clear enough from 1 Cor. 14: 24, 25, but who could possibly imagine that the ear of “the whole creation which [is] under heaven” (Col. 1: 23) could be reached at Pentecost if Peter had remained in that “upper chamber”? He went to the people. The farm labourer at certain seasons may find plenty to do in his master’s granary––he needs what he finds in the granary for the sowing––but how much actual sowing would he do if he confined his labours to those four walls? “Faith cometh by hearing” (Rom. 10: 17 A.V.), but if they will not come to us, how are they to hear if we do not go to them? Aged Anna “spoke of him” (Luke 2: 38), and so can we––and we have far more to tell than she had! Oh, for as much heart to tell it! Can we not each tell how we found Him? Of the welcome we got? Of His faithful friendship, patient kindness and tender sympathy ever since? Can we not warmly assure them of the same welcome, and lovingly encourage them to come to Him? Should they have neither the time nor the desire to listen to us, can we not leave some little printed message and call again? If all we leave is the impression that we care for them we shall not have called in vain.
We have only one thing to fear––the fear of hiding Christ by intruding ourselves. The less we say to them of the place we go to the better. They will only put us down as canvassers for one of the rival sects of Christendom, and this we should strenuously avoid. It is our common shame and their serious stumbling block. Rather let us speak to them of the heaven we are going to, and of the Person who makes that place what it is. There is no doubt that what men see in us bears its own peculiar witness to them, but it is to Christ alone that we must direct them, not to ourselves nor our place of meeting.
Well, dear reader, it is with much exercise before the Lord that we leave our little paper in your hands. All our knowledge of Scripture, all our discussion of what the Gospel is and how the work should be done are surely not enough if, through lack of heart, or love of ease, we shirk the labour of carrying the message to those who need it. “Faith cometh by hearing” (A.V.) but “how shall they hear without one who preaches?” (Rom. 10: 14). Long ago the voice of the Lord was heard saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Is. 6: 8). He wants labourers, and every heart that loves Him is eligible. Shall not you and I humbly but eagerly answer “Here am I; send me” (Is. 6: 8). NOW is our opportunity, WITH HIM is our account.