Lost in Generalities
There are certain sins that need to be singled out and denounced by name. If you come down upon sin in general, no one will differ from you. Even a backslider in heart may say it was a splendid address, and go away as firmly joined to his idols as ever. The story of the “little ewe lamb” (2 Sam. 12: 3) was told very effectively by Nathan the prophet, yet it failed to reach David’s conscience. It never seemed to occur to him that he had any connection whatever with the story. The prophet realised that he must come to closer quarters, and so followed the startling words “Thou art the man!” (v7). David’s conscience was reached at last––but it needed very close and pointed dealing to effect that purpose.
In spoken testimony for God the same thing may be seen. The story of the little ewe lamb (general truth) may be told out, to all appearances, very effectively. Sadly, the address seems to be intended for people a hundred miles away. It is an address delivered before an audience––not the impassioned utterances of one who is bent on delivering souls and grappling with consciences. The address may be like a gold chain––link following link with exact regularity, and the whole shining with many beautiful points––but there is no sigh of a broken heart, no wail of a backslider. The preacher lost himself among mere generalities. He forgot his mission. His aim should have been the delivering of souls––nothing less than business carried out for eternity. What an opportunity he had and missed! When he perceived that his audience (like David under Nathan’s words) were saying ‘Amen’ to his ‘parable’ then was the time to press home the message. He should have come to close quarters and said “Thou art the man!”, and in some David’s heart, doubtless the words would have arisen “I have sinned” (v13).
I must confess to a lurking suspicion as to any address we hear lauded to the skies, while the only effect produced seems to be that of wonder at such a clever exposition of truth. Where is the fruit for God? Believers in a poor condition may be quite ready to praise a smart address and a gifted teacher––but if the address had ploughed up their consciences, and revealed to them their departure from God, would their praise have been so loud and long? I think not.
Herod tolerated a good deal of John the Baptist’s general ministry––he “heard him gladly” (Mark 6: 20). But there was one thing he could not bear, and that was the special testimony: “It is not lawful for thee to have her” (Matt. 14: 4). The faithful witness did not shroud himself in general calls to repentance. Under these general calls, Herod might have slept on as soundly as David under Nathan’s parable. Yet John did not allow him to sleep. Cost what it might, the message must be delivered: “Thou art the man!”. You know what the delivering of that message cost––it cost John his life. Yet both life and testimony ascended as a sweet–smelling savour to God.