Responsibility is a wholesome word, it is a check to the licence of the flesh which would take advantage of the super-abounding grace of our God. Responsibility flows from existing and known relationships, or from the place God has set us in in the Church, or in the world of the ungodly. We are set in the Church and have responsibilities with regard to that, and the greatness of the privilege but serves to increase the responsibility. We are set in the world to be "the salt of the earth," and "lights in the world." We are to show forth the virtues of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvellous light. (1 Peter 2:9.) God having shone into our hearts, the light is to shine out (2 Cor. 4:6); having drunk in the living waters, they are to flow out of us. (John 7:37-39.) Salt preserves what is of God, light is to attract those that sit in darkness, and the rivers of living water are for those who are thirsting for what they fail to find in a world away from God.
The greatness of the grace only shows the greatness of the responsibility. Responsibility is the moral obligation resting on the Christian because of the exceeding grace of God bestowed upon him. There is nothing legal in this, but the natural consequence of the privilege we are set in by God.
We will look at our responsibility worldward. This is surely very great, whether we think of the gospel preacher or the individual Christian. We cannot join in with Cain, and say, "Am I my brother's keeper?" No, we cannot without loss ignore our vast responsibilities with regard to the world in that way. God commands us to "shine as lights in the world," and to "hold forth the word of life," and we dare not ignore our responsibility. They are the commands of divine love, and a loving obedience is to be yielded to them. It is for our God and Father to command; it is ours to cheerfully obey.
The demoniac was sent home to tell what the Lord had done for him, and had mercy on him. He was to be the exponent, the living exemplification, of the mercy of the Lord. They were to see in him an expression of the Lord's power and goodness. He simply obeyed and went, and the hearts that had desired the departure of the deliverer were made ready by his willing, faithful testimony to long for His return. (Luke 8.) The woman of Samaria in the same way went to the men of the city, and said, "Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" She went in the instinct of love, and without a command, and made the Saviour known.
It is of the very essence of Christianity that our hearts should be set a-longing for others; and may it not be rightly said that, if our hearts are not so longing for the salvation of our fellow-men, love, real love, is on the wane with us, however great our gifts may be? In heart we are not in company with the greatest of all evangelists and teachers, who wept over guilty Jerusalem, prayed for His murderers, and saved the dying robber in the hour of His greatest anguish on Calvary.
It is really no question of gift (though, thank God, there are special evangelistic gifts), but of heart - of love, the instincts of which are to have compassion on the misery of others, and seek their blessing. To say, I am not responsible to tell of Christ to the lost because I am not gifted as an evangelist, is like a man on a wharf witnessing the struggles of a man in the water, and will not throw the rope that lies at his feet to the drowning man, on the plea that he has not been appointed by the Government to save drowning men. Every right-minded person would cry shame on such a one, and say the wretch had denied the very instincts of his manhood.
And is it not of the very essence, the spirit of Christianity, that leads to deep concern for the salvation of the lost? And is it too much to say that an assembly that loses sight of this ignores a very great part of its responsibility? An unevangelical assembly has certainly to a very great extent put its light under a "bushel," and in some way there is an awful stoppage of the "rivers of living water"; or in other words, the Holy Ghost has been hindered in one of His most precious activities. This is intensely solemn, especially when we consider that it may be in connection with a large amount of intellectual acquaintance with the truth of God.
It is of the very nature of love to think of others. "Selfishness likes to be served; love delights to serve." We see this last exemplified to perfection in the blessed Lord. "God is love," and He gave His Son. We are born of God, and have the Spirit, and the outgoings of our hearts should be Godlike - they should go out for others.
I repeat, it is not so much a question of gift, but of heart, and love governing the heart, and allowing the blessed Spirit of God to be active, as the Saviour was, in a world lost and ruined. He delights in glorifying the ascended Saviour by leading sinners to put their trust in Him, and in this He deigns to use the hearts and tongues of the saints of God; but, alas, what strange inconsistency to find them indifferent to the very instincts and longings He has created and begotten in their hearts!
A poor wretch, half dead, was taken from a floating wreck at sea, and brought and laid upon the deck of another vessel. The people gathered round him, and when first he spoke, he said in a voice of great earnestness, "There is another man! there is another man!" Having been saved himself, he thought of the other poor sailor left behind, and desired his deliverance also. A boat was sent in search of the other man, who was found and brought on board, and we may rest assured that there was not a single individual on board that ship who was not intensely interested in the rescue of the "other man." The captive maid (2 Kings 5) yearned over the condition of her mistress' husband, until the yearning gave expression to itself in the words, "Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy." The lepers outside of famished Samaria said, "We do not well: this is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace: . . . now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king's household." (2 Kings 7:9.)
So it ever is; with the salvation we receive, a desire is created in our hearts for the salvation of others, and sad it is when that desire is on the wane; it is a sure sign of awful declension, whether we speak of individuals or of an assembly. It is of the very instinct of divine love to be concerned about the welfare of others. Can we measure the distance between the eternal glory and the depths of Calvary's woe? That was the distance that divine love travelled to seek and to save that which was lost. And if His love is filling and controlling our hearts, shall we not be concerned about a lost world around us? Can we coolly let them drift on to eternal woe, on the plea that we are not gifted, or that it is not our line or testimony? Every believer has the Spirit, and out of him should "flow rivers of living water," not for his own satisfaction, but as a reproduction of Christ in the world, and for the eternal good of others.
An assembly of Christians that is not imbued with the evangelical spirit is like a family in a lighthouse. The light is lit, and they are sitting around enjoying the light for themselves. Much is said about the beauty and excellence of the light, and how good it is to be in the presence of such a light. The qualities and nature of the light are fully discussed, until there is but little more to be said on the subject; but, alas! the shutters are closed; not a ray of that light falls upon the dark ocean around. The sailors, unwarned of the rocks and quicksands, are soon driven by the tempest upon them, and are lost. The people in the lighthouse have betrayed the trust reposed in them, and while professing to enjoy the light for themselves, have forgotten their solemn responsibility as to others. They were set in the lighthouse, not to selfishly enjoy the light for themselves, but that the light might shine out for the benefit of others. "Shine ye as lights in the world," is the solemn word for every Christian and every assembly of Christians.
A New Zealand girl was brought over to England to be educated. She became a true Christian. When she was about to return, some of her playmates endeavoured to dissuade her. They said, "Why go back to New Zealand? You are accustomed to England. You love its shady lanes and cloven fields. It suits your health. Besides, you may be shipwrecked on the ocean. You may be killed and eaten by your own people - everybody will have forgotten you." "What!" she said, "do you think that I could keep the good news to myself? Do you think I could be content with having got pardon and peace and eternal life for myself, and not go and tell my dear father and mother how they may get it too? I would go if I had to swim there!"
Oh, saints of God, may we be awakened from our lethargy and sinful indifference, so that our hearts and hands shall be reaching forth continually after the lost. Let the shutters be thrown wide open. May we cease to selfishly enjoy the light for ourselves; may it shed itself upon the moral darkness about us, so that many a benighted soul shall be attracted by it, and led to the blessed Saviour. Then we shall "eat the meat that ye know not of," spoken of by the Saviour in John 4. May our hearts be set on the Lord in glory, and desire Him before all else; and may our hearts go out in deepest longing to "a world of sinners lost," which is lying all about us. Amen. E. A.
Death faced is death overcome, because the light of resurrection has already illumined our souls.