Is the Church evangelistic?
I do not mean, is she “Evangelical,” as opposed to such terms as “High” or “Broad,” but is she essentially, and in each of her members, a witness to the gospel?
Is the service of the gospel one of her primary privileges, not to say responsibilities?
By the “Church” I do not mean the clergy, nor do I allude to any part or section of the professing body, but rather the whole company of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ extant on earth, at any given time, between the coming of the Holy Most on day of Pentecost and the moment when, at His second coming, all such, dead or living, shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air and to be for ever with Him—in it word, the body of Christ.
Nor do I mean that each saint is an evangelist, for that is, as we know, as distinct a gift of Christ as that of apostle, prophet, pastor, or teacher. Each is not an apostle, nor a prophet, nor a pastor, nor a teacher. Such gifts have been given. We have the writings of the apostles, whilst the pastor, teacher, and evangelist remain to us today. Christ does not forget the need of His dear people, nor is that of the world neglected either. Grace flows towards it as ever.
Nay, but is the testimony of the Church evangelistic? The question is momentous.
It may be said, and truly, that she is the vessel of praise and worship; that she is the pillar and ground of the truth; and that, as Christ’s today, she, receiving nourishment from the Head, makes increase unto the edifying of herself in love. All this, and more, may be true, but the question is not as to her relation to God or to Christ, nor of the members one to another—relations most important in themselves—but of her responsibility in the exercise of active grace toward the world.
Granted that the Church, as such, does not preach, because to do so is clearly a personal service, and demands a special gift from on high, is there yet to be no active evangelistic testimony on the part of the saints because there should happen to be no such gift on the spot? Must every lip be silent, every hand folded, and every foot at rest in such a case? Never!
Do we, then, advocate men running unsent? Nay, nor that either, though it was said by one of old, “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets”—a sentiment which would appear to suggest that there is little danger of a glut of applicants for that office! The Lord of the harvest never yet found too large a supply of labourers. We need not, therefore, fear that contingency. The opposite is, and, alas! always has been the trouble—plenty of work and few workmen, fields white to harvest and a deplorable scarcity of reapers. This to our shame.
Then, apart from the above specific gift, who is qualified for the active spread of the gospel? Nay, whose is the privilege? Nay, further, whose is the responsibility? If Christ has most graciously lit your candle, He certainly means that you should let it shine! If you place it under a bushel, or under a bed, you do so at your peril. He gives you the immense honour of being a light-bearer in a sin-darkened world; and, depend upon it, the gospel is a very large part of the flame, and of the heat too.
Thus we read in John 7:38, “He that believes on Me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”
How suggestive! How refreshing! What a superabundance of blessing is supposed! What an inward supply has the believer, through the power of the indwelling Spirit, to meet the need of a thirsty world!
All trite, but from whom flow these rivers of living water? The gifted evangelist! That may be so; but “he that believes on Me,” said the blessed Lord, was to be the reservoir of this wondrous supply.
It may be said that the passage applies only to individuals, and does not refer to the Church. Quite true, but neither does it refer to gift, saving indeed to that of the Spirit, and common therefore to all who believe in the now ascended Lord. It is our common privilege. It is the way whereby the God of grace causes rivers of blessing to flow universally. The Church, in all her several members, enjoys this great honour.
Were blessing confined to gift, how limited it would be!
What a cheer and stimulus is this to the ungifted crowds who nevertheless believe in the Son of God! Take all the encouragement you can from it; and, weak though your faith may be, you have the Spirit, so that, even from you, these living waters may flow. If they do not flow from those who believe in the Son of God, they will flow from no one. There is our solemn responsibility. We cannot throw this on the shoulders of others, nor relegate our own duty (for such at least it is) to those more gifted for the work of public speaking. They have their part as well.
Trace the devoted company who were scattered abroad on the persecution of Stephen, a fair sample indeed of the Church at large in her true testimony. We read in Acts 8:4 that they “went everywhere preaching” (more correctly “evangelising”) “the word”; and again, in Acts 11:19-20, they “travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them … spake, unto the Grecians, preaching” (“evangelising”) “the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.” Now, can we suppose that they were all specially gifted evangelists? Impossible! No marvel, then, that when Barnabas came and had seen the grace of God he was glad. Nothing gladdens like grace.
What was the end of this scattered company we know not. Perhaps the fires of martyrdom were their lot; but, noble band! they evangelised as they went, and caused on all sides rivers of living water to flow. Their work will stand the fire of the coming day. What a picture and an example to us today! Alas that any of us should decline the honour, and faithlessly let it fall into worthier hands!
In closing it may be well to point out that the very last injunction of a public nature given by the apostle Paul was that Timothy should “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). Just ere dropping his pen for ever, and laying down his life for the sake of Christ and the Church, this devoted servant of the Lord and faithful minister of the Church charged his son in the faith, with his parting breath, and in view of all the incoming ruin that should befall the Church, to mind the work of the gospel. It was no question of gift, but of heart for Christ’s interests. Such a heart takes personal and unwearied part in the active work of an evangelist.