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A Last Message to the Church

By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer


      Text: "Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness.

      "Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.

      "Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness." 2 Peter 3:11, 14, 17.

      The Apostle is here giving his last and most important message to the Church. When a man is about to be crucified with his head downward, he will not use idle words. What he says will be to the point and worth remembering and repeating. Peter is a very practical preacher and puts first things first. Perhaps he is sitting on an eminence, -- The Mount of Olives, or at least in spirit was peering out into the future, for here in a few verses he uses the words "seeing" and "looking" six times. He now proceeds to give three admonitions.

      I. Be Holy.
      II. Be Diligent.
      III. Beware.

      I. "Seeing that all these things shall be dissolved" -- BE HOLY! Holiness, in doctrine and practice is the central truth of Christianity. Yea, it is the biggest and best thing in the world. It will outlive everything else. I do not mean a profession of holiness, or mingling with holiness people. This is cheap and sad to say a lot of cheap professors bring reproach upon the cause. But he who has the real experience in his heart, will outlive and finally outrank the other fellow who has a lot of money and knowledge in his head. Churches are made up of individuals. Let us contrast two cases, say two young preachers. Here is Brother A___. He is gifted, well dressed and can pass in any society. He is tactful, popular, and in constant demand. He is "safe and sane" and knows how to preach holiness straight, or on other occasions preach it so as to give no offense. In short, we hear it said, "If he keeps humble, he is a coming man and will fill important positions in the church."

      Here is Brother B____, just the opposite. He does not have any special natural gift. He is a good plodder, but it is doubtful if he will ever overwhelm by his eloquence or strong personality. He is not recognized as "one of our representative men." He does not stand in with Church bosses, or politicians. He is not sought after to deliver spicy, after-dinner speeches, or baccalaureate sermons. But one thing we must say about him: He has more than a profession. He is more than a holiness man; he is a holy man. He never acts important on the one hand, or miffed on the other. He always keeps sweet in spirit whether noticed or unnoticed. In short, nothing ever gets him out of fix; he is deeply rooted in God.

      Now, history and observation have proven that this second young man will stand the wear and tear better and longer than the first. He will tower in strength and influence long after his bright collegiate has landed on the scrap heap of broken down popularity. Yes, nothing will live so long as Bible holiness. Nothing is so important to outgoing missionaries, or evangelists. Nothing will survive poverty, or luxury like a heart experience. It will require this to withstand a compromising age. Friend, whatever you do, put this first, die out to the bottom and wait till the clear witness comes, then go forth to preach it and live it. In after years, (yes it may require years, but as sure as you get it and keep it) the world will hear from you.

      Right here let me further say: Never let yourself pull off in spirit and become distant toward the bright, popular young fellow. Rather love and pity him all you can, for, as a rule, he will not remain with the humble people long. He may remain as long as he is fondled and noticed, but when reverses come he will fail. Methinks I see Satan now chuckling a fiendish delight over the oblivion of this young man down the road a few years hence.

      II. "Seeing ye look for such things, Be Diligent/" Be active! Be aggressive! The Apostle knew that we were lop-sided and the tendency was to swing from one extreme to another. Hence, he felt inspired to say that while Holiness is the paramount issue, Diligence is so closely related that they are inseparable. In other words do not magnify the one and minify the other. Let any one give himself up fully to the thought of being holy and "separate from sinners," and the tendency will be to become secluded -- sometimes too much so. Peter's thundering appeal, "Be Holy," has scarcely ceased reverberating in our ears, until a second peal is heard -- "Be Diligent"! He is trying to drive home in quick succession, not only the thought of purity, but activity.

      After Pentecost the saints settled down in Jerusalem to enjoy themselves. This was not the Divine plan and God permitted "a great persecution" which scattered them. And "they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word." Purity, then activity!

      What was the great mistake of the early Catholic Church? In their efforts to be holy, the priests and monks secluded themselves in monasteries where they fasted, suffered penance and read prayers. O, that some one had arisen to the occasion and stirred them out among the common people.

      Yes, it is too bad that as individuals and churches we are lopsided. We stress one truth out of proportion with another one of equal importance. We adopt one form of church polity to the total exclusion of all others. We denounce some things bitterly, then later, adopt and fight for them.

      Let us look for a moment at two distinct holiness churches: Here is one which takes more or less satisfaction in the fact that for more than half a century she has succeeded fairly well in holding to her "original standard of purity, simplicity and power". (Rev. B. T. Roberts declared that no church had ever been known to do this longer than one generation -- about forty-five years). What has been her secret? Answer, Seclusion! Separation is positively essential to deep spirituality. But even here, is there no danger? A secluded ministry, or membership has a tendency to bigotry and sectarianism. It is easy to be orthodox and yet be void of fire and aggressiveness. It is quite an art to take the narrow way to heaven without becoming narrow and contracted in spirit and vision.

      Here is another church that in a few years has eclipsed the first in point of membership and undertaking great things for God. What is her secret? Diligence! This is necessary if one would hold his own and take new territory. But is there no danger here? As a rule an aggressive man must be sociable and a "good mixer." But hark! It was said of Ephraim, "He hath mixed himself among the people." What else? "He is a cake not turned" -- half-baked. What else? "Strangers have devoured his strength and he knoweth it not." Too many strangers, with strange notions ruined Ephraim and will likewise secularize and compromise any movement.

      Hear the advice Adam Clarke gave to young preachers: "Go out as little as possible to eat and drink. Why is the positive command of Christ on this head so generally disregarded? 'Go not from house to house.' (Luke 10:7.) The acting contrary to this precept has often brought great disgrace on the gospel of God. Stay in your own lodgings as much as possible that you may have time for prayer and study. I have heard pious people (who received the preachers of the gospel into their houses) remark that they always found that preacher to be 'most useful who kept most in his closet.' Seldom frequent the tables of the rich or great. If you do, it will unavoidably prove a snare to you: the unction of God will perish from your mind and your preaching be only a dry, barren repetition of old things.

      "Visit the people and speak to them about their souls as often and as much as you can: but be not at the mercy of every invitation to go out for a morsel of bread. If you take not this advice you will do no good, get no good, and utterly evaporate your influence.

      "Shun tea-drinking visits; these in general, murder time and can answer no good purpose either to your body or soul. Thirty-seven years ago I met with Mr. Wesley's Letter on Tea. I read it and resolved from that hour to drink no more of the juice of that herb till I could answer his arguments and objections. I have seen that tract but once since; yet from that day until now, I have not drank a cup of tea or coffee. For these things I mostly found a substitute in the morning; and when I could not, I cheerfully went without breakfast; and in their place, I never took anything in the evening. By .this line of conduct, I have not only joined hands with God to preserve a feeble constitution, but I can demonstrate that I have actually saved several whole years of time which otherwise must have been irrecoverably lost; and perhaps my soul with them. For I have often had occasion to observe, that tea-drinking visits open the floodgates of various temptations. How can these exclaim against needless self-indulgence and waste of time who go out on such occasions in the evenings! It is a mystery to me which I never wish to be able to unravel, how men can act in this way and preach afterward! I have often wondered that this matter is never spoken of to the young preachers when they are admitted. But who can, with propriety, warn them against this evil? Only those who are guiltless -- and where are they?"

      III. "Seeing ye know these things, Beware!" The apostle argues to a conclusion, telling us it is not enough to Be Holy and Diligent but if we would be symmetrical as individuals or organizations, we must Beware of certain dangers. I do not know what he had in mind, but permit me to mention at least three such dangers. 1. Beware of Contention. 2. Beware of Compromise. 3. Beware of Covetousness.

      1. Beware of a contentious spirit. This is an age of contention and strife. It is in the air. It is not only to be found in politics and commercial life, but among the people of God. This is what occasioned the schism at Corinth. One says, "I am of Paul. I like deep theological truths. I enjoy masterful reasonings. Give me Paul and you can have all the rest." Another says, "I like eloquence. I enjoy hearing a man who can stir the emotions and have the whole congregation in tears -- Apollos is the man for me." A third one speaks up and says, "I take to practical things. I want a preacher to get down to where we live. Give me Cephas." A fourth one declares, "I know no man after the flesh. The Bible is my discipline; away with man made organizations, I am of Christ," -- a no-sect.

      It seems almost impossible to be properly balanced. In order to be considered loyal to one's own mission, or church, he must be more or less biased against others. "Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us; and we forbade him, because he followeth not us." Not only do we find a lack of co-operation between "Us" and those of "another fold," but inward disunion exists among those of the same fold. If the devil cannot get us to fellowship the world and worldlings, he seems pleased when we break fellowship with each other.

      Your servant has evangelized for more than thirty-five years, in nearly every holiness movement under the sun and I am sorry to say the chief hindrance to a revival in most places is this very thing -- lack of reciprocal love one for another.

      Friction and factions always begin on the inside. ' It is impossible to start a fuss until there is first a break of fellowship on the inside. No one ever speaks a word, nods the head, or shrugs a shoulder which reflects upon an absent one, until he has first nursed a sore feeling on the inside. "The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart."

      Remember this, no one is better than his thoughts. This is the real man regardless of his appearance. "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he." Here is where all sin begins. Long before a girl has lost her virtue, or a boy becomes a thief, or a preacher has pulled off from his brethren, they first harbored and planned the thing on the inside. See to it then that you never allow a distant, or independent feeling to lodge in your bosom over night. If you cannot get enough grace to disregard and rise above offenses, do the next best thing -- Go and talk the matter over in a brotherly way, then forget it. Even enemies admire those who are magnanimous enough to do this. Wesley said, "Beware of tempting others to separate from you. Give no offense which can possibly be avoided; see that your practice be in all things suitable to your professions, adorning the doctrine of God, our Savior.

      "Suffer not one thought of separating from your brethren, whether their opinions agree with yours or not. Beware of impatience of contradiction. Do not condemn, or think hardly of those who cannot see just as you see, or who judge it their duty to contradict you whether in a great thing or a small.

      "O, beware of touchiness, of testiness, not bearing to be spoken to, starting at the least word; and flying from those who do not implicitly receive mine, or another's sayings. O, beware of anything tending thereto. Expect contradictions and opposition, together with crosses of various kinds."

      2. Beware of compromise. This is a policy age, an age when people can easily set aside former convictions in order to receive recognition and avoid ostracism. Thousands of preachers and pilgrims are not as plain and humble as formerly. They have gone back on past light and "built again the things which they once destroyed." Paul says, he who does this makes himself a "transgressor."

      It does not require much compromise on your part to make worldly minded people feel easy in your presence. A very little thing in dress, or conversation will bring about a feeling of fellowship. A straw will show which way the wind is blowing more accurately than a telegraph pole. It is too bad that now-a-days many ministers look and act so much like worldlings that it is hard to tell them apart. O, beware of lowering the line fence between you and the world.

      3. Beware of Covetousness. This is a subtle foe and is especially the sin of old age. Young people have their dangers. Sad indeed if after they steer dear of this or that pitfall, then in later years they fall into the blighting sin of covetousness. Brother, you may be affected and not aware of it! More than likely you call it "economy" or "precaution" against a "rainy day." But, the fact is are you not continually scheming, (sometimes on Sunday) how you can save here, or make a little there? Instead of having precious seasons with your Bible, morning and night, do you not find more delight in thinking about finance? Come now, let us be frank? Do you not have enough income without further accumulation, if need be, to keep soul and body together? If so, why do you slave and act stingy as though you were about to land in the poor house?

      Wesley had three rules: 1. Make all you can. 2. Save all you can. 3. Give all you can. He said if it was found that he was worth more than five pounds ($25.00) when he came to die, everyone should put him down as a thief and a robber. When the end came he had a little over twenty dollars, and yet during his life he gave away more than $150,000. What a rebuke to many today who call themselves Methodists. He said, "You will not get credit for a single penny that has passed through your hands except that which has been used directly, or indirectly for the furtherance of the Gospel. Moreover, every penny found in your possession which has not been thus used will be a swift witness against you in that day." O Brethren, don't argue, or justify yourself, but take these words to heart.

      This grasping spirit has not only gotten into the front pews and on the official boards, but into the pulpit as well. Preachers regret (?) to hand in their resignation and move from one conference to another, or from one church to another. They say they feel called to a "larger field of usefulness," but incidentally it is a larger purse that effects the change. Some preachers with the "sore throat," or a "nervous breakdown" can easily cease their activities in soul saving, but at the same time be intensely active in painting, paper hanging, building houses, talking real estate and selling worthless stocks in this or that concern. There are literally thousands of these floating derelicts all around us, enough to bring the wrath of God upon the entire country. Occasionally there may be a legitimate reason, but as a rule it is lack of vision, cooled off holiness and accursed covetousness.

      Not only are inactive preachers guilty, but many of the so called holiness evangelists know where to get the best picking. Some of them are not in a revival five days before they become anxious and inquire, "How are the finances coming on?" If they do not get a certain amount they manifest displeasure. They seem to always want "a little more," for "extra car fare," or hotel bills. God help us! What are we coming to when the precious Gospel must be commercialized and ever), man must have his price?

      We wonder why it is hard to see great revivals, as in former years, when there are those sitting on the front seats worth from ten to fifty thousand, who do not begin to give their tithe. Many times poor washer women and day laborers give more than these misers. I have noticed it time and time again that the children of these grabbers are not only unsaved, but do not care to associate with old time preachers and pilgrims. No wonder! The curse of God is on them! In addition to all this these parents are helping to damn their godless offspring deeper in hell, by leaving to them all, or most of their property, and the cause of God goes languishing. O what a day of reckoning is ahead!

      Another thing! We frequently elect to the annual and General Conferences men of "means," or "brains," rather than those of deep piety. What is the result? Church politicians get into the saddle, eat in diners, ride back and forth in Pullmans and spend the hard earned money of humble saints, while God looks on and says, "The priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so, and what will ye do in the end thereof?"

      "For this ye know that no whoremonger nor unclean person, nor covetous man who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." Eph. 5:5.

      God of Love, who hearest prayer,
      Kindly for thy people care,
      Who on thee alone depend:
      Love us, save us to the end.

      Save us, in the prosperous hour,
      From the flattering tempter's power;
      From his unsuspected wiles;
      From the world's pernicious smiles.

      Men of worldly, low design,
      Let not these thy people join,
      Poison our simplicity,
      Drag us from our trust in thee.

      Save us from the great and wise,
      Till they sink in their own eyes,
      Tamely to thy yoke submit,
      Lay their honor at thy feet.

      Never let the world break in;
      Fix a mighty gulf between;
      Keep us little and unknown,
      Prized and loved by God alone.

      Let us still to thee look up,
      Thee, thy Israel's strength and hope;
      Nothing know, or seek, beside
      Jesus, and him crucified.
      -- Charles Wesley

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