Georgetown, Ky., August 13, 1861.
BROTHER BEEBE: - In the 15th number of the present volume of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES I find the following:
“Will J. F. Johnson give his views on 1 Cor. ix. 16, latter part, "Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” JAMES MARTINDALE.
I often fear to give my views on scripture, lest I should throw a sable cloud over its native brilliancy, rather than exhibit it in its native beauty and clearness.
I have been acquainted with brother Martindale for a number of years, and have no doubt of his sincere desire to understand the scriptures and be governed by their dictation. The dark and barren state of my mind at present would forbid my attempting an elucidation of the text, were it not that I know that the Lord can direct me right if it is his will that brother Martindale or others shall be profited by this feeble effort to comply with his request. Should I darken the subject with words without knowledge, he can throw off the mask and present it to his children with all its truth and importance. The verse containing the text referred to reads thus: "For if I preach the gospel I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel." If I had all the wisdom of this whole world I would have nothing to glory of, for God makes foolish the wisdom of this world, and chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. If possessed of the strongest intellectual powers, embellished and aided by the eloquence of the finest rhetorician, and garnished with the finish and all the splendor of scientific attainments, and then could wield it all with the strength of Samson, I should have nothing to glory of; for God chooses the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty. Should the land of Ophir pour all her gold into my lap, and all the world beside confer upon me her wealth, her honor and her fame, still I should have nothing to glory of; for, with all this, I should be beggared without thee, O my God.
"Were I possessor of the earth,
And called the stars my own,
Without thy graces and thyself,
I were a wretch undone."
Then, "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches, but let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he understandeth me," &c. Then, if I am foolish in myself, that is no excuse for me to neglect the duty that my Lord has enjoined upon me; if I am weak, that should not discourage me; if poor, what of that! If God chooses to take me, foolish, weak and poor, as I am, to confound the wise, the strong and the noble, let not all this terrify me while "necessity is laid upon me."
The word necessity signifies: compulsion, fatality, indispensableness, want, need, poverty, etc.
Now, I think that the work of grace is the complete counterplot of the work of our carnal and depraved minds. When necessity seems to urge upon us the accomplishment of some earthly design, or the attainment of some earthly object, we cannot be persuaded to undertake the task without some evidence that we have the mental power or physical ability to succeed. Not so when the Lord undertakes to prepare us by his grace for the respective places in his kingdom and the services we are to perform there. If the Lord ever taught me the necessity of my salvation from sin, he taught me first that I had neither wisdom or power to accomplish any part of that work. If he ever prepared me for a place in his kingdom, he taught me first that the preparation of the heart and the answer of the tongue was of him and not of me; that I had neither skill or power to prepare myself; that I was wholly incompetent and unworthy of a seat upon the humblest footstool of his children. If the Lord ever saw fit to prepare me for the work of the ministry - to feed, comfort or instruct his children - it was a clear case of necessity on my part, a compulsion, fatality, an indispensability; for all was want, need, poverty with me. Therefore I said once, when my mind was meditating on this subject, to an elderly father in the gospel, "Is it not hard for me to be compelled to try to do a thing which I know I cannot do?" It certainly is not meet that we should consult our strength, our wisdom, our righteousness, our qualifications in any way, but fall wholly and helpless upon the arm of him who is "our everlasting strength," our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, our all, with a feeling sense and humble acknowledgement that we are insufficient for these things, each one crying to him,
"A guilty, weak and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall;,
Be thou my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus and my all."
"Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel." Either by an omission of my brother M., or a typographical mistake, the word "unto" does not appear in the text as presented, yet I think it a necessary part of it.
This word "woe" we understand to mean grief, sorrow, misery, calamity, etc. We suppose, then, the apostle meant to inform us that if he did not preach the gospel (necessity being laid upon him,) that grief, sorrow and calamity would be his portion; and I think that such will be the portion of all God's children who disobey his mandates. An elderly and highly esteemed brother in the ministry once told me that a young brother (his son-in-law) ventured to speak to him on the subject of his exercise about preaching, and that he told him never to attempt it as long as he could keep from it, or words to that amount. I have no doubt as to the genuineness of that young man's exercise for he has since proved to be a useful and able minister of the New Testament. Again, I have heard brethren tell the Lord's children, after hearing a satisfactory evidence and reason of the hope that was in them, to stay away from the church as long as they could. Now, much of a Predestinarian as I am, I do not think that such expressions are appropriate in such cases. There is such a thing spoken of in the scriptures as disobedience. I believe, too, we are taught that it is wrong. If the Lord commands one of his children, then, and they disobey, they do wrong; while obedience is right - yes, "better than sacrifice." Let me not, then, tell the Lord's children to do wrong as long as they can. I am no way fearful that they will not do wrong enough without telling them to.
True, there is a rod for the disobedient child (see Psa. lxxxix. 30-33), yet if I command my child, I think it is just as pleasant for me and the child both for it to obey without a whipping as with it. The rod often comes in the form of grief, sorrow, calamity, which probably my brother has realized. Paul said he was not disobedient to the heavenly call, and I wish we could all say so. He, however, was not entirely exempt from grief, sorrow, and so on. When he preached the gospel willingly he had a reward, but if against his will, still a dispensation of the gospel was committed to him. Then let us all try to obey willingly. It is very pleasant when we can preach the gospel having our whole will swallowed up in the matter; but if against our will, we have to grope and blunder along in the dark, it is not so pleasant; yet this is no proof that a dispensation of the gospel is not committed to us.
But I suppose that the great desideratum with brother M. is the same that is with many others of us - that is, have we sufficient evidence that the Lord has required this solemn and important work at our hands? Now I fear that I shall fail to satisfy my brother in this case, from the fact that my own evidence is so feeble, and my experience (if I have any in the case) so limited that I never have been able to satisfy myself that I had a right to engage in that solemn and momentous business. But, as before intimated, I do believe that if the Lord ever taught me anything about it, he convinced me in the first place that I was altogether incompetent for the work. Then I thought it the most egregious folly for me to worry and perplex myself about engaging in a business that I was confident I could not accomplish. I cannot say that I had any miraculous display of power, any visible exhibition of a supernatural light, any audible voice speaking to me sufficient to carry me beyond "Doubting Castle" relative to preaching the gospel. It is true that I had many serious meditations on the subject, and some particular texts of scripture were often the subjects of these reflections; particularly, "necessity is laid upon me," and "keep not silence," (Isa. lxii. 6) played upon my mind no little, with some others. I have judged, too, sometimes, by what I have seen, or thought I have seen in others, when perhaps I should have been attending to my own case. Sometimes I see preachers and become convinced that they think that they can preach fine; then I am very apt to think that they cannot. Then, again, I see some that appear to think that they cannot preach well, and I think they can. So it may be thought, and perhaps with propriety too, that I am a contrary kind of a being at best. But if I were asked whence I derived the most satisfactory evidence that it was my duty and privilege to preach the gospel, I think I should say, from the church. More than thirty years ago I professed, (and I hope sincerely) to yield my poor sinful self up to the Lord and to his church. In doing that I was certainly placed under the strongest obligations to obey the mandates of my King as delivered to his kingdom. I firmly believe, too, that that kingdom or church has "the mind of Christ" to direct them. That church, directed by the mind, as I hope, was pleased to set me apart as her servant. I felt my insufficiency, that I was unfit, unworthy, unqualified. But, with all that, who was I, or what right had I to say nay? In effect, she reiterated the command of her Lawgiver, Go and preach the gospel. But even this did not cause all my doubts, to subside. She might be governed by a carnal mind, as all her members while here have one, and therefore might be mistaken, as churches sometimes are, no doubt. Still I must not disobey, but give her an opportunity to judge of me. Well, while I have been under her eye and supervision with all my waywardness, weakness and shortcomings, in view of all that, she has still seemed to say, go on. Her forbearance has been wonderful toward me, and would be more so, if forbear she could, and see me as I see myself. At times I have thought that it would be a relief to me if the church would tell me that she thought me not profitable, and seat me with her private members, even as it were in the humblest capacity. At other times I have felt, and even now feel like taking the responsibility upon myself and quietly retiring from the service. Then comes that "woe," and causes me to dread the consequences. Then I think again,
"How sweet the name of Jesus sounds,
In a believer's ear;
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear."
And that, although I have often been made to drink the very dregs of bitterness, the few cheering draughts and sustaining feasts I have received of the new wine of the kingdom and the bread of life, and the hope, and to me the apparent evidence that I have been enabled, out of my Master's fullness, to administer some of the same delightful repast to my Father's hungry and thirsty children, encourages me still to go on, notwithstanding all my imbecility and disqualification.
Having been for some time past acquainted with brother Martindale, I will, in the conclusion of my remarks, venture to drop to him, or others that may be placed in a similar condition, a few words of advice. My dear brother, I have the most satisfactory evidence that you have been manifestly brought under the supervision of a wise, and kind Counsellor, and that you are fortunately located among those who "have the mind of Christ." Go first to that Counsellor who fully understands the whole of your case and how to treat it; and you can freely acknowledge to him that you have no strength to apply in the case; and you know that he requires no such aid. Fall at his feet and implore his counsel to direct and his strength to enable you to do his will. If you should not receive a satisfactory response, go to the church, who have his mind, and lay your case fully before the brethren. If they direct you to go and preach the gospel, tarry not to muse over your weakness and unfitness, while you have a mouth to be filled with a tongue in it;
"Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream,"
but go on and try, and try again. Your brethren can have no other way of arriving at a correct conclusion but by hearing you; and I feel confident, after the long and intimate acquaintance I have had with them, that they will deal faithfully with you. That God may bless you, my dear brother, and the brethren and sisters at Salem, and in all other places, with his counsel and his consoling presence, is my prayer for his dear name's sake.
Truly as ever, your brother,
J. F. JOHNSON.