Four Things About A Gathering
Dr. James F. Spink, F.R.G.S., Collingdale, U. S. A.
We believe this message from our brother across the Atlantic will do good, although we are glad to know that it does not reflect the predominant impressions made upon him during his recent sojourn amongst us.
1. A LARGE GATHERING.
On a special occasion in Ezra's day, “All the people gathered themselves together as one man.” This great crowd of men, women and children that could hear and understand, doubtless amounted to many hundreds of people. This mighty concourse, gathered for the sacred object of hearing the Word of God read in their midst, must have been an imposing sight.
Every preacher likes a large gathering, for he realises that the results of his ministry may be far greater, and feels that what he has gathered in the Sanctuary will have a wider usefulness, and when he presents the gospel he is more likely to reach souls and win them for Christ.
A sportsman who fires into a flock of birds is far more likely to bring one down than if he has but one at which to aim. A fisherman who angles where fish are plentiful may expect to catch a larger number than if he fishes where they are scarce.
It is easier for the preacher to speak before a large gathering, for he will have greater liberty and become lost in his message. He often finds it hard to be earnest and animated in speaking to a few people, and there is no harder task to preach the gospel to a small company, when you know that nearly all, if not all, are already saved.
“The orator,” it has been remarked, “who is effective, powerful and almost beyond what is human before a large audience, is tame when speaking to a score of people.” The listeners too seem to enjoy ministry better when the gathering is large for the atmosphere is entirely different.
Many gatherings to-day are very small, but they could soon be transformed into larger ones if those who were saved were more exercised as to their loyalty to their own gathering. Many of the halls seldom see a stranger and conversions naturally are rare. We should do all that we can to induce our friends and neighbours to attend the meetings. A kind invitation has brought many to hear the gospel and many have been saved that way. If we had more Andrews, then we should have more Peters.
2. AN OPEN-AIR GATHERING.
Ezra expounded the law in the street, and a greater ONE than he, our Lord Jesus Christ, was heard in the streets far more frequently than in the synagogues. He was the greatest open-air Preacher, and we have most abundant encouragement to follow His example. Ezra went to the street to read the law, and we too should go to the street to preach the gospel—that is, those who are capable of so doing and are able to hold the crowd. The old idea that anyone can preach in the open-air will not do to-day. The best men that we have are needed to hold forth under the canopy of heaven, and a large crowd of Christians will draw around a large company of sinners. It is said that “all the people gathered themselves together as one man,” that is, they were not standing in different groups, scattered here and there across the street, as is the case at some open-air meetings, but were in one great solid and compact company. HERE IS A FIELD FOR OUR YOUNG PEOPLE. We hear of their many rallies, conventions and summer conferences, and would like to hear of their activities in this important work of open-air preaching. There seems to be a tendency on the part of some of our very young men to become teachers of the Word, and the gospel is sadly neglected. The teacher who carries weight and reaches the hearts of his listeners is one who speaks from experience, and it is generally accepted that this is not gained in a day. Some complain that there is no room to exercise their gift in the assembly. Well, there is plenty of room to do so out in the street, and many of our preachers started in the highways of our villages and towns. The open-air sometimes convinces the speaker that he has no gift, for the audience there is not bound to listen to some dissertation as they must in some of the halls.
“God dwelleth not in temples made with hands;” HIS cathedral is the vast universe; and we read, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city; and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind’ (Luke 14. 21). ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature’ (Mark 16. 15). If the people will not come in, we must go out to them.
3. A PROLONGED GATHERING.
Every year, in the seventh month, Ezra commenced his service in the morning and continued until midday, about six hours. To-day if a preacher goes five minutes over the time, and that time, including hymns and prayers, occupies one hour, he is severely criticised—if not to his face, behind his back—for keeping his hearers too long. Some are glad when the shortest service is over, and you wonder what they come to the meeting for. Pleasant hours are always the shortest, and if we found delight in the Word of God there would be no complaint as to the length of the meetings. Circumstances alter cases, however, but as a general rule it is not wise to have meetings prolonged, for it is better to send people away “longing than loathing.” Sometimes a ten-minute address is too long and sometimes a forty-minute address too short. These complaints, however, as a rule do not come from sinners, but from saints. Little objection is raised apparently if the people are entertained by carnal attractions. Of course the flesh draws the flesh. But if the speaker is giving solid, sober, spiritual truths and a feast of fat things which the spiritually minded enjoy, and happens to be so engaged in his subject as to err in his time, some pointedly pull out their watches, others close their Bibles and cease to take any further interest. Surely that attitude cannot be pleasing to God. It is often forgotten that we are handling sacred things, and the lack of desire for God's Word plainly indicates the state of our souls. I do not plead for protracted meetings, but I feel that the Word of God should have a more important place in our gatherings, and that on special occasions a speaker is justified in deviating from the ordinary procedure, and that he should have perfect liberty, and not be tied down by his brethren if he feels that God is working in their midst.
When Paul preached at Troas he continued his speech until midnight. It was his last opportunity of addressing the brethren, as he was departing on the morrow. This was a special occasion, and though Eutychus slept and fell down during the preaching, God turned even this to the comforting and strengthening of the hearers (Acts 20. 12). So far from rebuking the apostle, it is written that their talk was afterwards resumed, “a long while, even till break of day.”
Let us remember that we who are saved should have a love for God, His word and His people, and if that is missing, we need to examine ourselves.
The danger of the social side swamping the spiritual is sometimes seen at a prolonged gathering of Christians at some of the conferences.
4. AN ATTENTIVE GATHERING.
“And the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.” We are told to “take heed what we hear,” and we need to “take heed how we hear.” There is a class of people who are far from attentive when they come to meetings. They are in striking contrast to that great throng in “the street that was before the water-gate.” Some talk incessantly throughout the whole meetings, though they profess to be Christians; and, as a matter of fact, they are in fellowship. This disgraceful conduct must be very displeasing to God, and it is very distracting to the preacher, for it robs him of his liberty and takes away his power.
Then there are others who, while they have the courtesy not to talk while someone else is speaking, plainly show by their whole appearance that their thoughts and affections are elsewhere. Their wandering eyes and the turning of their heads clearly indicate that they will be glad when the meeting is over.
It would be impossible for us to be so light and trifling in the gatherings of the people of God, whether large or small, if we remembered the Holiness of Him who sits on the Throne, and that He is the Omnipresent and Omnipotent God. Not one of us would be inattentive, talkative or careless in the presence of the President or King, yet in the presence of God, the King of Kings, there is not that reverence and godly fear which should characterise the children of God when gathered together.
May God give us to see that we are greatly privileged to possess His holy, precious Word, and that when it is read or expounded we should give it our earnest and reverent attention, and seek by all means in our power to interest others in the sacred things of God, and to shun with all our power those things that impede our own progress in divine things. Let us always remember that God sees all and knows all. As He looks down upon us when we are assembled, may it be with approval and delight.