This week, Lecture 29, and:
In the thirteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a description is given of faith, both as regards its strength and the consciousness and productiveness of it, that does not fit all believers at all times.
Young ministers who are still without great experience frequently make this mistake. They desire to make an impression on their people and rouse them out of their natural security. They imagine that, in order to prevent hypocrites from regarding themselves as Christians, they cannot raise the demands which they make upon those who are Christians too high. However, here is a point where the minister must be careful not to go beyond the Word of God, or by reason of his zeal he will inflict awful harm on the souls of his hearers. The minister wants to rouse his people and warn them against self-deception. However, that cannot be his ultimate aim.His ultimate aim must be to lead his hearers to the assurance that they have forgiveness of sins with God, the hope of the future blessed life, and confidence to meet death cheerfully. Any one who does not make these things his ultimate aim is not an evangelical minister. For this reason he must be careful, for God’s sake, not to say: “Any one who does this or that is not a Christian,’ unless he is quite sure of his ground. Frequently a Christian may act in a very unchristian manner.
Our Savior taught all Christians to offer up this daily petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses.’ Every day, then, puts a new burden of guilt on our heart and conscience. Now, to represent a Christian as he is not, namely, perfect, — one need not be a Methodist to do that, — or to enumerate marks of a true Christian which are not found in all Christians, means to misrepresent a Christian and will do infinite harm. For from such characterizations, Christians with a very live conscience will draw the conclusion that they are no Christians; the remarks of the minister, they say, have opened their eyes to their former delusion. This impression may become so firmly lodged in their hearts that nobody will be able to remove it.
Some preachers describe the Christians as having nothing but pleasant feelings. Frequently I have observed this feature in your sermons. You will say: “Indeed, an unchristian is a miserable being. While serving the world and sin, he is pursued by furies.” Now, that is not true. Many unchristians live without any qualms of conscience. “On the other hand,” you will say, “a Christian — oh, what a happy being he is! He is free from all anxiety, free from doubt,” etc. All this is not so. Thousands upon thousands of Christians are, on the contrary, filled with anguish and despondency and are continually fighting with themselves and crying: “Oh, wretched man that I am!”
In your sermons you like to treat subjects like these: “The blessed state of a Christian,” and the like. Well, do not forget that the blessedness of Christians does not consist in pleasant feelings, but in their assurance that in spite of the bitterest feelings imaginable they are accepted with God and in their dying hour will be received into heaven. That is indeed a great blessedness.