Exhortation and Encouragement
James Smith, 1859
The Lord's servants are apt to get disheartened and discouraged. They imagine that they are laboring in vain, and spending their strength for nothing. They therefore need encouragement, even an apostle did, and therefore we find the Lord speaking to Paul, and saying, "One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city!" Acts 18:9-10.
We know not where the Lord's people are—but he does. Nor do we know whether we are to be used in converting souls, or whether our word shall effect their hearts. We know that we have a work to do for God, and we should do it; and if tempted to give way to discouragement, let us listen to—
The EXHORTATION."Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent." There may be opposition, persecution, and even death standing in the way—yet should we not fear. Paul was afraid at Corinth, as he tells them afterwards, "I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." 1 Corinthians 2:3-5. In Corinth he had to face learning, refined culture, and splendor—and he was anxious so to adapt himself to circumstances as to "save some." He was afraid lest by any indiscretion, he "should hinder the gospel of Christ."
But fear may become extreme, and hinder instead of help, and therefore the Lord spoke to him, and said, "Do not be afraid!" There was in reality no need for fear. God was with him. God could protect him, and he would. God could bless and render his labors effectual, and he would. Therefore he says, "Speak, and speak out, let them hear the truth, and the whole truth. Speak openly, speak boldly, speak fearlessly; and speak of Christ and of him crucified, as the wisdom of God, the power of God, and the salvation of God!" "Do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city!"
And mark—The Encouragement. "I am with you!" And if God was with him—then he was a match for every foe, and would rise superior to every difficulty. If God is with us, his wisdom will mark out our way and our work; his power will enable us to do his will, and render our labors efficient; and his care will provide for and supply—all our needs.
"No one is going to attack and harm you." They may hate, ridicule, and attempt to harm us—but without God's permission, they cannot injure a hair of our heads! However wrathful they are—they are powerless; and the wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder thereof he will restrain.
"I have many people in this city!"
What kind of a city was it?
One of the most voluptuous, wealthy, and worldly cities of the east. Here was the temple of Venus, with its degrading and disgraceful services. God's jewels are often found buried in the worst filth! In their experience the startling truth is illustrated, "Where sin abounded—grace did much more abound."
What kind of people were they?
"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were! But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God!" 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
This is the apostle's own reply to the question, and it was in order that they may be washed, sanctified, and justified—that he was to continue there, and boldly preach God's Word.
Were they the Lord's, while in such a state? They were, for he said, "I have," not "I will have," but "I have many people in this city." Then the Lord knew them—before he called them. He had chosen them—before he sent the gospel to them. He claims them—before he converts them. He only accomplishes by his gospel now, what he had purposed long ago, in eternity past! He foreknew, he predestined, he called, he justified, he glorified. Such is God's order. Such is God's plan.
Observe: the Lord's people are often found in the most unlikely places! Who would have expected to find God's chosen people, a multitude of them—in a place so foul, so polluted, so degraded—as Corinth?
The Lord chooses the most unlikely people! Who would ever have thought that the Lord would have chosen: the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers—to be saved? But he did! God's people are picked off the foulest dunghills!
Who would have thought that God would have chosen the weak, the base, the despised, and the contemptible? And yet he did, as the apostle declares, 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.
O the wonders of sovereign grace!
O how marvelous are the thoughts, purposes, and ways of God! The Lord effectually calls because he claims. Those whom God calls by his grace, were chosen to life, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and predestined to the adoption of sons. God's work cannot be frustrated. He is never at a loss for means, nor can God's means fail of accomplishing his ends. He says, "I will work:" and he asks, "Who shall hinder Me?" Lost sinners are in God's hand—and he will bind their power, nor permit them to frustrate his designs.
"No one is going to attack and harm you." We are immortal until our work is done! Therefore let us not fear, nor yield to discouragement—but speak, and speak boldly—and expect God to bless our efforts!
"Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city!"