Voices from the Past: Condition for Gospel Service

Reprint from Believer’s Magazine, December, 1899. Used by Permission.

An address by John Ritchie to a group of young evangelists

The epistle to the saints at Rome is a great gospel epistle. There are four brief sentences in its opening chapter, more connected with the apostle’s service in that gospel than with its doctrine. They speak to all of us who seek to spread the gospel of God among our fellow-men. The first is found in verse 1.

“Separated Unto the Gospel of God” (Romans 1:1)

Of old, priests were separated unto God’s worship; Levites unto His service; Nazarites unto Himself. Paul was separated, literally “marked off by line,” unto the gospel of God. This ministry he “received of the Lord” (Acts 20:24), and in this he abounded. “The gospel” was his life-work, not his trade. By craft he was a tent-maker; but if in this he labored, it was for the gospel’s sake. All his movements were regulated so as to subserve the gospel. Neither the tears of his friends nor the wrath of his foes could lure him from his God-appointed path. Surely we may learn from this, although our measure may be small compared with his. The devil hates the gospel, and he is busy at this present time decoying God’s “gospellers” from their appointed toil.

“Whom I Serve with my Spirit in the Gospel” (Romans 1:9)

This word rendered “serve” here, means to “serve as a priest”- to serve as in the sanctuary of the presence of God. His was not the mere external act of body service, but he served with his “spirit.” The gospel claimed his highest and noblest powers: it had the monopoly of his being. His heart and soul were in it. All his service was rendered as one serving in holy things, as a priest in the temple of his GodHe was not a philanthropist seeking only the good of man, without regard to the means whereby it might be attained, or whether God was glorified thereby. His service in the gospel was rendered as an offering unto God, as something laid upon His altar, for His approval, for His acceptance. Not the maimed and the halt, the mere dregs of his energies, after the world had received its full share, but his very best was given to the service of his God in the gospel. Few follow in his steps. Business, family, self, put in their three-pronged fork, and seize their portion, like Eli’s sons of old (1 Samuel 2:13), leaving nothing but the shattered energies of an evening hour, wherein to “serve” our God in the gospel of His Son.

“Ready to Preach the Gospel” (Romans 1:13)

The word “ready” implies eagerness. He longed to reach the imperial city with the message of God’s grace. He felt himself to be their debtor, and his fervent spirit yearned to tell to both “wise” and “unwise” the joyful tidings. His desire was granted, but it cost him something. Carried as a prisoner, through stormy seas, shipwrecks, and perils, he reached Rome; and the record of his early labors reads, that in his own hired house he spake of Jesus “from morning till evening” (Acts 28:23). In prison, and market-place, by night or by day, he was always ready, ever on the outlook for an opportunity to “preach the gospel.” Do we blush as we read it? Full well we may. With all our boasted knowledge and attainments, we look very small alongside of such a record. Yet in our varied spheres, and according to our measure, it is the holy privilege of every saint and servant of God to be always “ready to preach the gospel.” It need not be a public ministry to thousands. That would be out of the question for the many; but the daily wayside ministry, the Sychar-like dealing with the individual soul, the faithful word to fellow-workers and fellow-travellers; such a service is within the reach of all. Our eagerness to share it, to embrace every opportunity, to turn to account every chance of speaking forth God’s gospel to our fellows, will be regulated by the condition of our souls, rather than by our gifts. This “eagerness” to reach souls is not the fruit of nature; it does not “come naturally” as men say. It is the fruit of God’s grace in us, the outcome of a soul abiding in communion with a God Who “so loved the world” that He gave His Son. This, and only this, begets and sustains the yearning desire expressed in the thrilling words, “I am ready to preach the gospel.”

“I am not Ashamed of the Gospel” (Romans 1:16)

He need not be. It carried its own credentials; it bore its own witness. It was God’s gospel, and God’s power to save. How our souls need to grasp this thought in a day like ours, when many who profess much love for the gospel are turning aside to seek embellishments and attractions to popularize it! But it needs no borrowed beauties; it requires no garnishing from man’s hand. To say so is to impugn the wisdom of God whose gospel it is. To abbreviate, or to supplement it, is to be “ashamed” of it, virtually to set it aside as insufficient, and to adopt “another gospel.” Brethren, let us zealously watch against this! Let us take heed lest unconsciously we drift into the world’s reckoning and be found adopting the world’s tactics! I fear many have done so, to a greater extent than they are aware, in order to keep pace with others. But the gospel of God, in its simplicity and plainness, spoken from lips and a heart in communion with God, will never fail to be used by Him for the accomplishing of that for which He has sent it. Thus entrusted with God’s gospel, separated from vain pursuits to become its heralds, let us yield ourselves heartily to the honorable work, serving as priests, always ready, and at no time ashamed to herald forth “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11 RV).