"A Spirit Of Apathy"
by David Legge | Copyright © 1998 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
We're going to open our Bibles at that second reading that was given today in Romans 9. Romans 9 and verses 1 to 3, and we'll just read over these verses again just to remind us of what we'll be thinking of today. I want to say first of all that what I have to say is directed towards the young people, but not primarily - it's directed toward us all, it is a lesson to us all, it's something that we need to learn, and it's something that we need to follow in these three verses.
Paul says in verse 1: "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh".
Let's bow our heads, just for a moment, and ask the Lord's help this morning: Our Father, we thank Thee this morning for Thy goodness to us, we thank Thee for Thy faithfulness and Thy loving kindness. Our Father, we think Thee this morning for our young people. We thank Thee, our Father, for those of them whom Thou hast saved. Father we pray that Thou wouldst build them up in their most holy faith, from strength to strength, and conform them more and more, daily, into the image of Thy Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord we thank Thee for Thy truth, and we thank Thee Lord that it far exceeds all age groups, all maturity. Lord, we pray this morning that as we would open it, and as we would seek to learn from it from, that, our Father, Thou wouldst help us - that Thy Spirit would be here in a very real way. Lord, whatever it is that Thou wouldst have us learn this morning, we pray that our hearts would be open to accept it in grace. For we ask all these things in Jesus' name, Amen.
There is a kind of unwritten rule that preachers have, it's a bit like a preacher's code. It really says that if a preacher shows deep concern or anxiety about something in his message, or - if you like - if he has a hobby horse, something that he keeps coming back to and emphasising with strength and zeal, that it shows that that preacher has a lack of that thing in himself. Now, I am guilty of that this morning, because I am the first to admit that what I am about to speak about, I am greatly lacking in this subject.
You remember, a few gospel services ago, I gave to you a few stories about tragic things that happened in the United States of America. You remember I told you about a mailman who was doing his morning rounds, and as he was going from building to building a sniper from the top floor of one of the buildings shot him in the shoulder. He crawled into a building lobby, and to his absolute amazement he was ordered out of the building for the reason that he was dripping blood on the carpet!
You remember I told you about in Oklahoma city, a pregnant woman was walking along the sidewalk when suddenly she felt the pangs of birth coming upon her. She lay down on the sidewalk and she gave birth. An old lady walked by and stopped to help her, a taxi driver stopped at the side of the road, you remember, and pulled his window down, looked out, then pulled it back up again and went away. That old lady, seeking to help her, ran into a nearby hotel and asked could she borrow a towel to keep the woman warm - but she was refused.
You remember I told you about in Dayton, Ohio a woman drove her car headlong off the harbour right into the Miami River. A dozen people, this time, stood at the side of that harbour looking over the railing, and watched as the car sank to the bottom. They watched as she got out of her car, and stood on the roof and waved her hands and shouted that she couldn't swim! But she drowned.
You remember I told you that so many incidents like this have happened in the state of Chicago, that the Chicago Sun Times - the local newspaper - has opened a file in their library and they have titled it with one word - do you remember what it was? 'Apathy', apathy.
Dr. Lawrence M. Gould, the president of Carlton College, said these words - and I want to listen to them. Listen to them carefully, he said: 'I do not believe that the greatest threat to our future is from bombs or from guided missiles. I don't think our civilisation will end that way, I think it will end and it will die when people no longer care'. Arnold Toynbee (sp?) has pointed out that 19 out of 21 civilisations have died from within - not by conquest from without. There were no bands playing, there were no flags waving, there were no shouts of victory when those civilisations decayed - it simply happened slowly, it happened from within when there was quiet, when there was darkness, when no-one was aware.
Someone has said that the epitaph of our society today should be this: 'This civilisation died because it just didn't want to be bothered, it didn't care'. We can all testify to that, can't we? But as we sit this morning, snug and warm within these four walls of a church building, I don't know about you, but I feel that - like a trickle down effect, like a filtering - the attitude of the world with regards to apathy has come into the church. We have assimilated a spirit of apathy.
Young people, I'm talking to you - but I'm not just talking to you, I'm talking to the young marrieds, I'm talking to the middle-aged people and even the older people. The spirit of the age, if it be apathy, has affected all of us. Like Horatius Bonar - we could say that the words that he said have never been truer, because he looked at the church and he said: 'I looked for the church, and I found it in the world. I looked for the world, and I found it in the church'.
However, when we turn our eyes to the passage that we read together this morning from Romans chapter 9, we see a totally different person, a totally different picture. We see the person of Paul the apostle, we see a remarkable character - a man, in fact, whose past has been marked in scripture by the testimony of these words: that this man, before he was converted, was full of zeal and persecuting the church. But then we remember, one day, as we read the Acts of the Apostles, one day as he walked along the road to Damascus going on his way to round up a group of Christians and to feed them to lions, as he was on his way - miracle of miracles - he met Jesus Christ. When he met Christ his whole life was turned upside-down, his whole life was changed, he was saved and now you could say that his testimony was this: that he was full of zeal, not persecuting the church, but building the church of Jesus Christ.
He was a wholehearted man when he was a servant of Satan, when he was a servant of Judaism - but now, because of what Christ had done in his life, he was a wholehearted servant of Jesus Christ. He was sold out for God and His gospel! Listen young people, older people: how different we are today from this man Paul! If we are honest with ourselves, we would have to say that most of us don't seem to have a heart of zeal for anything! And if we do have a heart of zeal, it seems that it's a borrowed heart that we put on, like special clothes for special occasions - we only have an appearance of zeal at times.
But what a change - and try to imagine in your mind's eye for a moment - what a change came over this man Paul. He was a zealous blasphemer, but he had now been changed to an awesome, zealous proclaimer of Jesus Christ! Now think of that: it was just at this time that the church was facing difficulty, the church was facing persecution, and they needed a man - they needed a leader, they needed a man with great ability, with great scriptural knowledge, to confront the persecution that was coming - and God, in His infinite sovereignty and in His infinite wisdom, provided that man.
Paul, to the naked eye, was a mean looking man. He was small, I'm sure, there wasn't anything nice looking about him - but he was far from a mean man. Paul was a man who was proficient in many languages, he was a man who knew the Scriptures inside out - he sat at one of the greatest rabbis, Gamaliel. He was a man who was familiar, not just with Judaism, but with all education, with the philosophies and the learning of the Gentiles. He was a man, that we read about in the Scriptures, who probably became one of the greatest Christians and followers of Christ ever - yet he was a man who said of himself: 'I am nothing'.
What a man this man Paul was! Spurgeon says of him: 'The lion, Saul, had become a lamb. The one who had breathed out threatenings and murderings, now breathed out prayers. He who seemed to burn with enmity became a flame of love for Christ'. You're here this morning, and you're welcome, I don't know why you've come - perhaps you've come with someone, or perhaps someone is singing this morning that's your son or daughter, or a friend - but I want to ask you: have you ever experienced a change in your life like this? When suddenly, like a flash in your life, everything is turned topsy-turvy - why? Because you have met Christ on the road of your life! I wonder has there been a time in your own life where all your motives, all your aspirations, all your desires, everything that you're living for and living in has been totally changed - why? Because Christ, like dynamite, has come into your life and turned it upside-down! Have you ever experienced that? Do you know something? Today, right now, in this place at this very moment, Christ Jesus is alive! He is able to do exactly what he did to Saul, and turn your life upside-down.
What a change there was in this man. What a preacher this man must have been! Can you imagine to hear the apostle Paul, what it would've been like to hear him preach? Just in these three short verses that we read together you see that there are the essential ingredients of a preacher of the word of God. This man had love, he had compassion, and he had an earnestness for the lost. What it must have been to have sat and heard Paul the apostle proclaim the glorious riches of Christ! Now they said that this man was of contemptible speech, but that doesn't mean that he wasn't a good speaker. He mightn't have had a particularly nice voice, he mightn't use words that were frilly and fancy, but this man when he preached, preached words of power. This man spoke lightning words, as it were, that would've went into people's hearts like fiery darts and set them alight for Jesus Christ. Paul was no preacher with icicles on his lips, he hadn't a breath of frost when he was speaking about Christ and God - but this man preached with fervency and power!
Oh that I would be a little bit like Paul as he preached the word of God. Can you imagine what it would've been to hear Paul preach the gospel? It would've been as if he was standing before an open hell, warning people, trying to stop people from falling into that pit - it was as if he was there, he had seen what hell was like, and he was warning people of the love of Christ that could save them from that destruction. Just as they said of the Lord Jesus Christ, you could have nearly said of Paul: almost never did a man speak like this man! Why? Because he was following the example of his Master and Lord.
Let's look quickly at verse 1 that we read together. He says: 'I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost'. Now, what's he saying here? He's saying simply this: 'What I am about to share with you, what I'm going to say to you, it's the absolute truth. There's no doubt about it, it is true - I mean what I'm going to say'. Then, in order to reinforce this, he says: 'I'm telling you the truth in Christ'. He means: 'I'm in union with Christ, and because I'm in union with Christ I can't tell you a lie'. To bring it home further he says: 'My conscience also bears me witness, I'm telling you with a good conscience'. To bring it home even further he says: 'I'm saying it in the Holy Ghost'.
Now, what he trying to say? He's saying: 'Listen, the words I am about to breathe, the things I am about to say, they are absolute truth - you just don't doubt them, I mean what I'm saying'. Now why did Paul have to go overboard in showing that he meant what he says? Well you know, don't you, that the Jews hated Paul - they detested him! To them he was a traitor, to them he was an apostate, there were even 40 men who had sworn that they would kill Paul because of his conversion to Christianity - and it was because of that hate that was shown towards him that he wanted these Jews that were reading these verses to know that he was telling the truth.
So he goes on to tell the truth, he says in verse 2: 'I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart'. Those words are very strong, they could be literally translated: 'I have great grief, great grief to me is incessant pain in my heart'. What was Paul saying? In Paul's words you can almost feel echoed the anguish of the Lord Jesus Christ! You remember when He came over the Mount of Olives? Do you remember when He stood over Jerusalem with the tears tripping Him, with the sorrow, and the crackle in His heartbroken voice? He said: 'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!'.
Paul was no uncommitted bystander - do you hear me? Paul was no Sunday morning only Christian, but Paul was identifying himself with the people who he was brought up with, with the community in which he lived, he was identifying himself with Israel. He says he had an unceasing, endless duration of pain in his heart. He uses a combination of words, he uses the word for 'sorrow' and the word for physical pain to emphasise his discomfort and his plight over the nation. Now listen, listen to this! He's saying here: 'I have physical pain' - think of that! 'Physical pain that I can feel in my heart' - why? Because of the sin of his nation.
Like the prophet before him, Jeremiah, he cries out: 'My bowels, my inward parts! I am pained at the very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou O Lord hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war' - that we heard about in our reading. Like Jeremiah, he stands before his Jewish brothers and sisters and cries and says: 'Let mine eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease: for the virgin daughter of my people is broken with a great breach, with a very grievous blow'. Do you know what was wrong with Paul here? His heart, like a hammer coming down upon it, was broken into a myriad of splinters - why? Because his brothers and sisters in Judaism were on their way to hell.
Let me say this morning that Paul didn't believe in annihilation, he didn't believe that once you were dead you were done for, your life would be blown out like a candle. He didn't believe you would die like a dog in the grave and that would be the end of it. How could Paul's heart be broken if he believed that? But he didn't believe that, Paul believed what the word of God taught: that whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
We can learn so much this morning - young people, listen - from this man Paul. Is your family unsaved, are your friends unsaved, is your mother or your father unsaved, your sons or daughters? Your family, are they unsaved? Well listen, Paul's brothers were privileged as well, they grew up in a land that knew the Gospel, that knew the truth - like our children, like our people. They knew everything, they had the Old Testament Scriptures, they had the prophets, they had the one true God - yet what a tragedy of tragedies: they rejected it all! Today in Ulster, in Portadown, people have grown up - maybe people here - with the Gospel, and yet they sit in their sin still, and have not repented. People, listen, people today in Ulster, in Portadown, need Christ!
For that reason Paul says in verse 3, and listen, let these words burn into your soul: 'I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh'. He goes on, he says: 'For', he's beginning to explain why he has this pain in his heart. He says 'I could wish', now notice he doesn't say 'I would wish' - because it would be impossible for Paul to be cut off from Christ, because if you look at Romans 8 and verse 38 and 39 you'll see that he says that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus. But he says: 'I could wish, I wish it was almost possible', that's what he's trying to say, 'that I could be accursed from Christ'.
The word that Paul uses there, 'accursed', is the word 'anathema' that you find in Galatians 1 and verse 8, where he said if any man comes unto you, or an angel even comes to you, and preaches another Gospel let him be anathema - it means let him be cursed, let him be damned. Do you know what that word 'accursed' means? It describes, listen, it describes the delivering up to the judicial wrath of God of one person who ought to be cursed or cut off because of his sin. Now listen: do you see what Paul is saying? Listen - it astounds me to even see what he's saying! He is saying that Paul was willing to bear the curse of God, Paul in his spirit was willing to be accursed for Christ as a believer - he had such a love for his people, for his brothers and sisters in Judaism, for his mother and father and for his wider family that he said these words: 'Ah! If even my destruction could save these loved ones of mine, I could almost go that length to see them saved!'.
Is that not amazing? Do you know what that is? That's a spirit of substitution. Do you know what that is? That's the spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, when it says that the just - the one who didn't deserve punishment - the just became the unjust to bring us to God. Paul said that he wished to be damned, he wished to go to hell, that those who were damned and going to hell could get out of hell! Paul was simply a reflection of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Now let me ask you, young people, older people: what do you think of those verses? Now don't sit like on a normal Sunday morning meeting and just listen to the preaching, because that's not why I'm here. What do you think of those verses? This man was willing, if it were possible, to go to hell because of those whom he loved who were going there!
It astounds me that Paul had this constant aching in his breast. Everywhere he went, everywhere he walked, even when he slept he had this constant aching that- look at verse 1 - passed the test of the Holy Ghost. Does our zeal - if we have any zeal - does it pass the test of the Holy Ghost? Or is our zeal, young people, something that comes out on a Sunday? Is it something that comes out at the prayer meeting brethren? Is it something that comes out when the suit comes out? Are our tears, if we do shed tears, are our tears merely crocodile tears? Listen, my prayer this morning is this: oh, that I would get there! To be like Paul, who was ultimately like Christ - what a love he had for the lost! He was willing to pass under the judgement of God to see their salvation.
Oh, that we would lay our lives down for the lost, that we would find hardship, that we would find poverty, perhaps distance from our family, perhaps pain, pressures, suffering, for souls - for winning souls! Can I ask you this morning: do you love souls? I'm not asking do you go to church, do you support the church, do you do a work in the church - I'm not asking you that. I'm asking you do you have a real love for souls? Someone has said that our love for souls is like the thermometer of our Christian life - if that were so, this morning, what temperature would you be? Spurgeon said that if you don't have a love for souls, he doubted if you were even saved at all.
Listen: do you have a love for souls? If we really had a love for souls, young people, you would be at the prayer meeting. If we had a love for souls the prayer meeting before the Gospel meeting would be full. If we had a love for souls we would bring people with us to the Gospel meeting on a Sunday evening, we would go to the outreach team. Paul had a love for souls, so much so that he could go as far as to say that he would long to be cursed from Christ! If I had a love for souls, do you know something? I would be up out of my bed, and I would be on my knees pleading to God for the souls of sinners, for the souls of the children. I would be fasting before God, waiting before God for those in my family who know not Christ - but do you know what the truth is? I am content to sit in my salvation and watch as they go to hell.
I'll tell you something this morning: some of the petty annoyances that we have, some of the bickering that goes on, it would all stop if we had a love for souls. Do you know why? Because the only sorrow and the only pain, the only annoyance that would be in our breast would be like Paul's: because people are going to a lost eternity! William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army said these words, listen: 'Some like to live within the sound of church or chapel bell, but I'd rather run a rescue shop within a yard of hell'.
But before we think of this, do you know what we need to be? Before we can be winners of souls we need to be weepers of souls, like Murray McCheyne. When a tourist, an American tourist, came to his church many years after he died, he came to the Sexton who was the Sexton there when McCheyne was alive. He said to him in his Yankee twang: 'What was the secret of McCheyne's ministry?'. That now old man brought him down the church to the vestry, he led him through the door, he brought him to a table and a chair. There was a big old Bible on the table, and he plonked it down and he opened it. He said: 'Sit at the table', and that American sat at the table, and he said: 'Now, put your elbows on either side of that Bible', and he said: 'Weep for souls for hours'. That was the secret of his ministry! He wept for souls - and before we can win souls, young people, we've got to have a heart of weeping.
Now listen: McCheyne wept for souls, but 89% of Christians have never ever given out a Gospel tract. Let that sink in. McCheyne wept for souls, but 95% of Christians - 95%! - have never led a soul to Christ! Yet Paul could say: 'I could almost wish that I could be accursed from Christ'. David Brainerd, the missionary to the American Indians, could say: 'I care not where I live, or what hardships I go through, so that I can but gain souls to Christ'. He said: 'While I am asleep I dream of these things. As soon as I awake the first thing that is on my mind is this great work. All my desire is the conversion of sinners, and all my hope is in God'. George Whitefield, the great evangelist of the 1700's, echoed the words of Paul when he said: 'Oh Lord, give me souls or take my own soul!'. Henry Martyn, a young missionary kneeling in India's corals strands, cried out to the Lord: 'Here let me burn out for God'. John McKenzie prayed a prayer as a young missionary candidate, he said: 'Oh Lord, send me to the darkest spot on earth'. Praying Hyde, missionary to India, said: 'Father, give me these souls or I die!'. John Hunt, missionary to Fiji Islands, on his deathbed prayed: 'Lord, save Fiji, save Fiji, save these people. Oh Lord, have mercy upon Fiji, save Fiji' - and he passed into the presence of His Lord.
Oh, to have the spirit, and the zeal, and the love for souls that the apostle Paul did as he echoed Christ. That man I mentioned, William Booth, for over 30 years the Salvation Army and William Booth in particular were subject to some of the most vile persecution that Christians have ever suffered in modern times. But the General lived to see the day that he was issued an invitation to Buckingham Palace to see his King. His own King, King Edward VII, invited him to Buckingham Palace, and as he walked in in 1904 the King said these words to him: 'You are doing a great work, a good work, General Booth'. Inviting him to write in his visitors album that old man, now 75 years of age, took a pen and bent over his back and wrote these words in this book - and listen to these, young people: 'Your Majesty, some men's ambition is art, some men's ambition is fame, some men's ambition is gold, but my ambition is the souls of men'.
Young people, you've the rest of your life ahead of you. Some of us are older, some haven't much of life left. But whatever you have ahead of you, let me ask you this morning in closing - listen: what is your ambition? What is your desire? Is it to get a good job? Is it to earn money? Is it to get a good education? Don't get me wrong, education is extremely important, but listen: what is all-important in these days is this fact: that men will only be saved from hell in time, when we are here. The reason why the Lord didn't rapture us when He saved us was because He wanted us to seek the souls of men. May we be able to say today, like Paul in chapter 10 and verse 1: 'Brethren, my hearts desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they may be saved' - or put it in our context: 'Lord, my hearts desire and prayer for Portadown is, that they might be saved'.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered on Youth Sunday at Portadown Baptist Church, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "A Spirit Of Apathy" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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