So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. (Romans 1:15)
II. Let me show you now that Paul’s READINESS AROSE FROM EXCELLENT PRINCIPLES. That is our second point.
As for Paul’s readiness to preach, I should trace that to his solemn conviction of the truth of the gospel. If a man only thinks it is true, he will not care whether he preaches it, or does not preach it; but if he knows it is true, he must preach it. I do not think we need find much fault with people nowadays for being too positive and dogmatic about the truth of God; the present current runs in quite another direction. A feeble faith, which might almost be mistaken for unbelief, is the common thing; and hence there is no great readiness to speak. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “As it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak.” If I get a grip of a thing and know it is true, then I must tell it to others. The backbone of the preaching of Christ is a conviction of the truth of Christ.
Paul also had a dauntless courage in this matter. He said, “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!” Whatever happened to him if he did preach it, he had counted the cost, and he was quite ready for all the consequences of his action. He had a holy self-denial; so that he put himself out of the question. “I am ready for anything; I am ready to preach this gospel, if I am stone, if I am thrown out of the city as dead, if I am imprisoned, if I am sent into the den of Caesar at Rome.” Paul was ready, because his courage had been given him of God.
Paul was ready to preach the gospel at Rome because he had freed himself from all entanglement. You know how he put it, in writing to his son Timothy, “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” There are some of us who get so tied up, and entangled, that we are not ready to do God’s service because we are all in knots through too much worldly business. Try, dear friends, you who are the servants of Christ, to keep yourselves as clear as you can of all entanglements. You have your living to earn; but serve God while you are earning it. If you see an opportunity of getting rich, but in order to do so you will have to deny yourself from Christ’s work, you will have to give up week-night services, and so on, do not thus entangle yourself; keep yourself as clear as you can. Her majesty does not expect one of her soldiers to take to farming, and then to send word that he cannot go to battle because he has to get in his hay harvest, or he has his wheat to cut. He must come whenever he is called; and blessed is that good solider of Jesus Christ who can come when he is wanted by his King and Captain. Sir Colin Campbell, when told that he was wanted to go to India, was asked, “How long will you take to get ready, Sir Colin?” He replied, “Twenty-four hours”; and in twenty-four hours he was ready to go. A Moravian was about to be sent by Zinzendorf to preach in Greenland. He had never heard of it before; but his leader called him, and said, “Brother, will you go to Greenland?” He answered, “Yes, sir.” “When will you go?” “When my boots come home from the cobbler;” and he did go as soon as his boots came home. He wanted nothing else but just that pair of boots, and he was ready to go. Paul, not even waiting for his boots to come home from the cobbler, says, “I am ready.” Oh, it is grand to find a man so little entangled that he can go where God would have him go, and can go at once.
Paul had, besides, such love for men, whether they were Jews, or Romans, or any other people, that he was ready to go anywhere to save them. He had also such zeal for God that it was a happiness to him to think of going to the furthest region if he might but preach Christ where He was not known; not building on another man’s foundation, but laying the first stone of the edifice himself. This, then, accounted for his readiness to preach; a holy conviction of the truth of what he had to preach, and of the need of preaching it.
But what helped Paul to be ready to suffer? Some here will have to suffer for Jesus Christ’s sake, though they may never be called to preach. Well, I should say, dear friends, first, that Paul was completely consecrated to the Lord. He was not his own, he was bought with a price; and that led him to feel that his Master might do whatever he liked with him. He belonged to Christ, he was Jesus Christ’s branded slave, and he was absolutely at Christ’s disposal. Moreover, he had such trust in his Lord that he felt, “whatever he does with me, it will be good and kind, and therefore I will make no condition, I will have no reserve from him; it is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good.” He had resolved to serve his Lord; and, therefore, if he had to be bound, or to die, he would not shrink back. He could have sung, as we sometimes sing, but he could carry it out better than we do,
I’ll follow where he goes.”
A whole-hearted consecration, a child-like confidence, a deep-toned submission, these will make us ready for suffering, whatever it may be.
But however did Paul screw himself up to be ready to exercise discipline? That is, to me, the ugliest point of all. How could he bring himself to be able to do that? I think it was because he had not received his gospel of men, nor by men; and he had learned not to depend upon men, nor to look for their approval as the support of his life. He was able to lean on the Savior, and to walk alone with his Lord. So long as he had Christ with him, he wanted nobody else. Paul had learned the fear of God, which casteth out the fear of man. “Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass; and forgettest the Lord they Maker?” Remembering man leads to the forgetting of God. If we learn to speak very plainly, yet very lovingly, habitually cultivating frankness towards all Christian people, and even towards the ungodly, and do not know what it is to ask of any man leave to speak the truth, how much better it will be all round! May the Holy Spirit deepen in us the fear of God, and so take away from us the fear of man! The, with Paul, each of us will be ready to say, even concerning the most unpleasant duty, “I am ready.”
But how came he to be able to say that he was ready to die? I will not dwell upon that. I have already told you that he felt ready to die because he could say that, as far as he had gone, he had finished the work God gave him to do, and he had kept the faith. Ah, dear friends, it is nothing but keeping faithful to God that will enable you to treat death as a friend! One dereliction of duty will be sufficient to rob you of comfort. When a traveler is walking, a very small stone in his shoe will lame him; and a very small offence against the integrity that God requires of his servants may do us great mischief. Did you ever notice, in Gideon’s life, that he had seventy sons, his own legitimate sons, and that he had one son who was the child of a harlot, and that one, Abimelech, killed his father’s seventy sons? So it may be that a good man has seventy virtues, but if he tolerate on wrong thing, it will be enough to rob him of the comfort of all the good things of his life, so that, when he comes to die, he may go limping and lame. Ay, and all his life long, he may go, like David, halting even to the grave. May the Lord in mercy and love keep us right! If he teaches us how to live, we shall know how to die.
It is not dying that is the great difficulty; it is living. If we are but helped to fight the good fight of faith, to finish our course, and to keep the faith, we shall die right enough. As Mr. Wesley said when the good woman asked him, “Do you not sometimes feel an awe at the thought of dying?” “No,” he replied, “If I knew for certain that I was going to die tomorrow night, I should do exactly what I am going to do. I am going to preach (I think it was) at Gloucester this afternoon, and this evening; and I shall go to the lodge with a friend So-and-so. I shall stay up with him till ten o’clock, and then I shall go to bed; and I shall be up at five, and ride over to Tewkesbury; and I shall preach there, and shall go to friend So-and-so’s for the night; and I shall go to bed at ten o’clock, and whether I live or not, it does not matter at all to me, for if I die, I shall wake up in glory. That is what I am going to do, whether I live or die.” It was said of Mr. Whitefield, that he never went to bed at night, leaving even a pair of gloves out of its place; he used to say that he would like to have everything ready in case he might be taken away. I think I see that good man standing, with a bedroom candle in his hand, at the top of the staircase, preaching Christ the last night of his life to the people sitting on the stairs; and then going inside the room, and commending himself to God; and going straight away to heaven. That is the way to die; but if you do not live like Wesley and Whitefield lived, you cannot die like Wesley and Whitefield died. May God grant us grace that we may be perfectly ready to die when the time for our departure is at hand!
III. Now I finish by saying that THIS READINESS PRODUCES ADMIRABLE RESULTS.
First, it prevents surprise. It is always bad to be taken by surprise. He who lives unto the Lord shall not fear evil tidings, for his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. If you are perfectly submissive to God’s will, and, as you crossed your threshold tonight, you heard that your child was dead, or that your dearest friend was smitten with sore sickness, you would say, “Well, I stoop to the surrender; when I had my children, I did not think they were immortal; I knew they would die, and I have stood ready for anything that might happen to them.” Oh, brethren, it is because we are not submissive, not sanctified, not fully resigned to God’s will, that we get tripped up every now and then, and do not quite know where we are! May the Lord give us the grace to be prepared for every emergency!
Again, when a man is ready, it prevents loss of time and opportunity. Many a sportsman has lost his bird because he was not ready to take aim; many a fisherman has lost his fish because he has not been ready to grasp his rod, and put the line into the stream. Many a preacher has, no doubt, missed the mark because, when he might have said a word for Christ, he was not ready to say it. Have you not often gone home, and said to yourself, “Now I recollect what I ought to have said. That man made an observation, and I could not tell at the moment what to reply to it; I know now what I should have said”? It is a fine thing to be wise when it is too late; but it would be much better if we waited upon God, and asked him to make us ready, ever ready, to speak for him in every place, and at any time, whenever an opportunity occurs.
Readiness also helps us to make good use of every occasion. He who is ready as each occasion comes, not only snatches the first part of it, but all the rest of it; he is prepared to deal with the whole thing as it proceeds. He who is always doing his Master’s work learns how to do it well, but he who only does it occasionally is like a bad workman who half forgets his craft because he is so much engaged in doing something else. God keep us all ready! May you be ready tonight to say a good word to somebody on your way home, and to serve God in your family when you get home!
To be ready puts a bloom on obedience, and presents it to God at its best. Some Sunday-school children were once asked what was the meaning of doing the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven; and they gave some very pretty answers. One said, “In heaven they do God’s will always;” another said, “They do God’s will cheerfully;” but one said, “Please, Sir, they do God’s will directly.” That is the thing; that is how it is done in heaven, directly. May we be in such a state of heart that we are ready to do the Lord’s will directly!
In this readiness, our obedience is multiplied; I mean, that any one act is multiplied, for the man who is ready to do the right thing has already done it in the sight of God. The Lord accepts it as done; and then, if the man still remains ready, he does, as it were, do the thing again, and when it is actually done he is still ready to do it again. If the act is only one, yet to God’s eye it hath a teeming multitude of obedient actions swarming around it.
To be ready, especially ready to die, removes all fear of death. I wish we could all sing as she did, who died in her sleep, and left this verse written on a piece of paper by her bedside,
But gladly put off these garments of clay;
To die in the Lord, is a covenant blessing,
Since Jesus to glory through death led the way.”
If we are ready as Paul was, all fear of death will be gone from us.
And I think it takes away a thousand ills if we are ready for service, ready for suffering, ready to die. I will tell you one thing, dear sister over yonder, you would not be so ready to halt as you are if you were ready for the Lord’s work and the Lord’s will. And you who are ready to perish, would get out of that sad kind of readiness if you came and trusted Christ, and became ready to suffer, or to do the Master’s will. The Lord is ready to pardon; may we be ready to believe, and may we come at once to Him, accept salvation through Jesus Christ, and then all through the rest of our lives say to the great Captain of our salvation what good sailors reply to their captain’s call, “Ready, aye ready!” Ready for storms and ready for calms; ready for whatever Thou dost command, ready for whatever Thou dost ordain!” The Lord bless you, dear friends, and give all of you this readiness, for Christ’s sake! Amen. (Charles H. Spurgeon, Paul the Ready)