So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. (Romans 1:15)
I think Paul might have used these words as his motto. We had once a Saxon king called Ethelred the Unready; here we have an apostle who might be called Paul the Ready. The Lord Jesus no sooner called to him out of heaven, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Than he answered, “Who art thou, Lord?” Almost directly after, his question was, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” He was no sooner converted, than he was ready for holy service; and “straightway he preached Christ” in the synagogues at Damascus. All through his life, whatever happened to him, he was always ready. If he had to speak to crowds in the street, he had the fitting word; or if to the elite upon Mars hill, he was ready for the philosophers. If he talked to the Pharisees, he knew how to address them; and when he was brought before the Sanhedrin, and perceived the Pharisaic and Sadducean elements in it, he knew how to avail himself of their mutual jealousies to help his own escape. See him before Felix, before Festus, before Agrippa, he is always ready; and when he came to stand before Nero, God was with him, and delivered him out of the mouth of the lion. If you find him on board ship, he is ready to comfort men in the storm; and when he gets on shore, a shipwrecked prisoner, he is ready to gather sticks, to help make the fires. At all points he is an all-round man, and an all-ready man; always ready to go wherever his Master sends him, and to do whatever his Lord appoints him.
In talking at this time about Paul’s readiness, I shall, first, dwell for a little while upon the state of Paul’s mind, as indicated by his declaration, “I am ready.” Secondly, I shall show that this state of mind arose from excellent principles; and, thirdly, I shall point out that this readiness produces admirable results wherever it is to be found.
I. First, let us consider THE STATE OF PAUL’S MIND, which enables him to say, “I am ready.”
I shall refer you to four passages where he expresses his readiness. The first is our text. Here we have Paul’s readiness to work. “so, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.” He had preached the gospel throughout a great part of Asia, he had crossed over into Europe, he had proclaimed the Word through Greece; and if ever an opportunity should occur for him to get to the capital of the world, whatever might be the danger to which he would be exposed, he was prepared to go. He was ready to go anywhere for Jesus, anywhere to preach the gospel, anywhere to win a soul, anywhere to comfort the people of God. “I am ready.” There is no place to which Paul was not ready to go. He was ready to make a journey into Spain; and if he did not come to this island of ours, which is a matter of question, undoubtedly he was ready to have gone to the utmost isles of the sea, and to lands and rivers unknown, to carry his Master’s mighty Word. Are we as ready as Paul was to go anywhere for Jesus, or do we fell that we could only work for Christ at home, and that we should not dare to go to the United States, or to Australia, or into some heathen land? Oh, may God keep us always on tiptoe, ready to move if the cloud moves, and equally ready to stay where we are if the cloud moveth not!
If Paul went to Rome, he would be going into the lion’s mouth; but he was ready for that, for lions had no kind of terror for him. He had fought with beasts at Ephesus. In spirit he had died in the mouth of the lion many a time, counting not his life dear unto him. I wish we were ready for all danger, all slander, all contumely, all poverty, all or anything that it might cost us to preach Christ where he is not known. The apostle was ready to go anywhere with the gospel, but he was not ready to preach another gospel; no one could make him ready to do that. He was not ready to hide the gospel, he was not ready to tone it down, he was not ready to abridge it or to extend it. He said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” As to the matter of preaching the gospel, Paul was always ready for that; he kept not back any one of its truths, no any part of its teaching. Even if it should bring upon him ridicule and contempt, though it should be to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness, Paul would say, “As much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel” to them all. He did not always feel alike fit for the work; he did not always find the same openings, or the same freedom in speech; but he was always ready to preach wherever the Lord gave him opportunity.
If you will kindly turn to Acts xxi. 13, you will read, in the second place, of Paul’s readiness to suffer. He says, “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” This is perhaps a greater thing than the former one; to be ready to suffer is more than to be ready to serve. To some of us it has become a habit to be ready to preach the gospel; but here was a man who was ready to suffer for the name of the Lord Jesus; so ready that he could not be dissuaded from it. He might preach the gospel; but why must he go to Jerusalem? All the world was before him; why must he go to that persecuting city? Everybody told him that he would have bonds and imprisonment, and perhaps death; but he cared nothing about all that; he said, “I am ready, I am ready.”
Beloved friends, are we ready to be scoffed at, to be thought idiots, to be put down amongst old-fashioned fossils? Perhaps so. Are we ready, if we should be required to do so, to lose friends for Christ’s sake, to have the cold shoulder for Christ’s sake? Perhaps so. Are we also ready, if it be the Lord’s will, to go home, to be carried upstairs, and to lie there for the next three months? are we as ready as that poor woman, who said, “The Lord said to me, ‘Betty, mind the house, look after the children,’ and I did it. By-and-by, he said, ‘Betty, go upstairs and cough twelve months.’ Shall I not do that also, and not complain, for it is all that I can do?” “I am ready.” You remember what is on the seal of the American Baptist Missionary Society, an ox with a plow on one side and a halter on the other, ready for either, ready to serve, or ready to suffer. You have not come to the highest style of readiness till you are ready for whatever the will of God may appoint for you. Unreadiness from this point of view is very common; but it shows unsubdued human nature. It is a relic of rebellion; for when we are fully sanctified, when every thought is brought into subjection to the mind of God, then the cry is not, “As I will,” but “As thou wilt.”
Ah! Dear friends, while I am talking very feebly to you, I should not wonder but what you are saying to yourselves, “This is above us as yet; we shall need much more teaching of the Holy Spirit before we are ready for unknown sufferings, for lonely sufferings, for suffering that seemeth to have no good in it, useless suffering, for being put on the shelf, for being laid aside from the holy services of God’s house, and from the little works that once we were able to do for Christ. Are you ready? Can you answer, “Ready, aye, ready”? So it should be with you if you belong to Christ; and so it was with Paul.
The third passage I must now quote is not exactly the same in words; but it means the same as others. It tells us of Paul’s readiness to do unpleasant work. I am afraid many of God’s servants fall short here. The passage is in 2 Corinthians x. 6: “And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.” The church at Corinth had sunk into a very sad condition. It was a church that did not have any minister; it had an open ministry, and nobody knows what mischief comes of that kind of thing. Paul recommended them to try what a minister could do for them; for he said, “I beseech you, brethren, (ye now the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) that you submit yourselves unto such.” They were too gifted for that, and everybody wanted to speak. When a church is all mouth, what becomes of the body? If it were all mouth, it would simply become a vacuum, nothing more; and the church in Corinth became very much that. It was nobody’s business to administer discipline, for it was everybody’s business; and what is everybody’s business is nobody’s business, as we well know; so no discipline was administered, and the church became what we call “all sixes and sevens.” It stands in the Scriptures forever as a warning against that method of church government, or, rather, of no church government at all.
Paul, when he went among these people, determined to administer discipline, and to try to put things right. He was not going to Corinth with a sword, or with any carnal weapon, or with anything of unkindness or hasty temper; but he was going with the Word of God. He wrote, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;” and he meant to go among the Corinthian professors, and pull down the stronghold of heathen vice that had entered the church to such and extent, that even at the Lord’s table some of them were drunken. Paul meant to deal honestly with all who were dishonoring the name of Christ. Now, dear friends, I speak especially to brethren whom God has put into the ministry, or put into office in the church, are you ready for this unpleasant duty? Oh, it costs some of us a great deal to say a strong thing! Perhaps we cannot say it at all without getting into a temper; and then we had better not say it at all. It is not easy to have firmness in the language combined with sweetness in the manner of uttering it. It is easy to congratulate friends, it is not difficult to condemn them in the gross; but it is another thing to speak personally and faithfully to each erring one, and to be assured in our own souls that, as far as we have any responsibility in the matter, we will not tolerate and Achan in the camp, and will not have evil done knowingly in the house of God. It should be our endeavor, as God has made us oversee everything that is committed to our charge, and to try to set right whatever is wrong.
Is it not the case with you who are private members of churches, do you not sometimes find it difficult to rebuke sin? Even profane swearing will come under the notice of many Christian people without a word of rebuke from them. They say they thought it best to hold their tongue; you mean you thought it easiest for yourselves. Sometimes known wickedness comes before the eyes of Christians, and they excuse themselves, and say, “We did not like to interfere.” “Perhaps they were too gentle,” you say; I suggest that they were too lazy, too much inclined to save their own precious skins, too anxious to have the soft side of this life, and not willing to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Are you ready, as Paul was, to exhibit a holy indignation against sin, and lovingly and tenderly, yet firmly, in the name of the Lord to see that evil does not go unrebuked? If any man has come to this, I will not say that I envy him; but that I desire to be found in that position, so that, when the Lord cometh, none of the evil of this generation may lie at my door. When he shall come, and find his church lukewarm, faithless, adulterated by worldliness and all manner of heresies, I pray that he may not have to point his finger at unfaithful pastors, and say of any one of us, “Thou art the man who art responsible for this sad state of affairs.” Oh, may God make us ready for whatever is laid upon us; however unpleasant and contrary to our mind and feeling the task may be, may we be ready to do the Lord’s work, faithful even to the end!
Now, once more, will you kindly turn to 2 Timothy iv. 6, where you have a verse well know to you all, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.” Paul was ready to die; he was ready to loose his cable from earth, and to sail away to the haven of the blessed; and well he might be, for he could add, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” Beloved friends, we cannot be ready to die unless we have been taught how to live. We who are active, and have talents to use, and health and strength with which to use those talents, must go on with “the greatest fight in the world” till we can say, “I have fought a good fight.” We must go on running the Christian race till we can say, “I have finished my course.” We must go on guarding the Word of God, and holding fast the truth of God, till we can say, “I have kept the faith.” It will be hard work to lie dying if we have been unfaithful. God’s infinite mercy may come in, and forgive and help us; and we may be “saved; yet so as by fire;” but if we would look forward to death with perfect readiness, having no dread or fear about it, but being as ready to die as we are to go to our beds tonight, then we must be kept faithful to God by his almighty grace. The faith must keep us, and we must keep the faith.
Thus, you see, Paul was ready for service, ready for suffering, ready for unpleasant duty, and ready to die. If I were to go round this Tabernacle, and ask of everyone, “My friend, are you ready in these four ways?” How many of you would be able to answer, “We are ready”? I am afraid many would have to shake their heads, and say, “I do not know what to say; I am doing my best in some style, but I cannot say that I have the readiness which the apostle claimed.” (Charles H. Spurgeon, Paul the Ready)
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