Vol. 6, No. 9
~ Page 13 ~
Some time ago while picking blackberries, I was constrained to write an article entitled "Stick with your Bush." It was primarily an exhortation to stay with the job you begin until it is finished, not simply move on because the berries seem bigger on another bush, as some preachers seem to do. I decided to try the berry patch again. Before the bucket was full, four more lessons came to mind.
First, it does not matter what kind of inspiration one may have, or whether the thoughts come in a blackberry patch or behind a desk, if there is no Scripture that deals with the subject in a definitive way, the inspiration may amount to nothing more than so much expiration or perspiration. There is little doubt that many preachers of today would do a service to mankind in general and the church in particular if they would go to a berry patch and stay there. The admonition of Paul to Timothy was, "Preach the word; be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Timothy 1:4). When I hear a man with two or three degrees who can quote Shakespeare, Milton, Karl Barth or Paul Tillich, but seems to have trouble finding a Scripture that is worth noting, I am disturbed. It is even more disturbing to find those who call themselves preachers of the Gospel who actually teach that doctrine is of no value. Of course their doctrine is not, but for even a casual reader of God's Word to deny the value of sound doctrine is amazing almost beyond belief. Some are even saying that since many of our serious divisions are over doctrinal matters, the solution is for us not to teach or emphasize doctrine at all! Of course we can have unity with each other if no one says anything that makes any difference, but we cannot have unity with Christ and Paul that way.
Second, I realized that if a person is not willing to take his chances on chiggers, snakes, hydrophobia skunks, poison ivy and whatever other perils may exist, such as the nest of yellow jackets in which I stepped on my last trip, he probably should consider staying at home. Jesus was very plain in teaching that principle in Luke 15:28-33 when he talked about counting the cost. Any person or group that begins any effort to advance the cause of Christ in any significant way should count the cost. If we are not willing to bear the slashing criticism of those who will oppose the effort, if we are not willing to even lose the friendship of some or whatever else it takes to carry out the will of the Lord, we should not start. We need to be able to see the difference between those who ask serious questions about some aspect of the program about which they have doubts, and those who oppose on the basis of some doctrinal viewpoint. In all cases we need to have love and patience and be willing to correct any wrong. That, too, may be a part of counting the cost, for men who can admit they are wrong and graciously make correction are rare. But the principle of counting the cost is what I am trying to emphasize.
Many preachers of today extend an invitation emphasizing how easy it all is. The baptistery is ready; the water is warm; the clothing is ready and there is apparently no difficulty we should contemplate. That may sound good on the political scene. This was not the approach Jesus made. Every person we teach should be made aware of the necessity of denying self, taking up the cross and following Christ. Jesus concluded that admonition with, "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." It should be evident that "forsake all that he hath" cannot mean a person must sell all his property or leave all his family in order to be a Christian. It does mean that if he is not willing to lose it all for the sake of Christ, he cannot be a disciple.
One does not have to get snake bitten or even suffer chigger bites in order to pick berries, but if he has such a morbid fear that he is in constant terror or pain, he would be better off to stay at home. It is also worth noting that if a person is more concerned with seeking for snakes, scratching for chiggers or sniffing for skunks than he is in picking berries, it would be best for him to stay out of the patch.
The same principle is true in the preaching of the Gospel. If a person is afraid to preach against error for any reason, he should not pretend to be a preacher of the Gospel. However, if his primary concern is to point out error, he should be aware that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The power is not in pointing out how much is wrong in the religious world or even in the church.
Of course, some of this is a matter of judgment and balance. Those who seem to spend more of their time finding fault and looking for bad things can easily justify themselves, for they can point out that poison ivy does surround this patch, or they just saw three copperheads in that one. The point I am emphasizing here is that we should be concerned with various dangers and problems, but we should try to make sure we have our priorities straight.
Jesus suggested the principle about which I write when He said, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done and not to leave the other undone" (Matthew 23:23). We need to watch for snakes and skunks and protect against chiggers, but the purpose of going into the field is to gather the harvest. Jesus might have said, if he were talking about blackberries, "Lift up your eyes, and look upon the fields, for they are black already to harvest" (to paraphrase John 4:35). Anything that prevents the cultivation of and gathering of souls for Christ should be examined with care.
Third, I realized that if one only picks where someone else has just been, he does not get his bucket full as quickly. In fact, he may waste his time almost completely. Yet, I found another truth almost as significant. One can pick where someone else has been the day before and do very well, for two reasons. First, new berries are coming along all the time. Second, not everyone looks under the same leaves with the same care. Paul was aware of both of those principles. In Romans 15:20 he said, "Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation." In the Lord's church, probably 90% of our time and resources are spent preaching the Gospel to ourselves. Over and over we preach the same truths (or sometimes errors) to the same audience while the world around us is lost. We need to reach out with new methods with new emphasis to reach the untold masses that are going to perdition untold. Yet, we should not make the mistake of some that seem to be afraid of preaching the same Gospel to the local congregation. Remember the little green berries are going to ripen after a while, and we need to be there to gather them.
The fourth thought that came to me was when I found a bunch of berries hanging in clusters. Instead of picking them one at a time, I would often try to get the whole bunch at once. We need to be aware of some of the advantages and disadvantages of that sort of thinking in our spiritual application. Mass efforts have a value. Citywide campaigns, national efforts and all kinds of scriptural cooperative efforts have a great value. But there are some dangers and difficulties of which we need to be aware.
First, there are many who will be willing to drop a few dollars into a common fund and assume that they have thus discharged their responsibility. I seem to remember in Aesop's fables a story of an elephant with a flea on its back that was crossing a bridge. When they got across, the flea said, "Boy, we really made a noise coming across." When we stand before God in judgment day, God will not ask, "What did the congregation of which you were a member do about this or that?" He will judge us according to the deeds done in our body. Christianity starts as an individual matter.
Second, some of the berries would get squashed or dropped in the process. In mass efforts, many "drop through the cracks" because we may get so interested in numbers that we forget that souls are actually not saved en masse, but one at a time. It is true that Peter preached to thousands on Pentecost, but it is also true that God sent Philip from a very successful effort where many were being baptized into the desert to talk to one lone foreigner. The point I am making here is that no matter if there are many responses to any wide evangelistic effort, unless there is an individual effort of one-on-one, the results will not be what they should be.
I do not advise anyone to go to a blackberry patch just to try to get a lesson, but I do suggest that Shakespeare had a worthwhile thought when he said, "Sweet are the uses of adversity; which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head; and this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything." So, it is possible to find sermons, articles and good even in the dangers and difficulties of a blackberry patch. James put it this way, "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations (testings), knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience" (James 1:2-3). How much has your service to Christ cost you?