25. The Silent Steam-Roller

Only A Prayer Meeting by C. H. Spurgeon

Did you observe, last Sunday, a notice at the bottom of a street, at the back of this Tabernacle, warning us in large letters against a terrible monster? Thus ran the oracle, – beware of the steam-roller. I always feel inclined to turn down a side street when I see the red flag and that admonitory sentence; for useful as the steam-roller certainly is, I cannot persuade horses to believe that it is their true friend. On this particular occasion, there was no cause to fear the steam-breathing, coal-consuming leviathan, for its fire was out, its steam was a thing of yesterday, and the creature rested in perfect quiet, under cover of a tarpaulin. It is quite right that even engines should have their Sabbath. I thought, as I passed it, – a steam-roller at work is the pattern of what a church ought to be; but this particular steam-roller is a type of what many churches are. A church should be “terrible as an army with banners;” but, oftentimes, it is not. “BEWARE OF THE STEAM ROLLER!” seemed rather a humorous notice, under the circumstances. Why, a kitten need not be afraid of the huge machine, or its big wheels, when the fire is out. Satan, who is said to tremble at the sight of a single praying man, might laugh in the presence of some of our churches, for there is no fear of their doing any harm to his kingdom. We must have the steam up if we are to crush the granite, and prepare a highway for our God. The weight of our numbers, and the excellence of our machinery, will go for nothing unless the inward fires are glowing, turning lukewarmness into heat, and impelling every wheel to strong, all-subduing motion.

The steam-roller could do nothing without the stoker, and his coals and fire; and a church can do nothing if love, and fervour, and enthusiasm are not produced in it. It is my longing desire that we may ever be filled with the Divine energy. I see in our congregations, and in our societies, the altar and the wood; but what sacrifice can we offer to the Lord if we lack fire? One of the great uses of a prayer-meeting is to keep the fires burning. By earnest pleadings, we heap on the fuel; and the Holy Spirit comes to us as a heavenly wind, and makes the fire burn vehemently.

There may be wild-fire about, and, if so, I deplore it; but as far as my observation and experience have gone, I am more afraid of the want of fire than of the excess of it. The majority of our brethren are in no danger of becoming fanatical; the danger lies in the opposite direction: they are more likely to have their boilers cold, and their wheels rusted, than to burst with excess of force, or fly to pieces with perilous velocity. At any rate, let us cry for the fire to-night.

At the same time, we must not be satisfied with heat; for a steam-roller needs weight, or it will accomplish no useful end. As a church, we need sound doctrine; or else our ministries will be mere sound, and nothing more. We need to be taught by God ourselves, that we may be able to teach others. Go ahead, my young and fervent brethren; but, as you run, mind that you have a message to carry, or to what end will you run? You must have something to tell the people, and real instruction to impart to them, or your zeal will be “much ado about nothing.” If you gather the people together, or call at their houses, or talk to them individually, you must have precious truth to impart. Clouds  are well enough; but clouds without rain are disappointing. Any mother will tell you that it is a very bad thing for a baby to suck an empty bottle; if it gets no food from the bottle, it sucks down a deal of wind, and does itself hurt. Beware of giving an empty bottle to those whom you desire to benefit. I am afraid that, in many exciting meetings, there is more clatter of plates, and rattling of knives and forks, than anything else. Men may bawl and stamp, but if they do not teach the Gospel, they are doing no more good than acrobats in a circus. The babes of Christ need the unadulterated milk of the Word, that they may grow thereby; and if they do not get it, they will starve, even though you try to amuse them with rattles and corals. I will accord you great liberty as to how you shall say it, but there must be something in what you say. Why, in certain Evangelical meetings, if you listen to one address, you have heard all that you are likely to hear if you wait for half a century. Under a prosy minister, a little boy once turned to his father, and said, “Father, what are we all sitting here for?” And a similar question might be asked when earnest ignorance repeats its commonplaces till they are as well known as the street cry of “scissors to grind.” We must have something to communicate, or we shall be like a gun which has plenty of powder in it, but no shot; we shall make a great noise, but produce no result. Better to teach the simplest truth with great quietness than to make a great fuss and teach nothing. The steam-roller needs the fire; but if it were itself light as a feather, however fast it moved, it would never crush down the stones, and prepare the highway. Be solid as well as earnest, instructive as well as impassioned.

I am thankful to say that among us, as a church, this state of things is largely realized; our most zealous brethren are the most attached to the old, old Gospel; they are as enthusiastic as the Salvation Army, and as true to the old faith as the staunchest of Calvinists. Often, when I get letters concerning our evangelists, Fullerton and Smith, I meet with the remark, “Your brethren preach the truth as fully as if they were pastors, and yet they exhort the people with all the freeness of evangelists.” This is what I desire: I would see the doctrine of the Calvinist associated with the fire of the Methodist, and the holiness of the Puritan. I thank God that you, my brethren, know the difference between thunder and lightning, between beating a drum and breaking a heart. Make all the stir you please, but do not forget that clap-trap has nothing in it, and that shouting is not grace. The Gospel truth which is communicated is the true means of blessing, and not the excitement which may go with it. Dust will rise as an express train rushes along the metals, but the dust is not what the traveller admires, or the engineer depends upon. By all means give us truth red-hot, but mind that it is truth, or you cannot expect the Lord to bless it. Let us all be anxious to know more and more of Christ personally, and to be filled more and more with the Divine Spirit, without whose aid all our teaching will be in vain. Unless we are made partakers of the fiery energy of the Holy Ghost, the best instruction we can give will be cold, and lifeless, and powerless to affect the hearts of men.

As for me, I beg a special interest in your prayers that I may be sustained in the tremendous work to which I am called. A minister must be upheld by his people’s prayers, or what can he do? When a diver is on the sea-bottom, he depends upon the pumps above, which send him down the air. Pump away, brethren, while I am seeking for my Lord’s lost money among the timbers of this old wreck. I feel the fresh air coming in at every stroke of your prayer-pump; but if you stop your supplications, I shall perish. When a fireman climbs upon the roof with the hose, he can do nothing if the water is not driven up into it. Here I stand, pointing my hose at the burning mass. Send up the water, brethren! Send up a continual supply! What will be the use of my standing here with an empty hose? Every man to the pump! Let each one do better still, let him turn on the main. The reservoir is in Heaven; every saint is a turncock; use your keys, and give me a plentiful supply.

What I ask for myself, I seek for every true minister of Christ. Let not one be left to himself. We all cry with one voice, “BRETHREN, PRAY FOR US.” Thus, with a church with its steam up, sowers with their baskets filled with precious seed, and officers of the Lord’s army supported by a valiant soldiery, all things will be ordered as they should be, and we shall see greater things than these. Only let our dependence be wholly fixed upon the Lord our God; and because it is so at this moment, LET US PRAY.

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