2. Corinthians 5 20.
“AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST”
The substance of a sermon preached by the late Mr. J. D. TURNER, at the Spencefield School Hall, Evington, on the occasion of a Pastor’s Anniversary Services, 1959.
“Ambassadors for Christ,” 2. Corinthians 5, 20.
The importance which the Holy Ghost attaches to the work of the Christian ministry at Corinth is made very plain by the fact that the first six chapters of the second letter to the Corinthians is taken up with the subject matter of the ministry. The apostle Paul, more than once, has to vindicate his apostleship for there were ever those ready to attack him, asserting that he was no better than they and that they had equal, if not greater, right, to preach the gospel. We know that Paul had an especial call as an apostle; that to him had been given the marks and signs of an apostle, in that he saw the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He was given very special powers by the Holy Spirit that he might proclaim and write, under Divine inspiration and instruction, the truth as it is in Jesus and which the Lord willed to make known through him to the Churches.
It needs to be remembered that the ministry in the early church was conducted without the existence of the New Testament of the Scriptures. I think our consideration of this fact is important as it was for this reason and that the Church should not lack the instruction of TRUTH, that the Lord separated certain persons, designating them apostles, the “Sent forth ones,” that they might go forth and proclaim in fullness and truth that which we know as “The gospel of free and sovereign grace.” In our day, the servant of the Lord, called by the Lord, has the whole Word of God behind him and in his hand. He has the “More sure word of prophecy” and he can appeal to that full declaration of the mind and will of God in connection with all his teaching. Two passages of this chapter have been upon my mind in anticipation of this service, this one which I have announced as the text and that of verse 18, “The ministry of reconciliation” and seeking of the Lord that I might know which to speak to you from I trust He has given me to speak of “Ambassadors.” These two passages are very closely connected for is there not committed to the “Ambassadors” the ministry of reconciliation, the ministry which has upon it the hall mark of God the Holy Ghost which was designed and purposed and is promulgated and proclaimed so that there shall be an ingathering of the whole of the election of grace, not one being left behind.
It is said that the function of the Ambassador is to beseech, in Christ’s stead, “Be ye reconciled to God.” There is not the slightest suggestion here of “A reconciled God,” nor is there any entertainment of the teaching of the “Free wilier” concerning their much vaunted, “The world for Christ.” The zeal of these people may put the child of God, the true believer, to shame but the Scriptures have certain clear statements concerning the “World.” It is declared that there shall be those that shall be “Called out” from the world, truly separated from it, according to the Covenant purposes of God, in Christ. The Scriptures show that the world shall “Wax worse and worse” and you will nowhere find anything in this present dispensation, or in the Word of God, which could support the very prevalent thought, “The world for Christ.” Consider international affairs or examine the moral and spiritual condition of our own country and we must agree that the masses are not following Christ. It is not the crowds that are paying attention to the things of eternity. It is not every man, woman and child, irrespective of anything else, who wants the things of God, but on every hand there are the marks of the rejection of God and His Word. This was forced to my attention as we travelled by coach by way of Upperton Road,Â—You Leicester people know what is there,Â—for on every side cars and coaches were parked, police were busy controlling traffic, and why? Because there was a football match there. I hoped that we might have a good number here, but compared with that crowd, what is it? Friends, this reconciliation, this ministry of reconciliation in its blessed effect, is reserved, is particularly reserved for the Elect of God. It is only the predestined child of God who shall ever know the blessedness, suitability and need of the ministry of reconciliation. Before he can know this there must have been a propitiation made for him and that is by the fullness and sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ. Only where there has been a propitiation will there be a reconciliation and it is equally true that where there is a reconciliation there has been a propitiation. Here you have a particular redemption and a sovereign call, you cannot divorce the two.
“Ambassadors for Christ.” The minister of the Gospel is an Ambassador, appointed by the King of Kings. This is important. It would be useless for one to go to the British court saying, “I would like to go and represent this country to a foreign power.” No, the commission must come from the Queen. She alone can appoint ambassadors and without that appointment a man may go abroad on important missions and he may undertake to do great things but he is not an ambassador, he is not a representative of the governing Head of the country. So with the commencement of a real ministry there must be a commissioning by the Holy Ghost and there can be no substitute for this. I admire a right order. Where it is possible the servant of the Lord should go before the Church, he should state his spiritual exercise as to the ministry and exercise his gifts before the Church, but the Church DOES NOT SEND OUT THE MAN. God has done that and He alone has the right to do
this. All the Church can do is to, shall I say, acquiesce, in that which the Holy Ghost has done. Take the case of the church at Antioch. The Holy Spirit said to them, “Separate me Bamabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them,” (Acts 13, 2). So it must be! Whilst it is desirable and right that the people of God, particularly the church to which a man may belong, should seek some leading from the Lord in the matter, that is not the whole of the story. Until and unless a man has received a direct and definite call of God he is not a servant of the Lord, he is not a minister of the Gospel. He may have been trained in some institute or theological hall, have received academic and theological qualifications, have been extensively instructed in the Scriptures, but without this call he is not a minister of the Gospel, an Ambassador for Christ. Some few years ago I had a visit from a young man and he told me that he wanted to preach. “What a wonderful thing it would be if he could go and tell people what a dear Saviour he had found, if he could go and stand in a pulpit and preach the gospel.” So he spoke. I asked him one or two questions and then pointed out, “If you have any real exercise of spirit concerning this, you are a member of such a church, then go and tell the deacons, let them put your case before the church and then let the church hear it.” He replied, “You are a minister, you can encourage me, you can send me out.” I replied, “NEVER, I cannot send you out, I have no authority to do so.” From that day to this that young man has been most offended with me. There is a true desire that the Lord may send and thrust out other labourers into His vineyard, and we do need more servants of the Lord, yet, beware of the “Preaching Fever.” I am not here to decry the ministry of the Gospel, neither do I desire to do so, rather the reverse. The Lord has been wonderfully good to me in my thirty-five years in the ministry; He has brought me through many trials of faith and difficult paths but, let me say this, there are times in the life of a minister of the gospel when he has to go back over the years, over the early days, back to that one burning question, “Did the Lord call me to preach?” With what agony of soul and deep exercise of spirit the enquiry is again addressed to the Lord that a confirmation might be given, “Have not I sent thee.”
The second thing about the Ambassador, the minister of the gospel, is his AUTHORITY and here again there appears to be the necessity of making clear some things that are misunderstood. There is a sense in which “Authority” is a misused word. The minister is not a Lord over God’s heritage and this should never be forgotten by the minister of the church. Yet, since he has been separated to this work by the Holy Ghost and Divinely called to this solemn work, particularly if it is to the pastoral office, he must be head, under Christ, of that local church. Bear in mind that this is a delegated authority. What is another name for the minister of the gospel but “Under shepherd.” We know there is but One Chief Shepherd, a “Good Shepherd” indeed, and he holds all authority
and all power in His safe hands. He has condescended to appoint those whom he has chosen, sinners whom He has redeemed, whom He shall call to this work and make them “Under shepherds.” So, there is a rightful and true authority. Upon a matter of principle it is sometimes necessary for an “Ambassador” to stand alone. It is a very solemn and sorry thing when without right and without thought an authority, which is exercised in the tender fear of the Lord, is challenged by the church or a party thereof. A minister of the gospel is not always right, but, if the “Ambassador” acts in the fear of the Lord and according to the Word of the Lord and the revealing and leading of the Holy Spirit, (These are never contradictory), then be very careful, because, in questioning the authority and the right to exercise this, you may be questioning the truth of God’s Word and the Royal right of the Holy Spirit. Truly, it is an authority which should be exercised in love and received in love.
Then there is the OFFICE of the Ambassador. He represents the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus Christ, and is sent for a specific purpose. Let it be said, once and for all, that the “Ambassador” is not a public entertainer. He is not sent to tickle the ears of his hearers, to produce something startling and sensational which will make people wonder what he will say next. God forbid that worldly sort of thing. The office of an Ambassador is a solemn one for he has to stand between the living and the dead and to proclaim, without alteration or adulteration, that which is put into his heart and lips by His Master. Let no one despise this office, it is a high and holy one. On one occasion the Apostle Paul said, “I magnify my office,” (Romans 11, 13). When he thus spoke was he being proud or self assertive? Not at all. He does not say, “I magnify myself,” but the very office of a called minister of the gospel. The office of the “Ambassador” demands respect, it should receive more, it should receive real affection and growing love, but it must receive respect. It is evident that Paul did not always receive this in his office of “Ambassador.” He writes of the cost of the ministry in his own case, (2. Corinthians 6), “In afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in labours, in watchings, in fastings.” It was all wrong and a day of reckoning must come to the bitter opponents of the “Ambassador,” but in it all Paul is constantly reminded of his sinnership. He had already said that he was not worthy to be called an apostle and writing to Timothy, (1. Timothy 1, 15), he declares himself to be “The chief of sinners.” This was his solemn estimate of himself. But, where the office is concerned it is an honourable one and should be treated with honour.
Then I go on to notice the RESPONSIBILITY of the ministry, of this office of an Â“Ambassador.” It is a stewardship; an account must be given and it is not a stewardship to man but to God. I often wonder to what extent this is realised, that we have to give an account to God. In a sense there is an account given, or should be, at the end of each service. Such an occupation has been described
as “Mending nets,” for there is no true servant of the Lord who does not solemnly realise how much flesh enters into the ministry. How humbled he is when he knows that he is not so completely filled with the Holy Spirit that everything has been clearly, correctly and perfectly enunciated. The world of God is faultless but the servant is faulty. How often, therefore, the minister of the gospel has to bow before God, mourning over that which has been deficient in his ministry and pray for mercy, seeking that the cloak of forgiving love may be cast over that which has been so faulty. Yes, there is a stewardship to God and not to man. Attached to that stewardship there is a solemn promise, “It is required, in stewards, that a man be found faithful,” (1. Corinthians 4, 2). There are some of us, in these days, who are being accused of “Narrowness.” I know from whence these accusations come, and why they come, but we are not “Narrow” for the desire of it or the sake of it. More and more, I am asking the Lord to make and keep me as “Wide” as the Word of God and no wider, to be as “Narrow” as that Word and no narrower and to stand firmly and faithfully upon what is declared in Holy Writ and revealed by the Holy Spirit. From anything outside of that I must be separate. O, it is a stewardship, and your Pastor would tell you, were he able to be present, that he knows what it is to be solemnly searched concerning this matter and have to go to the Lord with anxious enquiry, “Am I faithful in these things. Lord, keep me faithful.”
There is, furthermore, the EXPERIENCE of the “Ambassador.” Like the child of God, the minister does not learn everything at once. It is often said that you cannot put old heads on young shoulders. You cannot expect the fullness of utterance and experience from a young Timothy that you would receive from an aged Paul, nevertheless they will walk by the same rule and mind the same thing, and there must be a deeper experience in the minister of the gospel than that of the hearers to whom they minister. Another word for “Ambassador” is presbyter, or elder. These are the “Bishops” of the church, not invested with some boasted episcopal authority, they have no diocese but they are the under shepherds, the elders, and to them the Lord has graciously given in increasing experience of His grace and teaching. Consider carefully this matter of the “Elder.” Have you ever listened to the servant of the Lord speaking of the pathway of the children of God. He does not speak as though he were merely reading a map. It would be easy to say with a map in front of him, “Those that go Along this road will find that there is a gradient here, a dangerous corner there, and an obstruction at this other place.” No, he does not merely read the map. He must read and most carefully consider the “Map,” the Word of God, but the “Ambassador” has to walk out what he preaches. My godly wife has given me a troubled look sometimes when she has heard me preach and has said, “We nave not walked that way yet, my dear, but we shall have to do so.” sure enough we do. The Lord allows me sometimes to get a little
out of my depth and I am a poor swimmer! There are things in the Scriptures of which I have to speak concerning which I cannot say in experience, “They are mine.” But, sure enough, it comes my way in due time. I have to prove that if I have spoken the truth of God I must walk in it and walk it out. An “Ambassador” is an “Elder” and it is a blessing to any people to have a minister sent to them who is sent of God and is an “Elder.” You have heard him preach and have thought, “That man knows what he is talking about. He has been over the ground and some of the ground has been my ground also.” At such times the Lord has sent the minister right into your pathway, so you think, but it is not quite so. Really the Lord has sent you into the minister’s pathway, he has been there before, that is the difference. He is an “Elder” and it means that for every 60 degrees of furnace heat you have to endure the “Elder” has to endure 65. For every mile of your tribulation the “Elder” has to go a mile and a quarter. Do you follow this? Who wants to be an “Ambassador”? I am not going to magnify the trials of faith and the tribulation. The Lord has been wonderfully merciful to me and in some ways, in many ways, the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, but there has been tribulation and sore trial and one can speak out of a full heart concerning the path of the people of God. Certainly not with the perfection of the great High Priest who hath “Trodden the wine press alone” and who hath gone further “By a stone’s cast” than any others, but His servants have to follow on in part that they may know and sympathise in a practical exposition of the path of the children of God.
There is also the PROCLAMATION of the “Ambassadors.” I do not seek to be critical for criticism’s sake but I have often heard the ministry of the Gospel referred to as a “Message.” It is far more than this, far more than a message. Messages may be important or they may be trivial, they may be vital or they may be ignored. A proclamation is more than a message and, it is never an offer. IT IS NEVER AN OFFER. An “Offered” Gospel is an anomaly and, furthermore, it is an insult to the Holy Ghost. Concerning this proclamation, you may recently have been listening to and reading the modem trend of “Calvinistic theology.” I am thankful, from what I hear, that in the Universities there is a returning to the teaching of the Puritans and a concern, with many, in their study of “Calvinism.” Yes, there is in many quarters emphasis put upon the sovereignty of God, upon the redemptive work of Christ and upon the necessity of faith in Him. So far so good but let us be careful. Not long ago a sermon was broadcast from the text, “He marvelled at their unbelief.” The speaker went on quite well up to a point, about the matter and necessity of faith; what faith had to be in, the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He spoke well of Christ in His person and work and I love to hear Christ well spoken of. BUT there was one thing missing, there was not a single reference to the work of the Holy Ghost. The speaker made out that it would be a very funny thing if we did not love
Christ as though unbelief was something that was most unnatural to the natural man, as though it was not part and parcel of our natural condition by the effect of the Fall of man. He went on to say that when you do believe in Christ, the thing that you will marvel at is that you did not believe before. According to so much teaching of today, you can believe when you like and you are a fool if you do not. That is no Gospel to me. That same Jesus, who laid down His life, I trust, for my soul must send the Holy Ghost, and He must give me life and faith without which I cannot believe in Him. Yes, this must be proclaimed. More and more I want mine to be a Holy Ghost ministry and more than ever, as I get older, I realise that one may plant and another water but it is God that giveth the increase. No one desires, more than I do, to lift up Christ high in the Ministry; to proclaim Him from the housetops, if possible; to set forth a little of what my soul knows of His preciousness and power. But when all this is done, what is needed? APPLICATION, and that I cannot give. No, it is the Holy Spirit that must come before the ministry, must be in the ministry, and must follow the ministry.
If the Holy Ghost is not before and with the sermon there will be nothing in it or attending it, to open up the heart and prepare the soul as He did with Lydia. I have no doubt that Paul, by that river side, put things very clearly as he sat down and taught those women concerning Jesus and Him Crucified, a “Full Orbed Gospel!” I do not know how many women there were there but listen, “Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended,” (Acts 16, 14), and if the Lord had not opened the heart she never would have done so. That is what we want to see in our congregations; the work of the Holy Spirit and we cannot force this. The Lord is a Sovereign, Lord over all, and if there is to be a revival, if there is to be a true returning, it must be by the returning of the Holy Ghost to our assemblies; nothing else can take the place of this.
Then, the RECEPTION of the “Ambassadors.” This is very important. There is a division made by the preaching of the Word of God, I am not making the division, I dare not, but there is a division made by the Word. How solemn it is to hear the Word, to receive it in the mind and to assent to it in the judgment and yet to know nothing of it in the heart. How unspeakably solemn, in fact more solemn in a sense, than if you had never heard it. I am not going back on what I have said; I know that you have no power in your flesh to receive it. Nevertheless, the servant of the Lord stands between the living and the dead. I have sometimes said that the Word of God is never ineffective, it never falls to the ground, it ALWAYS has results. The word burns in my heart as I read it, “If our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the god of this world hath blinded the mind of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them,” (2. Corinthians 4, 3/4, see also 2. Corinthians 2, 15/17). Consider this seriously. To the one “The
savour of life until life, to the other the savour of death unto death,” and who is sufficient for these things? “Ambassadors for Christ,” and the very ministry divides. The ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ divided. There were some who followed Him for the loaves and fishes, for the temporal and providential benefits that they thought they might obtain. These came to the “Hard sayings,” the sayings about the Sovereignty of God, and, stumbling at the word, said, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” and “From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him.” (John 6, 60 and 66). Turning to that little company of His own Jesus said, “Will ye also go away?” and Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou has the words of eternal life,” and so it is today. “Ambassadors for Christ.” That solemn work of separation will have its final attestation in the day of judgment but it is going on now also. The wheat and tares grow together until the harvest. Perhaps, like the servants in the parable, (Matthew 13, 24/30), we say, “Let us go and root them out and thus have a pure church. Let us have a pure congregation, a chapel full of good hearers even if only five or six.” How contrary to the word of the Lord. No, let both grow together, and yet the ministry, a faithful, discerning, Christ exalting and Holy Spirit honouring ministry does separate. How solemn it is, to feel that you get nothing for your soul from the ministry, that you are without any softening of heart, without a single bedewing of spirit; how solemn, if the ministry condemns. If there is one here in that state, may the Spirit of the Lord so work in your souls this night that you may desire to receive the “Ambassadors,” that you might receive the proclamation, that the grace of faith may be given to you.
Concerning the “Ambassadors for ChristÂ” they are BELOVED. Do you love your Pastor? Do you love him that is appointed by the Lord to minister the things of God to you? Do you love those persons who come to stand in your pulpits? It is a MARK, a gracious mark. Some of you have many fears as to whether you love the Lord Jesus Christ or not and the devil may have been attacking you upon this point. But, tell me, is there any spiritual affection towards the minister of God? I am not talking of the Man now but the Minister. Are there those to whom you feel a love, unlike all natural love, an affection that was never born of this earth? If you do, it is a mark. The minister may never know it, but if you love the servant you will love the servant’s Master. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” If you love the servant you cannot be antagonistic to the Lord and Master whom he proclaims, to the Gospel he preaches and the truth that he propounds. “Ambassadors for Christ,” are called STARS in the Book of the Revelation; and there is this about a star; when the sun rises the stars cease to shine. So with the true “Ambassador,” their desire, rightly led by the Holy Spirit, is to take a back seat, to be hidden from view, that Christ, their Lord and Master, their All in All, may be seen with the eye of faith and glorified. Unto Him be all the glory.