Heart Talks

By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer

Chapter 19


By E. E. Shelhamer and Others


     We are shocked, the cause of Christ disgraced and infidelity strengthened when a minister of the gospel falls into sin. Much more so if he be a holiness preacher. When we hear of it we are dumbfounded and cannot reconcile how it was possible for a man to disappoint us thus who had so recently preached with apparent unction and power.

     But we must remember that he did not fall from a high state of grace suddenly. There were successive steps which led to his downfall. Long before it became known to the public, he had broken step with God; he had backslidden in heart and now his sad inward condition is made manifest. How did it begin? It began back there when he was at his height of glory and power; when he no longer felt the need of long seasons of wrestling in prayer in order to carry on a meeting; when he had rounded up a number of star sermons and could fall back upon any one of them without renewed study and dependence on God. All this may have been the case years before the collapse, but the devil could afford to wait, for he knew that the higher the preacher climbed, the more fearful would be the consequences when he fell. Oh, that it would have become manifest years ago, before he became so self-sufficient and capable of reasoning away the checks and reproofs of the Holy Spirit. There might have been some hope then of his humbling himself and confessing to the bottom, but now it is hard to die out to reputation and break away from subtle sins and strong delusions. God does not send these "strong delusions" that a minister might be "damned" until such a one has deliberately deceived and covered up things which ought to have been renounced and repented of long ago. How sad that there are such men still walking about with a bold front, who are as hopelessly damned as if they were now in hell. They are damned, not because God willed it, but because they will not repent. O brethren, let us be quick to humble ourselves and ever ready to acknowledge the least departure from the path of righteousness and holiness.

     William Bramwell relates the following sad incident: "A gospel minister of evangelical principles, whose name, from the circumstances that occurred, it will be necessary to conceal, being much fatigued, at the conclusion of the afternoon service, retired to his apartment in order to take a little rest.

     "He had not long reclined upon his couch, before he fell asleep and began to dream. He dreamed that on walking into his garden he entered a bower that had been erected in it, where he sat down to read and meditate. While thus employed, he thought he heard some person enter the garden, and immediately leaving his bower, he hastened toward the spot whence the sound seemed to come, in order to discover who it was that had entered. He had not proceeded far before he discovered a particular friend of his, a gospel minister of considerable talents, who had rendered himself very popular by his zealous and unwearied efforts in the cause of Christ. On approaching his friend he Was surprised to find that his countenance Was covered with a gloom, which it had not been accustomed to wear, and that it strongly indicated a violent agitation of mind, apparently arising from conscious remorse.

     "After the usual salutations had passed, his friend asked the relater the time of day, to which he replied, 'Twenty-five minutes after four.' On hearing this the stranger said, 'It is only one hour since I died, and now I am damned.' 'Damned! for what?' inquired the dreaming minister. 'It is not,' said he, 'because I have not preached the gospel, neither is it because I have not been rendered useful, for I have now many seals to my ministry, who can bear testimony to the truth as it is in Jesus, which they have received from my lips; but it is because I have been accumulating to myself the applause of men more than the honor which cometh from above: and verily I have my reward!' Having uttered these expressions he hastily disappeared and was seen no more.

     "The minister awaking shortly afterward, with the contents of this dream deeply engraven on his memory, proceeded, overwhelmed with serious reflections, toward his chapel, in order to conduct the evening service. On his way thither he was accosted by a friend, who inquired whether he had heard of the severe loss the Church had sustained in the death of that able minister. He replied, 'No,' but being much affected at this singular intelligence, he inquired of him the day and the time of the day when his departure took place. To this his friend replied, 'This afternoon, at twenty-five minutes after three o'clock.' " -- Memoirs of Bramwell.

     How true the statement of Richard Baxter when be says, "Preaching may well succeed to the salvation of others, without the holiness of your own hearts and lives: it is possible, at least, though not usual; but it is impossible it should serve to save yourselves. Many shall say at that day, 'Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name?' who shall be answered with, 'I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.' Oh, sirs, how many men have preached Christ, and perished for want of a saving interest in Him? How many that are now in hell have told their people of the torments of hell, and warned them to avoid it? How many have preached the wrath of God against sinners, that are now feeling it? Oh, what more melancholy case can there be than for a man that made it his trade and calling to proclaim salvation, and to help others to attain it, yet after all to be himself lost forever? Alas, for us, that we should have so many books in our libraries that tell us of the way to heaven; that we should spend so many years in reading those books, and studying the doctrine of eternal life; and, after all this, to miss it! That we should study and preach so many sermons upon salvation, and yet fall short of it; so many sermons on damnation, and yet fall into it! ... Believe it, sirs, God is no respecter of persons: He saveth men not for their coats or callings -- a holy calling will not save an unholy man."