by Eugene Higgins
Saturday was my first experience at being masked, metered, and motioned into a store. I had to get something at Home Depot, and found a line of people outside the main entrance, standing in a queue that was eerily reminiscent of Disney World, (albeit on a much smaller scale). It was a dramatic difference from my visit just a week earlier when I sauntered into the store sans obstructions or mask. (Am I the only one who finds that eyeglasses fog up from breathing while wearing these masks?) This time, each person in line wore a mask and obediently took his place about 5’ feet apart from the next person. As the line snaked its way through the cordoned-off area toward the entrance, I was impressed with how subservient we all were. If this kind of thing ever occurred during a November Black Friday sales’ event, crowd-control employees would weep for joy over such patient and obsequious behavior on the part of would-be customers. We dutifully maintained the required separation as we drew nearer and nearer to the front door. Finally it was my turn, and I was motioned in by the nice lady controlling the line, who gave me permission to go in and give them some money.
How careful we have become about contact with others! Salespeople apologized to me if their work responsibilities brought them too close to where I was in an aisle. Customers maintained a distance even at check-out. People acted as though death could be as close as a cough and as sudden as a sneeze. I thought that this must be how Biblical lepers in Israel felt, who had to keep their distance, cover their mouth, and cry “Unclean.” I heard no warning cries of defilement, but covered mouths and observed distances were in full display. Welcome to the not-so-Brave New World.
Some years ago, I read the words of a crime profiler (a person who, based on the nature of the crime, gives law enforcement agents an idea of the appearance or type of person who was likely the perpetrator). He said very succinctly, “Every contact leaves a trace.” He meant that if persons had been at the scene of a crime, irrespective of how careful or circumspect they may have been, there will be some residual evidence – DNA, hair, fingerprint – some trace of their having been present. Many, many times I have thought of that quote after failing to have a Gospel tract in my pocket or failing to leave something Gospel-related with a person I just met. “Every contact leaves a trace.” In relation to the Gospel, “every contact should leave a trace.” How wonderful it would be if every person we met (contacted) were left with at least something from God’s Word (some trace) that could point them to Christ!
It will be impossible, very much longer, for governments to continue to compel their citizens to observe this monastic life-style. Like the opened door of the ark, out of which Noah and his family emerged into a new and different world, our front doors, of necessity, will have to open soon. Society will have to regroup and get on with life and business and commerce. And we will need to get on with preaching and evangelizing and testifying. Inarguably, there still will be some reluctance on the part of the general public as to attending “services.” Hopefully, that will evaporate when crowds begin to attend large sporting events or entertainment venues, and are seen to be doing so safely. But if sinners had been looking for another loophole to add to their “Please-have-me-excused” list, they just found #19.
It never has been easy to maintain testimony for God in this world. No generation of Christians has had a simple, painless path to follow. To the unconverted, “the word of the Cross” has always been either a stumbling-block or an inanity. However, we dare not turn our backs on the responsibility we have to “testify to the Gospel of the grace of God.”
Using that quote reminds me of Paul’s words to Timothy. The apostle said that before his conversion he was “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious.” There were three, razor-sharp tines to the pitchfork with which Saul of Tarsus pierced and punished the believers. His blasphemy was against the Son of God. His persecution was against the people of God. His insolent injury (opposition) was against the work of God. With that in mind, please notice how remarkable the change in him was, for in connection with each of those once-hated things he uses similar language:
- In Acts 21:13, the former blasphemer says, “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (The Son of God).
- In 2 Co 12:14, the former persecutor says, “Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children” (The People of God).
- In Rom 1:15, the former opponent to the work says, “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also” (The Work of God).
How ready are we to show our devotion to the Lord Jesus, our sincere care for the people of God, and our love for the Gospel of Christ? Perhaps when this virus crisis has passed, many people will want to reinvent the wheel and move away from “the simplicity that is in Christ.” There may be a temptation to relinquish Gospel work, Gospel meetings, and Gospel tents. If so, please let me leave with you one lasting thought from this email. Thankfully, “Gospel Halls” are not the only places that preach the Gospel. “Gospel Hall” preachers are not the only people preaching about the cross. It would be the heights of haughty hubris to imagine that “we alone are left.” All that having been said, what is true is that there are few places (please note, I did not say “no places”) that have steadfastly assigned such importance to the clear, consistent, systematic, extended, public proclamation of the Gospel of the grace of God. I know there are places that add a brief word in the Gospel at the end of the homily just in case, by some bizarre happenstance, an unconverted person might be listening or may inadvertently have stumbled in. But what I took for granted as a boy – hearing the Gospel preached every Sunday in a meeting exclusively dedicated to that message, sitting through 3 or 4 weeks of Gospel preaching, listening to the Gospel at conferences – all this is far more atypical than many of us imagine. Please, please, do not misconstrue this as a pat on our collective backs. We are marked by great weakness and, at times, greater coldness. But if we turn away from personally contacting souls, and from the scriptural, consistent heralding of the Gospel, we might as well collect the hymn books, sweep the floor, stack the chairs, turn off the lights, and lock the doors. Not only will we have failed our risen Lord, not only will we have betrayed our perishing neighbors, but we will have tied a tourniquet tightly around the central artery that sustains the heart of any future testimony for God; we will have cut off the flow of fresh blood to any prospective and on-going witness to the name of the Lord Jesus.
Spurgeon said, “If you want to preach men to Christ you have to preach Christ to men.” Whether in personal evangelism or public Gospel preaching, no “contact” means no conversions. As the old saying goes, “Evangelize or fossilize.” The choice is ours.