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Quiet Talks on Service by S. D. Gordon

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In the beginning of his letter he calls attention to the fact that there
are not many among them of those who were reckoned by the world's
standards as wise or mighty or noble. On the contrary, in choosing His
leaders God had purposely chosen those reckoned by the world's standards
foolish that He might show plainly the shallowness of what they deem wise.
And so things reckoned weak had been chosen to give the conception of
what true strength is. And things even base, and despised, and not counted
at all had been used that so men might learn the God-standards of wisdom
and strength and honor and of what is worth while. The purpose being that
men should quit glorying in themselves and glorify Him from whom
everything had come, and was ever coming.

The passage has oftentimes been quoted as though God prefers weakness;
never put so bluntly as that perhaps, but plainly meaning that. That of
course is not true. God wants the best we have. He needs the best. And for
leadership often His plans must wait till a man of the sort needed can be
gotten. And gotten frequently means broken, shattered, and then made over
wholly new, that the native strength may be used according to true

Jacob was chosen rather than his elder brother Esau, not because of
Jacob's goodness but because of Esau's weakness. God was narrowed to these
two grandsons in carrying out the promise to Abraham. Jacob was
contemptible in his moral dealings, but he had qualities of leadership
wholly lacking in his brother. His moral character was a serious
hindrance. God had to handle him heroically before He could get the use of
his stronger mental equipment. Jacob had to get a bad throw-down before he
would be willing to let God have His way. His body must be weakened
before his mental power would yield. That was the weakness of his
stubbornness. Stubbornness is strength not strong enough to yield.

God's Use of Weak Things.

It is true that over and over again God has used men utterly weak and
foolish and despised in the light of life's common standards. He wants men
of the best mental strength, of the finest mental training, and He uses
such when they are willing to be used, and governed by the true
God-standards of life. But talent seems specially beset with temptation.
The very power to do great things seems often to bewilder the man
possessing it. Wrong ambition gets the saddle and the reins and whip too,
and rides hard.

Frequently some man who had not guessed he had talent, born in some lonely
walk of life, without the training of the schools, is used for special
leadership. It takes longer time always. Early mental training is an
enormous advantage. Carey the cobbler had mental talents to grace a
Cambridge chair. It took a little longer time to get him into shape for
the pioneer work he did in India. Duff's training gave him a great

But God is never in a hurry. He can wait. What He asks is that we shall
bring the best we have natively, with the best possible training, and let
Him use us absolutely as He may wish. And always remember that every
mental power is a gift from Him; that actual power in life must be through
Him only; and that mental gifts are not serviceable save as they are ever
inbreathed by His own Spirit.

This word of Paul's finds most graphic illustration in the book of Judges.
Judges should be put alongside of the first chapter of First Corinthians.
It is a series of pictorial illustrations of what Paul is saying there.
These two books, Joshua and Judges, side by side in the Old Testament
stand in sharpest contrast. The keynote of Joshua is victory; of Judges
defeat. There's music in both, but contrasted music. Joshua rings with
songs in the major key, triumphant, militant, joyous, victorious.

The music of Judges is in the minor, sad and weeping, with the harps
hanging on the willows. Joshua is upon the mountain top with sun shining
and air bracing and outlook inspiring. Judges is down in the valley
bottoms, dark and gloomy, and depressing. Yet Judges has bright spots, and
has spurts of good music interspersed. It is a study in lights and
shadows, bright lights, and dark shadowings, but with the blacker tints
intensifying and overcoming the others.

There are here seven striking illustrations of God's use of strange
unusual means, such as are reckoned weak and trivial. A _left-handed_ man
uses that peculiarity to get a great victory and eighteen years of freedom
for the nation.[24] A farmer with as homely a weapon as an _ox-goad_
delivers his people from oppression.[25] Men came to be so scarce, that is
men that were men enough to take their true place as leaders, that a
_woman_ had to step into the breach, and assume leadership. But the
student of history and of modern times is used to that. The result was
great victory, and a forty years' rest from the nation's enemies.[26]

A _nail_ or _tent-pin_, only a wooden peg, in the hands of a woman with a
hammer helps to make the enemy's defeat more decisive.[27] _Three hundred_
young men with _pitchers and trumpets_ completely rout the three armies of
three nations, and bring another deliverance.[28] Another time _a piece of
a millstone_ shoved over the wall by a woman turns the tide of battle
favorably.[29] And as contemptible a thing as the _jawbone of an ass_ in
the hands of one strong man is used to slay a thousand men.[30]

Call for Volunteers.

It is of one of these, one of the most striking of these, that we are to
talk together awhile; the graphic story of Gideon and his band of three
hundred young fellows. Things were in bad shape in the nation; about as
bad in every way as they could be. This time it was the Midianites who
overran the land, and held the leaderless people in most abject slavery.
With them were joined two other nations, the Amalekites and the Children
of the East. When the crops were almost ready to harvest, these raiders
swooped in in great numbers and destroyed all the crops and drove away all
the stock.

They harried the Israelites so that life was made very miserable for them.
They were forced to flee from their farms and take refuge in caves and
dens and the fastnesses among the hills. Then, as usual, when they got
into bad shape the people remembered God, and cried for help, and, as
usual with Him, He at once forgave them and planned another great

First of all Gideon the leader is chosen out, and put through a bit of
schooling. That is a fascinating story of great helpfulness. Then this
trained young leader gathers his band of helpers. And we want to mark
keenly how these three hundred men were sifted out of the thousands for
service. They were sifted out. They sifted themselves out. In that army
of thousands were just three hundred who had the needed qualifications for
the bit of service God wanted done.

Look over the gathered thousands: which are the chosen three hundred? No
man knew. They didn't know themselves until the tests came. They chose
themselves out by the way they stood the three tests applied. Even so is
God ever sifting out men for service. The more difficult the service, the
higher the grade of leadership needed, the severer the test. The testing
both reveals the qualities, and in part makes them.

The first quality these men had was _willingness._ They were all
_volunteers_. When the call came they rallied to the leader's side. Gideon
sent runners, criers, out throughout that whole section. They went first
to his own family clan, then to his tribe, then to three neighboring
tribes. They said that God had called upon Gideon to lead a movement
against the Midianites and their allies and he wanted every man to come
and help. The messengers went swiftly through the whole territory of these
neighboring tribes, arousing the men to action and calling for volunteers.

A good many did not respond to the summons. Some were simply indifferent.
They could not help hearing the call, but there was no response without or
within. No change of expression in the eye or face. They went right on in
their heavy, dull way as though they hadn't heard. They were utterly
indifferent to the call. Some were reluctant. They stopped and listened,
but with a heavy slant backwards to their bodies. Their heels bore most of
their weight. It was a good idea to get up such a movement, the enemy
ought to be driven back and out, but--but--and their eyes are half shut

Some criticised. Who was Gideon? A young upstart! trying to push himself
forward as a leader. He had no skill or experience. And the people had no
weapons. The enemy had stolen everything of the sort away. And they were
clear outnumbered. There wasn't a ghost of a show. It would only make bad
matters worse. This young upstart Gideon would soon be sorry enough when
he butted his head against the experienced Midianite leaders.
And--and--and--there they are talking, criticising, but not responding to
the call. Such critics seldom respond, and helpers criticise in a very
different way. It takes less brain to criticise unwisely, captiously, far
less than to help. Almost any hare-brain can tear a thing to pieces. And
nothing is commoner than just such criticism.

Some ridiculed. "Ha! ha! ha! Gideon going to be national leader; ha! ha!
ha! And whip the enemy. Ridiculous! Absurd!" And some were outrightly
opposed. They objected. The people would be aroused, their hopes awakened
only to be dashed. The whole thing was wrong, for it was impossible. And
these men tried to keep others from going.

A Willing People.

But many came. A crowd of volunteers came hurrying from farms and caves,
bringing such weapons probably as they had been able to keep in hiding.
They were willing to respond. It was a motley crowd, no doubt. There were
thirty-two thousand of them. These four tribes had once numbered as many
as one hundred and eighty-four thousand five hundred fighting men. And at
another, later, enumeration they had two hundred and twelve thousand men
of war age. Their numbers may be smaller now, though possibly not. It
looks as though only a small minority of all had responded, maybe one in
six or so.

These men had the first great qualification for service, they were
willing. They were actively willing. They willed to come down to the front
and help fight the enemy, and deliver their nation. It is a great quality
this of being willing. That prophetic One Hundred and Tenth Psalm mentions
this as the great characteristic of those who shall rally about God's King
in a coming day of power. God reckons our service not by our ability but
by our willingness.[31]

Whatever is given out of a warm, willing heart is eagerly accepted by
Him. The Hebrew tabernacle was constructed of free-will offerings. The
people came willingly with their offerings and left them for Moses' use.
Some brought gold and silver, some finely woven tapestries and silks. Here
was one poor woman who wanted to give but had very little. So she went out
to her little flock of goats whereby her living came to her, and cut off a
big bunch of goat's hair, and then with much pains dyed it red.

And then one day she went up to where they were presenting their gifts and
timidly laid her bunch of goat's hair on the pile of offerings, and
quietly, quickly slipped away. It seemed very small on that pile of gold
and silver and richly-colored weavings. But it was the gift of her heart.
They had to have goat's hair as well as gold. And her offering was
acceptable because it came from a willing heart. Willingness is a heart
quality. It is the heart volunteering.

"Our wills are ours to make them Thine."

This was the first test. Thirty-two thousand out of four tribes stood this
test. Gideon's army had one great qualification at the start.

Courageous Volunteers.

Now these men are put to a second test. The next morning God surprised
Gideon by telling him that he had too many men. If a victory was given
them with so many men they would feel that they had done the thing
themselves. They would grow so large as to shut God out of their
landscape. There would be no getting along with them. Each man would feel
that he was the essential factor. They would go back to the homefolks to
tell of themselves. God seems to know us folk down on the earth fairly

Now He would lessen their numbers, but in doing it He will pick out the
best. The men are encamped on the hillsides overlooking a valley. Across
the valley to the north lay the encamped armies of three nations. They
were a vast host. They were spread out as thick as the grasshoppers of
Egypt had been years before. Everywhere you looked there they were

Gideon spoke to his men. He said, "Gentlemen, Fellow-Israelites, there is
the enemy. Take a good look at them." And his followers looked, and as
they looked some of them began to get scared. They had not realized just
what was involved. Their footwear seemed to grow too large. They were
shaking in their boots. And their eyes grew big and their faces white
under the tan.

Then Gideon said, "Now, every man of you that thinks it can't be done--I
wish you would get right out of this, and go back home." And he watched.
And I imagine even Gideon shook a bit inside as he watched. They
commenced to move away in squads, in scores, in fifties. Great gaps were
left in the mob of men. Here is a fellow standing, looking. He thinks, "It
looks pretty bad, sure enough; but then, I suppose, if God is planning--"
hello, the fellow by his side has gone, and on this other side too--"I
guess I'd better go too." And off he goes. Fear is very contagious. There
is great power in feeling a man by your side. And two-thirds of them
disappear over the hills.

The motto of these disappearing men was this: "It can't be done." They
must have organized themselves into a society to perpetuate their own
idea. If so the society has shown great vitality. Many of its members
abide with us until this day. No, probably they didn't organize. They
didn't have enough gumption to. And such a sentiment grows like a weed
without any cultivation.

I recall a certain town in Ohio where I had gone to talk about an
enlargement and re-vitalizing of the Young Men's Christian Association.
Thousands of young men in the place needed just such help as that
organization is supposed to provide. I outlined the plan to a clergyman.
He said it was a good plan, there was great need, the thing should be
done, "but," he said, with an air of settling the thing, "it can't be done
in _this town_."

Among others I talked with a business man. He listened attentively,
approved the plans, agreed upon the great need, and then settling back in
his chair with the same air of finality, used exactly the same words, with
the same emphasis, "It can't be done in _this town_." I got that same
reply from several men that day. And I said to myself, "They are right; it
can't be done _with them_; but it can be done without them." And it was.

Irresistible Logic.

But there remained ten thousand. These men by their staying said, "It
ought to be done. What ought to be done can be done. What can be done _we_
can do. What we can do we _will_ do." Here is another man standing looking
at that vast host across the valley. He is thinking that it is a desperate
case, but he thinks of God's call through Gideon. Just then he notices
that his neighbor on the left has taken to his heels, and on his right
also. That shakes him for a moment. His heels say, "You go too." His heart
said, "No, stay." He obeyed his heart. He said, "I'll stay if I stay

That was the stuff in these remaining ten thousand. They stood a double
test in remaining, the desperate situation seen in the presence of such an
enormous army, and the desertion of their fellows. They had _courage_;
not only willingness but courage. Courage is a heart quality. Courage is
the heart fighting. It faces fearful odds and keeps right straight ahead

A prize was offered once for the best definition of "pluck." The
definition that won the prize said, "Pluck is fighting with the scabbard
after the sword is broken." What a picture in a single sentence! The man
is fighting with might and main in the thick of the enemy, up and down,
parry and thrust, and just about holding his own, when suddenly, without a
moment's warning, the blade snaps close up to the hilt. The game's up now
surely. This accident decides the day. _Maybe_--for _some_ men. But not
for this fellow. He simply sets his jaws a bit firmer as, quick as
lightning, he grabs the scabbard by his side and fights with it.

Such a man can't be whipped. He doesn't know when he is whipped. And the
man who doesn't know when he is whipped, never _is_ whipped. No man can be
whipped without his own consent. I said courage is a heart quality. These
ten thousand were not chicken-hearted nor downhearted. They were
lion-hearted, stout-hearted. They had hearts of oak.

It was a keen stroke of generalship on Gideon's part that sent the timid,
discouraged ones back home. Nothing is more demoralizing than the presence
of such people. And there was no discipline much finer for those who
remained than to feel their fellows leaving them. It's hard to be left by
those who have been in touch. It is hard to stand alone.

There is no harder test of character than that. And too there is no finer
thing to make character. Think how the fiber of those ten thousand
toughened and strengthened as they _stood_ there, with men on every side
hurrying away. This was the second test. But the men who can stand testing
are growing fewer. Thirty-two thousand men were willing. Only a third of
them are both willing and courageous. These men are more than volunteers.
They have seen the foe. Their fiber has stood the test, and toughened in
the test. They are _courageous_ volunteers.

Hot Hearts.

But there is a third test. God comes to Gideon and says, "You have too
many men yet, Gideon." And Gideon's eyes bulge out a bit. Too many! Yes,
this is to be a quality fight. No common fighting here. God works best
with the men who come nearest to having His own thought of things. Numbers
don't count. You can't count men for service. You must weigh them, and
feel the firmness of their fiber.

There is a little running brook down the valley. Gideon gives an order to
his men to advance a bit. And he watches them. Most of them as they come
to the water stretch out leisurely on the ground and putting their mouths
to the water take a good long drink, and another, and again. They seem to
say by their action, "Well, there's some tough work ahead, but we must
take care of ourselves. A man must look out for number one. We must not
get unduly stirred up over the thing. We're not fighting yet."

But one fellow comes along with a quick, nervous step, and his eye still
on the enemy. He is all on tenter-hooks. His eye flashes fire. He reaches
down with a quick movement and gathers up some water in his hand, up to
his mouth, and hurries on. Then a second fellow, and a third, and more.
Gideon is watching. As each of these comes along he calls him off to one
side. When the whole number of men have passed the brook there are just
three hundred of the hot-hearted, intense-spirited fellows.

God said, "Gideon, keep these men; send the others back." These thousands
sent back were sturdy men. They would make good fighters in many a
campaign, but they would not do for this higher kind of campaigning
planned for that day. The little band remaining had stood a third test,
they were willing, and courageous, _and enthusiastic_.

Enthusiasm is the heart _burning_. These fellows had spring and snap to
them. Yet it was a _tempered_ spring and snap, the sort that would last.
By their action at the brook they said, "If there's fighting to be done,
let's do it quickly; let's go at the enemy with a vim and a rush. Oh! let
us at them."

God Still Sifting.

Yet, mark you, their enthusiasm was _seasoned_. It grew _under fire_, or
practically so, in the presence of the danger. There is always an
abundance of the green article of enthusiasm, but it's not worth much for
steady ditch-work. There is a sort of wood enthusiasm, apple-wood. You
know how apple-wood burns in a fire. It catches quickly, throws out a good
many sparks, makes a loud crackling noise, but doesn't last long.

There is another sort, a soft-coal enthusiasm. It's better than wood. But
it needs a lot of attention continually to keep a steady fire. Then
there's the hard-coal enthusiasm that will burn steadily and faithfully by
the hour. Yet no kind, mark you, will run long without fresh fuel. We need
in our service more of the seasoned enthusiasm.

It has been said of General Grant that one great reason for his success as
a soldier was in his coolness. While the fighting and firing were hottest
he sat on his horse quietly, coolly watching, listening, and giving his
orders. And much of his power has been attributed to that quality. Well,
if coolness is a qualification for success in Christian service there
seems to be a large number of persons splendidly qualified. They are cool
all the time; cool as icebergs at the North Pole; cool from the topmost
layer of hair to the bottommost cuticle--about certain things.

We want coolness of head such as General Grant had and hotness of heart
such as he had, too. The ideal combination is a cool head and a hot heart.
The head should resemble a refrigerator, and the heart a flaming furnace.
There is one bother, however, among many people. Either the coolness of
the head works down too much and affects the heart, and that is bad, or,
else the heat of the heart gets up into the head, and a hot head is always

Yet there is a sure key to preserving the poise between the two. It is in
the quiet time daily with Jesus, over the Book, with the knee bent, and
the ear keen, and the spirit quiet. In that time there comes, and comes
ever more, the calmness for the brain, and the fresh fuel for the heart,
and new steadiness for the will that holds all under its strong hand.

Many difficulties will yield only to fire. When you cannot reason your way
through a problem, or a difficulty, or into a man's heart, _burn_ your
way through. Nothing can withstand fire. It is very remarkable that the
symbol used most for God in the Bible is fire. A man never amounts to
anything until he catches fire.

The proportions are worth noticing here. Thirty-two thousand were
_volunteers_. A third of that number are _courageous_ volunteers. About a
thirty-third of these, less than a hundredth of the original, are
_hot-hearted, courageous_ volunteers.

This is Gideon's Band; three hundred young men fresh from the farm, who
were _willing_, and _courageous_, and _hot-hearted_, all heart qualities.
They stood every test. They had faced a foe that humanly they had no
chance to overcome, and because of God's call they were not only willing,
and stout-hearted, but intense in their desire to get at the fighting.

Then under Gideon's leadership they were well fed, and organized; they
proved individually faithful in the thick of the fight, and they pushed
persistently on even when bodily tired out. And the nation knew a great
victory over its enemies, and a time of prosperity for years after.

God is still sifting men for service. He will use gladly every man who is
willing to be used. When a man stands the first test well, there comes a
second. That, stood well, means others. These are our promotion tests. He
lets those who stand all testings into the thickest of the fight and up to
the highest heights of victory.

Master, help us to endure every test as seeing Him who is invisible.


[1] 1 John i:1.

[2] 2 Corinthians iii:18.

[3] Frances Ridley Havergal.

[4] Exodus xxi:2-6, Leviticus xxv:39-43; Deuteronomy xv:12-18.

[5] Psalm xi:6-8; Hebrews x:5-7.

[6] Isaiah 1:4-6.

[7] John v:19, 30; vi:38, 57; vii:16-17, 28; viii:28, 29.

[8] John Sullivan Dwight.

[9] Mark i:41; Matthew ix:36; Mark vi:34 (with Matthew xiv:14);
Matthew xx:34; xv:32; Mark v:19; Luke vii:13; x:33; xv:20

[10] Daniel xii:3.

[11] James v:19.

[12] Proverbs xi:30.

[13] Luke v:10.

[14] Acts xvii:6.

[15] 1 Thessalonians iv:11; 2 Corinthians v. 9, Romans xv:20.

[16] Attention is directed to a strong helpful address on "Money," by Rev.
A. F. Schauffler, D.D., in "The Student Missionary Appeal," published by
the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions.

[17] Luke xvi:9.

[18] Psalm cxix:54.

[19] Psalm xxx:5.

[20] Psalm lv:22.

[21] Psalm lxviii:19.

[22] I Peter v:7.

[23] 1 Corinthians v:9-12.

[24] Judges iii:15-30.

[25] Judges iii:31.

[26] Judges iv:4-16; v:1.

[27] Judges iv:17-24.

[28] Judges vi and vii.

[29] Judges ix:50-57.

[30] Judges xv:15-20.

[31] 2 Corinthians viii:12.

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