Travailing for Souls
Isaiah 66:8
Who has heard such a thing? who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day?…


1. Let me, first, establish this fact from history. Before there has fallen a great benediction upon God's people, it has been preceded by great searchings of heart. Israel was so oppressed in Egypt, that it would have been very easy, and almost a natural thing for the people to become so utterly crushed in spirit as to submit to be hereditary bondslaves, making the best they could of their miserable lot: but God would not have it so; He meant to bring them out "with a high hand and an outstretched arm." Before, however, He began to work He made them begin to cry. Let us take a long leap in history to the days of David. The era of the son of Jesse was evidently a time of religious revival. But David was the subject of spiritual throes and pangs of the most intense kind. What petitions he poured forth that God would visit Zion, and make the vine which He had planted to flourish once again. Now, David was only the mouth of hundreds of others, who with equal fervency cried unto God that the blessing might rest upon His people. Remember also the days of Josiah, the king. The book of the law was found neglected in the temple, and when it was brought before the king, he rent his clothes, for he saw that the nation had revolted, and that wrath must come upon it to the uttermost. The young king's heart, which was tender, for he feared God, was ready to break with anguish to think of the misery that would come upon his people on account of their sins. Then there came a glorious reformation, which purged the land of idols, and caused the passover to be observed as never before. Travail of heart among the godly produced the delightful change. It was the same with the work of Nehemiah. In the early dawn of Christian history, there was a preparation of the Church before it received an increase. The like living zeal and vehement desire have always been perceptible in the Church of God before any season of refreshing. Think not that Luther was the only man that wrought the Reformation. There were hundreds who sighed and cried in secret. And this, while true on the large scale, is true also in every individual case. As a rule, those who bring souls to Christ are those who first of all have felt an agony of desire that souls should be saved. This is imaged to us in our Master's character. His ministering servants who have been most useful have always been eagerly desirous to be so.

2. The reasons for it. Why is it that there must be this anxiety before desirable results are gained? It might suffice us to say that God has so appointed it. It is the order of nature. The child is not born into the world without the sorrows of the mother, nor is the bread which sustains life procured from the earth without toil. As it is in the natural, so is it in the spiritual; there shall not come the blessing we seek, without first of all the earnest yearning for it. It is so even in ordinary business. We say, "No sweat no sweet," "No pains no gains," "No mill no meal." But better still, He has ordained this for our good. Every grace within the man is educated and increased by his travail for souls. Besides, the zeal that God excites within us is often the means of effecting the purpose which we desire. The Holy Ghost usually breaks hard hearts by tender hearts. Besides, the travail qualifies for the proper taking care of the offspring. Who is so fit to encourage a new-born believer as the man who first anguished before the Lord for his conversion? The Church that never travailed, should God send her a hundred converts, would be unfit to train them. Once more, there is it. eat benefit in the law which makes travail necessary to spiritual birth, because It secures all the glory to God. Your longing that others should be saved, and your vehemence of spirit, shall secure to God all the glory of His own work.

3. Notice how this travail shows itself. Usually when God intends greatly to bless a Church, it will begin in this way: Two or three persons in it are distressed at the low state of affairs, and become troubled even to anguish. Perhaps they do not speak to one another, or know of their common grief, but they begin to pray with flaming desire and untiring importunity. The passion. to see the Church revived rules them. They suffer great heaviness and continual sorrow in heart for perishing sinners; they travail in birth for souls. By degrees the individuals are drawn together by sacred affinity, and the prayer-meetings become very different. Meanwhile, not with the preacher only will be the blessing, but with his hearers who love the Lord. One will be trying a plan for getting in the young people: another will be looking after the strangers in the aisles, who come only now and then. One brother will make a vehement attempt to preach the Gospel at t e corner of the street; another will open a room down a dark court; another will visit lodging-houses and hospitals: all sorts of holy plans will be invented, and zeal will break out in many directions. All this will be spontaneous, nothing will be forced.


1. Frequently for rapidity. "As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children." During the ten years which ended in 1870 such wondrous changes were wrought throughout the world that no prophet would have been believed had he foretold them. Reforms have been accomplished in England, in the United States, in Germany, in Spain, in Italy, which, according to ordinary reckoning, would have occupied at least one hundred years.

2. For the greatness of it. It is said, "Shall a nation be born at once?" for as soon as ever Zion was in distress about her children, tens of thousands came and built up Jerusalem, and re-established the fallen state. So in answer to prayer, God does not only give speedy blessings, but great blessings. There were fervent prayers in that upper room "before the day of Pentecost had fully come, and what a great answer it was when, after Peter's sermon, some three thousand were ready to confess their faith in Christ, and to be baptized.

III. THIS TRAVAIL AND ITS RESULT ARE ABUNDANTLY DESIRABLE. There is no hope for China, for the world, for our own city, while the Church is lethargic. It is through the Church the blessing is bestowed. Besides this, when a Church is not serving God, mischief is brewing within herself. The Church must either bring forth children unto God, or die of consumption: she has no alternative but that. A Church must either be fruitful or rot, and of all things a rotting Church is the most offensive. And then, worst of all, God is not glorified.

IV. THE WOE WHICH WILL SURELY COME TO THOSE WHO HINDER THE TRAVAIL OF THE CHURCH, and so prevent the bringing forth of her children. An earnest spirit cannot complete its exhortations to zeal without pronouncing a denunciation upon the indifferent. What said the heroine of old who had gone forth against the enemies of Israel, when she remembered coward spirits? "Curse ye, Meroz, saith the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the Lord, against the mighty." Some such curse will assuredly come upon every professing Christian who is backward in helping the Church in the day of her soul's travail. Who are they that hinder her Every worldly Christian hinders the progress of the Gospel. They are also guilty who distract the mind of the Church from the subject in hand. Above all, we shall be hindering the travail of the Church if we do not share in it. Many Church-members think that if they do nothing wrong, and make no trouble, then they are all right. Not at all.

V. I shall close with A WORD OF BLESSING. There shall come a great blessing to any who feel the soul travail that brings souls to God. Your own heart will be watered. Moreover, will it not be a joy to feel that you have done what you could?

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.

WEB: Who has heard such a thing? who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? shall a nation be brought forth at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.

The Acceleration of God's Movements
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