« AnteriorContinuar »
Divine light. We have organizations by which we may all bear blessings to the destitute within the boundaries of our own civilization, and abroad wherever man sits perishing in the region and shadow of death. Everywhere we may dispense schools, the Bible, or the living voice of the missionary. The church of Christ has encompassed the world with the network of her charities, and put each individual of her myriad membership into communication with his race. She has arranged her wires so as to connect her own life with the life of humanity; alas ! that the battery is so feeble as to leave the world, in a great measure, insensible to the shock.
Where then lies the difficulty? I shall state it comprehensively. We have not time to go into detail. We have seen that it is not in doctrinal unsoundness : error has not touched the church with her palsy. It is not to be found in the distractions of Zion; her members dwell in brotherly concord. It is not to be found in the want of arrangements and appliances through which Christians may bestow their labors : the plans of Christian exertion are wonderful for their minuteness and their comprehension. The church, in her present condition of inefficiency, reminds one most naturally of an immense factory, perfect in all the details of machinery, every portion working out precisely its designs, but all moving feebly, and accomplishing little compared with the expectations awakened by the scope and finish of the structure. What needs that factory? One word answers: POWER! Lift the gates ! let on the flood! Then mark the change. The heavy walls tremble at the mighty struggles of the machinery. Every spindle feels the awakened energy, and starts with electrical speed into its mission. The whole structure now fulfils its design, and repays the skill and labor of those who have planned and formed it. And what needs the church ? I answer, POWER. She is a ponderous engine, creeping silently over rails which she ought to shake by the energy and might of her irresistible movement. She is called to a noble mission; to be a co-worker with God in the salvation of the world; she has laid her plans with wonderful system and scope, and now needs only to be IN EARNEST. Earnestness is her great want. She is inefficient because she is not in earnest. Earnestness is the remedy to which she should hasten; the missing element in which she should seek, and in'which she would find, her power.
I think I shall not be questioned in affirming a want of earnestness, as a characteristic of the religious devotion of our times. I certainly would not bring an unfounded accusation against the household of faith. I am ready to grant that the prevailing tone of Christian feeling, and the prevailing directions of religious effort, have in them much which merits commendation; but of that which calls for commendation, earnestness, the vigorous determination which settles and over all obstacles achieves its purpose, is not an element. Go into almost any congregation which you may choose to select; you enter, it may be, a neat, or even an elegant structure; you sit on easy or even luxurious cushions, amid well-appareled and polite worshippers. The prayer, the hymn, the sermon, are adjusted to the nicest proprieties of taste; the quiet solemnity of the scene inspires a delicious awe, and the Christian retiring within himself, and contemplating only his own relations of justification, peace and hope, finds himself even at the gate of heaven. But admit into this assembly of Christian disciples another class of ideas; let a sense of the mission to which they are called be felt in their hearts; let the broad world, teeming with its myriad population, lay itself out before their vision, here darkened by ignorance, there pining under oppression, and everywhere marred by vice and wickedness; but all to be redeemed and regenerated through the instrumentality of Christian effort; let them feel that they are called into the favor of Christ, not to enjoy alone, but to work, and that while they sit idle the world perishes—and they would start from their seats as if struck with thoughts as novel as they were momentous; they would reproach themselves for their idleness and inefficiency, and from sincere hearts send up to heaven that first prayer of the converted soul, “ Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ?”
If, my brethren, a doubt of the inertness of the church lingers in your breasts, compare, I pray you, the zeal with which Christians labor in their Master's service with that with which they pursue the ends of secular life. Who serves God with half the zeal with which he follows wealth or fame? Who studies, plans, sacrifices, for Christ as he does for the world ? Show me such illustrations of Christian devotion, and I will show you men and women with whom the present generation has little sympathy. Brethren, I am not extravagant when I say that a chill is upon us. It has invaded pulpit and pew;we are participators in a common apathy-putting forth drowsy efforts, while the world, for whose salvation Christ has died, is every moment perishing through our neglect.
Let us now proceed to inquire, briefly, into the relations which earnest efforts bear to great results. Mark how worldly ends are accomplished. Do you see success attending the idle and inefficient? Never. The student rises to eminence and renown through the path of patient, intense, and never-intermitted application. Wealth is accumulated by similar processes of vigilance, care and daily toil. In social and political life, progress is the reward of conflicts of opinion, maintained with the ardor of a mission from heaven. Liberty, that priceless boon of God to man, which priests and princes have imagined they might dole out in limited quantities or withhold altogether, is ours, because the heroes of many generations have hewed their way to it through serried ranks, and over the bodies of myriads who have fallen in the contests. The same wise decree which has made our bread the reward of sweating toil, has fixed the path to great and noble ends through difficulties at which timid spirits shrink and start back. The decree is illustrated by the history of the world, and is as irrepealable as any other ordinance of heaven.
But in how many breasts (alas! too often as an excuse for indolence or worldliness), the thought arises, that while all this is true as relating to worldly enterprises and ends, it has no application within the realm of religion. That most sacred doctrine of the Divine Sovereignty, is imagined to be best honored by a heartless and inefficient church ! Heaven pardon the weakness and the folly! The Divine sovereignty is best honored by obedience; and the obedience which is required at our hands, is the obedience of an energetic and undivided heart. If you survey the history of the church of Christ, you find that in all ages its progress has been in proportion to its earnestness. Who ever witnessed the Holy Spirit's descent upon the impenitent, and their conversion to Christ, when Zion was sleeping and inert;—when no warnings came from her towers, and no prayers ascended from her scattered homes? You have seen revivals under earnest preaching, earnest praying, earnest exhorting, but never under other conditions. The ministers of religion, to whom, in these late days, God has given the honor of distinguished usefulness in saving the souls of men, have been earnest heralds of the cross—Payson, Davies, Edwards, Whitefield, Wesley. They seized and held the minds and hearts of their auditors, by the irresistible power of earnest remonstrance and persuasion. Ascend from these men to the Reformers, and you find them men of kindred energy. Luther, with the blessing of God, shook the world—Luther first shook himself. Luther felt himself charged with a mission, a mission of transcendent moment—and he brought to the service of Christ the highest earnestness of his nature. And this prince of Reformers but copied Paul and other spirits- of apostolic days. Why, when Jew and Roman sought to quench the fires of the new religion, by the crucifixion of the Lord of glory, and the threatenings of priestly and civil vengeance on his followers, did not that religion expire, and its traces cease from the world ? Because the Head of the church had committed the mission of its propagation to earnest men, who counted not their lives dear, if they might be found in Christ, surrounded by those whom they had led to his feet. The power of the apostolic church, so far as means were concerned (and of these only we now speak), was in its earnestness. Every member within its pale regarded himself as a witness for Christ, and as bound to bear such part as his talents and opportunities might allow, in the glorious work of the world's regeneration. If scattered abroad by persecution,
We need the propbt hold my hteousness lamp th
the blow that dispersed them, so far from disheartening them or weakening their influence, served rather to awaken their energies afresh, and everywhere they preached the word. How soon, despite the rage of kings, and the vain imaginings of the people, the earnest labors of the church, crowned with the blessing of God, brought the Roman empire, in outward form at least, to the feet of the crucified Nazarene. My brethren, the constitution of human nature teaches nothing; the experience of men, in the pursuits of the world, has no lessons for the children of light; the history of the church, modern and apostolic, is a mystery ; or it is earnestness in the use of appointed means, and that only, which, under God, is required to secure the rapid regeneration of the world. “What is wanted,” says John Angell James, in a late work on this subject, which I commend to your notice—“What is wanted, and all that is wanted, under God's blessing, for the world's conversion to Christ, is—an earnest ministry, and an earnest church." We need hearts fired with the impulse, and obeying the impulse of the prophet, when he uttered the text, “For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof, as a lamp that burneth.”
We pass then, to the concluding portion of these remarks, which will be devoted to some considerations relating to the means by which we may be aroused to that high earnestness which properly belongs to the Christian profession.
1. And I remark, first, that antecedent to any real improvement, we must be duly impressed with both the fact and the guilt of our present apathy. We must retire within ourselves, and putting our consciousness in the light of the Divine law, and of the examples of our Lord and his apostles, ask in all honesty our personal share in the inefficiency which marks the present state of things in the church, and with the purpose of owning the worst. And how is it? Which love we most, God or Mammon? Which most engrosses our hearts, the spiritual beauty of Zion, or the pleasures and fashions of the world ? What engrosses the intense earnestness of our lives? We are earnest enough, but for what ? Brethren,-men of business, toiling early and late, and eating the bread of carefulness, for what do you toil? Is it for the glory of your Redeemer, the triumphs of truth and peace on earth, and the salvation of a race treading on each other's steps in crowds to the death that never dies ? or is it that you may use your accumulations for the displays and luxuries of life, and for the advancement of yourselves and families in worldly rank? We see no such earnestness for the advancement of religion, as we see for worldly success,-no such intensity in prayer as in enterprises of business, no such zeal to save a soul as would indicate that eoul to be worth more than all the treasures of the world. We
iling do you tputh and other's steny use for the
cannot abide the scrutiny of a truthful examination. It is written, that when the great apostle stood on the confines of life, looking back on the period of his service, and forward to the reckoning of the great day, he could say with a peaceful and approving heart, “I have finished my course,"-accomplished my mission,-done that which God gave me to do, and now with the fruit of my toil, gathered and to be gathered, I go confidingly to my rest; “henceforth there is a crown laid up for me, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me in that day.” But is there one of us that anticipates the privilege of uttering a dying testimonial like this? And yet such is the service which we owe to Christ. This is the zeal which should be the mark and the honor of the church. By how much we fall short of this measure, by so much are we guilty, and by so much may a perishing world confront and rebuko us in the judgment day. And we must see our delinquencies before we shall arouse from our apathy. The whole church must become conscious of her supinennss, and the guilt of it, before she will start into her primitive earnestness, and find her primitive strength. We have backslidden, and the path of return to God lies through the valley of repentance. Oh, that God would open our eyes, and teach us how deeply we have sinned, while giving to ourselves and to worldly ends, the energies of a life which belongs to Him, and to the regeneration of the race which His Son came to redeem !
2. In the second place, in order to the earnestness which properly characterizes the disciples of Christ, it is indispensable that we have a due sense of the mission to which we are called. No man becomes aroused to the highest earnestness of his nature who does not see and comprehend his work. It is the inspiration of high purposes which sets the soul on fire, and strengthens the arm for mighty deeds. And what has our Master given us to do ? Behold, the field is the world. Over its broad surface are multitudes which no man can number, each individual of whom has a soul, a soul stained by sin, under the condemnation of God's law, doomed and waiting execution, yet capable of being saved through the merits of an infinite redemption; and our mission is to spread through the world the healing cry, “ Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters;" to purify and exalt individual and social life till crime shall cease, and happiness become universal ; til the truth shall spring from earth like summer flowers, and righteousness look down from heaven on scenes of peace and love ; till Christ shall reign the Universal King, and the world redeemed become the vestibule of heaven. Such is our work. O Thou great author of the world's salvation, may our minds comprehend and our hearts warm to this mission ! May its high aims and blessed results inspire us, and make us like Him, who himself the Leader of the work, when He saw that the
o Teemed bearist shalown on earthless be