I WAS requested to address this meeting upon the subject of Christian work, and I will now, without further apologies or salutations, proceed at once to what I have to say. Is it not God’s chief end in the conversion of sinners, and in the sanctification of his people, to promote his own glory by making each converted man and woman his instrument for enlarging his kingdom? Not for ourselves alone does he give us grace. The design of our heavenly Father in all his gracious work for us, and in us, is, that we should become willingly his servants here, and in perfection his servants for ever above. Should we not all of us press forward beyond the winning of personal, security, to the desire that, by our influence, example, and labors, others may be turned from sin unto righteousness, and so be plucked as brands from the burning? Every young convert should be in training to be a soldier of Christ. As the young Hannibal was brought by his father to the altar of his country, and there sworn to life-long hatred of Rome, so should we be, from the hour of our spiritual birth, the sworn enemies of sin, the enlisted warriors of the cross; to fight on for Jesus till life’s latest hour, when we shall be “more than conquerors through him that hath loved us.”
The Spartan mother, as soon as her child was born, looked upon her babe as having in it the possibilities of a hero; and the whole training of the Lacedemonians aimed solely at producing good soldiers, who would honor the race from which they sprung. So should we look upon every young convert as a recruit; not merely as one who has been himself saved, but as having within his new-born nature the possibilities of a good soldier of Jesus Christ. The great object of our church teaching should be to educate efficient workers — workers filled with holy ardor, strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. There are some six words which I wish to fix on your memories this morning as catch-words.
Of these, the first is, UNIVERSALITY. There should be universality in the labors of the Christian Church. All our members should be at work, with no exceptions, unless it be such as extreme sickness or disability. I was taken aback the other day when I heard a minister of large experience, who has been for many years a pastor of a very useful church, say that; he did not think that more than five per cent of the members of our churches were actually serving God by direct Christian effort. I began to inquire among my brethren, and although I challenge the statement as applying to the church of which I am the pastor, I have reason to believe that it is sadly near the truth as to many churches; for while a large number of workers would be reckoned up in our statistics, it would be found that the same persons are filling several posts of service, and so are counted several times over. Those who work in one direction are usually the first to occupy yet another part of the field; but a still larger proportion were doing nothing beyond paying their subscriptions, listening to the preaching of the gospel, and, I hope, behaving themselves with moral decency. It is really a very degrading state of things, if such is largely the case. I do not know how it is with the United Presbyterians — whether most are at work among you or not: I can hardly, however, be so sanguine in my charity as to conclude that you are altogether, in your membership, entirely quickened to Christian diligence. Yet all must be aroused if we are to see great progress made by the church of God. My esteemed brother, who is a very apostle of Christ, Mr. Oncken of Hamburg, in forming Baptist churches in Germany, lays down as one of the first questions to be asked of a person applying for membership, “What will you do in the service of Jesus Christ?” Perhaps the candidate says, “I can do nothing,” and in that case the pastor replies, “I cannot receive you; we can have no drones in this hive.” Or perhaps the candidate will reply, “What do you think I can do?” and the pastor will say, “Something you must do; you can only become a member of this church by engaging in some Christian service. I would almost carry it so far as to say, Unless you are laid aside by illness, you must continue to do something, or be excommunicated ipso facto by your doing noticing?” That might be too extreme a rule; but the spirit of it is right. If it were a generally understood regulation that one of the conditions of church membership was service, we might see our churches rising to a far higher degree of zeal for God than they have ever yet attained.
We know by experience that the idle part of the church is that in which sin has strongest hold. If a farmer should leave one part of his farm uncultivated, it would be a hot-bed for weeds, and the garlic, the nettle, and the thistle would from that center spread all over his estate. The unworking part of the church, like the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt, falls a lusting, and brings mischief upon the whole of Israel. In the human body, if a bone should become dead it becomes the origin and seat of disease. If any gland in the entire system should cease to produce its proper secretion, it begins at once to do mischief by gathering together or producing some foul prurient matter. Even thus, in the church, if you are not serving God, you are hindering his cause; if you are not contributing to the progress of the Redeemer’s kingdom, you are a drag upon its wheels.
All Christians must take their share of holy labor. Sometimes, as the President of a College, I have letters sent to me asking for ministers, in something like these terms: — “Dear sir, — Our chapel is very empty; our last minister was a very excellent man but an unpopular preacher — (I may say by way of parenthesis that I suppose he was one of those men who would make good martyrs, so dry that they would burn well) — and our congregation is very small; can you kindly send us a minister who will fill the chapel?” On one occasion I replied that I had not a minister large enough to fill a chapel. Of course there came an explanation that they did not expect him to fill it corporeally, but to fill it by bringing others to listen to him, and retaining them as seat-holders. Then I wrote, and to gain this opportunity my first joke was perpetrated, reminding the friends that it was quite enough for a pastor to fill the pulpit well, and that the filling of the pews depended very much upon the zeal, the earnestness, and the diligence of those with whom he commenced his ministry; if they would support him by their earnest cooperation the meeting-house would soon be full.
I remember when I came first to London preaching to eighty or ninety in a large chapel, but my little congregation thought well of me, and induced others to come and fill the place. I always impute my early success to my warm-hearted people, for they were so earnest and enthusiastic in their loving appreciation of “the young man from the country,” that they were never tired of sounding his praises. If you, any of you, are mourning over empty pews in your places of worship, I would urge you to praise up your minister. There can be no difficulty in discovering some points in which your pastor excels; dwell upon these excellencies and not upon his failures.
Talk of the spiritual benefit which you derive from his sermons, and thus you will induce the people to come and listen to him, and at the same time you will do him good, for the full house will warm him up and make him a better preacher, and you yourself will enjoy him the more because you have thought and spoken kindly of him. I have already said, those who are doing no good are the very ones who are creating mischief. Have you ever observed that exceedingly acute critics are usually wise enough to write no works of their own? Judges of other men’s works find the occupation of the judgment-seat so great a tax upon their energies that they attempt nothing on their own account. Mr. Gough used to tell a story of a brave man and admirable critic in Russia, who on one occasion was visited by a bear. Now, there was a ladder which led up to the room on the roof, and the aforesaid hero climbed it nimbly, and for fear the bear should come after him he took up the ladder, and left his wife with Bruin below. His wife, who must have been his “better half,” seized a broom, and began to belabor the beast right heartily, while her heroic lord and master looked on from above, and gave her his opinion as to her proceedings in some such terms as these: “Hit him harder, Betty.” “More over the nose, Betty.” “Try the other end of the broom, Betty,” and so on in the most judicious manner. Surely his spouse might have said, “Good man, you had better come down and fight the bear yourself.” Those who are doing nothing are sure to be great in discovering flaws in the modes and manners of those who bear the burden and heat of the day. Surely they would be much more nobly occupied, and usefully occupied, if they would show us our faults by doing better themselves.
The next word after “universality,” this morning, shall be PUNCTUALITY.
That is not quite the word I mean. I mean this, that if ever the church of God shall throughout all its parts be awakened to serve the Lord wisely, it will seize present opportunities; it will be earnest to discharge its mission now, at this present moment. In reading the Gospel according to Mark, many of you must have observed that one peculiar idiom of that evangelist is the frequent use of the word “straightway.” He constantly says of our Lord “straightway.” “Straightway” he did so-and-so. It has been thought that Mark’s is the gospel in which Jesus is peculiarly described as a servant; and, if so, it is significant that “immediateness,” “straightwayness,” should be the very attributes of him who took upon himself the form of a servant.
To serve God now, to serve God at once, to serve God here, and on the spot immediately — this is the true way to serve him. But to wait for opportunity — to be pausing to cross the river when the stream is lower — to be expecting to begin reaping when the sun is not quite so sultry, and the shadows lengthen into soft eventide — all that is to throw away precious time and to miss opportunities.
A Primitive Methodist brother I heard speaking the other day said that there were some Christians who were always waiting for something to turn up to help their churches to prosper; but his opinion was that the best thing the church could do was to turn it up itself. So there are many who have a peculiar theory of how, when, and where they could lay out their talents to advantage; if they would abandon that theory, and believe that now is the best time for service, that here is the best sphere, and that; just the very thing that is nearest hand is the best thing to. do, they would be nearer the mark. Solomon said, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” He does not say, “open your eyes.” There is scarcely need, in such a world as this, to hunt far for work; just put out your hand, and something to do lies near. Whatever you put your hands to do, do it with all your might. In cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow there is so much work to do that the Master’s harvest would be scarcely gathered though everyone were to labor. Go to the nearest point that offers itself, go to thine own family, go to thine own children, go to thine own house, and there begin to serve God; for if you idly wait service for a favorable season, that favorable season may never come. I like to hear of our young people serving Christ. I do not mean that young men should be set to preach before they have anything to say — that would never do; but there is something in church work that everybody may do. We had a discussion some time ago among certain ministers, as to whether we should wait till our people were advanced in the divine life before giving them work to do for Christ. I gave forth my opinion in some such terms as these; — “Throw the young ones into the water, and they will learn to swim for themselves. Do not hope to teach them swimming on dry land.” Give them work to teach them to work. I am very much pleased that no one here ever saw me on a horse’s back. You may laugh, but I assure you it would be a vision of a very fleeting character. I have not tried to mount a horse for some time; but when I have done so there is such an attraction between my body and the earth that I either fall over the tail, or over the head, or on one side. Now, I find great fault with my educators for this. They ought to have taught me to ride, though it had but been a donkey, when I was young. I fear I shall never learn now. So there are some Christians who find it hard to begin to labor for Jesus, because they have formed no industrious habits. They have been so long a while doing nothing that they cannot now bestir themselves.
Let us ministers see to it, then, that those who are lately brought into our ranks have suitable employment at once. And as for us who are young beginners, let our consecration be as complete as it possibly can be now.
There are our honored fathers to look up to; but let us not suppose that we cannot reach their point until we reach their grey hairs. Rather let us try to be devoted to God while our hair is of the raven’s hue, even now doing the work of God with diligence, that perchance we may even exceed those who have gone before. “Now, now, Now,” is the word which Christian men need to have sounded in their ears.
My next note shall be DETERMINATION. Our church members need to be determined that souls shall be saved. I should like to feel with regard to anyone who comes under my influence, “If that man is not saved it shall be no fault of mine. I will throw it at last upon God, and leave it with him; but the responsibility, as far as it ever was mine, shall not be mine any longer.”
There are many men who make money, but I do not think that, as a rule, men make money without being determined to make it. Ready cash does not come knocking at. the door for admittance. I do not suppose your windows are often broken by eager guineas hastening to find a lodgment in your purses. Such things happen, but not ordinarily; down in the south, at least, guineas are very shy, and are not easily trapped. Men must give up many comforts to achieve the purpose of amassing wealth. So it is with soul-winning. It must become a passion with us to win souls. You must be willing to resign anything that you may be the instrument in the hand of God in bringing souls to Jesus Christ. No man, I think, will be the constant means of saving souls by accident. It may occur, but not often. A man must resolve upon it, must cry after it, must be ready to die for it; and then it is, when he cannot live without conversions, that he shall see them. We need just such a determination as one had of whom I read the other day. He called upon a dying man in his parish, who was careless, godless, and irreligious; a very surly, disrespectful message was sent down stairs, that he did not want any parsons. The minister called the next day, but was repulsed in the same way. He called again and again, and as he called the messages altered somewhat, but it was not till the twenty-first time of calling that he was admitted to tell the gospel message. Yet that soul was won to Christ. I am afraid there are not many of us who would have persevered in calling to the twenty-first time; but yet, speaking after the manner of men, how would that soul have been converted had the minister stopped calling at the tenth, or even the twentieth, time? We must resolve that we will find our way, by God’s grace, into men’s hearts — that they shall hear us by some means, that we will intrude the gospel even though it is not desired. It is not for us to stand upon dainty customs or forms of etiquette; but to resolve that by this, by that, by any, or by all means, men shall know the gospel of Christ.
This determination often cuts a way for itself. It even becomes its own Providence. There is a dear child at this moment near, or perhaps in heaven — a little girl of nine years of age, who has made a profession of faith in Christ, and whose life has adorned it in a very eminent manner. She is in consumption, and she sent last Thursday a message to the prayer-meeting, just this little note — “A young believer, nine years of age, anxiously asks the church to pray for her father, who is an infidel, that he may be converted to God.” The prayer was offered, and last Friday her pastor visited her, and as he sat by her bed the little child said to him, “Oh, sir, there is one thing that makes me feel very happy.” “What is that, my dear?” “I have often tried to get :father to come and hear you preach, because it was so blessed to my soul, that I think if I could get him there perhaps God might save his soul, too, but he won’t come; but, you know, sir, when you bury me he must come to the funeral, and then won’t you say a good word to him over the grave; and I know you will tell him that his little girl died happy, in the hope that her dying would perhaps save her father’s soul.” I was so pleased to hear those words, to think that such a thought should make a dying child happy — happy at the thought of dying, because she hoped that at last it would reach her father’s soul. Yes; and we should be willing to die, die a hundred times over, if thereby we might save one soul from going to the pit. That eminent servant of God, Mr. Richard Knill, used to say that if there were only one unconverted soul left in the world, and he were residing in the wilds of Siberia; and if, in the purposes of God, it was ordained that he could not be converted except by all the millions of Christians then living on the face of the earth, all going to him one by one to plead with him, it would be worth while for the church to send all its members one by one to labor with that one soul, that it might be turned to God. And so assuredly it would. Let us be fired with holy determination that we will win souls — that if we cannot win them one way, we will try another, Ministers must be determined that not a dark close, not a narrow lane, shall be left unvisited; that not a single fortress of the Evil One, although he may dare to call it impregnable, shall be left unassailed. If we cannot climb over the wall we will tunnel under it, that by some means or other the banner of Christ shall wave over every castle of the enemy.
But I go on to another word, and that is ENTHUSIASM. That word is a noble one. Would God that it were fully possessed, in its strongest meaning, by all the members of our churches. You may, perhaps, have read the life of Audubon, the celebrated American naturalist. He spent the major part of his life in preparing a very valuable work on the birds of America.
He tracked these birds into their remotest haunts, painted, them from nature, lived in the cane brakes, swamps, and prairies — even among the red men, exposed to all kinds of dangers — and all simply to become a complete ornithologist. When he was in Paris, collecting subscriptions for his new work, his diary was full of wretchedness — there was nothing in Paris for him; and the only bright dream that he had was when he, saw the stock pigeons building their nests in the garden of the Tuileries. The broad streets, the magnificent palaces, the pictures of the Louvre, these were all nothing to him — the stock pigeons everything, He came to London, and he was equally dull there. Not a single incident shows a comfortable frame of mind, till he sees one day a flock of wild geese passing over the city. He wrote in London a paper on birds; and he says, “While I am writing I think I hear the rustle of the wings of pigeons in the backwoods of America.”
The man’s soul was full of birds, nothing but birds; and of course he became a great naturalist. He lived, and he was willing to die, for birds. We need to muster a band of ministers who live only for Christ, and desire nothing but opportunities for promoting his glory — opportunities for spreading his truth, opportunities for winning by power those whom Jesus has redeemed by his precious blood. Men of one idea — these are they that shall do exploits in the camps of Israel. We need red-hot men, white-hot men — men who glow with intense heat; men whom you cannot approach without feeling that your heart is growing warmer; men who burn their way in all positions straight on to the desired work; men like thunderbolts flung from Jehovah’s hand, crashing through every opposing thing, till they have reached the target they have aimed at ; men impelled by Omnipotence. It will be a great day for the church when the members of all our churches arrive at such a glorious state of heat as that.
You may depend upon it, that enthusiasm is a liberal education for a Christian; I mean, nothing makes a man so quicksighted and intelligent in the service of God as enthusiasm. This incident came under my notice a few weeks ago: — Two of our members, working men, one of whom has been a famous runner, and won many running-matches, are accustomed, as they say, to hunt in couples for souls. One of their forms of labor is for one to go on one side of the street, and one on the other, on a Sunday morning, in those parts of London where Sabbath trading is carried on to the greatest extent. One Sabbath morning one of them was giving a tract to a person as the other was crossing over to join him, to communicate with him on some subject. The man who received the tract was crossing the road, and, as the second friend passed him, he heard him say with oaths, “What is the use of giving me these tracts? I shall be in hell in an hour” He said to his fellow-laborer, on reaching him, “Did you hear what that man said?” “No, I did not notice.” “He appeared very wild, and talked of being in hell in an hour; he is either insane, or he is about to commit suicide.” “Do you think so? we will be after him. They followed him, and the first one on coming up to the man, said to him, “What did you say when you got that tract?” “That’s no concern of yours — mind your own business,” was the reply. “Yes, it is our business, for, if I am right, you said that you should be in hell in an hour.” “Yes, I did say so; this world is worse than hell, and I’ll be out of it in an hour.” “No you shan’t; I mean to stick by you.” “What do you mean?” “I mean that I won’t go away from you for an hour, go where you may.” The poor creature succumbed, and the godly friends took him into a coffee-shop, and gave him a good cup of coffee and a breakfast. The man felt less like suicide after that. Mark you, a good breakfast is a fine foundation for a poor starving wretch to hear the gospel upon. Our friends laugh, but it is a matter of plain fact. What is the use of the best gospel sermon when a man is starving? The poor man had tasted nothing for three days, and had walked the streets all night. Hence his despair, and hence an unfitness for sermons. These friends wisely felt that they must first feed his body, and then they brought him into the Tabernacle with them. After the sermon was over their poor patient looked a little more hopeful, and the soul-doctors thought it best to repeat the douse of solid nutriment. They took him to a house where they were accustomed to dine, in a humble way, and he shared their meal. He was in a class in the afternoon, and in the evening they brought him again to the Tabernacle, and it pleased God to touch that poor man’s heart, and bring him to a knowledge of himself and his Savior. Then he began to be communicative, and it appeared that he had left his wife for four or five months, and had been living a life of dissipation, sin, and poverty. He gave the name and address of his wife, in the north of England; she was written to; his fare was paid home, and, after he had gone back, a letter came from his wife, saying that she had been a member of the Wesleyan Methodists, and had been always praying for her husband, who had been an awful reprobate, and had at last run away from home. Then she thought it was all over with him; but God had designs of love, and now he had become a Christian, had joined the church with her, and had sat at the Lord’s table with her. She did not know what to say, her heart was so full of gratitude to God. Now, if my two friends had not been so enthusiastic, they would never have heard what the man said when he got the tract, or, if they had heard it, they would have passed it by without notice; but enthusiasm clears the ears, and these, men, who had become enthusiastic for Christ, heard sharply, and acted promptly, and the best results followed. I pray God that we may have that enthusiasm.
I do not say, as some have it, enthusiasm without knowledge. The more knowledge, prudence, and wisdom a man has the better, and then he needs only enthusiasm to set it all alight. I happened once to be at a very interesting meeting, where there was a very learned divine speaking, whose speech was very weighty. I thought it heavy. It was very good, only I noticed that our friends showed an inclination to go to sleep. After this speech there followed a brother of my acquaintance of a warmer soul. He spoke with demonstration — he stamped, gesticulated, and, I must add, bawled — he spoke with such power that he even broke a chair. I kept drawing back my seat as chairman, for I felt myself in imminent peril; but the friends in the galleries cheered him, as well as the people down below.
Everybody was awake; but I had not the remotest idea what it was all about. I tried to see his drift; I felt I was wicked in not seeing it. I felt very excited, but why and wherefore this deponent sayeth not. I wished I could have combined these two speakers, and put into the one who had so much information a little of the fire of my second friend; while number two would have been the better of something more solid to burn than the wood, hay, and stubble which had blazed before us. We must have enthusiasm, but it must be combined with solid information, faith, and prayer.
I will pass from that word to another which I wish to notice, because I think there is much to be got out of it in connection with serving God, and that is ORIGINALITY. You know we find in the world that whatever seems to be perfect; at one time is, ten years afterwards, left behind. It was once a grand thing to go bowling along with a four-horse coach, at the pace of ten miles an hour or more; but nobody cares about that now, because we can go by express train fifty miles an hour. The world is full of inventions; men all over the country are racking their brains to find out fresh things, eclipsing old systems and plans in every department of science and handicraft. Now, ought we not to have invention as to modes of work in the Christian church? “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” Here is originality and inventiveness in sin.
Should we not, when we are brought back to the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls, every one have his own way of holy work? The plan too, much admired by Christian people is all alike, as steel pens are made at Birmingham by the gross; but is that God’s plan? I believe our Creator meant us to have angles and individualities. I cannot believe that the Lord wished the trees of his own right hand planting to be clipped into one shape, after the manner of the Dutch; but he intended us, like the monarchs of the forest, by our variety to exhibit his creating skill. Variety is the rule of beauty, and variety in Christian work is the rule of usefulness. John Pounds was an inventor when he struck out ragged schools; Raikes was an inventor when he thought out Sunday schools; Mrs. Ranyard was an inventor when she found the missing link in her Bible women, and others deserve the same title. We now look at the bows and arrows of our forefathers as only fit for museums, for our modern fire-arms have put them into the shade, and we are still fighting the devil in very much the same conventional and worn-out forms of evangelization as our forefathers did. We hardly dare to hope for Armstrong guns and Enfield rifles in grace.
We have such a tendency to get tied up and hampered by rules and regulations that it is difficult to gain the victory over Satan. The best rule for a Christian soldier is to do for God that which a sanctified heart prompts him to do. I am much of the opinion of the soldier who, being brought before the Duke of Wellington and a committee of the House of Lords, on being asked if he had to fight the battle of Waterloo over again how he would like to he dressed, said, “Please your lordship, I should like to be in my shirt sleeves.” And depend upon it the freest dress is the right costume of war. There is nothing like the shirt sleeves for hard gospel work. Away with that high stock and the stiff coat, in which you find it difficult to fight when you come to close contact with the enemy. You must dispense with pipeclay and bright buttons when it comes to blood, fire, and vapor of smoke. Very many of the gewgaws of ministerialism — they are not much better — ought to be thrown away.
Speaking of originality, I will give you a living instance of it that came under my own notice. A man came to join the church, and we wished to know how his conversion to God came about. We were very well satisfied with his experimental statements and his doctrinal knowledge, and we inquired, “How were you converted to God?” He replied, “In a very odd way.” He was a man employed to drive a van, and he told us his story as follows: “I never went to a place of worship, and I do not think anybody ever said to me a word about God or Christ. I was driving over Londonbridge, when suddenly a man jumped up and climbed into the back of my cart. I took my whip to lash him off, but he said, ‘Hold hard, mate, I’ve got a message for you.’ This was a very curious thing to me, and I said, ‘What is it?’ ‘I will tell you, but I may as well sit in front’ And the man did so.
Then I asked him, ‘What is your message?’ ‘It is a message from God to your soul.’ I cursed and swore at him; but that made no difference to him.
He said, ‘You are the very man I was after. I knew you were a swearing man, for that first attracted my attention to you, and I am sure my message is for you.’ I said to him then, ‘What have you to say? Come, cut it short.’
Well, he said, he did cut it short. He told me what would become of my soul if I died a swearer, and he told me of the world to come. He told me that there was a Savior, and that if I trusted him I should be saved. Before he left me he made me promise to hear Mr. Spurgeon. So I promised, and as I always boasted that I kept my word, I went to hear him, though I was precious sorry that I had promised to do so. I never got up so early on a Sunday morning before, but lay in bed till late. When the man saw me at the gate he took me in and gave me his seat and stood himself all the service, which I thought was very kind. After the sermon, he asked, me, “Did you like it?’ I replied, ‘I did not like it; that’s not a thing I care about.
I don’t believe in religion.’ ‘Ah, but you will,’ the man said; and he and I parted company at the gate, and I hoped I should never see him again. I did not see him again for some weeks, when I was walking down Blackfriarsroad and saw him coming along. I turned a corner and began to run to avoid him, but I heard somebody running after me, and I took another turn, but he came up to me and said, ‘Well, mate, how are you?’ ‘All right.’ ‘Are you going on any better?’ I did not give much answer. He told :me that he had made up his mind that I should be a Christian one day, and that he never meant to let me alone. I believe he would have come into my house with me, but as my wife and I were fond of drink, there was little furniture in it. I did not wish him to come in and see my miserable room, so to get rid of him I proposed to go and hear Mr. Spurgeon on the next Sunday. I kept my promise, and now I do not need anybody to induce me to go to the Tabernacle. I have been here six months, and I have got four of our men to come down to hear the gospel with me.”
When I heard that story I felt very much ashamed of myself, not that I had not climbed up the back of a cart, but that I had not been as earnest as that working man, and therefore had not gone after souls in out-of-the-way places as he had done. I know that we should make Scotland a troublesome place for the ungodly to live in if all were in earnest to win souls to Christ — we should make it a most uncomfortable thing for sinners to go to hell. I wish Christians would so bring forth Jesus Christ at odd corners that the sinners must see him..
I used to put the application at the end of my sermon. That is a good rule; but as I found sinners rather sleepy at the close, I generally now, after a piece of doctrine for the building up of the saints, let fly at sinners when they are not expecting it. The shot takes them unawares. Oh that we ministers in houses, workshops, and streets would introduce as it were, by side winds, a good word concerning our Lord and Master! We should be sure to do that if our hearths were fully awake. I notice there is a very remarkable thing in the last year’s Report of your foreign missions which I do not understand, and I hope that the learned doctors of divinity around me will illuminate me upon it. It speaks about the tendency of missionaries to try not only to make men Christians, but to denationalize them by making them Scotch Presbyterian Christians; and the remark is made that some of your Jamaica students imitate those who labor among them in the Lord so as even :to get “the Scotch theological cough.” Now, what is that?
Will any learned divine indulge me with a specimen of a “Scotch theological cough”? If any successful preacher has a peculiarity, that is the first thing that his disciples will imitate. One day I went to a village to preach, and I hope I preached a moderately decent sermon. As I came out I heard two women criticizing my sermon. Now, I had a student at that time who is now an excellent preacher, and he had preached at this village before me. I heard one woman say to the other, “I liked him very well, but he ought not to imitate Mr. M____ so much,” meaning my student. Well, I went back, and urged my young brethren not to ruin my character by laying me under the suspicion of copying them. The servile habit of mere imitation will grow upon Christians till it becomes an injury to them, whereas striking out a new path of usefulness would be the means of bringing to the Christian churches classes that have not been touched. If you want to find fields for conversion, where you can get a large percentage for your spiritual care, don’t work among those who have had the gospel for years. If we could get at those who attend no place of worship, I believe larger results would follow our labors than among those who have heard us long, and out of whom nearly all the elect of God have been drawn and converted. Let our originality lead us into new spheres, and to commence new churches. Let us labor in places where the name of Christ is not known, and we may expect the grandest success.
There is one other word I wish to speak upon, and that is the word EXCELLENCE. We must aim at excellence in all we do. We want to inculcate more upon one another, that if we serve Jesus Christ we ought to serve him with our best. The notion is that, if we stand in the street and speak of Jesus Christ, people in the street shall be converted. No; whether we preach well or not is known as well by those in the streets as by those within doors. I ought to do for my Lord and Master the very best I can.
Every time I serve him I ought to feel that I have prayed over and wept over what I say — that it comes out of my very soul, and is a part of myself. If that is not so I am giving to him a lame sacrifice, and a service which I should not have presented to my fellow-men; and how can I expect it to be accepted? Let us be all at it, and always at it, but also let us throw our whole soul into what we do. Let us serve him with might and energy, and then he will make bare his arm..
Above all, we must work for God with confident faith in him. “We have not because we ask not.” We have not success because we have not faith.
A young brother said to me once, “I have preached in the streets, and I have seen no converts.” I said to him, “Do you expect people to be converted every time you preach?” He replied, very humbly, “No, sir.”
When I said, “That is the reason you do not succeed, because you do not expect to do so. According to your faith so be it unto you.” If you have faith in Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, you will see signs following. If you preach, hoping that you will have success, possibly you will get a success; but if you preach, knowing that the Word cannot return void, and believing that you are wielding an omnipotent influence, and that God, the Holy Ghost, is with you, you will not have long to wait before your faith shall be rewarded. Oh, for more prayer, and more faith. Oh, for more power with men for God, because we have more power with God for men. Were the doctrines we preach to fill our souls, heart, and mind, till we become saturated with them, then would our preaching, teaching, and working be with power — then would the hundredfold harvest be granted us. I shall be thankful if at this time I stir up one brother to serve God; I shall be more thankful still, if I lead any young man to say, “I will go abroad as a missionary “; and if another shall say, “I cannot preach, but I will work in the Sabbath-school.” Oh! if I could stand at the door, and put the badge of Christ’s service on everyone that loves him, as you go out, and say to everyone who is now indolent, “Why stand ye here all the day idle? Go work this day in my vineyard.” I wish that were possible. I must leave that with God, and God grant that your church may prosper.
I feel bound to say a word on another subject before I close. There has been a paper distributed among the members of the Free Church Assembly, purporting to set forth my views upon the Union question. I must say a word on that. I should not have spoken, for it is not my province to meddle in your affairs. I take that liberty to set myself right. I would not have obtruded my remarks, but I am compelled. Now, the words printed are mine, but I never meant them to be applied as they are. Two persons traveling in Calabria were awakened in the morning by hearing their host say to his wife, “I think we shall have to kill them both.” But the good landlord, though he used these very words, never intended them to be so interpreted by the travelers, who overheard them as to put them in a deadly fright. When the simple soul thus spoke he was thinking of chickens for the breakfast. It was the travelers’ mistake which made his words seem murderous. Now, when I gave forth these utterances, which are thought to be worthy of circulation, I certainly was no more thinking of the Presbyterians than the good host was thinking of cutting the throats of the travelers. The flock of chickens I was dealing with were of a very different breed altogether. I am sorry to confess that when I am preaching in London my range of thought is very much confined to my congregation, and to the people round about me; and as I am not favored with all the minutes of your Sessions, Presbyteries, Synods, and Assemblies, I am in a deplorably ignorant condition as to your internal disagreements or squabbles. That may be very much to my loss, but my brains are not capacious enough to be exercised with all that is doing by all the churches in Christendom. Therefore, what was said was not meant by me to apply to this great Union question, so important to you in Scotland.
But it may be said that my remarks may legitimately bear an application beyond my original intention. Very well, if the cap fits any of you, let those who think so put it on. I said, and still say, that if any churches under heaven require to give up fundamental principles before they can unite, they have no business to unite. If any church thinks it would be false to its own testimony if it joined another church, let it stand alone till doomsday.
Our principles are much too dear to be tampered with on the pretext of promoting unity; and, moreover, there could be no lasting unity if that were done,. In my sermon, so kindly quoted, I speak of the folly of uniting the Goldsmiths’ Company with the Clothworkers’ Company; but this is not a case, as far as I understand it, answering to that description. :Even with the aid of a powerful microscope, I can see no difference between the Free Church and the United Presbyterian Church. I am a Southern, not versed in the minutiae of your statutes and rules, but standing at that distance, I do not know the one from the other. Your standards, your worship, your preaching, are they not the same? Therefore, it seems to me that it is not the ease of a Goldsmiths’ Company and a Clothworkers’ Company, but it is the ease of two Goldsmiths’ Companies who, if they find it for their mutual benefit to amalgamate, had better do so as soon as they can conveniently.
The only difference I have heard of between you seems, to my unenlightened English intellect, of this kind. The children of Israel, if they had come out of Egypt in two bands instead of all at once, might have been in the same difficulty, and have had in the wilderness to solve the Union question. Suppose that those who came out of Egypt first, having been longer in freedom, had become fully convinced that it was altogether intolerable for God’s Israel to be under the yoke of Pharaoh, and therefore declared that on no consideration would they ever return: no, not even if the Egyptians should pile leeks and onions all round their tents, and allow them to choose their own taskmasters, and allot them thousands of bricks from the royal kilns to build manses withal. No, they would never go back to Pharaoh at any price. Now, the second band that came out of Egypt some time after, and came out bravely too, were fully agreed that the yoke of the late Pharaoh, and even of his successor, could not be endured; but they did not know whether, in the dispensation of Providence, it might not, under certain circumstances, be right to obey Pharaoh and enjoy the land of Goshen, with its pasture lands, and especially with its garlic and onions.
Did not Jacob go down into Egypt and all his household? These last emancipated ones therefore held, as a theory, and nothing more, that if Joseph, or some one like him, should ever become king of Egypt, although they had no hope or belief that such a case for a moment ever would happen, and they dared not expect the youngest Israelite would ever live to see that; but if Joseph ever did become king of Egypt, they held that it might be right, in some kind of modified way or other, under certain conditions, arrangements, and regulations, for the whole of the tribes to go back to Goshen. Now, these two different corn-panics were of one race, they spoke one tongue, they had the same great leader, and served the same God, but they could not journey together because of this most important difficulty. I believe the cases are exactly parallel. My recommendation is that the two companies join together till Joseph comes, and then separate, but not till then. Having said this much, I again apologize for intruding any opinions of mine upon a case which the shrewd sense, and deep piety, of Scotland will surely be able ere long to bring to a happy end.