A sermon preached by John Angell James, in Queen Street Meeting house, Wolverhampton, at the formation of the Staffordshire Association of Independent Ministers and Churches, on December 27th, 1814.
"I must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day—the night comes when no man can work."
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." 1 Corinthians 15:58
The chapter which closes with the exhortation in the text, is one of the sublimest pieces of composition ever written by an inspired or uninspired pen. It throws a blaze of radiance upon the darkness of the tomb, and predicts the utter demolition of his throne, who, in language of gloomy majesty, is denominated the king of terrors. The apostle, like a wise master-builder, has founded the duty of Christian zeal upon the doctrine of the resurrection. The belief of this great event, connected as it is with a state of eternal existence beyond the grave, is the source of all those sleepless energies which move in the soul of the Christian philanthropist. His activity is the result of that faith "which is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." "I believed, and therefore have I spoken," is his reply to everyone who enquires for the motive of his actions. A lurking doubt of this truth is the paralysis of zeal. How can he be persuaded to seek either his own salvation or the spiritual benefit of others, who fears that the streams of his piety and pity are rolling forward like the waters of the Jordan, to be lost in the sea of death? In proportion as we firmly believe and steadily contemplate the grand and impressive scenes described in this remarkable chapter, all the springs of Christian activity will be set in motion. Lukewarmness, wherever it prevails, must be attributed to the the weakness of faith.
The apostle having brought before the imagination of the Corinthians the solemn scenery of the last day; having sounded in their ears the blast of the archangel's trumpet, and presented to their eyes the countless millions of the dead bursting into life, delivers, under the impression of these events, the exhortation in the text. In the consideration of which, I will first explain the nature of the duty here stated. We are commanded to do "the work of the Lord."
Whatever the Word of God has enjoined, whether it is a duty more immediately relating to ourselves, or to others, might, in a general sense, be considered the work of the Lord, as being the service we owe to Christ, our divine Master. Still, I apprehend that a more definite meaning attaches to the present use of the expression. Here it refers to Christian zeal. It is an exhortation to activity in the cause of Christ at large, an injunction requiring us to advance the glory of the Redeemer, by promoting the spread and the influence of his gospel in the earth. In the very next chapter the phrase is undoubtedly employed to express this idea, "Now if Timothy comes unto you, see that he may be with you without fear, for he works the work of the Lord as I also do." Let no one, however, imagine that he can do anything acceptable unto the Lord in the way of zeal, except his zeal be the offspring of true faith.
Our first duty is our own salvation. We must first "give our own selves to the Lord." To attempt to do his work until we are reconciled to God by the blood of his cross, is but to thrust ourselves among his servants while we are yet his enemies. The exertions of an unconverted man in the cause of Christ, with whatever benefit they may be attended to others—for we deny not that in some instances God employs the instrumentality of the wicked—will to himself be profitless and vain. There is just ground of apprehension, that in an age happily characterized by an enlightened and vigorous activity, not a few will be found guilty of the ruinous inconsistency of contributing to send the gospel to others, while their own hearts are strangers to its influence; and thus resemble the workmen of Noah, who helped to build an ark for others, but perished in the flood themselves. No liberality, however diffusive, no zeal, however ardent, can be a substitute for "repentance towards God, faith in Jesus Christ, and that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." Should we ultimately perish for lack of these great and necessary prerequisites for heaven, will it assuage the agony of the deathless worm, or allay the fury of the quenchless fire, or render the bottomless pit more tolerable, to remember that we had been the means of plucking others from the place of torment? Oh no! even in the presence of Satan we shall blush for the hypocrisy, and curse the folly of choosing heaven for others, and hell for ourselves! A personal and experimental acquaintance with the gospel must be the starting point in the career of religious benevolence. Thus qualified let us do the work of the Lord.
I.In assigning a few reasons why this employment is so denominated 'the work of the Lord', I shall be advancing, at the same time, the most powerful MOTIVES that can induce a real Christian to engage in it.
1. It is work in which the Lord himself was employed.In attempting to extend the empire of truth and holiness in the world, and to build up the kingdom of Christ with souls redeemed from the guilt of sin, and disenthralled from the bondage of corruption—we imitate the greatest and the best of the human race. We enter the sacred enclosure where patriarchs, prophets, and apostles have been our predecessors; and there the most illustrious individuals that future ages shall produce, will be our successors. Low and groveling indeed must be the heart that feels no ambition to join this honorable band. Still there is a brighter glory resting on this cause than can be reflected from the harp of the prophet, or the crown of the monarch; than the patriarch or the apostle can possibly impart. It is the work of the Lord. He came from heaven "to seek and to save that which was lost." Once his lips declared, and always his conduct, "the zeal of your house has consumed me." This was the work on which his heart was set when it beat in the babe of Bethlehem, and when it bled on the thrust of the spear; when he flew from the throne and ascended to the cross. Whether he endured the noise and fatigue of the city, or sought the retirement of the village; whether he wept or prayed; whether he agonized in Gethsemane, or expired on Calvary; one object stood present to his mind, one concern occupied his heart, one work employed his hand.
Here, disciple of Emmanuel, here behold your model, and your motive in the work of the Lord; and here behold your honor too. How does it stimulate the faithful servant to see his master laboring by his side; and what servant is he who can devote himself to personal ease, or guilty idleness, while his lord is toiling in the field? It is our honor, and it ought to prove our excitement, that when engaged in the work of enlightening the world, we are, in a humble sense, the satellites of the Sun of Righteousness, forming, in part, the train of his glory, and acting, in measure, as the instruments of his beneficence.
2. It is work which the Lord has commanded.Besides the pursuit of our own personal salvation, we are enjoined, by the authority of our divine Master, to seek the advancement of his cause by every means that prudence can suggest, or diligence apply. This is included in the great precept, "To love our neighbor as ourselves." This is enjoined by the most solemn of all methods of injunction in the form of prayer; and it is somewhat remarkable that the first petition of what is denominated the Lord's Prayer, relates to this duty, "May your kingdom come." The apostle informs us that this was the very purpose of our being brought to a participation in the benefits of redemption. "Christ died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again." And in the spirit of this passage he has commanded us, in another place, "Not to look every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." From hence it is evident that he who does nothing for the cause of Christ at large, however sincerely or however ardently he may be engaged in the pursuit of his own salvation, performs but half the service which he owes to his heavenly Master. The church was never designed by its Founder to be a spiritual monastery, where its members, secluded from the world, should dwell amidst the hopes and privileges of the Gospel, in selfish and indolent repose. It is, on the contrary, represented as "a city, whose gates are open continually," and within which all is activity, and union, and commerce. I have yet to be informed in what version of the New Testament that Christian can have learnt his duty, who imagines he owes nothing to Christ in respect of those places which are yet destitute of the light of truth.
3. It is denominated the work of the Lord, because he will be glorified in its results.One of the most sublime and interesting views we can take of the work of redemption, is to conceive of it, as preparing a crown of eternal glory for the head of Emmanuel. When, therefore, we propagate his Gospel in the world, and are successful in converting sinners from the error of their ways, we collect his tribute, and gather his reward. We are the honored instruments of multiplying the jewels which are to compose his regalia, and the gems which are to sparkle forever in his diadem of beauty. Can we be insensible to the force and pathos of this motive? Have we no desire, or can we be satisfied with a faint one, to extend his fame, to multiply the hearts that shall love him, and the tongues that shall speak his praise; can we indeed know the loveliness of him who is altogether lovely; can we love him as we ought, and yet feel no concern that others should know and love him too? Our success is his honor; his honor should be our reward.
4. It is the work of the Lord, because he only can give success to our exertions."It is not by might or by power, but by his Spirit," that the conversion of sinners can in any case be effected. The vivid recollection of this important truth is peculiarly necessary in the present age, when amidst the number, the magnitude, the adaptation, the combination of instruments, we are so much in danger of losing sight of the almighty Agent. Institutions have arisen for the propagation of the truth as it is in Jesus, which, while they astonish us by their grandeur, excite the most lively expectations as to their results. Let us beware of being seduced by their imposing appearance from that unlimited dependence upon divine grace for success, which is as necessary amidst the greatest plenitude of means as in the greatest scarcity. The work is the Lord's—this it is no less our encouragement than our duty to remember. This is the consideration which levels the mountains and fills the valleys, with which our fears and our sloth would arrest our career. This is the consideration with which our zeal should answer every objection, smile at every difficulty, and rejoice like a strong man to run a race. Every society formed to disseminate divine truth should be regarded as a fresh call to earnest prayer, and felt as a new excitement to lively hope. Every motive, every obligation, every hope is concentrated in this one expression, "The work of the Lord."
II.I shall, secondly, consider the MANNER in which this duty should be performed. "Be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord."
It is probable that the first two expressions relate to our own personal religion; and contain an exhortation to immoveable steadfastness in the hope of the Gospel. This is a duty very frequently enjoined in the Word of God. Then, said our divine Redeemer, "are you my disciples indeed, if you continue in my word." The meteors that wander through the upper regions of the atmosphere, and to which vulgar language has appropriated the name of falling stars, have their resemblances in the firmament of the Christian church; there also are falling stars; or to elevate the metaphor, there is the comet, transient as it is brilliant. But "the path of the just is as the shining light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day." No profession that lacks continuance, with whatever splendid qualities for awhile it may be characterized, will issue in eternal life. The sight of an aged disciple, who through a long and varied life has triumphed over all the assaults of earth and hell, is indeed a most gratifying spectacle. A brighter crown of honor is not worn beneath the skies, than his hoary hairs. His sun, before the eyes of admiring Christians, sets with mild and beauteous radiance upon the hemisphere of grace, while angels flock to the brightness of its rising upon the hemisphere of glory.
We shall now consider these expressions in application to the work of the Lord; and I shall observe that our zeal should be characterized—
1. ByABUNDANCE. "Be always abounding." It may be very justly said of some Christians, that they half do everything. This is in direct opposition to the Scripture, which requires us to do everything in the service of God with all our heart, and soul, and strength. Our fruit should not only be excellent in quality, but plenteous in quantity. We are commanded to abound in hope; to be filled with all the fruits of righteousness; to be zealous of good works; and in the text to abound, "to abound always in the work of the Lord."
This expression implies that our exertions should be proportioned to our ability. The parable of the talents is exceedingly instructive; and this among many other ideas seems to be its leading truth, that we are to be a blessing just in proportion as we are blessed. "Unto whom much is given, from them much is required." Proportion is the great rule of man's accountability. The sin of the unprofitable servant did not consist in his having but one talent, but in his neglecting that one; and the commendation of the others rested not simply on the ground of their improvement, but on that of proportionate improvement.
This is a sentiment deserving the attention of the affluent. If they expect the plaudits of the great Judge, they must not only be liberal, but liberal in proportion to their means. Five talents gained by one who already has ten, will scarcely lift us above the rank of unprofitable servants. I am apprehensive that the operation of this sentiment is yet but very feeble in the Christian world. It is forgotten by many that liberality is a comparative term, which derives its meaning not simply from what we give, but giving in ample proportion to our circumstances. That would be munificence in one man which would be stinginess in another. Never was there an instance of greater liberality than that which our Savior witnessed and commended in the poor widow, who, though she cast but two mites into the treasury, gave all she had to give. "Sitting across from the temple treasury, He watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. And a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little. Summoning His disciples, He said to them, "I assure you: This poor widow has put in more than all those giving to the temple treasury. For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she possessed—all she had to live on." (Mark 12:41-44)
Two inferences may be deduced from this interesting passage. First, that the offerings of the poor to the cause of Christ are exceedingly welcome in his sight. It is encouraging for those who have only pennies, like this poor widow, to bestow, to be assured that even these, if contributed without grudging, shall neither be unnoticed nor unrewarded by the Lord of heaven and earth. Let the poor come forward and claim their station in the armies of the Lord, and their share in the triumphs of his cause. The honor of doing something for the glory of God and the best interests of man is brought down to the level of their circumstances, and is freely offered to their acceptance. If every poor person in the United Kingdoms were to give a penny a week to the cause of Christ, the poor alone could support all the Bible and Missionary Societies in existence twice over. A second inference to be deduced from the narrative of the widow's liberality, is that the rich, to be accepted in their gifts, must give not only of their abundance, but according to it.
If we would always abound in this work, we must eagerly embrace every favorable opportunity for performing it. The advice given by a pagan philosopher to his followers, should be regarded by the disciples of a much higher Master, "Be mindful of opportunities." If we approximate at all to the spirit of the text, we shall, at least so far as our ability extends, hail with delight every fresh object that presents itself to the eye of Christian mercy, and solicits the hand of Christian mercy.
We must also seek out for opportunities of doing good. We must imitate the conduct of our great Master. Did he, in his merciful circuit of Judea, remain in one city, and refuse to proceed, until he had received an importunate request from the next city? Did he always wait until misery was prostrate at his feet? and, to go still higher, did he refuse to undertake the cause of man's redemption, until the combined entreaties of the human race entered into his ears? No! He came to seek that which was lost. "He ever went about doing good." He followed misery into its dark and deep retreats. The objects of religious benevolence resemble the situation of men under the power of insanity, who are unconscious of their malady, and dependent for relief on the unsolicited bounty of spectators.
We must esteem it our privilege, and not our hardship, to do the work of the Lord. When the greatest mass of earthly treasure that was ever collected perhaps in one place since the creation of the world, spread with incalculable profusion before the eyes of David and the design of its being brought together occurred to his thoughts, his soul bounded like a deer upon his mountains. And what was the nature of his joy? Was it avarice exulting at the sight of such boundless affluence? Was it vanity fluttering with delight over the shining heaps with which it was to glitter in the eyes of envious multitudes? Was it ambition rejoicing in its giant sinews for universal conquest? No! Read his own language, as explanatory of his own feelings. "May You be praised, LORD God of our father Israel, from eternity to eternity. Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom, and You are exalted as head over all. Riches and honor come from You, and You are the ruler of everything. In Your hand are power and might, and it is in Your hand to make great and to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, we give You thanks and praise Your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? For everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your own hand. For we are foreigners and sojourners in Your presence as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. Lord our God, all this wealth that we've provided for building You a house for Your holy name comes from Your hand; everything belongs to You." (1 Chronicles 29:10-16)
Here is the feeling which should pervade our bosoms. Instead of thinking it hard to be so frequently called upon to contribute towards building the spiritual house, we should feel it, as David did when (according to the received text) he devoted millions to the material temple, one of the greatest privileges we can possibly enjoy. We should account it our chief delight, whatever we possess, to employ it for the glory of God, and adore with gratitude the condescension which deigns to accept the labor of our hands. What must angels think of our love and gratitude to Christ, when they witness the sullen reluctance with which we sometimes contribute a little of our time, our property, or our ease, to the work of the Lord. "Here, Lord, am I," must they be ready to exclaim, "send me. I court the honor which they consider a hardship. Entrust to my hands the commission of which theirs are so unworthy." Shall we petition heaven by our lukewarmness, or our covetousness, to remove from us the hardship of being the almoners of its bounty? Shall we sue for relief against the work of the Lord as a heavy encumbrance? The servants of the throne will be glad enough to receive it. Let us rather court its continuance by increasing ardor. Let us always abound in the work of the Lord.
2.PERSEVERANCE should also characterize our exertion. We must be steadfast and immoveable. These expressions seem to imply some opposition which will try our constancy, and call for our resistance, and against which I feel it necessary to fortify you.
Your constancy will be tried by a misapprehension of your motives and designs. A Christian in the present world may be compared to a monarch passing among the blind, who, whatever might be the splendor of his dress, or the dignity of his deportment, perceive not the majesty which is immediately before them. The principles and the privileges of real religion are thus unknown to the unenlightened part of mankind. And of these principles scarcely one is more difficult of comprehension to such people than holy zeal. Hence it is little matter of surprise that our most vigorous exertions should be traced up to any other motives than those from which they flow. We are not, however, to abandon our plans of usefulness, or even to remodel them, at the dictates of that ignorance which cannot comprehend them. Raphael would not have altered the masterpieces of his pencil to please a blind critic; nor Handel his 'Messiah' at the suggestion of one who was ignorant of music.
Sometimes our steadfastness will be tried by INGRATITUDE. The world has not always known its best friends, nor should the world's best friends, on this account, become its enemies. It is more than probable that the Christian will often be hated and persecuted by the very objects of his mercy. In our attempts to do good, many things must be assumed concerning the people we would benefit, which will offend their pride, and be likely therefore to provoke their hostility. The misery of unconverted sinners is, however, too great to allow our pity to be repulsed by an ungrateful reception. The surgeon will not abandon his patient, because the painful process which he finds it necessary to pursue provokes at first the anger of the sufferer.
Let us not be disheartened by DERISION. There are not lacking men, who, in defiance of every dictate of reason, revelation, and humanity, treat with profane ridicule the fervor of religious zeal. 'Fanatic' is the epithet with which they load the character of the man, who, by the glorious gospel of the blessed God would attempt to rescue his fellow-creatures from the fetters of guilt, and the bondage of corruption. It is a shocking, but not an uncommon spectacle, to see men so awfully depraved as to make themselves merry with bantering the efforts of missionary ardor. It is easy to conceive how much sport such people would have found in Pilate's hall, in communion with his brutal soldiery, when the Redeemer of the world, clad in mockery of his office, was the object of their laughter. Whenever, my friends, you are brought to decide which shall influence your conduct—the miseries of mankind or the derision of a few skeptics—I trust there will be no hesitation as to the course you will adopt.
Let us only take care that our zeal be scriptural in its objects, pure in its motives, and prudent in its measures; and we may pursue our exertions disregarding alike the censures of the ignorant and the sneers of the profane; as the eagle in her flight towards the sun triumphs over every current, and pierces through every cloud that would obstruct her progress, and pursues her towering course amidst the beams of day.
Lack of success will sometimes try your perseverance. DISCOURAGEMENT often creeps over the frame from this source with a cold and deadly influence, which it is exceedingly difficult to resist. In such cases it will be well to remember that our success may be greater than it appears to be, and that it is a cause in which the smallest measure, though less than we could desire, is more than equivalent to all the labor of obtaining it. This, however, will be considered shortly more at large.
There is a still more dangerous enemy than all these, by which our constancy will be tried, and that is a spirit of LUKEWARMNESS. The rock which the fury of a thousand storms could not shake—may waste away in time from some principle of decomposition concealed within itself. And the Christian, whom neither difficulty could appal, nor derision disturb, has, when the lethargy of lukewarmness has seized his energies, drawn around him the curtains of indolence, and sunk to repose amidst the groans of creation. Lukewarmness is the greatest enemy that the cause of the Redeemer has had to contend with, of all the foes that ever resisted its progress. Other enemies only attack the armies of the Lord; this enfeebles and betrays them.
Comparatively speaking, lukewarmness is pardonable anywhere else but in the work of the Lord. Connected as it is on one hand with the glory of Jehovah, and on the other with the eternal interests of mankind, it is a crime of awful magnitude. "Cursed," said the inspired prophet, "be he that does the work of the Lord deceitfully," or as the word more literally signifies, "that does it negligently." Beloved brethren, let us beware of all these causes that may arise to try our constancy, or to cool our zeal in the service of the Lord. This is not a work to be negligently performed, or to be lightly abandoned.
I shall, thirdly,explain the motive by which it is enforced, "Forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
1. This may intend, first, that it shall not be unrewarded. If, indeed, we were not permitted to look beyond the present world for our reward, we would find it here. In the sweet consciousness of having done anything for the glory of the Redeemer, the cause of truth, and the deathless interests of man—there is a degree of felicity more solid and sublime than could be derived from all the wealth which avarice ever hoarded, or extravagance ever lavished. The spirit of Christian zeal is a source of unfailing happiness to itself. The very tears of its pity are as pleasant as the drops of a summer's day, and its smiles delightful as the face of nature, when brightened by the sun that follows the shower. But this is not all.
There is a rich reward, which after ripening through the years of time, we shall gather in the paradise above, and enjoy through the ages of eternity. Not that we can claim anything at the hand of our Lord. Not that there is any merit in our most ardent exertions; after we have done all, we must confess that we are unprofitable servants, and that we have done infinitely less than our whole duty. But there is a reward of righteousness, as well as a salvation from sin, that is all of grace. A reward which may consistently be urged upon the disciples of Christ as a motive to benevolence, without denying that all we receive from God is by way of gift. "The Lord Jesus is not unrighteous to forget our labor of love." Not an action of the life, not a word of the tongue, not a desire of the heart, not a farthing of property, not a moment of time, not a labor of the feet, devoted to his cause—shall be lost in oblivion. "Even the cup of cold water, given in his name, shall lose its reward." All will be mentioned by him at the last day—all acknowledged and commended before the assembled universe, in that solemn season, when one approving smile shed upon the spirit from his countenance will be of more worth than the plaudits of a world.
"Be not deceived—what a man sows, that shall he also reap." What, beyond the commendation of his great Master, the diligent servant shall receive, we are neither able nor anxious to know. We are not acquainted with all those honors and felicities which are concealed behind the veil of what is mortal and material. No one can fully explain to us the words of the prophet, "They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars in the firmament of heaven." One thing we may calculate upon, that we shall behold in heaven the happy spirits whom we may be the instruments of conducting to its joys. If to rescue a fellow creature from the jaws of death, and to restore him to the comforts of social life; if to witness the transports with which he looks, first upon his friends, and then upon his deliverer, be the purest, strongest bliss that earth affords; conceive what it must be to witness the raptures of an immortal spirit, plucked from everlasting ruin, and, through our instrumentality, put in possession of "an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away." This will be like adding heaven to heaven, and multiplying the joys of paradise again and again. "Your labor shall not be in vain in the Lord!"
2. Which may intend also that it shall not be unsuccessful. Were nothing to result from our labor to others, much would be derived to ourselves. But all the benefit of our efforts will not be confined to our own interests. We do not pretend to say that there will not be partial failures; local and temporary discouragements. This would be to deny the testimony of experience, and to limit the Holy One of Israel. Some minds and some places, after the most laborious and skillful cultivation, exhibit the melancholy appearance of lands abandoned to incorrigible barrenness.
The language of the text implies natural tendency. Such labor as I now enjoin, distributing the Holy Scriptures and religious tracts; sending well qualified missionaries to the heathen, and preaching the Gospel in dark benighted corners of our own land; instructing the ignorant and poor—has a natural tendency, or, in other words, a peculiar adaptation, under the blessing of God, to effect the conversion of unregenerate sinners. These are the means appointed by Jehovah for carrying into effect his benevolent intentions concerning this guilty world; upon which, when judiciously, ardently, and perseveringly applied, we may as rationally expect the blessing of heaven, as the farmer does upon the toils of the field. If sublimity of design; if exhaustless sufficiency, and the wisest adaptation of means to the end; if the testimony of experience; if assured conformity to the purposes of the Eternal Mind—be any encouragement to hope for success—then has the Christian philanthropist, of all other people, the least ground to fear that he shall labor in vain, or spend his strength for nothing. For thus says the Lord, "For just as rain and snow fall from heaven, and do not return there without saturating the earth, and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and will prosper in what I send it to do." (Isaiah 55:10-11)
The work of the Lord, with whatever local or temporary failures it may be attended, shall triumph eventually over every obstacle. The truth of God has declared it, and has given the promise into the hand of Omnipotence to be performed. How many centuries shall roll before the Sun of Righteousness will pour forth the noontide glory of the millennial day, we have no means to conjecture; it is sufficient for us to know that such a period will arrive, and that our humble exertions are in the line of events which accelerate its approach, and contribute to its triumphs. If the limits of this sermon would permit, or the state of your minds required it, I could direct a whole current of prophetic language over your zeal, which, like the breath of heaven, would fan the spark into a flame. "The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." The decree has passed the lips of Jehovah, "That Christ shall have the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession." And however slowly he may appear to enter upon his yet desolate heritage, the time must arrive when he shall reign over a spiritual kingdom, knowing no limits but the circumference of the globe. Amidst all the changes of this mortal state, the work of the Lord must tend to its ultimate perfection. The spiritual temple must proceed, and we have had the evidence of twenty memorable years, that it depends not for its success upon the political aspect of the times. This sacred edifice, "has remained for ages a splendid and immutable fabric, which time could not crumble, nor persecution shake, nor revolutions change; which has stood among us like some stupendous and majestic Apennine, that, while the earth was rocking at its feet, and the heavens were roaring round its head, balanced itself upon the base of its eternity, the solemn memorial of what was, the sublime prediction of what must be."
Brethren, upon the scaffolding that surrounds that edifice you are employed. If other men labor in the fire, you will not. Yours is not the discouragement of the painter, the poet, or the architect, who, after they have finished their most elaborate productions, may reflect with a sigh that they have only prepared a costly sacrifice to be offered, in its turn, upon 'the altar of time'. Yours is not the mortification of the philosopher, who, after spending his life to build up a theory, may close his existence with a fear lest, while his monument is yet fresh, the hand of a successor should demolish at a stroke the labor of his life. None of these fears need distress your mind or paralyze your zeal. Whatever work you do for the Lord shall stand forever! Here, and here only, is certainty and durability. The end of all things is at hand, the solemn catastrophe of nature and of art; and then, when the mightiest productions of genius, which now so captivate and astonish, shall be but as a garland to deck the funeral pile of expiring nature, the work which we now do for the Lord shall be seen, untouched by the flames, the only remaining monument of successful labor upon earth, the only achievement which shall be crowned with the glory of immortal fame in heaven!
I am reminded that it is time for me to look towards the conclusion, which must not, however, arrive until I have given to the text that emphasis which the existing events of the present times so remarkably supply. We live, my friends, in no common era. The church of Christ has arisen from her long repose, and, as if refreshed by the slumbers of ages, and concentrating the neglected energies of centuries, is entering upon labors which will never cease until she shall stand between the new heaven and the new earth, wherein dwells righteousness. The river of life, clear as crystal which flows from the throne of God and the Lamb, long impeded in its course by the lukewarmness of former generations, has at length happily forced its barrier, and is flowing through innumerable channels, prepared by the zeal of all denominations of Christians, to receive its vivifying streams, and to convey them in different directions to the parched places of the earth. Missionary establishments have opened a spacious bed for the heavenly waters, on the banks of which Hindus and Hottentots, Chinese and Otaheitians, are at this moment washing away their sins, quenching their thirst after happiness, and inhaling the bliss of eternal salvation. The British and Foreign Bible Society, more like the ocean than a river, is rolling the tide of life to every shore beneath the skies. Another division of the sacred stream is flowing back, though alas but slowly, to its original source, and conveying salvation to the children of Israel. The Religious Tract Society pours forth a mighty stream; while the Sunday School system supplies its rivulets, where children of every age may sip the waters of salvation. Survey, my friends, the grand and solemn scene, and ask, if through your neglect these numerous and important channels shall have their supplies cut off? Shall our lukewarmness renew those impediments, the demolition of which has been celebrated by songs on earth, and songs in heaven? Lukewarmness never had so little to excuse, so much to aggravate its guilt as now. The curse of Meroz must light upon that man who, in the present age, denies his help to the work of the Lord.
But I ought not, surely, to forget the object for which you are now assembled, and while enumerating the various opportunities which are presented for gratifying your zeal, omit the Association which you have this day formed for diffusing, through your own county, a greater plenitude of gospel truth. The sole object of this union is to promote the glory of God, and the best interests of man. You are animated by higher motives than those which derive their energy from sectarian distinctions. There are spots in every county which, in respect to religious culture, are barren and desolate indeed. In some places the population has become enormously disproportionate to the provision made by the establishment for Christian instruction; in others, the parish church is beyond the reach of a large part of the inhabitants; and in some, we are obliged to believe, however the expression of our convictions may give offence, that the glad tidings of the gospel are not published in all their fullness and importance from the pulpit of the minister, nor its purifying tendency exhibited in his life. In such cases as these it is at once our duty to God, our country, and our fellow-creatures, to step in and supply the lack of service.
The establishment of county associations has been followed, in many parts of the kingdom, with a degree of success which should stimulate your exertions, and encourage your hopes. Congregations have been collected from those parts of the community which spent their sabbaths in profanity and mischief; churches of holy and peaceable Christians have been formed of those who were once, at least some of them, the pests of society; places of worship have been erected, and whole neighborhoods reformed. Nor are these the only advantages resulting from such institutions. As in all other cases of moral charity, there will be a reaction of benefit. By creating a new object of no ordinary interest; by leading to a more frequent fellowship between the different ministers and churches of the county; and at the same time exciting among them a spirit of holy emulation in this labor of love, the affairs of our congregations will be kept from sinking into a dull and stagnant state, the fire of zeal will be cherished, and the cords of brotherly love will be drawn still closer round our hearts. One of the purposes, no doubt, for which all the male part of the Jewish people was to appear together, three times a year, before the Lord, was to preserve unimpaired the bond of fraternity, so much in danger of being relaxed without occasional communion; and such an end, in no small degree, will be accomplished by a diligent attendance upon the half yearly or annual meetings of these County Associations.
It must be obvious to everyone, that for such an object as this, funds are indispensable, and that they must be raised by the associated churches. Every congregation in the county, and every individual of the congregation, will feel the obligation to exert themselves according to their ability, in support of a cause exclusively their own. It would surely be a criminal inconsistency, while such exertions are made to send the gospel to distant lands, to neglect those places which are destitute of it in our own immediate vicinity. Like rays diverging from a center, and pressing to the remotest circumference through all the nearer and intermediate spaces, our zeal emanating from our own personal religion should reach the heathen world through our relatives, friends, and neighbors that lie between.
For these, and all similar exertions, it becomes us to recollect that "the time is short." Earth is the scene, and human life the limit, of these honorable efforts. You are flying over the field of labor upon the wings of time, and can only drop a few seeds of immortality as you pass rapidly along. Your opportunity for doing good must end with your life, and may end long before. Unlooked for misfortunes may reduce you to poverty; incurable disorders may render you helpless; and in such circumstances the recollection of neglected opportunities will be no pleasant companion to your afflicted heart. But should your means of usefulness be continued to the end of life, and life itself be protracted far into the years of decrepitude and infirmity, even then how short is the period allotted to zeal and benevolence for doing the work of the Lord. Shall we cut off even from this short space one half by neglect, and by lukewarmness misemploy the other half?
The honor and felicity derived so largely from this service, are all confined, so far as our information extends, to the present world, and give one advantage to saints on earth above those who have entered upon their heavenly rest. Angels, it is true, are represented as performing mysterious offices of love for the Christian during his pilgrimage below; "as ministering spirits they minister to the heirs of salvation;" but even this is not done until he is become an heir of salvation, which is ordinarily effected through the instrumentality of man. We read of no mission composed of the spirits of just men made perfect sent from the skies, and charged with the gospel to a benighted part of the globe. Let us then be diligent. Opportunity is the flower of time, which we hold this moment in our hand, fresh, fragrant, and blooming—but which tomorrow may drop and wither upon our grave. "Work therefore while it is called today, the night comes when no man can work; and whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave where you are going."
Permit me, my brethren and fathers in the Christian ministry, with all affection and respect, to enforce the language of the text upon your most serious attention. It speaks to us with its full emphasis. We are bound to do the work of the Lord, not merely by the common ties of Christian duty, but by all the weighty obligations which the most solemn office beneath the skies has imposed upon our consciences. Among the various duties which we are to enjoin upon the people, religious zeal unquestionably occupies a conspicuous place. But exhortations to this duty, unless enforced by our conduct, will come to the hearts of our hearers, chilling as the breeze which issues from the north, and has swept over the surface of the frozen ocean. It behooves us to recollect that we are accountable for the very spirit of our congregations; since, in this respect, a minister who, in addition to competent talents and prudence, is beloved by his people, can cause the tone of their character to strike in unison with his own. We should be in the midst of the house of God, like the ever burning lamps in the holy place of the temple—our zeal should resemble the heavenly fire, which sent forth a quenchless flame upon the brazen altar.
Let us, then, be patterns of Christian activity. Let us manifest a forwardness in giving endorsement and support, so far as our ability extends, to every plan that has for its object the best interests of man, and the glory of God. And while contending for the faith once delivered to the saints; while assiduously cherishing in our flocks the spirit of personal devotion; while laboring to the utmost in the cause of evangelical morality, let us not forget, both by our sermons and our conduct—to admonish our churches to new efforts, in the language of the text, "Beloved brethren, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord!"