SERVICE, The Sphere and Culture of Spiritual Life
"And to every man his work." -Mark 13:34.
God has formed nothing- not the most infinitesimal product of creation- that has not a mission and that answers not an end. There is no waste in nature- nothing superfluous, or in excess. But, it is in the Christian life we find the most true and impressive illustration of this fact. If God has charged any creation of His wisdom, goodness, and power with a mission and a purpose worthy of Himself, it is the new creation, or, in other words, the spiritual life of the soul.
A new creation- as the believer is- a new world of being, of thought, and action, floats before him. He himself is that world! Partaking of a divine nature, invested with new powers and tastes and purposes, the regenerate man has found an object and end of life worthy the motive and the Author of his new-born being. It is now the noblest end and happiness of his life to live for God. Hitherto he has lived for himself. Up to a certain point of his creation, he has lived to the flesh. It could not possibly have been otherwise. Nature, apart from a supernatural power, will never rise above itself. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh," -and will be flesh, and nothing but flesh, until the end of its existence.
The new birth is not the transubstantiation- so to speak of the flesh into spirit; of the carnal into the spiritual: it is the infusion or impartation of a new and divine nature whereby the recipient becomes "a new creature in Christ Jesus." The old nature, though brought into subjection to the new, still retains its fleshly principles and its incessant propensity to sin. Now, it is for the appropriate and full exercise of the new nature or, the spiritual life of the believer- that God has provided.
It is a fixed law of our natural organism that exercise is essential to its development and growth. Its powers, left to an inert and inactive condition, would soon become paralyzed and bedwarfed. God has, therefore, mercifully ordained that labor should constitute an integral part of man's existence. This is not an accident, but an essential part of his original creation. Anterior to the fall of man, God sent him into the yet unsinned and uncursed garden to till it, thus teaching that labor is coeval with man's creation- a part of his abnormal existence. Now the same law equally applies to the spiritual as to the natural creation: and it is to this the preceding remarks have a bearing.
The object of the present chapter, therefore, is, to illustrate and enforce the truth, that Christian service is an appropriate sphere, and provides an efficient means for the development and culture, of the spiritual life of the soul. And we believe that the sequel will prove that, where indolence, selfishness, and inactivity have traced the personal religion of a Christian, his Christianity has, to a great degree, become stunted in its growth, unfruitful in its results, and impotent for good in its influence upon others.
The parable of our Lord upon which our present subject is based, strikingly and impressively illustrates it. Our blessed Lord speaks of Himself as "a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work." The simple and obvious interpretation of the parable is found in the return of our Lord to the glory from where He came, leaving His house- or Church- on earth, and assigning to His ministers and all His servants each their duty- "to every man his work." The truth thus taught, and the precept thus enjoined, recognizes individual Christianity, and points to individual responsibility and office.
Christ has gone to heaven, to return again. During His absence, pending His return, all His servants have each one a charge to keep, a service to perform, a duty and a privilege to discharge in His name, and for His glory. "To every man his work." Now it is in a personal, diligent, and faithful performance of this service, the believer is to evidence the possession, develop the power, and promote the growth of his own personal religion. It is in this field of Christian service the active graces of the Spirit find their most appropriate sphere of exercise and culture. Before, however, we advert particularly to this point, let us first speak of Christian service: this will have prepared us to trace its reflex influence upon individual character.
"To every man his work." Personal responsibility and duty is the lesson here taught. As in a great building there are a variety of workmen, and each one has his special part in the superstructure so is it with Christ and with the world. Every Christian is a co-worker with God: employed in rearing that "spiritual house"- His Church which is destined to replenish the universe with His glory, and to fill eternity with His praise. All have not the same office; are not appointed to the same sphere; are not fitted for the same work. "For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office," so we, being many, are one body in Christ; and to every man individually God has assigned his own work. It would be difficult to determine for another what is the most appropriate sphere of Christian service he is to occupy: this must be left to the Lord, and to his own intelligent consciousness.
No earnest Christian, longing to serve Christ, need be at a loss to know in what sphere the Lord would have him labor. He has but honestly and earnestly to send up the petition- "Lord, what will You have me to do? Show me Your way. Direct my steps to that field of service and of duty which You have ordained, and for which You have fitted me. Here am I, send me." This petition, offered with true-heartedness, the sphere of duty and of privilege, sooner or later, will be made known. That the Great Head of His Church- the Divine Architect and Builder of His spiritual Temple- has fitted you for, and appointed you to, a service, is not a question of doubt. He who does nothing without a purpose- who has formed not an atom or an insect without its adaptation to an end has not created you for an object unworthy your intelligence, responsibility, and destiny.
The obligations to a personal consecration of service to Christ are many and strong. Let a few suffice. And the first we mention is, your natural creation. "God has created all things for Himself." "I have created Him for my glory." The law of your creation imposes upon you the duty of loving, serving, and glorifying God. Not made to terminate in yourself, but in Him who made you, you are bound, by the law of your creation, to make God the one and the great end of your being. "No man lives to himself." He may strive so to do, but his relation to God renders it impossible. From that relation, as God's creature, he cannot disengage himself. It will follow him into eternity, and hold him in its grasp forever! Lost though he may be, he is still the creature of God's natural, and the subject of His moral, government; and God must cease to be what He is, before He relinquishes His claim!
But the obligation of the Christian to Christ's service rests upon a higher basis than the natural. He is not only the Lord's by creation, but he is His by redemption. As a redeemed subject, he is under the most imperious obligation to consecrate his ransomed being to the service of his Redeemer. "You are not your own," says the Apostle; "for you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your bodies, and in your souls, which are His." Could any argument be so convincing, or any plea so touching, why we should dedicate to Jesus' service our entire being? Bought with a price so precious- ransomed at a cost so immense- can we hesitate for a moment compliance with the call, "Son, go work today in my vineyard"?
Oh, did we more vividly realize what it cost Jesus to make us what we are- delivering us from the curse, rescuing us from condemnation, paying our whole debt, and "opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers"- it would not be the question of a moment how much we should do, or how much we should suffer, or how much we should give, as an act of consecration, and as an expression of gratitude to Him, "who, though He was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich."
Called to be saints, with the especial and effectual call of the Spirit, implies that, henceforth, we are Christ's servants, and that His most free service is our highest ambition, our supremest delight, and our richest reward. Christians, in general, realize so faintly what Jesus has done and suffered for them, that the sense of obligation to enlist in His service, to advance His kingdom, and to vindicate His truth, is correspondingly faint; and the result is, a withholding- Ananias-like, of a 'part of the price,' all of which- without the slightest reservation should be laid at Jesus' feet. Called, then, with so high a calling as a saint- adopted to so high a dignity as a son of God- the obligation to service, the most demanding and self-denying, for Christ, allows not of a moment's hesitation or demur.
And when to these grounds- upon which Christ's claim to the consecration of our people, our intellect, our substance, rests- is superadded the hope of glory, the inheritance of heaven, the "forever with the Lord," the obligation is complete. What more could be added to render the bond more solemn, the reasoning more conclusive, the plea more irresistible? The reward of Christ's servant distances all conception, outvies all description. "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man to conceive, the things which God has prepared" for him who serves the Lord Christ here. "If any man serve me, him will my Father honor." "Where I am, there shall also my servant be." "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life that fades not away."
"To every man his work." Thus we are taught our individuality. It is a personal service, a service for the Lord, the discharge, responsibility, and account of which cannot possibly be transferred to another. "Son, go work in my vineyard," is the Lord's address to every individual Christian. None are exempt. "To every man his work" -and not another's. The important question with each one, then, should be "Lord, what will You have me to do? Show me, Lord, my work; then furnish me with the gift and grace it demands." And do you think that the Master and Owner of the Vineyard will leave you long in ignorance and suspense? Oh no! There is too much to be done- "the field is the world"-and, with many a saint of God, the night of the grave is near when no man can work. The sun of your life has far gone down, and nothing is left to labor and suffer for Jesus in, but the dim and shadowy twilight! Up, then, and work for Christ!
"To every man his work." You have yours. It may be as "a teacher of babes;" or, to visit the sick and the dying; or, to seek the wanderer, restore the fallen, and rescue the lost; or, to be an evangelist, or a Christian minister, or a foreign missionary, traveling to some far distant climate to unfurl the standard of the cross amid the gross darkness and degrading superstition and idolatry of a heathen world. Whether called to the highest post of Christian service abroad, or to be a "hewer of wood and a drawer of water" at home "anywhere, Lord, where I may best serve, and most glorify and honor You!"
In thus working for Christ and for man, we best promote our own spiritual life. The soul is as much created and fitted for activity- the mind as much formed and adapted for service- as the body. Yes, far more so. How often do we see the soul putting forth a might and majesty almost superhuman at the very moment that its mortal casement is falling in ruins from around it! -the mind thus asserting its superiority to, and its triumph over, the body. There are two classes of the graces of the Spirit- the active and the passive; the former, find their proper field and development in doing; the latter, in enduring; the one, in service; the other, in suffering. It is with the active graces this chapter especially deals. In Christian work the active graces of love-zeal-patience-fidelity-faith-and prayer are brought into appropriate and vigorous action; and, thus employed, acquire development, robustness, and growth.
Unemployed- allowed to vegetate and slumber- they grow enfeebled and paralyzed, and the spiritual life of the soul becomes retarded, stunted, and bedwarfed. But, as the present chapter has exceeded its assigned limit, we must hasten to conduct it to a conclusion by exhorting the reader to listen to the call of providence and of grace which is none other than the voice of Jesus- "Why do you stand all the day idle? Son, go work today in my vineyard?"
Oh, there is much to be done for a fallen world, and for a redeeming Christ! There is much land yet to be possessed. Souls are hurrying fast to death- what are we doing to save them? They are speeding rapidly to the judgment- what are we doing to prepare them? "This is a day of glad tidings, and we hold our peace." Satisfied of our conversion- if, indeed, we are- we heed not and seek not the conversion of others! Lord, deliver us from blood-guiltiness- the most terrible of all blood- the blood of souls! "When I say unto the wicked, you shall surely die; and you give him not warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at your hand."
Solemn work! tremendous responsibility! appalling result! Oh that, when we give in our account when our work is done and our career is finished- we may, through grace, be enabled to exclaim with the faithful Apostle- "I am clear from the blood of all men!" Live, then, earnestly and lovingly in the service of Christ, and rich will be your present, great and glorious your future, reward. Your spiritual life- deepened and enlarged- will be enriched and beautified with many a precious fruit of righteousness; and your eternal life decked and honored with a many jeweled crown- will grow in knowledge, increase in happiness, and deepen in glory, as the endless cycles of eternity roll round. "They that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever," "And he brought him to Jesus."
"What can I give to Jesus,
Who gave Himself for me?
How can I show my love to Him
Who died on Calvary?
"I'll give my heart to Jesus
In childhood's tender spring:
I know that He will not despise
So mean an offering.
"I'll give my soul to Jesus,
And calmly, gladly rest
Its youthful hopes and fond desires
Upon His loving breast.
"I'll give my mind to Jesus,
And seek in thoughtful hours,
His Spirit's grace to consecrate
Its early, opening powers.
"I'll give my strength to Jesus,
Of foot, and head, and will;
Run where He sends, and ever strive
His pleasure to fulfill.
"I'll give my time to Jesus;
Oh that each hour might be
Filled up with holy work for Him
Who spent His life for me!
"I'll give my wealth to Jesus:
It is little I possess;
But all I am and all I have,
Dear Lord, accept and bless.
"And if, O dearest Jesus,
Long life to me is given,
Your missionary let me be,
To win some precious souls for Thee,
And win them through eternity
To praise Your name in heaven."