What a brief moment, indeed, in our endless life is the whole period even of the longest life on earth! It is compared to a vapour, which appeareth for a short time, and then vanisheth away; to "a watch in the night,"—"a tale that is told." And if we but consider how nearly a third portion of our threescore years and ten is necessarily spent in sleep; and add to this the years spent during infancy while preparing for labour; during old age, when our labours are well-nigh past; and many more consumed in adorning and supporting or giving rest to the body; and then if, after summing up those years, we deduct what remains of time at the disposal of the oldest man for the formation of active thought and the improvement of his spiritual being, oh! how brief is the whole period of our mortal life, when longest, though its transactions are to us fraught with endless and awful consequences!
Another characteristic of those moments in life is the silence with which they may come and pass away. No "sign" may be given to indicate their importance to us. They do not announce their approach with the sound of a trumpet, nor demand with a voice of thunder our immediate and solemn attention to their interests; but stealthily, quietly, with noiseless tread like spirits from another world, they come to us, put their question, speak the word, and vanish to heaven with our reply. In after years, possibly, with "the long results of time" to guide us upward as by a stream to the tiny threads of this fountain of life and action, we may be able in a greater degree to realise of what tremendous importance they were to us. "Had we only known this at the time!" we exclaim, as we revolve those memories, and think of all we would have said or done;—"had we only known!" But it is not God's will that we should know how much of the future is involved in the present, or how all we shall be is determined by what we may resolve to be or do at any particular moment. Such a revelation would paralyse all effort, and destroy the mainspring of all right action. Sight would thus be substituted for faith; the fear of evil consequences for the fear of evil; and the love of future benefits for the love of present duty. God will have us rather cultivate habitually a right spirit at each moment, so as to be able to act rightly when the all-important moment comes, whether we then discover its importance or not. Let us not be surprised, then, if God comes to us, not in the strong wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but only in the still small voice which speaks to the heart or to the conscience, demanding the conduct which becomes us as responsible beings and as obedient children.
But let me illustrate these remarks by a few examples of "moments in life," and such as must come to us all.
It is a solemn "moment in life" when the glad tidings of the love of God in Christ Jesus are heard and understood. Remember that we are saved by "the truth;" born again "of the Word;" sanctified "by the truth." To receive the truth of God, then, as a living power into the mind and conscience, is of infinite importance to us. Now, while God's truth comes to us "at various times and in diverse manners," there are moments in life when we cannot choose but feel as if it was addressing our inner spirit as it never did before, and earnestly knocking for admission. The circumstances in which this appeal is made may be what are called commonplace; such as when hearing a sermon preached from the pulpit, when reading a book by the fireside, or when conversing for a few minutes with an acquaintance; yet at such times truth expressed in a single sentence, or in a few words, may search our spirits, and gaze on us with a solemn look, saying, "Thou art the man I am in search of!" But, as it sometimes happens, the circumstances in which we are thus arrested by the truth, and are compelled to listen to it for weal or woe, may be peculiarly impressive; as when we are ourselves in sickness or danger, or when addressed by a parent or dear friend on their dying bed, or when in deep family distress, or when standing beside the grave that conceals our best earthly treasure from our sight. At such moments the voice of God's Spirit is awfully solemn as He cries, "Now is the day of salvation;" "To-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts;" "Believe and live."
These moments may be very brief. The crisis of the battle between God and self, right and wrong, truth and falsehood, may be concentrated into a few minutes. But time sufficient is, nevertheless, given wherein to test our truthfulness, the soil in which truth grows, the mirror that reflects its beams; time sufficient is given to say Yes or No to that God who claims our faith and love. Truth comes with authority and majesty as an ambassador from the living God, and with clear voice, pure eye, and an arm omnipotent to save, offers to give light, life, and liberty to the captive spirit. But we may evade his bright glance, and close our ears to his voice, and refuse to consider his claims, and deal falsely with his arguments; we may reject his offers, and, shrinking back from his touch and his helping hand, retire into the gloom of self-satisfied pride, preferring the darkness to the light; or we may make merry with Heaven's ambassador, and mock him as they did the prophet of old; or cry out, "Away with him!" as the world cried to the Lord of light and life. And what if the second ambassador never comes again with such pressing earnestness, but passes by the door once so rudely closed against him, and will knock no more? Or, though he may in mercy return again and again, what if the eye gets blinded by the very light which it rejects? and the ear becomes so familiar with the voice, that it attracts attention no more than the winds that beat upon the wall; and the heart becomes so hardened as to be unimpressible, until the dread sentence is at last passed,—"Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices."
A young man came to Jesus seeking eternal life. "Jesus, looking on him, loved him," and answered his prayers by teaching him how eternal life could alone be attained. But the young man went away sorrowful, because he had much riches. What a history was contained in that brief moment of his life!
Again, young King Agrippa, along with the young Bernice, hear a sermon from Paul the prisoner. The outward picture presented to the eye on that day had nothing more remarkable or peculiar about it than has been witnessed a thousand times before and since. Those royal personages entered "the place of hearing" with "great pomp," accompanied by "the chief captains and principal men of the city." And before them appeared an almost unknown prisoner, upon whom his own nation, including "the chief priests and elders from Jerusalem," demanded the judgment of death to be passed. That prisoner, "in bodily presence weak and contemptible," was however "permitted to speak for himself;" and verily he did speak! He spoke of God and Christ; of repentance and the new life; and of his own glorious commission to "open the eyes" of men, "to turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God, that they might receive the forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified through faith in Jesus." What a revelation was this from God to man! The voice which spoke from Sinai and through the prophets, the voice of Him who is truth and love, spoke at that moment of life through Paul to those royal hearers, and to the captains and principal men. But Agrippa, with a sneer or with some conviction of the truth, replied, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." Unlike St Paul himself, when the Lord spoke to him on his way to Damascus, Agrippa was disobedient to the heavenly vision. And so the sermon ended; the gay multitude dispersed; the place of hearing was left in silence, and echoed only the midnight winds or the beat of the sea-wave on the neighbouring shore. St Paul retired to his cell; Agrippa, Festus, and Bernice, to their chambers of rest, to sleep and dream by night, as they slept and dreamt by day. But they never heard the apostle preach again! It was their first and last sermon; that moment in their life came and passed, but never returned. Like two ships which meet at midnight on a moonlit sea, those two persons, the prisoner and the king, spoke, then each passed into the darkness, and onward on their voyage to their several ports, but never met again! Oh, how awful are such moments when truth reveals herself to the responsible spirit of man! And so, my reader, does it ofttimes happen between thee and God's Spirit. Let me beseech of thee to "redeem the time," to know this "the day of thy visitation," and to hear and believe "the word of the Lord."
Another "moment in life" which may be specially noticed, is that in which we are tempted to evil. Temptations are no doubt "common to man." Our whole life in a sense is a temptation, for whatever makes a demand upon our choice as moral beings, involves a trial of character, and tests the "spirit we are of." But nevertheless there do occur periods in our lives when such trials are peculiarly testing; when large bribes are offered to the sin that doth so easily beset us, tempting us to betray conscience, give up principle, lose faith in the right and in God, and to serve the devil, the world, or the flesh. Such moments may be very brief, yet decisive of our future life. They may come suddenly upon us, though possibly many notes of warning have announced their approach. For they are often but the apex of the pyramid to which many previous steps have gradually and almost imperceptibly led; the beginning of a battle, which must at last be fought, and very shortly decided, but yet the ending of many previous skirmishings. Be this as it may, that moment of life does come to us all, when evil like the enemy appears to concentrate against us its whole force, and when we must fight, conquer, or die; when like a thief it resolves to break into our home and take possession; when as a deceiver it promises happiness, and demands immediate acceptance or rejection of the splendid offer,—"All these will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me!"
What a moment is this in the life of many a young person. How unutterably solemn is the first deliberate act which opposes conscience, rebels against the authority of God and of His law, shuts out the light, and prefers darkness. Future character, and the life and happiness of years, may be determined by it. The step taken in that brief moment, the lie uttered, the dishonesty perpetrated, the drunkenness or debauchery indulged in, the prayers for the first time given up, and the father's home left for the far country. Who can realise the consequences of those first acts, or estimate the many links of evil, and the endless chain itself, that may connect themselves with the one link of sin fashioned in that moment of life! Who can foresee the streams ever increasing in breadth and depth which may flow from this letting in of water! Would God that my readers, young men especially, would but believe in the possibility even of the choice they make at such a time determining their future destiny. The thought of this might at least make them pause and consider.
There is no exaggeration in this language. To realise the danger, all we need assume is the law of habit; for, according to that law, we know that any act of the will, good or bad, has a tendency to repeat itself with increasing ease and decreasing consciousness, until it becomes a "second nature." Hence the first resistance of evil is much less difficult than any subsequent attempt; and he who in one moment of life could by a manly effort become a conqueror, and enter on a life of principle and peace, may, by yielding, very soon sink down into a degraded slave, who is held fast by the iron chain of habit, each link of which he has himself forged by his own self-will.
What a moment was that in the life of Herod when he permitted evil desire for Herodias to enter his soul. That desire conceived sin, and sin when finished brought forth death. Acts passed into habits, and habits into a life of abandoned passion. Then came the festive birthday, and the dancing before him of the daughter of his paramour; and then the foul murder, with the spectacle of the bloody head, closed eyes, and sealed lips of the greatest and noblest man of his time; and then followed the hour when Jesus Himself was brought before the murderer, when the Lord spoke not one word of warning, rebuke, or mercy to him, but smote the wretch with the terrible wrath and righteous judgment of silence!
What a moment in life was that, too, when Judas welcomed covetousness into his heart as a most profitable guest. Then one day Covetousness offered him thirty pieces of silver if he would betray his Lord; and Judas agreed to the proposal. A whole eternity of misery was involved in that moment of his life: for the night soon arrived when the bargain was to be kept. A few moments more, and the history will end here to begin elsewhere. Yet there is not a sign on earth or heaven to indicate the importance of that brief hour to Judas! He forms one among the most distinguished company that ever sat at the same table since the earth began; and never did mortal ears listen to such words uttered by human lips, nor did mortal eyes ever contemplate such a scene of peace and love as was witnessed in that upper room in Jerusalem. But the hour has struck, and Judas rises to depart. The deed of darkness must now be done. It is late, and he has made a most important appointment; unless he keeps it, he may lose his money; and what a loss to the poor follower of a man who had nowhere to lay His head! Judas leaves that company; and what was there in things visible to make him suspect even that an awful moment of life—his last—had come? All was calm within that upper room,—all was peace in the world without. The naked heavens shone in the calm brilliancy of an Eastern night The streets of Jerusalem, along which the traitor passed on his dreadful errand, echoed his footsteps in their silence. Yet Judas, "the son of perdition," was at that moment on his way "to his own place!"
And thus it is with many a man in the hour of temptation. The voice of sin speaks not loudly, but whispers to his inner spirit. He pursues his path of evil without alarm being given by sight or sound from heaven or earth. There is nothing in the world without to disturb the thoughts and purposes of the world within his false and unprincipled soul. The moment of his life brings the temptation, and he yields his soul to its power, and the moment passes with as noiseless a step; and soon the last moment comes, and passes away; but he too has noiselessly passed away with it "to his own place!"
The "moment in life" when we are called upon to perform some positive duty, is one which is often very critical and full of solemn consequences to us. The duty may appear to be a very trifling one,—such as writing a letter, visiting a friend, warning some brother against evil, aiding another, or sympathising with a sufferer in his sorrow. But whatever the work may be, and in whatever way it is to be performed, whether by word or deed, by silence or by speech, yet there is a time given us for doing it, very brief perhaps, and unaccompanied by any sign to mark its significance,—a time, nevertheless, when whatever has to be done must be done quickly, "now or never."
Such a moment in life was that in the history of the three apostles who accompanied our Lord, at His own request, in order to watch with Him in His last agony. As a man, He deserved their thoughtful presence, their watchful sympathy, when enduring the dread sorrow which filled His cup, from realising by anticipation all that was before Him. Thrice He came to them from the spot, not far off, where He wrestled in prayer with His terrible agony.
Thrice He found them asleep. "What!" he asked, "could ye not watch with me one hour?" Ah! they knew not what an hour that was!—what it was to Him—what it was and might have been to them! They might have had the joy, the exalted privilege, which for ever would have been as a very heaven of glory in their memory, of sharing, through the power of sympathising love, the burden of their Lord's anguish. But they yielded to the flesh, and permitted that moment of time to pass; and when they at last roused themselves from their slumber, it was too late. That moment in life had come and gone, and could return no more. "Sleep on, and take your rest; behold, he who betrayeth me is at hand!"
And thus it often happens in the life of us all. An hour is given us when something may be done for our Lord or our brethren, which cannot possibly be done if that hour is permitted to pass away unimproved. Then we may teach an ignorant soul, or rouse a slothful one to action; we may alarm one who is lethargic, worldly, sensual, "without God or Christ in the world," so as to win him to both; or we may comfort the feeble-minded, and support the weak. Circumstances may give us the opportunity, and the "moment in life," when such works may be done. The persons to be helped are perhaps inmates of our dwelling; they are our relations: they are sick or dying; or they have cast themselves upon our aid. But we let the moment pass. The work given us is not done. We have neglected it from sloth, procrastination, thoughtlessness, or selfishness. And we may become awake to our culpable negligence, and rouse ourselves to duty. But, alas! those whom we could have aided are past help. They are dead, or are removed from our influence, or in some way "past remedy." And so the moment in life given us is gone, and gone for ever, except to meet us and to accuse us before the bar of God. And thus it is with duty in countless forms. What our hands find to do must be done quickly, if done at all, and in the time given us. If not, a night comes, and may come soon and come suddenly, in which either we ourselves cannot work, or in which, though at last willing to do it, it is no longer given us to do.
But there is one moment in life—and I conclude by suggesting it to your thoughts—which must come to every man, and which generally comes with signs sufficiently significant of its importance,—I mean the last moment which closes our life on earth. Come it must. And, as an old writer remarks, "the day we die, though of no importance to the world, is to ourselves of more importance than is all the world." That moment in life ends time to us, and begins eternity; it ends our day of grace and begins the day of judgment; it separates us from the world in which we have lived since we were born, and introduces us to the unseen, unknown world of things and persons in which we must live for ever during the life of God. What a moment is this! It may come in the quiet of our own chamber, or amidst the confusion and excitement of some dread accident by land or sea; it may be heralded by long sickness or old age, and accompanied by much weakness and bodily suffering. But if that moment, when it comes, is to bring us peace, let our present moments, as they come, find us watchful, conscientious, believing, and prayerful. And should these words of mine be read by chance by one who has begun his last moment without having begun the work for which he was created, preserved, and redeemed, let me beseech of him to improve it by repentance towards God, and faith in Jesus Christ, who will pardon his sins, give him a new heart, and save him as he did the thief on the cross. If every hour of his day of grace has been misimproved, let not this last be added to the number. If he has stood all the day idle, let him in the eleventh hour accept his Master's work of faith alone in his own soul, and do what he can for the good of others. But let this moment in life pass, then shall the next moment after death bring only fear and anguish; for, be warned and also encouraged by the words of the truthful and loving Jesus, uttered with many tears, over lost souls,—"If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things that belong unto thy peace; but now they are for ever hid from thine eyes!"
"LABOURERS TOGETHER WITH GOD."
These words seem to me to express the idea of true labour, such as God calls us to, and in the doing of which there is a great reward. They imply that the living God has a work to do on earth, in men and by men; that in this work He has—if I may so express it—a deep personal interest, because it is one worthy of Himself, and for the advancement of His own glory, and the good and happiness of man.
Now, God wishes us to know this work, and to sympathise with Him in it. He does not conceal from us what He wishes done, or what He himself is doing; nor obliges us to remain for ever blind as to His will and purposes regarding ourselves or others; so that, if we work at all, we must work according to our own wills only, and for our own purposes. Instead of this, He reveals in His Word, by His Son, through His Spirit, and in the conscience, what His will is—what He wishes us to be and do. Nor does He say to us, "Learn my commands, and obey them; but seek not to know why I have so commanded." Were it impossible, indeed, to know why any command was given, the mere fact of its injunction would itself demand instant compliance; "but," says our Lord, "I have not called you servants, but friends, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth." The servant or slave does not occupy the place which the friend does. The one hears only what is commanded; but the other, through personal acquaintance with the master, is enabled to sympathise with the righteousness and love in the command. The friend not only knows what, as a servant, he must do, but sees how right and beautiful it is that he should be commanded so to do. In like manner, we read that God made known His "ways" to Moses, but only His "acts" to the children of Israel. This revelation, of principle and plan to His servant was indeed a speaking with him "face to face;" and thus does God speak to us now in these latter days by the grace and truth revealed in His Son. And it is only when we thus know God's work on earth, and when, from a will and character brought into harmony with His, we see how excellent the work is, that we can be, not labourers only, but "fellow-labourers" with God;—not workers only, but "workers together with Him."
Consider, for instance, the work of God in our own souls. This is, as far as we ourselves are concerned, the most important work in the universe. Upon it depends whether the universe shall be to us a heaven or a hell. "What will a man give in exchange for his soul?" is a question which assumes that to the man himself nothing can be so valuable. But has God any work to do in our souls? Has He ever expressed any wish as to what He would have us believe, become, or enjoy, or revealed for what end or purpose He made our spirits? Is there no wrong state or condition in us with which He is "angry" and "grieved," and no right state with which He is "delighted," and over which He "rejoices?" Has He laid no command upon us to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling?" and has He given no intimation of His "working in us to will and do?" Or is it to Him the same whether we are wrong or right? Surely we can have no difficulty in replying to such all-important questions! If a man loses faith in the reality and sincerity of God's wish, that he personally should have his guilty soul freely pardoned, and his unholy soul sanctified, and his whole being renewed after God's own image,—that he himself should be a good, a great, a happy man, by knowing and loving his God; and if a man brings himself to such a state of practical atheism as to doubt whether God knows or cares anything about him;—then it is impossible for such a man to be "a fellow-labourer," a "worker together" with God in his own soul; for he does not know and has never heard of any work of God required there. But if he believes that God is indeed his "Father in heaven;"—that He has goodwill to him, and therefore desires his good by desiring him to be good;—that, for the accomplishment of this end, all has been done which is recorded in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation;—that God has been working in him, through agencies innumerable, since his childhood, by parents and friends, by tender mercies and bitter chastisements, by Sabbath ordinances and pulpit ministrations, by the constant witness of conscience and the Word of God, in order that he should know and love God his Father,—then, seeing this, will he see also how he may be a "fellow-labourer with God." And have not you, my reader, been conscious of this work? You cannot get quit of the conviction that there is One higher than yourself with whom you have to do,—One who is ever with you, seeking to deliver you from evil, from your own evil self,—One whose voice is never silent, and who is righteously judging your daily life. And have you never been conscious, too, of fighting against what you certainly knew was not self, but a holy, winning, mysterious power or Person, who opposed self, and for that very reason was resisted by self? And therefore your sin has not been the ignorance of good, but opposing the good,—not the absence, but the resisting of a good work in you. It is on this very principle men will be condemned, for "This is the condemnation, that light hath come into the world, and men prefer darkness to light, because their deeds are evil." And if this has been your sin, so has it been your misery. In exact proportion as you thus "hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord," you become wretched and unsatisfied. No wonder! for with whom does the man work when he works in opposition to the will of God? In refusing to serve God, he serves Satan, and becomes a "worker together" with "the spirit who now worketh in the children of disobedience!"
Well, then, what are you to do? I reply: "Yield yourselves to God;" "be subject to the Father of your spirit, and live." "Wherefore do you spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live." Instead of being workers against, seek to be "workers together" with God in your own souls; to have His "work of faith and love," and everything beautiful and holy, perfected in you. Believe in Jesus Christ as the living Person who alone can and will save you, by pardoning your sins, and giving you His Spirit to make you like Himself. Begin your work by assuming that God is working in you to will and do; and because you have Him, through His omnipotent Spirit, working in you, do not be as one who beats the air in aimless and profitless warfare, nor strive against nor grieve that Spirit, but through Him "work out your own salvation." In thus pleading with you, I feel that I myself am but working with God; for I can say with the apostle, "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain."
Put this question in another way: Suppose you had met Jesus Christ when He was on earth; that you had listened to one of His appeals when He preached the gospel from city to city, and felt His eye looking at you as He spoke in His own name, and in the name of His Father, saying, "Come unto me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest"—"The Son of man hath come to seek that which is lost," and the like; that you had witnessed the delight it gave Him to do good, and to find any one willing to receive His overflowing love, and the sorrow He endured when men would not believe in Him or trust Him, but preferred remaining without the blessing; and that you had accompanied Him during His ministry on earth, and studied His character from all you saw and heard,—could the impression made upon you in such circumstances be thus expressed, "I believe that Thou carest not for me; that my well-doing or ill-doing are equally matters of indifference to Thee; and that there is no faith or love that Thou desirest to see accomplished in my soul?" Would you have dared to speak in anything like this strain of blasphemy to the holy Saviour had you met Him? Or would you not have been overwhelmed by the conviction, that whether you yielded to His wishes or not, these wishes were clear and unquestionable—that from His character as a man having fellowship with God, His work as the Saviour of sinners, His revealed will as Lord, nothing could be more certain than that He wished you personally to be holy and happy through faith in His name; and accordingly, that if you accepted His call, and His offer of power to be so, you were but working with Him; and that if you neglected both, you were certainly working against Him?
But with this personal Saviour you have to do just as really and truly now as any of His disciples who had followed Him when on earth; and so I beseech you to be fellow-labourers with Him in His own holy and living work within your own soul. Let your prayer then be: "Thy will be done! Let Thy holy and loving will, my Father, be done in me! I believe in Thy forgiveness, and am at peace with Thee, according to that will, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. And as this is also Thy will, even my sanctification, and Thy revealed purpose, that I should be made conformable to the image of Thy Son, so let Thy grace, which is sufficient for the chief of sinners, daily bring this salvation into me, by teaching me to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; that so learning Christ, taking up His cross daily, following Him and being disciplined by Him, I may be taught to put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of my mind; and, as Thine own workmanship, be created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works. Amen!"
Let us consider for a little longer God's work in us, by His providential dealings towards us. A moment's reflection will suffice to remind you that God, in His providence, is constantly working with you. He is, for instance, a wonderful Giver. "He gives us all things richly to enjoy." "He openeth His hand liberally." His mercies are more than can be numbered; though as a father He also chastises His children. "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away." Now, in whatever way God deals with us, whether He gives or takes, there is a purpose which He wishes accomplished. He has a work to do in us by every joy and every sorrow. There is a voice for us in the rod of darkness, and in the ray of sunshine; and it is our duty, our strength, our peace, to hear that voice, and to know that work of providence so as to be fellow-labourers with God in it. Perhaps you are disposed to excuse yourselves for want of sober inquiry into God's dealings with you, by saying, that it is very hard to know, and often impossible to discover, what object or purpose He has in view when sending to us this gift or that grief. In some cases it may be so; but it is much to know and to remember what God's purpose is not, and what He can never wish to have accomplished, either by what He gives to us or takes from us. Never can it be the purpose of God, in any case, to advance the work of Satan in our souls, or to retard within us the coming of His own glorious kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Never can He send us a gift to make us proud, vain, indolent, covetous, earthly-minded, sensual, devilish, or in any degree to alienate us from Himself as our chief good. For whatever purpose He fashioned our body with such exquisite care, providing so rich a supply for all its senses, it was not, assuredly, that we should make that body the instrument of degrading and ruining the immortal soul, and of sinking our whole being down to a level with the beasts that perish! He never gave beauty of form to make us vain or sensuous; nor poured wine into our cup that we should become drunkards; nor spread food on our table merely to pamper our self-indulgence and feed our passions. He never gave us dominion over the earth that we should be Satan's slaves. He never awoke from silence the glorious harmonies of music for our ear, nor revealed to our eye the beauties of nature and of art, nor fired our soul with the magnificent creations of poetry, that we might be so enraptured by these as to forget and despise Himself. He never gifted us with a high intellect, refined taste, or brilliant wit, to nourish ambition, worship genius, and to become profane, irreverent, and devil-like, by turning those godlike powers against their Maker and Sustainer. We cannot think, that if money has been poured at our feet, He thereby intended to infect us with the curse of selfishness, or to tempt us to become cruel or covetous men, who would let the beggar stand at our gate, and ourselves remain so poor as to have no inheritance in the kingdom of God; or to make us such "fools" as to survey our broad acres and teeming barns with self-love and worldliness, exclaiming, "Soul, take thine ease; thou hast much goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, and be merry;" or to tempt us to refuse the cross, and to depart sorrowful from Christ, because we had great possessions; or to choke the seed of the Word as with thorns, so that it should bring forth no fruit to perfection! Can it be possible that He has spared our family, and enriched us with so many friends, in order that, being "so happy" with them, we should never wish to know God as our Father, Christ as our Brother, or have any desire to become members of the family of God? Has He given us so much pleasant, useful, or necessary labour in the world, that we should forget the one thing needful, and leave undone the work for which we were created? Has He given us the Church, the ministry, the Sabbath, the sacrament, that we should make these ends instead of means—instruments for concealing, rather than revealing our God and Saviour? And if the Lord has taken away, and visited us with sharp sorrows and sore bereavements, was this "strange work" done by Him who does not "willingly afflict" His children, in order that we should have the pain without the "profit," "faint under" or "despise" the chastisement, or become more set upon the world and the creature, more shut up in heart against our Father, more dead to eternal things, or fall into despair, and curse God and die?
Without prolonging such inquiries, enough has been said, I hope, to enable you to apprehend what I mean by our being fellow-workers with God in all His works of providence that concern ourselves. We believe that these things, whether of joy or sorrow, do not come by chance, nor through the agency of dead mechanical laws, but that a living Person is dealing with us wisely, lovingly, righteously,—that, in truth, "the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away," and that, accordingly, there must be a design or purpose to serve in what He gives or withholds,—that this never can be an evil purpose, but must, in every case, be good, and that we may derive good and a blessing from it. Let us, then, be fellow-workers with Him in seeking, through faith and love, to have this purpose realised, and to have the end designed by God fulfilled in us or by us, so that every joy and sorrow may bring us nearer the glorious God, and make us know Him better, and love Him more, and thus possess "life more abundantly," even "life eternal!"
But not only is there a work to be done in us, but also by us, in the doing of which we are to be "labourers together with God."
This kind of labouring with others is illustrated by Saint Paul when he says, what I have already quoted, "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain." He is here, you perceive, addressing those who were enemies to God, and beseeching such to be "reconciled." But in what spirit does he plead with them? In labouring to bring them into reconciliation with their Father, and to save their souls, he does not feel himself alone and solitary in his work and labour of love; as one prompted by his own goodwill to lost sinners, and his own wishes to redeem them from evil, yet in doubt or in ignorance as to what God's wishes or feelings were in regard to them. He does not proclaim the gospel to one or to many sinners with such thoughts as these: "It is no doubt my duty to preach to them, and to plead with them, and from my heart I pity them, love them, and could die to save them; but whether God pities them or not, or truly wishes to save them, I do not know, for I am totally ignorant of His will or purpose." Surely such were not the apostle's convictions! Did he not rather engage in this work of seeking to save souls with intense earnestness, because he knew that however great his love, it was but a reflection, however dim, of the infinite love of God to them, and his desire to save them but a feeble expression of the desire of God? Was he not persuaded, that in "beseeching" them to be reconciled, he could speak "as though God did beseech" them by him, as one "in Christ's stead;" and that "in beseeching" them "not to receive the grace of God in vain," he was but "a worker together with God?"
In this same spirit may we, and must we seek to do good to others. We dare not look upon our brother as one belonging exclusively to ourselves, or one dear to ourselves only, but as one belonging to God his Creator, and dear to God his Father. We must ever keep before us the fact, that there is a work which God wishes to have accomplished in his soul, as well as in our own; and that our brother is given to us in order that we should be workers together with God in helping on that good work. And if so, this will very clearly teach us at least what we ought not to do to our brother. We should never, by word or by example, by silence or by speech, strengthen in his spirit the work of evil: for that is not God's work. For when we flatter his vanity, feed his pride, shake his convictions of the truth, or when, in any way whatever, we lay stumbling blocks in his path, or tempt him to evil, we are surely not workers together with God. In our conduct to our brother, let us ask ourselves, Is this how Christ would have acted to any one with whom He came in contact when on earth? Is this helping on His work now? But, on the other hand, when our brother's soul is dear to us,—when, at all hazards, we seek first, and above all, his good,—when our love is such that we are willing to have its existence suspected, and ourselves despised and rejected by him, even as our loving Lord was by His "own whom He loved," rather than that we should selfishly save ourselves, and lose our brother; then indeed we are labourers together with God, and possess the spirit of Jesus! Oh, little does the world understand the deep working of this kind of love, which, however imperfect it may be, yet burns in the heart of Christians only, because they only partake of that love which is possessed in perfection by Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us!
Let us, then, remember that we are not to concern ourselves about another's good as if we were alone in our labours, our wishes, and our sympathies; as if we really cared more than God does about the well-being of this relation or of that friend. Let our love flow out with all its force, and express itself with holiest longings and tenderest sympathies; yet infinitely above all this love is the love of our God and their God! In our truest and holiest working be assured that we are but a worker together with Him, the true and holy One, otherwise our labours could not be right; for they would not be in harmony with God's will, or such as He could command or bless.
The same principle applies to our more extensive labours for the good of the whole world, and is the very life and soul of home and foreign missions. We can enter the abodes of ignorance and crime at home, and ply with offers of mercy the inhabitants of the foulest den, and plead with every prodigal to return to his Father, because we believe that in all this we are in Christ's stead, and are warranted to beseech in God's name, and with the full assurance that we are not working alone, but "together with God." We can visit any spot in heathendom, cheered and borne up by the same assurance amidst every difficulty, discouragement, and danger. Whatever else is doubtful, this, at least, is certain, that in every endeavour to save sinners, we are but expressing our sympathy with Jesus in His love to them, in His longing to see of the travail of His soul, and to be satisfied in their salvation; and that when experiencing the deepest sorrow because men will not believe, we are only sharing the sufferings of Him who mourned on account of unbelief, and wept over lost Jerusalem because it would not know the things of its peace. All this is as certain as that there is such a living person as the Saviour, unchanged in character, everywhere present, seeing the evil and the good, hating the one and loving the other, whose labour and whose joy is that God's name should be hallowed, His kingdom come, and His will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.
Oh, how depressing, how deadening, to have any doubts as to this reality of the interest which our God and Saviour takes in the good of human souls! How must the dread thought silence the tongue, wither the heart, and paralyse the hand, that however ardent the wish influencing us to be good ourselves, or to do good to others, God is indifferent to both, and has no real interest in either—as if we had more love, more holiness, and more desire that the kingdom of righteousness should advance, than the loving and holy God! Nay, how is it possible for us to have any true love at all to human friends unless it is first kindled by Him, and is in sympathy with Him, who loved His neighbour as Himself?
Let me here remind you of the only other alternative set before you,—it is the awful one of being a "labourer together" with Satan. Our Lord rejects neutrality; for such is really impossible. He recognises the no real friend as a positive enemy. "He that is not with me is against me;" "He who gathereth not scattereth;" "Ye cannot serve God and mammon," but must serve either. Now, Satan has a work on earth. It is this spirit which "worketh in the children of disobedience." Will we, then, work with him in his desire to destroy our own souls? Will we have "fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness," and take part with that wicked one in his dread work of opposing the kingdom of light, and advancing the kingdom of darkness in the world? Will we assist him in tempting others to evil,—in entangling souls more and more in the meshes of sin,—in propagating error and opposing truth? And will we, by our words and example, by our coldness or open opposition, help to keep any man back from Christ, or to drag down to hell a neighbour or friend, a brother, sister, or child? A labourer together with Satan! Oh, consider the possibility of this being the record at judgment of our history, that we may start, as from a nightmare, from so hideous an imputation! Instead of anything so inconceivably dreadful being true of us, may we know and love the Father, through the Son, and by His Spirit, and thus realise more and more in all our labours the strength and blessedness of being "labourers together with God!"
The more we reflect upon this principle which I have been illustrating, the more we shall see that it is the life of all true work, and can be applied to any work in which a Christian can engage. The true artist, for example, ought to occupy the elevated position of being a labourer with God in faithfully, industriously, and conscientiously working in harmony with Nature, which is "the Art of God." He ought to study, therefore, the sculpture, the paintings, the music, of the Great Artist, and understand the principles on which He produces the beautiful in form, in colour, or in sound. The humblest mason who plies his chisel on the highest pinnacle of a great building, or who fashions the lowliest hut, should have an eye to Him who makes all things very good, and for conscience' sake, ay, for God's sake, he should, to the very best of his ability, work in the spirit of the Great Architect, who bestows the same care in building up the mountains, moulding the valleys, fashioning the crystal, making a home to shelter the tiny insect, or a nest where the bird may rear her young. Without loving our work, and doing it to the best of our ability, as in the sight of God, we cannot be fellow-workers with Him who hath made our bodies so wonderfully, and cultivated our souls so carefully; for "ye are God's building"—"ye are God's husbandry."
"An awakening" expresses better than the stereotyped phrase "revival," the idea of a wide-spread interest in religious truth. This is the response to the righteous demand, "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light," for at such a time men but awake to the reality of truth, which was previously dim and shadowy to them as things seen in dreams; or formerly the awful facts of God's revelation had been as pictures hung up on the wall, which now suddenly become alive.
Before entering on the discussion of this rather delicate subject, there is one question which we would respectfully press upon the attention of the reader, and that is, Whether he would like a revival of genuine religion? We do not question him regarding his sympathy with any particular form in which the supposed revival might come, far less with any of those peculiarities which are supposed by some to be necessarily characteristic of a revival; but supposing that such an awakening or revival occurred by means of any agency, or any process, that it was accompanied by such outward signs of calm and peace as he himself would select, and that its results were unquestionable;—supposing that society was unusually pervaded by a spirit of truth and holiness, that no countenance could be given to evil by word, look, or sentiment, but only to all that was pure, lovely, and of good report,—would such a heaven upon earth be readily rejoiced in by him? If this question is fairly and honestly put to the heart and conscience, the manner in which we entertain the thought of the mere possibility of a revival becomes a trial of our own spirit, a test of our sincerity when we pray, "Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven."
The weakest Christian has but one answer to give to such a question. He may be pained by anticipating the contrast which he thinks is not unlikely to be presented between himself and others more holy; or he may fear that what is false and fleeting, but more attractive, may, in a time of excitement, usurp the place of what is real and permanent, though less obtrusive; but he cannot but desire with his whole heart that he himself and all men may become more and more awake to the realities of truth, and be revived as by the breath of a new spring, so as to grow more in grace, and bring forth more fruit to the glory of God.
For, given that a revival is possible,—that a wide-spread interest in the will of God towards men, with a corresponding power vouchsafed to know it and do it, may be suddenly produced and permanently sustained in the minds of men,—we ask, Is not this the one grand blessing from God which we require? To the question, "What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?" which we may conceive our loving Lord putting to His blind, deaf, lame, even dead brethren of mankind, does not the response come from individuals and congregations, from solitary mourners, and from unhappy hearts, from the weary, the hopeless, the despairing, the labourers at home and abroad—"Life, Lord! We need life in our souls, life in our duties, life in our minds, life in our families, life in our teaching and hearing, in our working and praying, life in all and for all!"
All our clergy constantly need a revival of genuine life,—life which no parishioner might be able to define, but which, if there, every one would soon perceive. It would be felt in every home like the breath of spring, experienced beside every sick-bed like a touch of healing, and be heard in every sermon like a voice from heaven. Oh, what a heavenly gift to himself and others would this be, and what a time of refreshing from the Lord! And how many would share the blessing, now hindered, perhaps, by his own unbelief and satisfaction with indifference. For though "dead" ministers may in some rare cases have succeeded in saving souls, we never heard of living ones who had in every case failed. God has ordained that a living ministry—the preaching of those who utter what they themselves know from personal experience to be true—shall be His most powerful instrumentality for converting the world. We believe, accordingly, that every minister, whose own soul became alive, would soon find that his life was contagious, and that his living spirit would tell upon other spirits in a way never before realised by him. That indescribable impression made by a genuine Christian character, which never can be successfully imitated, would exercise a marvellous influence upon all with whom he came in contact; and if he had one sorrow for life, it would be the remembrance of the dark and horrible time when he was a mere formalist, dead to the eternal interests of his own soul and the souls of others.
Again, What parish does not stand in need of such a quickening? Few ministers are encouraged and stimulated to aim at and attain higher measures of good, from the abounding evidences of Christian life among their parishioners. Many more are tempted, by all they see around them, to wax cold in love, and to lower their standard of personal and ministerial life,—to become quite satisfied with the every-day, stereotyped formalism of things around them, or to submit to it as if it were a doom. The very smile of incredulity with which the account of alleged revivals is received,—the wonder which good men express, if told of many being awakened by the mere preaching of the Word in some congregation or district,—only indicates how all hope has perished of our people over becoming what the preacher in words urges them to become, or of their ever being delivered from the torpor, the indifference, the death, which in words he tells them are the preludes of coming death eternal. Is not our hope well-nigh lost regarding many a parish; and what but the quickening and reviving power of God's Spirit can restore it?
And is there no revival needed in our most living congregations? We may, indeed, have cause to thank God for many signs of genuine life within them, and for such good works as indicate a living spirit in the body. But in the most encouraging cases we have more cause to deplore the vast extent of the ground where the seed sown has been carried away, withered, or choked with thorns, rather than to rejoice in the small patches which may be bringing forth fruit. Let any minister, as he surveys his congregation, and as he visits them from house to house, ask himself the question, How many of these really care about Christ, and ever pray to Him, or try to serve Him? and making every allowance for our ignorance of other men's condition, for the life that may be hidden from the eye, yet will there not be innumerable evidences, forcing upon him the conviction, that if the doctrines he preaches are true, death reigns to a very awful extent even among members of the Church? We do not wish to exaggerate, or make out a case against pastors or their flocks, but we leave it to every candid man who will dare to look the truth in the face, to deny the existence among us of a, mighty want—the want of a revival of spiritual religion among both.
Once more, let us look at our missions, and consider whether there is any need of a revival in this department of Church life. We confess that a mingled feeling of shame and sorrow swells our hearts as we think of the contributions, whether of men or of money, furnished by all Christendom for the conversion of heathendom. It is not that Protestantism is behind Romanism even in the number of its missionaries, while in quality, and even permanent and holy results, we never will compare these two sections of the Christian Church. But how can we hope to possess such missions as shall be worthy of the Protestant Church, without a revival of spiritual religion throughout the parishes, families, theological halls, and congregations of Europe and America? Is it too much to expect, for example, that Christian parents, who would now rejoice if their sons received "an excellent civil appointment in India," or "a commission without purchase," or "a partnership in a first-rate house," shall also rejoice in the prospect of one of their children becoming a missionary of the Cross? Is it too much to expect that those licensed to preach the gospel shall love the work for the work's sake, and that some years at least of health and strength may be given to the foreign field? What is needed more than a revival among our preachers, before we can look with hope for a revival in our missions?
And, finally, is not a revival much required to banish the estrangement, coldness, envy, which exist between the clergy of different Churches? There are delightful exceptions, where genuine Christian goodwill and love exist. But, alas! we sadly miss the want of that manly, truthful maintenance of what appears to us to warrant our own church organisation, with that just appreciation of the sense, principle, and judgment of those who have no sympathy with our views. Surely every great branch of the Church has at this time of day proved to every honest and fair man, that enough can be said in its favour to justify a man in belonging to it without his belying his Christian profession, or being either a fool or a hypocrite. Yet, what an inward chuckling is often manifested at each other's blunders, failures, or even sins,—what a straining for the masteries between the rival sects,—what an utter absence, in innumerable cases, of the slightest sign or symptom of that Christian love and forbearance which is the very proof of being children of God—nay, how little of the good breeding and kindness which are universal among gentlemen! And all this evil, and more than we have described, is often glossed over with such an evangelical phraseology, that what is of the earth earthy is made to appear as if it were heavenly; and the coarsest product of the coarsest and most vulgar vanity, self-seeking, and pride is so painted and misrepresented as to look like love of principle or love of truth. What will put an end to the proud antagonism, the Popery, the Church idolatry of Protestantism? Can it ever be that we shall carry one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ, and so love the Church and its Head as to love ourselves and our sections of the Church less,—that we shall so love our brethren of every name, that their sins shall be our grief, and their well being our blessing,—that we shall be willing to decrease, if Christ only increases, by whatever means He may in His sovereign wisdom select? In one word, can it be that Christian ministers and people of every church shall, in any town or district, come to love one another with a pure heart fervently, because loving the Lord? Who would not long for such a blessed consummation! "But, behold, if the Lord could make windows in heaven, might this thing be!" So we exclaim in our unbelief. But, unless we have lost all faith in the power of God's Spirit, why should we not believe that God can open the windows of heaven, and pour forth such showers of His grace that ministers shall believe what they know, and act as they teach, and be what they profess, and that thus the parched places shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. Then, indeed, would be fulfilled the gracious promise made to a renewed Church:—"For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle-tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off."
OBJECTIONS TO REVIVALS.
It cannot be denied that very strong prejudices are entertained by many of our most intelligent, sober-minded, and sincere Christians against revivals. It is both unjust and untruthful to allege that their real objection is against all vital godliness and genuine Christianity. Such persons as those we allude to love both, and desire the advance of truth as truly and sincerely as any "revivalist" in the land, and much more so than many who bear the name. But from their education, their temperament, their views of truth, and from what they have seen or heard regarding the "revival movements," they have been led to question the reality of sudden conversions, the evidence of the instrumentalities and means ordinarily employed to effect them, and the correctness of the teaching imparted, either to awaken or build up; while other things which appeared always to accompany "a revival," as if essential to it,—such as the extravagant and exaggerated coarse addresses of some, the impudence, conceit, and spiritual pride of others, the thrusting aside, as if of no value, all that was quiet, sober, and truthful, and the bringing forward all that was noisy, demonstrative, talkative, and excited,—has had such an effect on their minds that the very name of "a revival meeting" produces a feeling of repulsion and aversion as against a falsehood.
Now, we do not profess by any means to defend whatever has presented itself to public notice in any village or district as "a revival." A good name, whether assumed by men, meetings, or movements, does not necessarily make either of them good or worthy of their name.[A]
[Footnote A: It is very unfair to represent those clergy as opposed to revivals who may not have attended "revival meetings." These meetings were often summoned and managed by self-appointed committees of laymen, whose names were unknown to the clergy, and no guarantee whatever was afforded as to who would address them, or how they would be conducted. Clergymen, therefore, were unwilling either to attend as mere spectators, or to appear on the platform, where they might be placed in the unpleasant position of either opposing or acquiescing in what was said or done. They, therefore, confined their labours to their own flock, thankfully acknowledging the good which may have been done by others in the way which seemed best to them; and also themselves finding, when sought, a portion of the blessing for their people.]
On the other hand, whatever form revivals may take, or have taken, in any country or district, whatever mistakes have been made, or whatever evils have accompanied them or been occasioned by them, yet we cannot admit that any objections can be valid which would hinder us from hoping for such wide-spread and rapid extension of the gospel as we have never yet seen, nor from believing that a very real and genuine revival has to a remarkable extent taken place, and is yet going on, throughout our country and the world.
But let us briefly state the ordinary objections against revivals:—
1. "We have no great faith in sudden conversions," is a form of expression in which we hear revivals objected to, when the subject happens to be the topic of conversation in ordinary society.
Alas! how many have little faith in the necessity of any conversion! A want of hearty conviction regarding human sinfulness and guilt, and a tendency rather to flatter man's character, worship his genius, and almost deify his powers, lies too much at the root of many of the views and feelings of our day about religion; and hence there is a corresponding want of faith in the necessity of that "new life" which some time or other every one must possess, or in the "supernatural" means required either for the removal of man's guilt and his restoration to the Divine favour, or for the renewal of man's nature and his restoration to the Divine image. There are, in short very inadequate convictions—if these are brought to a Scripture test—either as to the state out of which or into which every man must be brought before he can be saved. But, nevertheless, there are moral necessities grounded on the character of God as it is, and the character of man as it is and ought to be, which remain the same in every age and clime. Some of these necessities are expressed by such declarations as—"Ye must be born again." "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." "If any man is in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature."
Yet while conversion is absolutely necessary for every man, we by no means assert that its inner history must, in each step, be necessarily the same, though the results must be essentially the same in every case. The Spirit of God, who works when and how He pleases, may, in some cases, so work in the soul from its earliest years, that the time when the seed of a new life entered it, and the process by which it has gradually increased there, until it now brings forth fruit, are both unknown. Not unknown is the fact that life is there, for it is recognised and evidenced by its fruit, but when it began may be unknown; and the rate or successive stages of its increase may be equally unknown, or at least unmarked.
This is true in some cases—or, let it be admitted, in many cases, chiefly among those favoured ones who have been reared from childhood within the paradise of a truly Christian home,—still, why should we deny the reality of many conversions on the mere ground of their suddenness?
We shall not appeal to authentic historical facts to refute the objection, but simply remind our readers of such sudden conversions as those of Paul the apostle, the jailer at Philippi, or the thousands on the day of Pentecost at Jerusalem. Would we be warranted in rejecting those, because a few days or hours only marked a transition from death to life, from darkness to light, from their serving Satan to serving God, from being enemies to their being friends of Jesus?
But apart from this evidence, what, we would ask, is there in the nature of conversion inconsistent with its alleged suddenness? There may indeed be a preparedness for it that may occupy much time, as dawn ushers in the sunrise, or as months of travail precede the "child born into the world;" and there maybe results whose character may require time to determine. Nevertheless, why should not conversion itself, apart from its antecedents or consequents, be sudden? Let us consider briefly what conversion is.
It is not, for example, the attainment of good habits nor even the doing of good works, though it leads to and must end in this, if genuine. These are the results of conversion. Nor, again, does it imply anything like a full or accurate knowledge of the Christian scheme, far less of its "evidences;" for how little could have been thus known by the converted jailer of Philippi, who was one day a heathen, and the next day a baptized Christian—or by the converted thief on the cross—or by the three thousand converts on the day of Pentecost!
But in conversions there must be thorough earnestness about the salvation of the soul, or of our relationship to God. And why should not this feeling be suddenly kindled? Men can be easily roused to sudden earnestness, in order to save their bodies, when they realise present danger; and why not to save their souls? If, indeed, the soul can never be in such danger, or if a man can never be ignorant or forgetful of the fact, or if in no circumstances or by any means he can be roused to a sense of his danger, then may such sudden earnestness be impossible; but if his danger is real, and deliverance near, surely all this is possible, and even probable, and of infinite importance, seeing that the day of grace ends with life, and life may end in any moment. If this night a man's soul may be required to give its account, surely on this day conversion is required to make that account one of joy, and not of sorrow.
Conversion implies also faith in what God has revealed to us. And why should we not at once believe God? Do we think it necessary to hesitate for months and years ere we believe the word of an honourable, truthful man, in matters of fact about which he cannot possibly be mistaken? And shall we think it strange to believe God's Word the moment we hear it? Now, that Word tells us many things which, if true, cannot be believed without producing immediate results. It tells us that we are lost sinners "condemned already;" that God, in love, has had pity on us, and sent His Son to save us; that He died on the cross for sinners, so that "whosoever believeth in Him shall never perish;" that He lives to quicken and sanctify through His Spirit all who will receive Him; that there is "no other name given under heaven whereby a man can be saved;" and that "he who believeth not shall be damned." Now, is it really impossible for a man at once to believe all this, or even thus far to understand his danger, and believe the gospel as the only deliverance? Does it seem strange that men should have at once believed Christ, or any of His apostles, when they preached? Or, does it not seem more strange that some were "fools, and slow of heart to believe?" And why should it seem incredible that a sincere and earnest man should now believe the moment he hears the same gospel, and say, "I have been a great sinner in hitherto treating this message with so much neglect! By my disbelief I have made God a liar; I shall do so no more: Thy Word is truth. Lord, I believe; help mine unbelief!"
Conversion implies a "yielding ourselves to God," because thus believing in His love manifested through Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Such a state of mind might be thus expressed: "Lord, I shall fight against Thee no more! I believe in Thee, and yield myself to Thee for time and eternity, to have the good pleasure of Thy righteous will done in me and by me; to be pardoned, sanctified, and governed wholly by Thyself, and in Thine own way. I am Thine—save me!" Surely this attitude of soul may be assumed at once towards God the very moment the gospel of His goodwill to us, and of His desire to possess our hearts, is heard.
Conversion implies some degree at least of peace with God. Many seem to think it almost presumptuous to look for peace or to expect joy in God. "It betokens," they say, "a want of humility." Love and humility are one. Both are a going out of ourselves, and finding our good, strength, peace—all in God. It is surely a poor compliment to pay a friend, if we rebuke those who dare to be happy in his presence or to find peace in his society. What hard thoughts have men of God when they do not see how He must ever rejoice in the good and peace of His children! Oh, shame upon us that we do not "rejoice in the Lord always," and possess the "love which casteth out fear, for fear hath torment." Why, then, should it seem impossible for a man to have peace, the moment he can say with the apostle John, "We have known and believed the love that God hath to us?" Cannot that love be seen in its own light when revealed? And if so, why should the possession of immediate peace, in a degree corresponding to faith in God, seem to be so wonderful? Would not its absence be more so? The very hope, methinks, of pardon, when first entertained by the condemned criminal—or of deliverance and return to home, when first realised by the shipwrecked sailor—or of life and health, when first deemed probable even, by the hitherto despairing invalid—or of meeting his long-injured, but still patient and loving father, by the miserable prodigal—may well kindle sudden joy and peace. Much, no doubt, may have been done before any hope could dawn to the captive, to the shipwrecked, to the invalid, or the prodigal; yet the hope itself may suddenly flash on each, as the message enters the cell to assure the criminal of his safety, or the signal is seen on the distant horizon that promises succour to the mariner, or the smile plays on the countenance of the physician, telling that the dread crisis is over and that progress towards recovery has begun, or the remembrance of a father's love is rekindled in the heart of the wanderer. And thus a man who has been roused to see his moral guilt, as well as moral depravity—to see his dread and terrible danger—may well find unutterable peace the very moment he believes that there is for him deliverance from the evil, and forgiveness with God, "that He may be feared"—or even when the maybe dawns upon him that he, the hitherto dead, careless, presumptuous sinner, has not been so shut out of his Father's heart and home, but that there is yet grace omnipotent to save him, to take away his sins, renew his whole being, and make him and keep him a child of God. When the prodigal in the far country was planning only his return, he resolved to say to his father, "Make me one of thy hired servants!" To be for a time a very slave in his father's house, seemed in prospect as a very paradise when compared with his present wretchedness; but to be received at once as a son—that he would not be so presumptuous as to dream of. Ah! he had forgot his father's character in the far country. Unbelief had done its work, and "cut off his hope." But however dark and dim his views were, he nevertheless returned, was met afar off, and was at last received in his father's arms. There he poured forth the confession which relieved his choking heart, "I am no more worthy to be called thy son!" True. But did he add, "Make me a hired servant?" No, he could not, for he had already been received as a son.
Our Lord tells us how some hearers may receive the Word immediately with joy, and yet give up when it is the occasion of their being brought into outward perils or difficulties. Paul complained that Demas had forsaken him, and John of many who, he says, "went out from us." We must not think it strange, moreover, if the visible Church should ever and anon disclose to us how much evil as well as good it contains. Our Lord never contemplated a Church on earth as possible—owing to the sinful offences which must needs come—which should be otherwise than a mixture of good and bad. There was one in twelve of His own pure apostolic Church a traitor. Among the members of the pentecostal Church, two were struck down dead for falsehood of the blackest kind. Among the earliest professed converts in Samaria was Simon Magus, in the bonds of iniquity. And so it will ever be. The field will contain tares as well as wheat, and both must grow together till the harvest; the net must gather into it bad fish as well as good, until the great day of final separation comes at the end of the world. But, nevertheless, the field may now contain a glorious crop of wheat, and the net, after a night of toil, be sometimes full of good fish, so as to excite the wonder and praise of the "fishers of men." Those converts who fall away have probably misunderstood the true idea of the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. They looked for safety from punishment apart from salvation from sin; upon Jesus as a deliverer from guilt and hell only, and not also a deliverer from sin, by giving that life which is heaven; they looked for that life hereafter, and not now; or they imagined faith as an act done once for all—a coming to Christ once only for what was required, instead of as a state which receives at once pardon and acceptance through the merits of Christ, and abides in Christ for ever as the only source of life.
We have dwelt upon this point longer than we had at first intended; for the doubt so often expressed, of the possibility of one who is lost finding immediate peace when he finds his God—and so has found himself—betrays great unbelief or great ignorance of God. Pride is at its root;—a desire to find something wherewith to commend ourselves to God—some evidence of a good character first—some work done as a hired servant, in order to entitle us with any hope to call God father and be at peace with Him; instead of our beginning all work by first being at peace—by our being reconciled at once to God through faith in His love to us, revealed in the atonement of Jesus Christ. We may just add, what every true man knows, and rejoices to know, that the hour which begins his peace with God necessarily begins also war with all sin in his own heart. His friendship with God implies enmity to all in himself which is opposed to God.
2. "But the whole tendency of revivals, and of this theory of sudden conversions by means of any man's preaching, is to disparage God's appointments of the Church and the family for accomplishing genuine conversion."
If by this is meant that God ordinarily blesses for the saving of souls what are termed "the means of grace," or "the truth as it is in Jesus," whether inculcated by the parent, the teacher, or the minister, and presented to the mind, and impressed upon it patiently and laboriously during a course of years,—then we also believe this, and cordially admit it. Nay, we would have all "friends of revivals" keenly alive to the danger of so expressing themselves as to seem even to disparage such earnest painstaking, and we would have them to avoid seeking to attain by a summary process what thousands strive to attain, and actually do attain, only by a prayerful diligence, which begins with sowing the seed in childhood, and never ceases until there is the blade and the full ear ending in the golden harvest. We feel assured that the faithful minister who has seen many souls born to God under his teaching, will acknowledge that these results were connected not so much, or probably not at all, with any sudden change, from some striking sermon he had preached, but from a series of impressions made by pious parents in their home-training, or by himself in his congregational class, or by the whole tone and tenor of his public ministrations, &c. How often has it thus happened that others have laboured, and that he has but entered into their labours! The conversion of his hearers has been the culminating point of a thousand appliances, and, in the vast majority of cases, it has been reached by degrees. The glorious summit has been attained, not by a leap from the valley, but after many preparatory steps. The light of life has not flashed out of darkness, but has dawned by imperceptible degrees, until the glory of God was seen in the face of Christ Jesus. If the new life itself has been suddenly experienced, yet let us not overlook the preparatory work of the shaking of the dry bones, then of the bone coming to its bone, and, finally, the flesh and skin covering the skeleton, and so preparing a home in which the living spirit could dwell and act. We cannot use language strong enough to express our conviction of the blessing which, as an ordinary rule, is sure to follow from the Lord on the faithful and prayerful labour of a pious parent, Sabbath-school teacher, or pastor. Let nothing be said in favour of wide-spread and sudden revivals to discourage these hopes! A true revival, we believe, shall ever, in God's own time, attend such labours. This is emphatically true regarding the work of the ministry. We believe that the ministry is of God as much as the Bible is—one of the most precious gifts obtained for the Church by the risen Saviour; and that now, as ever, the preaching of the Word by ministers duly prepared and regularly called and ordained by the Christian Church, is the grand means for converting sinners; that this power never grows old or loses its adaptation to the wants of man amidst the constant changes of society, any more than a lens does in transmitting the rays of the sun from age to age.
Yet, with all these admissions, and with profound veneration for the ordinary calm and methodical means of grace, we can nevertheless believe in wide-spread sudden "conversions," and that too through other instrumentalities, and in circumstances which leave no doubt of their being caused by what has been termed an extraordinary outpouring of God's Spirit. For let us beware of dogmatising irreverently as to when and how that living Spirit shall operate on the souls of men, who worketh according to His own counsel of unerring and inscrutable wisdom. "Who hath known the mind of the Lord, and who hath been his counsellor, that he should instruct him?" As a Person, He acts as "He wills," and in every case with perfect wisdom and perfect love. And it is in keeping with this truth, or rather a necessary consequence from it, that God's Spirit should teach and educate individuals and churches differently, or at least in accordance with their respective and specific wants. If His outward dispensations towards the same person constantly vary, yet all work towards one end, the soul's good,—even as the combinations of the elements vary day by day, yet all help on the earth's fruitfulness,—we might expect that His dealings with the inner life of persons should also vary, while one glorious scheme of education for heaven is carried on in all and by all. And if so, why do we think it strange that an individual should have his times of comparative spiritual darkness and light, strength and weakness? or that churches should also experience different kinds of treatment, so to speak, from the same wise Spirit, yet all suited to advance more and more in the end, both in us and by us, that kingdom which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost?
Then, again, as to the instrumentalities which God's Spirit employs, these may be often exceptional to His general rule. For it is surely a great mercy when the regular ministry, or any other ordinance of His, becomes inefficient through sinful indifference or unbelief, that He should raise up in such an emergency, and that too from the most unexpected quarters, those who will do the work which others ought to have done. The grand end of saving lost souls, and bringing many sons and daughters unto God, cannot be sacrificed to any organisation ordained for that purpose when it fails either to seek it or accomplish it. Thus
"God fulfils Himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world."
If, therefore, we find, as a matter of fact, that some one who follows not us—why he does not follow with us we may not be able to understand—is yet confessing Christ's name, and so doing Christ's work that devils are cast out by him, we dare not say, "Forbid him." Our Lord does not command us to forbid him, any more than He commands him to follow us. He says only, "Forbid him not. He who is not against us is for us." We all need humbly to act on such a principle. But should we in our pride and ignorance condemn a sincere and faithful labourer for Christ, our Lord will not confirm our judgment. On the other hand, he who does not "follow" the ministers of Christ's Church, whom he finds already engaged in the Master's work, must answer to the Lord for incurring so solemn and serious a responsibility.
But we must pass rapidly and more briefly to the consideration of one other objection to revivals.
3. "We object entirely to revivals because of the great excitement which attends them."
To this we reply—
We admit the possibility of great excitement connected with religious truth, in spite of the total absence of religious character. There is no more interesting or remarkable chapter in history than that which records the manias that have spread like epidemics at different periods (especially during the middle ages) over Europe. They are cases of hysteria upon a great scale; and that these should take a religious form as well as any other is no way impossible. It has happened a hundred times before, and will happen often again. We have seen cases of "revival" which were purely physical, with little religious knowledge and no religious character, in those who were most under the influence of the preacher, but with much ignorance and great nervous susceptibility. Preachers as ignorant as these people have been deceived by such appearances, which, not being able to account for by any natural cause, they at once attribute to supernatural agency. But, putting aside those illustrations of very common physical phenomena, we admit—
That excitement is by no means to be desired. Its tendency is to produce reaction, and, when the fire passes, to leave nothing but ashes behind. We may receive the Word with joy, and yet it may soon wither; and also give our bodies to be burned, and yet be nothing. Mere excitement is next door to grossness and licentiousness. Both have the same sensuous elements in them. Had we our choice, we would prefer a revival without any excitement.
It is, therefore, not only possible, but it has frequently happened, that hundreds have been powerfully moved by a revival, have professed faith in Christ, found peace with God, and been assured by enthusiasts and fanatics that they were now actually "saved," who soon gave token that they never had been saved from either gross ignorance or gross sin, but destroyed rather by want of sense in themselves, and in those who, from ignorance or vanity, excited their feelings, and worked on their mere animal sensibilities.
But we have not our choice in such matters. We cannot change the laws of the human mind, and as long as these remain, it may not in every case be possible to prevent some degree of excitement by what so powerfully appeals to every feeling and affection in the soul of man. Given only that the facts of Christianity are true regarding man's condition without a Saviour, and all that has been done for him, and must be done in him, before salvation is possible, with the tremendous consequences throughout eternity attached to his faith and repentance in time,—and excitement is very natural, and not altogether unbecoming, in him who sees and believes, and, as it generally happens where excitement exists, who hears, these truths for the first time in his life. Would not calm self-possession, in such circumstances, if more reasonable, be more wonderful than excitement among those, especially without culture? It is quite true also that excitement will much less frequently occur among strongminded educated people, who are accustomed to keep their emotions under control; while many, with a, comparatively speaking, weak emotional nature, but with sound head and sound sense, and wakeful conscience, seldom, in any case whatever, betray much feeling. Violent excitements, as a rule, are found only among northern nations, among the ignorant masses, or those who have more feeling than judgment.
But why may not a wide-spread excitement about religious truths, though in some persons a mere physical condition of the nervous system, be the very means, under God, of arresting their mind or the minds of others, and disposing them to consider and receive the truth itself? What is it which we have most to complain of as an obstacle to the gospel? Not infidelity, nor active opposition, nor ignorance, but indifference,—cold, heartless indifference in those who may go to church, stand up at prayer, hear or sleep, read or dream, agree with everything the minister says, yet verily believe nothing, and are therefore neither roused by fear nor gladdened by hope, but live on, day by day, buying and selling, eating and drinking, respectable, it may be, and respected, as good farmers, decent tradesmen, honest shopkeepers, but to spiritual things in their living reality and momentous importance—indifferent! Could any one but read the thoughts, hear the conversation, or watch the effects on the great mass of the hearers, one day or one hour, after hearing the most impressive and earnest sermon, in which the minister before God sought to save their souls, what a fearful vision of the mystery of indifference would be revealed!
Whatever, then, breaks this up is a blessing. No excitement can be so dangerous, so deadly, as this indifference. Better a thousand times the wild hurricane than the calm miasma. Better the stream which rushes impetuously over its banks, carrying with it devastation for a time, than the dead and foetid marsh. The one may be turned into a new channel, and made available as a power for advancing the interests of man, but the other is "evil, and only evil continually," Whatever, therefore, we repeat it, tends in providence to destroy indifference, and induces people to listen with earnestness and attention to the truth,—be it the excitement of a storm or earthquake, of a great religious revival, or of domestic bereavement and sorrow,—whatever it be, yet is it a blessing if it prepares the soul to receive the seed of the gospel, by inducing men even to think seriously, as the first condition for their ultimately believing seriously.
But this excitement which alarms so many sober-minded people was not, after all, an element which vitiated the religious "movements" in the early ages of Christianity. There were rational Sadducees, learned scribes, and formal Pharisees, who were much displeased at the excitement of the multitude when Jesus made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. But when our Lord was asked to rebuke them, He replied that the very stones would cry out if these were silent. Was there no excitement on the day of Pentecost when thousands were crying out, "What shall we do to be saved?" The preaching of the gospel was everywhere accompanied by such awakenings as arrested the attention of cities and nations. Would God it were so now!
But, in once more meeting this objection, we cannot help noticing the character of the persons who most generally urge it. How often does one hear from the lips of the intensely worldly-minded fears expressed at the danger of religious excitement! And if the symptoms of such a terrible state of mind manifest themselves in son or daughter, even in the form of thoughtfulness in regard to their duty to God, or of fear about their state, or doubts with reference to the manner in which they have been accustomed to spend their time and talents, how often does the very mother who bore them become herself thoughtful and concerned about her child! "She so much dislikes religious excitement. She likes cheerful Christians,—religious people now-a-days are so sad and gloomy,—she is really anxious about her poor daughter," &c. And all this from persons who live in a constant whirl of excitement, to whose daily life excitement is essential, not as a means of temporary relief from severe thought and action, but as the very end of existence. And whence is their excitement derived? From the most contemptible and silly frivolities, from balls, parties, visits, and gossip without end—excitements utterly selfish, which materialise the soul, debase its tastes, enervate its powers, rendering it incapable of all earnest labours or self-denial, and which incapacitate it from apprehending the purity, the majesty, and the surpassing wonder of spiritual realities. These are the persons who, forsooth! are so much alarmed lest their dear children should become excited about the things which arrest the attention and engage the thoughts of the mighty angels, yea, of Jesus Christ himself. Believe it, that whatever excitement may possibly accompany the commencement of the Christian life in one who has never been trained to think seriously or act conscientiously, the only persons in the world who are habitually free from all excitement, or violent emotions of any kind, are true Christians, because they have the "love which casteth out fear," and enjoy "the peace of God which passeth all understanding."
We must here conclude these brief and very imperfect remarks upon a great subject. We end, as we began, by expressing our profound conviction that the want of all our wants is this, and this only, a Revival of Spiritual Religion; or, in other words, genuine, simple, truthful, honest love to Jesus Christ, to His people, to His cause, and to the whole world! This, and this alone, will fulfil the longing of many a weary, thirsty soul for better things than at present seem probable or possible.
"Who will shew us any good?" is the despairing cry of many a thoughtful man, as he passes in review before his anxious eye the dark side of things, such as careless living students of divinity, who are to be the future teachers of this great nation; ministers and congregations apparently dead as stones; churches becoming idols, claiming the reverence and love of their members, and jealous of any other idol usurping their throne; scoffing infidelity among the ignorant; philosophic scepticism among the intelligent; indifference among thousands; while abroad heathen nations, with countless millions, are opened up to the Protestant Church, which can only send driblets of two or three missionaries here and there, many of whom go in tears to live in comfort as well-paid gentlemen, while thousands of common soldiers pour out their life's blood for their country. "Who will shew us any good?" Our hope, O Lord, is in Thee! "Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us!" Pour Thy Spirit upon the thirsty ground! Our strength is gone; arise, O Lord, and revive Thy work among us all. Come Thou and help us, for Thy great name's sake. The cause of righteousness is Thine own. Do Thou hear and help us, then shall death be changed to life, and truth shall banish error, and disunion be lost in love, and out of this valley of dry bones, and from all sects and parties, a great army will arise, strong and united through the power of the Spirit who will dwell in each and all, and be mighty to pull down all the strongholds of Satan, and to advance the kingdom of our blessed Lord at home and abroad, to the joy of men and angels!
THE CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION.
A Christian congregation professes to be a congregation of Christians, and to represent the same kind of body which, in the apostolic epistles, is termed a "church"—"saints and faithful brethren"— "faithful in Christ Jesus"—"holy brethren."
It is not, therefore, a number of people meeting only to hear a sermon, or even to unite in public worship, but without any visible coherence, social life, or united action, but a body, an organised whole; the Lord's Supper being the grand symbol of the unity of its members with one another, and with the whole society of the Christian Church on earth and in heaven.[A]
[Footnote A: The social character of the Lord's Supper, and its being a constant witness to the oneness of the whole body of Christ and the communion of saints, has been often so perverted as to have become in the minds of many the grand test and evidence of sectarian division, while "hearing a sermon" is the utmost latitude which is given to the believer who wishes to testify his love to all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity. "I would hear him preach, but I would not join with him," (i.e., I would not remember Christ with him,) is the strange view of many a professing Christian, in Scotland at least.]