« ZurückWeiter »
Theology and Biblical Illustration.
PRINCIPLE AND SYSTEM.
To the Members of the Associated Congregational Churches of East Devon. BELOVED IN THE LORD,-Permit us with all freedom and affection to express to you our fervent desire for your individual happiness, for your growth in all Christian graces, for your increasing holiness of spirit and conduct, and for the prosperity of the associated Christian churches of this district.
By the present address we especially invite and earnestly request your willing and efficient co-operation with us in those measures which the circumstances of our churches, our country, and the world, seem to call for.
The object which first claims our attention is the spiritual prosperity of our own churches. In order to this, our churches must themselves not only be alive, but awake, watchful, prayerful, active, energetic, wise, and persevering in the use of all means adapted, by the Divine blessing, to secure the end in view. They must walk according to apostolic direction, worthy of the vocation wherewith they are called, with all lowliness and meekness-with long-suffering -forbearing one another in love-endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
We pray for you, beloved friends, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that you may approve the things that are excellent; that you may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. We wish even your perfection; and this we wish, not for your sakes alone, but for the world's sake, and for our own also, that we may find in you at all times fellow-helpers to the truth.
Brethren, we invite your co-operation with us as necessary to the success of the gospel which we preach. We say necessary, because it is most evident that our Divine Lord ever intended that the ministers of the gospel and the churches should act in concert. In primitive times the disciples were as actively engaged in promoting the cause of the Saviour as were the apostles. The apostle Paul spoke not only of his fellow-prisoners, but of his fellowsoldiers and fellow-labourers. He did not hesitate to make honourable mention of "those women who laboured with him in the gospel." Nor did he fail to exhort others to "shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life, that he might rejoice in the day of Christ that he had not run in vain, neither laboured in vain." He speaks of many of the brethren who, waxing confident by his bonds, were much more bold to speak the word without fear. And he complains of those who in a time of difficulty refused him their countenance: "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me. I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.'
The economy of the gospel kingdom evidently contemplates the exercise of the talents and graces of all its subjects for the advancement of its designs. It is likened unto "a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants and delivered to them his goods; and unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one-to every man according to his several ability and straightway took his journey ;" and "after a long time the lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them."
It must be evident to all who seriously consider the case, that the administration of divine providence and grace does not limit the labour and honour of converting souls to ministers alone: on the contrary, it is a service in which all true Christians ought to feel themselves bound to engage. The commission
to publish the gospel is, in a restricted sense, to all who know the joyful sound. Parents must publish it to their children-masters to their servants -teachers to their pupils-neighbours to their fellow-villagers or townsmen. Never will the church of God fulfil its high destiny until there shall be, in addition to the public preaching of the gospel, fully recognised the universal duty of every one to teach his neighbour and brother, saying, "Know the Lord."
We have, brethren, all the gracious promises from our God and Saviour which can be necessary, or that our hearts can desire, in order to the prosperity of our churches. Oh! plead them; be the remembrancers of God, and give him no rest till he establish and make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. We have also all the means which are essential to our prosperitynay, means which are adequate to the conversion of the world. The wise, the vigorous, the general application of them is all that is needed, with the Divine blessing, for the accomplishment of all that we wish for ourselves and for the world. Let us seriously consider our responsibility to use the means, and pray God to give us grace, wisdom, and strength, to employ them for his glory, and for the salvation of souls.
Beloved, we wish you to afford us your co-operation on principle, and also on system.
On principle. We wish you to act on the principle of love to Christ. This will give to your endeavours a high moral character, which, in the sight of God, is of great price. Consider the appeal of Jesus as made to yourselves "Lovest thou me?" Be not satisfied till you can say, "The love of Christ constraineth me;" then you will find his service to be a holy refreshment to your souls-a spiritual delight.
On the principle of faith in the promises of Divine grace, as all yea and amen in Christ Jesus, unto the glory of God, by us. In him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and from him do you seek to be filled with all wisdom, grace, and strength, that you may have your conversation as becometh the gospel of Christ. Be strong in the grace of Christ; so be encouraged in your work, and humbly but confidently expect good success.
On the principle of love to souls also. Think often and seriously of their value-of their value as immense, and as everlasting. Endeavour to have your minds deeply impressed with a sense of it. Learn it from the advent, the ministry, the cross of Christ, and from his present engagements in heaven. Learn it from all that the Scriptures teach of the awful condition of those from whose hearts joy and hope have perished for ever. Learn it from all
that is revealed of heaven as the inheritance of the saved.
Is it possible, think you, for any man to prove that he is a Christian if love to the souls of his fellow-men be absent from his breast? It is the solemn declaration of inspired truth, that "he that loveth not his brother abideth in death."
We ask your co-operation on the principle of your Christian sympathy with ourselves. We entered upon our spheres of labour by your invitation, and you promised us your sympathy, your prayers, and your support. Confirm to us, we pray you, your sacred pledges.
What general ever gained a victory without the sympathy and co-operation of his army-of all his officers and men in their proper spheres? We challenge a faithful reply when we ask, What pastor has ever been successful in his work when not aided by the sympathy and co-operation of his people? To what, under God, does the history of revivals direct us as their origin, and for their efficiency, but to the sympathy and co-operation of churches with their ministers? So it was in apostolic times-so it has been since, and ever will be at all times.
On the principle of your individual responsibility to God.-The word of God and the history of revivals teach us that the Divine power necessary to the prosperity of a church has ever operated by human agency. For human agency the church is responsible, and must abound in every good work, if she would abound in blessings. It is not enough that each member deplore the prevalence of spiritual lethargy, and acknowledge that something ought to be done for the improvement of the body; but each must feel his own responsibility for diligent, persevering, self-denying, and prayerful efforts. Till a sense of personal obligation to God actuate the members of the church, "who will warn the wicked of his way, and exhort him to turn and live? Who will stretch out his hand to reclaim the wandering Christian, or open his lips to stir up the sluggish one? Who, in short, will do anything that God requires to be done, in order to the revival of his work, if the responsibility of the whole church is not regarded as the responsibility of the several individuals who compose it?"
But we must also ask that good principles may be carried out on a good system. Let it, dear friends, be a part of the system by which you aid the design of our ministry, to cultivate a high degree of personal piety. If you would aid us in turning many to the Lord, be full of faith and of the Holy Ghost. See to the vitality of your faith-the purity and ardour of your Christian love-the power of godliness in your own hearts; so will you be best prepared to contend earnestly for the faith, and to diffuse around you the savour of the knowledge of Christ.
Assist also in your closets. Pray for us; strive with us in your prayers to God for us, that we may speak the gospel as we ought to speak. On you, in a great measure, it depends whether we shall preach to you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Seek in your closet, also, a due preparation of mind for the reception of our message: think not that preparation for the profitable hearing of the word is less necessary than preparation for preaching it. "If the house of God be, indeed, the gate of heaven, it demands and deserves far more than regular or even reverential attendance. Prepare for it as well as repair to it. Be in the Spirit as well as in your place on the Lord's day. The house of God is the gate of heaven only to the spiritually-minded. If your minds be not in a spiritual frame before you enter the sanctuary, you will see but little, and enjoy less, of the heaven to which it leads. Whatever is worth finding in the sanctuary is worth seeking in the closet." Do not expect God to sanction spiritual indolence by comforting you under it.
Aid us in the family also. This you may do most effectually in various ways: by suitable instruction of those within your domestic circle-by a judicious and kind reference to the importance of the subjects of pulpit addresses and by showing the practical tendency and design of them. An unkind or injudicious reference to them in the family may render the wisest and most important discourses worse than useless to your children. You may aid our usefulness by such an arrangement of your engagements, whether of business or for social and friendly intercourse, as shall not interfere with the seasons for spiritual refreshment in the house of God on week days.
In some Christian churches it is an understood thing among the families that invitations to social intercourse, which would prevent going to the house of God, are neither to be given nor received for the evenings on which the chapel is open for public worship. This undoubtedly ought to be the case, especially with members of churches.
Assist us, also, by your attendance in the sanctuary. Let your attendance be constant; as much so, at least, as circumstances will admit of. ciently early to unite in the commencement of public worship. offend grievously in this matter, both against good taste and the
Let it be suffiMany persons honour of God.
Be kindly and promptly attentive to the accommodation of strangers who may occasionally visit the sanctuary to worship with you. Leave them not to the mere official attention of the pew-opener. If they feel that there is only the remotest ground for the suspicion that you are inattentive to the obligations of Christian courtesy in this respect, it will unfit their minds for profitable communion with you in the worship of God. Negligence in this matter has often been greatly inimical to the reputation and prosperity of a congregation.
Let no trifling circumstances ever keep you from the Lord's table. You cannot neglect this ordinance on slight grounds without incurring the guilt of indifference to the authority and honour of your gracious and blessed Lord. In such a case, how can you expect to realize the joy of salvation?
Beloved, you may be eminently useful by kindly noticing any in the congregation who appear to be under conviction of sin, and concern for the salvation of their souls. Your kind inquiries into the state of their minds-your judicious counsels-your prayers with and for them-your introduction of them to the notice of the pastor, may be of infinite importance to them, and greatly conduce to the prosperity of the church, especially if your interest in their welfare be manifested promptly.
In this way, pious and intelligent females of our churches, you may do vast good. Why should you not be as useful now as Phoebe was in her day, or as Priscilla was, who taught the eloquent Apollos the way of the Lord more perfectly, and who received the thanks of the apostle and also of all the churches of the Gentiles? You who know and value the blessings which the gospel has so richly conferred upon you, let your vigilance and sympathy, your tenderness and energy, your wisdom and experience, be devoted to the spiritual interests of your own sex; then you will indeed be our "helpers in Christ Jesus," for whom we shall unfeignedly give thanks to God.
Let the members of both sexes, who can do so, aid in the important work of imparting religious instruction to the young in the sabbath-school and in other places. By gathering all the children of the school and of the congregation, who are capable of receiving their advantages, into Bible-classes, a vast amount of present good may be accomplished, and which may extend to future generations.
Finally, assist us in the world. The success of our ministry with the unconverted very much depends upon your moral consistency. No persons have so much power as yourselves to hinder or to advance the progress of our work, to enfeeble or to strengthen our hands, to discourage or to cheer our hearts by the success of our ministry in the conversion of those who are hearers only of the word. They listen to our commendation of the gospel-they look to you to determine if it be just. We urge upon them the immediate and impartial reception of the truth-they think of you, and ask, "Will it do us any good?"
In apostolic times miracles attested the Divine origin and excellence of the gospel. Miracles have ceased; henceforth our message must be accredited to the unconverted by the living epistle. Brethren, ye are our epistle, known and read of all men. And what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?"
Affectionately and earnestly requesting, on your part, the repeated and careful perusal, the prayerful study, and the faithful application of the principles of this our address,
We are, beloved friends, for Christ's sake,
Your willing servants,
THE PASTORS OF THE ASSOCIATED CONGREGATIONAL
"And they of Bethshemesh were reaping their wheat-harvest in the valley; and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it," 1 SAM. vi. 13.
THAT I may help you to understand this part of Scripture history, and gain instruction therefrom, I would begin by asking three simple questions upon it, and then, taking up those questions one by one, try to provide you with suitable answers to each of them. I ask,
I. What was this ark?
II. Where was it coming from? III. Why did the people of Bethshemesh rejoice to see it?
I. Let us see what this ark was. You may read in Scripture of Noah's ark; that was a kind of large ship, which floated on the waters when the earth was overflowed, and by which means Noah and his family were saved, all others being drowned. Then again we read of the little ark made of bulrushes in which the child Moses was laid on the brink of the river, because of cruel Pharaoh's wicked law. The ark we have now to do with was very unlike either of these ; it was called the ark of the Lord, and was a kind of large chest, which God commanded Moses to make according to certain directions given him, which we may read in Ex. xxv. 10. If you ask for what purpose it was made, I may perhaps say, that when God had set apart the family of Abraham to be his own people, he taught them his laws. At that time, perhaps, all the other nations then living on the earth were idolaters; they worshipped idols,-gods which they could look upon and behold with their eyes. Now God strictly charged the Israelites that they should worship him alone; but they could not see their God as other people could, and they were even forbidden to make any image or likeness of him. Yet the great and wise God was willing they should have some signs of his presence, some tokens of his being among them for this purpose, perhaps, he ordered the ark to be made. In it was placed, among other things, the two tables of stone, on which were written by God himself what we call the Ten Commandments. The top or covering of this ark formed the mercy-seat, having the figures of two cherubim or angels: here it was that God showed the sign of his presence, by causing a cloud of glory to overshadow it, Such was the ark. Now I would ask, when these reapers saw it,
II. Where was it coming from? The Israelites were used to keep it as their
choicest treasure. Before Solomon built the great temple at Jerusalem, it was for many years kept at a place called Shiloh. There the people continually gathered for worship; there they sought advice of the Lord; and there, by the ark, he made known his will. But the people had greatly sinned against him; they provoked him to leave them alone, and give their enemies power over them. The Philistines come against them in battle, overcome them, and many are slain. In their trouble they bethink them of their God; and remembering, it might be, what had happened when the ark of the Lord their God was carried round the city of Jericho, they determined to fetch that ark, and carry it out before their army to battle. But, ah! the Lord had forsaken his people: they have the ark, but not his presence among them. The Philistines join battle with them again; many, very many of the Israelites are slain, and the ark of God is taken. The Philistines look on it as the very God of the Israelites; so they carry it to their chief city, and place it in the temple of their own god. But, lo! when they the next morning look into the temple, Dagon, their god, is fallen down before the ark of the Lord God of Israel. They raise the helpless idol up again, but the same thing happens again on the morrow. God has once more returned to his ark in his power. The Philistines also of the city are struck with a sad disease, and they find out that the God of Israel is too mighty for them; so the people of Ashdod send the ark to another of their cities, where the like thing befals the inhabitants. It is removed again and again, until at last they can bear it no longer : they meet together, and consult how they may best send the ark back again to Israel. Of this we read from the 6th verse of the chapter. You now understand where it was coming from. I have often fancied myself among the reapers in the valley of Bethshemesh, on a fine summer's day. The men are all hard at work cutting down the corn, the women binding the sheaves, the children picking up the scattered ears, when, looking up, something is seen coming over the top of the hill. What is it? A cart. What is on it? It is not laden with corn. No; it is the ark of the Lord coming back again. The people rejoice; they all rejoice