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heavens, and look forward to the time when the top stone shall be laid, with shouting, Grace, grace unto it; and at the same time consider the difficulties that attend the work, the weakness of the instruments employed, and the malice and power of opposing foes, we are ready to ask, How can this be? A voice from heaven speaks, “ Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain. Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit.” Is there not danger lest, in the midst of action, the church should forget the proper spring of action? Where will be the glory and value of the tabernacle, if the ark of the covenant is removed ?
2. This duty requires habitual and fervent remembrance in our prirate devotions. Love to the Redeemer's cause is not a transient emotion in the Christian heart; but it is a fixed principle and growing habit of soul. “lle prefers Jerusalem above his chief joy.” He should then be frequent, fervent, importunate, and persevering in his intercession. Do we not greatly fail in this point? How often is Zion forgotten, or remembered only with coldness? In this we may find a test of our spiritual state. In asking for personal blessings, our deceitful hearts may betray us. When, in freeness and enlargement of spirit, we seek the good of Zion, we have the best proof that we are born from above. Oh, that from the closets and habitations of the righteous the smoke of incense, in fervent, effectual prayer, may continually ascend before the mercy seat, as a sweet-smelling savor unto the Lord.
3. This duty requires union in Christians.—Addressing his assembled disciples, Jesus said, Pray ye. The true disciples of Jesus are united in spirit and service. The words of our Savior's prayer are memorable; “ That they all may be one, as thon, Father, art in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.' What Christian can be reluctant to engage in a service so delightful and animating, as united prayer for the coming of Christ's kingdom on earth? Who will not say, I will go also ? The monthly concert observed by various evangelical denominations, is greatly to be valued. Were it to inspire a deeper interest, and meet with a more general, punctual, and appropriate attendance, the fruits thereof would be manifest in our own bosom, and be seen spread around us. The first suggestion of a concert similar to this, was made to the American churches by one (President Edwards) who, “ being dead yet speaketh," in the fruit of his labors, and in his writings transmitted to us, and who possessed th rare combination of the acutest and most vigorous intellect, with the most simple and tender piety. His treatise on this subject deserves most careful perusal. “On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were with one accord in one place, continuing in prayer and supplication.” It was there that the Holy Spirit descended upon them, and they went forth and preached the Gospel of the kingdom. The same truth which they preached is committed to us ;—the same Spirit which descended on them, and crowned their labors, is promised. Fervent prayer will lead to corresponding effort ;-united prayer will lead to united effort. Among those who embrace the same fundamental truths which humble the sinner, exalt the Savior, and promote holiness, there exists a diversity in smaller points which properly leads to distinct organization. Here harmony is best promoted, and strength gained, by each cherishing a sacred regard to the rights and interests of others, and rejoicing in their prosperity. It is remarked by Montgomery, that the efforts of distinct denominations in promoting the cause of religion, are like the light of the sun reflected in the rainbow, a token of peace and salvation to a lost world, while their common exertions are like the rays blended in light. While faithful in improving their particular spheres, there is a common cause in which all the servants of Christ should join :—the cause of truth and righteousness, against error and sin. When tempted by the pride of opinion, in matters comparatively unimportant, or by the clashing of selfish interests, let us, found laboring with the host of Israel, say, “I cannot come down, I am doing a great work.”
4. This duty requires the use of all proper means for suitably training laborers for the missionary fidd. A suggestion has been advanced, as to the expediency of instituting a seminary or a distinct department especially designed for this object. It is worthy of serious consideration. It is believed,
that such a seminary would not only furnish greater advantages to its members, - but that it would more directly, and distinctly bring the cause of foreign mis
sions before the Christian public, and inspire a deeper interest in its favor. In our favored churches, where the Spirit's influence is enjoyed, let the subject of foreign missions be presented in just prominence. In our thicological seminaries, let a careful inquiry and deep interest be cultivated and cherished among their members, who shall soon go forth to preside in the churches of our own land, to give a tone to their sentiments and feelings, or else to enter themselves upon the glorious work.
5. This duty requires that all the churches of Christ should systematically and efficiently aid in the promotion of the cause of missions. It cannot be necessary to argue the duty of professed Christians to give their prayers, their property, and labors to this cause. The Christian judgment needs not be convinced, but the Christian conscience needs to be awaked, and the heart affected. Christians should learn to give, not from the impulse of momentary excitement, but from the deliberate conviction of duty, in the discharge of which the heart seeks its highest joy.-Systematically, I say, because it is to be regretted, that so many churches so readily relax their efforts, until some new impulse be given, which again soon spends itself. These are like the mountain streams, fed by sudden showers, which soon pass away. The efforts and contributions made by the enlightened judgment and disciplined heart, are like the majestic river, fed by living springs ; which heeds not the drought of summer, but passes on, widening and deepening. It is the genuine spirit of religion, to prize and promote foreign Missions; and every proper effort to promote them advances rèligion at home. It is here true, as in other things,—“ There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth.” " He that watereth shall be watered himself.” And, on the other hand, --" There is that withholdeth more than is mcei, and it tendeth to poverty.” Where the churches are blessed with the Spirit's influence, cherishing the graces of the pious, and converting sinners to Christ, there will be found free will offerings brought liberally, cheerfully, and continually, in behalf of this cause.-Look, on the other hand, to the churches indifferent to this cause, and neglectful of duty: there mildew and blasting spread, and spiritual barrenness reigns. When the churches of Christ shall harmoniously exert their energies, what, under the Divine blessing, may not be accomplished ?
We have reason to acknowledge, at this returning anniversary, the continued favor of Providence toward this board of foreign missions. Twenty years have elapsed since its organization. The circumstance of a few pious youths devoting themselves to missions among the heathen, led to its formation. It has exerted a most salutary influence on the internal state of our churches ; and its continued prosperity stands identified with the glory of the church and the welfare of our nation. If there be a nation on earth more indebted to the Gospel than all others, it is ours; and shall we not testify our gratitude by contributing to extend its blessings to other nations ? Every thing in our history and circumstances, reminds us of the invaluable privileges and mercies handed down by our ancestors, the puritan pilgrims and others, and the responsibility resting upon us.
One theme of regret, however, presents itself, in the very considerable deficiency in the revenue of this year, compared with that of last year, while new missionary fields are opening. The march of Christian charity and munificence should be ever onward. Let every pastor present the claims of this cause prominently before the people, and feel that its prosperity is identified with the success of his labors at home. Let information be generally extended, and every means to excite interest and combine effort be employed. While in opposing the march of truth, various errors and conflicting interests combine, let the church of God arise in her strength, and in unbroken columns march onward under the banners of the great Captain, from victory to victory. While the enemy opposes and rages, we remember, “ More are they that are for us, than they that are against us.” God's truth is great, and must finally triumph.
By Rev. JOSHUA LEAVIT T.
THE LIVING EPISTLE.
2 Cor. iii. 2. Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read
of all men. In writing this letter to the Corinthians, one object the apostle had in view was the vindication of his own authority as an apostle. The false professors, who had crept into that church, and caused so much evil, had been rebuked so severely in the former epistle, that they had now no refuge but in denying his authority. This question, therefore, became the turning point in the debate with the false teachers. As one voucher of his authority, Paul appeals to the effect of his preaching on the Corinthians themselves : Ye are our epistle.
In the preceding verse he asks, “ Need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you ?" By this form of expression he declares emphatically, and appeals to themselves, that he did not need any testimonials to his character as an apostle, either when he came among them, or when he went from them to other churches.
The reason why he did not is also given. “ Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men.”
When he came among them, their mutual affection and confidence was a testimonial which could be felt in their hearts. When he went to other places he could point to the Corinthian church as a monument of the divine efficacy of his doctrine.
The way these Christians became thus a proof of the divinity of the Gospel is stated in verse 3: “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God.” Their lives were such as no instructions could have made them, if Christ had not added the influences of his Spirit. And this he would not do to confirm the doctrines of an impostor. In this way,
“They let their works and virtues shine,
To prove the doctrine all divine.” And this kind of commendation affected the minds of observers in a different manner from common testimonials. It was written “ not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart.” The example of a pious life would commend religion to the affections, and make an impression on the mind in favor of the reality and desirableness of experimental piety.
It hath indeed“ pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” Preaching the Gospel is the main instrument of salvation. But notwithstanding this, the concurring weight of a Christian example is necessary to the proper effect of a preached Gospel. It is not merely needful that Christians should avoid counteracting the influence of the Gospel by unholy lives: they must help it forward by a living exemplification of its appropriate efficacy.
A CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A LIVING EPISTLE. The importance of this living epistle to the advancement of religion, is the subject of discourse.
I. The necessity of the living epistle appears from the nature of language. Preaching is an attempt to produce an impression by means of language; and words have their influence according as they are understood, i. e. by their received meaning. Words have no inherent meaning. They mean precisely what those who use them agree to mean. When a community, or set of people agree to use a particular word to express a given idea, that establishes the meaning of the word among them: and whoever uses their language, makes an impression on their minds just according to the received meaning of the word. Thus when we hear a person of a particular class speak in the terms of his own dialect, it makes an impression on our minds corresponding with what we know they have agreed to understand by those terms.
Religion has its peculiar dialect-it speaks in a language of its own. Religious people speak of a change of heart, of being born again, and of being reconciled to God; of pardon and peace; of finding peace of conscience through the blood of Jesus Christ; of having the spirit of adoption, enjoying the presence of God and the light of his countenance; of holding communion with God, and having the witness of his Spirit; of living to the glory of God, and seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; of having the terror of death taken away, and of triumphing over the grave; of receiving the earnest of the Spirit, and a foretaste of the joys to come. Now what are people to understand by all this phraseology? According to the principles laid down for understanding language, people will understand by it just what those who use this dialect agree to understand by it. It is to be expected that those who hear it will be impressed by it, just according to the common consent of those whose language it is. The great body of mankind will not receive any further ideas from it, than the lives of Christians exhibit.
These things are indeed spoken of in the Bible as being literal realities; and the descriptions given of them are very bright and magnificent; and preachers often attempt to paint them with something of the colors of reality and glory which they bear in the Scriptures. But no great impression is made, any further than these things are exhibited in the lives of Christians. Written descriptions have no force without the living epistle. If this is withheld, or inadequately set forth, the hearers or readers understand all this highwrought language as the way in which Christians agree to talk about the languid feelings they exhibit. Christians are then supposed to have an understanding among themselves to use these lofty expressions, not in their literal and obvious meaning, but as rhetorical dress, to set off such feelings and principles as they possess. It thus passes as a sort of current phraseology, which Christians have got up, to make a show, as if their religion was something more than it is. The peace, the hopes, the love, the joys, and so also the penitential regrets, the trials and inward conflicts, of which the Bible makes so much, are received by the world at large just as the body of professing Christians exhibit them. And therefore it is indispensable to the proper understanding of revealed truth, that Christian example should be so high and holy as to make it evident that the high-wrought phraseology of religion is designed, not as a rhetorical flourish to hide the leanness of Christian experience, but as simple and literal narrative, expressing only the reality of what Christians themselves actually see, and feel, and exhibit. Thus will they be “manifestly declared to be the epistle of Jesus Christ, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God.”
The importance of example to the success of the preached word, may be illustrated in another way.-- Words are of no force excepting as they are significant of things. And we cannot take the force of words unless we know the things which they signity. Thus we can have no distinct conception of the modes of spiritual existence. So a discussion upon colors, their shades, and beauty, and harmony, would convey nothing definite lo the mind of a man born blind. Just so it is in the case of religion. An irreligious person has never experienced in himself the things which the language of religion describes; of course he cannot be expected to have any very just ideas attached to the language of religion, unless he derives them from what he sees in others. The great portion of mankind undoubtedly get their actual ideas of religion in this very way. They may read differently in the Bible; they may speculate differently; they may plainly understand that the language of Scripture, in its natural import, means more than they can see in the professors around them ; but the lively impressions, such as affect their minds, are precisely the impressions which are produced by the lives of professors. They can understand the living epistle. And all the art and eloquence of man do not convey any thing more to careless minds, than they see in Christians. The most powerful exhibitions of divine truth always pass with common hearers just according to the impression produced by the lives of professing Christians.*
II. A second reason for the importance of the living epistle to the success of the Gospel, is found in the nature of religion itself.
True religion consists in holy affections. Its essential ingredients are,
At an evening lecture, in which the author discoursed on the importance of the “living epistle," there was present a pious elder in the church, who five days afterward was summoned to meet his Savior. As the assembly was retiring, he took the preacher by the hand, and said, “I am very sensible of the truth which you have been inculcating. I know it is by the living epistle that we get our lively impressions of religion, its reality and its importance. When I was a boy, ten or twelve years old, I was once passing through the woods, and saw an old man, whom I knew, riding along on his horse, engayed in prayer.
He did not see me, and I knew he could not suppose any mortal eye was upon him. I felt that he, at least, was not praying to be seen of men, but was holding communion with the unseen God. And it made an impression on my mind of the reality of experimental religion, which nothing could ever eilace. It followed me continually, and more than thirty years afterward, I hope, brought me to Christ.”
What must have been the feelings of this praying man on meeting in heaven, as a fruit of that prayer in the woods, the gloritied spirit of Peter Hawes?