DEAR BRETHREN, In writing to you on this subject, we must not linger over that far-reaching expression, “The Kingdom of God.” But familiar as it is to most of us, there are some whose names have been but recently added to the muster-roll of our churches, for whose sakes we would write a few sentences concerning that spiritual realm, which is the highest region of life possible to us, and with whose origin, progress, and final triumph, we all are so closely identified.
It is a theme which permeates all scripture. We gather from its earliest pages that man, made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour, and set over the works of his Creator's hands, had no sooner forfeited his dominion, than the promise was given of the woman's seed, who was to be the Lord of a redeemed race. The kingdom which He should establish is the fundamental idea of the Old Testament. Nothing can surpass the fervour with which the writers of prophecy describe the dignity of the Person, the completeness of the victories, the universality of the dominion, and the benignity of the reign of the Lord Jesus. As they “testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow,” so the New Testament writers perpetuate their strains. In doing this, they also trod in the footsteps of their Lord. No part of Scripture is so rich, on this topic, as the gospel of the kingdom which He preached. We gather from His own lips that He came to organize a society of His followers, and thereby to establish a kingdom which is not of this world; a kingdom which, in its present partial concealment, is a spiritual power hidden in the hearts of His people; but intended to be a world-conquering power, the salt of the earth and the leaven of humanity, working through His people. But at present this vast domain cannot be judged by sensible appearances. It has no fixed boundaries. The mystery of its growth no man knoweth. “The Kingdom of God is within you.” The consciousness of His sovereignty over our individual lives is the surest evidence that Jesus reigns. The organizations of Christianity (many of them great and noble) which bind us together for the common purpose of extending the Redeemer's reign, are the glory of our churches.
But in this letter we wish to remind you of the duty of rendering personal service to Christ. For while we are bound to unite in the defence of our common standard whenever we hear the sound of the trumpet; yet, seeing that “the work is great and large, and we are separated upon the wall one far from another,” it is evident that each must bear his own burden, and do his own work. Surely, then, we may find some things, not inconsistent with “all lowliness and meekness,” which will illustrate the place and importance of the individual in the Kingdom of God.
I. We begin with the individuality of all vital Godliness. The Church of Christ is an organic whole. On earth and in heaven it forms but one family. The leaf is not so closely related to the foliage of which it forms a part, as the individual is to the church. So aptly is our union illustrated by the several parts of the human frame, that we are said to be “members one of another.” “The eye cannot say unto the hand I have no need of thee; nor, again, the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”
But the very symbol of our union declares our individuality. We each become “fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God,” not by an accident of natural birth, as the Jew, nor by the ceremonies of a human priesthood, but by the regeneration of the Holy Ghost. “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Our life has a common origin. Its source is in the risen humanity of the Lord Jesus. It is not only derived from Him through the spirit, but can only be sustained in Him. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” But to press the figure further would lead to confusion of thought. Among the orders of life which God has called into being, our life in Christ probably ranks highest, and consequently reveals itself, even here, in the richest possible varieties. In spiritual strength and stature, as in the attendant gifts and graces of the Spirit, we are not like “the corn, with heads all on a level; ” we rather resemble the lily, the palm, and the cedar; and as each flower or tree contributes to the beauty of the wood, so in His kingdom will be found every kind of moral excellence, corresponding to the glory of Lebanon, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box together, to beautify the place of His sanctuary.
Foster observes, that “Characters of strong individual peculiarity are somewhat rare." No doubt it is easier to classify men than to individualize them; but each believer should feel bound to perfect his own variety, and not to ape another's. As in nature so in grace - the stronger the vitality, the more distinct does the variety become.
Many Christians are lost in the crowd because they have not enough life in their souls to make themselves felt. We therefore urge upon you the importance of personal revival as the very basis of power. If we are to be witnesses for our unseen Lord, we must have a very full and joyful experience of His salvation. With what confidence can we approach our fellow men, when we can say, like the last surviving apostle, whose spiritual life deepened with his years, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us ; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” To keep our affections fresh and green, our thoughts pure and elevated, our determinations right and strong, and our power for service spontaneous, we must drink deeply and constantly from the everflowing fountain. However high may be the tone of spiritual life in the church to which we belong, our power can never rise above the level of our own experience. The life of the tree is the strength of the tree, and the same law operates in Godliness. Without abundant life we shall be but little better than cumberers of the ground, not chargeable with open inconsistency, but bearing “nothing but leaves.” Aspire, then, to increase your spirituality by honest dealing with yourself, and close communion with your Lord. “Let the dull apathy of other days be gone.”
The results of this personal revival will be manifold. But the loveliest effects will be seen in a growing holiness of character; for the lack of which, no talents, however brilliant, can compensate; and the power of which no man can measure. In this we must be ourselves. We cannot fight in another's armour, nor keep our lamps burning with another's oil. The world detects nothing so quickly as the mask of piety, nor treats anything with such bitter scorn. It is not what we do, but what we are, that mainly determines our worth. No zeal for the Lord of Hosts can be a substitute for simple consistency of life. Without this we shall be like a branch that has been wrenched and twisted, and which hangs a drooping withered thing impairing the beauty of the tree. But live near to Christ; be much in prayer, and the vital forces within you shall clothe your life with beauty, and you shall bear “much fruit.” Such a life not only gives weight to all a man says and does, but is in itself a most sweet and subtile element of power. It is more beautiful than either earth or sky, for it belongs to a higher sphere, and reveals more of God than nature can possibly do. It does not shine with a fitful light in favoured and exceptional hours, but burns on with a steady flame. The influence of such a character will outlast ourselves, and like a living spirit, will walk the earth with noiseless steps when we are seen no more. Here is the hiding of our power | Here is the germ
out of which spring so many pleasant fruits; the magnet which draws to itself all the precious things of that kingdom, which is “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” In thus writing to you we sketch no impossible ideal. The annals of the church are full of honoured names, whose chief claim to remembrance is that they walked with God. From the pages of the Old and New Testament; from the biographies of modern times; from the memories of the recently departed, there are voices that call us, and hands that beckon us, and characters that allure us to a holier life. We remind you of but one. With what clearness of form does he stand out from the great cloud of witnesses, who declared the end of his existence, and perhaps unconsciously recorded the history of his career, in those immortal words, “For me to live is Christ.” And although our lips may falter when we try to utter them for ourselves, yet we believe there are many who in their inmost heart desire this precious priceless privilege.
Conscious of many failures, let us go back to the Cross, and make our confession to Him who will both forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Trusting in Him to break sins' dominion, and yielding ourselves unto God as those that are alive from the dead, and our members as instruments of righteousness unto God, we shall have our “fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” Cultivating, on the one hand, those quenchless aspirations, which have been so admirably expressed as a “thirsting for God;" and surrendering, on the other, our whole being as a living sacrifice, we cannot live in vain. For our individual power is never so great as when self is utterly suppressed and only ONE lives. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
II. Our individual power depends on our equipment for the work of life. The vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use,” can scarcely be said to be “prepared unto every good work," until it is charged with heavenly treasure, that “the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” There is no truth of much greater importance to us as servants of Christ than this - “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God.” To Him, therefore, must we look for personal equipment each time we set our hands to the work of the Lord.
Although the choice of His servants is often contrary to human expectation, yet adequate knowledge would, doubtless, prove that He not only selects such instruments as are best fitted to display His glory, but that guided by infinite wisdom, He never ignores the
adaptation of our natural capacities to the tasks assigned us. Our physical and mental powers, reclaimed from sin by sanctifying grace, more visibly bear the impress of His handywork, and to deny Him their use would be to expose ourselves to the charge of robbing God. “Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's!"
But to these personal attributes He adds other elements of power, which greatly intensify our individuality. We have “Gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us.” Any attempt to describe these would be futile. They are very various, and, apparently, very unequally distributed; and yet, what a principle of fairness gleams through the words -“And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another, one: to every man according to his several ability.” The combination of our natural powers with these diversified gifts constitutes no small part of our preparation for the work of life; and on the right use of these things our personal power will largely depend. But in the equipment of His first disciples - men of such different mould, and endowed with such distinctive gifts - our Lord imparted two qualifications for service, which every one of us need, and which we must individually seek.
The first was a sound understanding of the Word. With what patient care did He instruct them, adapting the communications of truth to their slowly opening minds, softening the light by a veil of transparent symbols, but never leaving them in ignorance of the truth imbedded in the parable; and encouraging them to seek further light by saying, “Have ye understood all these things: " With what tender solicitude did He regard them when His lessons were about to close, and in view of their still imperfect knowledge, assured them - “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.” One of His first acts after His resurrection from the dead, was to open their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.
This inner circle of disciples, which still gathers around the Saviour, hungering and thirsting after truth, is closed against none. We may each sit at Jesus' feet and hear His word. The primary use of Scripture is “to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” But its secondary purpose is, “That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” As one of your ablest ministers has said, “The more complete and adequate the creed, the mightier and more fruitful in blessing will the faith naturally be; and every portion of the full orb of the Sun of Righteousness which is eclipsed by the shadow of our
misconceptions will diminish the light and warmth which will fall upon our own souls.” It is to be feared that there is much criminal ignorance of the word of God. The Book demands careful and prayerful investigation, for it only yields its most precious treasure to personal research; and he who neglects it, will find that intellectual and spiritual poverty will come upon him as an armed man. The tendencies of these times render it an imperative duty that we should be grounded in the truth. The ever-swelling flood of error, though it leaves the Rock unmoved, is sweeping off many young and ardent minds, to whom a very partial knowledge of divine things, mingled with the delusive opinions of men, has imparted a kind of mental intoxication, which will not be content to patiently explore those provinces of truth, to which the Great Teacher would fain allure them by the promise of clearer light, as they are able to bear it. The Bible claims dominion not only over all the literature of the world, but over the human mind itself. Let us bow to its authority. It will not only strengthen our own principles, and be a grand preservative against sin, but will enable us to go to men with a “Thus saith the Lord.” With what holy boldness can we speak in His name when our hearts burn within us, as He opens to us the Scriptures, and says, “Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.”
Although some are appointed as preachers and teachers of the Word, yet every Christian should regard the glorious Gospel of the blessed God as committed to His trust. It is the sword of the Spirit with which we can each fight against sin; the good seed which we can sow beside all waters; the lamp with which we can disperse the darkness. “Hold fast the form of sound words.”
The second and crowning gift, which completed the equipment of the first disciples, was the Baptism of the Spirit. His directions were most explicit. “Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high.” They kept his command to the letter, “They were all with one accord in one place . . . . And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” Nor was this done once for all, but renewed according to their need. We read of a subsequent occasion, “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the Word of God with boldness.” The manner in which the Holy Spirit now comes, and the effects He produces, are different to these early manifestations; but the difference is only like a change of vesture, the essential gift and power are the same. Doubtless, all Christians have the
Spirit, for “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” Where He is not grieved away by a persistence in sin, or cold neglect, the Comforter abideth with us for ever. But “to keep the current of spiritual life flowing strongly,” and for power in service, we need frequent and conscious baptisms of the Spirit. If our Lord needed it before entering upon His ministry; if the effect of it was so visible that every eye was fastened on Him as He read the Scriptures, and “all bare Him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth; ” if those men needed it who accompanied Him in all His work, “beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that He was taken up.” Is not this “baptism of power” the one deep need of each of us? The summons to holy work is urgent, but we shall be but poorly equipped for it unless we “wait for the promise of the Father.”
If each one of us resolve to seek this baptism, and do it, believingly and perseveringly, who could predict the results that will follow: What renewed vigour would be put into our languid pulse and feeble muscles. What a well-spring of joy would be opened in our souls, which would keep us bright and strong. What nearness to Jesus should we experience; and with what boldness and confidence should we approach the Mercy seat. This indwelling power would lighten all labour, for we should “be strengthened with might by his spirit in the inner man.” It would give us utterance, so that we should open our mouths boldly, where we have been silent from fear of man. Let us each ask to be thus girded with power. “Every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.” But “this honour have all His saints!” May God grant us this common, but individual gift, that each one of us may be “filled with the spirit.” The clouds are over us, and “there is a sound of abundance of rain.” Let us wait and pray, “until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high.”
III. It will greatly add to our individual power if we clearly discern our place in the Kingdom, and the work assigned us by our Lord. The consideration of this thought is in every way a solemn one. To let our powers lie dormant, or to misdirect them to unworthy ends, are both serious errors. The discovery of the purpose of God in our creation and redemption, and the firm resolve to fall in with that purpose, is the one thing which will save our lives from failure. The mischievous habit often corrected, but as often re-appearing, of regarding “ the trivial round, the common task” of life, as our work; and the little we can do in leisure moments or on the Lord's Day, as God's work, is the thing which paralyzes many souls, and burdens them with anxieties which would mainly disappear, if we would regard
the whole of our life as God's, and did all our work as unto Him. Any life, however lowly, would be gathered up into dignity and power by the adoption of this principle - “Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;" and, “whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” But even the busiest have some opportunities of service for Christ's dear sake alone, the object of which should be the extension of His kingdom, by reconquering ground now occupied by the enemy, and in winning precious souls, or by ministering to the saints.
How to discover our work, and to make it most effectual, is a question which each must decide for himself. Only rest assured that our Master gives encouragement to every description of talent, and is ready to furnish employment for all who sincerely ask, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” But the servant must not make choice of his own work, nor select his own sphere, but accept both from the Master's hand. The inscription upon the vineyard gate, which meets our eyes as we enter one by one; be it in the early morning of youth, the sixth or ninth hours of maturer years, or the eleventh hour of a late repentance, is, “To every man his work.” There is no doing it by proxy. We may talk largely of what “our church" is doing, as we enumerate its agencies, and report its statistics, but this work in the aggregate is no substitute for a hearty, personal devotion. The recognized agencies, which occupy thousands of Christian workers, have by no means exhausted the instrumentalities of salvation, or covered all the field. The Lord has need of you. The personal uprising of all our brethren and sisters to real work for Christ, would give to the kingdom of God such an impetus, that its coming would resemble the rising of the tides of the sea, or the fulness of life and beauty with which the spring has again clothed the earth. Hearken, every one of you, to the voice of the Lord, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And let your clear, decisive response be, “Here am I; send me.”
We cannot decide any man's work for him, and we ought not to try, unless at his own solicitation. To the question of Peter, “Lord, and what shall the man do?” Jesus said, “What is that to thee? follow thou me.” But there is one rule, which, though not without exception, is a safe guide by which to determine our own work. Do that which lies the closest to your hand. In Nehemiah's time “they builded, everyone over against his house.” Certainly that was the appropriate place to begin. If every individual has opportunity of doing something for Christ which no one else can do for him, we know of no sphere to which the remark will so forcibly apply as to Home. If our children are still about us, we cannot look into their
“sweet open faces, where the light of innocence yet lingers, and where sin has set as yet no brand,” without feeling that we have a work to do for Him who said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” Let Andrew find his own brother Simon, and bring him to Jesus. Let Philip seek out his friend Nathaniel, and allure him to the Saviour's feet, by saying “Come and see!”
However multiplied and various may be our labours, none of us are exempt from the duty of seeking the salvation of individual souls. Apart from these personal efforts an earnest ministry may be comparatively barren of results. The past year has supplied a noble illustration of what one or two men may do in winning souls, when fixed with the love of Christ. But the details of this great Revival are not so conspicuous as the chief actors of the wonderful scene. Our honoured American brethren would be the first to acknowledge that it was not their “power or holiness” which had led to this widespread awakening, but that under God, much was owing to the hundreds of devoted men and women, who have preached the Gospel from house to house, and striven by all means to save some. Many a pastor's hands would be immensely strengthened by such “helpers in Christ Jesus.” We need to be all at it, and always at it. We need the consecrated energies of every man, woman, and child, united, but individually working; for thus only can we hope to defeat the forces adverse to the kingdom of God.
IV. The power of the individual will be considerably increased by approaching his work in a right spirit. The cultivation of a proper spirit can only be effected by keeping our eyes upon Him, whose first recorded words are, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business: " and who was overheard in prayer towards the close of his career, saying, “I have glorified Thee on the earth; I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do.” The fulness and intensity of devotion which breathes in these two utterances, should constrain us to copy His example, and to desire that the spirit of service and self-sacrifice which animated Him may be reproduced in us.
Treading in His steps, we shall approach our work with the utmost lowliness. He no sooner says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me,” than He reveals the true spirit of the yoke-wearer, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” Nothing is more contemptible to men, or offensive to the Lord, than an overweening estimate of our own powers. The man that is ever sighing for a larger sphere, and for a higher kind of service- while he neglects the duty of to-day, is pursuing a self-defeating policy. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
From the day when those unhappy words were uttered, “which of us shall be greatest?” right down to the present time, the lust of power, has wrought an infinite amount of mischief in the church of Christ. Here and there we may still find a “Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence.” And not a soul among us will be the worse for turning afresh to the touching spectacle of “the little child set in the midst of them;” and for listening again to the Master's exposition of the living parable, “Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
This lowliness of spirit is not inconsistent with ardent courage. Humility must be allied with boldness. “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” To do your work well, whatever that work may be, you must guard against that extreme sensitiveness which is often born of a morbid self-introspection, or a weak leaning to the sympathy of others, which, if once yielded to, nothing will be done worthy of the name of Christian work. “Be strong, and of a good courage.”
The spirit of faith is also indispensable. When the baffled disciples enquired of their Master, “Why could not we cast him out?" He promptly replied, “Because of your unbelief.” To the same cause may be attributed much of our weakness and many of our failures. Faith is the discerning eye, but if it be a diseased eye, it “cannot see afar off." Faith is the working hand, but if it be a withered hand, it has lost its cunning. There is nothing so weakening and depressing as doubt. But who can measure the possibilities of faith? The time would fail us to tell of those old heroes, “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong.” “Lord increase our faith!”
A quenchless, unwearying love, must be added to our faith. What feature in our great Example is so conspicuous as this? His was indeed a loving ministry. It threw a marvellous charm over all His teaching, and drew to His feet the publican and the sinner. Whatever we lack, we must be filled with love to Christ, to the souls of men, and to the sick and sorrowful, or we shall “become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” When love burns within us, our consolations will be tender; our warnings solemn; our reproofs an excellent oil, which shall not break the head; and our sympathy will flow at the sight of another's woe, “because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
The spirit of prayer, like the fire on the altar, must never go out. Our power for service can be measured with tolerable accuracy by our usual experiences at the throne of grace. Of the many individuals conspicuous in the early history of the kingdom, and whose lengthened shadows stretch right across the ages, there is not a man from Abraham to Paul; not a woman from Hannah to Lydia; not a child from Samuel to Timothy, but who lived in the very atmosphere of prayer. In later times we have had our Paysons, Edwardses, Tennents, Careys, Fullers, Halls, Macks, and a host of others, whose approach to God was very close and real. Above all, it was the constant practice of our Lord, who added to his example, the command which none must overlook, “Enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” The holy elevation of the soul obtained by communion with God is the great secret of power among men.
We cannot close this letter more appropriately than by reminding you of the individuality of your prospective rewards. “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love.” The thought of reward should never have a large place within us. “What shall we have therefore?” was a question which our Lord tacitly rebuked. But at the same time, He said many tender and beautiful things which are full of encouragement to a life of patient toil. “A cup of cold water;” a visit to His prisoners in the chamber of sickness; shelter given to the stranger; clothing to the naked; food to the hungry; these, as well as the higher work of saving souls, shall in no wise lose reward. These rewards, all of grace and not of merit, will be intensely personal. He will “call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.” “Every man's work shall be made manifest.” The individuality of the worker, and the distinctive features of his work, will stand out in that day with startling vividness. But though “the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is,” and some “shall suffer loss,” the faithful servant need not fear, for “he shall receive a reward.” “Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour.” Deeds long forgotten will then be brought to light, and your whole life work will be lifted into a higher region, and clothed with sublimity, when you hear the King say, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Amen.
W. J. MILLS, Moderator.
[From Minutes of the Northampton Association of Baptists, 1875, pp. 3-13. Document from Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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