"That we might be fellow-helpers to the truth." - 3 John, 8.
The church, my brethren, is Christ's representative on earih. He sacredly bequeathed to her the honor of appearing in his behalf, amid the desolations of a sinful world. While he was on earth, he was the light of it - the embodiment of the divine effulgence, scattering his healing rays upon the suirounding darkness. When he ascended up on high, he gave to his people the elements of the same light, and now they stand forth as the light of the world. Light, in the presence of which, all material splendor is eclipsed and dies away. And this light was imparted with a solemn charge to dispense it, that the world may rejoice in its beams. The fiat has long since gone forth - "Let your light so shine among men, that they may be so dazzled and charmed with your brightness, as to glorify God." To accomplish this purpose, Christians are brought together into a social compact; they are collected around the standard of the cross. Their forces separated could effect but little; yet when detached from the world and formed into a visible society, they are at once elevated into the rank of power. If we wish to render an object conspicuous, we take it from surrounding objects and place it apart. The light of the sun is composed of particles inconceivably minute, which, if taken separately and placed at a distance from each other,
would be lost in the surrounding darkness; but when brought together into the great orb of day, it attracts the notice of ten thousand worlds, and becomes a fit image of the glory of God himself. Believers are to shine as lights in the world; they are to throw off the gloom of surrounding darkness; but they can best secure this end when they become fellow-helpers, by bringing their respective lights into the orb of a Christian church.
We should never lose sight, my brethren, of the aggressive character of the church. She is to throw her rays upon the darkness of earth. In her militant state, she is engaged in a war of extermination; nothing short of universal triumph will meet the aspirations of the sacramental host; the kingdoms are all to be given to Christ for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession; and in this conflict, the leagued forces of satan are to be fairly met and vanquished. The victory will be so signal as to excite the applause of a wondering universe. It is a mischievous error to suppose that Christians may remain at ease and look for triumph. To conquer, they must fight. God promised Canaan to Abraham; but Israel must fight for it. God has promised to the church complete victory; but Christians must fight for it.
That the church may bring the encounter to a speedy and successful issue, she has appointed her proper officers to execute her plans. This is her policy, and this is the arrangement of Christ himself. The commission which he gave when he stood fresh and triumphant from the tomb, was given to his own church - "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." Every one could not, in person, execute this order; but as a community, they appoint such as are competent to carry out the design - to present the claims of religion, and to refute the errors of an infidel world. As a well regulated soldiery select their leaders, under whom they are marshaled, so the church appoints her officers, who lead on the forces to contest and to triumph. He who is thus set apart -
"Stablishes the strong, restores the weak,
Reclaims the wanderer, binds the broken heart;
And arm'd himself in panoply complete,
Of heavenly temper, furnishes with arms
Bright as his own, and trains by every rule
Of holy discipline, to glorious war,
The sacramental hosts of God's elect."
In coincidence with this, ministers are the servants of the church, "whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, all are yours;" "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants, for Jesus' sake." This relation implies the mutual assistance of the churches with the ministry - "That we might be fellow-helpers to the truth."
The assembly met this morning, my brethren, is no ordinary one. I see before me the messengers from more than forty churches; and I am called upon to address these churches through their respective delegates, now convened. Follow me, then, with your prayers, while I endeavor to present the ways by which you may co-operate with your ministers, and the influence of such co-operation.
I. You may co-operate with your ministers by your sympathies. No position is so trying as that of the Christian minister. A thousand cares press upon him with crushing weight, and extort from him the thrilling question, "who is sufficient for these things?" Who is competent to acquit himself honorably as an ambassador for Christ? He is entrusted with a message that an angel might tremble to convey; he treats on subjects of such mighty import, as will require an eternity fully to comprehend; he has to do with the soul, stamped by its author with incalculable worth. Does the physician tremble under the weight of his responsibility, when treating a malady, which may be healed by human skill; to mitigate the sufferings of a body, which at best, must soon fall into corruption? Is the touch of the surgeon most delicate when probing or severing the organs of our bodily frame? And what is the fearful responsibility of him who has to treat with the soul, so easily and irremediably injured; that soul which is to sparkle as a gem in the Mediator's crown through eternal ages, or writhe under the pangs of the second death. Little do Christians ordinarily appreciate the number and magnitude of the temptations, trials, difficulties and discouragements of the minister.
"'Tis not a cause of small import,
The pastor's care demands;
But what might fill an angel's heart,
And fill'd a Saviour's hands."
How eminently fitted are the sympathies of Christian
brethren to encourage and enliven their minister, under circumstances so depressing? Who that has not felt the power of human sympathy? What care so pressing that is not lightened when conscious that we share the affections of warm-hearted brethren? That when we weep, they weep - when we mourn, they mourn - when we rejoice, they rejoice. Let the minister be followed in all his toils and cares, by the warm sympathies of those whom he is leading on to glory and immortality; and his pillow is softened; his sorrows alleviated; and his delight increased.
Look at the missionary of the cross: he breaks away from ties that bind him to country, to kindred, and the endearments of friendship, to proclaim salvation and to throw himself amid the darkness of pagan night; he encounters perils, suffers fatigue, endures ignominy, and exposes himself to the holiest persecution: but he cheerfully prosecutes his labors, conscious of the approving smiles of heaven and the Christian sympathies of pious friends; and when he sends his reports full of tales of immense suffering, they touch a chord which vibrates throughout the churches, re-assuiring him of the prominence which he holds in their affections and sympathies. This influence, my brethren, he prizes more clearly than gold or silver.
As Christians, we have trials peculiar to ourselves. Christianity nowhere assures us of an exemption even from the common sufferings of human nature. But there are spiritual sorrows, spiritual anxieties, known only to the believer. Where do we look for an alleviation of these afflictions? Where do we go to have our cares lightened? To the sympathising heart of the Son of God? And is it the glory of religion, "that we have not an high priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in all points templed as we are; yet without sin?" Enjoying such sympathies, our burden is lightened and we advance with quicker and readier step toward the end of our pilgrimage.
Let your ministers, in the midst of their toils, enjoy your sympathies, and a power is thrown into their hands, by which they may surmount innumerable obstacles; their preaching will assume a more earnest and faithful manner, and thus you become "fellow-helpers to the truth."
II. By your prayers. According to the economy of grace,
prayer is the means of power which every one may secure; a power which may be wielded by all who are in a state of reconciliation wilh God. Although disqualified to defend the truth from the gross attacks of the infidel; yet he may make an effectual appeal to Him in whose hands are the destinies of all men. It is the instituted medium through which the littleness and meanness of man may prevail with Omnipotence. By words, by entreaties, by petitions, we move man; and by prayer, we move the great President of the universe; and we know of no other power throughout the vast empire of God to which the great Jehovah yields.
The labors of the pulpit are blessed only as they are accompanied by earnest prayer. I care not what may be the eloquence of the preacher, the soundness of the argument, the conclusiveness of the demonstrations, the effort will be poor, without prayer. And here, my brethren, we have a key which unlocks the secret of many a minister's success. How is it, that oftentimes a minister of limited attainments, is far more successful than one equally pious, of superior genius and mental endowments? Why is this? I am not speaking of something that does not exist; why the difference? Ah! my brethren, the answer is written in the history of their respective churches: one has been followed by the earnest and persevering prayers of his church; while the other has secured no such co-operation. While one church is agonizing in prayer, and imploring the author of salvation to grant repentance; the other stands off and charges blame upon the minister, for his ill-timed and ineffectual efforts.
Let us remember, that he whom we serve, is jealous for his honor; that he regards every power in the universe as more or less opposed to him, but that of prayer; that he views it as an attempt to do without him; as a hostile endeavor to contravene the great principles of the gospel of Christ. "If we look into the censer of the angel standing at the golden altar which is before the throne, and if we there mark what it is, of all human instrumentalities which ascends to heaven, we shall see it is only that which is sanctified by prayer." This is all that lives to reach the skies - all that heaven receives from earth - all that is ever permitted to ascend before God. We have no right to expect that
the labors of our ministers, however assiduous, will be effective, unless associated with our devotions - unless accompanied by our prayers. It will appear amid the developments of the last day, that many a Christian, who once excited the public gaze with his active deeds and burning zeal, will be comparatively unnoticed; while the man of prayer will be drawn out from his closet obscurity and proclaimed in his stead: and it will there appear, that while the one was only moving earth, the other was moving heaven.
The apostle understood the efficiency of prayer, as a way of co-operation with him in his ministerial work; hence he called upon the churches in all the tenderness of his heart, "brethren, pray for us." He ascribes his deliverance and preservation from persecution, to the prayers of Christians: "You also helping together by prayer for us." Surely then, if this illustrious man was so dependent upon, and indebted to the prayers of Christians, how much more the ordinary minister of Christ. Do we hear an apostle pressing this duty? How much more should the minister, who labors amid discouragements now, enjoy the prayers of his church. "Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me, in your prayers to God for me."
When the minister stands forth, as the herald of the cross and the servant of the church, let him feel conscious that the prayers of the church are ascending in his behalf to the throne of God; and thus his brethren become "fellow-helpers to the truth."
III. You may co-operate with your ministers in the enforcement of discipline. The church is a social organization, and has, necessarily, laws promotive of the good of the compact and the glory of God. These regulations are frequently overlooked and forgotten - the peace of the church interrupted - the cause of truth impeded, and the Saviour left bleeding in the house of his friends with a fresh crucifixion. Now the design of the church is to perpetuate her harmony; to throw away every thing that would mar her communion, and to benefit those who violate her laws. The church which neglects this duty, is said to represent a state in which the administration of justice is omitted and crime is committed with impunity. A law which has no
penally, is a burlesque on legislation; and to pass over an infraction without notice, is to endanger the interests of community. Christ, the head of the church, has instituted laws and demands conformity to them. He has invested the church with executive power to enforce them; and when this is neglected, his displeasure is seriously incurred - the progress of Zion impeded - her prosperity darkened - and her light eclipsed. See the hosts of Israel pressing on towards the promised land: their course is suddenly checked; their efforts to advance are ineffectual; a diligent search is instituted to determine the cause of their hindrance, and it lies in the sin of Achan: the law is enforced; the offender thrown out; and the people of God march on. Here the sin of one man detained thousands from advancing to their destined home.
How is the progress of the Christian Israel retarded by retaining in her communion, those unworthy her trust? How is her reputation tarnished? And how does infidelity triumph over her imperfections? She must assert her rights, and thrust from her embrace, the man who would check her course. It has been well said - "that a great part of our duty consists in cultivating what is lovely; but this is not the whole of it - we must prune as well as plant, if we would bear much fruit, and be Christ's disciples. One of the things applauded in the church of Ephesus, was, that they could not bear those that are evil. "The free circulation of the blood, and the proper discharge of all the animal functions, are not more necessary to the health of the body, than good discipline is to the prosperity of a church." A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Sin is communicative, and unless the disease is checked, it will spread itself over the whole body, and enfeeble, sicken and destroy the whole community; and in this state of imbecility, no manly energies can be exercised - no vigorous efforts put forth for the glory of God.
Where are the enemies of Christianity to look for living illustrations of the power and excellency of religion, but to the church? She stands out as the embodiment of true religion. But when her purity is stained by holding in her midst gross offenders, her power is weakened and her glory is departed. The immoral spots must be wiped out, that she may "stand forth, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners."
Now to whom does the duty of enforcing discipline belong? Is it the exclusive province of the officers of the church? Or of the private members? Or of both. The formularies of discipline made out by Christ, were undoubtedly presented to the church. The last appeal was not to the ministiy, nor to the session composed of ihe officers, but to the church: - "Not to keep company: if any man that is called a brother, be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one, no not to eat; put away from yourselves that wicked person." "A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject." "I would they were cut off that trouble you." "We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly." Here are commands which can only be met by the church. She alone has the power to excommunicate such as are disorderly. But while all this is admitted in a chain of reasoning, how few are the churches that carry it practically out. If an unruly member tramples upon the laws of Christ, months and even years elapse, before the offender is brought to the tribunal of the church. Few seem to have sufficient moral courage promptly to notice the offence and adjust the difficulty. The minister warns; he alludes delicately to the evil of loose discipline, and exhorts the church to a faithful execution of the instructions of the King in Zion; his appeals are passed carelessly by. Conscious that his pulpit efforts are weakened and neutralized by retaining unworthy members, he speaks plainly out and presents the offender. Many, from various motives, are silent, and the minister, with a small portion of the church, is found struggling alone; the offender, taking shelter under the silence of brethren, retires palliating his crimes, and charging the minister with undue forwardness and temerity. Now what we contend for, is, that discipline should be enforced by the church; and that the troubler of Israel be excommunicated by a decided concurrence of a respectable portion of the church. In this way, there will be a more efficient co-operation between the members of the church and the pastor, and thus, they will become "fellow-helpers to the truth."
IV. You may co-operate with your ministers by defending their characters from false imputation. "If any man will
live godly in Christ Jesus, he shall suffer persecution." This truth has been strikingly illustrated in every age of the Christian church: a truth, written with the blood of martyrs, and proclaimed by the dying groans of saints.
The world has no sympathy with Christianity; it has no respect for its Author, nor its friends; it has, in every possible mode, shewn its utter abhorrence to the will of God: wherever the standard of truth has been planted, it has been severely and contemptuously assailed; wherever the triumphs of the gospel have been pushed, fresh and powerful obstacles have been encountered; satan and his allies have disputed every step of territory over which the hosts of Zion have advanced. If these things be true, (and who is prepared to dispute them,) the ministry must expect to be the most prominent object at which the darts of the enemy will be aimed. As the leaders in a military engagement, are those whose death is the most eagerly sought - so the leaders of the sacramental host, will be the objects of the most speedy and pointed attack, if they can be destroyed, little is to be apprehended before success. The forces will be thrown into confusion - the banner of the cross torn down - the places of Zion laid waste, and the enemy exulting in triumph. To effect this, the most vigorous efforts are made. As the influence and moral power of the preacher rest essentially upon his character, they make it the object of assault. If his reputation can be blasted, he is at once disarmed and powerless. Hence, in the days of primitive Christianity, all the followers of Christ were the subjects of persecution, but the ministers were pre-eminently such. Who were so repeatedly and violently assailed as the apostles? We see them dragged before princes, governors and councils, falsely charged and imprisoned. Why all this? Why direct their severest invectives and malice at them? Because they conceived, if the champions of religion were destroyed, little remained to be done, before the achievement of the most signal victory. And the same feelings exist still, and the same policy observed by those who array themselves against the progress of the gospel; and the more efficient and daring the advocate, the stronger and more frequent the efforts to destroy him. Who among ministers have been the most bitteily opposed? Have they not been uniformly the most able and uncompromising leaders of the truth? In
the reformation, we find Luther singled out from all his cotemporaries, as the subject of contumely and persecution: and why, my brethren? Because he was the most efficient instrument in beating back the tide of papal superstition - in exposing the corruptions of an ecclesiastical hierarchy and setting in motion a train of efforts which threatened the complete overthrow of the established priesthood. And from that day to the present, and all through proceeding ages, the most effective ministers have been the subjects of the hottest persecution.
In a country like our's, where the Inquisition has never yet gained a footing - where there are no conventional forms - where no mitred heads frown upon the humble and untiring herald of salvation - the opposition to the ministry assumes another form. The great adversary is well qualified to fit his plans to the circumstances and condition of his antagonist; therefore his most successful measures are carried by innuendoes - by indirect attacks upon the moral standing of the preacher. Satan has an innumerable company of vassals - creatures so destitute of moral principle and ready to make the most desperate attempts, who are busily employed in trying to undermine the integrity of the pulpit. Now, let the churches repel with indignity and promptness these shafts of calumny. Let them take their posts by the side of their ministers, ready to stand or fall with them. Let them be ready to express their warmest indignation against the willing that would make them ridiculous; the scorner that would make them contemptible; and the defamer that would brand them as immoral.
My brethren, do not misunderstand me here; I do not plead for the defence of bad ministers - for those who ought to be deposed. "When a preacher of righteousness has stood in the way of sinners, and walked in the counsel of the ungodly, he should never again open his lips in the pulpit, until his repentance is as notorious as his sin." But while his conduct is irreproachable - his character untarnished - you should preserve it with as much care and watchfulness, as you would his life against the hand of the assassin. The character of your minister is the lock of his strength, and if that be aspersed and sacrificed, he will be like Sampson shorn of his hair, a poor, feeble, faltering cieature, the pity of his friends and the derision of his enemies.
V. You may co-operate with your ministers, by affording them a liberal support. The system of advancing religion on earth, of sustaining the life and purity of the church, and of foiling satan in his efforts to subvert the truth, is a system of means. While we look to the agent whose province it is to give efficacy to instrumentalities, we should see to it, that the means are in use. It would be absurd to complain of a laborer whom we had employed to fell a tree, for not performing the task, while we, accoiding to the piovision, failed to furnish the axe; so while we look to a divine power to wield the sword, we must be certain, that the sword is in place. Now "this sword of the Spirit, is the word of God," and it is only ready to be wielded when it is preached, or "held forth." This is God's own economy: "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall they preach except they be sent?" The church, then, is to present the truth - to publish terms of reconciliation through her ministers - ministers of Christ, and servants of the church. Standing in this relation, to whom do they look for support? To whom should they look? Unquestionably to both Christ and the church, for they are responsible to both. The minister looks to Chiist for spiritual strength - for an advancement in holiness, and for those moral qualifications which fit him for his responsible trust. He has promised and fulfils it - "Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." And He invariably performs his part of the contract: he inspires consolation, he emboldens, encourages, strengthens and sustains. But the minister is not all spirit; he is a man, and has wants which belong to his physical nature. The gospel is deposited in earthen, not heavenly vessels; men, not angels, are the ministers of the church; angels sustain no such relation, and have no claim upon the church for support. Here is a man who holds an extensive slave estate - he directs their labor - he counsels them - they are responsible to him. Now, to whom do they look for protection and support? To their own planning - to the world at
large - or to him in whose service they live? He it is who feeds them, clothes them, and provides for their necessities. We present this thought uniformly in illustration of the enviable condition of the slave in America. Now, shall a man feel obligated to support his servants that labor on his plantation, and the church feel no obligation to sustain and protect her servants? We should regard that man as deficient in the proper feelings of humanity, who should compel his servants, after toiling all day for him, to spend the night in providing for their own sustenance: and is it not even more cruel for a church to require her servants, after spending their best energies in her employ, to go out and gather materials for their support? Is it reasonable that the church should hold ministers responsible to them - advise and direct their labors - enjoy and feast upon their services - and then cast them off as unworthy their support? The support of the ministry, my brethren, is founded on principles of justice and equity. We are not, as many imagine, objects of charity. We claim it, not as a charitable donation, but as a just debt. "If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?" We have given our time, and talents, and attainments, and are entitled to a reward, and that cannot be withheld without robbery. We are not, then, "clerical pensioners upon mere bounty." Our appeal is merely to justice, and if our claims are rejected, we refuse to present them before any other tribunal, and refer the matter to the "Judge of all, who will do right."
But to refuse the ministry an adequate support, is to violate the palpable laws of the New Testament, and to stamp with folly the conduct of Christ himself. When the Saviour sent out his seventy disciples to labor in his harvest, he said in relation to this subject, "the laborer is worthy of his hire." The apostles, having reference, beyond all doubt, to this subject, asserted and defended ministerial support in the plainest instructions. See the conclusiveness of his reasoning, and the force of his appeals, and the clearness of his illustrations: "Let him that is taught in the word communicate to him that teacheth, in all good things - remembering them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: and the laborer is worthy his reward - have we not power to eat and to drink." Hear it,
my brethren: "Who goeth a warfare at any lime at his own charges? Who planteth a vineyard and eateth not of the fruit thereof? Or who feedeth a flock and eateth not of the milk of the flock. Say I these things as a man; or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shall not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogelher for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt this is written - that he that ploweth should plow in hope, and that he that thresheth in hope, should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we should reap your carnal things? Do ye not know, that they which minister about holy things, live of the things of the temple - and they which wait at the altar, are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained, that they which preach the gospel, should live of the gospel. (1 Corinthians ix: 7-14.) The churches that violate such express injunctions, do it at their peril.
But the obligation to pay the promised amount, is not always appreciated. Many are prompt to promise, but slow to fulfil. And there is a fatal mistake in the minds of many, in relalion to whom, such are responsible. It is evident to the mind of every one, that the contract is between the pastor and the church. There is no recognition of any individual bargain. The church resolves to pay a fixed salary, which is thought to be a fair remuneration for the services rendered, and the minister accepts it. A real and specific contract is now made. The minister is not to know individuals in the transaction; he holds the church responsible for every dollar of the salary - and the church looks to him for his ministerial services. The individual member, then becomes responsible to the church, and the church to the minister. The church is not released until the amount is paid. Let no member suppose that the pastor is rewarded till the fixed sum has been faithfully paid.
The churches, may co-operate, therefore, with the ministry, by promptly supplying their wants, and fulfilling with them a sacred engagement. They will be released from numerous entanglements and enabled to give themselves "to prayer and the minislry of the word;" and thus you become "fellow-helpers to the truth."
VI. You may co-operate with your ministers, by an
exemplification of Christianity. Here, my brethren, is the most effectual aid. In truth, it is so comprehensive, as to include the ways which I have already named. For it is difficult to conceive how a truly pious church can withhold from her minister, her sympathy, her prayers - can refuse to enforce proper discipline - to defend his character from false charges, and contribute to his support.
But we would press the thought upon you as of the most essential importance, that religion is pre-eminently practical. It is to be seen in every action: and its divine Author calls upon the world to look at his followers as living illustrations of the truth and power of the gospel. The apostle's arm was freshly nerved, when he could look at his Corinthian brethren and say "ye are our epistles, written in our hearts, known and read of all men." Your lives form a lucid and standing commentary on the transforming efficacy of revealed religion.
The great evil to be overcome is sin. What but holiness is its proper antagonist? The persons to be benefited by the church are sinners. Who, but holy men, can essentially benefit them? The character of the agency, must be adapted to the nature of the object to be accomplished. That object, the recovery of lost sinners to God, is spiritual, and they who would promote it, must be spiritual. How insufficient were the primitive Christians before the day of pentecost: how fearful and irresolute? After the diffusion of the Spirit's influence upon them, how bold, and resolute, and effective were they? They went forth, holding in their hands the weapons of truth, equipped in the armory of heaven, and soon achieved for the cross a thousand bloodless victories. Aiming at a holy end, and prompted by holy motives, and governed by a holy rule, they made the world feel their power. Wherever they raised their standard, they could exclaim, "Thanks be unto God, who always causeih us to triumph in Christ; and maketh manifest the savor of his knowledge by us in every place."
The world did not see religion exemplified by the ministry alone; but by all who had enlisted as soldiers of Jesus Christ. Ministers require the same co-operation now. Believers should all and everywhere, show themselves controlled by the purifying and elevating principles of the Christian faith. Religion should be manifest in every thing.
In all intercourse with men, the badge of discipleship should stand conspicuously out. For religion is like the "blood of our corporeal frame, which does not confine itself to two or three large arterial ducts, but diffuses itself through a thousand different channels, conveying life and health throughout the whole body. The true Christian is ever ready to be met as the friend of the Redeemer - in the shop, in the counting-room, in the office, in the field, at home or abroad, the same pervading principle impels him to works of righteousness: such form living monuments to the divinity and glory of the gospel. My brethren, how effective and happy such co-operation. The minister feels himself surrounded by living witnesses to the truth he is preaching; and while the infidel may evade the force of his reasoning, he cannot resist the power of practical godliness.
Let us notice next, the influence of such co-operation.
I. It emboldens the minister. What is better adapted to inspire courage, than the assurance that he is sustained and upheld by his congregation; that he shares their sympathies - has an interest in their prayers - his character sacredly cherished - the discipline of the church kindly and promptly enforced - his temporal wants supplied - and a practical and living illustration of the truth defended, and urged from the pulpit. How is his arm nerved for the battle? What obstacles so great, that he is not ready to encounter? What enemy so inveterate, that he is not ready to meet? His whole soul is fired with fresh and heavenly zeal for the diffusion of the gospel. What commander has any apprehensions of defeat if all his troops are faithful to their trust? The minister fears no enemy, however formidable, if he can enjoy the spiritual presence of Christ, and the hearty co-operation of the church. But let him fail to secure this co-operation, and his energies are relaxed; he is conscious of the honesty of his motives, the divinity of his cause, and the certainty of final triumph - yet he hesitates to advance; he feels that on earth he is alone; he looks before him and there stand the opposing forces, skilfully marshaled and ready for the encounter; he looks around him and sees the friends of Christ abandoning their posts, and unwilling to proceed to the engagement. Oh, how his courage fails! And should he recognize in the ranks of the enemy, his professed friends, his spirits flag and he gives up in comparative despair.
Look at Caesar in the senate chamber at Rome: he contends manfully for his supposed rights; and when pressed by the murderous throng intent on his death, he fights with all the earnestness of one conscious of his integrity; but when recognizing among his enemies, a professed friend - one that had promised him the most cordial support - his spirits gave way, and he gently awaits his destiny: looking steadily at the conspirators, he exclaims "and thou Brutus" - enwraps himself in his cloak, falls and expires. So the minister is ready to meet the attacks of the enemy; but when recognizing among them, those that pledged their sympathy and aid, his courage fails.
See St. Paul on his way to Rome. Assembled with a number of prisoners, who were accused of different crimes, he was going to the tribunal of Nero, by whose sentence he might be deprived of his life. No honor could result from a connection with such a man; and his friends might be involved in trouble and danger, by the suspicion and jealousy of government. But it was the glory of the disciples of Jesus in those early ages, that they were united in the bonds of affection which the severest trials were not able to dissolve, and they gave a co-operation which nothing but death could break up. They did not selfishly and pusillanimously abandon him who was singled out to encounter the hostility which the world entertained against him; they gathered around him in the hour of adversity, to sustain his courage and alleviate his sorrows by their presence and their counsels. And what was the effect, my brethren, of this unexpected visit? What influence did it have on his feelings and subsequent conduct? We read it in the impressive language of him who recorded the event - "that he thanked God and took courage." He was emboldened - his resolutions were confirmed in prospect of the troubles which might befall him at Rome. By the simple presence and approving looks of his brethren, as well as by their exhortations, the great apostle of the Gentiles was sustained in the severest trials of his patience and fortitude.
II. Such co-operation increases the happiness of the churches. This is one of the great purposes for which we are called into being. God is glorified in the rational enjoyment of his intelligent creatures: he delights to see the workmanship of his hands happy. And it is the creed of
the Christian, that while the world presents no sources of substantial and permanent happiness, the service of God opens to the soul innumerable streams of the richest enjoyment. The crystal rills of true pleasure, emanate from the throne of God, in which the Christian allays his thirst and satisfies his cravings: every other delight, is regarded ephemeral; all other objects perishable; but those connected with the destinies of the righteous. This is the economy of God, and is the acknowledged belief of every believer. But it is virtually falsified oftentimes in actual practice. We look too often for the increase of joy by reposing in indolence; while pressed hard by innumerable foes, we rest at ease.
It is the order of heaven, that true happiness is connected with zeal service; that the truly active man, is the truly happy man. And it is with the spiritual as the physical constitution, that health is essential to enjoyment. The weak, the afflicted, cannot, in the nature of things, be joyous. The pressure of disease, dries up every channel of worldly delight. Let then, our corporeal frame become disordered; let our animal functions be suspended for a moment; and the world, with all its charms, will be poor indeed. Hence, it is that the worldling studies to preserve his constitution unimpaired, that he may the more greedily drink in this world's pleasure: and he conceives a proper exercise of his physical energies as essential to the preservation of the animal frame. Laziness, inactivity, will bring on disease, and disease will cut off every communication of worldly pleasure. This is true spiritually. Let our moral constitutions become impaired, and we are ill prepared to enjoy moral pleasures. The gate is closed - the avenue shut up - and nothing but clouds hang with their darkening folds over the horrizon of the soul. I apprehend, my brethren, we have become spiritually sickly, and are unprepared to share the joys of religion. We must preserve pure and unweakened our spiritual constitutions, or there will be the dulness and gloom of disease. Now it is evident, that spiritual activity is the great preservative of spiritual health. An indolent Christian must ever be, from the very laws,of his moral nature, a sickly Christian, and as an inevitable result, an unhappy Christian. I care not how much he may repose on the almightiness and sovereignty of God - in the promise that
the universal jubilee will ere long be proclaimed - that victory is the sure result of the encounter; yet if he is not marshaled himself, what enjoyment can he expect from the spoils of triumph? It is the privilege of the soldier to share in the joys of conquest. Look at the history of the church for numerous illustrations of this truth. In what age do you find the churches most happy? When they have been supine and slothful? When they have been laggards in their Master's service? When they have left the ministers to embattle the hosts of darkness alone? No, no! Look at christians immediately under the teaching of the apostles. How could a community be more happy? When has the air resounded with more rapturous notes, than ascended from the lips of the early saints? And was this an age of sluggishness and ease? No, my brethren - every man who was a friend, showed himself to be such; every one felt that he, as a part of the great posts of the Christian Israel, was the guardian of the most sacred rights in the universe; that he was the almoner of Christ, to distribute peace and quiet throughout a desolate and disordered world; he was, in the strictest sense of the word, active and happy. Then, let the churches seek an increase of spiritual enjoyment, by hearty co-operation with the ministry in pushing forward the victories of Emanuel to universal triumph.
III. Co-operation with the ministry, impresses the world with the seriousness and importance of religion. One object which the church has to accomplish, before her ends are fully secured, is to convince the world that she is in earnest. The salvation of men is a serious work, and the course pursued should be proportionally serious. The world does not call so loudly now for logical disputations; for demonstrations of the divine authority of the Bible; but she does look for the proof of Christian devotedness - of individual consecration. In lieu of this, the men of the world will receive nothing, not even the most convincing arguments and cogent appeals. Give us, say they, practical proof that you yourselves believe, and are in earnest. And to whom do they look for this illustration? To the instructions of the pulpit - to the diffusions of the press? No; but to the lives of individual Christians. Let them see that all the strength of Zion lay in the ministry; let them see no proper union or co-operation between the ministry and the churches; and
they would regard themselves as objects merely to be played and sported with.
What do you suppose would be the feelings of a vast and powerful military force, when seeing a few officers approaching to make an attack? There pity and derision would be excited at men who would rashly invade the territory of an enemy, and make battle, without having first secured proper discipline and co-operation between the various posts and sections. And as an army becomes powerful, as its posts act in concert; so would it be with the Christian church. The world would not long be left to speculate and wonder. Men would find that the pulpit, was sustained by a mighty host - that Christians were standing close at the side of their standard-bearers, resolved to conquer or to die. The Spirit himself would be their leader - his sword, the weapon they employed - his inspirations animating them to the fight, and his power crowning them with success. The enemies of the Redeemer would resolve such a co-operation into a heavenly cause, and feel that religion was from above. Scenes of apostolic triumph would be witnessed afresh, and Jesus would see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied.
IV. Such co-operation sustains and elevates our denominational respectability. It is the glory of our communion, that it has always opposed the combination of civil and religious associations. And we have no hesitancy in affirming, that it has never yet symbolized with any political power. "My kingdom is not of this world," is an inscription which stands boldly and plainly out. And while we have stood aloof, and asked not for State power or State sympathy; we have professedly kept in view, the policy established by the legislator of the Christian church. We have contended for, and maintained, church independency. We bow to no spiritual hierarchy - to no established priesthood - no popish dictations, and to no universal church domination. Ours is a community of believers, brought into social compact, by conformity to ordinances established by the Head of the church. His instructions form our statute book - his authority is invariably paramount. No power is lodged in the ministry to institute laws, and demand conformity to them; it is for them to preach - to interpret laws already given - and not to legislate. Our church is emphatically an independent body. And in all the essential features of our organization,
is recognized the model prescribed in the New Testament. Even Lulher, and Melancthon, and Calvin, and Mosheim, and Neander, and Archbishop Whately, testify, that our principles and ordinances are those of the primitive churches. The voluntary principle which pervades our churches, while opposed to the oppression of dictatorial authority, is consistent with the spirit and genius of christianity. All that come into our ranks, come there with full and free hearts. This, my brethren, is our acknowledged policy.
Now, it will be seen that such a form of church organization, implies the hearty concurrence of all connected, in carrying forward the design of the compact. All necessarily have something to do. No one surrenders his rights to an appointed priest. No one hails another as his father-in-god. All are elevated to the same spiritual platform, where they are to stand shouldei to shouldei in fighting the battles of the Lord. This is our theory. This is the glory of our church.
But when the ministers are left alone; when they step forward, unaccompanied by their brethren to engage in the salvation of sinners; there is a practical denial of our policy. We become virtually an establishment, where the care of the soul is thrown into the bosom of the clergy. And follow this course to its legitimate end, and we should see some vast, encroaching and domineering hierarchy, standing forth as the vice-gerent of God himself. Let not the minister be elevated above the post assigned him by Christ and the church - nor let him be depressed below his appropriate level. Let us stand closely with him in all his toils - commiserate him in all his afflictions - sustain a portion of his load - "become fellow-helpers to the truth" - then will the glorious independency of our chuiches stand out, challenging the respect and admiration of the world.
In conclusion, my brethren, how abundant are the encouragements to animate you to a more ready and efficient co-operation with your ministers. You are engaged in a contest which must end in victory. Christianity is destined to triumph. Its history is replete with facts indicative of the eventual prevalence of pure religion. And it is with thrilling delight, that we can to-day look back on the past achievements of the gospel. Look at the standard of Christ, as first raised by the early Christians. See Rome, the great
metropolis of the world - earth's master and tyrant - falling prostrate before it. Nor Goth, nor Vandal could slay its progress. Nor even Nero, bent on obliterating every vestige of religion from the face of society, could kindle fire hot enough to burn up the energies of the church. Nor could the various implements of torture and death daunt the Christian heart. The philosophic infidel has toiled in vain to subvert the foundations of the church - to overthrow the majestic pillars of Zion - and the shafts of the satirist have fallen powerless from her adamantine shield. The hostility of earth has marshaled every power, in every possible form, and yet she has stood. When we see the idols of Ephesus, of Athens, and of the Pantheon crumbling at the approach of Christ - can we apprehend that the powers now at work can undermine the institutions of Jesus, and overthrow our religion. When we have seen philosophers, and poets, historians and statesmen, all directing their energies to destroy us, and have seen them retire from their deeds of darkness, defeated and ashamed, shall we not feel encouraged by the success of the past and the prospects of the future?
1. Look at the rapid progress of the gospel in our own land, within a few years. We have seen revivals of religion multiplied; the progress of the Redeemer's cause advanced, seemingly over every obstruction, until the whole country was alive to its interests. In our own borders, within the precincts of our own Association, how constant have been the triumphs of the cross? A few years ago, and you numbered but a few hundred. Many of them were dispirited and inefficient. But now look! How vast this assembly of delegates! How thronged are now our meetings for business! How many prompt to take manfully the post assigned them by the Captain of salvation. Let us here, my brethren, raise afresh Ebenezer and proclaim: "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." Let our past success move us to more vigorous and united efforts for the still further diffusion of the gospel among us. Let us embody a light, whose brightness shall irradiate the gloom of thousands, who are now involved in all the darkness of moral night.
2. But while eventual success is certain, we have now approached a period in the history of our Association, which calls for prompt and efficient action. The tone of piety has undergone an essential change. The characteristic of
the religion of the present day is inconstancy. That which was once steady and uniform, has become fitful and impulsive. And instead of the regular and persevering effort bent on success, we see the periodical development of Christian energy. We have evidently fallen upon times of peculiar change. Our yearly or stated meetings, now seem to offer the only occasion for strong and united labors for the accomplishment of good. The ordinary assembly presents a theatre too contracted to command our attention and to inflame our zeal. Nothing short of a great occasion can arouse our energies and nerve us for the contest. Our mode of operation must assume more uniformity. Instead of making a desperate onset, once a year in the great congregation, we should feel the importance of steady effort. Let us proclaim no truce. Every moment should be devoted in some way, to the extirpation of sin and the advancement of our cause.
There has been on our part, my brethren, a too great conformity to the spirit of the times. This is, undoubtedly, an age of novelty, innovation and excitement. Every thing must be carried by storm - and when that subsides, there is a calm which too closely resembles the stillness of death.
In addition to the fitful character of our efforts, is the peculiar adroitness and management of our adversaries. Our churches have assembled to-day, through their respective delegates, to relate their progress during the past year. But, my brethren, how megre are our reports. We are again reminded of the inveterate hostility of the human heart against the truth, and the constant effort of resisting the Spirit's influence. We must meet this crisis by bolder, and stronger, and more persevering efforts. O! let us here, in this consecrated place, resolve afresh, that our light shall no longer be the unsteady flickering of a dying taper; but the constant and uniform brilliancy of a guiding star.
Brethren, what we do to promote the interests of society, must be done quickly. Look over this audience - how numerous are the habiliments of mourning! Death has invaded our Zion and has thinned the ranks of the sacramental host. Who of us may, at the next anniversary, be found lying in our resting-places, is an event known only to God. The angel of death may already have been commissioned from on high, to enter our dwellings, to spread forth his
unsparing desolations! God grant, that we may be found battling with the enemies of darkness and fall honorably in the field. May it be said of us:
"The pains of death are past;
Labor and sorrow cease;
And life's long warfare closed at last,
Our souls are found in peace.
Soldiers of Christ, well done;
Praise be thy new employ;
And while eternal ages run,
Rest in thy Saviour's joy."
3. Brethren in the ministry, let us act worthy the confidence and co-operation of the churches. We sometimes complain of desertion, while perhaps, there are elements in our own bosoms which quickly repel the sympathy and aid of brethren. We may oftentimes merit their censure, rather than their praise. We, who are bearers of the ark, should see to it, that we never hold it with unhallowed touch. Let us appreciate the dignity of our calling. We are engaged in no mean seivice. Our work is intimately associated with ends of incalculable worth. We are soldiers; but we are soldiers of the cross. We are fishers; but we are fishers of men. God has stamped the pulpit with the highest honor. Although we are in ourselves insignificant, yet, as connected with our office, we occupy the most elevated sphere. Here is a piece of blank paper, of no value in itself, but by an impression of the commonwealth is converted into a bank-note, and becomes current for a thousand dollars. See Raphael, with his scroll of canvass, of which the weaver thought nothing, and the seller nothing, but throwing down upon it his immortal tints, made it the object of the world's admiration. And thus our office rises into greatness, as it has affixed to it the divine seal of heaven; the soul of man for its subject; and eternity for its aim. Here is an employment too high and holy, to allow the existence of unholy passions. Here is a calling too dignified, to permit us to condescend to weakness and sin.
My brethren, let no feelings of jealousy interrupt the harmony of our brotherhood. We have all to contend, more or less, with the secret workings of pride. Aspire to be clothed with humility. O may we never be found thirsting for human applause, - pursuing a trimming policy, designed to
please the world, - trumpeting our own fame and vaunting parade of our own success. Let us be found enquiring, not "who shall be the greatest? who shall stand upon the highest pinnacle of the temple? but who shall be most lovely - most like Christ - the least in the kingdom? Let humility, as a rich and ample robe, envelope the entire man - veiling his intellectual powers, - his varied acquirements, - his self-denying and successful efforts, from the too intense and admiring gaze of the human eye; and presenting to view, only those features which shew the emptiness and nothingness of the creature, while God is glorified and praised."
Dear brethren, yet a little while and our work is done. The dying are perpetually around us. They listen to our appeals. We meet them at every turn. If they are saved, the work of reformation must quickly commence. We too must die. We are from eternity; for it we live; of it we testify; and to its grand realities are we rapidly passing. Our kindred are already there. The former occupants of our pews are there. Ears that were once open to the voice of our teachings, are now filled with the music of the seraphim, or thrill with the groans of the damned. Eyes that gazed into ours as we looked down from our pulpits, have aheady seen the Judge of all.
O let us review the history of our ministry! Perhaps the stain of blood - blood - the blood of souls, is lying upon our neglected and deserted altars; upon the floors of our pulpits; and in our addresses. O may we wipe it off with the tears of penitence; while we bathe afresh in the blood of atonement. Let us rely on the aid of the Spirit, - on the guidance of Christ, and advance to the work. Let the prospects which gild the future cheer and animate us for the toil. While we may be pressed down with a sense of our own nothingness and insufficiency, let us look up and catch the notes of the redeemed around the throne, and see the crown of gold and palm of victory gleaming in the distance. And may we all, after the morning of the resurrection, who have labored as "fellow-helpers to the truth," join together in the triumphant song - "Thou art worthy, for thou wast slain, and has redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God, kings and priests; and we shall reign forever end ever."
[From The Baptist Preacher, December, 1845. No. 12, pp. 237-260. Document from Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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