The season invites to renewal of spiritual life. It suggests freshness and awakening. As there was of old a time when kings went forth to battle, so are there periods when to gird up our loins anew is the order of the day.
The furnishing of the armor, and the sharpening of the sword, are the duties now incumbent. Let the year of grace, 1870, be to us all a year of greater consecration, and more incessantly indefatigable effort for the great cause and kingdom of the Lord Jesus. To achieve this it will -be most helpful to begin the year well, and to do this there must he holy resolve, and a settling of the whole soul to the work.
Being debarred from serving the Lord by my own public ministry, it has been laid upon my heart to endeavor to stir up my brother ministers to use increased diligence while they are permitted the great pleasure and privilege of preaching the word. It is a hard trial to be laid aside, and harder still if the heart he pierced with regrets for opportunities unimproved when health was in possession. That you may never know such poignant sorrows is my earnest wish, and to help in that end I ask leave to address a few words to you. I pray that every syllable I write may be approved of God, and may be by the Holy Ghost rendered serviceable to you.
It has struck me painfully, that for some little time a somewhat listless spirit has fallen upon many of the churches, and perhaps upon the ministers. A short time ago we heard more of special services, revival meetings, and aggressive efforts upon the world than we do at present; perhaps these may still be in full and vigorous operation among your people, but in many places it is not so; the pace of holy work has slackened, and the church is falling back into that dreary routine which is easily reached and is so hard to escape. Nothing is more dreadful than stagnation, even heresy is not more deadly in its consequences. Sleep at the hour of battle would prove as disastrous to an army as the most deadly artillery. The spiritual morphia with which some churches appear to be drugged and drenched is for all practical purposes as injurious as the poison of infidelity. A church whose religion is mechanical and whose zeal is non-existent may soon become a nuisance but is never a blessing.
It may be a desponding fancy of a sick man, but my fear is, that we are many of us relaxing in our efforts for soul winning. We are not so bad as we were, but still we are declining from the proper temperature of zeal.
Meanwhile our direst enemies, the Romanising Anglicans, have taken up the weapons which we have laid aside, and are making most ostentatious, and it is to be feared most successful, use of them. They are evidently wise in their generation, for they not only borrow from Rome, but they copy from us, as their late season of special services clearly testifies. Blending’ a little precious gospel truth with their thrice accursed sacramentarianism, and disguising their popery with evangelical phraseology, these wolves of Antichrist have worn the clothing of the sheep to serve their crafty ends.
Is this permitted by our Lord to irritate us to a renewed activity? Does he thus chide us by causing us to see how others burn with zeal, and in their ardor compass sea and land to make proselytes? Does he not say to us, “Behold how these men are quick to adopt all methods; are ye, my servants, dull of understanding?”
Allow me, beloved friends, to urge upon you, with all affection, the adoption of special means for the conversion of your congregations.
Despite the mischief done by wild excitement, there can be no question that the Holy Spirit does very graciously bless means prayerfully adopted by his servants, for arousing the church and ingathering sinners. Many pastors can bear witness, that persons who have remained undecided under their ordinary addresses, have been led to surrender their hearts to Jesus, at a special meeting where exhortation, persuasion, and instruction were all aimed at the seeker’s spiritual good. If God had but blessed such services in the smallest degree we ought to repeat them, but as he has in many eases eminently smiled upon them, our duty is dear as the sun.
Will you not then, if you have hitherto omitted to do so, give serious heed to the suggestion that you should hold a series of services for calling in the careless population around you, and for leading to decision, under the power of the Holy Spirit, those who have heard in vain? To secure the ear of the outside world let all means be used. If men will not come into our chapels, let earnest services be held out of doors, or in halls, barns, or theaters, or wherever else the people will come. Every church should have its mission beyond itself upon some neutral ground for a week or two at least at this season. Were this done by every church, what a vast extent of new ground would at once be broken up! and be it ever remembered that virgin soft always bears the most luxuriant crop.
Our congregations are like moors that have been shot over till little game remains, but the outside masses are like unbroken covers where every shot will have its reward. Let our members be exhorted to assist us in drawing in the outlying multitude to hear the gospel. Let them hold cottage meetings, tea meetings, and other gatherings, which they may be qualified to arrange or assist in conducting. To win attention from our neighbors it may be in some eases best to bring in other preachers to give interest to the services. Certain individuals, whose gifts are of a special character, are better adapted for evangelising and exhortation than the best of pastors may be; we ought to feel no difficulty in accepting the aid of such brethren. A new voice may attract ears that have grown dull of hearing under us. An exchange with a trusty brother may be good for both congregations and both preachers.
We would by any means save some, and therefore no stone should be left unturned.
No personal vanity or jealous fear must prevent our accepting the aid of brethren whose adaptation to evangelising work may exceed our own. Who are we that our standing in the church should be of such consequence as to be preserved at the expense of souls? If men are but saved what matters it whether we be highly esteemed or little set by? I trust we are any or all of us willing to be made as the mire of the streets if the Lord Jesus may but have a glorious high throne in the hearts of the sons of men.
Certain of the performances of the late Ritualistic mimicry of dissent were singularly ridiculous. The candle business was enough to excite the derision of every sane man, and certain other tomfooleries were equally idiotic; they may serve as a caution to those eager but imprudent spirits in our own ranks who hope to gain the popular ear by advertising slang titles of sermons, and to impress the heart by mere rant and declamation. Solid Bible doctrine, with sober faithful utterance, will succeed better than all the claptrap and cushion~ thumping of zealots. We want nothing vulgar, nothing theatrical, nothing in the Bombastes Furioso vein, in order to achieve success. The Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, eusured in all his plenitude of grace by the earnest entrearies of the church and the intercession of her Covenant Head, is our strength and pledge of victory: we dare not condescend to use unauthorised weapons when those appointed by the King himself are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.
My dear brethren, how soon shall we be laid aside from our work, and that for ever! Few and golden are the hours in which we may manifest our loving anxiety for our hearers’ souls. Our grave is preparing. Is our work done? If mine be accomplished, I tremble as I think how poverty-stricken my life has been, compared to my opportunities; and I pray to have my years lengthened, that I may render a better account of my stewardship.
Your own feelings are much the same, and the more diligent you have been, the more surely will such confessions be made. None are content with themselves but those who ought to be ashamed. Alas! we have been unprofitable servants, and deserve to be dismissed the royal service. Let us not allow our reflections to evaporate in mere regret, but let us, in the fear of God, seek to be more diligent in the future.
Meanwhile, if we loiter, death does not; our hearers are perishing before our eyes; and the millions are passing into eternal misery (yes, my brethren, we dare believe no less than eternal misery) as fast as time can bear them.
Impelled by the love which brought our Master from his throne, and made him a sacrifice for men, let us bestir ourselves. To us has he committed the word of reconciliation. We are ambassadors for Christ. Let us not bring contempt upon our office and reproach upon the gospel by a want of zeal; let us rather, by the good Spirit of the Lord, resolve to be instant in season and out of season. Our private prayers, my brethren, must be more frequent and fervent’. Could we not, as united in the one family in heaven and earth, enter into a brotherly compact to mention each other in our prayers at least once every day? Could not the months of January and February be specially marked by our reminding our people of our brethren in the ministry, both at home and abroad, and pressing upon them the peculiar needs of ministers, that they may join their prayers with ours that all the bishops, evangelists, and deacons of our churches may be thoroughly furnished unto every good work? The next three months would be a season to be remembered, if there should be unusual activity in all our churches, and prevalent intercession from all our members.
Brethren, what doth hinder us from receiving a great blessing? We are not straitened in God, let us not be straitened in our own bowels. For the love of our Lord Jesus, and the honor of his name, let us plead, and labor, and agonise, and believe, and the blessing will come, it shall not tarry.
Receive assurances of my purest and warmest love, pardon my forwardness in thus addressing you, and believe me ever to be your Brother and Servant for Jesus’ sake,
THE SWORD AND THE TROWEL – JANUARY, 1870