« FöregåendeFortsätt »
beaver: but individuals exulting in the consciousness of freedom; indulging in their own plans, and fired with their own aspirations ; fettered by no improper restraints; walking in the light which their own genius has kindled, and yet in their freedom contributing to all that is noble, and grand, and progressive in society.
There is, secondly, in accordance with these laws, and under these arrangements, the utmost made that is possible of the labors of the individual. He accomplishes most, and works to best advantage, when he is in his own sphere as God has placed and designed him. In the days of Nehemiah, when they built the walls of the city, the work went on and was completed, because every one “repaired over against his own house,” and “over against his chamber,” Neh. iii. 28, 30. In an army, the battle is secured not by fighting in disorder, or by forming new combinations, at the pleasure of the soldiers, but because each man contends in his appropriate place. The result, whatever glory there may be, is always the effect of the labors of individuals in their own places, and according to the measure of their talents and skill. Look over our country. It is studded over with cities, and towns, and villages, and smiling fields of harvest. It is penetrated with turnpikes, and railroads, and canals. Its lakes and rivers are covered with steamboats, and with the evidences of an extended commerce. Its great rivers are crossed on bridges; their falls are ascended by locks; their obstructed channels are cleared out; their shallow places are deepened. The sound of the loom and the mill is everywhere heard in the land. Once all this was an unbroken forest; no cities or towns were here; there were no railroads, bridges, or canals; no vessel, save the bark canoe, had ever pressed the bosoms of these lakes and streams. What we see now is the result of innumerable indiviaual blows of the axeman in levelling the forests; of the labors of innumerable masons and carpenters in building our cities; of innumerable diggers of our canals; of great multitudes of farmers cultivating their own lands, as if there were but one farm on the earth to be ploughed, and fenced, and sown. The looms and spindles of the land are individual things, and there are individual minds that attend to them. All this ag. gregate of beauty and of wealth exists because there are an innumerable number of operatives, each minding his own business, and each, perhaps unconsciously, contributing to the beauty of the whole—as the individual rose on the prairie contributes its own part to the beauty of the whole.
Under these arrangements, and by these laws, there is a third thing which demands a somewhat more extended illustration. It is, that while the individual necessarily occupies this important place in society according to the arrangements of our Maker, there is a field left for voluntary combination of all sorts for good. This leads me directly to the
III. Third point, which I proposed to consider—the place which
the individual may voluntarily occupy in promoting the cause of religion. A good man in the sphere in which Providence places him, should he never make any voluntary effort to go out of that sphere, cannot but do good, for there is an unconscious and undesigned influence in favor of virtue which every such man exerts, and which is of inestimable value to the cause of truth. The world could not do without this, and no good man can possibly live in vain, unless he withdraws himself to a cave or a dungeon. A consistent Christian father, mother, son, brother, merchant, neighbor, lawyer, farmer, cannot but do good by an example of virtue and piety, and by the discharge of the duties to which these natural relations give rise; though he may not be doing all the good which he might do if he would combine his influence more with others. For, there is a higher and more decisive good of a voluntary kind which can be done without disregarding any of these relations, or impairing at all this involuntary influence on the world. In the course of thought pursued thus far in this discourse, I have considered the former of these influences; I shall now proceed, in what remains of the discourse, to illustrate the latter—the place which the individual may voluntarily occupy in promoting the cause of religion. I refer now particularly to Christians; and in illustrating this part of my subject, it will be natural to notice the slight sense of personal obligation felt in general by professed Christians; and then to consider the place which the individual Christian may and should voluntarily occupy.
1. First, the slight sense of personal obligation among Christians. I mean by this, that there are large numbers in the Christian churches who have only the feeblest conviction, if they have any, of obligation to make direct personal efforts to promote the common cause ; and that the responsibility of maintaining and carrying forward religion in the world in the more direct, and self-denying, and voluntary efforts, is devolved on others. A few brief illustrations here will show what I particularly wish to get before your minds. First, there is a feeling that the ministers of the gospel should be peculiarly holy, and self-denying, and dead to the worid-dead to its pleasures, its gains, its ambition, far more than others. And yet, will any one point me to a place in the New Testament which requires ministers of the gospel to be more devoted to the work of their Master than other Christians; or to any precept or permission which would make that to be right in you which is wrong in us? Second, there is a prevalent feeling that the missionary to the heathen should be more deeply imbued with the spirit of the Lord Jesus, and with the principles of voluntary benevolence, than other men ; that he should be more willing to take up his cross, and to traverse pathless sands, or go through driving snows to do good; that he, with almost no advantages for the cultivation of the graces of the spirit in a heathen land-a land without Sabbaths and sanc. tuaries, and Christian fellowship--should be more holy than we who in a Christian land enjoy in rich abundance all the means of grace. But will any one point to the place in the New Testament which shows that there is to be one standard of holiness and selfdenial for him; another for you and me? Third, there is a feeling connected with that just adverted to, that private members of the church may do that which it would be highly inconsistent and improper for ministers of the gospel to do; that they may train up their families in a different manner; that they may engage in other forms of amusement; and that they may cherish and manifest a spirit of worldliness which would be wholly improper in their Christian pastor. But where in the New Testament will any statement be found which, in regard to amusement, and conversation, and general manner of life, makes a distinction between a pastor and any of the members of his flock? Fourth, there is a feeble sense, on the great body of professed Christians, of personal respon. sibility in regard to the institutions and duties of religion. I allude to the slight impression among many private members of the church, that any portion of the responsibility rests on them, or that they have anything more to do than to render the most general countenance in favor of religion. How few are they in any church who feel the responsibility of laboring for the conversion of sinners, as a specific thing to be done! How few are they who feel any responsibility for keeping up meetings for social prayer! How few are they, who among those who are well qualified, who feel under obligation to engage in sabbath school instruction. How few are they, and even among those who will not refuse to contribute to the object when applied to, who feel under personal obligation to originate any movement for the promotion of the objects of Christian benerolence, or to be the well-known and efficient patrons of the institutions which contemplate the conversion of the world! On the minds of the few these obligations are deeply, and permanently felt; on the mass even of professed Christians, it is feared, they are not felt; by the mass certainly they are not regarded.
2. I will proceed, then, to show the place which the individual Christian may occupy, and should occupy in the promotion of the cause of religion. The statement must be a brief one. .
First, every professing Christian, with whatever denomination he may be connected, bears a portion of the honor and the responsibility of religion in the world. He is a part of that total church which the Saviour came to redeem, and which is declared by him to be “the light of the world, and the salt of the earth,” and to which he has issued the commandment to "preach the gospel to every creature.” Whatever there is of honor, of purity, of truth, of respectability, in that church, is in part intrusted to his handsas to each freeman in a republic is committed a portion of the honor · of his country; to each soldier in an army a portion of the honor of her flag. When he became a member of that church, by the very nature of the transaction, a portion of its honor was intrusted
to him; and by the same transaction he assumed a portion of its responsibility. In his profession of religion, he identified himself with the Lord Jesus, and with his cause. He left the community of the "world," and united himself with the fraternity of Christians. He abandoned, of choice, the associations where amusement, and wealth, and vanity, and pleasure are all that is sought, for that community where religion is primary, and where men bind themselves to live unto God. He left the abodes of sensuality and of song; came out of the halls where are music and dancing; forsook the “tents of wickedness," and voluntarily entered the temple over whose doors is inscribed “holiness to the Lord," and became a dweller in that city—the holy city of Zion-whose “walls are salvation, and whose gates are praise." I say, he did it of choice. No man forced him to do it. Nor father, nor mother, nor pastor, nor friend, nor foe, compelled him to become a member of the Christian church. It was among the most free acts of his life, in many instances among the most deliberate and carefully weighed. In many cases it was the result of warm gushing emotion; in all it was the result of choice, when he came and pledged himself over the sacred emblems of the body and blood of Christ to lead a holy life. Now, into such a community, what right has any one to bring a worldly spirit ? Why should any one voluntarily enter into such an association only to live to himself? What right has he to withdraw from his brethren ; to spread around him the måxims and feelings which pertain to the world; to refuse to co-operate with those who are endeavoring to maintain the common cause? How can he forgot, moreover, that there is always a part of the world which will form their idea of the nature of religion from the conduct of the private members of the church? They form it not from the Bible ; for many never read the Bible. They form it not from what is stated in the pulpit; for many never enter the sanctuary, and if they do, they say that religion is not what is taught, but what it is seen to be in the lives of its friends. They form it not wholly from the lives of the ministers of the gospel, for they say that preachers are professionally holy, and that it is their business to be religious; and perhaps they may charitably add that they are paid for it, and that their very living depends on it. They form not their views of religion from the lives and deaths of the martyrs. Many of these have never heard the names of the martyrs, and the world cares little how Ignatius and Cranmer felt at the stake. But they form their impressions of the nature of religion from the lives of the individual members of the church-their honesty, and integrity, and fidelity; their temper, and their consistent zeal in that noble cause which they have voluntarily embraced, and judge of religion by what they see there.
Second. Every Christian has facilities for doing something in the cause of the Redeemer which no other one has, and his individual influence and talent is demanded in that cause. A father has an
influence over the little circle where he presides, which no other man can have; and that influence, if he is a Christian, belongs to Christ, and is that on which he much relies for the promotion of his cause in the world. A mother has an influence within that narrow but sacred enclosure, which is as valuable and controlling as it is interesting and tender. No artificial forms of society can create it elsewhere; no law, no fashion, no art. That too belongs to Christ. So the physician; so the teacher; so the magistrate; so the elo. quent advocate; so he who has been trained in the schools of learning ; so he who is endowed with eminent gifts by his Maker. There is an influence which each man possesses which is of value to the cause of virtue and religion; and that individual influence the Redeemer claims in its proper sphere as his, to be employed in the promotion of his cause in the world. On any one man, in proportion to his ability, the claim is as imperative as on another; and the fact that you have any peculiar facility for doing good imposes the obligation so to employ it. And the work which you are to do need not be that which amazes the world by the eloquence of a Massillon or a Whitfield; not that which lays the foundation of undying fame by the reasoning powers of an Edwards ; not that which moves nations, and effects a sudden change in human affairs by such mighty efforts as those of Luther or Knox; not that which produces a new and enduring organization of men like the far-seeing sagacity and the piety of Wesley. It may be the noiseless and unobtrusive daily work of doing your duty in a family, of teaching a class of little children in a Sunday School, of visiting a cottage of poverty and want, of putting quietly a little tract into the hand of a neighbor or a stranger, of going to your closet and there unobserved by men pleading for the salvation of a world.
Third. Success in promoting religion in the world depends on personal and individual effort. There are no armies which secure a victory in the battle-field but such as are made up of individuals : there are no cities, towns, palaces, navies, or bulwarks of war but such as are the work of individuals. The victory of Nelson at Trafalgar depended, perhaps, more than on anything else, on the magic power of the watchword of the day, “ England expects every man to do his duty.” “All at work, and always at work,” was the significant and characteristic motto of John Wesley; and to the principle which prompted this, under the divine blessing, can be traced the far-spread and happy results of the labors of the denomination of Christians of which he was the founder. In building the immense coral reefs of the South Seas, each insect assiduously labors while life lasts, and the vast work is done by individual effort. In our own land, these forests have been levelled, and these cities built, and these canals and railroads made, and these farms have opened their bosoms to the sun and rain, and these gardens make the air fragrant, and these ships whiten every sea, because an immense population has been individually at work.