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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From The Baptist Reporter, 1851
No thinking Christian can reflect on the aspect of the primitive church, and that of Christian churches generally at the present day, without being constrained to acknowledge that a vast difference is observable.
It must be acknowledged that there is not now that rapid multiplication of members by which the primitive church was characterized; believers are not now added to the church so frequently, or in such great numbers, as they were in primitive times. Then, "the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" Then, multitudes were simultaneously awakened and convicted, and cried out in the self-abasement of contrition, "What shall we do?" But alas! how very seldom do we hear this exclamation now.
What an astonishment would it be to us, if, in a congregation of five or six hundred, fifty or a hundred should start up, and in the keen of conviction exclaim, "What must we do to be saved ?" We should be overwhelmed with wonder! We are so accustomed to see week after week pass by without witnessing the conversion of souls to God, that we do not even expect that success, which, according to the word of God, we ought to expect.
It is true there are some pleasing instances of success. We have read of the rapid conversion of the South Sea Islanders, through the instrumentality of the beloved John Williams and his coadjutors. We have heard of William Knibb and his devoted band going forth among the Negroes of Jamaica, proclaiming the glad tidings of salvation, waving the banner of the cross, wielding the sword of the Spirit, and numbering up their converts by thousands.
But these successes, so far from being, as they ought to be, specimens of what is being achieved by the instrumentality of the churches of Christ generally, only remind us more powerfully of our own barrenness; and bring out in more striking contrast that apathy and deadness, under whose withering influence exertion is checked, the efficacy of prayer is paralyzed, the Spirit is grieved, and our fellow-men pass into eternity carrying to the bar of Omnipotence the appalling testimony, "No man cared for my soul."
Now, there must be some cause of that vast difference which is found between the increase of the primitive church and the increase at the present day. And it behooves us, as men surrounded with thousands of our fellow travelers to the same eternity, as servants of the living God, called to be witnesses for God, as disciples of Jesus, set by him to be the lights of the world, to point to men the path of life as Christians professing to believe that the religion of the gospel alone can save immortal souls from hell.
It behooves us seriously, searchingly, and faithfully, to inquire into the cause of that state of things under which the influence exerted is but just sufficient to keep up the number of our members, instead of going forth in the strength of the Lord, conquering and to conquer, and rapidly enrolling our fellowmen under the banner of the cross.
Let us prove our own selves, let us know our own selves; and if the conviction should be forced upon us that the cause is in us, let us beware of resisting the conviction, let us cherish it, let us yield to it, that we may be led to the adoption of such means, as, by the divine blessing, may conduct to a better state of things.
The extension of religion depends upon the influence of the Holy Spirit, and the instrumentality of men, the power of God, and the exertions of men. Hence Christians are said to be "co-workers with God."
This fact is clearly apparent in the writings of the apostles. "I have planted," said Paul, "Apollos watered, God gave the increase." "The weapons of our warfare are mighty through God." Now, if religion does not extend, if the work of conversion lingers, the cause must be either in God or ourselves. The grand instrument of conversion, the gospel,is the same now as it ever has been, "the word of the Lord abideth for ever; and this is the word which, by the gospel, is preached unto you."
The gospel is the same, and the essential elements of human character upon which this gospel is to act, are always and everywhere the same. Why then is success so small? Why are conversions so few? Has not God sworn by himself that he has no pleasure in the death of any man? Has not Christ made an atonement for human guilt? Has not God commanded that, upon the basis of that atonement, an offer of salvation should be made to every creature?
Would it not then be an impeachment of his consistency, of his sincerity, to refer to Him the cause why more than twenty millions of immortal souls are every year passing to their eternal doom without the knowledge of a Saviour?
We cannot adopt such a conclusion without manifest irreverence towards the great, the good, the holy God. "Let God be true, but every man a liar." But some will refer to the divine sovereignty, and say that God is a Sovereign, he acts as lie pleases, he acts how he pleases, when he pleases, and by whom he pleases. We do not for a moment question the supremacy of God. He sits on the circle of the heavens, sways his scepter over the whole moral universe, and "worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will." But he does not effect the purposes of the gospel dispensation by arbitrary acts of power, unconnected with human instrumentality.
Every intelligent Christian knows, or ought to know, that God has made arrangements for the extension of religion in his infinite wisdom and goodness, he has laid down a plan of operations: that plan is exactly adapted to the wants of the world; and we know that he does not revoke or relinquish what he has once announced as his established rule of operation. "He is a rock; his work is perfect." "The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever; the thought of his heart to all generations."
Having announced his purpose and prescribed the means to be employed, if that purpose is not accomplished, the failure is not to be referred to the will or sovereignty of God, but to those on whom devolves the obligation of carrying out his plans, and employing the means for the accomplishment of his designs.
Here then we come to the only alternative: if the cause is not in God, it must be in ourselves. We know that this view of the subject is deeply humbling and self-abasing; and may be unwelcome to all, and resisted by some: our pride of heart and self-complacency rise up against it.
But whatever reproach and self-condemnation it may reflect upon our character; whatever may be the blame in which it involves us, we must examine it. Even the suspicion that we have been unfaithful in using the means which God has put under our control, ought to awaken us to self-examination.
But it is not a mere suspicion, it is a fact, that we have not aspired to the just standard of our duty as "lights of the world", that we have not aspired to the true dignity of our calling as "witnesses for God", that we have not faithfully complied with the Divine arrangement, and fulfilled the indispensable conditions of Divine wisdom and goodness.
Have we reason to believe that a more faithful use of the means which God has placed in our hands will be followed by greater prosperity and more extensive success? We answer, Yes! unhesitatingly, Yes! The right use of the appropriate means will secure the appointed end. The means which God has enjoined for the promotion, and revival, and extension of religion, doubtless have a natural tendency to effect this object, otherwise He would not have enjoined them.
And if the facts in connection with this subject could be known, it perhaps would be found that when the appointed means have been rightly used, spiritual blessings have been obtained with as great certainty and uniformity as in temporal ones: if not more so. This very fact was urged by the Apostle Paul on the Christians at Corinth as a stimulus to exertion. "Therefore, my beloved brethren be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; forasmuch, as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."
There is an abundance of facts to support the position, that a faithful and zealous use of the appointed means will be followed by great prosperity and extensive success. Look at Whitefield. It is probable that more than 20,000 souls were turned from darkness to light through his instrumentality. Scores, and frequently hundreds, were converted under a single sermon. But we can refer to more recent times.
Look at the success of the Baptist Mission in Jamaica. There were, in 1840, twenty-six Baptist missionaries in Jamaica. And what was the number baptized in connection with these twenty-six missionaries and their churches in one year? In the year 1840 these faithful and zealous men baptized and added to the church 4,684 souls. Yes, 4,684 in one year! William Knibb, the pious and zealous leader of the faithful band, stated at a public meeting in London, that he, with his own right hand, had thus given admission to thousands into the church of God. Happy men!
How resplendently will they shine forth in the kingdom of their Father! For "they that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever." How rapturous was the shout, how ecstatic the welcome, how deafening the plaudit, when the indefatigable Knibb entered through the gates into the heavenly city! And how did the acclamations of the blood-washed throng resound through the mansions of glory, when the King of kings placed on his head the immortal crown, and proclaimed his approbation?"Well done good and faithful servant!"
Multitudes of cases might be mentioned in which the happiest results have followed the zealous, active, employment of appropriate means for the revival and extension of religion. God has not left himself without witness of his faithfulness. And if we have not, it is "because we ask not, or because we ask amiss."
Let us arise and help forward the work, and the God of heaven he will prosper us. "Let Zion arise and put on her strength, and the Lord will appear in his glory, he will roll away the reproach of his people; then shall the righteousness of Zion go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth," and "the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord."
It will be perceived that we have spoken of the subject of human instrumentality in general terms, as well as of divine power, without adverting to any particulars: this has been done designedly; our object being to bring the general subject before you. But enough has been said to furnish us at least with cause for serious self examination.
And now, WE POINTEDLY APPEAL TO EVERY MEMBER OF THE BAPTIST DENOMINATION? in the name of Him who has said that he "will have all men to be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth". In the name of that blessed Saviour whose servants we profess to be, and who "by the grace of God tasted death for every man," in the name of perishing souls, whom we may be instrumental in snatching as brands from the eternal burning?
Friends, Brothers, Sisters, we ask, we entreat you to give this subject your serious and prayerful attention. Oh, remember the momentous consequences that are involved in it. Christian parents, think of your children, and remember that their eternal welfare is concerned. Christian children, think of your unconverted parents, and remember that the everlasting happiness of your father or mother is concerned.
Christians, think of your ungodly neighbours, and remember that their eternal interests are concerned. Think of that blessed Saviour who wept tears of agony over perishing souls, who sweat drops of blood while carrying our sorrows, who poured out his soul unto death to save a dying world. Think of Him, and remember that the prosperity of His cause, the honour of His character, the glory of His name is concerned. In the mean time, allow us to urge upon you the observance of these five particulars:
1. Carefully avoid everything in your conversation and conduct that would cause the way of truth to be evil spoken of.
2. Do all you can to promote brotherly love among yourselves.
3. Be ready in earnest in endeavouring to bring souls to Christ.
4. Pray frequently, fervently, and believingly, for the outpouring of the Spirit.
5. Exercise strong, unwavering faith in the power and faithfulness of God. Labour, as if everything depended upon your efforts, and pray, as if everything depended upon God.