The Baptist Pillar ©      Brandon Bible Baptist Church     1992-Present

"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

The Universal Obligation of Christ’s Disciples to Labor Personally for Him

Francis Wayland

From Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches, 1857

We believe that every individual whom God has called by his grace is under the most solemn and imperative obligations to labor not only indirectly but directly, for the extension of the cause of Christ. No man can be religious, unless he be a religionist. To this work he must consecrate his whole being, and this work he cannot delegate to another.

In this work there are various departments of service, each one having his own gift, one after this manner, and another after that. To suppose Christ to call a man to be his servant, and have nothing for him to do, is absurd. Among these gifts is aptness to teach, or a power bestowed, in different degrees, to address men on the subject of their souls' salvation. On some men this gift is bestowed so largely that they are called to devote their whole time to this service. On others it is less largely bestowed, and these may very properly combine labor in the ministry with some secular pursuit. It is surely sufficiently common for a man to begin with the ministry and end by uniting it with a secular calling ; why may not a man, with equal propriety, commence with a secular calling, and end by combining with it the work of the ministry?

That this is the apostolic plan is, I think, evident to anyone who will candidly read the New Testament. That this view of the ministry is according to the mind of the Spirit is, I think, evident from the success that has attended it wherever it has been adopted, whether in heathen or in Christian lands. It is in vain to say that to adopt these views is to place ourselves in opposition to the public opinion of the world, and of the various denominations of Protestant Christianity.

The opinions and practices of Protestant Christianity are by no means as sure a guide as the precepts and examples of the New Testament. It can scarcely be denied that, at the present moment, Christianity is everywhere losing its hold upon the masses of the population, Our ministry and our houses of worship are becoming the ministry and the houses of worship of the rich and the educated, while the whole body of the people is uncared for and forgotten. Jesus Christ taught us that one of the evidences of his divine mission was that to the poor the gospel was preached. If we do not preach to the poor as well as to the rich, we lose this badge of discipleship. Shall we then follow the example of a declining Christianity, or shall we tread in the footsteps of the Master?

The fact is, if we must speak the truth, almost all our denominations are sinking down into the belief that all the direct work for the conversion of the world is to be done by the ministry; thus making a broad distinction between the clergy and the laity (I use these terms, not because I approve of them, but because they are so much in vogue). We are coming to think the minister is to do the work of the Lord, and the business of the private brother is simply to pay him for it. I say we are coming to this belief; we have not yet exactly arrived at it. Our Sunday schools form an exception. It is still held that the uncommissioned messengers of Christ may, and ought to labor here. But these are conducted mainly by the young, especially, as I have before remarked, by young women. Had it not been for Richard Raikes, I do not see what employment could have been found for our young disciples. But, as it is, as a Christian advances in age he gradually leaves even this service, and thus this work really finds employment for but a small portion of the Lord's host.

Another exception is in the case of colportage. It is strange that we are governed so much by names. The introduction of a French word has here wrought almost a miracle. A colporteur is generally a man, as Episcopalians would say, not in holy orders, who travels from town to town, and goes from house to house to distribute tracts, converse with families, hold religious meetings, and by every means but formally taking a text and pronouncing the benediction, does precisely the work of a minister. He is to all intents and purposes a lay preacher. Yet, call him a lay preacher, and thousands would tremble for the respectability of the ministry. Call him a colporteur, and every one subscribes to sustain him, and all acknowledge that his agency is of vital importance to the church of Christ.

Yet this work is confined to young men, frequently to illiterate men, to foreigners, and in general to those whose time can be purchased at the cheapest rate. What would our merchants and lawyers and men of property and worldly standing think if we should urge them to undertake this same labor? What would they say if we should ask them to spend their vacations and intervals of leisure in the summer months in doing substantially the labor of a colporteur, or to use the offensive term, of a lay preacher? They would tell us they will give their money. Yes, but God requires not your money but yourselves. And how much of your money do you give? Why, two or three men worth some hundreds of thousands apiece, will unite in supporting one such laborer, when they might each one support ten or twenty, by denying themselves of some expenditure for useless and soul-destroying luxury.

The fact is that our most intelligent, able, middle-aged, private brethren have little to do, and they do little. This broad distinction which has grown up between them and the ministry has reduced their effort for the cause of Christ to its minimum. Our lawyers, merchants, men of business in the several departments of active life, our teachers and professors have no spiritual work before them beyond caring for their own souls. Hence their piety languishes, they become entangled in the world, they follow its customs, they adopt its maxims, they share in its amusements, simply because they have no spiritual work to do by which their religious principles may be invigorated. Let any one look over one of our churches at a communion season, especially over an old and wealthy, and, as it is called, a most respectable church, and say whether in what I have said I have overstated the facts. Monopoly is a curse, either in state or church. This growing monopoly must be broken up, or the whole church will sink into fatal worldliness.

The private brethren of the church have rights. Jesus Christ has called them to be his servants, and he has conferred on every one the privilege of working in his vineyard, and has promised to each laborer a rich reward. He has given to each servant some particular gift, and permitted him to use that gift for him. Of this right, no man or body of men, or ecclesiastical authority may deprive him. Every Christian is Christ's freeman, and he has a right to labor for Christ in any place where his Master opens a door, and he is to seek diligently to ascertain where the door is opened for him.

If the private brethren of our churches have rights, then it follows that they have also duties. If Christ has given them the right to labor for him, then he has imposed upon them the corresponding duty. It is the imperative duty of every brother who has any power of public address to use it for Christ. You say that you have not this gift. Did you ever try? When you were first converted you had it, and were willing at all times to tell men of the excellency of Christ. Had you continued to do so, like James Shelburne, you would now have become a Christian of a very different character from what we now behold. You have so long buried your talent in the earth that you do not know where to find it, and your whole spiritual nature is suffering on account of it.

Let me ask you a plain question. Do you believe that Christ called you that you might go forth and bear fruit, or that you might be a branch that beareth no fruit, whose end is to be burned? Do you believe that Christ called you by his grace, that you might be a very respectable, influential citizen, a kind and worthy neighbor, willing to attend church twice on Sunday, pay your tithe, and subscribe to beautify your house of worship, and give perhaps the interest of your income to advance his cause, and have nothing more for you to do? And are you to excuse yourself for your disobedience to Christ, by pleading that you pay your minister for laboring for souls, and that you are not in "holy orders?"

Brethren, beloved in the Lord, excuse my plainness in this matter. I write not to please you, but to do you good. I humbly hope that "the love of Christ constraineth” me. (2 Cor. 5:14) Look abroad upon Zion; consider her desolations. Iniquity abounds. The love of many waxes cold. Our youth are growing up without any regard for religion, and are yielding themselves up to all the allurements of a soul-destroying world. The masses of our people are not under the influence of the institutions of religion.

Multitudes among us, even at our own doors, are pressing on to Judgment Day, as ignorant of the way of salvation as the heathen in India or in Africa. Foreigners by hundreds of thousands are landing upon our shores, the decided and avowed enemies of the cross of Christ. The governments of the world acknowledging the name are enemies to the power of the religion of Jesus. And at such a time as this, are we all to sit down quietly and satisfy ourselves with doing nothing for Christ, because we pay the minister's salary that he may do it for us? No! The cause, at this emergency, requires the most active employment of every talent of every true disciple. The masses of the church must be aroused, or the enemy will come in like a flood, and there will be neither faith nor power to raise up a standard against him.

But while we do this, we must rely on something in-finitely better than an arm of flesh. Let us meditate over these things, and ask the Master to show us our duty. Let us with one heart pray for a universal descent of the Holy Spirit upon all his churches. Should the dayspring from on high visit us once more, we could not remain in our present condition. We should be constrained to arise and make sacrifices for God. Then the feeblest among us would be as the house of David, and the house of David as the angel of the Lord.