BELIEVERS— LIGHTS IN THE WORLD
“Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.” — Philippians 2:14-16
We shall be very far from the truth if we suppose that Christian precepts have suffered any degeneration of meaning. If we imagine that the precepts of the gospel were more stem in apostolic times than in these later ages, we labour under a very gross and dangerous delusion. Fresh from the abominations of heathenism, the early converts would naturally be placed under the mildest rules, rather than the more severe. If the gospel could have known a change, the apostle would have given its easiest precepts at the first, and then in these better days, the whole revelation would have been brought out, and more stringent precepts would have been proclaimed. Since, however, it is contrary to the genius of the gospel to be progressive in its revelation, since it was all revealed at once, we must never imagine that the precepts given by Paul may be toned down and diluted to suit the present age. I say again, brethren, if these men, fresh from the foul Stygian ditch of heathen abomination and lasciviousness, were nevertheless exhorted to the greatest sublimity of holiness, much more is it incumbent upon us to arrive at a very high state of Christian perfection, and walk very near to God, and be very close imitators of Christ. May God help us to hear this morning, the address which Paul gave to the Church in Philippi; may we feel its full force in our consciences, and embody its full meaning in our lives.
The apostle says, “Do all things” — by which he seems to teach the activity of the Christian Church, for the Christian religion is not mere thinking or feeling, but doing and working for God. “Do all things without murmurings” without murmuring at God's providence— which was a common vice of the heathen, who, on their tombstones often recorded their protest against God for having removed their darlings, and upbraided him as cruel and unkind for taking away their relatives. “Do all things without murmurings against one another.” Let your love be so hearty and sincere, that ye do not envy your richer or more talented brethren. Let there be no low whispers travelling through your assemblies against those who ought to be esteemed among you. Whatever ye do, let no murmuring be mixed with it, but labour with delight, and suffer with patience. Let there be no murmurings even against the ungodly world. If they be unjust, bear their injustice in silence; be not always offering complaints; there are a thousand things which ye might speak of, but it is better that like Aaron ye should hold your peace. To suffer in silence shall dignify you and make you greater than ordinary manhood, for then you shall become like Him, who before his accusers opened not his mouth.
The apostle continues, do all things without “disputings.” Dispute not with God; let him do what seemeth him good. Dispute not with your fellow Christians, raise not railing accusations against them. When Calvin was told that Luther had spoken ill of him, he said, “Let Luther call me devil if he please, I will never say of him but that he is a most dear and valiant servant of the Lord.” Raise not intricate and knotty points by way of controversy. Remember, you have adversaries upon whom to use your swords, and therefore there is little need that you should turn their edges by dashing at the armour of your fellows. Dispute not even with the world. The heathen philosophers always sought occasions for debate; be it yours to testify what God has told you, but court not controversy. Be not ashamed to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, but never do it in a spirit of mere debating, never because you wish to gain a victory, but only because ye would tell out what God hath bidden ye reveal.
“That ye may be blameless.” Men will blame you, but you must seek as Christians to lead lives that give no occasion for blame. Like Daniel, compel them to say of you, “We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.” Erasmus writes of his great adversary Luther, “Even Luther’s enemies cannot deny but that he is a good man.” Brethren, force this encomium from an unwilling world. Live so that as in Tertullian’s age, men may say as they did in his time, “Such-and-such a man is a good man, even though he be a Christian.” The heathens thought the Christians the worst of men, but were compelled to confess them to be the best, even though they were Christians. “Be ye blameless and harmless,” says the apostle. The Greek word might be translated “hornless,” as if ye were to be creatures not only that do no harm, but could not do any; like sheep that not only will not devour, but cannot devour, for it were contrary to their nature; for they have no teeth with which to bite, no fangs with which to sting, no poison with which to slay. If ye carry arrows let them be dipped in love; if ye bear a sword let it be the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; but otherwise, be ye everywhere, even among those that would harm you, “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” “As the sons of God,” the apostle goes on to say, as if the dignity of our relationship should beget in us an equally dignified deportment. “Remember,” saith the old philosopher— “Remember, O Antigonus, that thou art a king’s son!” Remember, O Christian, that thou art a son of the King of kings— even God himself. Soil not the fingers which are soon to sweep celestial strings; let not those eyes become the windows of lust which are soon to see the King in his beauty— let not those feet be defiled in miry places, which are soon to walk the golden streets— let not those hearts be filled with pride and bitterness which are soon to be filled with heaven, and to overflow with ecstatic joy. As “the sons of God,” remember that the eyes of all are upon you; more is expected from you than from other men, because ye have a higher pedigree, for ye are descended from the very Highest himself, and therefore should be the highest and best in the world. The apostle then adds, “without rebuke.” Men whom the world cannot rebuke. Men who can stand right straight up, and defy their enemies to find any real fault in them, who can say without any Phariseeism, as Job did, “Lord, thou knowest that I am not wicked.” My brethren, I would ye were such that men must lie before they can revile you; I would have you men upon whose snow-white garments filth will not stick— who may be, and must be slandered, but cannot be really rebuked. O beloved, to use Paul’s own words, “Be ye sons of God without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation.”
I have expounded the address of Paul, permit me to remind you, that all the while he is telling us to do this as the means to an end— and what is the end? why, that we may “shine as lights in the world in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation.” The means themselves are precious; to be “holy, harmless, and undefiled,” is a glorious matter of itself, but when such a bright thing becomes but a means, how excellent must the end be! How desirable that you and I, and each one of us who have named the name of Jesus, should “shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life!”
This brings me to the subject which I want to impress upon your hearts this morning. I would that every believer here, whether member of this Church or of any of the part of Christ’s family, might see to it, that henceforth he should shine as a light in the midst of the darkness of this world, giving light to those that come within the range of his influence. There seems to me to be four things about which I may well speak. First, here is 'publicity required— they cannot shine without it; here is, secondly, usefulness intended; here is, thirdly, position indicated — they are “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation;” and here is, fourthly, an argument suggested, that in the day of Christ I may rejoice that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.
I. First then, here is A MEASURE OF PUBLICITY REQUIRED.
You will note the text says they are to be lights; now how they can be lights without being seen, and of what use they would be if they could be unseen lights I cannot tell? But then, they are to shine, and how can they shine unless there be some radiance proceeding from them, and how this if they live in secret, and if they are never understood to be Christians at all? But then, where does the text say they are to shine as lights? — in their house? No, “in the world.” True they are to be lights in their own family; but moreover if they come up to the full standard of what they should be, they are to be lights in the world. These three words — lights, lights shining, and lights in the world, most positively teach that a Christian must have some degree of publicity, and that it is hardly possible for him to carry out his true character if he lives in such retirement and secrecy as never to be known to be a Christian. Some timid hearts there be, some gentle spirits, that shun altogether the exposure of their religion; they quote Nicodemus as if they did not know that Nicodemus is rather a beacon than an example. I would be far from crushing a tender spirit, far from laughing at the nervousness which may keep a man in the back rank when he ought to stand in the fore-front of the battle; but if I should by some Scriptural remarks lead Christians to see that they are not to be always seeking retirement, but that they must stand out and avow the Master, and if I can persuade the gentle spirit to bear its willing witness to Christ, thrice happy shall I be. Pharisees of old courted publicity. They could not give away one halfpenny in the street but they must sound a trumpet that everybody might see their splendid charity. They could not pray in their closet, but they must seek some corner of the street that every passer-by might hold up his hands in amazement at the man who was so good that he prayed even in the street. The world has found this trick out; we usually say of ladies, when we find them working out at parties, that they do not work at home; and we should surely think of people who pray in the streets that they pray nowhere else, and of persons who show their charity publicly that they show all that they have to show. Ostentatious religion now-a-days is soon discovered and detected. But while we must be warned against the pride of the Pharisee, we must take care that we run not into another extreme. “Am I always to serve God by stealth? Am I never to speak a good word for Christ lest somebody should say I am proud?” Your own conscience will be your guide in that matter. If you detect in yourself any desire to glorify yourself, then you are wrong in making your religion public at all. Plainly, if you discover that you are keeping back in order to get an easier path for yourself, then you are grievously wrong in seeking to hide your religion. If it be for God’s honour for you to publish on the house-tops what he has told you in the closet, do it; and if it be for Christ’s honour to do only in the closet that which another man would do in the street, do it. Your conscience will always teach you, if it be an enlightened conscience, when you might act ostentatiously, and when on the other hand you would be cowardly. I think there is no difficulty in steering between this Scylla and Charybdis. Any man with a little wisdom will soon discern what he ought to do. But do not, I pray you, make the Pharisee’s pride an excuse for your cowardice; never say, “I do not like to make a profession because there are so many hypocrites!” the more reason why you should make a profession that there may be some honest ones. Do not say, “Oh, I would not for fear people should think I am proud!” Why should you look at the fear of man which bringeth a snare; is it not yours to obey God rather than man?
I cannot understand Christ’s words, “Ye are a city set on a hill which cannot be hid;” nor these, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven nor these, “He that with his mouth confesseth, and with his heart believeth on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved.”— I cannot understand these passages, if you are never to avow your faith, but keep your religion hidden up in a secret place, and go to heaven by stealth. How much of publicity then, do we really think is necessary in a Christian? It is becoming that he should make a public avowal of his faith; he should come out from among the world and declare himself to be on the Lord’s side. There is an ordinance which God has himself ordained, which is the proper way in which to make this profession— to be baptized in water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; thus openly being buried in water to show our death to the world, and rising out of the water to show that we hope to live a new life as the result of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. If you should differ as to the form in which this profession is to be made, yet the profession should be made. If you would be honest and true, you must in answer to the Master’s summons, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” come out and say, “Here am I, Lord, I am thy servant, and I would serve thee even to the end.” You should also be associated constantly with Christian people. The one act of profession is not enough, it should be continued by union with some visible Church of Christ. We find in the apostle’s days that those who were converted were added to the Church. It is written, “They first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” Christianity requires you to unite yourselves with those who are united to Christ. If the Church of Christ be the spouse of Jesus, you should seek to be a member of her visibly as well as invisibly; especially you that are lately converted, for your presence in the Church is for your good, and much for the Church’s comfort. The man that was healed stood with Peter and John; and it is written, when they saw the man that was healed standing with Peter and John, they could say nothing against them. The gathering together of the converts to sustain the minister is a very great help in the propagation of the truth as it is in Jesus. Beside this association with Christians, there should be a daily carrying out of your Christianity in your life. It is not all that we say that shines; that may be only a flash, a sparkle, a display of fireworks, but it is our daily acting which is the true shining out of Christ within. Let the servant prove her Christianity by being more attentive than any other. Let the master prove his by being more generous than any other master; let the rich man shine in his liberality; let the poor man shine in his patience; let each in every sphere seek to excel those who are not in Christ, that so everyone may prefer us in our position to the worldling in the same office, and take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus and have learned of him. But to shine as lights, we must add the open testimony of our words. I will not give a rusty nail for your religion if you can be quiet about it; I do not believe you have any; that which is nearest to the heart is generally most on the tongue. You must be constantly bearing your witness by the word of your mouth for Christ, seeking to teach the ignorant, to warn the careless, to reclaim the backsliding, and to bring the wanderers to the cross. You will have many opportunities in the sphere in which you move, avail yourself of them all, so shall you shine as a light in the world; and there are times when you cannot shine without a very bold and stern decision for Christ. When the old Roman senator, in the days of Vespasian, was told by the emperor that he might go into the senate-house but he must hold his tongue, he answered, “I, being a senator, feel impelled to go into the senate-house, and being in the senate it is the part of a senator to speak what his conscience dictates.” “Then,” said Vespasian, “if you speak you will die." “Be it known to thee, O emperor,” said he, “that I never hoped to be immortal, nor did I ever wish to live when I might not speak my mind." Brave Roman! We must have brave Christians, too, who say, “Being a Christian, it is mine to speak, and if that should cost me all I have, and life itself, I never thought myself immortal, and I wish to die when I may not speak out that which God has written in my heart.” There are times, I say, when if we should falter, or delay, we become traitors at once; beware ye in those “crises of your being,” that promptly ye follow your Lord.
So much of publicity I think is needed then— an open profession, a constant association with the Christian Church, a perpetual living out of godliness, an open declaration of the same, and a deliberate decision when occasion shall present itself. Look ye sirs, Christians are soldiers. If our soldiers were to take it into their heads that they ought never to be seen, a pretty pass things would come to; what were the soldiers worth when they shunned parade and dreaded battle? Takeoff your regimentals and be packing sirs! We want not men who must always be skulking behind a bush, and dare not show themselves to friend or foe. Christians are runners too, and what sort of runners are men who run in the dark. Not so saith the apostle, he says, we are “encompassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses,” and therefore bids us “lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us.” What! a running match and no spectators! Ave lmperator! The champion salutes thee! He prays thee to dismiss the spectators. Conscript Fathers, leave your seats, and ye knights of the empire retire from the race. Ye common herd retire, or put your fingers to your eyes, here comes a runner who is so dainty that he cannot be looked at, a swift-footed racer who must be scrutinized by no vulgar eye or he will faint and lose the crown. Ha! ha! ha! ha! the mob laugh. “Ah!” say they, “these are not the men to make a Roman holiday, these timid fools had better play with babes in the nursery, they are not fit to consort with men.” What think ye of Christians who must have the stadium cleared before they can enter the course. Rather, O sons of God, defy all on-lookers. Crowd the seats and look on, ye angels, and men, and devils too, and see what ye will. What mattereth it to the Christian, for he is looking unto Jesus, he runneth not for you but for the reward, and whether ye look or look not, his zeal and earnestness are still the same, for Christ is in him and run he must, look on who will.
II. Secondly, here is in the text, USEFULNESS.
“Well,” saith one, “if I were known to be a Christian what use would it be?” We will soon show you; one remark, however, I will make, the better Christian you are the more public you will be, but the less will be thought of you. You have noticed at night a star, it is only a little spark comparatively, but still it is very bright, and everybody says, “Do you see that star?” Yes, but there is a moon, why does not everybody say, “Look what a beautiful moon?” But they notice the star first, because it is not usual to see stars so brilliant. By-and-by, of a moonlight night, you will hear people say, “What a lovely moon!” Now, in the daylight people do not say, “What a lovely sun!” No. “What a lovely landscape! What a beautiful view! Look at the tints of those trees now the sun is shining!” Just so the little Christian is like a star, bright in his little sphere. Others are like the moon, they excite admiration and attention to themselves; but a full-grown Christian, who should be perfectly conformed to the image of Christ, though giving more light than either the moon or the star, would not be half so much looked at, for men would be looking at what he shed light upon rather than upon him; they would look to the doctrine that he taught rather than to how he taught it; they would be looking rather at the lesson of his life than at the life itself. So that if I should urge you to more and more publicity, it will not be for your sake, but that you may be more and more forgotten, while the truth is the more clearly seen.
But what is the use of lights, what is the use of Christians as lights? The answer is manifold. We use lights to make manifest. A Christian man should so shine in his life, that those who come near him can see their own character in his life, can see their sins, can see their lost estate; he should so live that a person could not live with him a week without knowing the gospel. His conversation should be such that all who are about him should perfectly understand the way to heaven; things that men will not see and cannot see without him, should be very clear wherever he is. Men sometimes read their Bibles, and they do not understand the Bible because they want light. Like Philip, we should be willing to sit in the chariot and instruct the passer-by, making manifest the meaning of God’s Word, the power of God’s Word, the way of salvation, the life of godliness, and the force of truth. May I ask each one of you, have you made men understand the gospel the better? “Ah,” says one, “I left that to the minister.” Then you have neglected your duty, repent of your great sin, and ask God now to help you to be making manifest to all persons who come near you their sin and the Saviour. The next use of a light is to guide. The mariner understands this. When our sailors, some years ago had a Nore light, they thought they were getting on marvellously, but when they had the Mouse, the Maplin, the Swin Middle, and all the other lights on the sands, they soon found navigation much easier than it had been before. Every Christian should light some part of the voyage of life, and there should not be a channel without its light. Blessed pole star! how many a slave hast thou guided from the swamps and whips of the South up to the country of the free. Blessed art thou, O Christian too, if thy light has led some soul to Jesus, to the land of the free, where the slave can never wear his fetters again. I hope that you have often, when men have scarcely known it, pointed them the way to Christ, by saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
Lights are also used for learning. On our rocks and shoals a lighthouse is sure to be erected. Christian men should know that there are plenty of false lights shown everywhere in the world. The wreckers of Satan are always abroad, tempting the ungodly to sin under the name of pleasure; they hoist the wrong light, be it yours and mine to put up the true light upon every dangerous rock, to point out every sin, and tell what it leads to, that so we may be clear of the blood of all men, shining as lights in the world.
Lights also have a very cheering influence, and so have Christians. Late one night we had lost our way in a park not far from the suburbs of London, and we were walking along and wondering where we were. We said, " There is a light over there, " and you cannot tell what a source of comfort that candle in a cottage window proved to us. I remember riding in a third class carriage, crowded full of people, on a dark night, when a woman at the end of the carriage struck a match and lit a candle; with what satisfaction everybody’s face was lit up, as all turned to see it. A light really does give great comfort; if you think it does not, sit in the dark an hour or two. A Christian ought to be a comforter; with kind words on his lips, and sympathy in his heart, he should have a cheering word for the sons of sorrow.
Light, too, also has its use in rebuking sin. I think our street gas lamps are the best police we have; if those lamps were out we should need ten times the number of watchers, and there would be far more crimes. Why is it that thieves do not like the light? — because their dark deeds can only be done in darkness. And how is it ungodly men do not like Christians? Why, because they rebuke them; and just as lights tend to make a city safe and stop robberies and crime, so Christian men when they are in sufficient numbers to act upon the commonwealth, will make crime less common; certainly they will compel it to hide its deformity under the shadows of night, whereas, before it might have walked in the blaze of day with approbation. But the Christian is a light in a very peculiar sense, he is a light with life in it. Turn the lanthorn upon that dead man’s face; you can see it cold and white, like the chiselled marble. Shoot the light right into his eye; he does not see; you cannot make him live by the power of any human light. But the believer is God’s lanthorn, full of the Holy Ghost— and it happeneth often that through our testimony God shooteth into the eyes of the dead a light which makes them live, so that the darkness of Hades gives way to the brightness of glory, and the midnight darkness of the spirit is made to fly before the rising Sun of righteousness.
We have dwelt long enough upon the uses of these lights, and I may only say, in concluding that point, I wonder what is the good of a Christian, who is not thus useful to the world? He has a treasure, but he hoards it. What is the good of misers while they live? They are like swine which only eat— they are of no service till they die. Then they are cut up, and their estates are pulled into pieces, and perhaps some good may be gotten by those who get a flitch or rasher from them. Vile is the wretch who hoards gold, but what is he who hoards bread. The world is starving, and they hoard the bread of life. It is like manna— it breeds worms, and they cannot eat it themselves, but they will not give it to others. A religion that is no blessing to others, is no blessing to me— I am just laying up for myself a mass of putridity; it will never do my soul good, or else it would have compelled me to do good to others. But they are hoarding water, the living water; they are damming up the stream to keep enough for themselves, and what is it doing? It is covered with rank weeds; it breeds miasma; it turns foul; all manner of loathsome creatures are in it. They are more foolish still, they are trying to hoard up the light, as if they would have any the less if they let others have it. Hoard up light as if there were only a scant supply. Infamous! Diabolical! I wish there were a stronger word than that," If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maran-atha,” says Paul. And I question whether that dreadful anathema does not include within it those who do not love souls, and therefore prove they do not love Christ; for if they loved Christ they must love sinners; if they loved Jesus they must seek to extend his kingdom, and to let him see of the travail of his soul.
III. But time waits not for me, and I must proceed to touch with brevity upon the third point— POSITION INDICATED.
“But,” says one, “I cannot shine, it is of no use talking about it, I am not in a position to do any good.” The apostle anticipates you, he says “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation.” " If I were to remove from this,” says one, "I might serve the Lord’s cause, but I cannot where I am.” But, dear friend, you are not to get out of it, you are to speak for your Lord where you are. In the midst of that crooked and perverse nation you are to shine as lights in the world. Your position teaches you three things. First of all, it should be an incentive to you; the worse the people are among whom you live, the more need have they of your exertions; if they be crooked, the more necessity that you should set them straight: and if they be perverse, the more need have you to turn their proud hearts to the truth. The worse your position is, the more thankful you ought to be that you are in it. Where should the physician be but where there are many sick? Where is honour to be won by the soldier but in the hottest fire of the battle? Do not blame your position if you are an unprofitable servant, but lay the blame upon yourself. If you find it hard to do good where you are, it will be harder anywhere else. As the bird that wandereth from her nest so is the man that wandereth from his place. Lazy workmen find fault with their tools and employers. If you transplant a tree to make it produce more fruit, you may possibly succeed, but there are nine chances to one that you will kill it altogether.
Again, as you are in such a position. let it administer a caution to you. They are a crooked nation and perverse, do not wonder therefore if they hate your light and try to blow it out. Be the more anxious not to give them any unnecessary offence. Let your goodness be the only fault they can find in you. Ask the Lord to keep your lamp well trimmed for you; beseech him to protect it from their malicious breath. Be the more anxious to cultivate a close acquaintance with Christ, because a crooked nation would decoy you from him. Do not try to please men; make not the opinion of this generation your rule, for it is very crooked, and if you travel one way you will not please them unless you turn the other way and then turn again to humour their crooks. One is often amused to find one’s self publicly abused for doing the very thing, the opposite of which one was abused for the week before; and sometimes in the same newspaper article you will now-a-days catch the writer first falling foul with you for doing one thing, and then falling foul with you for not doing it again. It is a crooked and perverse nation: the man who tries to please man shall find himself in a labyrinth of the most mazy kind; he shall be a wretched time-server all his life, and a detestable hypocrite even to his death. Such a man, to use a rustic simile, is like a toad under a harrow, he will have to be crawling continually to escape the spikes on the right and the iron teeth on the left, and he will probably die a miserable death with the iron in his soul at the last. Be cautious, but be particularly cautious against excessive caution. Please the Lord, and let men please themselves.
Once more, while the eyes of perverse men should be an incentive and a caution to you, do not forget the rich consolation afforded by the fact that all the saints have endured the like trial. Are you in the midst of a crooked people? So was Paul; so the Church at Philippi; so all the saints. Remember that as they won their crowns in a strife which was none of their choosing, so must you. They were not carried on beds of down to heaven, and you must not expect to travel more easily than they. They had to hazard their lives unto the death in the high places of the field, and you shall not be crowned till you also have endured hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. The road of your pilgrimage will not be smooth if it be the way of apostles and prophets. Soft raiment, delicate nursing, dainty feeding, and luxurious ease, belong to the palaces of earth, but not to the company without the camp who bear their Lord’s reproach. I charge ye, O servants of the Lord, and you who are members of this Church especially, stand fast, wait, watch, and wrestle. Be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.
IV. To conclude, there is an ARGUMENT SUGGESTED.
It is a very affectionate and touching one which I mean to take the liberty of applying to you, my beloved flock. “That I may not run in vain, nor labour in vain in the day of Christ.” The apostle was the founder of the Church at Philippi; he had watched over them with all the anxiety of one who had planted and watered, and who looked for the increase. He therefore appealed to the affection which he knew they had for him. “I have run,” argues the apostle, “with all men looking on and gazing, many of them hating and scoffing. I have run with all my might; would you have me run in vain? I have laboured, I have laboured more than they all,” the apostle could say, “would ye have me labour for nought?” He knew the answer they would give him would be, “No, beloved Paul, we would see thee win the prize for which thou didst run, and reap the fruit for which thou didst labour.” “Well,” argues the apostle “but I cannot, except ye shine as lights in the world; ye disappoint my hopes, ye snatch the prize from my grasp, ye fill me with anguish, if ye be not holy, heavenly-minded witnesses for Christ.” I use the same argument with you; to the stranger here to-day it will have no force, but with many of you I know it will be an argument of power. How many out of this congregation first learned of Jesus from my lips. A multitude of you were brought to Christ through the preaching of the Word here, or in Park Street, or the Surrey Gardens, or Exeter Hall. The Word was feebly preached in rough language then as now, — but God owned it, — not to tens nor twenties, but to hundreds, ay, to thousands of you, and not to you only, but to people in every land and of every kindred. The Lord hath made my spiritual children so many as the stars of heaven for multitude. I rejoice, yea, I must rejoice, when I hear continually of the multitudinous conversions which are wrought by the Holy Ghost through the sermons both printed and preached. God is with us, and he does not let one word fall to the ground. But what if you, as a Church, should be idle! What if your lives should be unholy! What if you should want zeal and faith to testify for Christ! What then! My best expectations are defeated, my life has been a failure, and all that I have done falls to the ground. I have thought it in my heart, and I earnestly pray to my God that it may come to pass that here, as in a barracks, a great army may find its constant lodging place, that afterwards the Lord may pour you out like a vast conquering host, upon all parts of the world, to teach and testify, and live and labour, and speak for Christ. Surely, my brethren, you would desire this yourselves. I pray for it, you will unite in desiring it and praying for it with me.
It has happened of late, especially to me, to see God’s hand very visibly. Never in my experience have I seen so much spiritual activity as just now, and while it is true of all sections of the Christian Church, it has been peculiarly so of that section over which it is my lot to preside. The sermons have been now for eight years scattered in English, Welsh, French, Dutch, German, Swedish— in fact, in all Protestant languages. At first there were many conversions— there are still. Next I find that those who were regular subscribers to the sermons begin to receive the doctrine of the preacher. The converts to Christ grow and get clear views of truth. Even in the point of baptism there are great numbers who are convinced that it is most Scriptural that believers only should be baptized. Very many have come here, and in the pool beneath, I have baptized them into the name of Christ. Our denomination does not increase. I am not very anxious that it should, for as it stands at present I have no great love for it; but our principles are spreading marvellously, and in this I must rejoice. As the result of this I have constantly letters like this, “Sir, I live in a village where the gospel is not preached, there is a Church, it is true, but we have a Puseyite clergyman; cannot you do something for us. You have many young men training for the ministry, could you not send a friend to preach in my drawing-room?” Then comes another — “Sir, the chapel has been shut up in our village a long time, could you not come and help us?" Then there are many of this kind: two Christian men write up, wishing to be baptized into Christ — they come, they go back, within a month there are four more from the same village— they go back, and I almost forget them, but they do not forget me; soon, the whole six will write a letter— this is a common thing— and say, “Could not we be formed into a Church? we will find a room — send some one to preach to us?” This happens every week, and your minister feels that as long as ever he has a man, he will say, “I will do it for you;” and as long as he has any money of his own he will say, “Oh, yes, I will do it for you;” but every now and then he wishes that he had some who would stand by him in larger attempts. Cheerfully you give week after week for the support of our young ministers, and I think our friends will continue to do this. At any rate the Lord will provide, and friends far away may be moved to assist us. I want still more aid, for the field is ripe and we want more harvest men to reap it. It grows, the thing grows, every day it increases, it started but as a little flake of snow, and now like an avalanche it sweeps the Alps’ sides bare before its tremendous force. I would not now that ye should prove unworthy of the day in which ye live, or the work to which God has called us as a Church. Four Churches of Christ have sprung of our loins in one year, and the next year shall it not be the same, and the next, and the next, if the Holy Ghost be with us, and He has promised to be with us if we be with Him.
Now, in regard to the particular effort at Wandsworth, for which a collection is to be made. When I was sore sick some three years or more ago, I walked about to recover strength, and walking through the town of Wandsworth, I thought “How few attend a place of worship here. Here are various Churches, but there is ample room for one of our own faith and order, something must be done.” I thought “If I could start a man here preaching the Word, what good might be done.” The next day, some four friends from the town called to see me, one a Baptist, and the three others were desirous of baptism, “Would I come there and form a Church?” We took the large rooms at a tavern, and preaching has been carried on there ever since. Beginning with four, the Church has increased to one hundred and fifty. I have greatly aided the interest by going there continually and preaching and helping to support the minister. Now, a beautiful piece of ground has been taken, and a chapel is to be erected, and I firmly believe there will be a very strong cause raised. We have many rising Churches, but this one has just come to such a point, that a house of prayer is absolutely needed. I should not have asked you for this aid so soon, but the rooms in which they worship are now continually used for concerts on Saturday evenings, and are not altogether agreeable on the Sunday. I would just as soon worship in one place as another, for my own part, but I see various difficulties are now in the way, which a new chapel will remove. I hope you will help them in so doing, help me in the earnest effort of my soul to hold forth the word of life, and to let Christ’s kingdom come and his will be done.
You that feel no desire to honour the Master– you that care nothing for the spread of his kingdom– you that are satisfied to hold your heads down, and not boast and glory in him– stand back and assist us not; but you who would help his kingdom– you who love his name– you who are the debtors of his grace– help the cause everywhere, and help it this day. For Christ’s sake I ask it of you, and you will not deny me.