« 前へ次へ »
And do you too, my dear hearers, who are not yet the children of God, remember that your souls shall never die. Oh will you not ask yourselves how old you are ? Another year has gone from you. You have let it pass unimproved. It has added to your guilt. God has mercifully spared you. Will you still be insensible to His goodness? Will you still withhold your affections from Him.
still procrastinate the work of repentance, and the seeking of your soul's salvation ? Think of it, my dear friends—an immortality of wretchedness ! Can you endure the idea ? Can you, unmoved, think of encountering the reality? I pray you let the subject of our present meditations have its due weight with you.
When the next new year comes, your spirits may be in the world beyond the grave. Are you now ready to depart thither? No! Sorrowful is the answer, no. When will you be ready? Do you know at what hour death will approach
Why then, why, under such fearful hazard, any longer procrastinate your preparation? Why waste your precious time? Why not live wisely now, in order that you may live happily hereafter?
“Will the shade go back on thy dial plate ?
Will thy sun stand still on his way?
Then live while 'tis called to-day.
As they lessen, in value rise;
But in days that are truly wise.”
BY REV. SEWALL S. CUTTING,
THE INEFFICIENCY OF THE CHURCH, AND THE
“For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof, as a lamp that burneth.”—Isa., 62 : 1.
We have assembled, my brethren, after an established and goodly custom, to dedicate this edifice to the worship and service of Almighty God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. How, so
* A Discourse, delivered at the Dedication of the new Baptist Church, in Southbridge, Mass., October 25, 1848.
far as the service devolves on me, shall this best be done? Neither myself, nor my brethren in the ministry, can by any outward rites attach a special sacredness to the materials of this edifice, or impart a spell to the atmosphere which it encloses. This edifice will find its best, its only consecration, in subserving the purposes of Christianity. It will be a sacred edifice, if the incense of spiritual worship ascends from the hearts of Christian disciples here assembling; if the gospel is here preached in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; if here are witnessed the holiness and zeal of a true and energetic piety. I think, therefore, that I shall best perform my part in the present service, by offering some thoughts of a practical character, having reference to the prevailing inefficiency of the means employed for promoting the cause of religion, and to the remedy by which that inefficiency may be removed.
That the means at present employed for promoting the cause of Christ are inefficient, to a painful extent, will not be doubted. In whatever direction you may look for the proper fruits of Christian exertion-whether in the devotion and consistency of individual professors; in the number of those who are brought from darkness to light and made heirs of immortality, in particular congregations; in the influence of the church of Christ on social and political life and manners; or in the subjugation of the heathen to the sway of the Redeemer;—you cannot fail to see, in the meagerness of the results, the too certain indications of a lack in the kind or the measure of the labor which has produced them. The heart that loves the cause of Christ, and desires the salvation of the world, is pained by the sad spectacle, and often inquires for the remedy. I doubt not there are many here present, to-day, who have made the inquiry, and such, I equally believe, will be gratified with even an humble attempt to solve it.
For this purpose the text which I have chosen is appropriate. The rapt language of the prophet, indicates a heart set upon the prosperity and glory of Zion, and determined to apply the energies of life to the accomplishment of these aims. We shall see in the end that the spirit of this passage, lodged in the hearts of the people of God, and working out its fruits in the kind and measure of their labors, would effectually counteract the present apathy with which the church is afflicted, and clothe her with new and even primitive power.
For the plainer insight into the real occasion of the present inefficiency of the means which are used to promote the cause of Christ, let us institute a survey of our Zion, so far at least as relates to the matters which bear upon our present theme.
1. And here I may remark, in the first place, that the occasion of this inefficiency is not to be found in doctrinal unsoundI think it may justly be feared that the doctrines of
gracethe sterner features, as they are sometimes called, of the Theolo
gy of the Reformation-are not set forth and enforced, either in the pulpit or in private religious teaching, with the vigor of statement and clearness of elucidation which have marked an earlier period; but it may safely be affirmed that there is no abandonment of these doctrines, and that even the suggestion of abandonment would be rebuked with earnest remonstrances.
The doctrines of man's de. pravity and helplessness, of the atonement for sin by the death of Christ, of justification by faith, and regeneration by the Holy Ghost, underlie, and give tone and character to our evangelical religious teaching, whether from the pulpit or the press. The lack of vigor in statement, and of clearness in elucidation, which I have named, is indeed to be lamented, and, as I believe, has something to do in occasioning the prevailing inefficiency, but there is certainly no wide-spread doctrinal unsoundness, working its destructive influences at the core of piety. From that calamity, may the good Lord long deliver us !
2. I remark in the second place, that our present inefficiency is not to be accounted for, by the presence, in our churches, of unbrotherly strifes and divisions. From these we were never more free. A few years ago, when the application of Christianity to social questions began to be agitated in connection with the reform movements of these times, collisions of opinion gave rise to personal alienations, and our churches often presented scenes of painful discord. In some sections the peace of our churches was, at a later period, disturbed by varieties of opinion on the near advent of our Saviour, and the disquietude which prevailed was, for the time, an effectual bar to progress. But at the present moment we are largely blessed with concord. Peace dwells within the walls of Jerusalem, though the prosperity which the Psalmist equally invoked, is not our blessing. We have occasion for profound gratitude to Him who is the author as well as lover of peace and concord, that in seeking out the occasions of our inefficiency, unbrotherly strifes and divisions are not found to be one of them.
3. Nor, finally, is our inefficiency to be explained by any lack in the system or comprehension of our plans to do good. Perhaps there never has been a time when plans for promoting religion were so perfect and far-reaching, as at the day in which we live. In our particular congregations, we have Sabbath schools in the most systematic operation, reaching, with the living voice and with judicious and excellent books, the children and youth ; we have, in addition to the regular preaching of the gospel, meetings for conference and prayer, and these generally so arranged, as to bring them to every neighborhood. In the larger towns, and probably in all the cities we have organizations through which religious tracts are boine to every family that is willing to receive them ; and in many cases, these silent messengers of mercy, are accompanied by the pious teachings of the tract distributor, or of the city missionary, whose mission, generally to the poor and outcast, is attested, like the mission of Him whom they serve, by the considerate and tender dispensation of temporal relief. And so comprehensive are our plans of Christian exertion, that there is scarcely a form of moral destitution on the face of the earth, which they are not prepared to reach. The youngest child that lisps in your Sabbath school, has a channel through which it may reach with its tiny benefaction the heathen infant of its own age, and pour into its dark mind the blessed illuminations of Divine light. We have organizations by which we may all bear blessings to the destitute within the boundaries of our own civilization, and abroad wherever man sits perishing in the region and shadow of death. Everywhere we may dispense schools, the Bible, or the living voice of the missionary. The church of Christ has encompassed the world with the network of her charities, and put each individual of her myriad membership, into communication with his race. She has arranged her wires so as to connect her own life with the life of humanity s alas! that the battery is so feeble as to leave the world, in a great measure, insensible to the shock.
Where then lies the difficulty? I shall state it comprehensively. We have not time to go into detail. We have seen that it is not in doctrinal unsoundness : error has not touched the church with her palsy. It is not to be found in the distractions of Zion; her members dwell in brotherly concord. It is not to be found in the want of arrangements and appliances through which Christians may bestow their labors : the plans of Christian exertion are wonderful for their minuteness and their comprehension. The church, in her present condition of inefficiency, reminds one most naturally of an immense factory, perfect in all the details of machinery, every portion working out precisely its design, but all moving feebly, and accomplishing little compared with the expectations awakened by the scope and finish of the structure. What needs that factory? One word answers : Power! Lift the gates ! let on the flood! Then mark the change. The heavy walls tremble at the mighty struggles of the machinery. Every spindle feels the awakened energy, and starts with electrical speed into its mission. The whole structure now fulfils its design, and repays the skill and labor of those who have planned and formed it. And what needs the church? I answer, Power. She is a ponderous engine, creeping silently over rails which she ought to shake by the energy and might of her irresistible movement. She is called to a noble mission; to be a co-worker with God in the salvation of the world; she has laid her plans with wonderful system and scope, and now needs only to be in EARNEST.
Earnestness is her great want. She is inefficient because she is not in earnest. Earnestness is the remedy to which she should hasten; the missing element in which she should seek, and in which she would find, her power.
I think I shall not be questioned in affirming a want of earnestness, as a characteristic of the religious devotion of our times. I certainly would not bring an unfounded accusation against the household of faith. I am ready to grant that the prevailing tone of Christian feeling, and the prevailing directions of religious effort, have in them much which merits commendation ; but of that which calls for commendation, earnestness, the vigorous determination which settles and over all obstacles achieves its purpose, is not an element. Go into almost any congregation which you may choose to select; you enter, it may be, a neat, or even an elegant structure; you sit on easy or even luxurious cushions, amid wellappareled and polite worshippers. The prayer, the hymn, the sermon, are adjusted to the nicest proprieties of taste; the quiet solemnity of the scene inspires a delicious awe, and the Christian retiring within bimself, and contemplating only his own relations of justification, peace, and hope, finds himself even at the gate of heaven. But admit into this assembly of Christian disciples another class of ideas; let a sense of the mission to which they are called be felt in their hearts ; let the broad world, teeming with its myriad population, lay itself out before their vision, here darkened by ignorance, there pining under oppression, and everywhere marred by vice and wickedness; but all to be redeemed and regenerated through the instrumentality of Christian effort ; let them feel that they are called into the favor of Christ, not to enjoy alone, but to work, and that while they sit idle the world perishes,-and they would start from their seats as if struck with thoughts as novel as they were momentous; they would reproach themselves for their idleness and inefficiency, and from sincere hearts send up to heaven that first prayer of the converted soul, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
If, my brethren, a doubt of the inertness of the church lingers in your breasts, compare, I pray you, the zeal with which Christians labor in their Master's service, with that with which they pursue the ends of secular life. Who serves God with half the zeal with which be follows wealth or fame? Who studies, plans, sacrifices, for Christ as he does for the world? Show me such illustrations of Christian devotion, and I will show you men and women with whom the present generation has little sympathy. Brethren, I am not extravagant when I say that a chill is upon us. It has invaded pulpit and pew ;-we are participators in a common apathy, -putting forth drowsy efforts, while the world, for whose salvation Christ has died, is every moment perishing through our neglect.
Let us now proceed to inquire, briefly into the relations which earnest efforts bear to great results. Mark how worldly ends are accomplished. Do you see success attending the idle and inefficient ? Never. The student rises to eminence and renown through the