« 前へ次へ »
Presbyter of the church, "I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.”
Brethren, it is highly important that our ministry be practical, explaining and enforcing the duties of Christianity, as well as clearly stating its doctrines and exhibiting its distinguished and ample privileges. This is the more necessary, as we have lamentable proof that some parties who in works deny Christ are not ashamed to make the highest professions of sanctity and spiritual comfort. Let us, therefore, point our hearers to the cross for a motive to holy obedience, and with an Apostle exclaim, “ Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price : therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."
2. Fidelity in the time of trial is commended by the Spirit.Individuals in all the churches, save that of Laodicea, are honoured with this testimony. In prosecuting works of piety, they met with various and severe opposition. Some had to encounter tribulation, poverty, blasphemy, and imprisonment; others dwelt where Satan bad his seat, and where martyrs' blood was shed: but, by the grace of God, they happily remained faithful. In Ephesus, they are said to have endured without fainting; and in Smyrna, in the deepest poverty, to have kept the true riches. In Pergamos, they maintained the faith, and in the day of martyrdom held fast Christ's name.
In Thyatira, they were patient under great and accumulated provocation. In Sardis, though surrounded by dead formalism, “a few names" "" defiled not their garments.” In Philadelphia, they nobly kept the Saviour's word, and openly confessed His name. Thus did they maintain the spirit and practice of Christian heroism, which they had been taught at the foot of the cross.
In the faithful prosecution of Christian duty, trials may be expected. The Lord bas nowhere engaged to give His people immunity from these, but on the contrary has said, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous ;” and,“ Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” When trials assail God's servants, there is a cause for it—a wise purpose
to be accomplished. They are designed to correct some evil, prevent some mischief, impart some lesson, or develop some grace. There are Christian graces we should never know, but for the trials of life. We should be ignorant of patience, if we had not to endure; and of resignation, if God did not lay His hand upon us, or in some other way permit our views and feelings to be opposed. And so of other Christian graces. Now all these are necessary, not only to embellish, but to complete, the Christian character. A discipline of suffering, however, is required to elicit them. They never appear in the sunshine, but only in the dark and cloudy day. Nor is their tendency merely to benefit the individuals subject to them, but they tell favourably upon the interests of the church of God: inasmuch as they show the power of religion to sustain and comfort in the day of adversity. Many a persecutor, who had resisted the word, has been savingly impressed by the fidelity of Christians in the crisis of their trials.
How important, therefore, to be faithful, and never to act a mean or cowardly part !
Churches are sometimes severely tried as well as individual Christians. Ecclesiastical history furnishes many examples. Occasionally we have had to encounter the fiery ordeal. Scriptural principles have been assailed ; and, had the Ministers of our own church sought a temporary popularity, and been so weak and unfaithful as to sacrifice conscience to fear, they would have yielded to the demands of a widespread and vigorously prosecuted agitation. But they preferred to endure contumely, and various forms of persecution, rather than compromise principle, or show themselves unfaithful to that solemn trust which they had received ; and multitudes of their beloved people nobly stood by them in the day of their trial. These things are mentioned not boastfully, and certainly not to pain any mind which may have been temporarily misled; but to encourage fidelity to the cause of God whenever any of its principles may be again assailed, and to give glory to Him by whose blessing we have been enabled to pass through our struggle, and to appear this day in possession of so many mercies. Our churches, thank God, now have “ rest ;” and, “walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost,” are being “multiplied.” We know our principles better
We have more Christian oneness than at any previous date : and if we learn wisdom from the things we have suffered, and faithfully improve our present position, we are warranted in expecting that, by God's blessing, the Methodism of the future will be more intelligent, harmonious, stable, and efficient than the Methodism of
3. Religious progress is commended by the Spirit.—This feature is impressively marked in the church of Thyatira : “I know thy works, and the last to be more than the first.” Here was manifest advancement. Religion is invariably represented in Scripture as a progressive work. Is it compared to a grain of wheat deposited in the earth? That wheat germinates, and produces the blade, the ear, and the full corn in the ear. Is it compared to leaven hid in three measures of meal? That leaven diffuses itself through the whole lump, until every particle is brought under its influence. Is it compared to human life? That life is developed in the babe, more vigorously in the young man, and more maturely in the father in Christ Jesus. Or, is it compared to the light of the morning? That light increases in brightness, and shines more and more unto the perfect day. There must be religious progress, therefore, if Christians would conform to the word of God, and retain their privileges and blessings. Their stability, usefulness, and safety depend upon their going forward, and abounding in the work of the Lord. Every attempt to remain stationary turns out to be, in fact, a backward movement, and is in direct opposition to the Spirit's call.
Churches, as well as individual members, must make progress. Christianity is essentially aggressive, and no church can long retain its power or vitality, which does not vigorously seek to advance. If
it should be content simply to become conservative, and to act on the defensive, without trying by legitimate efforts to extend its borders in the multiplication of converts, it will soon become enfeebled, and ultimately lose both its glory and its life. A church acting according to the spirit and genius of Christianity must be aspiring after more and more of the power and energy of godliness; and, as a sure result, its last works, as respects both their number and their intelligent direction and efficiency, will be more valuable and satisfactory than the first. Where there is no church-progress, rest assured that the Spirit is grieved ; and such unfaithfulness, if persisted in, must issue in darkness and death.
Brethren, as a religious communion we are bound to advance, nor must we allow any opposition to induce us to relax our efforts in spreading scriptural holiness through the land. The glorious mission to which God has clearly called us will not be fulfilled until the light of truth illumines every town and hamlet of our own country, and the ends of the earth see the salvation of God. Let us then, Pastors and people, apply ourselves with increased vigour to our proper calling, knowing that it will be the most effectual means of advancing the work of God in our own souls. Great indeed will be our loss, if we allow any man, or any church, to take our crown. Onward, then, brethren! “Progress” must be our motto and watchword, until the little stone, cut out of the mountain without hands, shall break in pieces every opposing power, and fill the whole earth.
II. The Spirit speaks to the churches words of REPROOF.
1. Spiritual declension is marked with His solemn displeasure.Reproof is administered, on this head, to the Ephesian church. After words of commendation, the epistle runs on— “ Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” The first love of Christians is not only ardent, but simple and sincere ; being free from all duplicity, and resembling the affection of a little child. The Ephesians, as we learn from St. Paul's Epistle to them, had once much of this love ; but, alas ! it was suffered to decline. It is true they had not lost all, or they could not have maintained a conduct which is shown to have been in many respects commendable : but their love was in a declining state, being neither so simple, nor so warm and vigorous, as when it was first enjoyed.
Too many, like the Ephesians, lose their first love; and, in some instances, under the erroneous impression that they cannot retain it, but must of necessity pass into a state of spiritual declension. A view so unscriptural is much calculated to injure new converts; who, instead of declining, are directed “as new-born babes” to “ desire the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby.” If Christians could not retain their first love, the Ephesian church would not have been censured, and threatened with heavy chastisement, for its loss. It is undoubtedly their duty, expressed in various scriptural forms of speech, to hold fast their confidence, and to grow in grace, until filled with all the fulness of God.
Nothing is more perilous than spiritual declension. Its first
symptoms ought to excite alarm, leading to increased prayer and watchfulness, and to a more hearty appropriation of the provisions of the atonement, lest total apostasy ensue.
Let Ministers frequently and impressively set this before the people of their charge, and especially watch over new converts with prayerful solicitude, that the fair blossoms of hope may not be blighted, but issue in much fruit, to the praise and glory of God. Perhaps no church is blessed with a larger number of converts than our own ; but, unhappily, in many cases the first love is not retained, and formalism or open backsliding is the painful result. The subject should engage our deep attention, and call forth suitable and persevering effort to preserve the tender lambs.
2. Neglect of church-discipline is reproved by the Spirit.— The church of Pergamos allowed persons within its pale, who were known to “hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.” Thus did those beretics seek to blend the foul rites of Paganism with the pure Gospel of Christ. The doctrine of the Nicolaitanes was also believed and acted upon by some persons in this church,-a distinct class, but agreeing, in the main features of their infamous heresy, with the followers of Balaam. Both parties, as well as the followers of Jezebel in Thyatira, contended that it was lawful to indulge in sensual pleasure, and to partake of an idol-sacrifice; and thus sought, by compromise, to make proselytes and escape persecution.
A similar policy, which cannot be too strongly condemned, obtains in the present day among those persons who seek to serve two masters. They will not give up all claim to religion ; and yet, lest they should in some quarters expose themselves to ridicule and hostility, they sacrifice principle, and, by a censurable conformity to the world, do violence to their conscience. They do not like to be thought righteous overmuch ; and, lest such a stigma should attach to them, they are found witnessing the exhibitions of the theatre, engaging in the feats of the ball-room, and participating in other forms of unhallowed pleasure, as contrary to the spirit and practice of Christianity as were the proceedings of the heretics at Pergamos. Such trimming is most disreputable and wicked. Everything must yield to the claims of Christ. He enjoins habits of the most rigid purity, and censures every departure therefrom. Let no attempt be made to produce fellowship between light and darkness, or concord between Christ and Belial.
Toleration of the offending members in Christian fellowship is the sin against which the rebuke and threatening are directed. Our Lord has not given to His church any specific form of government; but He has laid down certain great principles as its basis, which ought to regulate and sustain all the parts of any form which may be adopted. One of these principles is, that the immoral, if they repent not after due admonition, are to be excommunicated. “ If any man that is called a brother,” says St. Paul,“ be a fornicator, or covetous,
or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one (you are] not to eat.” Any church neglecting this fundamental principle of government, as did the church of Pergamos, must soon decline, as the infallible word of God intimates, and bistory abundantly proves. It is quite easy to point to churches which at one period had great prosperity, and indeed furnished a host of confessors and martyrs ; but which, in consequence of a lax discipline, have long been as a city withont walls.
Let us take care, brethren, that the excellent Rules of our communion be strictly observed, and that church-discipline be effectively maintained. In some cases this will involve most painful exercise. The parties offending may be very influential-may hold important positions in the church, or stand in a near relation to ourselves : but fidelity to Christ, and duty to the church, requires that this solemn office be discharged. Let it always be done, however, in the spirit of Him who wept over offending Jerusalem, and who is "long-suffering,” “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
3. False doctrine is reproved by the Spirit.-This obtained in Pergamos; and in Thyatira, Jezebel, who called herself a prophetess, set forth tenets of most corrupting tendency, and succeeded in drawing away many from the simplicity and purity of the faith. Her doctrine, so palatable to fallen human nature, appears to have greatly resembled that of the heretics in Pergamos. She is by many supposed to have been the Pastor's wife. They who have to minister in holy things should especially have respect to the glory of God in their marriage, knowing, as they must do, that the wife of a Pastor cannot but exert a good or evil influence upon the church.
It is a dire calamity, which cannot be too much deprecated, for any church to listen to teachings opposed to the word of God. All departures from that infallible standard of truth, though not so flagrant as that at Thyatira, must yet be perilous to the soul. There are minor points, in the interpretation of which some latitude may be safely allowed ; but not so with fundamental verities. There is in some classes a disposition to neutralize the truth of God by manifold subtile speculations, which we must “resist steadfast in the faith ;' not allowing ourselves to be corrupted, by any form of artifice or vain reasoning, from the simplicity of the Gospel.
It is matter of thankfulness that the Wesleyan Body has been graciously preserved from heresy. The doctrines which we hold, and believe to be according to the Scriptures, are preached in all our places of worship throughout the world. While some other churches have been much disturbed by the want of uniformity in teaching, we have been heartily speaking the same things. We have had contentions about our church-order, but none about our doctrine. have been, and still are, “ of one mind;” and this great blessing is secured to us by means which guarantee its continuance. No candidate for the ministry is received without various theological examinations, by which his views are ascertained ; and, once in the year,
VOL. IV.--FIFTH SERIES.