Individuality, and Its Opposite
HEN the late excellent Field-Marshal, Sir John Burgoyne, took the chair at the Tabernacle, at a lecture by Mr. Henry Vincent, he discharged his duty as chairman briefly, but admirably, by saying that, as chairman, he looked upon himself as merely called upon to ring the bell to announce the starting of the train. That is somewhat my position with regard to this Conference, only it rises to a higher degree of responsibility, because your President has not only to start the train of good thoughts and words for this week, but to a large measure he will give a tone for better or worse to all that shall follow. I am, therefore, more like the pitch-pipe of the olden times, which gave the key-note to the singers in the gallery, and through them to the whole congregation, and I feel inexpressibly anxious that the key-note should be a right one. Brethren, a measure of the sense of responsibility is helpful, and in many ways qualifies a man for saying the right thing; but it may be pushed too far, it may go beyond humbling the mind, and reach to the crushing of the spirit; it may so overwhelm you with the feeling of what is to be done as utterly to disqualify you for the doing of it. I am somewhat in that condition as to my part in this Conference to-day. I pine to inspire and not to repress your zeal, I long to lead you into the highest spiritual condition, and not to divert your attention to lower matters, and these strong desires master me; my heart conquers my head, and disturbs the equanimity so needful for the creation and utterance of thought. However, I shall do my best, and leave myself in the hands of our great Illuminator, the Holy Spirit, that He may speak through me as He wills.
for which I cannot find the exact word,either in the English or Latin tongue. I want to show that each one of us is a man by himself, and then that no one is alone by himself. Our individuality and our fellowship, our personality and our union with the Lord, our separate existence and our absorption into Christ;these are the themes upon which I am going to dilate.
Perhaps my one thought will come better if I give you a text from the 1st of Corinthians, the 15th chapter, and 10th verse: "I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I." "I, yet not I;"I to the very full, every bit of me: Paul, once the Pharisee, the blasphemer, the persecutor, called now to be an apostle, who finds it cause of joy that this grace is given unto me to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; I, not a whit behind the very chief of the apostles: and yet not I, for I feel myself to be nothing, yea, and less than nothing, and Christ is all and in all. So it is I, yet not I.
I. Commencing, then, let me speak of OUR INDIVIDUALITY. Dear brethren, may we, every one of us, be as far removed as possible from anything like egotism, which is hateful to the last degree! It is to be hoped that vanity is rare in ministers, for vanity is the vice of novices, and may be sooner excused in young students than in actual teachers of the Word. Experience, if it be worth having, exterminates a man's vanity; but so bad is our nature, that it may increase his pride if it be an experience sweetened with success. It were hard to say which is the greater sin, vanity or pride; but we know which is the more foolish and ridiculous. A proud man may have some weight, but a vain man is light as air, and influences no one. From both these egotisms may we be kept, for they are both injurious to ourselves and hateful to God. Too frequent an intrusion of self is another form of egotism to be avoided. I hope our sermons will never be of the same order as those which were set: up in a certain printing office, and the chief compositor had to request the manager to send for an extra supply of capital I's. The letter "I" is a noble vowel, but it may be sounded too loudly. Great "I" is very apt to become prominent with us all; even those who labour after humility can barely escape. When self is killed in one form, it rises in another; and, alas! there is such a thing as being proud of being humble, and boasting of being now cleansed from everything like boasting.
Brethren, I hope that, however useful God may have made us in our several spheres, we do not conceive ourselves to be vastly important, for indeed we are no such thing. The cock was of opinion that the sun rose early every morning on purpose to hear him crow; but we know that Sol did nothing of the kind. The world does not revolve, the sun does not blaze, the moon does not wax and wane, the stars do not shine, entirely for the especial benefit of any one brother here, however admirable he may be in his own place; neither does Christendom exist for the purpose of finding us pulpits, nor our own particular church that it may furnish us with a congregation and an income; nay, nor does even so much as one believer exist that he may lay himself out for our sole comfort and honour. We are too insignificant to be of any great importance in God's vast universe; He can do either with us or without us, and our presence or absence will not disarrange His plans.
Yet, for all that, our subject is individuality, and we hope that each man will recognize and honorably maintain his personality. The proper recognition of the EGO is a theme worthy of our attention. I will make a word if I may: let egotism stand for proud, vainglorious, intrusive selfhood, and let egoism stand for the humble, responsible, and honest selfhood which, finding itself in being, resolves to be at the Divine bidding, and to be at its best, to the glory of God. In this age, when crowds follow their leaders, and bold men easily command a following; when the flocks cannot move without their bell-wethers, and rough independence is rarely to be found, it is well for us to be self-contained, whole men, and not merely limbs of a body, maintaining ourselves in the integrity of personal thought, conscience, manner, and action. Nowadays, monopolizers almost push the individual trader out of the market: the members of one party cry up "wood" as the only material for building the house of the Lord, and those who belong to another sect with equal zeal extol their own "hay and stubble." We shall not, by all their efforts, be induced to cease from building with the few "precious stones" which the Lord has entrusted to us; nor shall even our brethren, who so admirably pile up the "gold and silver," persuade us to hide away our agates and carbuncles. We must each build with such material as we have; if the work be true and honest, we ought neither to censure others nor to condemn ourselves because our labour is after its own kind.
Upon this matter of individuality, note first, the necessity of an earnest sense of our individual interest in the gospel which we preach. Brethren, we shall never preach the Savior of sinners better than when we feel ourselves to be the sinners whom He came to save. A penitent mourning for sin fits us to preach repentance. "I preached," says John Bunyan, "sometimes, as a man in chains to men in chains, hearing the clanking of my own fetters while I preached to those who were bound in affliction and iron." Sermons wrung out of broken hearts are often the means of consolation to despairing souls. It is well to go to the pulpit, at times, with "God be merciful to me a sinner" as our uppermost prayer. Some mourners will never be cheered till they see the preacher smite upon his own breast, and hear him confess his personal sense of unworthiness.
It would not be right, however, for us to stay upon such low ground, for we preach the gospel, and not the law; we are bound, therefore, to rejoice because we feel the power of the blood of Jesus upon our own consciences, giving us peace and pardon in Him. Our joy will give life to our message. We have also tasted of the honey of communion with Jesus: we have not, perhaps, feasted upon handfuls of it, as some of our Samsons have done; but we have at least, like Jonathan, dipped the end of our rod into it, and our eyes have been enlightened, so that our hearers can see them sparkle with joy while we tell them how precious Jesus is. This gives emphasis to our testimony. When we speak as ministers and not as men, as preachers instead of penitents, as theologians instead of disciples, we fail; when we lean our head too much upon the Commentary, and too little upon the Savior's bosom; when we eat too largely of the tree of knowledge, and too little of the tree of life, we lose the power of our ministry. I am myself a sinner, a sinner washed in the blood, and delivered from the wrath to come by the merit of my Lord and Master;all this must be fresh upon our mind. Personal godliness must never grow scanty with us. Our own personal justification in the righteousness of Christ, our personal sanctification by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, our vital union with Christ, and expectancy of glory in Him, yea, our own advancement in grace, or our own declension; all these we must well know and consider.
We must never preach to others with a counterfeit voice, narrating an experience which we have not ourselves enjoyed; but if we feel that we have back-slidden to any degree, we must either rally to the mark, or penitently speak from the standpoint we actually occupy. On the other hand, if we have grown in grace, it is wicked to conceal what we have tasted and handled, and affect a mock humility; in fact, we dare not do so, we cannot but speak what Christ has taught us. We must speak out of the God-given fulness within, and not borrow from another; better far to be silent than to do that. We must be true to our personal condition before God, for perhaps the Lord allows the state of heart of His ministers to vary on purpose that their roving paths may lead to the discovery of His wandering sheep. I have sometimes traversed a portion of the pilgrim path by no means to be desired, and I have groaned in my soul, "Lord, why and wherefore is it thus with me?" And I have preached in a way which made me lie in the dust, fearing that the Lord had not spoken by me, and all the while He was leading me by the hand in a way that I knew not, for the good of His own. There have come forward, ere long, one or two who have been just the people God intended to bless, and they were reached by the very sermon which cost me so much, and grew out of an experience so exceedingly bitter.
The prophet Ezekiel said, "The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones;" and such carryings, so often as they occur, are matters for praise. Not so much for our own good or edification, as for the benefit of our fellow-men, are we borne into valleys of dry bones and chambers of imagery. We must watch these phases of soul, and be true to Divine impulses. I would not myself preach upon the joy of the Lord when I felt broken-hearted, neither would I enlarge upon a deep sense of indwelling sin while rejoicing in a full sense of cleansing by the Word. We must pray the Holy Spirit to elevate and keep up our individual life in its connection with our ministry. We must ever remember that we are not preaching doctrine which is good for others merely, but precious truth which has been proved to be good for ourselves. We may not be butchers at the block chopping off for hungry ones the meat of which we do not partake; but we must ourselves feed upon it, and must show in our very faces what fattening food it is which we present to the starving sons of men.
Brethren, this personality of life in Christ being well kept in our minds, it will be well for us never to forget our personal commission to preach the gospel. for I hope you have each of you received such a personal commission, and know it; or else why are you here? Leave the ministry, brethren, if you have not received it of the Lord. I preachI dare to say itbecause I can do no otherwise; I cannot refrain myself; a fire burns within my bones which will consume me if I hold my peace. Every God-sent Christian minister is as much called to preach the gospel as was that apostle to whom Ananias spoke concerning "the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way." This makes our preaching a solemn business. Suppose that, this morning, in going down the stairs of this College alone, an angel should meet you, and lay his hand upon you, and say, "The Lord God Almighty hath sent me to commission you to preach the gospel henceforth." Brother, you would feel a burden laid upon you, and yet you would feel renewed confidence and ardour. But no mere angel's hand has touched thee, brother; the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who redeemed thee with His most precious blood, has laid this "necessity" upon thee. The pierced hand, which gave thee healing, has appointed thee to thy Lord's service, and made thee a chosen vessel to bear His Name. Hear afresh from His lips the commands, "Feed My sheep" and "Feed My lambs," even as Peter did by the Sea of Galilee.
Keep that matter of your commission always clearly before you. Who shall stand to oppose your preaching if the Lord has bidden you preach? Who shall dictate your message, or drive you to change it, if the Incarnate Wisdom has taught you what to say? You are well equipped for preaching the gospel if you can truly say, with Paul, "For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." Dear brothers, we must feel just that; I believe you do, and I want you to keep the feeling fresh and warm. Kings, you know, claim to reign by the grace of God. It may be so. God is very gracious to allow some of them to reign. But of this thing I am sure; every true minister is a defender of the faith, "Dei gratia." "By the grace of God I am what I am" both as a minister and as a believer. There may be a question about the legitimacy of monarchs, and a tribunal of judges is too often needed to test the election of senators; but if we have the witness of the Holy Spirit within us, our kingdom cannot be moved, our election cannot be disproved.
Brethren, in connection with our individuality, we ought to feel a great respect for our own sphere of labour. You who are pastors are not only set to be watchmen for souls, but to be watchmen for the souls in particular places. You brethren, as a whole, are to go into all the world to preach the gospel, but each one of you must feed that flock of Christ over which the Holy Ghost has made you an overseer. There your principal labors must be expended, for there your principal responsibilities lie. I would have every brother think very highly of the position in which God has placed him. If I am a sentinel, set to guard the army at a certain point, I know that every post in the whole cordon is important; but I am not to dream that mine is not so. If so, I may be inclined to sleep, and the foe may surprise the camp at the point which I ought to have guarded. I am to feel as if the whole safety of the entire camp depended upon me;at least, I ought to be as zealous and as watchful as if it were so. You see the links of that chain; each one of them has a certain strain upon it. Suppose that one of them should say, "I may rust through; it does not matter, for many other links are strong." No, my friend, the chain depends upon each link; and so, for the completeness of church work, and for the perfect edification of the body of Christ, a great weight of responsibility lies upon you. I am very responsible; I admit it, but you have each one your measure of responsibility, which you cannot shift to another's shoulders. If all the rest of the world should be blest, and the hamlet to which you minister should be unvisited, the general revival would be no joy to you if your negligence had made your little vineyard a mournful exception to the rule. You might rejoice in the increase of blessing elsewhere, but the deeper would be your regret that you had none of it at home.
Let each man stick to his own work. If I felt that I had a call to be an evangelist, and to go everywhere preaching the Word, I would not retain my pastorate, because it would be unjust to the people who call me their Pastor. I rejoice when I see very useful brethren travelling far and wide, but I lament when I find their churches left to be starved and scattered. That is a sad confession of the spouse in the Canticles, "They made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept." If we cannot do the two things, we had better not try. I am not for a moment wishing to discourage the most extended labors on the part of any of our brethren;the farther you can go, the better, for all the world is your parish;but this must not be done at the expense of the work to which you have pledged yourselves by accepting pastorates.
A dear brother said to me, "I wish you would go abroad, and preach the Word;" and he urged as a reason that my people would appreciate me better if they had less of me. I:replied that I did not want my people to appreciate me any more, for they go already as far in that direction as would be safe, and I assured him that I should stop at home for fear they should appreciate me more. I might have rambled all the world over, and done great good, if that had been my calling; but the day will declare whether I have not been more in the path of duty and real usefulness by fostering Institutions at home, and scattering the Word by my printed sermons far more widely than I could have done with my voice. Be it so or not, brethren, when you know which part of the Lord's work He has committed to you, give your whole soul to it. Going through the famous factory at Sevres, the other day, I noticed an artist painting a very beautiful vase. I looked at him, but he did not look at me; his eyes were better engaged than in staring at a stranger. There were several persons at my heels, and they all looked at him, and made various observations, yet the worker's eye never moved from his work. He had to paint the picture upon that vase, and what benefit would he get from noticing us, or from our noticing him? He kept to his work. We would fain see such abstraction and concentration in every man who has the Lord's work to do. "This one thing I do." Some frown, some smile, but "this one thing I do." Some think they could do it better, but "this one thing I do." How they could do it, may be their business; but it certainly is not mine.
Remember, dear brother, if you give your whole soul to the charge committed to you, it does not matter much about its appearing to be a somewhat small and insignificant affair, for as much skill may be displayed in the manufacture of a very tiny watch as in the construction of the town clock; in fact, a minute article may become the object of greater wonder than another of larger dimensions. Quality is a far more precious thing than quantity. Have you ever seen the famous picture at the Hague, called "Paul Potter's Bull"? It is one of the world's immortal paintings. What is it? Well, it is only a bull; and there are, besides, a man, and a tree, and a frog, and a few weeds. It is only a bull; ah, but there is not upon canvas another bull in the world to equal it! Many a man has attempted to depict a marvellous piece of natural scenery in the Alps or in Cumberland, or he has tried his pencil upon a magnificent sea-piece, with a fleet of yachts dancing on the waves, and he has not succeeded. The subjects were superior, but the art was poor. We must never think, because the particular work we have in hand seems to be insignificant, that therefore we cannot do it, or should not do it, thoroughly well. We need Divine help to preach aright to a congregation of one. If a thing is worth doing at all, it is worth doing well. If you had to sweep a crossing, it were well to sweep it better than anybody else. If you only preach in Little Peddlington, let Little Peddlington know that you are doing your best, and seeking its good. Many a minister has achieved fame, and, what is far better, has brought glory to God, in a congregation which could be counted by units, while another has presided over a large church, and though at first there was a great blast of trumpets, it has ended in the silence and sadness of utter failure. Know your work, and bend over it, throwing your heart and soul into it; for, be it great or small, you will have to praise God to all eternity if you are found faithful in it.
Come fair or come foul, my comrades, hold ye the fort. Some men attempt to excuse their own negligence by blaming the times. What have you and I to do with the times, except to serve our God in them? The times are always evil to those who are of morbid temperament. A scholar tells us that he once read a passage from a book to a worthy gentleman of the desponding school; it described "these days of blasphemy and rebuke,"I think that is the correct expression,and lamented the failure of the faithful from among men "Ah, how true!" said the worthy man, "it is the precise picture of the times." "What times?" exclaimed the scholar. "These times, of course," was the reply. "Pardon me," said the scholar, "the sentiment was delivered about four hundred years ago; examine for yourself the date of the volume." The benefit of railing at the times it would be hard to discover, for railing does not mend them. What have you to do with the times? Do your own work. Charles the Twelfth of Sweden had his secretary sitting by his side writing from dictation, when a bombshell fell through the roof into the next room. The secretary, in alarm, dropped his pen, upon which the king exclaimed, "What are you doing?" The poor man faltered, "Ah, sire, the bomb!" The king's answer was, "What has the bomb to do with what I am telling you?" You will say that the secretary's life was in danger. Yes, but you are safe in any case, for you are side by side with Jesus in holy service, and no evil can befall you. Watch on, and work on, even to the crack of doom. Leave the times and the seasons with God, and go on with your work. Carlyle speaks somewhere of the house-cricket chirping on while the trump of the archangel is sounding;who blames it for so doing? If God had made you a house-cricket, and bidden you chirp, you could not do better than fulfil His will. As He has made you a preacher, you must abide in your vocation. Even if the earth should be removed, and the mountains should be cast into the midst of the sea, would that alter our duty? I trow not. Christ has sent us to preach the gospel; and if our life-work is not yet finished, (and it is not,) let us continue delivering our message under all circumstances till death shall silence us.
We should consider, in the fourth place, our personal adaptation, desiring to keep it ever in the best possible condition. There is not only a work ordained for each man, but each man is fitted for his work. Men are not cast in moulds by the thousand; we are each one distinct from his fellow. When each of us was made, the mould was broken;a very satisfactory circumstance in the case of some men, and I greatly question whether it is not an advantage, in the case of us all. If we are, however, vessels for the Master's use, we ought to have no choice about what vessel we may be. There was a cup which stood upon the communion table when our Lord ate that passover which He had so desired to eat with His disciples before He suffered; and, assuredly, that cup was honored when it was put to His lips, and then passed to the apostles. Who would not be like that cup? But there was a basin also which the Master took, into which He poured water, and washed the disciples' feet. I protest that I have no choice whether to be the chalice or the basin. Fain would I be whichever the Lord wills so long as He will but use me. But this is plain,the cup would have made a very insufficient basin, and the basin would have been a very improper cup for the communion feast. So you, my brother, may be the cup, and I will be the basin; but let the cup be a cup, and the basin a basin, and each one of us just what he is fitted to be. Be yourself, dear brother, for, if you are not yourself, you cannot be anybody else; and so, you see, you must be nobody. The very worst notes in music are those which are untrue; each true sound has its own music. In my aviary are many birds, and they sing very sweetly; but there are among them three grass paroquets, which do not sing, but imitate the other birds, and very effectually spoil the concert. Their imitation seems to drown the natural music of the rest. Do not be a mere copyist, a borrower and spoiler of other men's notes. Say what God has said to you, and say it in your own way; and when it is so said, plead personally for the Lord's blessing upon it.
Keep your adaptation for your work up to the highest pitch. Be not in so much hurry to do that you forget to be,so anxious to give out that you never take in. This is the haste which makes no speed. Old Nat had a large wood pile before him, and he sawed very hard to make that pile smaller. His saw wanted sharpening and re-setting, and it was dreadful work to make it go at all. An honest neighbor stepped up to him, and said, "Nat, why don't you get that saw sharpened? You want to get that put to rights, and then you could do a deal more than you are now doing." "Now then," replied Nat, "don't you come bothering here. I have quite enough to do to saw that pile of wood, without stopping to sharpen my saw." It is unnecessary to point the moral of that anecdote; take note of it, and act accordingly in future. It is a waste of time, not an economy of it, to dispense with study, private prayer, and due preparation for your work.
Keep your adaptation right, especially in a spiritual sense. We have more cause to pray and read our Bibles than any other people in the world. It was a very wet day the last time I was at Cologne, and I occupied a room in the hotel, which presented me with a highly-picturesque view of a public pump. There was nothing else to see, and it rained so hard that I could not shift my quarters, so I sat and wrote letters, and glanced at the old pump. People came with pails for water, and one came with a barrel on his back, and filled it. In the course of an hour, that individual came several times; indeed, he came almost as often as all other comers put together, and always filled up his vessel. He was coming, and coming, and coming all the while; and I rightly concluded that he was a seller of water, and supplied other people; hence he came oftener than anybody else, and had a larger vessel. And that is precisely our condition. Having to carry the living water to others, we must go oftener to the well, and we must go with more capacious vessels than the general run of Christians. Look, then, to the vigor of your personal piety, and pray to be "filled with all the fulness of God."
Once more, remember our personal responsibility. I shall not trust myself to go very deeply into this question, but every brother should remember that, however well or ill another man may do his work, it can have no effect whatever upon our own personal responsibility before God. Some blame others with a kind of silently-implied belief that they are thereby praising themselves; for, if we censure the methods adopted by other workers, we tacitly suggest that our own modes areor, if we had any, would besuperior to theirs. Well, brother, it may be so. It may be that others are not wise, are scarcely sound, are fanatical, erratic, and the like; but what hast thou to do with them? To their own Master they shall stand or fall, and God's grace is able to make them stand; but your supposed wisdom, which leads you to criticize them, may prove a snare to you, and make you fall. You have yet to bring your work before God, to be tried by fire. Souls are entrusted to you, and for these you must give account. God does not mean to bless those souls by anybody else, they are to be converted through you; so, are you acting, living, and preaching in such a way that God is likely to convert them through you? That is the question for each one of us to answer.
We ought to feel our personal responsibility now, or it may one day come home to us in a way both forceful and painful. If you are smitten with sickness, and lie hour after hour tossing upon your bed in the silent watches of the night, if you have a little respite from pain, or even if you have not, you will, in all probability, occupy your mind mainly with the overhauling of the work which you have hitherto done or left undone. Believe me, brethren, this overhauling does not minister to one's gratification. There are portions of your work over which you linger with joy, and you say, "Glory be to God, this work was done, at any rate, with a pure heart, and to His glory, and He blessed it;" and you feel ready to sing over it; but you have hardly time to finish the song before you have to weep over a piece of work that was slurred and blotted, and you cannot help wishing that you could do it all over again. O brethren, we shall soon have to die! We look each other in the face to-day in health, but there will come a day when others will look down upon our pallid countenances as we lie in our coffins, and we shall not be able to return their glances. It will matter little to us who shall gaze upon us then, but it will matter eternally how we have discharged our work during our lifetime. "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting,"will that be the verdict on any one of us when we shall stand before the Lord God Almighty, who trieth the hearts and searcheth the reins of the children of men? His fire is in Zion, and His furnace is in Jerusalem. His jealousy is most fierce against those who come nearest to Him; He will not tolerate sin in His choicest servants, for He slew Nadab and Abihu because they offered strange fire upon His altar, and He made the false apostle to be an eternal monument of scorn. May we be kept faithful by grace almighty, or the responsibility which rests upon us will grind us to powder!
I feel that this matter of personality may be pressed very earnestly upon you, my brethren, in all five of its points; and in all it will be useful. If our individual responsibility be rightly felt, we shall refrain from judging others. We are all too ready to ascend the judgment-seat. One man judges his fellow, and condemns him because he has had so few additions to his church. I should myself be sorry if I saw few conversions, and I should severely censure myself; but I should be very, very wrong if I were to utter an indiscriminate censure upon others. Our brother's congregation may be smaller than ours; the people's hearts may have been long steeled by a cold, dead, stereotyped ministry, and it may be that there is a good deal of work to be done before they will become interested in the gospel, much less affected by it. Possibly it may happen that the preacher, who has one convert, might say as the lioness did about her one cub, when the fox boasted that she had so many, "One, but that one is a lion!" The minister, whose whole year's work ended with one convert, and that one was Robert Moffat, did not reap a scanty harvest.
On the other hand, I have noticedand I think rather more frequentlythat brethren who have few converts judge those who have many. Now, that also would come to an end if each man knew his own place, and had joy in his own work, and was not envious of another. You say, "Oh, but these numerous conversions cannot all be genuine!" Why not? Why should their number create suspicion? I have very few sovereigns in my purse, and there are heaps at the Bank of England; yet I guess that, in the multitudes of golden coins which pass into the Bank of England, there is not so much probability of there being a counterfeit as in the few which reach my pocket or yours. Quantity need not deteriorate quality. I have an idea sometimes,I do not know whether it is correct,that where there are very few converts added to the church, there may be some unbelief. When I came along the Corniche Railway, from Genoa, it was broken in several places; and in one spot the embankment was not quite destroyed, but it was weakened, and therefore they passed the carriages over it one by one. They were afraid of the road, and so did not allow too many upon it at one time. I may not judge, but I sometimes think that, when brethren bring the converts in so very slowly, they have a little trembling about the power of saving grace to bear so many. It would not be difficult to be censorious on either side, but we shall not be so if we look well to the charge committed to us, and feel our own need of Divine help.
Our individuality will preserve us, by God's grace, from envying others. This vice is loathsome, and eats as doth a canker. "Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?" I have known persons utter sentiments which condemned themselves merely with the view of injuring others. They cared not if they perished, like Samson, so long as they pulled the house down upon others. An ancient story tells us that a king invited to his palace two men, one of whom he knew to be the slave of envy. "Now," said he, "I will give you whatever you please, upon the condition that this man shall choose first, and his companion shall have twice as much as he." The first man was envious: he desired great wealth, but he could not endure that the other man should have double. He therefore thought that he would reduce what he asked for, but this also left his companion his superior; and as the fable goes,for peradventure it was only a fable,his envy so prevailed that he chose to have one of his eyes torn out that the other man might be rendered totally blind. Somewhat similar is the spirit of those who oppose others upon principles fatal to their own work. Brother, do not so. If thy neighbor be honored of God, thank God for it; if thou art not so honored, be humbled, and pray more earnestly. If the blessing comes not to thee, still rejoice that it gladdens thy comrade. In any case, do not envy others.
On the other hand, dear brethren, this sense of individuality ought to prevent our despising others. The question sometimes comes to the lip concerning a very weak and scantily-gifted brother, "Lord, and what shall this man do?" The answer of the Lord is, "What is that to thee? Follow thou Me." There are much better ways of spending our time than in deriding or despising our brethren. A nobler work by far is to help those who are weak, and to encourage those who are cast down.
Dear brethren, I have said enough upon this first point, and I shall not be so long upon the other lest I should weary you. I wish, however, that what I have said may abide in the hearts of us all.
II. Come we now to THE OPPOSITE OF INDIVIDUALITY. I shall not imitate the old logicians, who could "confute, change sides, and then confute," for what I have to say is not in opposition, but in apposition; it is not the reverse, but the converse. I cannot find the word with which to head it. Our language is still imperfect; it does not contain the converse of individuality. I looked in Roget's Thesaurus, I did more, I consulted a living dictionary now among you; but I could not find the word, and there is not such a word, though there ought to be. Will anybody here, who is a word-maker, be so kind as to coin me a word to stand in opposition or apposition to the word individuality? Till that is done, I must dispense with a catchword, and proceed.
Let us all feel, dear brethren, that, though we have each one a work to do, and are personally fitted to do it, we are not the only workers in the world. Brother, you are not the only lamp to enlighten earth's darkness, you are not the only sower to sow the field of the world with the good seed, you are not the only trumpet through which God proclaims His jubilee, yours is not the only hand by which He feeds the multitudes. You are only one member of the mystic body, one soldier of the grand army. This thought should encourage you, and relieve the despondency engendered by loneliness. When God sent the flies, and locusts, and caterpillars to conquer Egypt, Pharaoh might have ridiculed any one of those insignificant warriors, and said, "What can this caterpillar do? I defy the Lord and His caterpillars." But the caterpillar might have answered, "Beware, O king, for there are ten thousand times ten thousand of us! We come in mighty armies, and will cover all the land. Weak as we are one by one, the Lord will evidence His omnipotence by the multiplication of our numbers." Thus was it in the early days of Christianity. Christians came into Rome,a few poor Jews they were, and they dwelt in the Ghetto, in obscurity; by-and-by, there were more. Meanwhile, a few had passed over into Spain; soon there were more. A few had reached Britain; soon there were more. The nations, angry at this invasion, set to work to destroy those pests of society, which turned the world upside down. They tormented, burned, and destroyed them; but they continued to come in shoals and swarms, and though they were slain without mercy, there were always more to follow. The foes of God could not possibly stand against the vast host that pressed forward. "The Lord gave the Word: great was the company of those that published it." Even so it is at this day. You are not alone in sounding the praises of Christ, your voice is but one, of a mighty orchestra. The whole world is full of the praises of God: "their line is gone out through all the earth; and their words to the end of the world."
Nor do we think only of the church militant; we lift our eyes beyond the firmament, and see a still more glorious band; for the Master's honour and glory are not left in the hands of workers here below, toilworn and weary. His glory is sounded forth from harps that never clash, struck by hands that are never defiled. As a College, we have our comrades in yonder host whose memories are yet green. I will not mention many names; but I can never forget our early brother, Alfred Searle, in character beautiful as a choice flower; and Paterson, in perseverance indomitable, who wore himself out in self-denying labour. Never can we fail to remember our apostolic brother Sargeant, worthy of a monument of precious stones; and Benjamin Davies, unwearied in his Master's cause. It would only awaken mournful reflections if I were to continue the right noble list of those who have gone up higher; may we prove as faithful as they were! But it is not merely with them that we have fellowship; we are one with all the faithful. Luther, and Calvin, and Wycliffe, and Latimer, and Whitefield, and Wesley, are our comrades, and all the saints who have preached Jesus Christ. They are not preachers now, it is true; but they are still glorifying God, and that after the noblest fashion. It refreshes my heart to think of those whose battle is fought and won for ever. We are told that the Venetian women, when their husbands are out upon the Adriatic fishing, go down to the verge of the sea on the sweet summer evenings, when all is calm and bright, and begin to sing a hymn. They sing the first stanza in the shrill silvery notes of woman's voice, and then they wait. They cannot see a single boat upon the sea, the blue Adriatic is not dotted with a sail; but, presently, mysteriously wafted across the waters, comes the second stanza. Their husbands are out of sight, but they are not out of hearing; and they have taken up the second part of the hymn. Even thus, at this moment, our friends on the shores of Heaven are chanting to us. Hearken, I pray you! This is the strain,
In realms of endless love,
Praise Jesu's Name;
To Him ascribed be,
Honour and majesty,
Through all eternity,
Worthy the Lamb!"
Did you not hear that canticle? Shall we reply? Come, my brethren, let us answer them! Let us rapturously sing,
Cheerfully, join in one,
Praising His Name;
We who have felt His blood
Sealing our peace with God,
Sound His dear fame abroad;
Worthy the Lamb!"
Brethren, we are not alone. Legions of angels are all around us. Hosts of glorified spirits look down upon us. We are surrounded with a mighty band of helpers. We are compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses; wherefore, "let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus."
It is well for us to remember, in addition to this, that, although we are individuals, and must keep up our personality, we are only instruments for the accomplishment of the Divine purposes. We are nothing at all apart from God; and, blessed be God, we are not apart from Him. It is well to fall back, every now and then, in sheer weariness, upon the great truth of Divine predestination. It is a bed for some men's idleness; to us, it should be a couch for our refreshment. After all, God's will is done. His deep, eternal, immutable purposes are accomplished. The rage of hell and the enmity of men are neither of them able to stay the course of the eternal decrees. God doeth as He wills, not only among the armies of Heaven, but among the inhabitants of this lower world. He maketh the wrath of man to praise Him, and out of evil He bringeth forth good.
It is very blessed to feel that God is behind you, that God is in you, and that He is working with you. Mr. Oncken, in the early days of his preaching at Hamburg, was brought up before the burgomaster many times, and imprisoned. This magistrate one day said to him, in very bitter terms, "Mr. Oncken, do you see that little finger?" "Yes, sir." "As long as that little finger can be held up, sir, I will put you down." "Ah!" said Mr. Oncken, "I do not suppose that you see what I see, for I discern not merely a little finger, but a great arm, and that is the arm of God, and as long as that arm can move, you will never put me down." The opposition which is waged against the true minister of Christ does not, after all, amount to more than the burgomaster's little finger, while the power which is with us is that eternal and onmipotent arm whose forces sustain the heavens and the earth. We need not, therefore, fear. God's presence makes us bold. Let the Uhlan in the late war be our example. Picture him, a solitary man, brave and cool, riding upon a fleet horse. He is going along one of those interminable French roads which have no variety, except that now and then one poplar may be half an inch taller than another; he rides hard and fearlessly, though there are foes on all sides. That one man passes through a hamlet, and frightens everybody. He enters a town. Is he not foolhardy? All alone he has ridden up to the Town Hall, and demanded beds and stores. Why is he so bold? They are all afraid of him, evidently. Ask the man why he is so daring, and he replies, "There is an army behind me, and therefore I am not afraid." So must you, dear brother, be one of the Uhlans of the Lord God Almighty, and never be afraid, for the eternal God will be your rearward. "All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth," says our Commander; "go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." I feel as if He were here, this very morning, looking on you as His soldiers, and saying, "Conquer in My Name." Go, then, my brethren, ride to those villages, and arouse them. Go to those towns, and summon them to surrender. Go to the great cities, and say to the people in them, "Christ demands that you yield your hearts to Him." Do this, and He will make your word effectual.
It is well for us to feel, in association with this matter of individuality, that we have the Spirit of God in us. I am what I am; but I am much more than I am, for there is resident within me the Holy One of Israel. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" Not the country residence, the mountain chalet of a travelling personage who will tarry there for a little while,your bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost. This ought to make us respect ourselves;understand me, and do not misconstrue the expression. You should feel that what you do, under the influence of the Divine Spirit, is not such a feeble work as otherwise it would be. Where the Spirit of God is, there is power for the accomplishment of the Divine purposes. It would be far better to speak six words by the Spirit than to speak six thousand without him. A sermon is not to be judged according to its words, a certain inner force is its soul and life; and God's judgment of the discourse will be according to how much there was of the real flower and fruit of the indwelling Spirit underlying the leaves of the sermon. Dear brethren, I have known a person say, "I heard So-and-so preach, and there really was nothing in it; but still a great many were impressed." Just so; God does not need a painted temple; stained glass, and all manner of adornments and outward array, He cares not for. The man who thinks so is Popish, whether he thinks so concerning the temples made with hands, or the temples of our manhood. Is there not a Popery of intellect, and a Popery of elocution, in consequence of which we suppose that God is not resident in the uneducated or hesitating speaker, but only dwells with fluency and elegance?
Where God chooses to dwell, there is a palace; His presence glorifies the place of His abode. Is there anything very wonderful in the architecture of Shakespeare's house at Stratford-on-Avon? Yet, from the utmost ends of the earth, admirers of the world's great poet will come, because Shakespeare once lived there. Suppose Shakespeare were there now! What would his admirers do then? Now, this day, brethren, our poor humble constitutions and frames and bodies,be they what they may,are the temples of the Holy Ghost. It is not only that He was there;that fact makes us respect the very ashes of the saints, but He is there now. May we never have to lament His absence! You may often see a fine house, of which the owner is dead, only the picture of him hangs on the wall; but our delight is that the living Christ is in us now by the power of His Spirit. I went to the monastery which adjoins the church of St. Onofrio, in Rome, some years ago, and they showed me there the rooms in which Tasso lived, and they had so skillfully drawn his likeness on the wall, that it looked for all the world as if Tasso were there. There were also his bed, and his pen, and his inkstand, and some of the paper on which he wrote; but there were no fresh stanzas of "Jerusalem Delivered" to be heard. Even so, we may have the likeness of Christ in our theological knowledge of Him, in our power of speaking for Him, we may have the pen with which He used to write, and we may have the paper on which He was accustomed to write in hearts that were interested in the gospel; but no "Jerusalem Delivered" will be produced, unless Jesus Himself is there. Brethren, we must have Christ in us, the hope of glory; the Spirit dwelling in us, the pure, the ever-flowing life, or our lives will be failures. O Lord, abide with us, and abide in us!
I must conclude with the remark that it is a very delightful thing to feel that all the work we are doing is Jesus Christ's work. All the sheep we have to shepherd are His sheep; the souls we have to bring to Him were bought with His blood; the spiritual house that is to be built is for His habitation. It is all His. I delight in working for my Lord and Master, because I feel a blessed community of interest with Him. That is not my Sunday-school, it is my Lord's; and He says, "Feed My lambs." It is not my church, but His; and He cries, "Feed My sheep." Mine are His, and His are mine; yea, all are His. In the days when servants used to be servants, and were attached to their masters, one of our nobility had with him an old butler who had lived with his father, and was getting grey. The nobleman was often much amused with the way in which the good old man considered everything that was his master's to be his own. I was not only pleased with the story, but it touched my heart when I heard it. His lordship once said to him, "John, whose waggon is that which has just come up loaded with goods?" "Oh!" said he, "that is ours. Those are goods from our town house." His lordship smiled, and as a carriage came up the drive, he said, "John, whose coach is that coming into the park?" "Oh!" said he, "that is our carriage." "But," said the master, "there are some children in it, John; are they our children?" "Yes, my lord, they are our children, bless them, I will run, and bring them in." My Lord Jesus, how dare I have the impertinence to claim anything which is Thine? And yet, when I gaze upon Thy Church, I am so completely Thy servant, and so wholly absorbed in Thee, that I look upon it as mine as well as Thine, and I go to wait upon Thy beloved ones. Yea, Lord, and all these my brethren are going, too. Come with us, Lord, for Thy love's sake! Amen.
Collection administered by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Hosted by WPEngine. For help and support, please email email@example.com