A spirit of worldliness and selfishness has deprived the church of many a blessing. We have no right to suppose an arbitrary withholding from the church of the divine light and power, to account for its limited usefulness. The measure of success which in the past has followed well-directed effort contradicts such an idea. Success has ever been granted proportionate to the labor performed. It is the limitation of labors and sacrifices alone which has restricted the usefulness of the church. The missionary spirit is feeble; devotion is weak; selfishness and cupidity, covetousness and fraud, exist in its members.
Does not God care for these things? Can He not read the intents and purposes of the heart? Earnest, fervent, contrite prayer would open to them the windows of heaven and bring down showers of grace. A clear, steady view of the cross of Christ would counteract their worldliness and fill their souls with humility, penitence, and gratitude. They would then feel that they are not their own, but that they are the purchase of Christ's blood.
A deadly spiritual malady is upon the church. Its members are wounded by Satan; but they will not look to the cross of Christ, as the Israelites looked to the brazen serpent, that they may live. The world has so many claims upon them that they have not time to look to the cross of Calvary long enough to see its glory or to feel its power. When they now and then catch a glimpse of the self-denial and self-dedication which the truth demands, it is unwelcome, and they turn their attention in another direction, that they may the sooner forget it. The Lord cannot make His people useful and efficient while they are not careful to comply with the conditions He has laid down.
Great demands are everywhere made for the light which God has given to His people; but these calls are for the most part in vain. Who feels the burden of consecrating himself to God and to His work? Where are the young men who are qualifying themselves to answer these calls? Vast territories are opened before us where the light of truth has never penetrated. Whichever way we look we see rich harvests ready to be gathered, but there are none to do the reaping. Prayers are offered for the triumph of the truth. What do your prayers mean, brethren? What kind of success do you desire?--a success to suit your indolence, your selfish indulgence?--a success that will sustain and support itself without any effort on your part?
There must be a decided change in the church which will inconvenience those who are reclining on their lees, before laborers who are fitted for their solemn work can be sent into the field. There must be an awakening, a spiritual renovation. The temperature of Christian piety must be raised. Plans must be devised and executed for the spread of truth to all nations of the earth. Satan is lulling Christ's professed followers to sleep while souls are perishing all around them, and what excuse can they give to the Master for their negligence?
The words of Christ apply to the church: "Why stand ye here all the day idle?" Why are you not at work in some capacity in His vineyard? Again and again He has bidden you: "Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive." But this gracious call from heaven has been disregarded by the large majority. Is it not high time that you obey the commands of God? There is work for every individual who names the name of Christ. A voice from heaven is solemnly calling you to duty. Heed this voice, and go to work at once in any place, in any capacity. Why stand ye here all the day idle? There is work for you to do, a work that demands your best energies. Every precious moment of life is related to some duty which you owe to God or to your fellow men, and yet you are idle!
A great work of saving souls remains yet to be done. Every angel in glory is engaged in this work, while every demon of darkness is opposing it. Christ has demonstrated to us the great value of souls in that He came to the world with the hoarded love of eternity in His heart, offering to make man heir to all His wealth. He unveils before us the love of the Father for the guilty race and presents Him as just and the justifier of him that believeth.
"Christ pleased not Himself." He did nothing for Himself; His work was in behalf of fallen man. Selfishness stood abashed in His presence. He assumed our nature that He might suffer in our stead. Selfishness, the sin of the world, has become the prevailing sin of the church. In sacrificing Himself for the good of men, Christ strikes at the root of all selfishness. He withheld nothing, not even His own honor and heavenly glory. He expects corresponding self-denial and sacrifice on the part of those whom He came to bless and save. Everyone is required to work to the extent of his ability. Every worldly consideration should be laid aside for the glory of God. The only desire for worldly advantages should be that we may the better advance the cause of God.
Christ's interests and those of His followers should be one; but the world would judge that they are separate and distinct, for those who claim to be Christ's pursue their own ends as eagerly, and waste their substance as selfishly, as nonprofessors. Worldly prosperity comes first; nothing is made equal to this. The cause of Christ must wait till they gather a certain portion for themselves. They must increase their gains at all hazards. Souls must perish without a knowledge of the truth. Of what value is a soul for whom Christ died in comparison with their gains, their merchandise, their houses and lands? Souls must wait till they get prepared to do something. God calls these servers of Mammon slothful and unfaithful servants, but Mammon boasts of them as among his most diligent and devoted servants. They sacrifice their Lord's goods to ease and enjoyment. Self is their idol.
Doing nothing to bring souls to Jesus, who sacrificed everything to bring salvation within our reach! Selfishness is driving benevolence and the love of Christ from the church. Millions of the Lord's money are squandered in the gratification of worldly lust, while His treasury is left empty. I know not how to present this matter before you as it was presented to me. Thousands of dollars are spent every year in gratifying pride of dress. That very means should be used in our missions. I was shown families who load their tables with almost every luxury and gratify almost every desire for fine clothes. They are engaged in a prosperous business, or are earning good wages, but nearly every dollar is expended upon themselves or their families. Is this imitating Christ? What burden do these feel to carefully economize and deny inclination that they may do more to advance the work of God on earth? Should Elder Andrews have the advantage of some of the means thus needlessly expended, it would be a great blessing to him and give him advantages which would prolong his life. The missionary work might be enlarged a hundredfold if there were more means to employ in carrying out larger plans. But the means which God designed should be used for this very purpose is expended for articles which are thought necessary to comfort and happiness, and which there might be no sin in possessing were not means so greatly needed in extending the truth. How many of you, my brethren, are seeking your own and not the things which are Jesus Christ's!
Suppose Christ should abide in every heart and selfishness in all its forms should be banished from the church, what would be the result? Harmony, unity, and brotherly love would be seen as verily as in the church which Christ first established. Christian activity would be seen everywhere. The whole church would be kindled into a sacrificial flame for the glory of God. Every Christian would cast in the fruit of his self-denial to be consumed upon the altar. There would be far greater activity in devising fresh methods of usefulness and in studying how to come close to poor sinners to save them from eternal ruin.
Should we dress in plain, modest apparel, without reference to the fashions; should our tables at all times be set with simple, healthful food, avoiding all luxuries, all extravagance; should our houses be built with becoming plainness and furnished in the same manner, it would show the sanctifying power of the truth and would have a telling influence upon unbelievers. But while we conform to the world in these matters, in some cases apparently seeking to excel worldlings in fanciful arrangement, the preaching of the truth will have but little or no effect. Who will believe the solemn truth for this time when those who already profess to believe it contradict their faith by their works? It is not God who has closed the windows of heaven to us, but it is our own conformity to the customs and practices of the world.
The third angel of Revelation 14 is represented as flying swiftly through the midst of heaven crying: "Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." Here is shown the nature of the work of the people of God. They have a message of so great importance that they are represented as flying in the presentation of it to the world. They are holding in their hands the bread of life for a famishing world. The love of Christ constraineth them. This is the last message. There are no more to follow, no more invitations of mercy to be given after this message shall have done its work. What a trust! What a responsibility is resting upon all to carry the words of gracious invitation: "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."
Everyone who heareth is to say: Come. Not only ministers, but the people. All are to join in the invitation. Not only by their profession, but by their character and dress, all are to have a winning influence. They are made trustees for the world, executors of the will of One who has bequeathed sacred truth to men. Would that all could feel the dignity and glory of their God-given trust.