The state of the church in ----- is far from what it should be. Unless there is a decided change, it will wither and die. There is much faultfinding; many are giving way to doubt and unbelief. Those who talk faith and cultivate faith will have faith, but those who cherish and express doubts will have doubts.
There has been a neglect on the part of the ministers. They have not urged home to the hearts of their hearers the necessity of faithfulness. They have not educated the church on all points of truth and duty nor labored with zeal to bring them into working order and to get them interested in every branch of the cause of God. I have been shown that had the church been properly educated, they would have been far in advance of their present position. The neglect on the part of the ministers has made the people careless and unfaithful. They have not felt their individual responsibility, but have excused themselves on account of the failure of the ministers to do the work of a pastor. But God does not hold them excused. Had they no Bible, had they no warnings, reproofs, and entreaties from heaven to bring duty to their minds, there would be less condemnation. But the Lord has given counsel and instruction; the duty of each individual has been made so plain that he need make no mistake.
God gives light to guide those who honestly desire light and truth; but it is not His purpose to remove all cause for questioning and doubt. He gives sufficient evidence to found faith upon, and then requires men to accept that evidence and exercise faith.
He who will study the Bible with a humble and teachable spirit will find it a sure guide, pointing out the way of life with unfailing accuracy. But what does your study of the Bible avail, brethren and sisters, unless you practice the truths it teaches? That holy book contains nothing that is nonessential; nothing is revealed that has not a bearing upon our actual lives. The deeper our love for Jesus, the more highly we shall regard that word as the voice of God directly to us.
The church in ----- is standing on Satan's enchanted ground, and there is necessity for a thorough conversion. Individual effort is needed. The rich promises of the Bible are for those who take up their cross and deny self daily. Everyone who has a sincere desire to be a learner in the school of Christ will cultivate spiritual-mindedness and will avail himself of every means of grace, but in this church opportunities and privileges have been slighted. One may be able to say but few words in public and to do but little in the vineyard of the Lord, but he is in duty bound to say something and to be an interested worker. Every member should help to strengthen and sustain the church; but in many cases there are one or two who have the spirit of faithfulness that characterized Caleb of old, and these are permitted to bear the burdens and take the responsibilities, while the rest shirk all care.
Caleb was faithful and steadfast. He was not boastful, he made no parade of his merits and good deeds; but his influence was always on the side of right. And what was his reward? When the Lord denounced judgments against the men who refused to hearken to His voice, He said: "But My servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed Me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it." While the cowards and murmurers perished in the wilderness, faithful Caleb had a home in the promised Canaan. "Them that honor Me I will honor," saith the Lord.
Hannah prayed and trusted; and in her son Samuel she gave to the Israel of God a most precious treasure--a useful man, with a well-formed character, one who was as firm as a rock where principle was concerned.
In Joppa there was a Dorcas, whose skillful fingers were more active than her tongue. She knew who needed comfortable clothing and who needed sympathy, and she freely ministered to the wants of both classes. And when Dorcas died, the church in Joppa realized their loss. It is no wonder that they mourned and lamented, nor that warm teardrops fell upon the inanimate clay. She was of so great value that by the power of God she was brought back from the land of the enemy, that her skill and energy might still be a blessing to others.
Such patient, prayerful, and persevering fidelity as was possessed by these saints of God is rare; yet the church cannot prosper without it. It is needed in the church, in the Sabbath school, and in society. Many come together in church relationship with their natural traits of character unsubdued; and in a crisis, when strong, hopeful spirits are needed, they give up to discouragement and bring burdens on the church; and they do not see that this is wrong. The cause does not need such persons, for they are unreliable; but there is always a call for steadfast, God-fearing workers, who will not faint in the day of adversity.
There are some in the church in ----- who will cause trouble, for their wills have never been brought into harmony with the will of Christ. Brother E will be a great hindrance to this church. When he can have the supremacy he is satisfied, but when he cannot stand first he is always upon the wrong side. He moves from impulse. He will not draw in even cords, but questions and takes opposite views, because it is his nature to be faultfinding and an accuser of his brethren. While he claims to be very zealous for the truth, he is drawing away from the body; he is not strong in moral power, rooted and grounded in the faith. The holy principles of truth are not made a part of his nature. He cannot be trusted; God is not pleased with him.
Brother and Sister E have not regarded the directions of God's word in the training of their children. These children have been allowed to control at home to a very great degree and have come and gone as they pleased. Unless they are placed under entirely different influences they will be found in the enemy's ranks, warring against order, discipline, and subordination. Children thus left to have their own way are not happy; and where parental authority is lightly regarded, the authority of God will not be respected.
The work of the parent is solemn and sacred; but many do not realize this because their eyes are blinded by the enemy of all righteousness. Their children are allowed to grow up undisciplined, uncourteous, forward, self-confident, unthankful, and unholy, when a firm, decided, even course, in which justice and mercy are blended with patience and self-control, would produce wonderful results.
Brother E must have transforming grace. There is no safety for him while he retains his natural defects of character, and he must war against them continually. Unless he will live a watchful, prayerful life he will not be well balanced, and there is danger that the truth will be hindered, misrepresented, and brought into disrepute through his influence. Let him be careful lest he awaken in unbelievers prejudices that can never be removed.
There is in human nature a tendency to run to extremes and from one extreme to another entirely opposite. Many are fanatics. They are consumed by a fiery zeal which is mistaken for religion, but character is the true test of discipleship. Have they the meekness of Christ? have they His humility and sweet benevolence? Is the soul-temple emptied of pride, arrogance, selfishness, and censoriousness? If not, they know not what manner of spirit they are of. They do not realize that true Christianity consists in bearing much fruit to the glory of God.
Others go to an extreme in their conformity to the world. There is no clear, distinct line of separation between them and the worldling. If in one case men are driven away from the truth by a harsh, censorious, condemnatory spirit, in this they are led to conclude that the professed Christian is destitute of principle and knows nothing of a change of heart or character. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven," are the words of Christ.
There are many who have not a correct knowledge of what constitutes a Christian character, and their lives are a reproach to the cause of truth. If they were thoroughly converted they would not bear briers and thorns, but rich clusters of the precious fruits of the Spirit,-- "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." The great danger is in neglecting a heartwork. Many feel well pleased with themselves; they think that a nominal observance of the divine law is sufficient, while they are unacquainted with the grace of Christ, and He is not abiding in the heart by living faith.
"Without Me," says Christ, "ye can do nothing;" but with His divine grace working through our human efforts, we can do all things. His patience and meekness will pervade the character, diffusing a precious radiance which makes bright and clear the pathway to heaven. By beholding and imitating His life we shall become renewed in His image. The glory of heaven will shine in our lives and be reflected upon others. At the throne of grace we are to find the help we need to enable us to live thus. This is genuine sanctification, and what more exalted position can mortals desire than to be connected with Christ as a branch is joined to the vine?
I have seen a device representing a bullock standing between a plow and an altar, with the inscription, "Ready for either"--willing to swelter in the weary furrow or to bleed on the altar of sacrifice. This is the position the child of God should ever be in--willing to go where duty calls, to deny self, and to sacrifice for the cause of truth. The Christian church was founded upon the principle of sacrifice. "If any man will come after Me," says Christ, "let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me." He requires the whole heart, the entire affections. The exhibitions of zeal, earnestness, and unselfish labor which His devoted followers have given to the world should kindle our ardor and lead us to emulate their example. Genuine religion gives an earnestness and fixedness of purpose which molds the character to the divine image and enables us to count all things but loss for the excellency of Christ. This singleness of purpose will prove an element of tremendous power.
We have a greater and more solemn truth than was ever before committed to mortals, and we are responsible for the way we treat that truth. Every one of us should be intent on saving souls. We should show the power of the truth upon our own hearts and characters, while doing all we can to win others to love it. To bring a sinner to Christ is to elevate, dignify, and ennoble his whole character, and make him a blessing in the home, in society, and in the church. Is not this a work that is worthy of our noblest powers?
Persons of little talent, if faithful in keeping their hearts in the love of God, may win many souls to Christ. Harlan Page was a poor mechanic of ordinary ability and limited education; but he made it his chief business to seek to advance the cause of God, and his efforts were crowned with marked success. He labored for the salvation of his fellow men in private conversation and in earnest prayer. He established prayer meetings, organized Sunday schools, and distributed tracts and other religious reading. And on his deathbed, with the shadow of eternity resting upon his countenance, he was able to say: "I know that it is all of God's grace, and not through any merit of anything that I have done, but I think I have evidence that more than one hundred souls have been converted to God through my personal instrumentality."
Every member of the church should be instructed in a regular system of labor. All are required to do something for the Lord. They may interest persons to read; they may converse and pray with them. The minister who shall educate, discipline, and lead an army of efficient workers will have glorious conquests here, and a rich reward awaits him when, around the great white throne, he shall meet those saved through his influence.
Do something, do it soon, with all thy might;
An angel's wing would droop if long at rest;
And God Himself, inactive, were no longer blest.
After the church in ----- came to the knowledge of the truth, they would have been fruitful in good works, and would have had an influence that would make them a power on the side of right, had they manifested becoming earnestness, zeal, and love. But they have been indifferent, and have been growing cold and dead. Some have attended social meetings when they have carried with them the atmosphere of earth rather than that of heaven. The church has not been ready to respond to the efforts that have been made for them. In their present state they cannot see or realize the need of co-operation on their part; and their lack of earnestness and consecration has discouraged the ministers. Instead of this carelessness, there should have been a feeling of individual responsibility. This church will never prosper until the members commence the work of reform in their own hearts. Many who profess the faith are easily satisfied; if they come up to a few points of self-denial and reform they do not see the necessity of going further. Why is there such a resting on the lees? There is no halting place for us this side of heaven. None of us should be content with our present spiritual attainments. No one is living up to his opportunities unless he can show continual progress. He must be climbing, still climbing. It is the privilege of every Christian to grow up until he shall reach the full stature of a man in Christ Jesus.
How much the dear people in ----- need instruction in personal godliness; how much they need pastoral labor. But they do not do as well as they know. God will test you, brethren, and some will prove to be chaff and some precious grains of wheat. Yield not to the power of the tempter. He will come as a strong man armed, but give him no advantage. Nerve yourselves for duty, and dispute every inch of ground. Instead of retreating, advance; instead of becoming weak and nerveless, brace yourselves for the conflict. God calls on you to engage with all your powers against sin in every form. Put on the whole armor of God, and keep your eye steadily fixed on the Captain of your salvation; for there is danger ahead. Follow no false colors, but watch the banner of our holy faith, and be found where that waves, even though it be in the thickest of the fight. Soon the warfare will be over and the victory won, and if you are faithful you will come off more than conquerors through Him that has loved you. The glorious prize, the eternal weight of glory, will then be yours.