While the world needs sympathy, while it needs the prayers and assistance of God's people, while it needs to see Christ in the lives of His followers, the people of God are equally in need of opportunities that draw out their sympathies, give efficiency to their prayers, and develop in them a character like that of the divine pattern.
It is to provide these opportunities that God has placed among us the poor, the unfortunate, the sick, and the suffering. They are Christ's legacy to His church, and they are to be cared for as He would care for them. In this way God takes away the dross and purifies the gold, giving us that culture of heart and character which we need.
The Lord could carry forward His work without our co-operation. He is not dependent on us for our money, our time, or our labor. But the church is very precious in His sight. It is the case which contains His jewels, the fold which encloses His flock, and He longs to see it without spot or blemish or any such thing. He yearns after it with unspeakable love. This is why He has given us opportunities to work for Him, and He accepts our labors as tokens of our love and loyalty.
In placing among us the poor and the suffering, the Lord is testing us to reveal to us what is in our hearts. We cannot with safety swerve from principle, we cannot violate justice, we cannot neglect mercy. When we see a brother falling into decay we are not to pass him by on the other side, but are to make decided and immediate efforts to fulfill the word of God by helping him. We cannot work contrary to God's special directions without having the result of our work reflect upon us. It should be firmly settled, rooted, and grounded in the conscience, that whatever dishonors God in our course of action cannot benefit us.
It should be written upon the conscience as with a pen of iron upon a rock, that he who disregards mercy, compassion, and righteousness, he who neglects the poor, who ignores the needs of suffering humanity, who is not kind and courteous, is so conducting himself that God cannot co-operate with him in the development of character. The culture of the mind and heart is more easily accomplished when we feel such tender sympathy for others that we bestow our benefits and privileges to relieve their necessities. Getting and holding all that we can for ourselves tends to poverty of soul. But all the attributes of Christ await the reception of those who will do the very work that God has appointed them to do, working in Christ's lines.
Our Redeemer sends His messengers to bear a testimony to His people. He says: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." Revelation 3:20. But many refuse to receive Him. The Holy Spirit waits to soften and subdue hearts; but they are not willing to open the door and let the Saviour in, for fear that He will require something of them. And so Jesus of Nazareth passes by. He longs to bestow on them the rich blessings of His grace, but they refuse to accept them. What a terrible thing it is to exclude Christ from His own temple! What a loss to the church!
Good works cost us a sacrifice, but it is in this very sacrifice that they provide discipline. These obligations bring us into conflict with natural feelings and propensities, and in fulfilling them we gain victory after victory over the objectionable traits of our characters. The warfare goes on, and thus we grow in grace. Thus we reflect the likeness of Christ and are prepared for a place among the blessed in the kingdom of God.
Blessings, both temporal and spiritual, will accompany those who impart to the needy that which they receive from the Master. Jesus worked a miracle to feed the five thousand, a tired, hungry multitude. He chose a pleasant place in which to accommodate the people and commanded them to sit down. Then He took the five loaves and the two small fishes. No doubt many remarks were made as to the impossibility of satisfying five thousand hungry men, besides women and children, from that scanty store. But Jesus gave thanks and placed the food in the hands of the disciples to be distributed. They gave to the multitude, the food increasing in their hands. And when the multitude had been fed, the disciples themselves sat down and ate with Christ of the heaven-imparted store. This is a precious lesson for every one of Christ's followers.
Pure and undefiled religion is "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." James 1:27. Our church members are greatly in need of a knowledge of practical godliness. They need to practice self-denial and self-sacrifice. They need to give evidence to the world that they are Christlike. Therefore the work that Christ requires of them is not to be done by proxy, placing on some committee or some institution the burden that they themselves should bear. They are to become Christlike in character by giving of their means and time, their sympathy, their personal effort, to help the sick, to comfort the sorrowing, to relieve the poor, to encourage the desponding, to enlighten souls in darkness, to point sinners to Christ, to bring home to hearts the obligation of God's law.
People are watching and weighing those who claim to believe the special truths for this time. They are watching to see wherein their life and conduct represent Christ. By humbly and earnestly engaging in the work of doing good to all, God's people will exert an influence that will tell in every town and city where the truth has entered. If all who know the truth will take hold of this work as opportunities are presented, day by day doing little acts of love in the neighborhood where they live, Christ will be manifest to their neighbors. The gospel will be revealed as a living power and not as cunningly devised fables or idle speculations. It will be revealed as a reality, not the result of imagination or enthusiasm. This will be of more consequence than sermons or professions or creeds.
Satan is playing the game of life for every soul. He knows that practical sympathy is a test of the purity and unselfishness of the heart, and he will make every possible effort to close our hearts to the needs of others, that we may finally be unmoved by the sight of suffering. He will bring in many things to prevent the expression of love and sympathy. It is thus that he ruined Judas. Judas was constantly planning to benefit self. In this he represents a large class of professed Christians of today. Therefore we need to study his case. We are as near to Christ as he was. Yet if, as with Judas, association with Christ does not make us one with Him, if it does not cultivate within our hearts a sincere sympathy for those for whom Christ gave His life, we are in the same danger as was Judas of being outside of Christ, the sport of Satan's temptations.
We need to guard against the first deviation from righteousness; for one transgression, one neglect to manifest the spirit of Christ, opens the way for another and still another, until the mind is overmastered by the principles of the enemy. If cultivated, the spirit of selfishness becomes a devouring passion which nothing but the power of Christ can subdue.
I cannot too strongly urge all our church members, all who are true missionaries, all who believe the third angel's message, all who turn away their feet from the Sabbath, to consider the message of the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah. The work of beneficence enjoined in this chapter is the work that God requires His people to do at this time. It is a work of His own appointment. We are not left in doubt as to where the message applies, and the time of its marked fulfillment, for we read: "They that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in." Verse 12. God's memorial, the seventh-day Sabbath, the sign of His work in creating the world, has been displaced by the man of sin. God's people have a special work to do in repairing the breach that has been made in His law; and the nearer we approach the end, the more urgent this work becomes. All who love God will show that they bear His sign by keeping His commandments. They are the restorers of paths to dwell in. The Lord says: "If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on My holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, . . . then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth." Verses 13, 14. Thus genuine medical missionary work is bound up inseparably with the keeping of God's commandments, of which the Sabbath is especially mentioned, since it is the great memorial of God's creative work. Its observance is bound up with the work of restoring the moral image of God in man. This is the ministry which God's people are to carry forward at this time. This ministry, rightly performed, will bring rich blessings to the church.
As believers in Christ we need greater faith. We need to be more fervent in prayer. Many wonder why their prayers are so lifeless, their faith so feeble and wavering, their Christian experience so dark and uncertain. Have we not fasted, they say, and "walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?" In the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah Christ has shown how this condition of things may be changed. He says: "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?" Verses 6, 7. This is the recipe that Christ has prescribed for the fainthearted, doubting, trembling soul. Let the sorrowful ones, who walk mournfully before the Lord, arise and help someone who needs help.
Every church is in need of the controlling power of the Holy Spirit, and now is the time to pray for it. But in all God's work for man He plans that man shall co-operate with Him. To this end the Lord calls upon the church to have a higher piety, a more just sense of duty, a clearer realization of their obligations to their Creator.
He calls upon them to be a pure, sanctified, working people. And the Christian help work is one means of bringing this about, for the Holy Spirit communicates with all who are doing God's service.
To those who have been engaged in this work I would say: Continue to work with tact and ability. Arouse your associates to work under some name whereby they may be organized to co-operate in harmonious action. Get the young men and women in the churches to work. Combine medical missionary work with the proclamation of the third angel's message. Make regular, organized efforts to lift the church members out of the dead level in which they have been for years. Send out into the churches workers who will live the principles of health reform. Let those be sent who can see the necessity of self-denial in appetite, or they will be a snare to the church. See if the breath of life will not then come into our churches. A new element needs to be brought into the work. God's people must realize their great need and peril, and take up the work that lies nearest them.
With those who engage in this work, speaking words in season and out of season, helping the needy, telling them of the wonderful love of Christ for them, the Saviour is always present, impressing the hearts of the poor and miserable and wretched. When the church accepts its God-given work, the promise is: "Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward." Christ is our righteousness; He goes before us in this work, and the glory of the Lord follows.
All that heaven contains is awaiting the draft of every soul who will labor in Christ's lines. As the members of our churches individually take up their appointed work, they will be surrounded with an entirely different atmosphere. A blessing and a power will attend their labors. They will experience a higher culture of mind and heart. The selfishness that has bound up their souls will be overcome. Their faith will be a living principle. Their prayers will be more fervent. The quickening, sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon them, and they will be brought nearer to the kingdom of heaven.
The Saviour ignores both rank and caste, worldly honor and riches. It is character and devotedness of purpose that are of high value with Him. He does not take sides with the strong and worldly favored. He, the Son of the living God, stoops to uplift the fallen. By pledges and words of assurance He seeks to win to Himself the lost, perishing soul. Angels of God are watching to see who of His followers will exercise tender pity and sympathy. They are watching to see who of God's people will manifest the love of Jesus.
Those who realize the wretchedness of sin, and the divine compassion of Christ in His infinite sacrifice for fallen man, will have communion with Christ. Their hearts will be full of tenderness; the expression of the countenance and the tone of the voice will show forth sympathy; their efforts will be characterized by earnest solicitude, love, and energy; and they will be a power through God to win souls to Christ.
We all need to sow a crop of patience, compassion, and love. We shall reap the harvest we are sowing. Our characters are now forming for eternity. Here on earth we are training for heaven. We owe everything to grace, free grace, sovereign grace. Grace in the covenant ordained our adoption. Grace in the Saviour effected our redemption, our regeneration, and our adoption to heirship with Christ. Let this grace be revealed to others.