A Warning from the Church of Ephesus
The True Witness addresses the church of Ephesus, saying: "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." Revelation 2:4, 5.
At the first the experience of the church of Ephesus was marked with childlike simplicity and fervor. A lively, earnest, heartfelt love for Christ was expressed. The believers rejoiced in the love of God because Christ was in their hearts as an abiding presence. The praise of God was on their lips, and their attitude of thanksgiving was in accord with the thanksgiving of the heavenly family.
The world took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus. Sinful men, repentant, pardoned, cleansed, and sanctified, were brought into partnership with God through His Son. The believers sought earnestly to receive and obey every word of God. Filled with love for their Redeemer, they sought as their highest aim to win souls to Him. They did not think of hoarding the precious treasure of the grace of Christ. They felt the importance of their calling, and, weighted with the message, Peace on earth, good will to men, they burned with desire to carry the glad tidings to the earth's remotest bounds.
The members of the church were united in sentiment and action. Love for Christ was the golden chain that bound them together. They followed on to know the Lord more and still more perfectly, and brightness and comfort and peace were revealed in their lives. They visited the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and kept themselves unspotted from the world. A failure to do this would, in their view, have been a contradiction of their profession and a denial of their Redeemer.
In every city the work was carried forward. Souls were converted, and in their turn felt that they must tell of the inestimable treasure. They could not rest till the beams of light which had illumined their minds were shining upon others. Multitudes of unbelievers were made acquainted with the reason of the Christian's hope. Warm, inspired, personal appeals were made to the sinful and erring, to the outcast, and to those who, while professing to know the truth, were lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.
But after a time the zeal of the believers, their love for God and for one another, began to wane. Coldness crept into the church. Differences sprang up, and the eyes of many were turned from beholding Jesus as the Author and Finisher of their faith. The masses that might have been convicted and converted by a faithful practice of the truth, were left unwarned. Then it was that the message was addressed to the Ephesian church by the True Witness. Their lack of interest in the salvation of souls showed that they had lost their first love; for none can love God with the whole heart, mind, soul, and strength without loving those for whom Christ died. God called upon them to repent and do the first works, else the candlestick would be removed out of its place.
Is not this experience of the Ephesian church repeated in the experience of the church of this generation? How is the church of today, that has received a knowledge of the truth of God, using this knowledge? When its members first saw God's unspeakable mercy for the fallen race, they could not keep silent. They were filled with longing to co-operate with God in giving to others the blessings they had received. As they imparted, they were continually receiving. They grew in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. How is it today?
Brethren and sisters who have long claimed to believe the truth, I ask you individually, Have your practices been in harmony with the light, the privileges, and the opportunities granted you of heaven? This is a serious question. The Sun of Righteousness has risen upon the church, and it is the duty of the church to shine. It is the privilege of every soul to make advancement. Those who are connected with Christ will grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Son of God, to the full stature of men and women. If all who claim to believe the truth had made the most of their ability and opportunities to learn and to do, they would have become strong in Christ. Whatever their occupation,--whether they were farmers, mechanics, teachers, or pastors,--if they had wholly consecrated themselves to God they would have become efficient workers for the heavenly Master.
But what are the members of the church doing that they should be designated "laborers together with God"? 1 Corinthians 3:9. Where do we see travail of soul? Where do we see the members of the church absorbed in religious themes, self-surrendered to the will of God? Where do we see Christians feeling their responsibility to make the church prosperous, a wide-awake, light-giving people? Where are those who do not stint or measure their loving labor for the Master? Our Redeemer is to see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied; how is it with those who profess to be His followers? Will they be satisfied when they see the fruit of their labors?
Why is it that there is so little faith, so little spiritual power? Why are there so few who bear the yoke and carry the burden of Christ? Why do persons have to be urged to take up their work for Christ? Why are there so few who can unveil the mysteries of redemption? Why is it that the imputed righteousness of Christ does not shine through His professed followers as a light to the world?
The Result of Inaction
When men use their powers as God directs, their talents will increase, their ability will enlarge, and they will have heavenly wisdom in seeking to save the lost. But while the church members are listless and neglectful of their God-given responsibility to impart to others, how can they expect to receive the treasure of heaven? When professed Christians feel no burden to enlighten those in darkness, when they cease to impart grace and knowledge, they become less discerning, they lose their appreciation of the richness of the heavenly endowment; and, failing to value it themselves, they fail to realize the necessity of presenting it to others.
We see large churches gathered in different localities. Their members have gained a knowledge of the truth, and many are content to hear the word of life without seeking to impart light. They feel little responsibility for the progress of the work, little interest in the salvation of souls. They are full of zeal in worldly things, but they do not bring their religion into their business. They say: "Religion is religion, and business is business." They believe that each has its proper sphere, but they say: "Let them be separated."
Because of neglected opportunities and abuse of privileges, the members of these churches are not growing "in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 3:18. Therefore they are weak in faith, deficient in knowledge, and children in experience. They are not rooted and grounded in the truth. If they remain thus, the many delusions of the last days will surely deceive them, for they will have no spiritual eyesight to distinguish truth from error.
God has given His ministers the message of truth to proclaim. This the churches are to receive and in every possible way to communicate, catching the first rays of light and diffusing them. Here is our great sin. We are years behind. The ministers have been seeking the hidden treasure and have been opening up the casket and letting the jewels of truth shine forth, but the members of the church have not done a hundredth part of that which God requires of them. What can we expect but deterioration in religious life when the people listen to sermon after sermon and do not put the instruction into practice? The ability God has given, if not exercised, degenerates. More than this, when the churches are left to inactivity Satan sees to it that they are employed. He occupies the field and engages the members in lines of work that absorb their energies, destroy spirituality, and cause them to fall as dead weights upon the church.
There are among us those who, if they would take time to consider, would regard their do-nothing position as a sinful neglect of their God-given talents. Brethren and sisters, your Redeemer and all the holy angels are grieved at your hardness of heart. Christ gave His own life to save souls, and yet you who have known His love make so little effort to impart the blessings of His grace to those for whom He died. Such indifference and neglect of duty is an amazement to the angels. In the judgment you must meet the souls you have neglected. In that great day you will be self-convicted and self-condemned. May the Lord lead you now to repentance.
May He forgive His people for neglecting the work in His vineyard which He has given them to do.
"Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." Revelation 2:5.
Oh, how few know the time of their visitation! How few, even among those who claim to believe present truth, understand the signs of the times or what we are to experience before the end! We are today under divine forbearance; but how long will the angels of God continue to hold the winds, that they shall not blow?
Notwithstanding God's inexpressible mercy toward us, how few in our churches are truly humble, devoted, God-fearing servants of Christ! How few hearts are full of gratitude and thanksgiving because they are called and honored to act a part in the work of God, being partakers with Christ of His sufferings!
Today a large part of those who compose our congregations are dead in trespasses and sins. They come and go like the door upon its hinges. For years they have complacently listened to the most solemn, soul-stirring truths, but they have not put them in practice. Therefore they are less and less sensible of the preciousness of truth. The stirring testimonies of reproof and warning do not arouse them to repentance. The sweetest melodies that come from God through human lips--justification by faith, and the righteousness of Christ--do not call forth from them a response of love and gratitude. Though the heavenly Merchantman displays before them the richest jewels of faith and love, though He invites them to buy of Him "gold tried in the fire," and white raiment" that they may be clothed, and "eyesalve" that they may see, they steel their hearts against Him, and fail to exchange their lukewarmness for love and zeal. While making a profession, they deny the power of godliness. If they continue in this state, God will reject them. They are unfitting themselves to be members of His family.
Winning Souls the Chief Aim
We are not to feel that the work of the gospel depends principally upon the minister. To every man God has given a work to do in connection with His kingdom. Everyone who professes the name of Christ is to be an earnest, disinterested worker, ready to defend the principles of righteousness. Every soul should take an active part in advancing the cause of God. Whatever our calling, as Christians we have a work to do in making Christ known to the world. We are to be missionaries, having for our chief aim the winning of souls to Christ.
To His church God has committed the work of diffusing light and bearing the message of His love. Our work is not to condemn, not to denounce, but to draw with Christ, beseeching men to be reconciled to God. We are to encourage souls, to attract them, and thus win them to the Saviour. If this is not our interest, if we withhold from God the service of heart and life, we are robbing Him of influence, of time, of money and effort. In failing to benefit our fellow men, we rob God of the glory that should flow to Him through the conversion of souls.
Begin With Those Nearest
Some who have long professed to be Christians, and yet have felt no responsibility for souls perishing within the shadow of their own homes, may think they have a work to do in foreign lands; but where is the evidence of their fitness for such a work? Wherein have they manifested a burden for souls? These persons need first to be taught and disciplined at home. True faith and love for Christ would create in them a most earnest desire to save souls right at home. They would exert every spiritual energy to draw with Christ, learning His meekness and lowliness. Then if God should desire them to go to foreign countries, they would be prepared.
Let those who desire to work for God begin at home, in their own household, in their own neighborhood, among their own friends. Here they will find a favorable missionary field. This home missionary work is a test, revealing their ability or inability for service in a wider field.
The case of Philip and Nathanael is an example of true home missionary work. Philip had seen Jesus and was convinced that He was the Messiah. In his joy he wished his friends also to know the good news. He desired that the truth which had brought such comfort to him should be shared by Nathanael. True grace in the heart will always reveal its presence by diffusing itself. Philip went in search of Nathanael, and as he called, Nathanael answered from his place of prayer under the fig tree. Nathanael had not had the privilege of listening to the words of Jesus, but he was being drawn to ward Him in spirit. He longed for light, and was at that moment sincerely praying for it. Philip with joy exclaimed: "We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth." John 1:45. At Philip's invitation Nathanael sought and found the Saviour, and in his turn joined in the work of winning souls for Christ.
One of the most effective ways in which light can be communicated is by private, personal effort. In the home circle, at your neighbor's fireside, at the bedside of the sick, in a quiet way you may read the Scriptures and speak a word for Jesus and the truth. Thus you may sow precious seed that will spring up and bring forth fruit.
The Family a Missionary Field
Our work for Christ is to begin with the family in the home. The education of the youth should be of a different order from that which has been given in the past. Their welfare demands far more labor than has been given them. There is no missionary field more important than this. By precept and example parents are to teach their children to labor for the unconverted. The children should be so educated that they will sympathize with the aged and afflicted and will seek to alleviate the sufferings of the poor and distressed. They should be taught to be diligent in missionary work; and from their earliest years self-denial and sacrifice for the good of others and the advancement of Christ's cause should be inculcated, that they may be laborers together with God.
But if they ever learn to do genuine missionary work for others, they must first learn to labor for those at home, who have a natural right to their offices of love. Every child should be trained to bear his respective share of service in the home. He should never be ashamed to use his hands in lifting home burdens or his feet in running errands. While thus engaged, he will not go into paths of negligence and sin. How many hours are wasted by children and youth which might be spent in taking upon their strong young shoulders, and assisting to lift, the family responsibilities which someone must bear, thus showing a loving interest in father and mother. They are also to be rooted in the true principles of health reform and the care of their own bodies.
Oh, that parents would look prayerfully and carefully after their children's eternal welfare! Let them ask themselves, Have we been careless? Have we neglected this solemn work? Have we allowed our children to become the sport of Satan's temptations? Have we not a solemn account to settle with God because we have permitted our children to use their talents, their time and influence, in working against the truth, against Christ? Have we not neglected our duty as parents and increased the number of the subjects of Satan's kingdom?
By many this home field has been shamefully neglected, and it is time that divine resources and remedies were presented, that this state of evil may be corrected. What excuse can the professed followers of Christ offer for neglecting to train their children to work for Him?
God designs that the families of earth shall be a symbol of the family in heaven. Christian homes, established and conducted in accordance with God's plan, are among His most effective agencies for the formation of Christian character and for the advancement of His work.
If parents desire to see a different state of things in their families, let them consecrate themselves wholly to God and co-operate with Him in the work whereby a transformation may take place in their households.
When our own homes are what they should be, our children will not be allowed to grow up in idleness and indifference to the claims of God in behalf of the needy all about them. As the Lord's heritage, they will be qualified to take up the work where they are. A light will shine from such homes which will reveal itself in behalf of the ignorant, leading them to the source of all knowledge. An influence will be exerted that will be a power for God and for His truth.
Instruct the Church in Missionary Work
"Watchman, what of the night?" Isaiah 21:11. Are the watchmen of whom this demand is made able to give the trumpet a certain sound? Are the shepherds faithfully caring for the flock as those who must give an account? Are the ministers of God watching for souls, realizing that those under their care are the purchase of the blood of Christ? A great work is to be done in the world, and what efforts are we making for its accomplishment? The people have had too much sermonizing; but have they been taught how to labor for those for whom Christ died? Has a line of labor been devised and placed before them in such a way that each has seen the necessity of taking part in the work?
It is evident that all the sermons that have been preached have not developed a large class of self-denying workers. This subject is to be considered as involving the most serious results. Our future for eternity is at stake. The churches are withering up because they have failed to use their talents in diffusing light. Careful instruction should be given which will be as lessons from the Master, that all may put their light to practical use. Those who have the oversight of the churches should select members of ability and place them under responsibilities, at the same time giving them instruction as to how they may best serve and bless others.
Every means should be used to bring the knowledge of the truth before the thousands who will discern the evidence, who will appreciate the likeness of Christ in His people if they can have an opportunity to see it. Let the missionary meeting be turned to account in teaching the people how to do missionary labor. God expects His church to discipline and fit its members for the work of enlightening the world. An education should be given that would result in furnishing hundreds who would put out to the exchangers valuable talents. By the use of these talents, men would be developed who would be prepared to fill positions of trust and influence, and to maintain pure, uncorrupted principles. Thus great good would be accomplished for the Master.
Set the Church Members to Work
Many who possess real ability are rusting from inaction because they do not know how to set themselves at work in missionary lines. Let someone who has ability lay out before these inactive ones the line of work they could do. Let small missions be established in many places to teach men and women how to use and thus increase their talents. Let all understand what is expected from them, and many who are now unemployed will become true laborers.
The parable of the talents should be explained to all. The members of the churches should be made to understand that they are the light of the world, and according to their several ability the Lord expects them to enlighten and bless others. Whether they are rich or poor, great or humble, God calls them into active service for Him. He depends upon the church for the forwarding of His work, and He expects His professed followers to do their duty as intelligent beings. There is great need that every trained mind, every disciplined intellect, every jot of ability, be brought into the work of saving souls.
Do not pass by the little things and look for a large work. You might do successfully the small work, but fail utterly in attempting a larger work and fall into discouragement. Take hold wherever you see that there is work to be done. It will be by doing with your might what your hands find to do that you will develop talents and aptitude for a larger work. It is by slighting the daily opportunities, neglecting the little things, that so many become fruitless and withered.
There are ways in which all may do personal service for God. Some can write a letter to a far-off friend, or send a paper to one who is inquiring for truth. Others can give counsel to those who are in difficulty. Those who know how to treat the sick can help in this line. Others who have the necessary qualifications can give Bible readings or conduct Bible classes.
The very simplest modes of work should be devised and set in operation among the churches. If the members will unitedly accept such plans, and perseveringly carry them out, they will reap a rich reward; for their experience will grow brighter, their ability will increase, and through their efforts souls will be saved.
The Uneducated to be Workers
Let none feel that because they are uneducated they cannot take part in the Lord's work. God has a work for you to do. He has given to every man his work. You can search the Scriptures for yourselves. "The entrance of Thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple." Psalm 119:130. You can pray for the work. The prayer of the sincere heart, offered in faith, will be heard in heaven. And you are to work according to your ability.
Everyone has an influence for good or for evil. If the soul is sanctified to the service of God and devoted to the work of Christ, the influence will tend to gather with Christ.
All heaven is in activity, and the angels of God are waiting to co-operate with all who will devise plans whereby souls for whom Christ died may hear the glad tidings of salvation. Angels who minister to those that shall be heirs of salvation, are saying to every true saint:
"There is work for you to do." "Go, stand and speak . . . to the people all the words of this life." Acts 5:20. If those addressed would obey this injunction, the Lord would prepare the way before them, putting them in possession of means wherewith to go.
Arouse the Idlers
Souls are perishing out of Christ, and those who profess to be Christ's disciples are letting them die. Our brethren have talents entrusted to them for the very work of saving souls, but some have bound these up in a napkin and buried them in the earth. How much do such idlers resemble the angel who is represented as flying in the midst of heaven, proclaiming the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus? What manner of entreaty can be brought to bear upon the idlers that will arouse them to go to work for the Master? What can we say to the slothful church member to make him realize the necessity of unearthing his talent and putting it out to the exchangers? There will be no idler, no slothful one, found inside the kingdom of heaven. Oh, that God would set this matter in all its importance before the sleeping churches! Oh, that Zion would arise and put on her beautiful garments! Oh, that she would shine!
There are many ordained ministers who have never yet exercised a shepherd's care over the flock of God, who have never yet watched for souls as they that must give an account. The church, instead of developing, is left to be a weak, dependent, inefficient body. The members of the church, trained to rely upon preaching, do little for Christ. They bear no fruit, but rather increase in selfishness and unfaithfulness. They put their hope in the preacher and depend upon his efforts to keep alive their weak faith. Because the church members have not been properly instructed by those whom God has placed as overseers, many are slothful servants, hiding their talents in the earth and still complaining of the Lord's dealing toward them. They expect to be tended like sick children.
This condition of weakness must not continue. Well-organized work must be done in the church, that its members may understand how to impart the light to others and thus strengthen their own faith and increase their knowledge. As they impart that which they have received from God they will be confirmed in the faith. A working church is a living church. We are built up as living stones, and every stone is to emit light. Every Christian is compared to a precious stone that catches the glory of God and reflects it.
The idea that the minister must carry all the burdens and do all the work is a great mistake. Overworked and broken down, he may go into the grave, when, had the burden been shared as the Lord designed, he might have lived. That the burden may be distributed, an education must be given to the church by those who can teach the workers to follow Christ and to work as He worked.
Let not the youth be ignored; let them share in the labor and responsibility. Let them feel that they have a part to act in helping and blessing others. Even the children should be taught to do little errands of love and mercy for those less fortunate than themselves.
Let the overseers of the church devise plans whereby young men and women may be trained to put to use their entrusted talents. Let the older members of the church seek to do earnest, compassionate work for the children and youth. Let ministers put to use all their ingenuity in devising plans whereby the younger members of the church may be led to co-operate with them in missionary work. But do not imagine that you can arouse their interest merely by preaching a long sermon at the missionary meeting. Plan ways whereby a live interest may be kindled. Let all have a part to act. Train the young to do what is appointed them, and from week to week let them bring their reports to the missionary meeting, telling what they have experienced and through the grace of Christ what success has been theirs. If such reports were brought in by consecrated workers, the missionary meetings would not be dull and tedious. They would be full of interest, and there would be no lack in attendance.
In every church the members should be so trained that they will devote time to the winning of souls to Christ. How can it be said of the church, "Ye are the light of the world," unless the members of the church are actually imparting light?
Let those who have charge of the flock of Christ awake to their duty and set many souls to work.
Let the Churches Awake
Peculiar and rapid changes will soon take place, and God's people are to be endowed with the Holy Spirit, so that with heavenly wisdom they may meet the emergencies of this age, and as far as possible counteract the demoralizing movements of the world. If the church is not asleep, if the followers of Christ watch and pray, they may have light to comprehend and appreciate the movements of the enemy.
The end is near! God calls upon the church to set in order the things that remain. Workers together with God, you are empowered by the Lord to take others with you into the kingdom. You are to be God's living agents, channels of light to the world, and round about you are angels of heaven with their commission from Christ to sustain, strengthen, and uphold you in working for the salvation of souls.
I appeal to the churches in every conference. Stand out separate and distinct from the world--in the world, but not of it, reflecting the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness, being pure, holy, and undefiled, and in faith carrying light into all the highways and byways of the earth.
Let the churches awake before it is everlastingly too late. Let every member take up his individual work and vindicate the name of the Lord by which he is called. Let sound faith and earnest piety take the place of slothfulness and unbelief. When faith lays hold upon Christ, the truth will bring delight to the soul, and the services of religion will not be dull and uninteresting. Your social meetings, now tame and spiritless, will be vitalized by the Holy Spirit; daily you will have a rich experience as you practice the Christianity you profess. Sinners will be converted. They will be touched by the word of truth and will say, as did some who listened to Christ's teaching: "We have seen and heard wonderful things today."
In view of what might be done if the church would meet its God-given responsibilities, will its members sleep on, or will they arouse to a sense of the honor conferred upon them through the merciful providence of God? Will they gather up their hereditary trusts, avail themselves of the present light, and feel the necessity of rising to meet the urgent emergency that now presents itself? Oh, that all may arouse and manifest to the world that theirs is a living faith, that a vital issue is before the world, that Jesus will soon come. Let men see that we believe that we are on the borders of the eternal world.
The upbuilding of the kingdom of God is retarded or urged forward according to the unfaithfulness or fidelity of human agencies. The work is hindered by the failure of the human to co-operate with the divine. Men may pray, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven;" but if they fail of acting out this prayer in their lives, their petitions will be fruitless.
But though you may be weak, erring, and sinful, the Lord holds out to you the offer of partnership with Him self. He invites you to come under divine instruction. Uniting with Christ, you may work the works of God. "Without Me," Christ said, "ye can do nothing."
Through the prophet Isaiah is given the promise, "Thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward." Isaiah 58:8. It is the righteousness of Christ that goes before us, and this is the glory of the Lord which is to be our rearward. Ye churches of the living God, study this promise, and consider how your lack of faith, of spirituality, of divine power, is hindering the coming of the kingdom of God. If you would go forth to do Christ's work, angels of God would open the way before you, preparing hearts to receive the gospel. Were every one of you a living missionary, the message for this time would speedily be proclaimed in all countries, to every people and nation and tongue. This is the work that must be done before Christ shall come in power and great glory. I call upon the church to pray earnestly that you may understand your responsibilities. Are you individually laborers together with God? If not, why not? When do you mean to do your heaven-appointed work?
For all who are disheartened there is but one remedy, --faith, prayer, and work.
Our churches should not feel jealous and neglected because they do not receive ministerial labor. They should themselves rather take up the burden and labor most earnestly for souls.
Every talent in our churches should be employed in the work of doing good. The rough places of nature, the wild places, God has made attractive by placing beautiful things among the most unsightly. This is the work we are called to do.
We need in our churches youth who are working upon the Christian endeavor principles, and the beginning must be made at home. The faithful performance of home duties has a reflex influence upon the character. In the father's house is to be given the evidence of fitness for work in the church.
The Lord does not judge us according to the elevation of our various spheres, but according to the faithfulness with which we fill them.
If we do but one third of that which we have entrusted talents to do, the other two thirds are working against Christ.
The greatest work that can be done in our world is to glorify God by living the character of Christ.