I must Be Useful!
James Smith, 1856
Man's chief end is to glorify God on earth — and enjoy him forever in Heaven. We were created capable of this. We were redeemed on purpose for this. We are taught by the Spirit in order to this. Who that has tasted that the Lord is gracious — has not felt the desire to be useful? New converts always feel that they ought to be employed for God. The Holy Spirit always prompts us to glorify Jesus. It is His office. It is His work. It is His delight. But how many grieve the Spirit, by resisting his impulses! How many quench these workings of the Spirit, by refusing to yield and obey!
Reader, if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have felt something of this. You have felt that you ought to do something for Jesus — that you ought to endeavor to do something to glorify Jesus, and benefit your fellow men. Do you feel so now? Do you allow these feelings to influence you? Or have you resisted them, until they have died away within you? Many are the means employed by Satan to quench this fire in the Christian's heart.
John Thomas was called by divine grace when young. Being brought out into the liberty of the gospel, his heart glowed with love, and he felt something in his soul which led him to say, "I must be useful!" But he was in humble life, and naturally shy, and these two things greatly hindered him. He made up his mind to speak to someone — but just when about to do so it was suggested, "It would be unfitting for one in your poor circumstances, to do so," and he refrained. He furnished himself with a number of tracts, fixed upon a row of houses where he would distribute them; but when he began his work, his natural shyness began to operate, and he felt as if he could not knock at a single door, and, with the exception of a tract or two given to some children — the effort was a failure. Satan prevailed, and no good was done. Plans were constantly formed, attempts made — but all ended in nothing. At length, hearing a perverted gospel, distorted views of the doctrine of election quieted his mind; "I see," he said, "God will have his own people; if I work, only the elect will be saved; and if I do not work, God will not allow his elect to perish, because I am inactive." Thus all effort ceased, and the impulse in his heart which made him feel, "I must be useful" died away.
But God did not leave him — but by a long course of discipline, his views were corrected, the old flame revived, and again he felt as if he could not live if he was not useful. He believed the doctrine of election as firmly as ever — but he saw that it was no rule for his conduct. It was for his comfort, not his guide. He came to the conclusion, that it was his duty to work as if everything depended on his working; and when he had done all, to rest for success on the power of the Holy Spirit alone.
This fed the fire, this fanned the flame, and, "I must be useful" was like an impulsive power in his heart. He wrote letters, spoke in private, at length published tracts, and in the end preached the gospel. Many have been converted, comforted, and established through his instrumentality; and though the former part of his Christian life was thrown away, he has labored assiduously since. John Thomas still lives, his pen is not laid aside, nor is his tongue silenced, consequently his usefulness is not at an end. He has risen above his shyness, understands how Divine sovereignty does not interfere with man's duty, and feels the impulse within him often, as if his whole inner man exclaimed, "I must be useful!"
Reader, do you know anything of this feeling? Are you indeed converted to God? Has the love of God been shed abroad in your heart? Does your love of Jesus constrain you, and cause you to feel as if to be useful is to be happy — to be honorable — yes, to live? What is life without usefulness? If you have the grace of God in your heart, you may be useful — you ought to be useful. You have one talent, if not more. But in these days, few seem to be entrusted with only one. Education is so general, the press is so busy, and liberty is so common, that most of us seem to be entrusted with many talents. There are opportunities for usefulness in every direction, and facilities of all kinds; the church, the school, the village, the town, the world — all unite to open doors of usefulness to us. The pen, the press, the tongue, the influence — all may all be employed for God's glory and man's good.
If you feel the impulse within, urging you to do something for God, for souls — take heed how you quench it. Satan will suggest that there are plenty to work without you — but you are needed. He will tell you it is presumption — but no, it is duty. He will persuade you that you will do no good — but God blesses every honest effort. He will say you can do so very little — but every little helps. Little drops form the shower. Little drops constitute the ocean. Little seeds crowd the fields, and bring the harvest.
Satan will endeavor to pervert Scripture, the doctrines of grace, and the conduct of others; but your duty is plain, therefore "resist the devil, and he will flee from you." "Give no place to the devil." Your own idle heart may unite with Satan, and the influence of professors around you may combine to hinder you; but let this be your motto, "I must be useful!"
Though my circumstances are low, though my talents are small, though my efforts must necessarily be feeble, though my sphere of operation is obscure — "I must be useful!" Let the flesh cry out ever so loud, let friends advise as they may, let enemies oppose me as they please, let Satan suggest what he will, "I must be useful!"
Like my beloved Lord and Master, though I work for my bread, though I am the servant of man, though young in years, though overlooked and despised by others, "I must be about my Father's business." I was born to be useful. I was redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus to be useful. I was called by grace to be useful. And "I must be useful!"
Let us never forget that a solemn responsibility
rests upon us, which we are not at liberty to forget, overlook, or evade. If
we do not realize it now, it is because . . .
our understanding is perverted,
our conscience is benumbed,
or our hearts are carnal.
If we made the Scriptures our rule,
if we walked closely with God,
if we realized the design of true Christianity
— then we would feel that a deep and solemn responsibility rested upon us. May the Lord make us feel it — if we do not; and increase the feeling of it — if we do. We are responsible . . .
for the use of every talent,
for the improvement of every opportunity,
for the right employment of all our influence.
We must not shift off this responsibility — it is in vain to try, and to forget or evade it is consummate folly. The command is reiterated, it is presented in a variety of forms, and will be the rule of judgment when Jesus comes. God promises to bless us in working, and to reward us for working. Indeed it is only in the way of righteousness, that we are warranted to expect to meet him; it is only as we endeavor to be useful, that we can expect to be spiritually healthy or happy. We are not to work for life — but because we have life; not to merit Heaven — but because Heaven is freely given to us; not to bring in God as a debtor to us — but because we are debtors to his free, sovereign, and distinguishing grace!
Do any deplore that they are not useful? Allow me to ask: Do you endeavor to be? Are you at work in God's strength, with a view to his glory? If so, beware of a hasty judgment. The seed sown yesterday, will not appear above ground for some time yet. The young tree lately planted, may not bring forth fruit for a year or more. We have no means of deciding as to the exact amount of our usefulness, or at times whether we are useful at all or not. Besides which, we are to work in faith. We must give God credit. He has said, "Your labor is not in vain."
This is true — despite of appearances.
This is true — however your desponding heart may conclude.
This is true — however your hasty judgment may decide.
This is true — notwithstanding all that Satan may suggest or say.
Do any ask, "What can I do?" That is not the first question. Decide first what you are willing to do. Are you willing to begin low? Like the poor Israelite of old — will you bring the handful of goat's hair for God's tabernacle? Or, are you so proud, that unless you can bring something costly — you will bring nothing; that unless you can do something splendid — you will do nothing? Pride keeps many inactive, and generates sloth, and suggests a thousand excuses for doing nothing! You can do something. You may only be able to do a little at present; but begin, and your talents will improve and increase, your sphere of operations will enlarge, your efforts, which are but drops at first — will soon form a little stream, and that stream will deepen and widen as it flows, and eternity alone will reveal the good that a feeble instrument can effect!
O that God would kindle a fire in every Christian's heart, to burn up all the wood, hay, and stubble — of pride, selfishness, and love of ease; that each may feel it warming, working, and constraining them to say, "I must be useful!"
I live — if I am useful. I am happy — if I am useful. I am content to be poor or rich, sick or healthy, live or die — just so that I may be useful. Have I learning? I will employ it to be useful.
Have I influence? I will employ it to be useful.
Can I do much? I will do it.
Can I do little? I will do it.
Can I do but one thing — the giving only of a cup of cold water to some fainting disciple of Jesus? I will do that.
Let me be useful — though unknown.
Let me be useful — though despised and hated.
Let me be useful — that God's glory may be advanced.
Let me be useful — that my Lord and Savior may be exalted.
Let me be useful — that the effect of the Spirit's work in my heart may appear.
Let me be useful — that Satan may be deprived of his prey.
Let me be useful — that sinners may be plucked as brands from the burning.
Let me be useful — that saints may be made happy by my means.
Let me so work, walk, and live — that it may, with truth, be inscribed on my tomb, "He was useful!"