An Address to the Children of the Congregation and the Sunday Schools, delivered in Carrs Lane Chapel, September 12th, 1855, by John Angell James.
My dear children. Jubilee! Jubilee! What a sweet word, what a joyful sound is this, as you will know, when I explain its meaning. You have heard a great deal about it of late in reference to myself. I have just completed the fiftieth year of my happy ministry to the congregation assembling in Carrs Lane Chapel, and they have kindly determined to mark the event with some public token of their favor. I was very unwilling that you should have no share in the joys of the occasion, and therefore requested that, instead of receiving anything to gratify the appetite, or having an excursion, which however innocent would be soon over and forgotten, you might be assembled to hear an address from Mr. Dale, and to accept a little book, written by myself for the occasion, and which, after you have read it, you might carefully preserve through all your future life, as the memorial of an event in which I believe you take an interest.
In considering what subject I should choose for this address, I soon decided that it should be in strict harmony with the occasion, and such as would help you to remember it. I shall therefore set before you three Jubilees--that of the Jews, my own, and yours.
I.You will find an account of the JEWISH Jubilee in the twenty-fifth chapter of the book of Leviticus, from which, when you read it, you will learn that it was a festival to be observed by the Jews every fiftieth year; when all slaves were to be made free, all debts to be cancelled, and all estates that had been sold by the people, were to be restored to the families to whom they originally belonged. The word jubilee signifies to restore, or bring back, in reference to the circumstances just mentioned. This festival was ushered in by the blowing of trumpets at early dawn, and by the songs and shouts of the people. What a joyful time it must have been! With what delight the poor slaves and debtors would go to bed on the eve of that happy morning which was to set them free! I suppose they would not sleep for joy; and when the day dawned, and the sound of the trumpets was heard, what shouts would fill the land! How the slaves would be seen running about the streets, shaking each other's hands, with smiles upon their countenances, and tears of joy running down their cheeks, saying to each other, "We are free! We are free! The year of Jubilee has come!" There was no ringing of bells, no firing of cannon, for neither bells nor cannon were invented in those days; but the land would be filled with the sound of rejoicing.
My dear children, praise God that you live in a country where even the mild slavery that God permitted to the Jews does not exist. I hope you often repeat the beautiful verses—
I thank the goodness and the grace
I was not born a little slave,
The Jubilee was a striking proof of God's wisdom and mercy to the Jews. It served many kind and gracious purposes in reference to them, some of which I will now briefly enumerate.
It reminded them that God was their supreme ruler, and had a right to dispose of them and their property.
It taught them a great lesson of kindness to their brethren.
It prevented them from sinking into lasting poverty.
It kept up the distinction of the families and tribes of the Jews, so necessary to prove the pedigree of Christ's human nature, as descended from the tribe of Judah and the family of David.
But, my dear children, there was another design of the Jubilee, which I will now explain. You know it was a part of that law of Moses of which the Apostle says, "The law was a shadow of things to come, but the substance is the Messiah." Did you ever read the book of Exodus and Leviticus? If so, you have perhaps been surprised to find so much said about the priests, the sacrifices, the feast days, and also the form, and furniture, and services of the temple; and have been led to wonder why God should concern himself so much about what may seem to you to be such little things. The reason of all this is, that those little things under the law and in the Jewish worship, were emblems of greater things under the gospel. God taught the Jews spiritual truths by outward signs, just as you know he teaches us the influence of his Holy Spirit by baptism, and the death of Christ by the Lord's Supper.
Now the Jubilee was a type, or emblem of the blessings of salvation which were obtained for us by the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. All mankind, you know, and you among the rest, have sinned against God, and are both guilty and in bondage to sin; and are thus debtors to God, and have lost their heavenly inheritance. Children, do you ever think of this? What a solemn thought it is, that you have already, though so young, sinned against God! Now "God so loved the world as to give his only begotten son" to die for us on the cross. God laid upon him our sins, which he willingly bore in his body on the tree. And now whoever sincerely repents of his sins, and truly believes in Christ, is delivered from the slavery of sin, has all his debts, that is, his sins, freely forgiven, and will have everlasting life. Thus you see, the preaching of the gospel and its blessings, constitute our Jubilee. Every time you hear the gospel preached, it is to you what the blowing of the trumpet on the first morning of the Jubilee, was to the Jews. Yes, my children, sabbath after sabbath your minister is saying to you, "the year of Jubilee has come." I will refer you to two passages of scripture, one in the Old Testament and the other in the New, where, no doubt, express allusion is made to this subject, and which are proofs that the Jubilee was intended to set forth, in emblem, Christian blessings. Isaiah 61:1, 2; Luke 4:16, 19. Before you go further, take your Bibles, and read these beautiful passages.
My children, what wondrous love it was in God to send his only begotten Son to die for you upon the cross. Yes, I say, for you as much as for me. How true is it that God is love. What a glorious description of God this is! do dwell upon it, God is love! And this is the commendation and manifestation of his love, to give Jesus Christ to suffer the cruel and ignominious death of the cross for our salvation. I have read of a family that lived in a country where people were sold for slaves. In time of a dreadful famine, the parents proposed to sell one of the children for a slave, to buy bread for the rest. It was a painful situation to be in. "Which shall it be?" they said. The eldest? "No! he is our first-born, we cannot part from him." The second? "No!" says the wife, "he is so like his father, I cannot spare him." The third? "No!" says the husband, "he is the very image of his mother, I cannot give him up." The youngest? "What!" said both parents, "yield that young and tender boy? impossible!" So they resolved to starve together, or trust in God for further preservation, rather than sell one of their children. This was parental love, and a beautiful instance of it too, was it not? What then, is the wondrous love of God? "Who spared not his only begotten Son, but freely delivered him up for us all."
Oh, my dear children, have you ever thought of this love, and the love of Jesus in being willing to die the tormenting and ignominious death of the cross for you? Have you ever gone to him and asked him to deliver you from the slavery of your evil tempers, for you know you have some? Do they not make you unhappy, yes, as wretched sometimes as a poor slave in his fetters, and even more so? Go to him and ask him to forgive your debts, and to give you your heavenly inheritance which you have lost by sin. Dear children, while the Jubilee trumpet of the gospel is sounding in your ears, and saying, "If the Son shall make you free you shall be free indeed," go to him and say, "Lord Jesus, though I am so young, I am a sinner, in mercy forgive my sins. I have many evil tempers which bring me into bondage, O give me your grace to renew my heart and make me free, that when I die I may have the inheritance which is "incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away." Oh what a blessed thing it will be for you, to be one of the liberated captives of the Christian Jubilee!
II.I next lead you to consider MY own Jubilee. As the Jewish festival was celebrated every fiftieth year, it has become a custom to apply the word Jubilee to any event that occurs in a fiftieth year; hence, the fiftieth year of my ministry is my Jubilee. Yes, my dear children, it is very true, and I record it with gratitude to Almighty God, I have been fifty years a minister in this town. I preached my first sermon on the 8th of September, 1805. Fifty years! What a large portion of my life! I dare say it seems to you, in looking forward to fifty years, a very long period. But to me, in looking back upon it, it seems a very short one. It seems but yesterday I came here, a young man, and now I am an old one, in my seventy first year. How justly have the sacred writers described the rapid flight of time, and the shortness of human life, by the most expressive figures; and how true and solemn is the language of Paul, "Time is short." Do improve your time well, for infancy has already, with some of you, grown into childhood; childhood, with others, is grown into youth; with others, youth will soon grow into manhood; and manhood soon sink into the decay of old age. Recollect, that what the youth is, whether good or bad--that the man is likely to be. I thank God that he saved me at the age of sixteen; and if you ever become a Christian, it will in all probability be while you are young.
Having lived in Birmingham, as a minister, for fifty years, I have spent 2,600 sabbaths, and must have preached, here and elsewhere, far on towards 10,000 sermons; and have reason to bless God for the help and success he has given me. What multitudes have been born and died, even of those that belong, or once did, to this congregation! How many of your parents I have buried, and have little doubt that many of them are gone to be with Christ, in that blessed world where there is no more death! Make it your determination to be followers of those, who, by faith and patience, inherit the promises. Seek, that when you die you may go and dwell with them in heaven. You are very happy with them on earth, how much more happy will you be with them in Paradise!
Many of you I have baptized, as well as your parents before you. Have you been baptized with the Spirit, and have you devoted yourselves to God? How many, by my ministry, have been truly converted unto God, and have become holy men and women, useful members of society, and ornaments of the church! During my pastorate the Lord has added to the church nearly two thousand members, a large portion of them have been transferred to the church in heaven, though the greater number still remain. Will not you, my dear children, desire to be one day numbered with God's people, and maintain the cause of Christ in this place when your parents are numbered with the dead?
To the children of the Sunday-school, I would say, Bless God for the privileges you so richly enjoy in this invaluable institution. It is only about seventy years ago, that Sunday-schools were established. Before that, the children of the laboring classes grew up for the most part in ignorance, neglect of the Sabbath, and all the vices to which sabbath-breaking too often leads. Yes, my children, it is an undoubted fact, that sabbath breaking is a sin itself, and does lead to many other sins. "Remember," therefore, "the Sabbath day to keep it holy." Attend the school constantly and punctually. And understand for what you are brought to school. It is not merely to learn to read, but to be taught true religion. And what is true religion? Repentance towards God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and a holy life. Now this is true religion, and you are brought to a Sunday-school to be taught it. Be very diligent and very anxious to learn. Mind what your kind teachers say to you. Is it not very good of them to give up their time to you? More than fifty years ago I was a Sunday-school teacher myself, and I very well remember that one of the boys in my class was killed. He was a godly boy. I had great comfort in him. You may be suddenly killed, and therefore I advise you to be always prepared for death, by being always found in the fear of God. A godly child is as fit to die in his daily occupation, as he is in the house of God. Take my word for it, good Sunday-school boys or girls, that is, boys or girls that are very constant, always in time, obedient to their teachers, anxious to grow in knowledge and religion, will be likely to do well for both worlds, this and the next. If you follow my advice, and should live to be fifty years old, you will then say, on your Jubilee day, "Blessed be God for sending me to a Sunday-school; it was there I learned to be a godly boy, and by God's grace I became a godly man."
What a different aspect does our Sunday-school present to what it did when I came? We then had no school-rooms, but taught the children in a house in Moor Street. I would think it probable that during my pastorate nearly 20,000 children have been in our schools. And where are they now? Many in eternity. Some, we hope, in heaven; others, we fear, in hell. Many of them are now members of this church and other churches. Many in various parts of the earth, and in all conditions of life. Shall I tell you what has ruined many of these in body, soul, and estate? Why, drunkenness. Dear children, do grow up with a dread, a horror, and a hatred of drunkenness; and in order to avoid this vice, do not touch intoxicating drink. Shun it as you would a poison. Boys and girls can do without ale, wine, or alcohol.
What changes I have witnessed in the circumstances of many! Some, by the blessing of God upon their industry, sobriety, and skill, have risen from poverty to wealth; while others by their own misconduct, have sunk from wealth to poverty. And I wish you to set out in life remembering that "Godliness is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is, as well as that which is to come." true religion will be your best friend for this world, as well as your only one for that which is to come. It will keep you from bad companions, and all those vices which lead to poverty. For, as an old writer once said, it will cost more to keep one vice than two children.
What a change has been made in our place of worship! The chapel in which I first preached was small, cold, and comfortless; almost hidden from view by a high wall in front; and the lane in which it stood was narrow, dirty, and slummy. How different all this from the spacious chapel in which we now assemble, and the wide street by which we come to it!
And then, what changes have also taken place in our town during these fifty years! When I came there were only 80,000 inhabitants, and now there are 250,000. Nearly twenty new churches have been built, and perhaps more than thirty other places of worship. What improvement has there been in the private and public buildings! Since then, our noble Town Hall, Market Hall, King Edward's School, the Public Office, the Corn Market, the Dispensary, and the Queen's Hospital have all been erected, and Smithfield laid out. Our streets have been lined with stone pavements, instead of the sharp pebbles which formerly blistered our feet as we walked upon them, and our suburbs have been studded with elegant villas. When I came, we had no railways, and consumed seventeen hours in going to London by coach, instead of three or four, now, in the steam carriage. We had no gas lights, but only oil lamps in the streets, which served little else than to make darkness visible, and candles in the shops and in our places of worship. There was of course no electric telegraph, no police, no water works. And then, my children, what changes in our manufactories! How we would have stared in disbelief, if any would then have told us that before we died they would make plated goods as well as convey information by lightning, as is the case now with the electro-plating and the electric telegraph! There were then very few steam engines, and manual labor was not so much lightened by machinery as it is now.
What wondrous alterations then have I seen in the fifty years I have spent here! And, my children, who but God can foretell or foresee what changes will take place in the next fifty years? Who can imagine what, if you should live to keep your Jubilee, you will witness? This town will then perhaps contain half a million inhabitants. And what still greater discoveries and inventions of the arts will have taken place. How we seem to wonder what those did who lived before us; and you will perhaps wonder as much how we got on without those things which you will then possess.
You belong to a wonderful country, and are born in a wonderful age, and you should, with true patriotism, love your country, and bless God that you have such a country. Progress, my children, in human affairs is the order of Providence. The world is always growing wiser, and I hope better; and it would be well for everyone of you to do something to leave the world better than you found it. You can, everyone of you, be in some way or other a benefactor to mankind. How anxious you should be to act well your part in all these movements! Do be thoughtful and note the changes that are always going on in the world. You are being trained for future usefulness in our juvenile missionary societies, and other organizations of the young. When I commenced my ministry, children were entirely overlooked. We never dreamt of such a thing as calling in the aid of children. No such honor was bestowed upon them then. This privilege, however, is now conferred upon you, and I hope you esteem and value it as such.
During my pastorate I have witnessed multitudes of children that have grown up to be their parents' comfort and joy; and others breaking their parents' heart by their misconduct, and bringing down their grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. To which of these classes do you belong?
III.It is now time to turn your attention to YOUR own Jubilee. "Our Jubilee," you say; "What! shall I have a Jubilee?" Yes, of course, if you live to be fifty years of age. The fiftieth year of your life will be your Jubilee. Now, here, let me solemnly ask you, and entreat you as solemnly to ask yourselves, how you wish to keep your Jubilee; in happiness or misery. Think of that birthday when you shall say, "I am this day fifty years old." Now tell me how you would like that day to be spent. You will then be receiving the congratulations of your friends for your situation and circumstances--or else their pity. You will then be miserable or happy. You are ready to say, "How can I tell what will happen to me fifty years hence?" Why, I know very well there are many things in your future history which neither you nor anyone else but God can foretell. You cannot tell whether you will be rich or poor, sick or well, living in this country or abroad; but you can tell one thing, and that is, that if you are godly, you will be happy; and if you are wicked, you will be miserable.
But you are ready perhaps to say, "Why should I think about what will happen to me fifty years hence?" In answer to that, I admit it is of most pressing importance to consider what you are now; but at the same time I tell you, if you should be alive then, your condition will be influenced at that time--by what you are before. The future, my children, depends upon, and is influenced by, the present. What you are today, will, to a considerable extent, determine what you will be tomorrow. So what you will be fifty years hence, depends, in some measure, upon what you are now. It is of great importance that you should be thoughtful about the future. I do not, I repeat, wish you to forget the present time in idle dreams about the future. There is always some present duty to be attended to. Mind that. Do that. And let nothing draw away your attention from that. But still, you must also look on to the future, for the future will come; and you must prepare and provide for it. Well, now, shall I tell you what will, in all probability, ensure you a happy Jubilee?
True religion, a good education, diligence in learning your business, good habits of general conduct, and striving to make others happy.
Begin with true piety. Remember your Creator in
the days of your youth. Fear God. Love Christ. Hate sin. Seek to be good and
holy. Read your Bible and pray to God daily. Think of the words you have
Next to this, be very anxious to improve your minds. Do not be idle at school. Eagerly desire to learn. Get knowledge. Knowledge is power, pleasure, and means of usefulness.
When sent apprentice, diligently learn your trade or profession, whatever it may be. Strive to excel. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. And form good general habits of industry, punctuality, perseverance, frugality. Nor must you omit to endeavor to make others happy. I lately read, in the life of a very wise and very witty man, something like the following directions how to make every day happy.
When you rise in the morning, form a resolution to make, at least, one person happy that day. It is easily done. There is your mother, say a very kind word, or do a very kind action for her as soon as you see her. She will think upon it with joy all the day. There are your brothers or sisters, give up something you like and which they want—it will delight them all day. Or there is a poor widow or some other distressed person to whom you might give a penny, or, by your parents' permission, an old cast off garment—why, it will make them happy all day. Now, as there are, you know, three hundred and sixty five days in the year, you would thus make three hundred and sixty five people in a year happy for a day. Now calculate, for most of you know a little arithmetic, how many people you would make happy for a day, supposing you are now ten years of age, and should live to keep your Jubilee. You can easily add that little sum. See how much happiness you may communicate in going through life! What a poor, base, contemptible life, it is to live wholly for ourselves! Besides, the way to be happy ourselves, is to make others happy—for selfish people cannot be happy people.
Now, my dear children, if you will follow my advice, and act thus, then your Jubilee will be kept with joy by yourselves and your friends; and you will say on your birthday, when fifty years old, "I this day remember what was said and done at Mr. James' Jubilee. I recollect Mr. Dale's address, and what was said to me in Mr James's little book, which he gave me, and which I have kept to this day. And it was that address, and that book, which had great influence, by God's grace, in making me this day what I am, holy, useful, and happy."
But, my children, if you do not attend to this advice, but act differently; if you live a wicked life, neglect to cultivate your mind and to learn your business, and should form bad habits, your Jubilee will be a miserable day when it comes. You will have a sad heart, a guilty conscience, and perhaps a broken constitution, and a miserable home, and will bitterly exclaim, "Oh, that I had hearkened to the advice given me at Mr James's Jubilee and in his little book!"
But here I must remind you that a large number of you will never reach fifty years of age. There will be no Jubilee for scores and hundreds of you. The grave, the grave will have received you to its dreary abode. Many of you will die before you are twenty years of age; many more before you are thirty, forty, or fifty. Let me entreat you, then, to prepare for death! How? By true religion. Piety is the only preparation for heaven. If you fear God and love Christ, death will be your gain. You will then keep Jubilee in heaven with the angels of God and the spirits of just men made perfect, on the banks of the river of life, and beneath the branches of the tree of life. He that has true religion may go on to meet death without fear, rejoicing in the hope of a glorious heaven and a happy immortality. Take the following maxims for your guide—
True religion will be your best friend for both worlds.
The eye of God is always upon you, and he is present when no other is near.
Godliness is the best of all things, for it makes bitter things sweet and sweet things sweeter.
What a boy would be as a man, let him seek to be that while a boy—the boy is the father of the man.
Jesus Christ, while young, was subject to his parents; a dutiful son is, therefore, like Christ, when he was young. And what an honor to be like Christ.
Sin is deceitful as well as wicked, leading you to commit great sins by first tempting you to little ones; and leading you into habits of sin by asking for only one sin at a time. "Only this once," is Satan's way of beguiling you into a course of sin. What ought not to be done at all should not be done once.
Avoid the first wrong step.
There are three things, which if lost, can never be recovered—time, opportunity, and the soul.
A holy and useful life is more to be desired than a long or a prosperous one.
Now, my dear children, in a very few years at most I must leave you, and I again say I hope you will keep this little book in remembrance of me. Carefully preserve it. Often look at it and read it. And as often as you read it think you hear me saying to you, "When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
Though I must leave you, yet God, I hope, will long preserve Mr Dale to you; and it is my prayer that he may keep his Jubilee in this congregation with as much pleasure as I am now spending my Jubilee year, and that many of you may keep it with him. If my ministry has not yet been blessed to you, I pray God that his may be. May you be his joy now, and crown of rejoicing in the day of Christ. Attend his ministry. Follow his counsels. Be his comfort. And when all the changes of this life are over, may I meet you in heaven, to keep Jubilee forever in the presence of God and the Lamb!