by John Angell James, 1848
Patriotism is a part of religion, and he who is a true lover of God will be a genuine lover of his country also. It is true, the Bible knows nothing of 'national antipathies'—but on the contrary, condemns the absurd and wicked prejudice which leads the people of one land to hate those of another—simply because they are under another government, talk another language, and are separated from them by a sea, a river, or a land-mark. Still there are grounds of affection, and motives for benevolent action, relating to our own country, which do not appertain to any other. We are bound to do good to all men as opportunity shall present itself, and especially to those in our own vicinity. The people who are starving in far countries, ought to receive our bounty as soon and as far as we can send it to them—but the man who has just dropped down in utter exhaustion and is dying at our door, has an especial claim upon us. We must care for the perishing heathen—but shall we forget perishing Englishmen? To the former we can send missionaries—to the latter we can go ourselves. This, then, is the subject of the present chapter, our obligation to individual earnestness in the way of direct action for the conversion of souls. This must, of course, respect our countrymen, our neighbors, our families, our friends. Is such individual action necessary?
Look at the moral aspect of your country. It is now more than three centuries since the Reformation from Popery; almost two since the era of religious toleration; more than one since the revival of religion by the labors of Whitfield and Wesley; nearly seventy years since the setting up of Sunday-schools by Robert Raikes; fifty years since the spread of evangelical religion in the church of England; forty-three years since the establishment of the Bible Society, and a little more than that since the formation of the Religious Tract Society—to say nothing of the various institutions, such as home missionary societies, town missions, district visiting societies, and other organizations, which have since then been set up for improving the spiritual condition of the people. The Bible Society has issued twenty million copies of the Scriptures. The Tract Society has sent out nearly five hundred million copies of books and tracts—other institutions have added millions more of Bibles, tracts, and prayer-books. Churches, chapels, and schools, have been multiplied beyond all precedent in former times.
And yet what is the moral condition of the people of England, of Protestant England, at this moment? The town in which I live contains, with its suburbs, nearly two hundred and ten thousand inhabitants, and of these perhaps not more than forty thousand are ever at public worship at the same time. Take from these all Roman Catholics, Unitarians, and other denominations who do not hold evangelical sentiments, and what a small portion remains out of the whole population who are enjoying those soul-converting means of grace which stand so intimately connected with eternal salvation! Where are the remainder—and what is their state and character as regards eternity? This is but a specimen of other large towns, and of the state of the metropolis. What then, it may be asked, must be the spiritual condition of this land of Bibles, of sanctuaries, of ministers—this valley of vision, this land of light?
If, however, it were merely the dearth of means of doing good we had to complain of, it would be a matter of less grief and horror; but let anyone think also of the agencies, instruments, and means of doing evil, which are in active operation. The demoralized condition of a large proportion of the people of this country is beyond the conception of those who have not enquired into the subject. All people know the prevalence of drunkenness and sensuality, and most are impressed vaguely with the idea that there is a great deal of infidelity at work; but the depths of iniquity, the stagnant, pestiferous sinks of vice, which are ever sending forth their destructive pestilence into the moral atmosphere, and poisoning the souls of the people of these realms, are neither known nor conjectured by those who are ignorant of the statistics of the kingdom of darkness.
A writer to whom the religious public are much indebted, has lately published a work entitled, "The Power of the Press," in which he has set forth a statement, derived from authentic sources, and sustained by unquestionable evidence, which is enough, if anything can do it, to circulate a chill of horror through the whole nation, and to rouse into activity every friend of his Bible, his country, and his God.
This indefatigable investigator informs us that 11,702,000 copies of absolutely wicked or Sabbath-breaking newspapers are annually circulated in these realms; while the issues of the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Trinitarian Bible Society, the Coldstream Free Press Bible Society, and the grants of the Religious Tract Society, did not amount last year to one-third of this immense number!
"But a more fearful revelation still remains. There are about seventy cheap periodicals (varying in price from three half-pence to one half-penny) issued weekly; and supposing an extensively circulated series of popular works issued from Edinburgh, the tendency of which is believed by many to be injurious, are omitted, there remain at least sixty of a positively pernicious tendency. Of these the most innocent is one which has perhaps the largest circulation. It is said to issue 100,000 weekly. But though wicked principles are avowedly repudiated, yet a depraved and disordered imagination is fostered in this journal, by the introduction into its pages of French novels, and similar trash, as a principal feature. Then comes a less scrupulous paper, with a weekly issue of about 80,000—followed by six papers, all a degree lower in the scale of corruption, with an average weekly circulation of 20,000 each, or yearly sale for the six, of 6,240,000. And lastly comes a catalogue of intolerably polluting trash, which, closely examined, will make the Christian shudder at its contemplation; wondering where readers can be found, and amazed at the neglect and indifference of the church of Christ. The works thus alluded to, may be classified thus—1st, infidel; 2nd, polluting. Of these two there are circulated a yearly average of 10,400,000.
"But even beyond this dreadful limit, there is a very large annual circulation, into which the writer dare not enter, so awfully polluting is the character. In the last mentioned class, engravings and colorings are employed to excite the basest passions. It is true, these last works are supposed to be sold by stealth—but they are easily procurable from the same sources as the papers and periodicals before mentioned. The vendors of the one generally procure the other; moreover, the unstamped journals previously alluded to, usually contain advertisements of these works; and as the sale of these journals is large, they obtain a wide circulation for the filth, which, bad as they are themselves, they would profess to abominate.
"The effect of this immense annual issue, which if at all misstated, the writer believes to be considerably below the average, can scarcely be contemplated by the Christian for one moment, without producing, we repeat, a thrill of horror! Week after week, week after week, year after year, year after year, does this literature meet the mind which may have been for a few weeks or months, perhaps, under Christian control one day in seven; or it arrests the attention of those who have never been so privileged. The process and effect are alike in both cases, though in one results may be more gradual. The mental appetite exists, and must be fed; it meets with the food which we have just analyzed, at every turn, in every variety, to suit every taste."
What has been done by the press to meet this evil? Putting together the annual issues of Bibles, Testaments, religious tracts, newspapers, and periodicals, of every kind, we find a total of 24,418,620, leaving a balance of 4,443,380, in favor of pernicious and corrupting literature.*
* As a supplement to this appalling statement, I may add that a few weeks since I received a copy of one of these low, cheap, infidel publications, containing strictures on "The Anxious Inquirer." The writer of these strictures avows himself an atheist; and indeed, he has done ample justice to his profession, by effusions of the most vulgar, blasphemous, and horrid atheism I ever read. But what was most alarming was, there were announced on the cover of the magazine twelve places in London, where infidel meetings are held; and a list of subjects to be discussed, all intended to bring the Christian religion into contempt and derision. The publication alluded to was ostentatiously exhibited in the window of a shop in this town, where similar works are habitually sold.
Let it then be imagined, if imagined it can be, what must be the state of multitudes in this country, when nearly thirty million of such pestiferous publications are annually going out among the masses of our population. Let the minds of all Christian people be fixed upon these facts. Let them dwell upon the insult offered to God, the ruin brought upon souls, the injury done to morals, and the mischief perpetrated in the nation, by such a state of things. Friends of Christ, lovers of your country, professors of religion, you must pause, and ponder these statements. You must dismiss them, as you would statistics of political economy. The writer of these facts has led you to the very door of Satan's workshop, and has thrown open to you the scenes of that dreadful laboratory of mental poison! He has shown you authors, compositors, printers, publishers, booksellers, vendors, by myriads, all busy and indefatigable, to do what? To destroy the Bible, to corrupt the mind, to pull down the cross, to dethrone God, to subvert religion, to uproot the church, to turn man into a thinking and speaking brute, and as a necessary consequence, to overturn all morality, to poison the springs of domestic happiness, to dissolve the ties of social order, and to involve our country in ruin.
Is this so, or is it not? If it is, we summon Christians to ponder this dreadful state of things, and to ask what can be done to arrest this tide of ruin, this awful torrent of perdition, which is dashing over the precipice of immorality and infidelity, into the gulf of the bottomless pit, and casting millions of immortal souls into the boiling surges and tremendous whirlpools below. Satan, and all his emissaries upon earth, are in earnest in ruining men's souls! "I don't want Satan to outwit us. After all, we are not ignorant about Satan's scheming." 2 Corinthians 2:11.
But what is to be done, and who is to do it? Much, of course, is to be done by the pulpit, and it is never to be forgotten that the preaching of the gospel is God's great instrument for the conversion of souls. Nothing can ever supersede it. Towering above all other means, will the sacred desk and he that fills it, ever stand as God's chosen means for reclaiming to the Savior, the wandering and lost soul of apostate man. No suspicion must come over the preacher or the hearer of the gospel—that the pulpit has had its day, and done its work, and should give place to something else. It will never have had its day, until the world has had its day. Pre-eminently adapted to man as man, through every period of his history, and every change of his condition, it will remain to the end of time, as the great means for the sinner's conversion, and the saint's edification, sanctification, and consolation. And the infidel operations I have just referred to do but proclaim with trumpet-call the more urgent necessity of an earnest ministry.
The appalling activity in corrupting the public mind just related, must be met also by religious organizations, such as home missionary societies, and town and city missions, those admirable institutions for carrying light into the regions of darkness, and purity into the dens of filth. Churches and chapels, however numerous and well-supplied with ministers and preachers, will not entirely meet the case, since multitudes who most need the instructions of the pulpit, never come to receive them. There are millions to whom the gospel must be carried, if they are ever to know anything of it. Under the pressure of poverty, men will seek the food of their bodies with an eagerness proportioned to the cravings of hunger; but though perishing for the lack of the bread of life, they will take no pains to obtain it, for they are unconscious of their necessities. What is needed, then, is the plan of home visitation, and appeals to the people in their own localities, carried out to a still wider extent, and by a still larger and more perfect organization.
Shall we ever have well educated and devoted men, versed in all the popular systems of infidelity, fluent, eloquent, and bold, who will go upon a mission to the masses, and be able to conciliate them by kindness, and to convince them by argument, and thus to win them to Christ? Our town missionaries and Scripture readers are doing great good—but we still need a class of agents above them in mental stature, who shall, by sound logic, scriptural knowledge, and commanding intellect, grapple with the demon of infidelity in its own domain.
The press also must be worked with still greater power and efficiency. If it has a power for evil, it has also a power for good. The pulpit cannot do everything, (some think it cannot do much in this educated age and nation,) and at any rate, it is not jealous of the press as a rival—but invites its assistance as an auxiliary. The press must not be left, thank God it is not left, in the hands of the men of the world, and the motley crew of all grades of scepticism.
"Are they its friends? So are we. Are their liberties the offspring of its efforts? So are ours. Does the press serve to their idol-gods? And shall it not serve the one living and true God? Let us, therefore, consecrate the press in the midst of our churches. Let some of our most talented ministers of the gospel, who are adapted to the work, (and have no gift of elocution) devote themselves entirely to teaching by the press. The world requires their services. Millions of minds can be reached only by means of the press."
The Religious Tract Society is doing wonders, and will do greater wonders yet—let it be well supported. Our journals and periodical literature, from the bulky Quarterly down to the Penny Magazine, are doing great things. Let them be liberally sustained. If infidels and immoral writers are pouring forth a deluge of scepticism and vice, let us send forth a higher and a more mighty flood, to sweep away by its force the turbid streams, in the waters of which nothing lives, and which are depositing a pernicious and pestiferous slime, instead of a fertile soil. Christians, support well the religious press; remunerate and encourage your editors, authors, and societies, by pushing to the widest possible extent their publications. Grudge not the money you spend in supporting the press, very little is better spent.
Still this, even this, all this, is not enough. Give to the pulpit all the power that is claimed for it; give to social organization all the efficiency that it may be supposed, and by God's blessing may be made, to possess; and add to this the well-directed energy of the press; we have an evil to contend with, so gigantic in its strength, so diffused in its influence on all sides of us, and so infectious and malignant in its effects—that nothing short of the engagement, the energies, and the earnestness of the whole church can cope with it. The whole church must be employed for the conversion of the whole country. The enemy is coming in like a flood! Infidelity and immorality are invading us! The alarm bell must be rung! The beacon-fire must be kindled on every hill of Zion! the sound, "To arms, To arms," must arise from every tower and every battlement, and every man that can shoulder a musket, or bear a sword, must take the field, and array himself against the foe.
There is not a single member of any church, male or female, young or old, rich or poor—but ought to be engaged in personal efforts for the salvation of souls. An army may as rationally leave the battle to be fought by the officers alone, as the church may leave the conversion of the world to the ministers of the gospel. It is a fundamental error, a practical heresy of most pernicious and deadly influence—to consider the conversion of souls as exclusively ministerial work. This is Popery—which would restrict the conveyance of renewing grace to the medium of priestly hands and sacramental channels. Against this, as an invasion of the rights of the Christian people, a robbery of the privileges of the "chosen generation," and a deposition of the "royal priesthood," the whole church of God ought to rise up in the attitude of firm resistance, and with the language of indignant protestation.
The honor of saving souls, (and it is one of the brightest and richest that can light upon the head of mortal or immortal,) is as truly and as legitimately within the reach of the pious pauper in the workhouse, the godly child in a Sunday-school, or the religious maid-servant in a family, as within the grasp of the mitered prelate. The church, the whole church, and nothing less than the whole church, including members as well as ministers—is the priesthood by which the work of conversion is to be carried on upon earth. The clergy-church, that is, a church consisting only of ministers apart from the people, is a mere figment, which may do well enough at Rome, or at Oxford—but will not do wherever the New Testament is possessed, read, and understood. This divine, heavenly Magna Charta of the Christian church must be held up, to wrest from the usurpation of tyrannizing ecclesiastics, the self-granted exclusive patent for saving souls—and as a divine right of the people, must be bestowed upon anyone who has grace enough to claim it, and virtue enough to exercise it. Delightful and encouraging it is to see this admitted and put forward by authorities which will have weight with those who will not be swayed by the same statements coming from other quarters.
In the North British Review for November last, is a critique on a work by the Chevalier Bunsen, Prussian ambassador to the British court, entitled "The Church of the Future;" which is well worthy the attention of every thoughtful mind, though it contains many strange views—the following extract from it, with the comments of the Reviewer, bear upon my subject.
"But, in considering the assistance rendered to the pastors in the evangelical instruction and education of the people, we have met with a mighty institution, the only one of its kind, the 17,000 schoolmasters who stand at the side of the parochial clergy, and assist them in the congregation. That which is good and evangelical in the system of the clergy-church is still to be found in it, and new and vigorous shoots present themselves on every side, and manifest a life full of hope for the future. We found the most startling and important signs of this in the help afforded to the church in her care of the poor, the sick, and the prisoners. We were met by a zealous company of men and women, who had founded institutions of helpful love, for the reformation of those who had gone astray, for the maintenance of homeless and orphan children, for the comfort of the sick and the prisoner—we were met by operatives full of faith, and by a holy band of deaconesses performing works of the mercy, in the full freedom of the Gospel, and in the might of free, because thankful, love. Now everyone who considers the way in which the diaconate first decayed and died, and how it is especially lacking in the clergy-church, because it requires for its free development the full communion of the laity, and the full acknowledgment of the universal priesthood, will readily comprehend the historical significance of the fact, that among the vigorous offshoots of the church-life of the present day, the diaconate is the most distinctly and gloriously prominent. This is the ministry of love, and in an especial manner the ministry of the Church of the Future. We may here behold coming to the birth the new element of that church of the future, whose birth-throes we all feel, of that free congregation of faithful men, to which the groaning of the creature, and the ever more fearful revelations of the misery of mankind, are pointing. Here is that ministry which is open to all; here is that approval of our faith to which everyone is called; here is that exercise of the priesthood for which every constitution of the church gives liberty—here is that center from which the constitution of this church of the future must proceed, if it is to be a partaker of an inward and spiritual life." Bunsen.
"All hail to such a church of the future! The world yearns for it, creation groans for it. Society is sick at heart, sick of sore maladies which politics cannot cure; sick of many deadly diseases—and few physicians. And Christ's church alone has the panacea, the universal cure. Deacons and deaconesses, brothers and sisters of charity, with Christ's love in their hearts and no Pope's yoke on their necks; priests and priestesses, self-devoted to the High Priest's own work of going about to do good; such is the ministry, the age, the church, and the world all demand. Otherwise, churches are self-consuming; light and life go out in a cold vacuum. Pastors, elders, deacons, schoolmasters, people—eat in on themselves and on one another. Mere forms of polity and worship stand; rights of rule and rights of choice are balanced; but love dies, and with love all peace and joy. An earnest out-going ministry, in all who are the Lord's, in Dorcas as in Paul, is the grand need of the times. What church will realize this? That is the Church of the Future. Bunsen, Arnold, Vinet, Chalmers, all are one here. For, at the last, intellect humanity, piety, are always one."
Yes, this is all true, and just, and impressive; and thanks be rendered to God, for this loud call, and its many echoes through various countries—for the employment of a well qualified, well adapted, and well directed lay agency. We want the Christian people to come forth, and claim and exercise to the utmost their privilege, as God's priesthood, fully commissioned by the Divine Head of the Church, to evangelize the world.
The remainder of this chapter must now be devoted to a consideration ofpersonal effort for the salvation of souls, viewed in the light of a duty. Yes, it is the duty of everyone; not an individual can plead exemption. Is it not the duty of everyone to love God with all his heart, and his neighbor as himself? If so, does not this love demand that we should seek the conversion of souls? Can we pretend to love God—and not seek that others should love him too? Or can we love our neighbor—and not seek his salvation? Are not all Christians represented as the salt of the earth, and the light of the world? And can they answer to these impressive figurative representations of their duty and design, if they never attempt to diffuse by personal effort their holy religion?
As we have opportunity, we are commanded to do good. What good is so good—as saving souls, and have we not all ever-recurring opportunities for this? Consider your capacity—you can do something for the salvation of souls. Everyone who has the knowledge of the way of salvation, and a tongue to speak, can explain it to others. Or if too timid to speak, he can give a tract, or write a letter, which will speak for him. There is not in all the family of God, a single child who can do nothing for the cause of his Heavenly Father, in our apostate world; and nothing more is necessary to constitute obligation in such a matter as this—but the means and an opportunity. If when the ability and opportunity concur to rescue a fellow-creature from a watery grave, or a fiery death, the obligation is complete; how much more so, where the means and opportunity are possessed to save a soul from eternal death, and hide a multitude of sins. Souls are perishing all around you! In your streets; in your neighbors' houses, and in your own!
Do not say that you can do nothing. Have you ever tried? Have you ever taken a bundle of tracts, and gone out into a dark street, and entered the houses of the poor, and begun a conversation with them about their souls? You have a Bible—have you ever put it into your pocket, and gone to some habitation of ignorance and sin, and asked permission to read a chapter? Have you ever written a letter to an unconverted friend or relative on the subject of saving religion, and the salvation of the soul? Have you ever mildly expostulated with a relative on the neglect of this momentous concern? Have you ever gently and gracefully reproved a swearer for his sin against the Lord? Have you ever dropped a word to a fellow-traveler in a steam boat, or a railway carriage? Not do anything! Will you, until you have tried some such simple and easy methods as these, have the courage to tell God so? Not do anything! Will you degrade yourself so much, and sink so low in your own estimation, as to say you are a nonentity in the church as regards the church's mission to our world? Not do anything! What is it in you, which says so, your indolence, or your modesty? You must do something, or answer at the judgment of God, why you have done nothing. Be it that you have only one talent, or a fraction of a talent; that fraction must be employed—or you must bear the character and meet the doom of the slothful servant.
Of course, each professing Christian in his efforts to do good, must consult his own abilities, means, and opportunities. It is admitted that there are varieties here which must not be overlooked. Everyone must say, "Lord, what will you have me to do," and each should honestly and with good intent, look into his circumstances to see what are Christ's claims upon him. Perhaps it will be found upon examination, that those do least in the way of personal effort who have the ability to do most; I mean the talented, the wealthy, and the manufacturer who has a large number of people in his employment—and may be supposed to have a great influence over them. It happens that, with the exception perhaps of pious females of the upper classes, men of talent and business are most rarely found engaged in personal effort for the salvation of their neighbors—they will give their money, and sometimes will also give their time to the business of committees; and this so far is well, for many will not do this. But how seldom are they found engaged in personal effort for the conversion and salvation of others! Yet what might they not do in this way if they tried! Their station and their talents would give them advantages for this sublime occupation, which others do not possess. Conceive of the effect which might be expected to result, if all the wealthy and intelligent members of our churches, would each give only one hour a week to the labor of diffusing true religion, by endeavoring to influence the minds of others, and win their attention to the great concerns of true religion.
This applies with especial force to master manufacturers, and others who have a large number of men in their employment, and under their influence. One gentleman is known to me who has several hundred men in his service, and who takes a deep interest in the spiritual welfare of his workmen. He has a Bible class for all who are willing to attend. He holds a prayer meeting with them every week; distributes religious tracts; gives them counsel and admonition; encourages their attendance upon public worship, without at all exerting any sectarian influence; and is about to establish for their benefit a library and reading-room. He is a good-spirited churchman—but never allows his bias for the Church of England to influence him in his endeavors for the spiritual welfare of the objects of his solicitude.
What might not be expected to our population if all our manufacturers and large retail shop-keepers, felt the same pious solicitude for the souls of their work-people and shopmen as does this devoted and eminent servant of our Lord. How this would counteract the infidelity and immorality which so extensively prevail among our laboring population, and which with such busy assiduity are nourished by a corrupt press and by those emissaries of Satan—the teachers of skepticism, profanity, and licentiousness. Our factories are the strongholds of infidelity. It is there that all the elements of moral mischief mingle and ferment. The chaplain of the hospital in Birmingham was informed by one of the patients whom he visited, that out of three hundred men who worked in the same manufactory as he did, he could affirm of his own personal knowledge, that one hundred of them were avowed infidels. Now there is no reason to suppose that this is a solitary case—but on the contrary a specimen of what very extensively prevails. It is among these men that the publications already alluded to are circulated.
Surely it behooves Christian masters to ask whether they cannot do something to arrest the progress of this dreadful mischief! But alas! too many men in trade, even Christian masters, are either so little concerned about their workmen, as to care for nothing but just what measure of profit they can get from their labor; or else they are on such bad terms with them as to render void any efforts they might make for their spiritual welfare.
Pious females have ever been foremost in this good work of saving souls by personal effort, and they have been eminently successful in their labors of love. Married women who have but few domestic cares to confine them at home, and unmarried ones of a sufficiently advanced age, who have much leisure at command, may be singularly useful. "Devout and honorable women not a few," are already busily employed in this way. Christian women! I appeal to you all to join this noble sisterhood of benevolence. I would not have you lessen that attention to the temporal needs, sorrows, and cares of others, for which you are already so eminent—but I would have you add to it a still deeper solicitude for the miseries that oppress and ruin their souls! You know how the church of Rome boasts of her "Sisters of Mercy," whom she sends out from convents into the abodes of ignorance, disease, and poverty. It is after all but a shallow device, though a plausible means, for drawing attention to Popery, and conciliating public favor towards it. I call therefore upon you to perform, without abjuring the names, duties, or comforts of the wife and the mother—the services of an evangelist, and by such acts as fall within your own sphere to spread abroad the knowledge of religion, in order to save the souls of your own gender, and thus to be, in the fullest sense of the words, Sisters of Mercy indeed.
Whatever be our situation there is no hope of our doing much good in this way, without having a definite object in view, and pursuing it in a right way, and with a proper spirit. The direct aim should be, of course, the actual conversion of the soul to God. Where nothing else, however, can be accomplished, than inducing people to read the Word of God and pious books, and to attend upon the preaching of the gospel, something is done; but the aim of a Christian should be, to be the instrument of making others truly and really such as he is himself.
You must be studious and inventive to accomplish this end, and to find out the best means of doing so within your power. It is astonishing what means will occur to him who is deeply concerned and firmly resolved upon the accomplishment of some great object. Let the heart be once on fire with zeal, and the light of this sacred flame will ascend into the judgment, as well as fall upon surrounding objects, and disclose means and methods of action hidden from colder intellects. When once the passion for saving souls has got possession of the heart, it will supply not only incentives but, instruments. Necessity is the mother of invention, and when we are brought to this determination, "I must be useful! I must do something to save souls! I must find means of doing good!"—means will present themselves, and opportunities will occur. Invention is secondary creation, and he who cannot find opportunities, will certainly make them. Read the life of Harlan Page, a reference to which will be contained in a future chapter, and learn in how many ways a man, even in humble life, may be useful, whose heart is set upon doing good.
It is of immense consequence to remember that whatever you do for the salvation of souls, must be done in the earnestness of love, expressed with the meekness and gentleness of Christ. There is a boisterousness and vehemence, not to say rudeness, in the manner of some, which defeat their own object. They seem determined to take the citadel by storm. But love undermines the citadel, and enters it almost unperceived.
There is a beautiful illustration of this in the life of Mr Simeon, of Cambridge. "Konig, the only son of a rich merchant of Amsterdam, came over to England, and was received as a guest by Mr Simeon's brother. It soon appeared that young Konig was destitute of true religion, and ignorant of its principles—but his appearance and manners were such as to invite kindly attention and feeling. Mr Simeon's benevolent heart was drawn towards him, and he earnestly desired to win this soul for Christ. One day he was riding a few yards in advance of a party of which Konig was one. Konig seeing Mr Simeon alone, rode up to join him; and perceiving that his lips were in motion, though he was not engaged in conversation, inquired with his usual simplicity, 'What he was saying.' Mr Simeon replied, 'I was praying for my young friend.' These words made a deep impression upon the interesting youth, and caused him to regard Mr Simeon as one who was tenderly concerned for his welfare. His mind had in fact been prepared by the providence of God for this impression, which might otherwise have been transient. The party, who were making the tour of the island, arrived at an inn, where Konig and another gentleman were necessitated to occupy a double-bedded room. The gentleman, before he retired to rest, knelt down, and prayed by his bed-side. This, it afterwards appeared, was a new sight to the young Hollander; but it went to his heart. He had long been unhappy, from feeling the unsatisfactoriness of the things which are ordinarily accounted capable of conferring happiness; but knew not the better way. Immediately, however, as he afterwards declared, he said to himself, 'How happy is that man! What would I give to feel myself in the hands of an Almighty Guide and Protector, as he surely does!' Under this conviction he fell upon his knees, which he had not before done in private for years, and the very next morning he unbosomed himself to his companion. He was thus prepared for the reply of Mr Simeon to his enquiry, and was not repelled—but encouraged by it. Mr Simeon perceiving that the Spirit of God had marked this stranger for himself, resolved to do all in his power to train him for happiness and usefulness. His exertions were blessed for his conversion—and the writer who gives the account says, in referring to it afterwards, 'The remembrance of that youth, graceful in person and beaming with benignity, is even now redolent with everything lovely and of good report. He was in fact ripening for early removal to a higher sphere. He returned to Holland, where he died of consumption; but not until he had been permitted and enabled to witness for his Savior a good confession in his native city. The report of his behavior during his death-illness excited considerable interest and surprise in Amsterdam, where his family were well known. Many it has been stated, seemed to say, 'What new thing is this?'"
This beautiful narrative is replete with instruction on the subject of this chapter.
Such efforts require a high state of personal religion to supply the impulse, and keep up the activity. The fire of zeal must be fed with the fuel of piety, or it will be only as, "the crackling of thorns beneath a pot," a noisy and a momentary blaze.
And to be useful, a Christian must also be consistent. A diseased or dying physician may be the means of healing others; but an inconsistent Christian only inspires revulsion and disgust by all his endeavors to do good; disgust not only against himself as a hypocrite—but against the very religion he would teach, as being all hypocrisy also, because lacking the confirmation of his obedience to it. They who would save others, then, should exhibit in themselves all the holiness and happiness of the salvation which it is their aim to communicate.
There are some people whom we could wish never to say a word to recommend religion, unless they would show its beauty in conduct consistent with it; and whom we could desire never to attempt to save their friends, unless they gave better proof they were really and in earnest seeking to save themselves. Not that the instrument of conversion must of necessity himself be absolutely perfect; for then none but an angel from heaven could be employed in saving man—but he ought to approach as near to perfection as possible. It should, moreover, be recollected as an encouragement to Christian exertion, that it is with instruments of conversion as it is with many other instruments, they improve by use. If you would grow in grace yourselves, seek to be the means of communicating grace to others. A light is brightened by kindling other lights, and a fire is made to burn with greater intensity by a neighboring fire which it has ignited. We get good by doing it; and if we save not others, the very attempt aids, and in one sense, increases our own salvation.
Take the following anecdote from America, in illustration of the necessity of consistency in those who would make personal efforts for the salvation of sinners.
"An excellent minister, referring to his own conversion, said, 'When I was yet a young and thoughtless man, a pious deacon addressed me about my salvation. I was angry, my heart rose in bitterness against him. I reproached him; pointed out the inconsistencies of professors, talked indeed like a madman, while my conscience was grinding me like a millstone. He bore it all with meekness, perfectly unmoved. If he had only given one retort, shown one angry feeling, it would have relieved me. His Christian meekness was too much for me. I went into the woods, smarting with my wounds, fell under conviction of what he had said to me, and went and asked his pardon."(From Dr. A. Reed's "Religion the Claim of the Times.")
And now by what arguments can you be persuaded, by what inducements moved, by what incentives excited—to make these efforts?
Consider your principles! You believe in the immortality of the soul, in the evil of sin, in the curse of the law, in the wrath of God, in the reality of hell, in the horrors of damnation, in the intensity and eternity of the quenchless fire. You believe in a merciful God, a redeeming Savior, a converting Spirit, in the possibility of salvation for each one of the perishing millions around you, in the ineffable and eternal bliss of heaven. You believe that it is God's will that men should be saved, and that they should be saved through human instrumentality, and by your exertions among the other means to be employed. This, all this, is in your creed. Christians, study afresh the articles of your faith, that you may know more accurately than you seem to do, what ought to be the obligations of your conscience, and the actions of your life. Indeed you must do more, or believe less; your creed and your conduct are at variance.
Follow only one human soul into eternity. Trace its endless course through delights which flesh and blood could not sustain—or through torments which human nature must have supernatural strength to endure! Pursue it along the course of its eternal progression, and contemplate it making acquisitions in knowledge, holiness, and happiness, all but infinite, and leaving behind even the former attainments of cherubim and seraphim—or forever sinking from gulf to gulf of misery and despair in the bottomless abyss! And then conceive, if it is possible, in some tolerable degree, what an event is the salvation of a single soul! And when you have comprehended this mighty and mysterious destiny of a single soul, carry it on to the tens, and hundreds, and thousands, or tens of thousands, of such souls—which are hurrying on to eternity, even in the town where you dwell!
Christians, again I say, abjure these vast ideas—or act more comformably to them. Abandon your belief in these stupendous realities—or prove that you individually are absolved from the obligation of arresting this tide of ruin, and swelling the stream of salvation—or else be more in earnest in your endeavor to save souls. You must do one or the other. In your present conduct, with such a profession upon your lips, yet with such lukewarmness in your zeal—your conduct is the most monstrous inconsistency in our world. Infidels see it, and comparing your creed and your conduct, taunt you with your hypocrisy.
"I remember," says Mr Binney, "a very striking circumstance which a neighboring minister mentioned to me in proof of this. There was in the town in which he preached an avowed and determined infidel. He saw this man one Sunday evening in his place of worship. He was preaching on some of the great verities of faith, and the duties resulting therefrom. As he was the next morning passing the door of the man, he was standing at it, and he said to him, 'I saw you at worship last night, and was rather surprised to see you there, as you do not believe what I was preaching.' 'No,' said he, 'nor you either.' 'Indeed.' 'No!' he went on to say, 'Why if I were to believe the things you affirm to be true, and which are written in your books, I would not know how to contain myself. I would feel their importance so much, that I would exhibit them wherever I went. I would not know how to hold in the enthusiasm they would excite. But I do not believe them, nor do you—or you would be a very different person from what you are.'"
Dreadful sarcasm! Cutting irony! Withering rebuke! But how deserved! Shall we not feel it? Shall we not learn our defects, our duty, our inconsistency—even from an infidel? Let us look at and judge ourselves, as infidels, who examine us and try us by our creed and profession, judge us. Rouse yourselves, Christians, rouse yourselves to action! Do something worthy of your principles! Roll away your reproach, and silence the taunt of your adversaries!
Think of the honor of success. What a volume, never to be fully known in this world, is comprehended in the apostle's beautiful language, "My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, he should know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20). A sinner wandering from God, from holiness, and bliss, restored to the fountain of life and light; a soul dead in trespasses and sins, quickened into life; a multitude of sins, each one of them containing the sentence and venom of an eternal curse, all covered over by an act of pardoning mercy—what an achievement! The liberation of a nation from the fetters of slavery, and the rescue of an empire from the ravages of a pestilence—are not to be compared with the eternal salvation of one immortal soul.
If one of the planets of our system had broken away from the influence of gravitation, and was rushing off into space, threatening ruin to itself, and to other orbs, into collision with which in its course of destruction it might be brought; and it were in our power to restore it again to its place and orbit; it would be less a matter of exultation, than to be the instrument of saving a single soul from the bitter pains of eternal death!
What was the civic crown awarded to him who had saved the life of a Roman soldier on the field of battle; or the statue of brass erected to him who had defeated in battle his country's foe; or the shrine which is erected in the temple of fame for him who has enriched his country and the world by some splendid discovery in science, or invention in art—compared with the eternal crown which shall flourish forever on the brow of the Christian who has saved a soul from death. Medals, statues, trophies, processions—are all childishness compared with this! And such is the distinction placed within the reach of every child of God. What an incentive to earnestness this; and yet, how few the competitors for such a crown, and such an honor!
Consider, moreover, what others have done, and done with no greater advantages than you have possessed. Instances have occurred, perhaps within the range of your own observation, of people who have laid themselves out with extraordinary earnestness, and with as extraordinary success, for the salvation of souls. They have been the honored instruments of bringing many to Christ. It is their exquisite felicity on earth, and will be their still higher felicity in heaven—to receive the grateful acknowledgments of those whom they have plucked as brands from the burning. This is a happiness which angels know not. They indeed rejoice over souls converted by others—but never over any converted by themselves—in this particular, the holy angels are inferior to many a poor peasant who has been the instrument of saving a soul from death.
Envy not such people—but imitate them. Their bliss may be yours. What they have done, you by God's grace may do. It was not by might nor by power, that they did it—but by God's truth and God's Spirit. That truth may be presented by you as it was by them, and God's Spirit is as willing to come on your humble labors, as he was upon theirs. He loves to bless feeble but willing instruments, that he may magnify his own power.
As a proof of what some others have done, take the following instance, which has been brought under my notice by one of our home missionaries, in a letter I lately received from him. After describing the great spiritual destitution of large tracts of our country, and our inability to supply this lamented deficiency by any organization we now have, or are ever likely to have, he adds, "I have been thinking of a plan which in some instances has been tried and greatly blessed for the spread of the gospel, and the conversion of souls. Are there not in the churches of our cities and large towns, men of ardent piety and love to souls, of ability to preach the gospel with simplicity, affection, and power, of wealth to support themselves, and leisure to labor for God and precious souls? Are not some of their talents buried for lack of a proper sphere for their exertion? Could they not obtain a comfortable residence for themselves in these districts, and devote themselves to the eternal welfare of those for whom no other spiritual provision is made?
"A dear relative of mine some years ago had a considerable amount of property left him. He at once retired from business to devote himself entirely to the work of the Lord. He was the instrument of introducing the gospel to this town where I now labor. He went to reside at a village about eight miles from hence. He there began to preach, built one chapel, then another, and then another, in different hamlets. We have two village chapels connected with us besides. Other chapels in this locality sprung from his efforts. It is gratifying and astonishing to consider how the gospel has spread, and is still spreading; and we trace back these streams to the blessing of God upon the efforts of this servant of his. He died in the pulpit nearly four years ago. His son, now residing upon his own farm, is the zealous and successful pastor of the church which his father was the instrument of gathering. Two day schools and four Sunday schools have arisen from the same efforts.
"Now, sir, are there not others connected with our churches, who may go and do likewise? May we not believe that God would crown with his blessing such efforts as these?"
Believe! We are sure of it. This is what we need. This we must have, or we can never overtake the population of our country with the means of grace. I say again and again, and I say it with all possible emphasis, and would send it if I could with a trumpet-blast over the land, "Societies must not be substitutes for personal labors. Organization must not crush individual effort. Here was an individual not waiting for any society—but going off himself to the scene of moral desolation, venturing alone into the wilderness, going single-handed—but strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might—to pour the light of truth over a dark neighborhood. See how God honored and blessed him—what good he did, what a name he left.
You who have talents as well as piety, and in addition have abundant wealth, or a competency at any rate, why not imitate this beautiful example? Why content yourselves with getting more wealth, which you do not need, when you might be employed in building chapels, forming churches, planting schools, and saving souls. How noble an association—the country gentleman and the village pastor—the retired merchant and the preacher of the gospel! Is there nothing to fire your ambition, to excite your ardor, to kindle a holy enthusiasm, in such a prospect and such a hope? I am not setting aside an educated ministry, for a system of lay preaching—but am speaking of spots where no congregation exists, no chapel is built, and where none is ever likely to exist without some such plan as this.
Remember how little you have hitherto done. You have experimentally known the way of salvation, and the value of souls, these ten, twenty, thirty years—and yet up to this hour, you have perhaps never won a soul to God—perhaps have never tried to win one. Astonishing! Painful neglect, irretrievable omission! The wasted hours can never be recalled, the lost souls that have dropped into the pit from beneath your very eye and hand, can never be placed again within the circle of your influence! As you saw them falling, you stretched out no helping hand, and there amidst the torments of despair they are, uttering their reproaches upon your cruel indifference. Time is still rolling on; souls are still crowding to perdition, and soon, soon, both you and they will be in eternity! Hasten, oh hasten, to the scene of ruin—put forth every energy—their damnation lingers not, and shall your compassion linger? Shall your efforts still be withheld?
Lastly, consider what would be the result, if all the members of our churches were stirred up to an earnest endeavor to save souls. Take a community of Christians, of three, four, or five hundred—and think of all these, each in his own sphere, and according to his own talents, means, and opportunity, laboring for God and souls. Think of five hundred, or even of one hundred professing believers in the verities of revelation, scattered over the whole expanse of a town or village, communicating more or less with the whole population; some of them masters and mistresses at the head of families; others, manufacturers presiding over large establishments of workmen; others, servants in the midst of godless households; others, workmen surrounded by wicked fellow-workers; others, rich or well-informed, and possessing considerable influence in society; others, poor and inhabiting courts where neighbors on all hands have an opportunity to see their conduct, and hear their conversation; others, young and possessing all the health and energy of their years, and in the habit of meeting with people of their own age. Let such a community be conceived of, where all its members were walking in holy conversation and godliness, sending forth the light of a beautiful example, full of zeal, laboring for the salvation of their fellows, and inspired with the ambition, and animated with the hope—of saving souls by personal effort, each studying what he could do, and each doing what he could—what might be looked for as the glorious result of such general activity, zeal, and earnestness! What an awakening would take place, what revivals would come on! Would not God pour out his Spirit on such churches as these? What prayer would ascend, and what showers of blessings would come down in their season!
When our churches shall exhibit such scenes as these, then will God's work go on in the earth. And why do they not exhibit such scenes? Are not these the scenes they ought to exhibit? Is not this the intention for which they are raised up? Friends of Christ, and truth, and God, look back for a moment again to the horrifying details of a former part of this chapter, read again the statistics of the Pandemonium of infidelity and immorality, and say if the passion for ruining souls shall be more intense among the emissaries of Satan, than the passion for saving them shall be among the followers of the Lamb. O what, and who, shall rouse the church of God to a sense of her duty, her destiny, and her honor—as God's instrument for converting an ungodly world? Where is the more than trumpet breath that with the thunders of the skies and the voice of eternal truth, shall break in upon the slumber of a luxurious church, and rouse her to her mission as a witnessing and a proselyting body! What visitations of mercy, or of judgment; what internal commotions, or external assaults; what national convulsions, or social disruptions, are necessary to call her to her work, and prepare her to perform it? When shall all controversies seem to be little or nothing, compared with the church's one great controversy against sin, Satan, and perdition? When shall every Christian feel that God's chief end of keeping him out of heaven for a season—is that he may keep immortal souls out of hell? When shall another Luther rise up in the midst of the Protestant church, and rouse us from our worldly-mindedness—even as Luther delivered us from Popery? When shall another Whitfield pass through the midst of us, and with his burning eloquence kindle a fire of zeal in our hearts which shall consume our earthliness, and purify the gold of our faith? Shall infidelity, Popery, and false philosophy, share the world between them? Individual Christians, priesthood of God—consider and decide!