Thirty years ago I was honored to lift up my voice in this pulpit, to advocate, on a similar occasion to the present, the cause for the furtherance of which we are now assembled. Since that day what changes have come over both the preacher and his audience, over the church and the world, over the Missionary Society and its supporters! A whole generation of the human race, numbering eight hundred million immortal beings, in one ceaseless stream, has been flowing into eternity; and of all that vast multitude, how few were prepared for the awful transition!
In looking round upon those galleries, where, on that former occasion to which I have alluded, sat in dignity and honor the fathers and founders of the Missionary Society, surrounded by their junior brethren, looking up to them with veneration and esteem, I search in vain for a solitary representative of that illustrious band. The grave which swallows up all that is mortal, and heaven which attracts to itself all that is holy upon earth, have received them out of our sight, leaving us to echo the appeal of the Jewish seer—"Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live forever?" This question shall be the subject of our morning's meditation.
"Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live forever?" Zechariah 1:5
It would be both ungrateful and unjust, if we, who are now blessed to carry on the operations of this institution, did not occasionally visit the tombs and do honor to the memory of the men by whom it was founded. Their epitaphs are sermons; by which "they, being dead, yet speak to us." I owe them much, and seize this as a befitting opportunity to acknowledge my obligations, and the subject which I have selected for this occasion is appropriate on another ground. The ravages of death among our ministers have been, of late, unusually frequent. Great and precious names have been expunged from the muster-roll of the living, to be registered among the congregation of the dead. Since the last anniversary, Hamilton, and Payne, and Russell, men who were dear to us all, and especially to those who hold by the theology of the olden time, have fallen in the high places of the field, and lie among the slain. Let it not be imagined that the theme I have chosen is too gloomy for such an occasion as the present. I do but forcefully address the troops over the bodies of the slain; and snatching the flag from the hands of fallen standard-bearers, who had grasped them in death—I deliver them to their successors, with the charge, "Onwards to battle, and to victory!"
"Your fathers, where are
they? and the prophets, do they live forever?"
At the time this was spoken, not only had the patriarchs of antiquity—but the prophets of after times, the evangelical Isaiah, the plaintive Jeremiah, the vehement Ezekiel, all been gathered to the tomb. As it was then, so has it been in every age since; and so is it now. There is no exemption from the stroke of mortality for the most valuable instruments of God's service. No official dignity, no eminent talents, no distinguished success, exempt their possessor from the customary lot of humanity. In common with all others, they have sinned, and are under the law of death. Their death subserves the Divine purposes, and the interests of men, as well as their lives. In consequence of the publicity of their character, their decease is a still more impressive comment upon the evil nature of sin. Their death-knell tolls out a more solemn warning than that of private individuals; while their vacant pulpits, hung with sable by their mourning churches have, in the silence of death, a power of impression which their loftiest eloquence never reached. From their death-bed a testimony is borne to the truths of the Gospel and the excellence of religion, more emphatic and commanding than the most argumentative or the most impassioned of their sermons. They finish their ministry, not only at the grave's mouth, where they set the seal of death upon their message—but within the very precincts of the heavenly glory, some rays of which illuminate their wasted form, and help them to exhibit the reality of that sublime and beautiful couplet,
"A mortal paleness on my cheek,
The certainty of their death, together with the uncertainty of the time of its approach, supply them with an incentive to increased and an ever-increasing diligence in the work of their ministry. Their tomb, in their imagination, confronts their pulpit, the very clock which ever looks them in the face reminds them, not only of the measure of their sermon—but of their ever-shortening life; while the Bible out of which they address the people speaks to them each Sabbath morning as they take their place in the sanctuary, and says with sepulchral tones, "Time is short! Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor wisdom, nor knowledge in the grave, where you are going!" While to the hearer also comes the monition, that the preacher to whom he is listening with rapture, or with listlessness, is a doomed man, and is uttering the words of life from lips which must soon be closed in the silence of the tomb, and speaks a dying man to dying men!
The removal of ministers makes way for a greater variety of gifts and graces to be exercised in the ministry itself; and thus that irrepressible love of novelty which seems to be one of the instincts of our nature is provided for. If death takes from us the useful, so it does the useless; and who among us, whatever be his gifts, could hope to extend his power to interest and please, much beyond the term of half a century? The withdrawment of men of matured age, rich experience, and ripe wisdom must of course be considered, whenever it occurs, an occasion of sorrow and lamentation. But some compensation for their loss is made by the bringing forward of younger men, with all the ardor of youthful years, and all the energy of more optimistic temperaments. And the wisdom, power, and goodness of God, are conspicuously manifested in continually repairing the losses which his cause sustains by the death of eminent men.
Still it is proper in our younger brethren, to unite self-distrust with courage, and to pass respectfully over the graves of veterans, who, whatever may have been their faults, were lacking neither in zeal nor in valor, and who, when at last they sunk, fell not without scars nor altogether without laurels. Let those who come forward, approach with as much humility as eagerness; and let it be their prayer that a double portion of the spirit of their ascended predecessors may rest upon them, and not their boast that it will. If the fathers had not the wisdom of Solomon; let the sons guard against the rashness, the follies, and the mischiefs of Rehoboam.
But there are reflections connected with the mortality of ministers still more instructive and encouraging than these. How glorious does our Lord Jesus Christ appear in carrying on his cause, not only in spite of—but in the very midst of, and even by, the ravages of death! It is a bright manifestation of his power, to work by such feeble, fallible, mortal creatures as we are—it is a still brighter display of his wisdom and power to make even their death subserve his cause. What consternation is felt in an army, and the fear reaches even the general's heart, when officer after officer falls in battle! A panic has sometimes, from this cause, spread through the army, which the commander could not stop, and the battle has been lost. And even in our own case, the death of eminent missionaries, eloquent preachers, wise pastors, and gifted authors is deeply felt, especially if it be somewhat sudden and unexpected, to be a severe shock, which shoots through every part of the body to which he belongs, like a momentary pang of personal anguish, surprise, and terror.
We are bereft, and are ready for a moment to feel as if the sun had set, and not merely a star; and even the very throne of the great Governor of the universe is hidden for a season behind the tomb of one of his own servants, or else the tear that stands in the eye of faith is so large a drop as to dim our spiritual vision and prevent us from seeing it. But we are soon roused from our distrustful sorrows by the voice which spoke to John in Patmos—"Behold I am he that lives, and was dead; and I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of death and of Hades." This, in the history of our Society, we have often found to be not only our best—but our only consolation. When the taunting foe exclaimed, "Vanderkemp is dead, Morrison is gone, Williams is slain!" recovering from the stupor, and wiping away our tears, we exclaimed, "Yes, but Jesus lives!" In that one consideration are contained all the resources, hopes, and triumphs of our cause. Many have fallen, many are falling, all will fall—but Jesus lives! Could we call from the invisible world, and assemble in this place this morning, all the fathers and founders of our Society, all the directors, all the ministers, and all the missionaries who have died since the commencement of our enterprise, could we see at one view what we have lost, and all we have lost—how we would be appalled at the number and extent of our sacrifices, and be ready to exclaim, "Oh, what could we not do, if we had all these with us again!" My brethren, add to these the fathers and the prophets of the older economy; let these be reinforced by the glorious company of the apostles, and the mighty host be swollen by the noble army of martyrs, this, even all this, would be a feebler round of confidence, or of hope, than that single voice which now bursts over this assembly from the throne of Jehovah Jesus—"I am alive for evermore; and all power is given unto me in heaven and earth." Christians, be this the watch-word and the war-cry with which, amidst the weakness of the living, and the ravages of death, you go forward in this great conflict– "Jesus lives!"
There is much in this view of our subject at once to encourage the timid—and to repress the vain. We do not deny that some measure of importance attaches to every individual member of the church of Christ. Everyone can do something for God, and is bound to do what he can. God has made no ciphers; though men, by a false humility or indolence, make ciphers of themselves. They do nothing, because they attempt nothing; and they attempt nothing, because they think they are nothing—and this self-despising is likely, except we take care, to be fostered in an age of great societies like ours. Individual power, individual opportunity, individual obligation—are likely to be lost sight of. It is the duty of everyone to study these three things—his capacities, his opportunities, and his responsibility. And were the whole church of God to enter deeply, conscientiously, and practically into this investigation, and each individual member were to carry in sincerity to God that prayer of the apostle, "Lord, what will you have me to do?" and wait for an answer to this prayer, the sun of the millennial day would soon rise upon our dark world.
The subject which we are now considering is, on the other hand, as humbling to the vain—as it is encouraging to the timid. Christ can do much by the weakest instrument; and he can do altogether without the strongest. "It is a piece of divine royalty and magnificence," said John Howe, "that when he has prepared and polished a mighty instrument, so as to be capable of some great service, he can lay it aside without loss, and do as well without it." He that could do without apostles and prophets, after he had removed them by death, can dispense with us. We are none of us the axles of his chariot-wheels. This should check the inflation of some proud men's minds, and repress that overweening conceit by which they destroy in part their own usefulness. It would surprise and mortify many, could they come out of their graves ten years after they had entered them, and still retained the ideas they once entertained of their own importance—to see how well the world goes on without them! If the death of ordinary individuals be but as the casting of a pebble from the seashore into the ocean, which is neither missed from the one nor sensibly gained by the other; the death of the more extraordinary ones is but as the sinking of a larger rock into the abyss beneath—it makes at the time a rumbling noise and a great splash; but the wave which it raises soon subsides into a ripple, the ripple itself as soon sinks to a placid level, the tide flows, ships pass, commerce goes on, and shore and ocean appear just as they did before the disruption!
Ah! my brethren, let us seek to have our record in heaven, where it will be engraved in characters which will stand forever on the Rock of Ages! For it will soon be effaced here on earth, where it is only as a footprint upon the sand, which the next wave will speedily and entirely obliterate forever!
We now turn to another and a far more
delightful view of the subject. We leave the tombs of the prophets, and
leave the scenes of desolation which their death has occasioned—to
consider what there is, and how
much, which, when these instruments are removed, survives the wreck of
mortality, and perpetuates itself through the time to come.
It was the proud boast of Horace, "I shall not all die, much of me will escape death;" and it has proved true. Of all his country's poets, he is the one most delighted in by the English scholar, whether on an upper form at school, or in the evening of a busy life. He is still without an equal either as the lyrist of gentlemanly life, or as the moralist man of the world. But under how much higher and holier an inspiration might the immortal Carey, after he had thrown off from his burning soul that noble scintillation of his zeal, "Expect great things, attempt great things!" or Bogue, after he had written his appeal which founded the Missionary Society, have laid down his pen, and in the spirit of prophecy echoed the words of the poet, Non omnis moriar! Let us then consider what remains of these men.
1. Not only their graves—but their own immortal selves, their deathless spirits still survive.We profess no such unscriptural, unphilosophical tenet; no such gloomy and cheerless dogma that the soul lies entombed with the body amid corruption, earth, and worms. We believe, with the apostle, that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord; and that we are already come to the spirits of just men made perfect. It is then the language neither of mournful ignorance nor faltering scepticism which asks the question, "Where are they?" With that volume in our hand which lights us through the dark passage of the tomb with the lamp of inspiration, and exhibits to us the splendors of immortality blazing at the farther end, we are at no loss about their present state.
My brethren, you have perhaps visited that venerable place which contains the ashes of the mighty dead of England, and as you have paced the aisles of Westminster Abbey, have been filled with pensive awe as English history has stood out before you in those marble tombstones of such exquisite and varied forms which crowd upon your view in that trophy-house of death. "Here," you have said to yourself, "are the memorials of monarchs who swayed the scepter and ruled the destinies of this great empire, of statesmen who guided its affairs, of orators whose eloquence moved and influenced its parliaments, of patriots who achieved its liberties, of heroes who fought its battles, and of historians who have worthily commemorated its glories. Here are the monuments of poets who fascinated by the creations of their genius and the melody of their numbers, of philosophers who advanced our science, of scholars who enriched our literature, of inventors who by their inventions multiplied our comforts and increased our wealth; and of the sculptors who have placed these all but living forms of beauty and majesty before us. Here are their names and their deeds spread out before us in this palace of death and renown in all the glory which could be conferred by the carver's chisel or the scholar's praise."
But what world do their spirits now inhabit? Where are they? Where, oh! where? What holy and sensitive imagination does not seem to hear bursting from many a statue of inexpressible beauty the sad lament of Wolsey on his downfall—"Oh that I had served my God as I have served my king!" What have these mighty men done for God and his cause? How many of their hearts beat loyally and truly with love to Christ? How few of them ever dreamt of entwining the wreath of their fame round his cross! Where are they? How befitting to many of them, so far as regards their eternal state, would be the plain and simple slab in the cloisters of Worcester Cathedral which covers the ashes of some unnamed, unknown man, bearing only the gloomy mystery contained in that one word, miserrimus, "most miserable!"
But now drop these melancholy musings, and pass from Westminster Abbey to Bunhill Fields, or to the missionary's grave in some far-off land. No architectural grandeur raises its lofty arches there; no sculptor's chisel exhibits there the trophies and the triumphs of his art; no stained window tints with all the colors of the rainbow the tombs of the men who rest from their labors there, nor organ's solemn peal, nor white-robed choristers chant their requiem. No! But there are the tombs of the men whom God delights to honor, or the records of their doings. No stream of earthly visitors is ever flowing to those spots; but angels come down and join with holy men to look with interest upon the graves, read with delight their records, and say with reverent whisper to each other, "Here is the resting-place of Bunyan, here of Owen, and here of Watts. Here sleeps the holy Baxter, and there the serene and lofty Howe. Here are the names of Bogue and Burder, of Wilks and Waugh. Here is the sepulcher of Schwartz or Carey, Martyn or Morrison; and here is the spot, without a grave, where fell the martyr Williams."
And while we survey these memorials, no creeping horror chills the blood, no agonized specters rise before our terrified imagination, as we ask the question, "Where are they?" Every name is radiant with the light and glory of immortality—every tomb is vocal with the echoes of inspiration, and to the question of the text responds, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord; for they rest from their labors, and their works do follow them." There they are, assembled in the presence of their Lord, rejoicing with ineffable delight in their mutual recognition, in their sublime fellowship, and in their joint adoration.
2. Their names, their character, and their examples still survive.These have not perished, should not perish, cannot, shall not! Eminent piety, combined with eminent usefulness, retains, like the rose, its beauty and its fragrance after death. The Egyptians, with a strange fondness, embalmed and preserved the bodies of their departed friends. With more rational and profitable care, let us preserve, by embalming, the character of our departed godly friends. Could we arrest the disembodied spirit of one of our heaven-bound friends, when it had thrown off the last taint of corruption, and was clad in the spotless garment of the immortals, and could we hold daily fellowship with it, and catch the inspirations to holiness and zeal which such elevated communion would impart—how powerful an auxiliary to our spiritual improvement would we have gained!
"Forgive, blessed friend, the tributary tear,
No, they cannot remain. But we have their characters and their examples; and in these we have the best part of themselves. There is this value in holy excellence—it goes itself to heaven to be perfect and eternal; but as it ascends to the skies, it lets fall its godly character instead of its mantle—to be copied by the aid of memory into the heart and character of all who survive. The remembrance of 'departed piety' is sometimes more serviceable than even the contemplation of it was while it was yet living. In thinking upon the memory of the pious dead, the heart is softened by sorrow to receive the impression of their virtues; the eye, less clouded by envy, discerns them more clearly; while affection, ever prone to canonize its objects, now, by a refined and generous abstraction, sees them without their faults.
My brethren, let us call to remembrance the fathers and founders of our Society, in whom, if there lacked a measure of grace and splendor; there was a strength, simplicity, and grandeur which made you feel how solemn goodness is. Shall I remind you of Bogue, whose athletic person was but the type of the still more powerful soul which animated it, a soul replenished not with the elegances of literature, or the speculations of philosophy, or the subtleties of metaphysics—but with the great principles of the gospel, and with mighty energies to enforce them! When he rose to plead the cause of missions, he seemed a living embodiment of our Society. His speech was with the force and impetuosity, and something of the roughness, of a mountain torrent. You heard no splendid diction, no dazzling metaphors, no ebullitions of genius, no honeyed tones; but there was the eloquence of a burning heart, which caused you to hear the cries and feel the miseries of the perishing heathen. You were too much absorbed in his subject to think of the speaker; you felt too deeply and too solemnly to give audible utterance to your emotions; and would have deemed our modern fashion of noisy applause as much out of place as would have been the clapping of hands after Paul's speech to the philosophers of Athens on Mars Hill. And you went away, not talking to your neighbor about the goodness of the meeting, or the eloquence of the speakers—but saying to yourself, "I must after this, do something more for the conversion of the world!"
Then, who that knew Waugh can forget that man of love, whose amenity won all hearts, even as his playful wit and silvery eloquence captivated all minds; or Wilks, under whose somewhat rough and repulsive exterior was concealed one of the noblest and most generous hearts which God ever lodged in a human bosom; or Burder, whose beautiful simplicity was power, operating by the meekness of wisdom; or Hill, whose very eccentricities were but the fantastic wreaths of smoke that rose over the fire of zeal and benevolence which glowed within him? If I speak little of Haweis, of Eyre, Love, and Brooksbank, and Greathead, names to be repeated with affection by all who value our Institution—it is because time would fail me to enumerate them, and because I knew them only as matters of history. But I cannot omit those noble-hearted men belonging to the city "whose merchants are princes," men who brought from their counting-houses, their banking-houses, and their offices—both wisdom and wealth to our cause, and without whom even the men of the pulpit could have done nothing—Hardcastle, Wilson, Simms, Stephen, Shrubsole, Hankey, and others, who exhibited such bright patterns of that lofty style of renewed humanity, the religious man of business, the man deeply engaged in the affairs of both worlds—who, while he carries on his commerce to the ends of the earth, by the spirit of his dealings inscribes upon his merchandise "Holiness to the Lord!"
But had London the unshared honor of originating the cause? Had the provinces nothing to do with it? Besides Bogue, the originator of the Institution, were there not Williams, and the venerable Jay, the father of us all, (a paternity of which we are not ashamed,) and Roby, and Griffin, and Boden, and Townsend, and Bennet, and a long list of others? Think me not tedious in this recital. With you who knew the men there is no danger of this; and you who did not know them, must forgive this poor but loving effusion of a heart that did. And shall I pass over your officials? Besides Love and Burder, already mentioned, there were the patient and plodding Arundel, the intelligent and large-hearted Orme, and Ellis, your first missionary, then your secretary, and now your historian. Oh, what men we have had! What men we have lost! But, thank God, over all these wrecks of mortality I can exultingly say, what men we still have! No, brethren, we are not left destitute. Death has swept our pulpits and the benches of our Mission House—but the Spirit of the living God has again replenished them; and were it decorous, and did not savor of flattery, I would make these walls echo, and your hearts vibrate, with the names of living men who are still your advocates, your directors, and your secretaries.
3. The PRINCIPLES on which these worthies acted, still survive.These they derived from the Bible, and not from any human theories of civilization, philosophy, or philanthropy. They founded the Society on the basis of the word of God, determined that it should stand or fall by that. Yes, my brethren, the BIBLE is the central luminary around which all Christian churches and all Christian missions revolve, in nearer or remoter orbits, reflecting the splendor of its beams, and governed by the power of its attraction. To extinguish, if possible, this orb, has been the object of the power and policy of hell in every age. What was said of the church on a similar occasion to this forty-seven years ago, by Dr. Mason of New York, may with equal force be said of God's truth, "To blot out her memorial from the earth, the most furious efforts of fanaticism, the most bloody arts of statesmen, the concentrated strength of empires, have been frequently and perseveringly applied. The tribes of persecution have sported over her woes, and erected monuments as they imagined to her perpetual ruin. But where are her tyrants, and where are their empires? The tyrants have long since gone to their own place, and their empires have passed like shadows over a rock. But what became of the gospel truth? She rose from her ashes fresh in beauty and in might, celestial glory beamed around her. She dashed down the monumental marble of her foes, and they who hated her fled before her. She has celebrated the funerals of kings and priests, philosophers, infidels, and heretics who plotted her destruction, and, with the inscriptions of their pride, has transmitted to posterity the records of their shame and her own victories." And here she is in the midst of us this day, in all the beauty and power of her heavenly birth, and all the freshness and vigor of her immortal youth, beckoning us onward to fight her battles, to achieve her victories, and plant her standards from the equator to the poles! The last enemy, with his iron scepter, has from age to age dashed in pieces the earthen vessel which contained the heavenly treasure—but not a particle of that was destroyed by the blow.
Your fathers when they died, left you an unmutilated Bible. Not a single promise lies interred in their graves. The Bible, the whole Bible, which was laid by them as the basis of the Society, remains to support it for us.
But in some cases the Bible is professed while its truths are denied—it is, in a certain way, held in gross, while it is rejected in detail. Our fathers dealt not in vague generalities, philosophical speculations, or in evasive reserves. The evangelical system, in all its purity and simplicity, in all its length, depth, breadth, and height, was their profession and their glory. The divinity of the Son and of the Spirit, the atonement of the cross, justification by faith, the necessity of divine influence for the illumination and regeneration of the soul of man, and the sovereignty of divine grace in the sinner's salvation—were the views of divine truth which kindled their zeal, inspired their energies, and aroused them to the achievement of the earth's conversion. And these have been the principles which alone have been ever found of any power in renovating the moral world. Churches have been known in modern times which have held the ancient symbols of these truths, while they have practically denied the truths themselves. The scenes of Calvin's and of Luther's labors bear melancholy testimony to this, where a semi-infidel rationalism had supplanted the doctrines of the great reformers, even before their creed was formally abjured.
But there is vitality in truth. Neither the sword of the tyrant, nor the pen of the infidel can slay it. From both it is safe, under the protection of its divine Author. It still lives in the very region of death—incorruptible, indestructible immortal. The seed which the Egyptians buried with their mummies, though enclosed in the catacomb, though held in the grasp or laid in the bosom of death for thousands of years, still retains its germ of vitality; and on being exhumed after its long interment, sowed in congenial soil, and exposed to the rains of the heavens, vegetates as certainly and as luxuriantly as if but yesterday it had dropped from the plant. What are some churches but ecclesiastical mummies, in which the incorruptible seed of the kingdom has been shut up for ages in the icy hand of death, yet all the while retaining its own imperishable life, and when brought out from its grave, and sown in the earth, displaying its power and producing its kind? The doctrine of justification by faith, when brought by Luther out of the catacomb of Rome, was as vigorous and fruitful as when first preached by the great apostle of the Gentiles. Yes; and though now entombed in the rationalism of the continent, or the Puseyism of our country, it preserves even there the living seed, and shall come forth to prove its power and to produce its fruit.
4. Though the founders of the Society have long since departed, the CAUSE itself, which was the object of their living labors and of their dying prayers and hopes still survives.At the time of its formation, scoffing infidels asserted, and timid Christians feared, that it was but a bubble of religious enthusiasm, which would explode over the tombs of those who raised it. Men who turn prophets should make sure of their inspiration. Our ancestors have rested from their labors; but we have entered into them. They did not build a Babel; and we are not dispersed tribes whom different dialects have scattered from the work, leaving the frustrated and deserted scheme to be a monument of their folly and the matter of our shame. On the contrary, they raised a beacon to be the light of the world, the lamps of which are still kept burning by ourselves. They laid the basis of the society, which we have not narrowed. They stretched out the hand of fraternal affection and Christian fellowship to the members of the Church of England, which we did not draw back until, by prelatical bigotry and infatuation, it had been contumeliously refused.
They adopted the world as the field of their operations, which we have not contracted. They planted missions in Polynesia, Africa, India, and China, which we have not abandoned. They raised an income of ten or twelve thousand a year, and predicted that the time might possibly arrive when the liberality of the church would be so far enlarged as to reach twenty thousand—we now raise nearly seventy thousand. They numbered their agents first by tens, and then by scores—we count ours by hundreds. They labored long with scarcely a single convert—we have lived to bless God for myriads. They had government, literature, fashion against them—we, through God's overruling providence, have all these with us. They had to contend with headwinds from the prejudices of the age, of the nation, and in part of the church—our sails are filled with the breezes of popular approval, and our bark is floated onward by a favorable tide.
Does the infidel ask in derision what has become of the cause since the fathers fell asleep, and tauntingly say, "Where is it?" Where? Here this day in the midst of us, not its tomb, not its skeleton, not its monument, not its Spirit—but its living veritable self, in all the vigor of its strength and all the fullness of its growth, with no wrinkle on its brow, with its hair ungreyed, its eye undimmed, its step unfaltering. Where? In the hearts of these pastors and of these churches. Where? In every city, town, and village of this empire. Where? In the islands of the South Sea, in the wilds of Africa, in the islands of the West Indies, on the plains of India, and in the cities of China. Where? In the heart of God, in the councils of heaven, in the schemes of providence, in the predictions of prophets, in the design of the cross! Where? Anywhere, everywhere—but in its grave!
This leads us to consider, in the third
division of our subject, the
MEANS to be employed by this generation, and those which are to come after
us, to carry on the work begun by our forefathers.
We exult that it yet lives. But will it continue and abide with us? Will it stand? Men of weak nerve fear, and others of scornful disposition predict, that it will not. We are told that men's affections will cool when the charms of novelty have faded. The novelty has faded. The society is in the second jubilee of its existence; yet its fascination is as great, and its spell as powerful, as when it was in all the bloom and beauty of its youth. Excitement, we are told, will exhaust itself. Very likely; but the judgment will become more enlightened, and the conscience more tender. The world will grow tired of it, then the church will cling the closer to it. It will fail to interest on the platform, then it will retire to its stronghold in the pulpit. Men will become weary of speeches, then Christians must become more earnest in prayer. How mighty was the cause (it was never more so) when Carey, Fuller, Sutcliffe, Ryland, and Pearce, met in the little room at Kettering; and when Waugh, Wilks, Eyre, and Love assembled with others at the Castle and Falcon—to confer and pray over the world's conversion, and devise a scheme for that purpose! How strong were they in faith, how mighty in prayer, how solemn in discourse, and how like the apostles on that day when, in the upper chamber at Jerusalem, tongues of fire sat upon each one of them! Oh that some invisible but recording pen had been there, to note down the words of truth and soberness which fell from their lips, and expressed the emotions of their glowing hearts!
No trooping multitudes were there, moved rather by a love of eloquence than a love of souls; no oratory shook the place, and called forth thunders of applause; but by the ear of faith was heard the sound of a rushing mighty wind filling the house, accompanied by a baptism of the Spirit to fit them for their great enterprise. I could almost spare the venerable scenes of Exeter Hall for such devout and holy exercises as these; and perhaps the society is now only in the chrysalis state of existence, from which, when it has cast off the slough of its present imperfect envelopment, it will emerge at some future period in a more perfect, beautiful, and apostolic form, uniting the faith and spirituality of its earlier history with the magnitude, extent, and splendor of its later scenes.
But will not public attention be diverted from the cause by the surpassingly great, various, and absorbing events of the times in which we live? In science, the arts, politics and trading adventures, so many wonderful things are presented to our notice that nothing now is surprising. We cease to wonder at anything. The astonishment which each event is calculated to produce is kept down by the expectation of something still greater to come. We live amidst such perpetual excitement that we think a month dull and stagnant which does not produce a new revolution, and throw down the newspaper in disgust, which does not open to us a new chapter in human affairs. And at this present moment we are watching the dark and dreadful clouds which in such portentous masses are rolling and rumbling along our troubled horizon, and portending another great European tempest. Such a condition of existence has the danger of rendering the ordinary occupations, duties, and enjoyments of life—tame, spiritless, and insipid. This is true in regard to our personal religion, our domestic constitution, and equally so in regard to our support of the missionary enterprise; for what, in the estimation of many, is the conversion of a few savages in Africa, or a few Brahmins in India, or a few Chinese in the Celestial Empire, compared with a revolution in France, the setting up of a new constitution in Germany, the deposition of the Pope, the subversion of monarchies, and the progress of freedom?
Christians, shall these things be allowed to extinguish your interest in missions, divert your attention from them, or paralyze your exertions on their behalf? Learn of your fathers. When the venerable men to whom I have alluded went forth to lay the foundations of the Baptist Mission, all Europe was tremulous with the earthquake of the Gallican Revolution; atheism was performing its dreadful tragedy on the darkened theater of France, and the "reign of terror" was filling that country with blood, and other lands with disgust, terror, and dismay; and when our own society was formed, Britain was in danger of being suffocated with the smoke, and buried in the ashes of the dreadful volcanic eruption which was then pouring its burning lava over the nations of the Continent. Yet then did our fathers find time so far to escape from the influence of passing events, as to form the society which we are met this day to support. And how great and wonderful have been the changes which in every part of Europe have been going on ever since. With what extraordinary rapidity have the scenes been shifted during the last half century, the term of the society's existence—as if the great drama of Providence were coming to a close. Born amidst the convulsions of an earthquake, cradled beneath a burning volcano, educated amidst tempests and thunderings and lightnings, our missionary society seems called, trained, and marked by God, with others, for some grand achievement in the destiny of the nations.
It is a most remarkable, instructive, and impressive feature of the times, that there is a conspicuous parallelism between political convulsion and social disorganization on the one hand—and moral action and reformation on the other; between the destructive forces—and the constructive forces; between the shaking and crumbling of the things that are ready to vanish away—and the rising up of those things which cannot be shaken and are intended to remain. To me it is inexpressibly delightful to see with what steady perseverance the Missionary Society has hitherto pursued its commission. Neither the arts of peace, nor the alarms of war; neither the dread of foreign invasion, nor the fear of internal commotion; neither the panic of commercial crises, nor the crash of falling banks; neither the conflict of political principles, nor the struggles of political parties; neither the rage of controversy, nor the progress of reform—have caused the directors to pause in their career! Nor when kings were tumbling from their thrones, and crowns were rolling in the dust, and scepters were breaking as rotten staves in the hands of the multitude, has the poor savage perishing in his sins at the ends of the earth been forsaken or forgotten, or the missionary instructing him in the way of salvation been neglected! And shall we forget and forsake them now?
Shall we of this age allow passing events to draw off our attention from the cause of Christian missions? Why, this would be to lose our interest in the cause, when all things seem preparing the world for its full and final triumph. The Redeemer is about to take to himself his great power and reign. If the convulsions of our times, are not (as perhaps they are not) the thundering roll of the mighty wheels of his approaching chariot, they are at any rate blasting the rocks, and tumbling them into the valleys, by which in his sublime plan he is preparing the grand spiritual railway of the globe, which following the line of the equator, and diverging on either hand to the poles, shall open and facilitate a communion between the extreme nations of the earth, and shall bring them near to each other not only in neighborhood but in fellowship, until his glory shall be revealed, and all flesh see it together. If all the kingdoms of the world, and our own among the number, were the next hour to be dissolved, grasping the Bible in one hand and the Missionary Report in the other, and standing upon the ruins of empires, I would exclaim, "Friends of Immanuel, slacken not in the missionary enterprise, for the coming of the Lord draws near."
Still, with the greatest confidence in the Society's continuance, we must unite appropriate and adequate means, especially if we desire its extended usefulness; and it will be my business, during the remainder of this discourse, to point out what these MEANS are.
1. A more intelligent apprehension, a deeper conviction, and a more solemn sense, on the part of the whole church—of the design of God in its erection and continuance in this world—as his witness and instrument for the conversion of the nations.Our Lord Jesus Christ, in his memorable prayer on the eve of his passion, constituted his church on earth one vast missionary society, and laid upon it the burden of pursuing and carrying out his ministry when he should have returned to his Father. This is her great business—to be his missionary to carry salvation to the ends of the earth. Not merely to be a stationary witness, like the Jewish Theocracy—but to be a moving luminary which shall carry the light of truth into the whole realm of darkness and of death. Her own conservation in truth and holiness is but one half of her duty; the other is to extend herself throughout the world. No longer than she is pursuing this object, is she answering the end of her existence or the design of her Founder. In so far as she is a missionary church, she is a true church—and no farther. What is the duty of the whole church, is the duty of every section and part of it! And that denomination which has most of the missionary spirit has most of the apostolic genius and the true succession. Still following on this analysis, every congregation should be a home and foreign missionary society in itself; and, coming down to the constituent elements of every particular church, no man is a worthy member, or sustains a consistent profession, in whom dwells not the spirit of holy zeal for the spread of the gospel. As every Christian must be a martyr in spirit, though he may not be called to lay his head upon the block, or have his body chained to the stake—so must he be a missionary in spirit, though he may not be called to go to foreign lands to preach the gospel.
The church, as such, has not yet done, and is not even now doing, her duty. She has devolved too much of the work of converting the world upon whoever would undertake it, and has given it too much out of her own hands. She must take it up afresh, as peculiarly her work. She has protected, or attempted to protect, her orthodoxy by articles of faith; she must guard her consistency by articles of practice. She is vigilant against theoretic error; she must be no less so against practical heresy. She rejects from her communion the man who denies the doctrine of the atonement; why should she not equally require a belief in the practical design of the atonement? That a man may be a very good man, in such an age as this, and feel no deep concern, and make no proportionate effort, for the conversion of the world—is a practical heresy of the deepest die! Over the portals of every church should be written in large and legible characters, "No man lives to himself;" and none should be permitted to step across the threshold who is not fully prepared to subscribe to the sentiment, that the missionary spirit is not merely a decoration to our religion—an article of taste to decorate its attire, or a chaplet of beauty to adorn its brow—but is our religion itself; the expression of our belief in the gospel, and of our submission to the law; the flaming out of the hidden fire of divine love in our hearts. And wherever and by whoever our religion is taught, it must be taught thus. This is to make the church, and not any specific organization, the conservator of the missionary cause. So that if our missionary society were to perish tomorrow, another would soon rise, phoenix-like, from its ashes, in new life, vigor, and beauty.
It is not the society only that we owe to our fathers—but the revival of the principle on which it is founded, and of which it is the embodiment, that the design and business of the church are the conversion of the world; and it is this principle that we of this age must hand down to the next. Church of the living God, awake, awake! All things wait for you. The night is gone; the day is breaking; and all things wait for you. Prophets have forecast your glory; apostles have labored for your advancement; martyrs have bled in your cause; and Providence, by ages of severest discipline, has been preparing you for ages of truth and joy. Events are yours. Merchandise spreads her sails for you. Knowledge trims her lamp for you. Avarice hoards his treasures for you. Temperance curbs the unruly appetite for you. Liberty prepares her throne for you. Slavery and crime scowl and mutter, and shrink away at sight of you. Things visible and invisible wait for you. Church of the living God, awake, awake!
2. If then our zeal be the offspring of our piety, the next thing necessary for the continuance and extension of the missionary enterprise is an increase of spiritual religion.I am not ignorant or unmindful of what our society and other societies have done in the great work of the world's regeneration. The results of modern missions collected into one view, as was done a few years ago by Mr. Malcolm, an American missionary, present a total which cannot be contemplated without feelings of adoring wonder, gratitude, and love. It resembles the labor employed to cultivate an immense wasteland. The ground is marked out and enclosed. Here are some burning off the heath, the furze, and the brushwood upon the surface; and there are others driving the plough. A little farther on is the sower casting the seed; and in some places are to be observed patches of springing grain. All is the activity and hope of seed time. Over such a scene, compared with what it presented a few years ago, when the reign of universal barrenness was unbroken by a single sight or sound of moral cultivation, we ought not to utter strains resembling the 'raven-croak of despair' sent forth from a blasted oak amidst a region of desolation; but rather such as should imitate the carol of the lark, giving forth his sunbeam of sound in reply to the newly-risen Lord of the day, the leader of the harmonies at once of heaven and earth. Yes, if only a tenth part of what we have seen accomplished had been effected, it would have been more than enough as a reward for ten times the expense and the labor which we have incurred.
But still there is another comparison of our achievements to be made; and that is with what is yet to be done. And in reference to this, we are ready almost in cheerlessness to say with the ancient church, "We have not wrought any deliverance." We are in the second jubilee of our existence; we belong to a nation on which the sun never sets; we have had ships, colonies, and commerce; we have had science and the arts assisting us; we have spent millions; we have sacrificed hundreds of precious lives; we have awakened the attention of the whole earth to our doings—and how is it we have not done more? At the rate we are going on the world can never be converted. Pagans and Mohammedans are born a hundred times faster than they are converted to Christ. Tell me not that God does not despise the day of small things. Neither do I; but, like God, I desire the day of great things.
There is such a thing, I know, as being too discontented with partial success; so there is of being too contented with it. Why, if half the population of the globe were converted to Christ, I would be thankful—but not satisfied until the other half were converted too. I have a sympathy with Christ in the desires of his capacious heart; and of him it is said, "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied." What satisfies him shall satisfy me, and nothing less—and that is the subjugation of the whole world. He is working, waiting, expecting, until all his enemies become his footstool. Satisfied! Tell the hardy life-savers to be contented when they have saved a part of the crew from a wreck. With a humanity boisterous as the storm which they are braving, and tough as the life-boat in which they ride the billows, they will be ready to fling you into the sea for your cruelty, and exclaim, "Satisfied! no, never, until the last seaman is safe ashore."
Satisfied with what we have done! It is the pettiness of our ambition which stints our liberality, our prayers, our faith. Oh for the full inspiration of Carey's immortal aphorism, "Attempt great things, expect great things!" Let us take up as our motto, "The world for Christ!"
But what must the church be, as to her spiritual condition, to act up to such a vocation? What then is needed? What? More faith and more prayer—and in order to that more piety. We need a better church to make a better world. Without a better church we cannot have a much better world; and with a better church we would have a better world. We need more piety for ourselves; we need more to keep what we have; we need more for the wonderful age in which we live to fit us for our duty to that; and we need more for the great missionary work to which we are called. The conversion of a world is a mighty achievement, and requires the most robust and athletic piety, yes, something more than a correct system of church polity and a faultless orthodoxy, something far beyond lifeless formalism and conventional decorum. We need intelligence warmed with holy enthusiasm, and enthusiasm guided by intelligence; a religion of life, of power, of love, and of a sound mind; a religion combining something of the enthusiasm of prophets, the zeal of apostles, the self-denial of pilgrims, and the constancy of martyrs.
Our churches must be composed of members strong in faith and fervent in prayer, of members separated from the world, spiritually-minded, self-denying, rejoicing in hope, and waiting, looking, and longing for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need members who consider this world not so much a place for present gratification as of discipline, probation, and preparation for future glory. We need members carrying something of the devotion of private prayer into the activities of the committee-room and public meeting—and carrying back the cause from the platform to the closet; and feeling as if the eloquence of a thousand speeches would do less for us, than the power of a single, fervent, and believing prayer. We cannot convert the world as we now are. We may and shall do something. We have done something; but we ought to do more. We may have the blessing; but unless we become more earnest in piety, we shall not have the fullness of the blessing. We may lay the first sheafs upon the altar; but we shall do little towards gathering in the harvest. We have done lesser things; but we have not cast out the demon from a possessed, convulsed, and tortured world. And why could we not cast him out? Our Lord shall answer the question—"This kind does not come out, but by fasting and prayer."
We need money, I know. We need men, I know. But there is something we need more than either, and which, if we had it, would give us more of both these put together—and that is faith and prayer. It was once said by an orator upon our platform, "Money, money, money is the life's blood of the missionary cause." Jealous for the honor of the Lord the Spirit, I did not like the expression. But granting its truth, still the spirit of faith is the animating soul, without which the blood itself will stagnate at the heart, and the whole body lie a lifeless corpse! And prayer is the vocal organ, without which, though the vital spark were not extinguished, even the living form will put forth nothing but the gestures and contortions of the poor mute—instead of the intelligence, the eloquence, and the influence of the speaking man. We have risen up mighty in organization; but even this will do little for us, except we be also mighty in supplication. Organization, without believing prayer believing for the Spirit's power—is motionless. In Ezekiel's vision the impulsive spirit of the living creatures was in the 'wheels' also.
It is an obvious fact, which may be gathered from the very nature of things, as well as from every part of the word of God and every page of ecclesiastical history—that eminent piety is essential to eminent usefulness, and that it is only to an age or to a church which has made high attainments in piety, that the honor of distinguished success will be granted. It is eminent piety alone, which will enable us to take a clear and impressive view of the object to be sought, and supply the energies necessary for obtaining it. It is eminent piety alone, which will purify our motives, and produce that spirit of profound humility, self-denial, dependence, and entire consecration--which are necessary to qualify us for the work. It is eminent piety alone, which will keep up the spirit of faith and prayer to which the divine promises are made.
It is perfectly evident that the church is not yet in a condition for this great work of 'reducing a revolted world into submission to Christ'. It may not be possible for us to determine, with any precision, its exact state in this respect, as compared with past ages. There are many who are of opinion that, under a great show of outward profession, there is a lamentable deficiency of vital godliness. Much of the prevailing benevolence and activity of the church are more an emotion, than a vital principle--a substitute for spiritual religion, rather than the working and expression of it. It must be confessed that the tone, spirit, and appearance of our public meetings give too much reason for suspecting this. It is impossible not to perceive how much the 'love of eloquence' predominates over the love of instruction; how much less welcome the serious is than the humorous, how much more anxious the audience is to be entertained than to be edified, and how much greater homage is paid to genius and talent of the preacher than to piety, until, in fact, our public meetings sometimes assume rather the character of religious amusements than pious worship.
No doubt a greater latitude is allowed to such engagements than to the service of the sanctuary, and a strain of remark may be lawful on the platform which would be out of place in the pulpit. We want, it is true, speeches, not sermons, for the platform; and sermons rather than speeches for the pulpit; but it would be an improvement in both, if the sermon partook more of the oration, and the oration more of the sermon. Seriousness without gloom, cheerfulness without merriment; the bliss, the sanctity, and the solemnity of religion; and all this combined with the pleasures of friendship and the chastened delights of Christian fellowship, such are the characteristics we should seek for our public meetings. It ought never to be forgotten that a missionary meeting, if rightly understood, is a company of people brought together to carry out the design for which the Son of God expired upon the cross—to pity the miseries of a perishing world, and to save millions of immortal souls from eternal perdition! And surely the frame of our minds, and the tone of the speeches, and the spirit and tendency of the whole proceedings, ought to be in strict harmony with such a purpose.
It has been a question with some whether, (indispensable as they are in the working of our missionary schemes as now constituted,) our missionary meetings have not rather lowered than elevated the tone of our piety, and thus enfeebled our real strength for carrying on this great work. Instead of sending in the spirit of earnest wrestling with God, they have made us satisfied with these associated expressions of our zeal. We have been contented to hear speeches, instead of presenting prayers; we have loved the excitement produced by congregated thousands, instead of the deep musings and earnest breathings of the solitary suppliant alone with God—and yet the one prayer of that retired petitioner, though it were a poor bedridden widow, may have done more to forward the cause than the speech of an eloquent orator, which at the time captivated the imagination and entranced the feelings of thousands.
It is too much forgotten that it is the spirit of faith and prayer, gathering to itself all things necessary in the way of means and instruments—that is to convert the world from the error of its ways. Let us then make ourselves ready, which we yet are not, for the great work which is committed to us. Let us become more devout, more prayerful, more holy, more heavenly, more spiritual. Let us mortify our members which are upon the earth, and crucify the flesh, with the affections and lusts thereof. Let us all consider, each for himself, that we of this age are called to the greatest work ever entrusted to any generation since the days of the apostles; and that for such a commission there requires a far higher degree of personal religion than the church at present possesses, and that to attain to this should be her immediate business, labor, and prayer. I repeat the declaration, "We cannot convert the world as we are, for this kind goes not forth but by fasting and prayer."
It is indeed a fearful truth, that our public meetings are somewhat perilous—unless their influence is purified and watched, to our personal piety. If the audience, composed chiefly of ministers and professors of religion, cannot either enjoy or endure devotional speeches—but can endure only eloquence, humor, and wit, is there not a danger of losing our seriousness, and having our devotional feeling extinguished by the anniversary meetings of our societies, which are now become almost as frequent as our Sabbaths? In these remarks, I know I condemn myself; and now in the review of my platform services (and they have been frequent through a course of nearly half a century,) I lament that, though I have never, I believe, descended to broad farce or unrestrained humor, I have sometimes indulged in a strain of facetiousness, which I would avoid were I now beginning life.
If then we would keep alive the missionary spirit, if we would perpetuate our enterprise, especially if we would well occupy the sphere which we have marked out for ourselves, (being five times the diameter of that of the apostles,) we must fill the land with calls for a revival of our own religion. Ministers of the gospel, let us go home from this anniversary, first to trim the lamps of the pulpit, and then those of the sanctuary. A revived church is the best hope of a lost world, a revived ministry the best hope of a dormant church; and "You, Eternal Spirit, are the only hope of all. Oh, baptize us afresh with your celestial influence, that, strong in your sevenfold energy, we may consecrate ourselves afresh to the work to which you have called us, of converting the nations to the faith of Christ!"
3. But, if the lamp of zeal must be fed by the oil of piety; and if its flame in brightness and intensity will be in proportion to the purity and the adequate supply of this; the purity of the sacred oil itself depends upon the maintenance in our colleges, pulpits, churches, and our literature, of a sound and scriptural theology.And, if I may be permitted to carry on the figure I would say, this precious material, which is to replenish the lamps of the seven golden candlesticks, and give light to a world sitting in darkness and in the region of the shadow of death, cannot be imported by literature from Athens, nor by formalism from Rome, no, nor by philosophy from Germany—but by a sincere, intelligent, and simple faith from Jerusalem of old. Not only our own society—but all other missionary institutions in existence, rose out of the theology of the evangelical system of doctrinal truth, in its simplicity, purity, and unphilosophised form, as promulgated by apostles, inscribed on the page of revelation, held by the universal church, wielded by reformers, and forming the substance and establishing the harmony of all Protestant confessions. No other doctrines could ever have called this society into existence—and none others will keep it in being.
Besides the men of weak nerve and strong fears, there are not lacking others who, from their observatory, tell us that a skeptical philosophy is rolling onward to interpose between the orb of pure evangelism and the church. It may be so, I am afraid it is so; but of one thing I am certain, and in that assurance I am as calm and confident as I am who, looking upon the obscuration of the sun, that it will prove only an eclipse—but not an extinction; and an eclipse partial, and not total. The great luminary of evangelic truth, sustained, irradiated, and guided by the hand of its divine Author, will emerge from the shadow, and hold on its resplendent course, when the cause of its temporary obscuration shall have passed away. Still, even this partial and temporary eclipse, should it occur, may be attended with disastrous consequences to the orthodoxy and efficiency of our ministry, the piety of our churches, and the support of our societies. The warmest friends of missions are not usually found among the men of innovation, speculation and philosophy. Such generally look coldly and carelessly from afar, and either stand wholly aloof or lend but a tardy and reluctant hand to the cause. Not that there is anything in the word "philosophy," or the thing itself, to fright us from our propriety. It is a good and beautiful word, and when based on sound principles, a better and still more beautiful thing. A true philosophy must ever be coincident with a sound theology. The gospel is full of philosophy; and is itself, in morals and religion, to control all philosophies, and to be controlled by none.
We hear much in our day about the adaptation of preaching to the taste and state of the times; and provided nothing more be meant by that word than a change in the mode of teaching, leaving the matter of teaching unaltered, and the same in all its parts as it came from the pens of apostles—it is very true there must be adaptation if we would succeed. The gospel is intended for a universal and perpetual religion, and in its truths is adapted alike to all ages, all nations, and all states of society. Here is a proof of its divinity. Provided the form and substance of truth be preserved in its beauty, life, and freedom, we are not for retaining the uncouth dress of the theological phraseology of the seventeenth century. We say, as we have said elsewhere, with the noble Chalmers, in one of the last productions of his mighty pen, "We do not need to take down the framework of our existing orthodoxy either in theology or in science. All that we require is, that it shall become an animated framework by the breath of a new life infused into it. What we want is, that the very system of doctrine which we now have shall come to us not in word only—but also in power. What we want is, Puritanism in its earnestness, without its extravagance; its faith without its contempt of philosophy; its high and heavenly-mindedness, without the baser admixture of its worldly politics and passions."
We need not imagine, dear brethren, that the Bible is an exhausted mine, and that we have nothing to do but circulate the precious metals which our forefathers dug up; but then, while digging for ourselves, and adding to the stock of spiritual bullion in the coffers of the church, let us not foolishly consider, and throw away, as counterfeit and base, all the fruit of their labors. If we are not implicitly to follow the great lights of past ages, which no wise man would contend for, none but a proud man would disdainfully turn from them, and none but a foolish one would extinguish them. There is one extreme of considering everything settled in theology and philosophy, and another of considering nothing settled. Observation and the records of experience may be of some service to us here; and we boldly appeal to the records of ecclesiastical history, from the time of the apostles to the present, whether it is not the doctrine of the cross, not shaped by philosophy, and carved and gilded by human learning—but in its own beautiful simplicity, preached by men who, like Paul, gloried in it as the instrument of their conversion, as well as the theme of their teaching, that piety has been preserved in the church, and the church made the instrument of God for the conversion of the world. What corrupt church was ever reformed, or what pagan people was ever converted in any other way?
If then the spirit of missions be maintained in the ministry of our pastors and in the heart of our churches, if we would keep up that robust and healthful piety out of which the whole cause springs, it must be by the theology of Luther, Calvin, and Knox; of Leighton, Baxter, and Howe; of Scott, Simeon, and Newton; of Fuller and Robert Hall; of Jonathan Edwards and Dwight; of Williams and Payne; of Chalmers and Dick; of Wardlaw and Russell—men of different ages and various churches—but all one in fundamental truth. Let this go down, no matter what comes in its place—and the cause of Christian missions will expire, and your Mission House will become a mausoleum, where your Society will lie entombed; or a museum, where its relics shall be exhibited to the curious; or anything in short but what it is now, the place of conference and of action for men who, with hearts constrained by the pure evangelism of the gospel, are intent upon the conversion of the world to Christ, and by that very evangelism are seeking to accomplish it. Let our ministers, and especially our young ministers, once imagine that their mission is not to the people in mass—but to the select few, to the intellectual, to the thinking young men, and that, in order to fulfill this, they must substitute philosophy in their discourses for Christianity, or at any rate that they must present Christianity re-cast in the mold of philosophy, to be exhibited as an elaboration of human intellect rather than a divine testimony—and they will from that moment place themselves in opposition to the declaration of our Lord, "that the poor have the gospel preached unto them," and equally so to the resolution of the apostle who, in a philosophic age and country, determined to know nothing among men, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. The consequence will be that they, or others who come after them, will find, when it is too late to correct or to stop the mischief, that they are but imitating the experiment made at Alexandria, in the third century of the Christian era, and repeated in our days with such disastrous consequences on the continent of Europe; an experiment under the influence of which, sound orthodoxy, vital Christianity, and all missionary zeal, will form the same funeral procession and descend into the same grave, while our evangelizing societies will follow in sackcloth as chief mourners in the melancholy funeral rites.
4.Another thing of vital importance to the preservation and increased usefulness of our Society, is a careful, diligent, and practical regard to the well-being of our denomination.
In political affairs, a nation engaged in a war of invasion and subjugation, must look well to its own internal condition, and to the union of its people, the prosperity of its finances, and the wisdom of its government. A nation weak at home can never be strong abroad. All the troops, munitions of war, and supplies for the army are drawn from home. My brethren, we have proclaimed war with all the idols of the world, and are invading the territories of Paganism over the face of the whole earth; and we must be strong at home, if we would be victorious abroad.
The time will come, no doubt, when our missions will be self-supporting and self-propagating; and it should be our study, aim, and policy, to bring them to that state as soon as possible—but they are far enough off from it at present. Our churches at home must for ages to come be the grand storehouse to the world for money, men, and all the material of our spiritual warfare. Then what, I ask, ought to be the state of our body to carry on with vigor and success such a conflict? I do not mean to dispute my own words already uttered in this discourse. I do not intend to excite the jealousy of the directors. I do not wish to divert your attention from, or weaken your affection for, the Missionary Society; but I do mean, intend, and wish, in the most public, explicit, and emphatic manner—to impress upon you the sentiment that your first and most anxious consideration should be directed to the state of your own denomination, as regards the orthodoxy of its theology; the efficiency of its ministry; the zeal and piety of its members; the peaceable working of its principles; and the harmony of its churches. In short, to the compactness, strength, and growth of the whole body. I say this for your own sake, and no less for the sake of the Missionary Society. If you are weak, that is weak; if you are strong, it will be strong in you. No one, I believe, will suspect me of a lack of love—as far as I know myself, sectarian bigotry is not my besetting sin. I believe that the church must be more united before the world is converted. Truth and love are the two most powerful things in the universe; and it is by the silken cord of love, united with the golden thread of truth, that the church must draw the world to Christ. But then I am no advocate of the spurious philosophy which proposes to build up universal benevolence on the destruction of truth.
I say, then, to the pastors of our churches, and to their churches with them, Look well to yourselves. Let no multiplication of foreign objects divert your attention for a moment from your own condition. Be united, and be strong—strong, I mean, internally and spiritually, rather than externally and politically. I am far more concerned about the former than the latter. Control the centrifugal tendency of your principles, by a strong centripetal force of vital godliness. Look well to the state of your ministry, and support it well. Sustain with liberality your colleges. Encourage your literature; and thus be ready and every way prepared to bear a conspicuous and honorable part in the evangelization of your country and the world. Descendants of the Puritans! children of the Nonconformists! to your great ancestors Britain stands indebted in no small measure for her liberties; New England for its population, its Protestantism, and its freedom; and the world for much of its purest and richest theology, and its Christian missions to all nations. Disgrace not your lineage; be worthy of the men from whom you have descended; assert your principles with the courage of heroes and the constancy of martyrs, though at the same time with the holiness of saints, and the meekness and gentleness of Christ. Our denominational prosperity is, under God, to the Missionary Society, the source of its strength, the secret of its power; and if your churches, which are the springs and tributary streams of its vast reservoir, become fewer, smaller, and poorer—the supplies of this great cause will be suspended.
5.We now go on to the last particular; and thus advance to the close of a sermon, I am afraid, far too long for the patience of the hearers; and that is for a few moments to show that the perpetuation of the missionary enterprise depends in no small measure upon the support given to it by the ministers of the Gospel.
The church, we admit, has a stewardship to perform, and one not lacking in grandeur, solemnity, or responsibility. But still more solemn are the functions and accountability of the pastoral ministry; for if to the church is entrusted the salvation of the world, to the ministry is entrusted the conservation of the church. In repudiating the notion of a priesthood, in disclaiming and rejecting the absurdities connected with the communication of sacramental grace, and resolving our ministry into an office of instruction, persuasion, and example, we have immeasurably increased its difficulty, its responsibility, and its solemnity. How easy are the genuflexions, the invocations, and the manipulations of the Popish or Tractarian priest, compared with the mental concern and the spiritual labor of the Christian minister to keep up by the labor of studying, preaching, and exemplifying truth, right views and feelings in the minds and hearts of the people!
It is the will of God, and in the order of nature, that there should be influence and power perpetually going forth from a minister to his people. We, dear brethren, cannot be neutral; we must do good—or harm. Our situation is solemn—our responsibility is tremendous. Our negative as well as our positive qualities must have an influence. It is enough to crush and overwhelm us, merely to think that hundreds, and in some cases thousands of immortal souls are brought every Sabbath-day to us to be instructed and moved; to be converted and sanctified; to be taught what to think, how to feel, how to act, not as rational creatures merely—but as moral agents, not as mortals only—but as immortals, not only in reference to themselves—but to others. Yes, we mold the saint as well as convert the sinner. The pulpit is the center of the moral universe, and is the object of deepest interest to three worlds—heaven, earth, and hell. To a considerable extent, it sustains and directs the destinies of both the church and the world. Hence, by an obvious deduction, it may be inferred, if the Missionary Society ever dies, it will expire in the heart of the ministry, and be entombed in the pulpit; and should this ever be the case, its frowning Spirit will haunt the studies of men whose neglect has caused the death of this evangelist of the world.
Every church ought to be in spirit a missionary church; and so it would be if its pastor was a missionary man. If, instead of considering the missionary cause as the business of our people, we adopted it as our own, and, where God has blessed us with property, we were ahead of them in liberality, and did not consider our sermons as our only contributions to the cause; if, instead of trusting to the eloquent appeals of a deputation, or even to our own annual sermon, we interweaved the subject as we ought to do with the whole web of our pulpit ministrations; if, instead of confining it to the sanctuary, we took it to the houses of our friends, and breathed into them a missionary spirit in the social circle; if in everything we added all the power of example to all the force of persuasion, what might we not, by God's blessing, do in exciting and sustaining a right feeling in our people in reference to this cause!
In a late battle in India, the following order was given—"Officers, take your position in front; lead on your troops." Such is the command of the Great Captain of our salvation to us ministers. We must be in the front, not in the rear. We must lead in person, not merely direct. We must be seen in advance, giving the signal, and crying to those behind, "Onwards! follow!" Let us only do our part, and the people will not be lacking in theirs. By God's blessing, we may conduct them to any measure of zeal and liberality within reasonable bounds. Directors of the society! hold us bound to you as responsible for its support. Devolve the responsibility upon us. It belongs to us. God has laid it upon us. Our office commits us to it; and we dare not shrink from it, without being false to our ordination vows.
To you, my beloved young brethren, who are now the hope of our churches, and must soon be the successors of their declining pastors, I turn for a few moments, with an anxiety and an affection which no words could enable me to express. The preacher, with a few others who remain, are the connecting link between the men of the past who founded the society, and the men of the future who are to support it in the coming time. That precious trust which they bequeathed to us, we in our turn must soon bequeath, we would sincerely hope uninjured, to you. We have loved the cause, and endeavored, however imperfectly, to serve it; and in doing this, we have but discharged a debt of gratitude. If we have gained any share of public esteem, if we have attained to any measure of usefulness, we owe it in some measure to this society. It was this which helped to lift us into notice, which fanned the spark of zeal in our youthful bosoms, and inspired us with what little earnestness we have manifested in the Christian ministry. The shadows of evening are gathering around us, our sun is touching the western horizon, and we are in a situation better able, than amidst the heat and burden of the day, to estimate the relative value of all the objects of ministerial ambition; and now, while we are willing to bear our testimony to the subordinate importance of high scholarship and sound philosophy, (and some of us from a felt and lamented deficiency in these attainments,) we feel that these things, and everything else that could be added to them, are but as the small dust of the balance when weighed against the worth of souls, and the achievement of their salvation. And if, in the review of life, we had to look back upon any serious neglect of this, no matter what we had done in the acquisition or advancement of learning or science, we would repeat with a deeper sigh, and a more intense agony than his, the lament of Grotius, "I have consumed much of my time in laboriously doing nothing."
Forgive me, my young brethren, if this appeal breathes any suspicion of your attachment to this glorious cause—love for it, and for you, makes me anxious, and impels me to ask, "Will you ever forsake it?" Where can you find anything in grandeur so sublime, in beauty so fascinating? Shall the amenities of literature, the speculations of philosophy, the productions of genius—have any power to seduce you from the stupendous objects presented by the cause of Christian missions? What! Shall neither the loud deep groans of an unconverted world, nor the anticipated and triumphant shout of a redeemed one, have power to draw you from the retreat of the study into the field where heaven and hell are conflicting for the possession of our earth?
Consider, I beseech you, your advantages. You have not either to create a public sentiment in favor of missions, or to form and embody it into an organization. This is all done to your hand. The machinery is constructed, the mighty engine is at work; and all you have to do is to keep it going with such improvements as you can invent. Consider the circumstances of the times in which you have come upon the stage. By signs better understood than apocalyptic seals, vials, and trumpets—we learn that the hour of travail has come upon the world, and that some great moral birth is soon to be announced as having taken place. Providence is disclosing some of its grandest secrets, and performing some of its noblest works. You will witness greater things than we have seen, and will be called to join in more stupendous operations. To be destitute, in such an age, of public spirit, would be sullenly to refuse your sympathy with God in the greatest of his doings, to shrink into littleness when everything combines to magnify your importance, and to remain torpid at the center of universal excitement. It would be to recline in the chair of ease, or on the couch of voluptuous repose, when the Christian army is marching to battle and to victory beneath your windows, to the song of the seraphim, and amidst the shouts of applauding multitudes.
Young ministers! the eyes of all turn to you. The directors of the Missionary Society turn to you, the declining pastors of the churches turn to you, the missionaries and mission churches which they have planted turn to you, the idolatrous nations of the earth turn to you, the fathers and the founders of the society from their elevated seats of glory turn to you. The triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, calls on you. Will you disappoint such hopes, refuse such appeals?
Beneath the pulpit which I now occupy lie the ashes, and behind it is placed the monumental record of one of the most ardent of the fathers of our cause.* Over those ashes, around that marble bust, in view of those sculptured emblems of your ministry, and with the inscription recording his excellence before you, swear by him that lives forever and ever that you will never abandon this great enterprise.
* Rowland Hill is here referred to, at whose interment it may be mentioned the Author delivered the address. This office devolved upon him in right, not only of the long friendship which subsisted between them—but of the still stronger attachment which existed between Mr and Mrs Hill and the Author's second wife, when Mrs Benjamin Neale.
We take your pledge; we confide in you; we dismiss our solicitude; we will spend what remains of the evening of life in greater serenity; our declining sun shall go down more free from clouds, now that we see a pledged, devoted band of young men rising up to take our places when we shall have joined our spiritual fathers.
"High heaven that heard the solemn vow,
And now what remains but that, leaving the fields where the fathers labored, and the tombs where the prophets slumber, and even passing over the millennial beauties of a renovated world, we anticipate that illustrious morning when, every other foe having been vanquished, the last enemy shall be destroyed, and emancipated millions, bursting from the fetters of the tomb, shall raise the last and loudest shout of the Redeemer's triumph, "Death is swallowed up in victory!" Then, high on the great white throne, the Lord Jesus, with infinite satisfaction, shall see of the travail of his soul, and gather into his presence all whom he has employed in carrying out the plan of his redeeming work. What a convocation will then assemble! There will be the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the glorious company of the apostles, and the noble army of martyrs. There will be the reformers, the missionaries, the ministers of every age, and every country, and every church. There, like co-workers in some stupendous enterprise assembled to celebrate together its successful completion, or like a company of warriors and heroes collected in the palace of their sovereign to enjoy a banquet in commemoration of a victory, will all the servants of Jesus assemble from every department of hallowed labor. No voice need then ask, "Your fathers, where are they?" There they are arrayed in glory, honor, and immortality! What blissful recognitions, what enraptured congratulations and sublime communications will take place at that interview! The very anticipation, is it not almost overwhelming? Then shall it be seen who are the men whom the King of Kings delights to honor; and when monarchs and statesmen, warriors and heroes, philosophers and scholars, poets and historians, who knew not God, and served not his cause, shall be passed by without a glance, or be swept away with the refuse of the nations; the fathers, the founders, the directors and supporters of this blessed cause shall be seen, with amazement and envy by these mighty ones of the earth, united to their Lord, covered with his glory, and seated on his throne!
Illustrious day! yours it is to close the dispensations of earth, of time, and grace—and to open those of heaven, and glory, and eternity; yours to justify the ways of Providence to men—and clear up every mystery which now confounds our reason and sometimes staggers our faith; yours to fulfill the expectations, to terminate the sufferings, and exhibit the perfection of God's redeemed church; yours to reveal the glory, to consummate the mission, and adorn with its brightest honors the crown of Immanuel! Hasten, glad day, your coming! For your arrival, and the manifestation of the glorious liberty of the sons of God, the earnest expectation of the creature waits. The very anticipation of your approach, however distant, gives vigor to our exertions, patience to our sufferings, and stimulus to our hopes; and yet, patient as she is under your delay, the whole redeemed church raises her longing eye, and, with her ten thousand times ten thousand voices, cries "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!"