It is certainly one of the most hopeful indications of the age in which we live, that the church is awaking to the importance of calling all her forces — lay people as well as ministers — into the field, to labor for the Master. There was a time, not back beyond the memory of living men, when a strong and stubborn prejudice existed in the minds of many Christian people, and especially, it must be confessed, in the minds of many Christian ministers, against almost every form and variety of lay work. But these prejudices are vanishing from the church. The feeling is rapidly gaining ground, that it is the duty of every Christian man and every Christian woman to be actively engaged in some part of the Lord's work. The inquiry now heard on every hand, is: How can we get the people to work? How can we develop the energies and forces which lie useless in the hearts and hands of the laity?
For there is certainly a vast amount of unutilized power lying idle in the Christian church. There are men in almost every congregation, whose tongues God has touched with the gift of eloquence, who, on the platform or at the bar, hold their auditors enchained; and whose eloquence, if it were employed in the church of God and anointed by the Holy Spirit — would work mightily against sin and for salvation. There are men with gentle and persuasive manner, who, if they should go, baptized from on high, into the streets and alleys where sinners are perishing — might win many souls for Christ. There are men rich in Christian experience, who know the way of temptation and the joy of victory — who could be like guiding guardian angels to many a struggling, stumbling young Christian who is in danger of perishing by the way for lack of such a friend. There are men and women with deep, tender sympathies and large hearts, who could bear richest blessings into homes of bereavement and sorrow.
Yet these noble gifts and powers are locked up in the hearts and arms of God's people — and yield no blessing to the world, and no revenue of praise to the Master. There is gold enough locked up in the hills and mountains, undigged and uncoined — to make every man, woman, and child in the world a millionaire. And I believe there is power enough locked up in the Christian church, idle, unused — if it were developed and utilized, to bring the whole world to the Redeemer's feet in a few brief years.
And no one will deny that these slumbering energies and idle resources should be set agoing for the good of the world and the divine glory. God gives a man no power which he does not wish him to employ. Possession of a gift is therefore, the divine ordination for the exercise of that gift. No talent is to be laid up in a napkin.
It was Cromwell, I believe, who, finding silver statues of the apostles in a chapel — commanded that they be taken down and coined into money — that they might go about doing good. So God would have all the idle, unused talents of his people coined and sent out to bless the world.
And surely there is need that every slumbering energy of the church should be called out. Ordained ministers alone cannot evangelize the whole world. They are too few in number to carry the gospel into every alley and court, and into every home. Then there are many kinds of work which can be better done by Christian laymen, full of the love and spirit of Christ — than by any ordained minister. There are spheres into which they can enter freely, carrying the power of the gospel — which are sealed against the professional minister.
These facts admitted, the question arises: How can these idle functions be utilized? How can every Christian be induced to employ the gift God has bestowed upon him, for the conversion of the world? This is the question which waits and waits at our doors for solution. There is scarcely a pastor anywhere who has not wept bitterly over his vain, or all but vain, efforts to call out the Christian life and energy of his people.
There are no guaranteed methods for developing Christian energies. And yet, certainly an important part of every pastor's work is to get his people to work. The best Christian minister is not he who does the most work himself — but he, who, doing his own part well, sets hundreds of other hearts and hands to work also.
Doubtless, training-schools are good. There are hundreds of Christians whose hearts burn with the desire to work for Christ, who need practical suggestions and instructions. And yet it seems to me there is something lacking behind of all mere technical training. It is easy enough to arouse men to work spasmodically. In revivals, everybody works — but when the excitement passes away, everybody lays off the harness. We want Christians who will work from deep principle — and not from mere impulse. We want, not mountain torrents, foaming and dashing now and then — but deep rivers, whose springs are born of the mountain rocks, and flow on through summer and winter.
If men's hearts are full of the love of Christ, they will work for him. Nothing will discourage them or chill their ardor. You cannot chain them back. What we want, then, is more heart-piety. The best way to make a tree fruitful, is to attend well to the roots. The best way to produce fruitful Christians, is to care well for the roots of Christian life. What is needed, then, for the developing of Christian energies — is a more thorough consecration, a better heart-life, a closer walk with God, more of the filling of the Spirit.
Can there, then, be any better training-school for Christian workers — than a school for the simple study of God's Word? Cannot much of the superficialness of our Christian life, be traced back to the lack of vital truth in the heart? If the fountain is empty — can the streams flow full?
Besides, if men are to preach, or teach, or give comfort — they must have the living Word in them to dispense. God will bless nothing else. Of Paul the Lord said that he was a vessel to bear his name to others. And that is all he wants any preacher, lay or clerical, to be — a vessel, a cup to bear the water of life to others. And the cup is nothing in itself. The most beautiful vessel of gold, if empty — will not quench the thirst. But the commonest earthen vessel, if filled with cold water from the spring — will bear relief, comfort, and life to thirsty lips. No one, then, is qualified to be a Christian worker, whether in the pulpit, the Sabbath-school, or in the homes of men — who is not full of the living, life-giving Word.
How can anyone give — what he does not himself possess?
How can an empty vessel — quench human thirst?
Let the people's hearts be full of the Word of God. It will serve a double purpose. It will quicken their own souls and fire them with zeal — and it will give them something to bear to others.