Doubts about the fundamentals of the Gospel exist in certain churches, I am told, to a large extent. My dear friends, where there is a warm-hearted church, you do not hear of them. I never saw a fly light on a red-hot plate.
Jesus organized the church, which is His vineyard. He commands all to go into the vineyard and work. All who are united to Christ by faith, and are thus members of His mystical body, should be members of His visible church.
And this is the mission of the churchnot civilization, but salvationnot better laws, purer legislation, social elevation, human equality, and liberty, but first, the kingdom of God and His righteousness; regenerated hearts, and all other things will follow.
There ought to be such an atmosphere in every Christian church that a man going there and sitting two hours should take the contagion of heaven, and carry home a fire to kindle the altar whence he came.
There is nothing more pitiable than a soulless, sapless, shriveled church, seeking to thrive in a worldly atmosphere, rooted in barren professions, bearing no fruit, and maintaining only the semblance of existence; such a church cannot long survive.
Do you recall the laughter of the Philistines at the helpless SampsonYou can hear the echo of that laughter to-day, as the church, shorn of her strength by her own sin, is an object of ridicule to the world, who cry in derision, Where is your boasted triumph and your Millennial glory?
How long must the church live before it will learn that strength is won by action, and success by work, and that all this immeasurable feeding without action and work is a positive damage to itthat it is the procurer of spiritual obesity, gout, and debility.
Antedating our history, possessing and illumining the hearts of the founders of liberty in our free land, and constantly exerting the soul-equalizing and soul-elevating principles of the gospel of Christ as they fall from Sabbath to Sabbath on the masses of the people, the Christian church stands before all men as the pillar and ground of civil liberty in the world.
To be of no church is dangerous. Religion, of which the rewards are distant, and which is animated only by Faith and Hope, will glide by degrees out of the mind, unless it be invigorated and reimpressed by external ordinances, by stated calls to worship, and the salutary influence of example.
Under the term Church, I understand a body or collection of human persons, professing faith in Christ, gathered together in several places of the world, for worship of the same God, and united into the same corporation.
As in Noahs ark there were the clean and the unclean, raven and dove, leopard and kid, the cruel lion with the gentle lamb; so in the Church of Christ on earth you will find the same diversities and differences of human character.
And she (the Roman Catholic Church) may still exist in undiminished vigor, when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Pauls.
In the true, original, catholic, evangelical religion of Jesus Christ, and in this alone, all the divided religions of Christendom find their union, their repose, their support. Find out His mind, His character, His will; and in His greatness we shall rise above our littleness; in His strength we shall lose our weakness; in His peace we shall forget our discord.
The church is a sort of hospital for mens souls, and as full of quackery as the hospital for their bodies. Those who are taken into it live like pensioners in their Retreat or Sailors Snug Harbor, where you may see a row of religious cripples sitting outside in sunny weather.
In the Church of Christ one little worker can mar the whole by failing to fulfill his office. There is a place for each. Find your place if you are not already in it, and obey the Saviours command, Go work in my vineyardthe command of a king which you disobey at the peril of losing the reward of the faithful.
So, from generation to generation, the spiritual church is rising upwards toward its perfection; and, though one after another the workmen pass away, the fabric remains, and the great Master-builder carries on the undertaking. Be it ours to build in our portion in a solid and substantial manner, so that they who come after us may be at once thankful for our thoroughness, and inspired by our example.
What is the average type of a counterfeit church? A hammock, attached on one side to the cross, and, on the other, held and swung to and fro by the forefinger of Mammon; its freight of nominal Christians elegantly moaning meanwhile over the evils of the times, and not at ease unless fanned by eloquence and music, and sprinkled by social adulations into perfumed, unheroic slumber.
Let the church come to God in the strength of a perfect weakness, in the power of a felt helplessness and a child-like confidence, and then, either she has no strength, and has no right to be, or she has a strength that is infinite. Then and thus, will she stretch out the rod over the seas of difficulty that lie before her, and the waters shall divide, and she shall pass through, and sing the song of deliverance.
I know that with consecration on the part of believers, separation from the world, disentanglement from enslaving sins, and a mighty baptism of the Holy Spirit, the church would become a conquering power in the world, not by its constructed theology, not by its Sabbath services, not by its arguments to convince the intellect, but by its simple story of Jesus love, by the Cross, the CrossGods hammer, Gods fire.
Men say their pinnacles point to heaven. Why, so does every tree that buds, and every bird that rises as it sings. Men say their aisles are good for worship. Why, so is every mountain glen and rough sea-shore. But this they have of distinct and indisputable glory,that their mighty walls were never raised, and never shall be, but by men who love and aid each other in their weakness.
The clearest window that ever was fashioned, if it is barred by spiders webs, and hung over with carcasses of insects, so that the sunlight has forgotten to find its way through, of what use can it be? Now, the Church is Gods window; and if it is so obscured by errors that its light is darkness, how great is that darkness!
When I go to the house of God I do not want amusement; I want the doctrine which is according to godliness. I want to hear the remedy against the harassing of my guilt and the disorder of my affections. I want to be led from weariness and disappointment to that goodness which filleth the hungry soul. I want to have light upon the mystery of Providence; to be taught how the judgments of the Lord are right; how I shall be prepared for duty and for trial; how I may fear God all the days of my life, and close them in peace.
The church itself has got to go outside of its own borders and carry the Gospel to every creature, or it is no church of Christ; and any mutual improvement club which thinks that by reading its Shakespeare, or by acting its pretty tableaux, or by having this or that little reading from Spenser and from Chaucer, it is going to lift itself up into any higher order of culture or life, is wholly mistaken, unless as an essential part of its duty, it goes out into the world, finds those that are falling down, and lifts them up to the majesty of freemen, who are sons of God.
The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in. It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arms-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together.
Any church which forsakes the regular and uniform for the periodical and spasmodic service of God, is doomed to decay; any church which relies for its spiritual strength and growth entirely upon seasons of revival, will very soon have no genuine revivals to rely on. Our holy God will not conform His blessings to mans moods and moral caprice. If a church is declining, it may require a revival to restore it; but what need was there of its declining?
The one injurious and fatal fact of our present church work is the barrier between the churches and the poorest classes. The first thing for us to do is to demolish this barrier. The impression is abroad among the poor that they are not wanted in the churches. This impression is either correct or incorrect. If it is correct, then there is no missionary work, for us who are pastors, half so urgent as the conversion of our congregations to Christianity. If it is incorrect, we are still guilty before God in that we have allowed such an impression to go abroad; and we are bound to address ourselves, at once and with all diligence, to the business of convincing the poor people that they are wanted, and will be made welcome in the churches.
Congregations must justify their existence. If they only bring people together to be very much pleased, why, the lecture bureaus will contract for all that. Did you worship? Were you edified? Did the Lord speak to you? Did you speak to Him? Do you mean more seriously to be pure, honest, upright, generous, manly, holy, from what you did and heard to-day? These are the questions which the best part of mankind feel to be proper, and to which we must have affirmative replies.