« IndietroContinua »
Hope on, be strong and of a good courage. For in the dark hours others will lean on you to catch your hope and courage. To many a poor discouraged soul you must be "a hiding-place from the wind and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." Every power and force in the universe of environment makes for the ultimate triumph of truth and right. Defeat is impossible. "One man with God on his side is the majority that carries the day. We are but two,' said Abu Bakr to Mohammed as they were flying hunted from Mecca to Medina. 'Nay;' answered Mohammed, 'we are three; God is with us.'
And not only the race will triumph and regain the Paradise lost. The city of God shall surely be with men, and God will dwell with them and in them. But you and I can and shall triumph too.
We are prone to feel that the individual man is too insignificant a being to be the object of God's care and forethought. But we should not forget that it is the
individual who conforms, and that the higher and nobler race is to be attained through the elevation of individuals, one after another. God deals with races and nations as such. But his laws and promises are made almost entirely for the individuals of which these larger units are concerned.
But there is another standpoint from which we may gain a helpful view of the matter. I may be the meanest citizen of my native state, and my father may leave me heir of only a few acres of rocky land. But, if my title is good, every power in the state is pledged to put me in possession of my inheritance. They who would rob me may be strong; but the state will call out every able-bodied man, and pour out every dollar in its treasury before it will allow me to be defrauded of my legal rights. And it must do this for me, its meanest citizen, else there is no government, but anarchy, and oppression, and the rule of the strongest. And we all recognize that this is but right and necessary, and would be ashamed of our state and government were it not literally true.
If I travel in distant lands, my passport is the sign that all the power of these United States is pledged to protect me from injustice. Think of the sensitiveness of governments to any wrong done to their private citizens. England went to war with Abyssinia to protect and deliver two Englishmen. And shall God do less? Can he do less? If it is only just and right and necessary for earthly governments to thus care for their citizens, shall not the ruler and "judge of all the earth do right?"
Now you and I are commanded to be heirs of God, to attain to likeness to him. This is therefore our
legal right, guaranteed by him, for every command of God is really a promise. And he will exhaust every power in the universe before he allows anything to prevent us from gaining our legal rights, provided only that we are earnest in claiming them.
But if I alienate my rights to my inheritance, the commonwealth cannot help me. If I renounce my citizenship, the government of the United States can no longer protect me. And so I can alienate my "right to the tree of life," and to entrance into the city, and I can forfeit my heirship to all that God would give me. "For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." But I can alienate and make void every promise and title, if I will or if I do not care. This is the unique glory and awfulness of the human will. And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good. "If God is for us who is against us?" It must be so if God's laws are his modes of aiding men to conform to environment.
And what of the church? Is it anything else or other than a means of aiding man to conform to environment? If it fails of this, can it be any longer the church of God? The church is a means, not an end. And it is a means of godlikeness in man.
Some would make it a social club. The bond of union between its members is their common grade of wealth, social position, or intellectual attainments. And this idea of the church has deeper root in the
minds of us all than we think. I can imagine a far better club than one formed and framed on this principle, but it is difficult for me to imagine a worse counterfeit of a church. Others make it a source of intellectual delectation, and the means of hearing one or two striking sermons each week. Such a church will conduce to the intelligence of its members, and may be rather more, though probably less, useful than the old New England Lyceum lecture system. Such a church is of about as much practical value to the world at large as some consultations of physicians are to their patients. The doctors have a most interesting discussion, but the patient dies, and the nature of the disease is discovered at the autopsy. Others still would make of the church a great railroad system, over which sleeping-cars run from the City of Destruction, with a coupon good to admit one to the Golden City at the other end. The coaches are luxurious and the road-bed smooth. The Slough of Despond has been filled, the Valley of Humiliation bridged at its narrowest point, and the Delectable Mountains tunnelled. But scoffers say that most of the passengers make full use of the unlimited stop-over privileges allowed at Vanity Fair.
The Bible would seem to give the impression that the church is the army of the Lord of Hosts, a disciplined army of hardy, heroic souls, each soldier aiding his fellow in working out the salvation which God is working in him. And it joins battle fiercely and fearlessly with every form of sin and misery, counting not the odds against it. And the Salvation Army seems to me to have conceived and realized to a great extent just what at least one corps in this grand army
can and should be. And you and I can learn many a lesson from them.
The church is the body of which Christ is the head, and you and I are "members in particular." Let us see to it that we are not the weak spot in the body, crippling and maiming the whole. The church is the city of God among men, and we are its citizens, bound by its laws, loyal servants of the Great King, sworn to obey his commands and enlarge his kingdom, and repel all the assaults of his adversaries. Thus the Bible seems to me to depict the church of God. But what if the army contains a multitude of men who will not obey orders or submit to discipline? or if the city be overwhelmed with a mass of aliens, who see in its laws and institutions mainly means of selfish individual advantage? Responsibility, not privilege, is the foundation of strong character in both men and institutions. There was a good grain of truth in the old Scotch minister's remark, that they had had a blessed work of grace in his church; they had not taken anybody in, but a lot had gone out.
There are plenty of churches of Laodicea to-day. May you be delivered from them. But, thank God, there are also churches of Philadelphia and Smyrna. May you be pastors of one of the latter. It will not pay you a very large salary, for Demas has gone to the church of Laodicea, because the minister of the church of Smyrna was not orthodox, or not sufficiently spiritually minded-meaning thereby that he rebuked the sins of actual living men in general, and of Demas in particular-or preached politics, and did not mind his business. And your church may be small. For