IN the works of God everything is arranged in the best possible manner--no room is left for improvement. No light, invented by man, or what is called artificial light, is as good as the light God has ordained for the day--the light of the sun. In the arrangement in nature, no human wisdom, or even angelic wisdom, can suggest a single improvement that would not result in failure. In the work of God everything is perfect. There can be no change without injury. This is true, not only in nature, but in all the works of God. No way can be invented to do anything better than the way God has ordained. It is preposterous and absurd to presume anything else, and worse to attempt it.
This men generally appear to know, in the whole range of temporal things. In the mechanic arts, natural powers, and all operations with material substances, the laws of nature, or the laws of God in nature, have to be strictly observed. If these laws are misapprehended, mistaken and violated, the consequences are certain. There can be no departure from them without disaster.
The Lord has set the members of the human body in order, and ordained each one to perform its own part. There can be no change made in these members, or in their arrangement, or work, without disaster. The arrangement is simple, but it is perfect. It is the result of infinite wisdom. The body, as the Lord made it, with all the members, and the arrangement of the members, is complete and perfect. There is not a complication in the entire structure. Every emergency, or contingency, that can possibly occur in its operations, is provided for. The Creator did not make it and then wait to see how it would work, but he knew how it would work in every part. He did not create it, and leave somebody free to remodel it, organize it, as human wisdom might think best.
In the same way, the divine economy, in the New Institution, was perfect at the start. It can not be improved--it is the perfection of infinite wisdom. The Lord's work, or the work he does himself, is simply right. The revelation he has made to man is perfect--complete. The gospel is perfect--complete. Nothing can be added, and nothing taken away, without bringing ruin on him who does it. The divine procedure, in the first promulgation of the gospel, and turning the people of the world from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, was right, and that procedure was a model for doing the same work in all time to come. The same gospel preached by the apostles must be preached now, and in all time to come, and preached in the same way. It must be heard and believed in all time to come, the same as it was then. The same repentance must follow, now as then; the same confession of the Lord Jesus is required now, as was then; the same immersion, "into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," is required now to introduce a person into the kingdom of God, as was in the time of the apostles; the same promise of pardon, and the impartation of the Holy Spirit, stands as good to-day as it did in the time of the apostles. On all this we have stood as one man, and the united powers of all the parties around us have been unable to repel and resist us, or prevent our onward march. We have realized that the strength of the Lord was with us, and that our opposers could not stand before us.
When we immersed penitent believers into Christ, in any community, and brought them together, they were the congregation assembly, or church, in that community. This was precisely the case in the procedure of the apostles. They preached the gospel to the people, and, hearing, the people believed and were immersed into Christ. Those thus turned to the Lord, and gathered together, in any city, or section of country, were the congregation of the Lord in that place, as in Jerusalem, Corinth, Ephesus, etc. After the apostles had called out people in this way, turned them to the Lord, and brought them into congregations, and time elapsed to prove them, the apostles visited them to see how they were doing, and "set them in order." In doing this work, they ordained overseers and deacons in every congregation.
But, though clothed with apostolic authority, they did not assume, the right to select even the men who should "serve tables," but said, "Look you out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word."--See Acts vi. 3, 4. What humility is seen here, on the part of the apostles, in leaving it to the brethren to look out these men, and then the desire to commit "this business" into the hands of other men, and not to manage to get it into their own hands, and what devotion they manifested, in speaking of their desiring to give themselves "continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word."
Some men among us have talked much of the Bible being a book of principles. That it does contain principles--general principles--that ought to be observed, I doubt not, is one of the clear matters of divine revelation. In this Scripture we have from the apostles, a clear principle of procedure inculcated that is of immense value to the cause, and a great Security against all usurpation in the congregations of the Lord. The apostles recognized the principle that the congregations have the right, and are commanded to look out men among them to perform any particular service, or attend to any particular "business," in or for the congregation. No man, nor set of men, came from abroad, looked out men among them, or brought men from abroad, and set them over "this business;" but the congregation itself "looked out these men." This is the first instance recognizing the right of an individual congregation to act, as a body, or a congregation of the Lord. It is simply congregational action which the apostles commanded, and that, too, in a very important matter, selecting men to perform a certain function, or, in the plain style of Scripture--"attend to this business."
I am now ready to enter into a subject of vital interest to the cause--a matter involving, as I think, the safety and liberty of the people of God. To get into the subject fully and fairly, and to some extent by degrees, let some inquiries be instituted.
1. Have we any example or precept for congregational action, or for a congregation acting as a congregation, or in a body? Nobody that we are aware of doubts that we have both precept and example for congregational action. We think we are safe in taking it that this is universally, or, if not universally, so near universally admitted that it is useless to consume time in giving references to Scripture authority. We shall take it as granted.
2. Is there any precept or example in Scripture for any aggregation, or confederation, of congregations into a body, so that they can act as a body--as a Methodist Conference, or a Presbyterian Synod, or General Assembly? No matter how many, or how few, congregations are thus aggregated or confederated, nor what the purpose is, nor whether there is much action or little--is there any precept, or example, for any such aggregation, or confederation, or the action of any such body at all? If there is, who can produce it? No matter what they called it, where it was, nor who they were, nor what the object--as a historical fact, was there anything of the kind at all in the time of the apostles? I do not desire to appear dogmatical, and therefore assert nothing more than this: If there is any precept, or example, of the kind, I do not know it.
3. Is there any precept, or example, for any "Preachers' Institute," meeting of preachers, overseers and deacons, of different congregations, to deliberate as a body, to consult on the interests and work of the congregations, or on any matters of the kingdom, the spread of the gospel, the government of the churches, to raise money, or anything of the kind; or is there any account of anything of the kind in the records of Scripture? I am perfectly aware that "Paul and Barnabas, and certain others," went to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about a Judaizing question, and that apostolic authority settled that question, not simply for them, and that time, but for all time to come, and that was the end of the matter. They did not form themselves into a Preachers' Institute, an Association, or an "Officers' Union," or any other standing body. Was there anything of the kind in the time of the apostles? If there was, we have seen no account of it.
4. Is there any precept, or example, for any man from abroad, or whose membership is not in the congregation concerned; or any set of men, coming and attempting to adjust troubles in the congregation, or exercise any authority in their congregational matters, or in any way meddle with them? or is there any account of anything of the kind in Scripture? We are perfectly aware that congregations wrote to the apostles and communicated with them, but this was to obtain apostolic authority, as we now go to their writings; but this is no example for in any way interfering with their action, as a congregation--interrupting, or setting it aside.
5. Is there any intimation of the action of any congregation, as a congregation, or in a body, ever being overhauled, acted upon again, reversed, or set aside?
6. Is there any account of any action, except congregational and individual?
Here we have material for meditation, of a most important character. Let us enter the examination, then, in the most careful manner.
The first point, then, I shall consider, is involved in the following question:
Was the first church intended to be an example, or a model, for all churches? I maintain that it was, and intend to show this beyond question, and that to deny this is schismatical and perfectly disastrous. Here is work involving divine authority, and I intend to treat it as such.
1. Was not the whole procedure, on the part of the apostles, and the principal men who acted publicly in the proclamation of the gospel, turning the people to the Lord, and the building up the first congregations, under the infallible guidance of the Spirit of God? Did they not set them in order, deliver to them the "ordinances of the divine service," and make them what they ought to be in everything, so far as they followed the directions given them by the apostles? Of course the first congregations can only be regarded as examples, or models, where they followed the apostles' teaching. Their departures were no better than our departures; but where they followed the apostles' teaching they were right, and examples for all who followed in the ages to come.
2. Did not the divine presence in these congregations, in the various visible gifts of tongues, prophecy, healing, raising the dead, etc., etc., prove that the Lord accepted and approved them as congregations? Did not the awful display of supernatural power, in the death of Ananias and Sapphira, prove God's disapprobation of their wicked act, and thus demonstrate that those among whom it occurred were his people, and that the congregation was his, and that his judgment should fall on the man who would come there in hypocrisy?
3. When Paul said to the congregation in Corinth, "You are God's building," did he not recognize that congregation? When he said, "Let every man take heed how he builds thereon" (on the foundation), did he not intend to warn men to see to it how they did their work; to work according to the rule he, "as a wise master-builder," gave them? If he gave them a rule to work by, and they worked by it, their work was right, and is a model for all workmen on the building of God for all time to come. Of this there can be no doubt.
We can not go to John the Baptist to find a model for a church, for John built up no church, or congregation. He established no regular meetings, or congregational worship; he established no congregations, regular meetings, or "ordinances of divine service," and, of course, no form of church government. Nor did our Lord, while on earth, build up any regular congregations, meetings, or worship, much less give any form of "church government." These matters appear to have been overlooked by all those who think the kingdom was established before Pentecost; yet they are wonderfully significant. They show us at once that no model can be found for a church in the time of John the Baptist, or the time of the Savior. Nor was any general law laid down during that time, giving us a process in which sinners turn to the Lord. On the contrary, in no two cases, when persons came to the Lord for instruction, did he require them to do the same thing. This was wonderfully significant, showing that what he told them to do was special law, for special cases, as all lawgivers have a right to give; but never to be regarded as general law.
He never required but one man to have spittle and clay put over his eyes to restore his sight. That was divine requirement, but a special law for a special case, and never again required of any man. The time for the general law to be given had not yet come. This could be argued at great length, with any amount of the most conclusive illustrations to show what is meant, and demonstrations showing its correctness. But when we go to the great commission, we get the general law, in condensed form, for preaching, and what to preach in all time. to come. This is general, for all preachers, nations and time, unchangeably. The preaching of the apostles under this commission was under the infallible guidance of the Spirit of all truth and of all revelation. It was a model for all preaching, preachers, nations and time. There must be no departure from it. The process which those passed through who turned to the Lord under that preaching is a model for all who turn to the Lord in all nations and all time. There must be no deviation from that process.
The churches formed under the labors of the apostles were built up under the infallible guidance of the Spirit of God, according to the pattern shadowed by the ancient temple built by divine direction. These first congregations of the Lord, built up under the infallible guidance of the Spirit of God, and then confirmed by the most stupendous, grand and awful displays of supernatural power, are the divine models for all churches. They were creations from the hand of Divine Power, and intended to be, in the true, sense, models for all churches in all time. Departure from them is departure from the Lord--it is apostasy. This has been received as a principle, a settled and an important principle, from the beginning of the reformatory movement of this century; and one at the foundation of all that is dear to us. Any departure from it is apostasy. Cut loose from this grand anchorage, and we are out at sea, without chart or compass.
This is not as some, who have tried to break its force, have said: "So straight, that it leans a little over." It is simply straight--it does not lean at all. This is not the trouble. The trouble is not that it leans, but that it condemns all that does lean. The leaning, twisting, crooked establishments men have made, when brought along-side of the divine model, are exposed at once. But why try to get rid of the idea that the original church is a model? I will proceed to tell why.
1. Because ambitious men can not find any account of any archbishops in the original church. Christ is the Archbishop, the Chief Shepherd, and the only one in the kingdom of God. All the other archbishops are without any authority from Prince Messiah. They originated long since the time of the apostles, and belong to another priesthood, and a very different one from any of which we have any account in Scripture, as existing in the kingdom of God. To hold that the original church is a model, at once leaves these dignitaries all out. It does not turn them, out, cut them off, or unchristianize them, but leaves them where they were all the time--in Babylon. There is not a trace of them in the Bible, or in any authentic account of the first church. At once away goes all idea of one fine office, one position of much ecclesiastical power, and a most lovely salary! This many men can not endure; yet, if the original church is a model, it must be endured.
2. Because ambitious men can not give up the precious idea of the pastorate. No matter if no such office is mentioned in Scripture, no qualifications laid down in Scripture for a man to fill any such office, or of the installation of any man in any such office--"other denominations" have their "pastors," their installations, and we are left free to have a "pastor." No matter if the word "pastor" is only found once in the New Testament, nor if it comes there from the original word in every other place where it occurs, in the New Covenant, translated shepherd, and used there figuratively, as the correlative of the word flock, and means literally overseers--we must have the "pastorate" and the "pastor." But this precious idea, too, must be given up, if the first church is to be regarded as a model. This is another trouble in the idea that the first church is a model. Both preacher (pastor) and flock fail to accept this.
3. Because the idea of congregations with humble overseers and deacons--plain men--it may be farmers, mechanics, merchants, doctors, or lawyers, at the head of affairs, as in the first church--is not to be endured in this advanced age of refinement, taste and learning. Such a state of things can not be endured. No matter if we do not know half as much about the Bible as these humble men did in the first church, or as similar men did among us fifty years ago, we have more taste, polish and refinement, and we can not endure these plain men. It is not always "taste, refinement, or polish," that is in the way, but much of it is pride, ignorance and unregenerated humanity; and we must be brought into subordination to our Lord, reconciled to God, conformed to the image of Jesus. When this shall be done thoroughly, we shall love the things of God, that which God sanctioned and approved, because it came from God, was dictated by his wisdom, and thus proved to be right.
4. Because if the primitive church is a model, and we must mold the churches after it, and make them like it, and do as it did, we can have no aggregation of churches into one great body, like "other denominations," with Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Secretaries, etc., for there was nothing of this kind in the original church. This is humiliating in the extreme. What shall we do with all our great talent, learning, and great men generally? If they can have no great meetings in which to preside, make speeches, and display their talent, learning and oratory, we are coming to a strange pass indeed! Those great men can not go out among plain, humble and obscure people, and preach Christ to them, as the ministers of Jesus did in the time of the apostles. Their talent, learning and eloquence do not lead them in that way. The thought of going out to the people, and preaching the cross to them, and turning them to the Lord, in all parts of the land; to the high and to the low, to the rich and to the poor, to the cultivated and uncultivated; in one word, to cultivate, elevate and educate men and women wherever they may be found, and make a lifetime work of it, as some who now live have done, and as the first preachers of Christ did, is a work they have not studied. If the original church is a model, this is the work for the men of talent and power, and not confederating the congregations of the Lord into an ecclesiasticism, with them at the head of it. This is one reason our great man can not see it. It does not suit their ideas.
5. Because, if the original church is a model, there are no long trains of officers, in grades, as in the military ranks, in which men can be promoted from grade to grade, higher and higher, giving them more and more power and money; for, in the original church, there were no grades of officers in which there could be any such promotion. In that body a man could gain no position of power by any sudden promotion, but a man gained power by continued faithfulness, trustworthiness and usefulness; by a life of purity, devotion and perseverance in the work of the Lord--and was loved for his work's sake. But this is too slow a way to reach influence, distinction and greatness for some men. If they have to wait till they earn it, by straightforward works of righteousness, labors of love, and good deportment, in the kingdom of God, they despair of ever attaining to it. Yet this is the only road to influence and greatness in the cause of Christ. When a man gets some power, or influence, in this way, he knows what it cost. It did not come to him by a fortuity, a sudden promotion to an office, or a sudden promotion of any kind; but he earned it by unassuming, long-continued and untiring toil, constantly evincing his love and devotion to the cause. This is a slow, but a sure, way to gain influence, and to hold it when gained.
6. Because, if the original church is a model, we have no precept, or example, of any arrangement for a great center, where the money is to come from the churches into a treasury, and be at the disposal of a few men. We saw a man once who had a large sugar-orchard, on an extended hillside, the trees standing remarkably thick. He tried to plan guttering poles, split in two, and extending tributaries from the trees into the main trunk, and thus bring the water all into one vessel at the lower side of the orchard, without the labor of gathering and hauling. This would have served his purpose very well, if it had not cost more than it would be worth. But in the original church there was no "plan" like this to extract money from the pockets of the people, and make the churches tributaries, and by some kind of machinery convey the money into one common treasury, and arrange it for a few men to appropriate the money of the whole people. In the first congregations they had no great moneyed centers for avaricious men to wrangle over. The appropriations were made by the individual congregations, and not by boards at a distance. The congregations that gave the money could also appropriate it.
7. Because, if we go back to the original churches for a model, we find no account of any action but congregational and individual. Congregations acted, in their capacity, as congregations; and individuals, in their capacity, as individuals. A number of churches, in a body, never acted. We have not a trace of such action in, the Bible, or any other writing of the first and second centuries. The whole idea of any such action is lost the moment we regard the first church as a model.
8. Because, if we regard the first church as a model, we have neither precept nor example for an Association of Churches, a Conference of Churches, a Missionary Society, Publication Society, Bible Society, an Annual Meeting or a Monthly Meeting. This will cut us off from many fine things, now occupying more space in the prints than the gospel of Christ. But, no matter how closely it prunes us, we must submit to it or surrender our idea of "ancient order" the "Bible alone," a "thus saith the Lord" for everything, and the first church a model. All this must go for nothing, and much more, or we must submit. I am ready to submit, for the wisdom of God was in the formation of the first church. Whatever was not in it was left out by infinite wisdom because it was not needed. We must not assume deficiencies in the work of infinite wisdom, nor that finite wisdom can supply such assumed deficiencies. Such assumption would be arrogant in the extreme, and open the way for any heresy men could invent.
What has the wisdom of men done for us, in departing from the original church as a model? One class of men have claimed that their human organizations, made by uninspired men, are scriptural, and can be sustained by Scripture; and they enter the arena, open the Bible, and undertake the proof. The Pope claims Scripture for his confederation of congregations, and his long list of officers, and quotes Scripture in its behalf. The Episcopalians, in like manner, claim Scripture for the Episcopal form of church government, and open the Book to find it. The Presbyterians also claim Scripture and enter the list, quote Scripture and apply it, as if the church of which we have an account in the Bible, and of which these Scriptures treat, were Presbyterian. But the Bible testifies not about that church. It is an outside body, brought into the world many long centuries too late to have any record in Scripture, unless a prophetic one, like all sects. But men have become weary of the tedious process of hunting for Scripture; and another class, and a much larger one, admit that there is no Scripture for any of them; but they are left free to form any kind of a conference, association, co-operation, or confederation, they may see fit; or, as expressed in a paper at hand, that the Scriptures leave God's people free to adopt whatever plan of general organization and co-operation may seem to them best calculated to promote the unity and prosperity of the churches." This assumes that the Lord has given no law, or rule; no "plan of general organization and co-operation;" and as he has given no law, we are left free to adopt any law that may seem best!
But, if the Lord has given no plan for the purposes here specified, why? Does the conclusion follow that we may adopt any that may seem best? Not by any means. More likely for the reason that he did not intend any such plan or organization, and that the whole affair is an arrogant assumption. I take it that he legislated where legislation was needed, and where he did not legislate, it was not needed, nor intended. Why did not the apostles and first Christians proceed on this freedom, and legislate where the Lord failed to legislate, and do this great work which the Scriptures left the people of God free to do? The apostles understood it not in that way. The first Christians never understood it in that way. They never did it in that way. This is a long leap in the dark--it is a strange precedent!
But the beauty of this human device is, that it is to subserve where the divine appointment fails! The congregations are of the Lord, and formed under divine direction. The overseers and deacons are appointed by divine authority. When these congregations, thus divinely modeled and built up; set in order, according to the law of God, get into difficulty, and fail to settle their trouble, this higher court, the one the Scriptures have left God's people free to adopt, made by uninspired men, comes in and settles the trouble, and makes a finality of it! This is where we get at one leap when we start off with this arrogant assumption of the right to legislate in the kingdom of God. But even this reaches not the climax. When the first assumption is made it is easy to make another. This self-made body, we care not whether delegated or representative; whether all preachers, or preachers, overseers and deacons, or even a representation of private members, assumes the right to ordain overseers and deacons for the churches; yes, and to "install pastors." They need no Scripture for this. The silence of the law of God leaves them free to set up an official in the church, separate from the divinely authorized overseers and deacons, and above them, and call him "pastor," and "install" him over God's people--"God's heritage," overseers and deacons, and all the balance!
By the time you get this far into the matter, what has become of the rights of the private members? They have no rights by this time, only to fill their places in the pews, have "the word of God dispensed to them, and the bread of life broken to them," and they pay the money. They will never take this latter right from the people--the right to pay the money! That is an inalienable right! No matter how good the men, how honest, nor how pure their purposes--their work in any kind of aggregation, or confederation, of congregations, will result in taking away the rights and liberties of the people; oppressing and enslaving them, on the one hand, and building up a clerical aristocracy, who will tax the people and rule them with a rod of iron, on the other hand. All history proves this. It also results in the ignorance of the masses, and making them vassals to the few. Fate is not more certain than this. To avoid this calamity there is but one remedy, and that is to follow the model found in the first church, and admit no other form of church or rule. Stand to and maintain the congregational form of church government and management.
We always have occasion to look out for something new and wrong, when language is used in reference to anything not found in Scripture. We have long essays, and essays by the series, and sermons, too, on "church organization." Whence this language? "Church organization!" Indeed! What does that mean? We have no use for the phrase at all, unless as we use it now, to show that it means, something outside of the divine arrangement; something that does not belong to the New Institution. We can describe anything in the kingdom of God without it; anything that the apostles said or did. If a brother visits a new place, preaches the gospel, turns sinners to the Lord, and builds them together on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ the chief corner, and reports what he has done, in nine cases out of ten he has it that he organized a church." Instead of saying, There is no church in a given place, or no congregation, the reporter says, "There is no organization," or "no organism." What does all this mean?
But this is the more innocent use of the word "organize" among us. With our advanced thinkers, it generally means some kind of aggregation or confederation of congregations into one general body, so as to need some officers unknown to the Scriptures, such as President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer. All this proceeds on the principle that "God's people are left free to adopt whatever plan seems best," or, in plain English, left free to bind any yoke on the necks of God's people that will suit their purposes best. This is a curious kind of being left free. Let God's people accept the human plans men are assuming the right to impose on them, and see how long they will be free, and what kind of freedom it will be! It will be the freedom of one class to rule, and the balance to be ruled; for one class to pay, and another class to be paid.
The Lord made the congregations under him free, in the highest sense, from all rule, all authority and power outside of themselves, except their King in heaven. Christ is their Ruler, and his law, laid down in Scripture, is the absolute authority with them. They read it and understand for themselves; they apply and enforce it on themselves as a body. Nobody stands between them and the Lord--they are thoroughly furnished for every good work.
The churches, legitimately, have two things to do: 1. To attend to their own internal affairs; to look after their members; to see that they walk orderly; that they hearts and lives to spread the gospel; to turn the world to the Lord to the extent of their ability. This was true of all who had obtained the heavenly gift, and is true of all of the same class still. This work is not a concentrated work, to be done in one place; nor to be done by conventions, conferences, synods, assemblies, or councils. It is done, and has been done in all ages, by the congregations of the Lord, scattered throughout the world, and the individual members, wherever they have mingled with their follow-creatures.
One such man as Philip, who went, at the commandment of the Lord, "down into the way leading from Jerusalem to Gaza, which is desert," without waiting to hear one word about the pay, is worth a score of those men who must have the dollars stipulated before they will move an inch or preach a sermon. This man alone, so far as the history informs us, when he met with the officer of state, the Treasurer of Queen Candace, preached to him Jesus and immersed him. He did not wait till he could show him a congregation, all in order, but turned him to the Lord, and left other matters to come up in their proper place. I only give this as a sample, showing that the work is not a concentrated one; and co-operating in it is not in concentrating our money in a treasury, nor going to a Missionary Convention, but doing the same kind of work anywhere and everywhere, and contributing means to the same kind of work. It is the work of the Lord to turn souls to God anywhere, and he who does it is co-operating with all others engaged in that great work, no matter who they are, nor where they are. All the churches, everywhere, "shining as lights in the world," "sounding out the word of life," and all the individuals who participate in the same work, either by doing a portion of it themselves, or by sustaining those who do it-no matter how remote from each other, nor whether they ever heard of each other--are, nevertheless, co-operating in the same work. They are "laborers together with God," in his husbandry--workmen on "God's building." One may plant, and another water, while God gives the increase; but the work is in the same cause, the same work--the Lord's. All who work in it are co-operating with all others who work in it.
The enemy does not aggregate his forces, nor mass his armies, but scatters them throughout the world, and stations one here and another there. We can not aggregate our forces, mass our armies, and move on the enemy in a body, and disband his armies, scatter his hosts, and capture them. Instead of this, when our King made the first grand move on the enemy, the Lord's army was "all scattered abroad." The wisdom of this world would have thought that a very unwise move--the first thing to scatter all the soldiers abroad. But this was necessary, for the work to be done was "all scattered abroad." The Lord's hosts, when all scattered abroad, "went everywhere preaching the word." That was co-operation in missionary work; "associated effort" in the work of the Lord; that was the Lord's way of doing the work. Where were their Presidents, Vice- Presidents, Secretaries, Treasurers, Conventions, Great Speeches, Missionary Agents, and Plans for Raising Money? Where was their great concentration? Where was their human plan, originated by uninspired men? The Lord invented a plan, or a way, to do the work, and such a one as the wisdom of man never thought of, and never would have thought of. Among all the missionary movements schemed by men, who ever heard of one that started out by scattering the operators all abroad? There was no concentration, aggregation, or confederation of the soldiers; no massing of the armies; no great officers, with fine salaries, at the head of the army, deciding who should go into it, and who not; what their pay should be, or fingering the money. They were all, except the apostles, scattered abroad, and went everywhere preaching the word.
This was a Jerusalem model, under the eyes of the apostles, and guided by the wisdom of God! This was not a failure--it spread the gospel. Though this was the greatest missionary movement of which we have any account, our great missionary men, who never do any missionary work, but are always talking about missionary work, make no reference to it. They see no missionary work about it, though the disciples were all missionaries! When looking for plans, they never go to this movement for a plan. There was not "organization" enough in this for them. There was too much work in this; and work for all, and no fine offices! Our great men see no example in all this; no model; no wisdom for them! The idea of "all scattering abroad"--going "everywhere and preaching the word," has no charms for them. Their idea is to send somebody.
The idea of a modern great man is to get rid of the Jerusalem Church, as a model, and get Spurgeon or Beecher in view; mass the Lord's people, build a great temple; imitating Paganism more than Christianity, the kingdoms of this world more than "a kingdom not of this world;" getting a great salary, and, once in three months, make a pitiful contribution for the missionary cause, with the idea of sending some man to the heathen! This way never did and never will do the work. It is nothing but a very poor apology for not doing the work at all.
In looking over the history of what is called "the Church," if we were to keep an eye on the leaders, after an early period in the second century, we would be led to the conclusion, that, if "the Church" has filled its mission, as intended by its Divine Founder, that mission must have been to raise up a few men to fill places of popularity, distinction and power, to enslave and rule the masses. This is one reason these leaders do not know Jesus and his apostles. They do not read, nor admire the teaching and example of our Lord and his apostles. The things their hearts are on are not found in all the Lord and his apostles ever said and did. When they go to their teaching and example, they find nothing but their own condemnation. The wonderful simplicity found in the life of the Lord, and the lives of the apostles, and inculcated in their teaching; their humility, lowliness and meekness; their indifference to the world, and the things of the world; their disinterested lives, labors and deportment; their love to the people, continual care and watchfulness for the welfare of those for whose benefit they labored; their neither organizing, nor trying to attain to any great offices, organizations, high places, seats of honor; nor wearing or giving any great titles, but discouraging them, etc., etc., etc., neither in part, nor as a whole, can be pleasing to the ecclesiastical rulers in any age.
The plain and unassuming congregations of the Lord, with their humble overseers and deacons; and the simple worship, ordained by the Great King; with the apostles' teaching, the fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers, and not a worldly attraction about it, does not suit the ambition of those who are, or would be, promoted to great popularity, distinction and power, by a sudden election or appointment to a high position. In a congregation like this there is no work, only the training of the members of the body, and efforts to turn the people of the world to the Lord. It has in it no intricate work, difficult to learn; no deep and complicated ecclesiasticism; no profound schemes for learned men; but the simple work of turning the world to God, and teaching those turned how to do the will of God; how to worship, and how to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world; how to walk in the strait and narrow way, so as to enter by the strait gate into the everlasting city.
Is it any wonder that "the word of God grew;" that it "ran and was glorified; " that great numbers became "obedient to the faith;" and that there was "great joy in that city"--where the gospel was preached? In the true sense, they "came out from the world," "gave themselves to the Lord," and "served God." They were all missionaries. They did not get their ideas about missionary work from the Pope, nor from sectarians, but from the Lord. They did not make it an occasional thing, and have a great missionary meeting, a week of prayer, and a quarterly contribution, but prayed "continually," "without ceasing," and went everywhere preaching the word." They were not sent out by a society, but went everywhere--were "all scattered abroad." This put them right where the work was to be done--among the people. They went ahead and did the work, and the example is on the record.
How was the gospel so spread in this country fifty years ago? Men went everywhere and preached the word. Why did they go? The love of Christ constrained them. They were full of the love of God; they were unspeakably happy, and wanted to make the whole world happy. They had themselves been saved by the grace of God, and they wanted to carry this grace that saved them to all men. They realized that the whole world lay under the power of the wicked one, and they could not rest without all effort to bring men to the Savior. They had found "the knowledge of salvation," and were moved by the love that moved the Savior, and brought him into the world; and could not be persuaded that they were true to him, if they did not extend that knowledge of salvation to their fellow-creatures. How shall we ever clear our skirts, and prepare ourselves to stand in the presence of Him who laid down his life for us, if we carry not this knowledge of salvation; this "glorious gospel of the blessed God;" this "good news of great joy to all people?"
We need two things: 1. To be full of the knowledge of salvation ourselves; and, 2. To go everywhere preaching it. This can not be done mechanically, or by a few men. working at it, as a trade, for money, and all the balance doing nothing, only paying a little money. This never did the work in any part of the world, and never can. The building of God is built up of lively stones; not simply a part of it, but the whole building. Their hearts are full of the grand theme of redemption; their souls are overflowing with the love of God; their very songs pour forth "peace on earth and good will to men;" their exhortations burn with zeal and ardor that move everything around them; their prayers have an unction that appears like opening the very gates of heaven; their conversations manifest a solicitude in the cause, a divine concern for the recovery of man, the reclamation of a race of polluted, degraded and lost mortals, that appear without limit; their hearts are full, their tongues will not be silent. If they were to hold their peace, the stones would cry out. Their eyes gleam with eloquence, delight and happiness, as they fluently proceed with their wonderful theme.
These are genuine missionaries of Jesus, in the true spirit of missionaries, and their work manifests itself, not in getting up great organizations, confederations, conventions, speeches, etc., etc., but in lives spent in spreading the gospel, extending the knowledge of God among men, and recovering them from the manacles of sin and death. They wait not for a great assembly, a fine meeting-house, a pulpit, or any great occasion, to preach Christ. They wait not to hunt a text, get up a sermon, etc., etc.; nor for Sunday, but on any day, anywhere--in the private circle, in public, in business--where a lost human being will give heed to a few words, they issue forth the words of everlasting life. Their minds are stored with these words of salvation and life; their hearts are full to overflowing, and their desire to save man is unbounded.
The impartation of knowledge is not like the impartation of money, exhausting their stock. The more they give, the more they have left. The impartation increases their stock; and the continual effort to save others keeps their own hearts warmed up in the cause; full of the love of Christ; and keeps the truth they are trying to induce others to receive fresh in their memories; and the preciousness of that truth, its greatness and goodness, its wonder-working, transforming and glorious power, is a realization in the soul of him who is trying to save others, and thus keeps up a lively appreciation of it in him who is constantly laboring to impart it to others. It is not an occasional thing, but a life devoted to the work of the Lord. Who would not be under such a hallowed influence, full of love to God and to all mankind; a subject of such a gracious and merciful power, as inspires the heart with an inexpressible solicitude for the good of the whole world?
Then, it brightens and intensifies the happiness to be associated with a whole congregation of the same lively, loving and solicitous souls, all interested in the same great cause; their hearts all full of the same great theme; the same ardor, devotion and zeal; and unitedly lifting their voices in songs to their Lord and Redeemer; or unite in the fervent prayer of faith; or give heed when one of their number is making a mighty appeal, in the name of their Great Leader, to the people of the world to turn to the Lord and live forever; or when they unitedly commemorate the sufferings of Him who made his soul an offering for sin! To be a member of the body; to be in the assemblies of the saints; a participant in the heavenly joys; and realize that the Lord walks in the midst of the assembly; that he dwells in it; comes in to the saints and sups with them, and they with him--is honor enough, one would think, to satisfy the loftiest aspiration of a soul redeemed from sin.
Those thus redeemed, and realizing the value of their redemption; the great price that bought them; and what it is to be delivered from guilt, from condemnation, justified, made partakers of the "divine nature;" to be filled with all the fullness of God, and be seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, and made a guest among the saints in light; and join in all the expectancies of the riches, and treasures, and honors, and glories, and sublimities of the New Jerusalem, the everlasting city of our God, with all the saints of all ages; in the "house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, whose Maker and Builder is God;" in "the new heaven and the new earth, wherein dwells righteousness"--may most assuredly lift up their hearts to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, and adore, and praise, and honor Him forever and ever! These glorious expectancies are sufficiently lofty for the mightiest spirit among the sons of men. They beggar all human effort at description, and are transcendently beyond all that we ask or think, or that ever entered into the heart of man. "We know not what we shall be; but we know this, we shall see Jesus, and be like him; for we shall see him as he is."
Let Jesus be the theme in all our preaching, our exhortations, our prayers and our songs; let the desire continually be: "Make us, Lord Jesus, daily more like thee;" let his words dwell upon our lips, his example be our pattern, and learn to love him and do the things that are pleasing in his sight; let the ambition be to look to him and honor him.
The work of the Lord is done in small items. He waters the earth with more drops of rain. The earth is cultivated by diffusing the laborers over it. The work of the Lord to be done in this world is widely extended over its surface; and men must go where it is to do it. We need no great convocations to do any of it. We can instruct saints, meet and worship in small assemblies, or preach to the people of the world, and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, without any large gatherings of the people. No matter, then, about any great assemblies in this world.
But when the King of kings and the Lord of lords comes, and he shall gather his elect from the four quarters of the globe; gather them from the East and from the West, from the North and from the South, out of every nation, and kingdom, and tongue, and tribe, and people--we shall see the grand throng, the great assembly that John saw, which no man can compute. The Lord shall then stand before them and cry, "Father, here am I, and here are the children that thou gavest me." Then shall they, in one mighty chorus, unite in ascribing blessing, and glory, and honor, and dominion, and might, to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever! Shall we be there in that great day, and shall we be counted worthy and accepted by Him? Let us strive to that end; labor to enter into that rest, so that we may be able, as the beloved John, to say: "Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come!"