By J.B. Stoney
I quite believe that Philadelphia will go on to the end. In one sense it has always existed.
But when the cry raised about fifty years ago awoke the slumbering saints, when the word reached souls with power - "Behold, the bridegroom, go forth to meet him" - then I say the Philadelphian character came out in new and brilliant colours, and though there was nothing outwardly to boast of, yet it was a great sight in the eyes of the angels to see the graveclothes removed - "the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free" practically known; the time-honoured institutions - endeared by sacred associations - separated from because, on enquiry, and comparing them with the word of God, they had no authority for their rules and regulations; when instead of the end of all ministry being the mere safety of the soul by-and-by, all desired and laboured to help one another in the knowledge of Christ. The awakened ones found that there was no food for their souls in the systems around, and the faithful course of a few produced an astounding effect.
The seats of learning and centres of theology were stirred by this great moral revolution. Habits of life in private and in public were subjected to the scrutiny of the word of God; everything - dress, houses and employments - was now required to be in conformity with a new rule of life - namely, Christ. The Holy Spirit was relied on as the only power for testimony; and it is here the first step of declension has occurred. No sooner had the evangelistic work become ardent and engrossing, that the pastors' and teachers' service began to decline; and with this increase of seeking souls in the world, arose the use of human means in reaching them.
The Spirit of God was not simply and entirely relied on, and with the increase of human means to obtain congregations, there has been a manifest falling off in the supply and devotedness of pastors and teachers. I am not excusing the pastors and teachers, far from it. I say the world has hindered them: the evangelists introduced the use of human means, and this has produced a weakness, corresponding to the strength required, in the department of each.
Had there been an increase in every department as well as in one, the results might have been different, but the zeal in one has not been without a stooping to man, which has tended to enervate everywhere. The Spirit of God has not been honoured; hence there is not the same care and earnest service to the saints; the gifts are undeveloped - gifted men are connected with things in private and in public which, though not morally wrong, deter them from being very powerful expositors of the life of Jesus; for a man cannot really press on another what he is not living out in himself.
Thus worldliness and decline have set in widespread; though I doubt not there is a deepening in many souls of affection for Christ, and waiting for Him, and as when He left this earth He saw in the crowd one who answered fully to His mind, "she hath cast in all the living that she had", so when He returns there will be a phase of the church, though unseen to man, most pleasing to Him - "The Spirit and the bride say, Come".