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THE ANNUAL SERMON
PREACHED ON BEHALF OF THE
AT BLOOMSBURY CHAPEL.
Ps. Ixvii. vs. 1, 2.-"God be merciful unto us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us
That Thy way may be known upon earth, Thy saving health among all nations." There is an intimate, and indeed an inseparable connexion between the spiritual state of the Church and its usefulness in the world. The condition of her success is, that she shall enjoy internal peace and prosperity-I say internal, because it is not necessary that she should be at peace with the world, and be free from outward adversities and oppositions; for if it had been so, we should never have heard of the early triumphs of Christianity. Again and again, through stormy tribulations and bloody persecutions, through unnumbered conflicts of opinion, and in the face of malignant and persevering enmities, she has not only outlived the trial, but achieved many a salutary revolution. The history of the past would almost lead us to conclude that the Church of Christ is really most prosperous when most afflicted and opposed, or at any rate, that like gold cast into the furnace, it will come forth more refined than it was before. But although it is not essential to success that the Church should have rest from outward foes and be exempt from external trials; yet it is necessary that she should be fully living up to her privileges, be awake to her responsibilities, be distinguished by holy union and co. operation, be abundantly enriched with the indwelling spirit, and manifestly enjoy the approving presence of her Lord and Head. We may then fairly estimate our prospects of usefulness, by taking an honest and impartial survey of our own condition, of which, on the other hand, the measure of our success is no mean or unim portant indication. For it is manifest that something must be wrong, if a work does not prosper, or prospers but little in our hands, which is known to be the work of God, to which He has expressly promised His blessing. It follows, therefore, that those who are seeking the advancement of religion at home, are also really, though indirectly, promoting it in foreign lands, because the two things are inseparable and act mutually, the one upon the other. Missionary undertakings have been found to improve the Church, and a growing Church may be expected, in time, to give increased and increasing efficiency to the Missionary enterprise. In proportion as we ourselves are blessed, we shall be made a blessing. The grace of God filling the Church with life and zeal, with consecrated
gifts and talents; with advancing holiness and spirituality, it will overflow and enrich the world. This is the condition of our usefulness, and therefore we may well begin with praying for personal blessings, and for blessings at home ; yet not that they may terminate upon ourselves, but qualify us for service, -that through us “ Thy way may be known upon earth, Thy saving health among all nations."
You have thus at once put before you the whole subject of our discourse, and I hope of your serious and prayerful attention. I do not feel called upon to expound this Psalm, nor to offer an opinion as to the occasion upon which it was written. For besides that, its subject is general enough to be appropriate at all times, my own views as to its authorship, its date, and its immediate or primary application, might be very far from commanding universal assent. Perhaps it is not necessary for me to justify the application of the text to a gospel subject. Yet, as it is one of the most pressing and debated questions of our day, whether, when we have found the immediate and primary subject of a prophetic discourse, we have any right to look beyond it and seek in the written word an ulterior reference, it may not be amiss to offer you a brief statement of the reason which induces me to take the language before us in an Evangelical sense. And hore, let me say, that although it is confessed on all hands that no passage of Scripture can have more than one grammatical meaning, it does not, therefore, follow that it can have no more than one application. It is a perfectly gratuitous and arbitrary assumption, that because a prophecy is found to have been appropriate and seasonable, at the time in which it was delivered, therefore no more was intended by it, and it contains no prophetic element at all. This principle would never have been laid down, but from a foregone conclusion, as to the impossibility of the supernatural, and from the conviction arrived at somehow, that men can no more prophecy by Divine inspiration than they can work a miracle by Divine power. But these conclusions we not only hold to by utterly false, but to involve an impudent begging of the whole question under discussion. What authors mean, their own words must determine, and if they claim to be prophets, speak as prophets, are received and acknowledged as prophets, then, though they may take their immediate subject from passing events, yet if their language surpasses the occasion, and can only be accommodated to it, while it finds a more exact and perfect fulfilment elsewhere, the whole evidence of the case destroys the arbitrary assumption, and drives us, if we will not be unreasonable, to the Evangelical interpretation. Thus with respect to this Psalm. I do not see how the propagation of the Kingdom of God through the whole earth, can find a fulfilment anywhere before the times of the Gospel. In other words, if this inspired prayer has ever been answered, it will be hard to say when and where, without coming to the Messiah, and to the dissemination of the Gospel among all nations by the labours of the Apostles. A merely Jewish interpretation cannot be admitted. Will anyone believe that the author of this Psalm wished and prayed for a blessing, the substantial benefits of which were for the Jews alone, though its report was to fill the whole earth, that the saving health to be known among all nations was not a salvation for them, but only for the handful of people that occupied Palestine-the world's interest in it being only a barren and uninterested admiration. God forbid! The blessing of this Psalm is one which falls upon some first, and through them becomes universal. This can only be realized and accomplished in the Church of Christ, which first receives and then sends the Gospel to every part of the earth.
It must be acknowledged, moreover, that even in this view the prophetic prayer of our text has received as yet only a partial and temporary fulfilment. Christianity did once, while its doctrine was uncorrupted-its discipline apostolic-_its zeal and liberality unbounded, and its professors cordially united, fill the whole world with the glorious triumphs of peace, truth, and righteousness. But too soon the mystery of iniquity began to work, the love of many grew cold; divisions and dissensions rent brethren from one another; the simplicity of the faith became tarnished by human inventions, and worldly prosperity led to the indulgence of selfish ease, luxury, pomp, and ambition. Hence the long ages of darkness, superstition, and spiritual despotism, in which all that was pure and noble in religion was driven into secresy and suffering, and vexed by persecution, while the mystical Babylon lorded it over all Christendom, and made all nations drink of the wine of her fornication. Even now the Church is but recovering by slow degrees from the disastrous consequences of that ancient declension. And hence it is, that in this nineteenth century of the Christian era, oar Master's will remains unaccomplished, and His last commission to a great extent undischarged. If all had gone well with the Church during that long interval, it ought not and would not have devolved upon us, upon whom the ends of the world are come, to take up the words from His lips, as if they had been but newly spoken, and plead for the duty of sending the Gospel to all the nations of the earth. But as it is, since a great part of the work is still before us, we cheerfully engage in it upon this conviction, that not only will the early triumphs of the Cross be repeated in the future, but surpassed, and that Christ shall yet enjoy a spiritual reign upon the earth, more glorious, more universal, and more permanent than the world has ever seen. If there be any meaning in the visions of ancient prophecy-if there be in the Gospel of Christ that marvellous regenerating power which it claims for itself—if there be any hope of a glory for the Church that shall render her the praise and joy of the whole earth-if any future for our poor groaning humanity, more pure, more exalted, and more happy than the past, and ade. quate to the deep, undefined, irrepressible longings and aspirations which the nobler spirits among us, even without religion, entertain and indulge, and which seem to come from the profound heart of the world—then we cannot believe that mortal things shall be brought to a conclusion and a “ finis," written to our history, until there shall be one bright chapter added to it that shall tell how Christ took unto Himself His great power, and reigned over all the earth,-how the Lamb's wife appeared in the full perfection of her beauty,--how superstition, ignorance, lust, and oppression were driven back to their native hell—while truth sprung up out of the earth, and righteousness looked down from heaven,—and there was but one song for those below and those above, “ Hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.” But oh! brethren, let us learn from our text where all the e blessings begin—in a blessing that is first to make the Church what it ought to be, and then through the Church to subdue, sanctify, and bless the world. “God be merciful unto us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us ; That Thy way may be known upon earth, Thy saving health among all nations.”
If we enquire after the reason for this order of things we shall find that it will come naturally and readily to our thoughts. The Church with its ministries, agencies and institutions, is the only instrumentality which our Lord employs in the affairs of His kingdom. There is no other agency that is either competent to the work or authorised to undertake it; Christ has given no authority to princes and governments as such to
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take in hand the propagation of the true religion. Whenever they have assumed it it has been to the detriment of the very cause they have espoused. It is easy for them, to frame laws and grant constitutions, but it is not in their power to convert their subjects into genuine disciples of Christ. Not to profane hands however dignified, nor even to learning, eloquence, and wisdom, is entrusted the high commission of turning men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. It is the duty of those and of those only who have themselves felt the power of the Gospel and are living under the influence of its holy motives and immortal hopes. Now it is manifest that the success of every work materially depends upon the qualifications of its agents, and upon the fitness of the means employed; nor is the dissemination of the Gospel of Christ an exception to this rule. While, therefore, we insist that this is the duty of the Church, and of the Church only, we also maintain that the usefulness of the Church will always be commensurate with her qualifications. And these qualifications are such as these :--knowledge, huliness, spirituality, and devoted love to and zeal for the Divine Master—all that goes to make up the spiritual prosperity of the individual, and must therefore in the aggregate constitute the spiritual prosperity of the whole. And as it would be vain to expect great achievements even from the most powerful army, if it were deficient in order and discipline, in respect and affection for its general, in strict obedience and subordination, unless, in fine, it were so compactly organised that every company would respond to the volition of the chief, and the whole could be handled in the field with the utmost precision as though it were but one vast body animated by one mighty soul; so neither ought we to expect that even the people that know their God shall be strong and do exploits unless there be the same affection for Him who is the Captain of their salvation, the same confidence in Him, the same spirit of obedience, the same devotedness to his cause-ove spirit breathing through the whole host, and that spirit his own. On these conditions only will the Church ever go forth to the help of the Lord against the mighty_"fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners."
Wherein then does the spiritual prosperity consist? Most of the particulars have been mentioned, yet it may be desirable to amplify the subject a little.
The Church of Christ then, may be regarded as prosperous, enjoying the blessing of God and the light of His countenance, when it is distinguished by piety of a high order ; by a spirit of devotion, deep and intense, combined with a spirit of general self-denying activity ; by life power and unction in its worship and ordinances, and by holiness of character and conversation so far prevailing over the imperfection inseparable from this mortal state as to be manifestly and undeniably the rule and not the exception. Again, when in all that concerns the glory of God, the advancement of the kingdom of Christ, and the salvation of immortal souls, all are as the heart of one man both in sentiment and co-operation ; none standing indolently by and delegating all personal service to other hands ; for according to the principles we hold, it is the business of the whole Church to witness for God, to hold forth the word of life, and to sow the precious seed of the overlasting Gospel; not the exclusive prerogative of a dignified order of persons, invested with mysterious powers, with an inscrutable kind of sanctity, and an authority derived by dark and unknown channels, the source of which defies all investigation. The Church itself is a royal priesthood to which all its tuombers belong, the labours of which may be distributed, but they who perform the
noblest of all are but the servants of their brethren for Jesus' sako. All therefore must bear their part, whatever it may be ; there must be no dead and unprofitable branches in this living vine, no member of the mystical body paralyzed by disease. Again, it is vital to the prosperity of the Church that its people should be all righteous, and therefore no scandal arising from laxity of principle or disorderly conversation. Nothing tends so much to create and foster prejudice against religion as the transgressions and inconsistencies of its professors, as we may all see from the state of public opinion at this very hour. Render what account you will of the fact, still it is a fact, that an ungodly world does not give religious people credit for being what they profess. In the vilest court of this metropolis the City Missionary hears the same story as that which is told you by those who assume to be the high priests of literature. Unfortunately, however, it does not doubt the earnestness of their zeal on behalf of the people on the other side of the globe ; it does not doubt their anxiety to advance the interests of the sects to which they severally belong; it does not ignore their pious visitations for spiritual purposes to the houses of the poor, but it does doubt whether the person who undertake these works are not either mistaken or insincere. We may flatter ourselves that all this may be accounted for by the natural enmity of the human heart to God and religion ; but are we sure that there is nothing more? Is there not a beauty of holiness to which we have not yet attained—a character which the Church has not established for herself, and consequently an influence which is not yet exerted upon the world ? Oh, when shall that prayer be fulfilled ? “ Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us and establish thou the work of our hands upon us, yea the work of our hands establish thou it.” It seems to mo but a counterpart of our text-"God be merciful unto us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us ; that Thy way may be known upon earth, Thy saving health among all nations."
Once more the unity of the Church is one important element in its prosperity. By this we are not to understand uniformity either in doctrine or discipline, nor does the exercise of Christian love require looseness of Christian principle. And yet it is strange what gross mistakes are made on both these heads, notwithstanding that the subject of union among Christians has been a favourite theme of declamation ever since the rise of great societies first drew ministers of the Gospel together on the platform. To this day, if you believe half of what you hear, you must believe that the matters which divide Christians into sects and denominations are little punctilios which ought never to have been contended for; and yet somehow or other, nobody offers or pretends to give up his own; he asks that compromise from his next-door neighbour; and so the begging for union goes rounil as though, in order to secure it, some party must give up its convictions. Few appear to consider that the denominations exist and stand up, each for some distinctive principle, challenged or denied by other bodies of Christians ; and though not of fundamental moment, yet of too much importance to be consigned by general consent to eternal silence and neglect. What! have we not learned, after all these ages of controversy that uniformity of opinion is never likely to be secured; and that we might as well command the great ocean that rolls around the world to smoothe its waters into a glassy quietude, so that no winds should disturb its monotony, nor rude waves break along its shores, as coinmand the great sea of human thought and emotion to be still and silent, when its very restlessness is but the sign of mental activity and spiritual life. Oh, better by far the surging opposition, the rising and