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THE CHURCH CONVENTIONS.
PRESBYTERIAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLIES.
THE OPENING EXERCISES.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (OLD SCHOOL) OF THE UNITED STATES.
SERMON BY REV. DR. LOWRY.
AN ABLE DISCOURSE IN BEHALF OF THE PURITY OF THE CHURCH: ELECTION OF OFFICERS-REMARKS OF THE MODERATOR.
FIRST DAY-THURSDAY, MAY 17, 1866.
The General Assembly of the Old School Presbyterian Church met at eleven o'clock yesterday in the Church of Rev. Dr. Niccolls, corner of Fifth and Walnut streets. There was a full attendance of delegates and others. After the introductory devotional services, Rev. Dr. Lowry, the Moderator, delivered the opening sermon as follows:
SERMON BY DR. LOWRY.
ACTS I. 8.-"But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."'
We are accustomed to regard the first age of the church as the best. The piety and the evangelical labors of the Apostles and first Christians, are considered an example to the followers of Christ in all subsequent ages; but in so far as the essential things-the things essential to the piety and the usefulness of the Church-are concerned, its members now and its members in the days of the Apostles stand on the same footing. Their circumstances and ours differ in some respects, but both they and we have life and ever live by faith in Jesus Christ; are moved by the same spirit; are called to the same work, and look for the same reward. If, then, the piety and the works of modern Christians aré not Apostolic, what shall we say? How shall we account for our falling so far short of their example? And how shall we be enabled to reach their noble standard?
The text will help us to answer such questioning thoughts as these, while it sets before us the power and the work of the followers of Christ in all ages to the end of time.
This verse forms a part of our Lord's words to his disciples just before his ascension. He had corrected their error in looking for an earthly, Jewish kingdom, and he declared to them that they were to receive a divine power and to do a divine work; and then, "when he had spoken these things''-these very words of the text-"while they beheld he was taken
up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.” They stood, "gazing up into Heaven," trying to look through the cloud to see their friend and Savior as he passed above the skies. And for them his words would ever have the deepest personal interest. But these words have also a general bearing, applicable to all the disciples of Christ. They were spoken at the end of one dispensation and the beginning of another. The Hebrew times were now to cease; the world-wide system of the Gospel was now to be set up. These words declared the speedy manifestation of the Holy Ghost, and this manifestation was to be the power of the disciples, even "the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon them,'' and then should they go forth to their great work for life and 10 enter upon their high destiny, as witnesses unto Christ, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth." The circumstances under which these words were spoken, therefore, their deep import, and their vast range, commend them to our earnest study. I trust, my brethren, we shall find them to be words to quicken and comfort us in our Christian course, and words appropriate to our meeting at present as ministers, elders and members of the Church of Christ, and particularly as office-bearers in the House of Goa convened in this General Assembly,
I. The first part of the text directs our attention to God, the Holy Ghost, and the power which He would give to the disciples. On this we shall dwell but briefly. No formal statement of the faith of the Church concerning the Holy Ghost need here be made. I need but remind you of His character as God, equal with the Father and the Son, and of His office in the work of salvation-that of applying unto men the benefits of redemption. He is the person of the Trinity through whose agency God puts forth His gracious power on the hearts of men; we are not authorized to expect any saving blessing from God except through His intervention; that the influences of the Spirit of all Grace were obtained for us by and through Jesus Christ; that the Spirit takes of the things of Christ, and shows them unto
us; that in all His work the Spirst glorifies Christ, should increase our sense of obligation to our blessed Savior, but shall not diminish our sense of our indebtedness to the Holy Spirit.
It is the power of the Holy Ghost as given to the disciples for a particular purpose-that of their being witnesses unto Christ, that must here chiefly engage our attention. Three things may be specified as included in the exercise of this power and imparted to the disciples. The first is the power of working miracles and of speaking with unknown tongues. The second is the gracious power of the Spirit in their own souls. And the third is the agency of the Spirit in the conversion of the souls of men in connection withe the preaching of the Gospel. By the first, the disciples were accredited divinely attended in their work. By the second, they were qualified for it. And by the third, they were made successful in it. We shall here pass these points over, and proceed to the second part of the text which sets before us the work to be done by the disciples; they were to be witnesses unto Christ, at home and abroad.
II. A witness is one who is able to speak from personal knowledge, and not from hearsay; and he is one who must speak the truth with fidelity. If either personal knowledge or truth is wanting, his testimony would have no value. Keeping these two things in view, we remark that the disciples must bear witness: 1. To the person and character of Christ. 2. To his doctrines, or the truth revealed by him. And 3. To his truth as the means employed by the Holy Spirit in the conversion of the world, or to his truth as the gospel.
I. When the Jews asked our Savior the question, Who art thou? they asked a question of the greatest moment to themselves and to all men. To know the Lord Jesus as the Son of God and the Son of Man-as God over all blessed forever, and as a man having a fellow feeling with our infirmities; this is wonderful knowledge! This is to know the only person in the universe so consituted; this is to know the only person who can stand between a holy God and a race of sinners, and act as a mediator between them; the only one whose exalted dignity, and yet whose place under the law render it possible for him to be the surety of his people in the covenant of grace, to satisfy all the claims of justice in their account by his own obedience, sufferings and death on the cross.
The first disciples were literally eye-witnesses of the life and character of Christ. Some of them were chosen to be Apostles for the distinctive reason, that they had seen the Lord Jesus; and as only thosé who had actually seen him could be apostles, they can have no successors in that high office. But all the disciples, then and ever since, could be witnesses unto Christ in the sense of their experimental knowledge of his grace. They can speak from their heartfelt conviction of their own sinful, guilty, helpless and perishing situation, until Christ was revealed unto them by the Holy Spirit as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, and they were enabled to receive him in his person and his offices as their Redeemer. On this point, we shall dwell no longer here-but proceed to remark concerning the disciples-2. That they are witnesses. II. They are unto the truth as revealed by Christ. All that he trught and left on record in the Scriptures they receive as of the highest authority, as binding on the conscience, and to be always maiutained by them. There are things hard to be understood in the Bible, and there are things of deep mystery far exceeding the limits of human reason, which the disciples do not profess to comprehend; yet to the truth of these things they can bear testimony, because contained in a book divinely attested, because profound mysteries to our feeble intellect may all be plain and clear to the infinite mind of God, and because these deep truths find their echo in their inmost consciences oftentimes. They can bear witness to the truth of the whole inspired record, even if they do not understand some parts of it, just as many a witness in a court of justice gives his testimony to facts of which he is sure, though he may not understand their bearing on the subject, nor see how they are to affect the cause under trial.
Besides giving their testimony as individuals,
each in his place and lot, according to his gifts and grace, the disciples of Christ must bear witness unto his truth when associated together as members of the Church. The Old Testament preserves the truth concerning the one living and true God in the midst of a world given to idolatry, The New Testament Church has this also as one of its main designs; it is to be the pillar and ground of the truth; it is to be a witness for all the truth that God has revealed, no matter how it may be opposed or perverted. The creeds and confessions of the Church have the maintaining and preserving of the truth as one of their main purposes.
Subscription and assent to the doctrinal standards of our Church is one way for us, my brethren, of upholding the truth. The venerable Confession of Faith in which we glory is chiefly prized by us for its clear and admirable statement of the truth as contained in Holy Scripture. God will honor the Church that puts houer on its truth. I doubt not that one of the two great reasons of the wonderful prosperity of our Church in the last thirty years 1s to be found in the fact, that as a Church we were faithful to God's truth; and in whatever is done, or not done, looking in the direction of organic union with other bodies of Christians, the truth and our profession of it must be held sacred by us, and not be in the least degree compromised, if we would continue to enjoy the blessing of the God of Truth. Our testimony should have reference to the clearness with which divine truths are revealed rather than to any difference that may exist in the importance of these truths. It requires an architect to tell what is essential to a grand edifice and what is not cscential; so we are poor judges of the relative importance of the truths of revelation. We shall find it to be a safe and good rule, while we maintain all the truths of the Bible, to give to each that place which it seems to occupy on the sacred page, İçis not enough to dwell on a few leading truths. The Bible is our text book, and the world our congregation; to all men, of every nation of every nation, class, and condition, to all subjects that have a right or a wrong side in a religious or moral aspect, the testimony of the disciples must have due reverence. We can admit no theory of the province of the pulpit, or of the sphere of a Christian man's duty, which would deprive this testimony of its power as against what is morally wrong. If what is wrong seeks to entrench itself behind public legislation, as in the case of Sabbath mails or lotteries, or behind party political action, as in the case of the oppression of a weaker race, or behind popular movements ending in a riot or rebellion against the powers that be, as in the case of our late conflict, the wrong must not be let alone. The witnessing of the Church should be on the side of truth in these and all other cases, and equally against what is wrong. We have reason to fear that the withholding of this testimony, in too many instances, results in the profaning of God's holy name and day, the denial of justice to the colored races of this country-the Indian, the negro, and of late the Chinese-and the overthrow of those ideas of reverence for law and subjection to authority, which are essential to the welfare both of the Church and the State, especially on one theory of public affairs. For with us the law is maintained more by the power of conscience than by standing military force, and to the right exercise of conscience nothing is more needful than Christian witnessing unto the truth, or at any rate nothing but the truth itself. Let us dwell on this point a few moments longer :
We plead, then, for no political action by the Church, or by her courts, or her ministers; we plead for no improper meddling with the things of Cæsar by the subjects of Christ's kingdom-for no departure from the themes of the Bible, for no violation of the proprieties of the house of God, for no forsak ing of the concerns of eternity. Our Church courts are very properly debarred by our standards-ch. XXXI-from taking any part in the administration of the affairs of the State, except as requested; and this is so ordered for the obvious reason that in this country the Church and the State are not united, and Church courts have here no civil duties such as devolve on the spiritual peers of the British House of Lordf and such as ambitious prelates in Scotland would gladly have taken upon them in the age when
our confession of faith was reconstructed from the articles of faith which came down from the days of the Apostles. Thankful, indeed, are we for the separation of the Church of this land from the State thereof; but let us guard against the great mistake of thinking that the Church has, therefore, no duty to perform of giving her testimony against iniquity because it may be prevalent in high places.
We are persuaded that in our country our greatest danger is not that of too much interference with public affairs, in the way of testifying against what is wrong, by the church and by Christian people. It is only too easy to let what is wrong alone. "It ac cords too readily with our readiness to avoid the cross; and so the voice of our testimonies is kept back, or lowered down to an insensible whisper. Our greatest danger in this land consists in our not holding forth those revealed truths which best regulate both Governors and people, which assert the supreme authority of God, the sacredness of an oath, the duty of doing that which is just and equal to all men, the need of consideration for their less favored fellow men by the rich, and of contentment and patience on the part of the poor, and, indeed, of both rich and poor, and the solemn interests of the judgment to come and the retributions of eternity; and all these inspired teachings we are to testify not merely in the abstract, but in their application to all such moral wrongs as from time to time seek public acknowledgment. Our testimony should certainly be impersonal-never singling out particular persons in a congregation for public rebuke, and it should also be kept free as far as possible from connection with any political party movements, so that all men should see that it is prompted by fidelity to the truth as contained in the Holy Scriptures. The witnesses unto Christ should exercise their best judgment as to the time and manner of giving their testimony against what is evil. It may even be necessary for them to be silent sometimes, as our blessed Lord was before bis unjust judges, but like him his humble disciples will never be unfaithful to their testimony; and when called to do so by Providence, they will declare the whole counsel of God. This must be done in the spirit of Christ, which was eminently loving and meek. He severely censured the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, speaking as he only could by authority as the Omniscient Judge, but yet it was in deep compassion even to them. Towards his professed followers, when in error or even in grave faults, he was always considerate and forbearingnot sparing rebuke, yet not putting the worst construction on their misconduct, but always the best and most charitable; and in this we should follow his example.
We must not pass from this part of the subject without considering that there are times when the testimony of the disciples, touching matters of public interest and yet having a religious side, becomes specially important--such times particularly of perplexity, distress and shaking among men as we have lately seen in this country-such as, I fear, may still be seen in two many parts of the land. In giving our testimony through these dreadful years to the duty of rendering obedience to the powers that bethe powers that were over us, whatever political opinions we may entertain of their character-we fulfill a sacred duty. A right understanding of this duty would prevent all civil war in Christian countries. Indeed we cannot but deeply feel that if the people of God in this land had but understood the full meaning of this duty-which has respect to the powers that be in actual existence, whatever may be the theory of their existence, no more countenance would have been given to any efforts to overthrow the Government, so long in the exercise of authority in all parts of the country, than would be given by our missionaries to a rebellion against the Emperor of China or the King of Siam.
We view this whole matter, now, and in this audience, in the light of testimony against what is wrong, and in presenting these views, we but follow the highest examples. We only take such lawful action as was taken by the noble men who settled our church standards, such men as John With· erspoon, Samuel Davies, and many others; and what is far more, we but follow the example of our blessed Lord and the Apostles. How often do our
Savior's instructions refer directly to public matters as viewed in their religious or moral aspects, or when in the face of the rulers of the Jews he vindicated the law of marriage, placed the law of divorces on its true ground, asserted the just liberty of his Disciples concerning works of necessity on the Sabbath, taught the duty of obedience even to an oppressive Government by the payment of taxes -all of which were not merely matters of religion, but were also matters of party conflicts or of public law. And SO of the Apos tles-take the Apostle Paul's noble declaration, that he would know nothing among the Corinthians but Carist and him crucified, and then take up his two Epistles to the Church of Corinth, make out a table of their topics, and you will see how many matters of public interest are discussed by his eloquent pen, how many sided were his lessons, how he referred to matters that had secular bearings, that were subjects of partisan discussion, and even to such as were connected with civil jurisdiction. In all, his great and sole object was to glorify Christ; and, my brethren, let this be our sole aim whenever we feel called to teach or to speak of matters that are connected with the Gov-. ernment, or with party movements, or with secular interests, when, as witnesses unto Christ, we may hope that our testimony will accomplish its proper end and purpose.
3. In still another respect; were the disciples to be witnesses unto Christ-in their making his gospel known unto all men. The missionary aspect of their testimony is the one chiefly presented to us in the text. The same view is presented in Luke, (xxiv, 47 | 48,) and it is clearly expressed in the last clause of the verse before us, so that we may regard this verse as a restatement of the duty of going into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature, but doing this with the personal knowledge and fidelity of witnesses. Hence, in the passage just cited in the gospel of Luke, our Lord said to his disciples, "And ye are witnesses of these things;" that is, of the character of Christ, and of repentance for remission of sins to be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Their testimony was to be evangelistic. Evidently the first disciples understood the matter just in this sense as soon as their minds were enlightened by the Holy Spirit. And they went forth making known this blessed testimony-the message of love and mercy to lost men.
It was indeed a joyful testimony. Its primary meaning was undoubtedly glad tidings to all people. It was not meant to be chiefly a testimony a against a sinful world. The verse in the Gospel of Matthew, (chap. 24, 14,) which speaks of the gospel being preached for a witness' to the nations, does not mean a witness against them any more than the same word ''witness' in Isaiah (55-4,) when applied to our blessed Lord, is to be understood as a title of severity: on the contrary, it is a title given to our Lord in one of the richest exhibitions of the gospel that is to be found in the writings of the evangelical prophet.
If the gospel is rejected by men, it does índeed become a witness against them, greatly increasing their guilt and misery; but we must keep always in view its primary and chief design as the expression of the infinite love and mercy of God to our lost world. Here is pardon for the guilty; here is peace with God; here is everlasting life; here is all that is oeeded for the complete salvation of every lost sinner through the atoning death and finished righteousness of Jesus Christ. Here are all these blessings offered to sinful man in every land to the end of the world, and offered on the simplest terms possible-without money and without price. This is the good news which the disciples were to tesiify unto every creature, speaking from their own personal experience of this precious gospel, and with all fidelity as witnesses to its unspeakable import
And so the diciples went forth. They went forth, no doubt, in faith and hope, expecting great results to follow their testimony. They were at first but a mere handful, but a little flock, and their course in their course in the world was to be marked by tribulation and persecution. Our Lord taught them to expect this, but he also taught them to
expect a time of triumph for the gospel. Its principles would prevail. Under their preaching, inade efficient to salvation by the power of the Holy Ghost, darkness would give way, the idols be overthrown, the Kingdom of Christ be established, and the world for a thousand years be as the garden of the Lord. The disciples went forth to a sacred duty. not as a task, not as sent to condemn their fellow man, but cheered by the hope of the greatest success. They might not live to see it, but It would surely come, and faithful labors would speed its coming.
I know that some good men do not accept these views-do not expect this result. They even venture to teach that it is but an amiable delusion to expect the conversion of the world by the preaching of the gospel; that it was never intended to accomplish any such purpose, but that the Church is always to be small and imperfect until the personal coming of our blessed Lord; and then, but not till then, we shall see the world converted. The whole New Testament record has been appealed to in order to prove that the preaching of the gospel in the present dispensation, as they term it, will not convert the world.
There are weighty, and it seems to me conclusive, objections and arguments against this theory, but they cannot be fully considered in a short sermon. It is a theory based, as I must think, on erroneous interpretations of the Scriptures, in certain respects. These must here be passed over. It is a theory, moreover, which does not consist with other parts of Scripture which we may briefly notice, and which teach a very different doctrine.
Such is the declaration of God's unspeakable love to the world. (John 3, 16-for I will confine my citations to the New Testament.)
This declaration is so comprehensive that we cannot see how the embracing of Christ by a small fraction of the human family can at all correspond with its fullness and freeness. Such also is our Lord's last commandment (Matt. 28, 19-20). We cannot believe that this commandment contemplated preaching the gospel as a witness against men; it was to be good news, the best news to every lost sinner that he can ever hear; nor can we believe that our blessed Lord, clothed as he is with all power in heaven and in earth, would go forth everywhere with his disciples who obey this commandment only to see their labors ending all in vain, and himself almost universally rejected. All this seems to us entirely inconsistent with the great purpose of commandment. Moreover we see the aged Simon (Luke 2, 30-32,) rejoicing in the predicted and now fulfilled salvation, "prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles. We see John the Baptist proclaiming the fulfillment of a similar prediction-(Luke 3, 4, 6.) We listen with mingled feelings of sorrow, love and hope to our blessed Savior's words, "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me."-(John 12, 32.) We see the same precious truth in its easier process of fulfillment embodied in the parables of the grain of mustard seed and the leaven hid in the meal. (Matt. 13, 31-33.) We learn the mere truth in its manifested and regal glory in the numerous texts, which speak of the gracious effects of the gospel, triumphing as a religion in its present administration, under the idea of a kingdom, for whose coming we are taught to pray. (Matt. 6, 10.) We are taught the same view by some of the wonderful things in the book of Revelation-especially the binding of Satan for a thousand years. If we measure these by a common prophetic standard, we may look forward to a period of three hundred and sixty thousand years, during which our Lord's reign of righteousness in the hearts of men shall make this world a paradise, and nobly vindicate the power of the gospel as now preached among men, as the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation.
These are New Testament teachings, which show hat the preaching of the gospel is no fruitless means of the conversion of the world; but if the New Testament were silent on the subject, as it is nearly so on some other commonly received parts of Christian faith, we should still find ample warrant for our hopes of the conversion of the world in the numerous predictions of the Old Testament. One such prophecy out of scores that might be
cited, "The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, even as the waters cover the sea,' (Isaiah xi 9,) ought to be deemed conclusive.
There are, however, two other considerations which are even more conclusive--one positive, the other negative, and both clearly revealed. Positively, the work of conversion, as we have already seen, is the work of God, the Holy Ghost. We are living under the dispensation of the Spirit. Our Lord himself repeatedly referred to His agency in the work of conversion. We have unlimited promises of His intervention in answer to prayer. I need not pursue this consideration. Let the Church but honor the Spirit as the Father and the Son are honored, let the people of God believe in Him, seek His power, expect His presence, and who shall say that the greatest results shall not be speedily achieved? And let every humble disciple beware of any theory of unfulfilled Scripture that would even seem to lessen or disparage the agency of the Spirit in the conversion of the world.
The negative consideration is not less decisive. The personal coming of our blessed Lord is not revealed to us in Scripture as a means of conversion of men. We humbly trust that our blessed Savior's visible and personal appearing will be a joyful event to us, whenever he shall come; but as we read the Scriptures they furnish no proofs at all that he is ever to take the work of conversion out of the hands of the Holy Ghost. Our Lord's Our Lord's coming is spoken of in three senses, quite distinct, but all worthy of himself (1) by his Providence, as when he came to destroy Jerusalem, (Matt. 24, 34;) and so he comes in the wonderful course of his providence to raise up and cast down kingdoms and nations, and to be ever with his own people, so that they often hear his voice saying, "Fear not, it is I;" and in the hour of their departure from this life they find him present with them to give them all needed grace and an abundant entrance into his everlasting kingdom. (2.) He comes by his spirit into the worshiping assemblies of his people; even though but two or three of them meet togethet in his name, he will make the third or fourth, (Matt. 18, 20); and so he comes whenever the spirit of grace is carrying on his peculiar and saving work among men. And (3) he will come visibly and personally--his second appearing in visible and personal form, but it will be when he comes as a judge (Matt. 25, 31-46). Our Shorter Catechism well expresses the sense of the Scriptures on this point, when it teaches that Christ will come "to judge the world at the last day." We look for no other coming of our blessed Lord than these.
I will not further dwell on this part of the witnessing of the disciples unto Christ. It is an evangelizing testimony, to be brought to the mind and heart of every creature and to be crowned at last with blessed and glorious results in the conversion of the world unto God.
All this will serve to correct our thoughts with the remaining words of the text-which show that the witnessing of the disciples unto Christ was to be every where-"in Jerusalam, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth."
The Savior does not seem to recognize our modern distinction of Home and Foreign Missions. Thtre is a certain order marked, however: the witnesses were to begin among those who were nearest to them, going from them to the next nearest, and proceeding onward still to those who dwell in "the regions beyond." This was in fact the course of the Apostles. It is evidently proper to begin with our own people in witnessing unto Christ, but we must beware of restricting our efforts to them, The Gospel is for all men. The Apostles and first Christians so understood the matter; and when at first the deciples were staying too long in Jerusalem, perhaps consulting too much their love of home and of the temple, a persecution was allowed to arise, so that they were scattered abroad, and went everywhere preaching the word-even beyond the boundaries of their native country, though its inhabitants had by no means all become Christians. So it was at Antioch, when the gospel obtained a foothold there, and a church was formed. Some of its leading members and ministers were soon sent
forth as missionaries, by divine direction and by the earnest co-operation of the Church, though the people of Antioch and of the province were not then all converted. We need not multiply examples to show how the first disciples understood the extent to which their testimony should be made known. They took their lives in their hand, and went forth into whatever part of the world they could reach. We read of their labors in Africa, in Europe, in Western Asia, and even in the Eastern parts of Asia traces of their presence are found.
We feel sure from the language of the text and from the example of the disciples in the apostolic age that no Christian Church, no member of the Church, much less any office bearer in it, can claim to have fulfilled his duty to Christ in witnessing unto him, who does not keep earnestly before his mind and on his heart this vast range of his calling. There stands the commandment of our Lord: "Preach the gospel to every creature. How can any disciple of Christ neglect this duty? There lies the world perishing in sin. How can any disciple of Him who came to seek and to save sinners be indifferent to the misery of these fellow men? Woe be to any Church that disregards this duty! The presence of Christ will be granted only to the Church that is seeking to bear witness unto Him unto the uttermost parts of the earth. That blessing has rested signally on our beloved Church, since the time when we entered as a Church on the work of sending the gospel abroad. Our foreign missions have been greatly prospered. Churches and Presbyteries are now planted in Africa, Asia, South America, and among some of our Indian tribes. Native communicants, native elders, native ministers, in many foreign parts, now worship God with us in our simple and beautiful order. The work is going on; it is calling for enlargement; it must be extended.
And then as we turn and survey our Church here at home, we see no signs of its being impoverished or weakened by its witnessing work abroad. We do see things that awaken our solicitude-dangers of divided opinions, and especially the danger of being carried away by tides of wordliness; but God has kept us and blest us hitherto. All through the terrible events of the last few years we have had grace given to us and the blessings of Providence, so that we have not fallen away from our noble missionary work abroad; that work has been, like the bow of promise, spanning the dark sky, and pointing to brighter days, when peace should return to bless the land in order that the Church might go on to bless the world.
Whatever may have been our past dangers, whatever present difficulties, they would have been tar greater, perhaps even fatal to our churches, if God had not given us grace to bear our evangelistic testimony to the Chippewas, the Bengas, the Hindoos, the Siamese, the Chinese and others, thereby securing the fulfillment of our Savior's promise to us, and thereby enabling many of our Christian people to feel more deeply the preciousness of the gospel to themselves. As we continue our home survey, we see signs of widely spread prosperity in the home interests of our church-in our greatly enlarged number of ministers and members since the year 1832, when the foreign missions of our body were commenced. But, on these and other things we cannot enter.
We bless the Lord for what he hath done for us. We gratefully ascribe all our prosperity, at home and abroad, and all our success to the presence of our blessed Lord with us, as we have endeavored to be witnesses unto him both in our own country and in foreign lands-even unto the uttermost parts of the earth. We see in this the second cause of our prosperity.
Here then we rest in our exposition of the text, and conclude with two other inferences:
1. We see that the duty of Christian witnessing is from God. It is unto Christ, by his last instructions and by his last commandment. It is inspired and made efficacious by the Holy Ghost. In bearing their testimony, the disciples have a divine warrant-they were not unsent; and they may feel assured, therefore, that their witnessing shall not be in vain. Whether many or few accept their testimony, they shall receive a divine reward. Let them seek to be found faithful witnesses,
never shunning to declare the whole counsel of God, ever sitting the Lord imself before them, giving their testimony from love to him, cherishing a sense of their dependence on the Holy Ghost, and then they shall be blessed themselves and a blessing to the world.
2. We see the main elements of Apostolic evangelization. Its agents were men impelled by love to Christ and empowered by the Holy Ghost. Their minds were enlightened; their hearts filled with holy affections; their labors abundant beyond measure-all because they were under Divine influence. Their views of their work were clear and well defined; they knew precisely what they were to do and how to do it; they engaged in it at no uncertainty. A noble purpose of consecration to God governed their whole course. As we fix our attention on the life of one of those early disciples, and it matters little which of them, as we consider his faith in Christ, his self-renunciation, his unworldly spirit, his willingness to endure hardship and to practice self-denial, his devotedness to the great object of saving lost souls, and thereby glorifying God, his perseverance in seeking this object in the face of reproach, opposition, persecution, violence and death, even death in the most terrible form, we are filled with admiration of his holy lite and his blessed labors. With such a consecration of heart and life, and with the power of the Holy Ghost, at once its cause and its blessing, we do not wonder to see Stephen martyred, and the cause advanced which his death was intended to destroy.
We do not wonder to see the brilliant course of Paul, his abundant labors, his unceasing prayers, his unwearied zeal flaming to the last. These were the missionaries, these were the ministers of the primitive Church. We readily see the secret of their wonderful success. They walked with God, and God was with them, and therefore the gospel won triumphs in the world such as no subsequent age has witnessed. Yes, my brethren, and we may say such as the world will not witness again until our ministers and missionaries become men of Apostolic piety.
3. And this leads to our last remark. We see what is most needed by us as a Church-as a body of Christian people. ministers, elders, deacons and members. It is not purer doctrines; our faith is of God. It is not a better order; our church is at once Scriptural, catholic, beautiful in its worship, and admirable in its government. It is not, perhaps, better plans of promoting the work of evangelization; though these probably might be reduced in number, enlarged in scope instances, simplified in their arrangements; still, it is well to be slow to make changes, and it is weli to remember that our plans have worked better than we could have expected; that whatever plans are adopted, we may expect imperfections, and that we must look beyond our methods of benevolent action to their annimating principle, and herein it is that we chiefly come short. But it is not in any of these things that we feel our greatest need; it is in thewant of Apostolic piety; it is in the want of the power of the Holy Ghost.
Men of the world depend on talent, learning, wealth, station; we undervalue_none of these gifts; God has ever used them all. But he also used the weak things of the world to confound the mighty. Thirty years ago a, venerable minister said to me, "My young brother, we seem to be living in an age of great events and little men." He said this in a tone of discouragement, and in his unaffected humility he, no doubt, included himself in his remark though no minister stood higher than he in our Church; but his words embodied a great truth and one that should give us great encouragement. God will so order events that the glory of the world's salvation shall be seen to be of himself and not of men. He will employ great gifts, but he will also employ humble gifts. And if God the Holy Gost be with little men, "they will work wonders. The gift most important, inost to be desired by us all, is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Let his influences so abound in us, so govern our lives, so animate our prayers, as to make us Christ-like.