WHEN a physician supposes that he has discovered a certain cure for some malignant disease, the worst case of that disease is the best case to test the power of his discovery; because, if it can master the most desperate form, and mitigate and remove the most fatal symptoms, it is sure to succeed in cases where the symptoms are less serious, and the form and type of disease less virulent.
The world is overrun with a disease which is slaying its thousands daily, and which has infected all without exception. A remedy for this otherwise fatal, and by any other means incurable plague, has been made known; and since it was made known and tried in the city, where it was first published, has never failed in a single instance in which it has been fairly tried.
Our text is a brief account of that remedy; and the people to whom the letter was written, in which the words of our text are found, were among those thousands on whom the remedy was tried, and in whose cure its power was demonstrated; and their case, as it was one of the most malignant forms of the disease before the cure was tried, remains on record as one of the most powerful testimonies of its efficacy.
Even in heathen Greece, Corinth was a proverb and a byword, on account of its exceeding wickedness and licentiousness. "It is bad for any one to go to Corinth." Built between two [3/4] seas, and commanding both, it was a mart of commerce, and added to its own population many "lewd fellows of the baser sort," who still too often make our own seaport towns such haunts of low profligacy and preparatory schools of crime. Sins, which it is a shame for Christians so much as to name, were universally and openly practised; and the very name of the city was synonymous with a crime on which God has branded as its own peculiar and awful character, that it "takes away the heart." A city more fearfully depraved--more awfully vicious--than Corinth the heathen world never saw.
Into this city an obscure and solitary individual one day entered, determined to try there the remedy which had cured so many in other places. He worked at his trade of tent making with two other fellow-countrymen of the same craft, and, whenever he could find an opportunity, tried his remedy. It was a moral one, intended to meet a moral plague, to counteract and ultimately cure it, and it succeeded. Even in vicious, profligate, sensual Corinth, many whose nature had been before darkened with as black plague spots as ever proved the "whole head sick, and the whole heart faint," took the remedy and were cured. "Such were some of you," writes the blessed instrument of their cure to some of these very Corinthians, after reciting a dark list of crimes, which must shut out all who are still stained with their guilt, and holden by their power, from the kingdom of God. "Such were some of YOU."
The remedy is described in our short text. It was the simple exhibition of "CHRIST." It was telling "the story of the cross" as it is both in the Irish and the Greek. It was "setting forth, as in a lively picture, Christ crucified." It was declaring that that holy God who hates sin, and with whom it can never dwell, yet loves the poor sinner; that the just God, who must punish the sin he hates, has taken it off the sinner and laid it on "Him who knew no sin;" that the true God, who "changeth not," hath fulfilled his threatening that "the soul that sinneth it shall die," and has "condemned SIN" (the sin of the whole world) in the body of "the Just One," "who, by the Eternal Spirit, presented himself without spot to God; that satisfied Justice hath sheathed its glittering sword," "furbished for the slaughter" of the guilty, [4/5] but wet with the blood of the Innocent Substitute; and that now there is full, free, eternal pardon of all sin,--amnesty for all offences, cancelling of all debts, discharge from all liabilities on account of the past to every one who sues it out in the court of Heaven!--simply trusting in what the Son of God hath done and suffered on his behalf as his Representative,--and "turning away from his wickedness that he hath committed" through the power of that Holy Spirit, who, when he brings a soul to Christ for pardon, clothes and restores it to "his right mind," and sends it forth "to sin no more."
And this truth, which is all condensed in the text, did its work in Corinth. Many a soul, "plunged in the ditch,"--was drawn out "and washed clean from all its filthiness." Many a heart, once "hard as the nether millstone," struck by this rod of God, gushed into godly sorrow, and "the flint-stone became a springing-well." Many a soul, "dead in trespasses and sins," "heard the voice" of Christ, came forth from his tomb of corruption, and left for ever the "dead men's bones and all uncleanness." Many a rebel flung down his weapons as he heard the proclamation of his insulted sovereign's pardon, and returned to duty with a broken and a grateful heart. "CHRIST lifted up" drew multitudes of souls like a mighty magnet to him, and proved there, as everywhere, "the power of God unto salvation." And many a blessed spirit, gathered out from abandoned Corinth, once debased almost to hell while yet in the body upon earth, is now in His presence "who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood," and waiting with longing, joyful expectation for "the full and perfect consummation and bliss both in body and soul."
Eighteen centuries have passed away since then, and while the plague still rages, the remedy also still keeps its power, and the records of our Society contain a mass of cases of disease as fearful as that which made Corinth a proverb in Heathen Greece, subdued and cured by the power of this Divine remedy.
The "faithful men," who have gone forth into districts of our own dear England (not less practically heathen, and perhaps not less vicious than sinful Corinth), have taken with them no other instrument of power than that which Paul took with him when he went there "in weakness, and fear and trembling," and [5/6] his speech and his preaching was "not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of POWER." They have looked on the mass of ignorance and depravity (and often of poverty besides), made over to them as the scene of their Christian labours, with such feelings as those with which Paul viewed licentious Corinth. They have asked, "Who is sufficient?" What power can raise these men, brutalised by sin, persuade them to give up practices which, by long habit, have become a second nature, and liberate those minds, which a long course of selfishness has shut up with bars, that seem as if they never could be broken? As MEN they have felt thus: as Christians they "have believed and spoken." They have gone forth "in the strength of the Lord God, and made mention of His righteousness only." They have told the story of the Cross, as Paul in Corinth. They have set forth "Christ, the power of God." They have gathered their little "Church in the house"--their "two or three" in the humble room in some poor cottage, where Christ stood in the midst--they have gone on, "strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded, that what He hath promised, He is able and willing to perform." They have "sown in tears," and worked "in patience of hope"--and their "work has been rewarded"--one hard and careless being after another, drawn within the attraction of that little centre of light,--from curiosity, as they thought, and as the same seemed to Zaccheus as he ran before and climbed his sycamore by the roadside, has been arrested and softened by the power of the Word. Perhaps "he came to scoff"--to hear what the strange teacher said--and what they did in the little cottage--but he "stopped to pray"--and so one and another has come under the power of the Word--the circle of living souls widened and grew; and, as they grew, prayer more united, from the very insulation and loneliness of those who offered it, and more fervent from the sense of recent mercy to themselves, went up before God and drew down more grace and fresh power on the teacher's work.
The faithful servant of the Saviour has there gathered together the little ones of that neglected multitude into the temporary school--has won their love by kindness, to which many of them were before strangers, [6/7] and by winning the children has gained an access to those mother's hearts, in whom the first and strongest instinct of nature has not been altogether lost. The cottage has become too small to hold its closely-crowded numbers, and the teacher has met them in the school; and still the power of God has been more and more displayed. The two or three members of that little Church--who met week after week "to break bread in the house," have gradually grown into tens and twenties. The scriptural and spiritual services of our Church, pouring, as they do, sabbath after sabbath, a tide of healthy feeling in a current of sound words through the mind and heart, have created a desire for the house of God--set apart altogether from every use but the worship and service of the Almighty. The spirit of that Church, (of which their teacher and spiritual Father was to them the representative, the embodiment, the living sample of the kind of Christian which it tends to form as well as the voice by which it spoke (the persona or parson)--that spirit, communicated as it were by spiritual generation to those "who in Christ Jesus were begotten through the Gospel," has led the worshippers in the school to desire the erection of the sanctuary. The earnest desire has led to vigorous effort--to self-denying exertion--to offer to the Lord that which cost them something--labour has been offered by those who had no silver and gold, but who gave such as they had--materials have been contributed--one has dedicated the land for a site--those who could give money have given, in many instances with a munificence, which startled such as did not know what conscientious economy and Christian "contentment with mean things," can enable men even of moderate means to achieve. And thus the "foundation of the house" has been laid, where a barren wilderness was before,--the temple has crowned Moriah, and as the stranger has passed the once notorious and squalid place, where vice and wretchedness seemed to have set up their throne, like joint Emperors before, the tower or spire of the Pastoral-Aid Church, with its group of schools almost touching it, the "Bethel" of the children--the little ones' "gate to heaven," pouring out its playful throng, with all the overflowing sounds of childish liberty, has told what "Christ, the power of God" has been doing there, and proved that the simple Gospel, which is a stumbling-block [7/8] to the veiled and prejudiced heart, and foolishness to the self-conceited one, is "both the power of God and the wisdom of God."
This is no imaginary picture. It is a sketch from nature--it is taken from the life--it is a simple narrative of facts. "We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen," and we can point to many of the worst parts of our country--twelve years ago a moral wilderness, where crime found its lurking-place, and almost every sin its home, and "in the habitation of dragons, where each lay," we can show you now "grass, with reeds, and rushes." The same Gospel, that has levelled pagodas,--laid down the gods as entrance-stones to the Christian church,--reared the schools,--erected the parsonage,--gathered together the little ones on the Sabbath,--spread the roads with the villagers passing onwards to the sanctuary, made the air resound with the mellowed note of the Sabbath-bell, and so planted whole districts with all the apparatus of the English parish, that, but for the long feathery leaves and the tall giant stems of the Eastern trees, and the clear, intense brightness and heat of the Eastern sun, the traveller might think he was in happy England, and not in distant Hindustan: that same Gospel has done the same work here, in spots once as really heathen as distant India, and by God's blessing on this, the great Home Missionary Society of our Church, has formed, out of a mass of ignorant and depraved thousands, the whole machinery of the parish--the Church itself in miniature; the flock, with its shepherd in the midst; the fold, with its flock within it; the rank hemlock plucked up, as much as man can pluck up the ever-springing weeds of the curse; "and green pastures and still waters," for the sheep to lie down in, and drink of, and the lambs to rest in safety.
To enter into the work, and results of the work, of this Society at length, neither would time allow, nor the occasion justify; yet suffer me briefly to set before you what it has done, is doing, and will do.
I. IT HAS MAINLY CONTRIBUTED TO LAY BARE THE TRUE STATE OF THE COUNTRY, AND THEREBY SHEW THE REAL DANGERS OF THE NATION.
Moral evil is much more slowly perceived, and less intensely [8/9] felt, than physical evil. If that moral plague, that is really slaying its thousands, did actually strew the streets and lanes of the city, and fill the fields of the country with corpses which made the air pestilential, the majority of men, whose senses are the only avenue to their mind and heart, would feel the awfulness of that plague,--but, because its virus is a moral one--infecting the mind, and corrupting the heart, and destroying the soul, therefore it is not usually dreaded--if only it does not cross our own path, either to harm or inconvenience us, selfish man does not feel it. It requires, therefore, that the existence and malignity of this invisible, but most active destroyer, should be proved by things that can be seen; by its visible fruits; by broad and glaring facts. And those fruits this Society mainly contributed to gather, and laid as it were in heaps, in the gate, for men to see, and ask, "Who slew all these?" These facts did this Society mainly help to marshal, and arrange, and place in all their fearful and startling detail, as well as in their awful total, before the eye of the Christian world, and, while many were saying, "Peace and safety!" because here and there the Church was built, and the school erected, and faithful men were filling both--this Society proved, by facts that could not be denied, that the very heart of our great manufacturing population was being eaten out by infidelity, and, that where men thought the ground firm, they were treading over a shell which Sedition had hollowed out, stored with the elements of danger and stood ready to apply the torch, and blow all to destruction.
II. THIS SOCIETY NOT ONLY ASSISTED MAINLY TO DISCLOSE THE PLAGUE, BUT TO APPLY THE REMEDY.
Believing that the only remedy for sin is the remedy which God himself has provided, viz., the preaching of the cross, this Society took the remedy and applied it, in faith and patience. Its founders believed what every true Christian does believe, that once let the man be "renewed in the spirit of his mind," and his sinful habits will drop off as the leper's scales from his body when the disease is driven from his blood. They believed that while God can and does honour his own appointed way, so that even those who "preach Christ of contention" shall have to wonder at the changes which the doctrine hath wrought in [9/10] spite of them; yet that those who have themselves "tasted that the Lord is gracious and can feel for others' danger, because they do not forget their own, are the best able to speak both of that danger and the only way of safety. They believed that where the Minister of the Church goes with the gospel in his mouth, and in his heart, and in his life, there everything will follow, which the gospel carries in its train; that the spiritual children will bear a resemblance to the father; that the Minister will be not only the instrument of imparting Divine truth to his converts, but his CHARACTER of truth, both as a Christian and a Churchman; and that the faithful Minister of the Church will make faithful sons of the Church. Whether they were right or not, let those countless parishes, created from a mass of ignorance and infidelity, and vice; let those numerous Churches built in spots which were like heath in the desert; let those clusters of schools filled with little ones for "whose souls once no man cared;" let all the apparatus of the Church of England parish--for the relief of the sick--the securing the savings of the industrious--and spreading that Gospel which they have learnt to prize, let all these, the CREATION of this Society through the Divine blessing on its labours, say whether the Gospel, in its grand simplicity, is not the only and the effectual remedy both for the deep inward plague of sin and all its outward consequences.
And yet the fruits we can SEE are but small, when compared with those which have been gathered and are stored up out of sight within the garner. We cannot see the Church: we see only the outskirts of the camp: part of the host have crossed the flood, and that the greater part; and those which we can see are only the rear-guard of the "company of nations." Each house of prayer is, after all, but one of Solomon's quarries, where the living stones have been hewn without sound of hammer, squared by rule and line, polished by the rubbing of affliction, and as soon as they were ready for their own place in the heavenly temple, were sent off to be stored up in Sion. How many happy souls are now "present with the Lord," who shall be "his in the day when he maketh up his jewels," and who now bless and will bless God for ever for the Pastoral-Aid Society.
III. But we must not pass over unnoticed (while speaking of [10/11] the remedy and the instrumentality through which it has been applied), the Lay-Agency of this Society. We must not forget that it was not always as it is now, when the necessity and suitableness of this class of agency are conceded questions, and are become almost axioms, when those among the clergy who are not willing to employ the pious layman are a daily decreasing minority. We must not forget that this Society has stood, for that important principle, (that the pious layman not only may be safely used "for the present necessity," but that the more such are employed under any circumstances the better would it be for the Church,) when obloquy and suspicion were the consequences of such a course, and when the mighty power of the press was brought to bear against it. We must not forget that it is one thing to glide smoothly with the current, and another to row against the mill-stream; that it is one thing to march through the streets with drum and trumpet, and colours flying, and share the honour when the town has been carried, and another to work in the trenches, to mount the scaling-ladders, and to climb the breach;--that it is one thing to walk with a principle "in silver slippers, when all applaud it," and another to stand by it when the sky is cloudy, and the weather lowering. And though we do not affirm that this Society invented lay-agency, (for it is "an old commandment, the same we had from the beginning,") yet we do affirm, that of all societies connected with our Church it first openly avowed it as part of its plan, demonstrated its extensive power for good, showed its imagined dangers to be clouds of dust, which prejudice and fear threw up as they walked along the road; and if it may be regarded as having "provoked to the good work" of providing additional clergy for populous parishes, a body of men, who could not conscientiously act with it on its own principles, it may also fairly look on another valuable society for sending out Scripture Readers as a corollary of its own.
IV. We believe that England, AS a NATION, owes a debt to this Society--this company of the children of its National Church. If the man, who with steady hand removed the candle which his own child had left in the barrel of "black meal," as the boy called gunpowder, saved not his own house only, but his neighbours also from destruction, we venture to challenge for this [11/12] Society (at least in part) the credit of having done a like work for our country.
The places which had always been the very focuses of sedition, stored with the elements of combustion,--wanting only the addition of another element to blaze up and boil over, and pour their fiery torrent of living lava over the surrounding country, these (from the very character and object of the Society) have been the spots to which its attention has been especially drawn, and into which its faithful Clergy and Lay-Agents have been sent; and they have, as it were, descended into the living volcano, separated the elements of destruction, removed their dangerous contiguity, prevented their fatal combination, and so changed the very crater of Vesuvius into an amphitheatre, planted with the trees of righteousness, and green with the pastures of salvation, and, as we trust, not like those of Vesuvius, to be blown out again. We do believe that, while we owe, as to a second cause, our safety as a nation to our admirable police, to the devoted firmness of our middle orders, (who rose up, like a living dam, on the eventful tenth of April, to keep back the torrent that threatened to roll over the throne,) to the dignified forbearance of our government, and the exemplary domestic character of our beloved sovereign,--still we owe to this Society, as a main instrument, the striking quietness of those great towns, which once used to pour out their ready myriads at every echo and whisper of a change, but which last year kept within their doors when there seemed a certainty that a few plunges would have thrown off all wholesome restraint, and given liberty and equality, bread for nothing and wages without work to all alike.
V. But it is not our own country alone that has received good from the labours of this Society, in the positive salvation of numbers of her children through the Gospel which it taught them, and all the fruits of that Gospel "in a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." WHATEVER ACTS ON ENGLAND ACTS ON HER COLONIES, AND THROUGH THEM UPON THE WORLD. It is a marvellous Providence that has given this little island,--once a very proverb among the polished Romans for barbarous and inaccessible insulation, (toto divisos orbe Britannos)--a colonial empire far larger than any modern nation ever held--that has given us in Canada, a country as large as Europe--in Guiana,[12/13] an exuberantly fertile land, which would easily support the whole population of the British isles--in the vast island of Australia, a continent on the ocean, rich in natural produce, mild and salubrious in climate,--and, in New Zealand, another England at the Antipodes. It is a marvellous tally--a wonderful dovetailing of providential circumstance that has made our little island such an overflowing well of population, that while, in the striking words of Lamartine, "Turkey is perishing for want of Turks," England would be lost for want of room to stow away its teeming myriads, had not He, who has swelled our hundreds into thousands, while he has thinned down their thousands into hundreds, provided in our colonies the room and place which our own crowded land could not afford, and given to our people the desire to fill the lands He has thus provided. Who does not see that in every one who leaves his native land, there is an instrument for good or evil to the land to which he goes, according as his own character may be? That he will either carry the slime of his sinful habits, and the poison of his infidel notions to infect and defile--or add the influence of Christian example, and efforts of Christian self-denial--to those who, in distant lands, have not forgotten the God of their fathers, and the Saviour of their love. Who does not see then that every effort to cleanse the fountain must act upon the streams? Who does not see that whatever tells upon the heart--to regulate its pulsation--and purify its current of life, tells upon the furthest capillaries and most distant extremities? Who does not see that a Society which aims at Christianizing the worst parts of England's population, is conferring a blessing, not only on this land, but on every one of its incorporated dependencies.
If these things are so (and we think they are simply and unanswerably true) then this Society deserves the support of every English Churchman, who, if he is a true Churchman, will be a true patriot. If it aims at curing the moral plague by God's own remedy--if it sends the faithful man to do the spiritual work,--if it seeks first to gather the little swarm of souls together and then hives them in the Church,--if it makes those souls thus gathered true gospel children of our gospel church, obedient subjects of our lawful sovereign, quiet, useful citizens of our favoured country, [13/14]--if it has contributed in no inconsiderable measure to our present safety and comparative prosperity, then each true member of our national Church is bound to aid it by his money and his prayers, and owes HIM a special thank-offering for its services this year, who made this Society His handmaid to so many for their good.
That His favour and blessing are upon this Society is evident, not only from the great increase of its funds, but from what is far greater,--that He has raised up so large an additional supply of such labourers as this Society alone desires to use to occupy its stations, which no love of ease, or high emolument, or worldly honour could lead them to seek, but simply the love of Christ, the love of souls, and the wish to spend and be spent for God. Surely it is no small "token for good" that while in former years there was always an arrear of grants, made and pledged, but which, for want of men to fill them, were unclaimed and in abeyance; that this year the men have been raised up to fill those posts, and the Society's funds, which were always employed to the full, now require a clear addition of several thousands per annum to meet its calls; for its Committee felt, and rightly, that none of its means should ever lie idle, and therefore assigned to other applicants, who both proved their pressing wants and had their Agents ready, that money, which they judged, from the experience of many former years, would otherwise be unemployed. He who teaches his own to ask that He may give that which He wishes to give, but "for which He will be entreated to do it," He has stirred up in many a village, and many a hamlet, in many a lonely cottage as well as many a crowded city, the spirit of grace and supplication, He has blessed those meetings, which, when abused are evil, but when rightly used are often means of grace. The prayer of faith, the cry, has "gone up, and the Lord of the harvest has thrust forth labourers into his harvest."
Let all this urge us to "go forward." Let what has been done be regarded as the earnest and assurance of what shall be done. We may be, we should be as poor beggars with God. MAN is ready to reject the plea of his fellowman who comes again for help, and who gives as his reason for so coming a second time, "You aided me before." But GOD will be well pleased with such a
[14/15] plea: "Lord, give us more, because thou hast already given us so much. Lord, we come to thank thee for what thou hast done by this Society; for the friends Thou hast raised up, for the funds Thou hast provided, for its faithful labourers Thou hast sent forth, for the blessings Thou hast wrought in our country by its means, for the work which is telling on the world. But because Thou hast done so MUCH, O Lord, we come to ask Thee for more; for Thou hast said, and we believe Thy word, "Open thy mouth WIDE, and I will FILL it."