The Best Mode of Working a Parish
Considered in a Course of Lectures Delivered in Denver Cathedral, January and February, 1888,
and in Some Sermons Prepared for Various Occasions.
Chapter I. Introduction: The True Motive of the Work
S. Matt, x, 42: And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.
WE infer from these words a general principle. It follows that every Christian has a ministry on behalf of others, and that his reward is conditioned on his faithfulness in fulfilling it. A cup of cold water given to the thirsty is the least service one could do for another. By every Christian Disciple it would be given as freely to the least of Christ's suffering poor as to his own equals or superiors. But even so slight a service as this, done from love to Christ, cannot be unrewarded. Leaving out of view the final awards of the day of recompense, it has its own reward, which is not contingent, nor possible of failure: it is the consciousness of well doing--the sweetest of all enjoyments. Service of Christ is sacrifice for others. Reward is proportioned to the degree of service. If the [9/10] least service is thus rewarded, surely all service must be. There can be no service done to others in the name of Christ that shall fail of its attendant blessing.
We are not to suppose it left to our option to give the cup of cold water and all else it symbolizes, or not. We must do it, as we are Christians. Not only is it enjoined; it is essential to our Christian character. There must be in us such a disposition as will impel us to do it; otherwise it is not Christian service and there is no reward. Failing herein, we are not living Christians. We stand on a like footing with unbelievers in Christ, if we do not possess and exemplify a spirit of active Christian beneficence.
I do not now speak of the reward. It is right, indeed, to have it in view. Hope is a natural principle of action. Many a good man has been animated to a life of strenuous endeavor or to patience under intense suffering, by the anticipation of the benefits accruing, and the crown that is the reward of fidelity. But it is not merely the hope of reward that actuates the Christian. The same character and conduct would be required, though nothing were to be gained by it. The life should be determined by the constraining love of Christ. We should do good because it is commanded. But our obedience to divine commands should be our highest pleasure. The disposition, the bent of the mind and heart should be such, that it will be our very meat and drink to do the will of God. Christianity is not what has been sneeringly called "other [10/11] worldliness." The truest Christian is one who habitually forgets self in the earnestness of his work for Christ and his fellow-men. He best works out his own salvation whose end is Christian service. He that would save his life must lose it. He who loses his own life in the vocation and ministry of the Christian, the 6ame shall find it. (S. Matt, x, 39.)
The Christian is one who is regenerate; that is to say, one in whom Christ is born. Being in Christ, it follows that Christ is in him, the animating principle of his true being, for regeneration is not only the being born into Christ's Kingdom, its environment of privileges and means of grace. It not only puts you in the state of salvation and under the responsibilities of a heavenly citizenship. It is the reception through Christ's Spirit of Christ's own life. It ensures membership of His Body. It grafts you into the corporate life of His Divine Humanity, in which you live as He liveth in you. It gives you in the Church the essential life of Him Who said, "I am the way, the truth and the life," "Whoso eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath eternal life," and "because I live, ye shall live also." They who are regenerate should let this Life within them mould their whole character and determine their conduct and conversation. They should simply act out the life of Christ that is in them, and thus live in their regenerate being, not in that which is of the [11/12] old nature. Thus they should prove that they are new creatures. (Gal. vi, 15; 2 Cor. v, 17.)
Every kind of life must have its manifestations. Life in the organism must show itself, else there is torpor, the actuality, or at least the semblance of death. Occasionally you may see a tree or a plant of which it is impossible to tell from its exterior appearance whether it be alive or dead. This is the spiritual condition of many professing Christians. But ordinarily life induces growth and the manifestations, the activities suitable to its nature. There is the budding, the leafage, the flower and the fruit. Everybody knows how the carnal, worldly life of men manifests and proves itself. What exertions it leads to, what energy, what zeal, what perseverance, what sacrifices of time and ease! What dangers it encounters to compass its ends, to acquire the means of ministering to its pleasures, to gain the wealth to satisfy its greeds, to win the place or power coveted by its ambition. Such is life in and of the world. Why should it not be so of spiritual life, life in Christ? How can it be hidden, inert and torpid? How can it be that he who has it in him does not act, according to its promptings? Is the Christ life in us? The outward conduct must show it. We must live out the life within. Hear S. Paul teaching us: "The life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who died for me and rose again," and "Christ liveth in me."
Now, what will be the outward life of one thus [12/13] regenerate and thereupon spiritually renewed? What are the natural manifestations of the life of Christ in those who let it actuate and determine them, and freely show it in conduct? We can learn the answer by study of the life of Christ. What He did, that should we do. His aim, purpose, all-controlling motive should be ours. His life being in us, we must in all things be like Him. He came to do the will of Him that sent Him, and to finish His work. He loved God supremely. His constant worship and service of God His Father, was the perfect expression of His love. He gave His whole strength to God's service. It was an obedience even unto death. He took up His cross and bore it steadily, even in mortal suffering and agony. In eternity His purposes were, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God; I am content to do it: yea, Thy law is within My heart;" and through all and for our sakes, in the pursuance of His work, He perfected Himself, resisting the Tempter and overcoming temptation, and thus obtained for us new strength and the ministry of angels, and through His death unto sin, the life of the resurrection" It is ours, in like manner, in Him to love, and worship, and serve God; to obey Him, regardless of consequences; to bear our daily cross of self-denial and sacrifice; to die with Him unto sin; to rise with Him, to enter into His victory and His joy.
But if there is anything that peculiarly strikes us in the life of Christ when on earth, it is His Ministry on [13/14] behalf of others. His service of God was for the salvation of men. He came down from heaven, leaving all its glories which He had with the Father, as the Creed states it, "for us men and for our salvation." He took upon Him our humiliation for a great Ministry on behalf of the sinful and the suffering. He came, bringing Redemption from sin and all its consequent evils and miseries. He lived here only to bestow it, to bring men to receive it, to remove the infirmities, pains and sorrows, of which it is the only antidote. Thus He offered freely to all, pardon, healing, life, and an immortality of blessedness. Thus He lifted up the slaves of sin from their bondage, broke their fetters, took them by the hand and bade them rise to a new life of purity, and freedom, and love, and duty. Thus He wrought His miracles of mercy, healing the sick, restoring the maimed, giving sight to the blind, and to the infirm and decrepit the vigor and joy of health. His benefits were not partial. There was no want of man which He was not ready to supply, no disease to which He did not apply the remedy, no suffering which He did not alleviate, no sorrow which He did not console. In every sense, temporal and spiritual, whether of the Body or of the Soul, He was man's Redeemer. With what fulness of meaning it was said of Him, that "He went about doing good."
We must participate in His work. The motive, the aim, the purpose, are essential. Entered, as we are, into [14/15] His life, we must live it. We must do the works which He did. We may not, indeed, wield for the good of men the powers of nature, using her laws, controlling her operations; but with the right motive, the right disposition of heart, and the right endeavor, we can do works bearing at least 6ome real likeness to His. If we do but let the life that is in us as Christians, determine our purposes and efforts, we can bestow some measure of temporal and spiritual blessing upon the needy, the suffering and the sinful. If we cannot confer pardon, we can bring the sinner to Christ. If we cannot heal with a word, nor remove at our option the diseases which manifest the effects of sin, we can command the natural methods. We can care for the sick. We can bind up the wounds of the stricken, bleeding and broken-hearted. We can give whatever relief our personal attendance can administer, or our influence or our means can procure. We can, as our Lord did, bear the griefs, and infirmities, and sicknesses of men upon our sympathy. We can suffer with and for them. So we can console the wretched, and give to the poor and suffering our active, helpful compassion, and our effectual fervent prayers. Having Christ in us, why should we not, in some feeble way it may be, and far behind Him, but still truly follow Him and represent Him, and do the works which He left for us, for His Body, the Church, to accomplish--the like works in our day for those among whom He has placed us, to those [15/16] which He did as He went about among the sorrowing and the sinful, in Judaea, Samaria and Galilee? Why can we not, why should we not, with Him, His life by His Spirit energizing us, go about doing good?
By His Life, and Death, and Resurrection, He has accomplished, for all, Redemption. All whose nature He assumed, and for whom He lived, and died, and rose, and ascended, are redeemed. But they do not know it. It is to be made known to them. They are to be prepared for its reception. It is to be proclaimed everywhere. It is to be conferred and made effective upon all. To this end is the Church. To this end we are in Christ. They who have received it are to impart it. The Church, Christ's Body, is here, to carry on and to complete the work which Christ Himself began to do and to teach in His ministry on earth (Acts i, 1); the Church, by her ministry, and by all her members, by all her gifts and instrumentalities. Whatever her forces, she must bring them into effective operation.
What are we doing, brethren, to carry on Christ's work? Where are the sin-sick souls whom we have brought to Christ for His healing? Where are the poor to whom, through our efforts, the Blessed Gospel is preached? Where are the sorrowing to whom we have brought consolation? Where are the mourners whom we have comforted, the hungry we have fed, the sick we have visited? Where are the wretched whose infirmities we [16/17] have borne? Where are those to whom we have given the cup of cold water in the name of Christ, with all the good things, temporal and spiritual, which this signifies? Where are the proofs that we are Christians? Doubtless some of you would bear the tests. But must we not all, conscious of our failures to be and to do what our Lord requires of us, resolve anew to be henceforth more faithful to our vocation and ministry, especially when we seek, as we are invited this morning to do, in the Holy Communion, that all-sufficient grace and strength that comes from spiritually eating and drinking the Flesh and Blood of Christ?