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.
2 Cor. ix, 10: Now he that ministereth seed to the sower, both minister bread for your food and multiply your seed sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness.
IT is very important that we should not take too restricted a view of the means of grace. The two great Sacraments which are "generally necessary to salvation," are rightly regarded as pre-eminently means of grace. But in so teaching, it is not meant to deny that Confirmation and other Apostolic or divinely instituted rites or ordinances have their own proper and especial grace connected with their right administration and reception. In fact, there are in Christianity many outward and visible signs of inward spiritual grace given unto us. Our Lord, on various occasions, used such signs for temporary purposes, when He would bestow both gifts of healing and the faith to appropriate the accompanying spiritual blessing. Nature herself has means of grace to those who know how to receive and profit by them. Many an object, many a scene does she present which may be fitted to raise the heart in thankfulness to God and to call forth praises to the bountiful [140/141] Giver of all good. But besides those means of grace, which are sacraments or sacramental in their nature, in which the grace is, as it were, outwardly presented and bestowed by its Author through the means of His choice or ordinance, a receptive state of heart being the condition of its appropriation, there are others which are of first importance in which we are active, in which we co-operate with God, in which our devout earnestness brings a large increase of grace, being the necessary condition of its reception. Such are prayer and meditation, and the hearing and study of the Word of God, and exercises of penitence, and confession of sin. The grace comes while we are struggling towards it and striving to obtain it. Without the use of such means of grace, no others can avail us. Prayer, for example, is an exercise of faith, and the very exercise brings an increase of faith. In prayer for any desired blessing, there is trust that it will be given, there is the effort involved to obtain it, and the repose of mind and heart, the confidence and satisfaction which are preeminently fitted for its reception. The desire, the seeking and the consequent labor, do not indeed insure the answer, except so far as this comes as a reflex influence. It is God from Whom proceed all blessings. But the expectant attitude, the earnest seeking, the strenuous effort are indispensable conditions. These means of grace have much of the subjective element. The gift of blessing which God bestows through these means has ordinarily no [141/142] outward sign by which it is both symbolized and conveyed.
My purpose is to speak of a necessary means of grace, which is too seldom considered such. It is not sacramental. It may be distinguished from the several means of which the various acts of penitence and self-discipline are examples. It is more nearly allied to prayer, for sincere prayer should inevitably lead to it. It is work for Christ, zealous, distinctive Christian effort that I refer to. That to pray is to labor, and to labor is to pray, is a truth well recognized in the Christian economy. But it is seldom practically realized. Prayer is too often but a formal and perfunctory exercise. Work is the natural outgoing of the heart that truly prays. Labors for Christ are the completion or complement of prayer. If we do not earnestly seek that which we pray for, our mere prayers will be ineffectual. How does the prayer of faith remove mountains? Faith gives the assurance that the mountains, whatever they are, must and shall be removed, and calls forth the effort necessary to remove them. God rewards such faith by blessing the labor and insuring its success.
In the text, the special effort alluded to, is giving for the cause of Christ. God blesses such sowing not only to those for whom it is done, but also in the harvest of blessings which the sower must reap in the end. But giving is but a single branch of the general subject of [142/143] labor for Christ and His Church. He who gives cheerfully and works cheerfully on behalf of the spread of the Gospel and the extension and edification of the Church of God, finds an increase of blessing in his own soul. The fruits of righteousness are abundantly increased and matured. His life and character exhibit them. They enter into the formation of character. They are garnered up and become a permanent, inalienable possession.
The principle in which the truth is grounded which I with to bring out distinctly, is that the use or improvement of grace is itself a means of grace. Everything given or done for Christ is but the proper result of grace received. It b not only commanded. Not only is it a necessary part of Christian obedience. It is the outworking of faith which is the gift of God. It is prompted and inspired by the Spirit of Christ. It is the strength which cometh from above in which it is accomplished.
Let us see, then, how the use of grace is a means of grace; how every work done for Christ and for Christ's sake, strengthens the doer with new strength from above. Thus we shall learn how true it is that Almighty God, Who supplies seed to the sower and bread for the eating, will supply and multiply your seed sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness.
Ye might expect this to be true from the analogies which are constantly under our observation. It is universally true that use gives strength and facility. [143/144] Physically, the use of any class of muscles gives them power and dexterity. We see this in the acquisition of all trades and mechanic arts. I need only refer to the strength of the right arm, the dexterity of the fingers of the skillful hand, the unerring precision of the practiced eye, the suppleness of limbs by which feats of agility are done which astonish us. Everybody knows how surely "practice makes perfect." It is the same with all mental exercise. The use of faculties develops and strengthens them. The possibility of all education depends upon the fact that use gives enlargement of capacity, strength aid facility. Thus prolonged and strenuous attention is the secret of great accomplishment in every department of study. By exercise memory becomes retentive, the perceptions quick, the judgment sure, the understanding strong, the will indomitable in action. So it is in every branch of special study, or practice, as music, sculpture, painting. So, too, with the powers by which beauty in nature or art is appreciated.
From such analogies, which might, of course, be multiplied to any extent, it should be expected that the same or a similar law would be operative in the various kinds of work and duty of which the Church of God is the sphere. It might be expected that the constant acting in faith would give strength to faith; that love would be intensified as it is concentrated upon objects that call it forth and employ its energies; that hope would become as the [144/145] anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast, as it is cast within the veil of the Sanctuary, and that all the fruits of the spirit would grow and abound in proportion to the degree of their culture. For, in addition to the natural effect of use to develop and strengthen the faculties, in addition to the confirming of habits of action by exercise, the special grace of God is promised as the enabling power of every act of obedience, every exercise of a right disposition. Not only does the appetite grow by what it feeds on, not only do the desires, the affections, the voluntary powers gain by use in intensity, in scope, in capacity. but as their exercise depends upon grace prompting and co-operating, and as all the grace needed for use is promised and bestowed, so new grace will be required and given as the capacity for it enlarges, as the powers of the soul are expanded. Hence increase of use secures increase of grace. And hence the ratio of the increase of power to him who is employed in doing good after the example of Christ and in obedience to Him, is, so to speak, geometrical. It is a process of constant multiplication, not simply the addition of a fixed quantity. For there are two laws that are operative: the law of natural increase of capacity and power by the use of the faculties, and the spiritual law by which grace is always sufficient, and is given the more, as more is capable of being improved by the growing and enlarged capacities of the spiritual nature. Hence the babe in Christ, or the child in respect of [145/146] Christian growth, using all the grace or the divinely imparted power that is possible, requires far less than can be appropriated and used by one who is reaching a maturity of godliness and approximating to the measure of the stature of Christian manhood. We ought not, therefore, to be surprised when we see examples of saintly men and women by whom labors for Christ and His Church, which call for extraordinary powers of zeal, energy and endurance, are successfully prosecuted. There is, indeed, no work which is so difficult, if it be acceptable to Christ, if love prompts and demands it, if faith can conceive it possible and undertake it, for the accomplishment of which abundant grace will not be given. There are no capacities for effort which grace will not fill, no powers so great that grace can not enlarge and energize them.
Let us look at the subject a little more in detail. Take the case to which the text has primary reference, that of generous, abundant sacrifice in the way of giving for Christ and for the Church, especially of giving to the extent that involves real self-denial and sacrifice. You sow the seeds of charity by bestowment of your bounties upon others. Suppose it to be for the relief of suffering. See the reward in the good result and the gratitude and love by which you are more than repaid. But more than this. See your own spiritual advancement. You are a certain degree less selfish than before. You are a perceptible degree more compassionate. You are more like your Master, [146/147] Who went about doing good and gave His life, every moment of it, for our unspeakable advantage. Your disposition to give has been intensified. By the grace of God you are larger and greater in one of the chief elements of Christian manliness.
Suppose it to be for the spread of the Gospel. Your little gift, all you can bestow, enough to require that you should deny yourself something which otherwise you might have thought indispensable, accompanied with prayer, as it must and always will be if you are in earnest, will be the means, it may be, of saving a soul from death. It may help most materially, though it be in itself little-- for the aggregate of many littles makes the great--to advance Christ's kingdom in the world. How much better you are for the consciousness that you have been working with Christ, working to carry out the objects for which He gave His life. How much you are exalted in the sphere of being by the companionship to which your Lord admits you.
But besides this, your interest in the cause for which you pray and give is increased thereby, just as your love for a friend is enhanced by what you have done and suffered for him. You are measurably re-endowed or newly endowed with grace. You are more disposed and more enabled to give, and pray, and labor for objects to which your heart has become more devoted. So it is that he who ministereth seed to the sower and bread for the eating [147/148] hath increased and multiplied your seed sown and increased the fruits of your righteousness.
And if this kind of giving is frequent and habitual, see how surely you will grow in grace thereby. You will come to rejoice rather than complain of opportunities to do good, and calls upon your charity. Your love will the more abound. Your zeal will be quickened. Your energies will reach a key of steady tension which will not let you flag or give way to the selfish love of ease, or pleasure, or money, or yield to outward difficulties and discouragements. And so the old paradox of Solomon's proverb is made plain and consistent: "There is that scattereth and yet increaseth, and there is that withhold-eth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty."
And as it is with giving, so it is also with working, for the two things are not so essentially different as is often imagined. In fact, labor is represented by money. All wealth is the product of labor and the intelligence employed therein. Everything is valuable in the ratio of the labor it costs and the ability that directs or is given to the labor. If gold were a common metal and could be mined with as little difficulty as lead or copper, its value would be reduced accordingly. It is a general principle of the older Political Economy that labor is the measure of all values. If we must modify this by adding to labor, mind, ability, intelligence, that makes labor fruitful, it does not alter the principle. Hence, to give the labor of a day, [148/149] and to him who cannot do this, the wages of a day's labor, are equivalent. Some must give work. Some must give money. The money will employ the laborers. But in such case the money must be given not for praise, not with indifference, not as a superfluity, not as costing nothing, but with a sense of what it is worth and what it can do, with real interest and prayer for the blessing of God to accompany it.
Now, this is the law. Use gives strength. Improvement of grace, in action accordant with its prompting, results in increase of grace and capacity of accomplishment. "To him that hath and of consequence useth what he hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundance, while from him that hath not shall be taken away that which he hath, or seemeth to have." He to whom were given ten talents and who had the grace to use them, gained ten other talents besides. He who had one talent, and hid it in the earth, had his one talent taken from him. You who have given some portion of your time to God in labors on behalf of the ignorant, the unconverted, or the poor and suffering, have no doubt felt yourselves growing into a higher type of manhood. Every act of goodness prompted by grace, has been to you a means of grace. Every good resolve the Spirit of God has helped you to make, has been attended with the grace for its fulfillment. When a man who has wandered away from God comes to himself, and says, "I will arise and go to my Father," and [149/150] does at once arise and set his face heavenward and begins to act accordingly, he will find that he will have the strength to do it, however impossible it may have seemed before. "Stretch forth thy hand," said the Lord to the man whose hand was withered. The faith came with the word, to make the effort, and with the effort the strength came that made the obedience easy and the cure effectual. So he or she who undertakes to teach in the Sunday-school or the Bible class, or by diligent, systematic visiting, to gather the uncared-for into the Church of God, to conduct a Mothers' meeting or a Cottage lecture, to do hospital work, to visit the sick and give relief and prayers and consolation, or to do any of the works by which the Church is edified and extended, and souls added to the Lord, will find such labors growing more and more easy and delightful. What was at first done ill, is by and by done well. What was at first a task, becomes a pleasure. Perseverance conquers all difficulties. The secret is that the use of grace gives larger measures of grace and strength. Not only is this plainly taught in the Word of God, but all experience verifies it.
Such, dear brethren, is the law. Work in grace is a means of grace. It is a means of such high value and efficacy that all other means without this may be ineffectual. What is prayer without interest in what you pray for, without effort, whenever practicable, to obtain that which you ask of God? What is prayer without work? [150/151] Of what avail would be the Sacrament without prayer? What would be the Word of God to one who never prays? Prayer and work are inseparable. Prayer and work are conditions of continuing in grace, and of all growth in grace. See, then, your encouragement. You who are endeavoring to do your duty in the Church of God, earnestly striving to do Christ's work, go on in this good way. It is the way of happiness here. It is your sure training for eternal blessedness. In due season you shall reap, if you faint not. Therefore be not weary in well doing. He who ministereth seed to the sower and bread for sustenance will increase and multiply your seed sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness.