Living and Dying unto the Lord
A Missionary Sermon, Preached at Christ Church, Montpelier, Vermont, Sunday, April 27, 1890.
By J. C. Flanders.
Montpelier, Vermont: Argus and Patriot Job Printing House, 1890.
ROMANS XIV: 7, 8.
None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.
In one of the Canons of the Church it is made the duty of the Clergy to "diligently instruct" all the people in their charge "concerning the missionary work of the Church at home and abroad, and to offer suitable opportunities for contributions from time to time for the maintenance of that work." It is a duty not infrequently neglected, and because of this neglect the difficulties in the way of its accomplishment are, of course, only increased, for one of the greatest obstacles to the furtherance and success of our missionary work lies in the ignorance of the people at large concerning the principles that underlie it, the means and methods employed, and the accruing results. They are not very apt to take their Bibles and study the question for themselves; they are not inclined to purchase periodicals that deal with this matter and so inform themselves as to its workings. Their ideas upon the subject are, therefore, based upon a hearsay, as likely false as true, and their interest is in accordance with their information, weak or wholly wanting. Moreover, when it is found that the underlying principle of all missionary work is personal self-denial, why then there is in most people a sufficient modicum of selfishness to convert anything of interest they may have entertained into a suddenly awakened prejudice. And so it comes to pass that the clergy who fail to instruct the children of their own generation in missions, as the Canon provides, are but heaping up burdens of prejudice which in some future generation will with much greater difficulty be removed. It is my purpose from now on to attempt the faithful performance of my duty in this respect. And I am confident that in so doing [2/3] I shall best advance your own individual interests as churchmen, the interests of this Parish, and the interests of the Church at large. I am also fully persuaded that whatever lack of interest, whatever repugnance, there may be among you as respects this subject, is due in many cases wholly, and in all cases largely, to lack of information, misrepresentation, and a failure to rightly understand the strong churchly principles that lie at the base of all our missionary undertakings and projects.
I should not, however, have spoken to you upon this subject to-day had I not been moved to do so for a special purpose. I have a plan which I desire to put into operation concerning our missionary offerings, one which past experience has taught me will be most helpful and beneficial in its results. You are aware that for the support of our missions in this Diocese and as a means of rendering some small aid to the work beyond, each parish is assessed annually a certain sum, based upon an average of one dollar per communicant. For the collection of this money an offering is taken in Church once every three months, and forwarded to the Treasurer of the Diocese. Now this method is well enough as far as it goes, but it lacks several things to make it completely satisfactory and successful. In the first place, these quarterly offerings do not represent the gifts of the whole parish, but only such a portion of it as may chance to be in Church on the appointed Sunday. Secondly, many of those who are present when the offering is taken are not prepared for it because of their absence from Church the previous Sunday, when notice was given. Thirdly, if the appointed Sunday be a stormy one, the congregation is apt to be small, and the offering will be proportionately reduced. This was the case with our last offering, which instead of a mounting to the required quarter of our assessment, was only a trifle over one-eighth of it. And so a deficiency will result. Now, in order to avoid these and other like hindrances, I propose to make a slight addition to our present system. The quarterly offerings will still be continued, notice of the same being given the previous Sunday; but besides this every person in the parish will be given an opportunity during the next two weeks of entering his or her name in a book provided for that purpose, together with the amount they feel willing and able to give quarterly for the support of our missionary work. Each [3/4] person will also be provided with envelopes upon the face of which will be printed the month in which the offerings should be made, so that in case a person should not be in Church upon the appointed Sunday he may still make his offering upon the next or any subsequent Sunday, the envelope designating its purpose. These two things are all that I ask of you: first, that you will indicate your subscription in a book; second, that you will place your offering in an envelope. I trust you will not find these two things too difficult to grant.
The success of this system depends to a great degree, of course, upon your willingness to adopt it. If a part of you hold back, you will discourage others, and the work will prove a failure. If, on the other hand, you will all give it a trial, I will guarantee that our assessment will always be faithfully, promptly, and easily met. By this method many an offering will be secured which was lost under the old system because of absences from Church when the quarterly collection was taken. And I may add that several persons who do not or cannot come to Church, have already promised me their subscriptions. I have one or two requests to make:—l. That in entering your subscriptions you will be guided by two things, your willingness and your ability. Subscribe just what you feel able to and just what you are glad to—no more, no less. 2. Do not let lack of ability hinder you from giving something; your name and example are needed quite as much as anything else. And offerings are asked from one cent upward. 3. Do not let one individual represent the whole family. If as a family you can give only such a sum, divide that sum up among the several members, that each may have a name and a part in the work. And, above all else, I ask that you will allow your children to have a part and interest in this work. Let their names be entered in the books, and let them with their own hands make their offering. You will find that it will interest them deeply; and, what is better and more to the point than all else, you will find that it will instruct them wonderfully. It is my habit to depend quite as much upon the children for the prosperity of my work as upon grown people; it is my constant effort and desire to plant in them the seeds of good churchmanship and true religion, to teach them to work for missions, and to interest them in every possible [4/5] way in missions is to teach them that the Church is not a local society, not a collection of organizations, but an indivisible unit, a Body, every member of which must be in sympathy and harmony with the whole. It is to teach them that Christlike love which embraces something more than its immediate surroundings and associates; that the word "neighbor," in the true Christian sense of it at least, has an interpretation upon the lips of Christ that renders it impossible to limit it to any parish, town or state, but makes it commensurate with the world. And so I ask you to aid me in training up a generation of men and women strong and wise to support the interests and burdens of the Church when they fall upon them, and strong and wise enough to teach their children in turn what they themselves have known. And I tell you that the broadest and truest foundation that you can lay for this purpose, is to be found just here, in a devotion to missions. Teach your children to love the whole Church, to work and pray for the salvation of all men, and you will find that so you have best strengthened them for faithfulness to their immediate interests. Work done for the Body as a whole cannot fail to be of advantage to each member of the same.
And now a word with more direct reference to the text: "None of us liveth unto himself," says the apostle, "and no man dieth unto himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord's." Here we have a principle upon which the very life and progress of the Church are built, It is the root of all individual holiness, the consecration of every Christian effort, the basis of all right thought and action, the key to every successful missionary enterprise. And why? Because it is the essence of obedience and love. Because it is the death blow to narrowness of effort and selfishness of motive. It is a principle that every Christian man and woman must recognize. When we stood by the font to renounce the world, the flesh and the devil, to whom did we give ourselves? Whose seal was then placed upon our foreheads? Or when we knelt at the altar rail under the shadow of the apostolic hands, and renewed the solemn promise and vow of our baptism, and were sealed with the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit, was there any reservation made? Did [5/6] we keep back part of the price? A servant of Christ, a soldier of the cross! These are significant terms, my brethren; how shall we interpret them with reference to this missionary work? What I ask you, you who have given yourselves body and soul to Christ, in submission to His will, in obedience to His law, what, first, is the spirit of a Christian life? Need I remind you that there is but one? "Diversities of gifts, but the same spirit." The Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of Him Who went about doing good, Who forsook the glory that He had with the Father, and humbled Himself even to the death upon the cross, not for you and me alone, but for us miserable sinners all. The spirit that anointed Paul preaching the Gospel upon his missionary journeys, glorying in tribulation, and declaring himself a debtor both to the Greeks and Barbarians; both to the wise and the unwise. The spirit of saints and apostles, of prophets and martyrs. The spirit which knows no controversy save that of truth with error, no name save that inscribed upon our foreheads, no work but in the name of Christ. The spirit that prays "Thy kingdom come," and would no more limit duty and obligation than it would limit that kingdom to any parish, diocese or nation. The spirit of Christian life is something more than a mere sentiment. It is not enough to utter prayers with the lips, to make the creed a formula, to kneel here confessing ourselves miserable sinners, or at the Lord's table to partake of the children's bread. Character is measured by principle, life by its achievements. Hence to catch the spirit of this life is to identify ourselves. with Christ, to enter into partnership, as it were, with Him in His labors; to watch, and work, and pray, with a heart full of loving faith and confidence, and with a single object- before the mind, that His kingdom may come in all the world, in every nation and every heart, and His "will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
But this is not all. Side by side with the spirit stands another element, which may be called "The power of life." The animating impulse, the ennobling purpose would be useless without the ability to develop and perform. And can we say that God has given one and withheld the other? Demanding the tale of the bricks, has He withholden the straw? Surely not. God is not a hard master, reaping where he has not [6/7] sown, and gathering where He has not strewed. Rather let us say that we hide His treasure in the ground. Christ did not overestimate the means when He gave commandment that His Gospel be preached to every creature throughout the world. To every one, according to his ability, God has given strength.
I know not, indeed, the measure of that ability which He has put into your individual lives. But I know that you have each one of you some ability. I know that the poorest among you can give his mite; and that it were equally culpable to withhold it as if it were a gift more flattering to his pride. I know that the most unlettered among you can speak a word of praise, encouragement and sympathy, thus sowing a seed that will yet bear fruit. I know that by word and deed, by devotion and prayerfulness, each one of us may kindle a flame in his own home whose light and warmth shall be seen and felt beyond.
Now, my brethren, I should like, if I had the time, to show you what we, the churchmen of Vermont, upon whom the light of God's Holy Spirit has been shed, in whose hands has been placed the power to do, are actually accomplishing in the cause of Christ and for the spread of His kingdom. It is in one sense a good work; but it has a terrible defect, in that it is extremely selfish; we act upon the defensive, but accomplish very little in the shape of an aggressive work. About four per cent. of the whole yearly income of the diocese is devoted to the support of missions in the State, and about one per cent. to the spread of Christ's kingdom in the rest of the world.
And in view of these facts I do not think it too much to say that ours is a selfish work. I know that many stand ready to reply to this with the declaration that it is quite as it should be, that here lie our immediate interests, here we have all that we can take care of. But such people forget one or two things. They forget that this Church, for example, has stood here now for some years, and that it must continue to stand here as the trainer of successive generations even to the last great day of final account; and that if it now demands the exclusive interest of its people, it will always do so, and so there will never be a time when missionary work can be done. And they forget that if others had been equally aunmindful as they, the [7/8] light of the Gospel had never shone in our midst. They forget, too, that when they so speak they are rating very cheaply the value of those unconverted souls for whom Christ died, and unduly exalting above them the value of their own.
I care not to disparage home work. It is a great and noble thing to be engaged in shedding the light of the Gospel upon those who are near to us both by the ties of relationship and association. But is Christ's kingdom to be thus limited? Can we thus interpret the meaning of that petition in the prayer we so often utter, "Thy kingdom come?" Duty lies around us in concentric circles. The innermost embrace' ourselves, our families, our neighborhood, our town, our parish; the larger and outermost embrace the vast fields which the Church is commissioned to convert. He who limits his prayers and his energies to the closest and most intimate circles, has no clear conception of duty and of the wide sweeping demands of Christ's kingdom. The separation of the great body of Christian people into individual folds or parishes, has tended to narrow personal interest and personal effort. It has caused us to lose sight of the important fact that we are members not of this or that parish, but of the Church Catholic. Our lives reach out from our own little centers into the great surging sea of life. Like a great vine, the Church takes root in every land, and our separate communions, separate only in the sense of locality, are the branches which exist only by their connection with the vine.
The mission of the Church of Christ is given to us. Our missions to-day are putting our integrity to the test. One of two things must be true; either we are living to ourselves, or we are living to the Lord. There can be no mistake here. If we are living to the Lord we are in fellowship with Him, we are identified with His work. And as He freely gave up all for us, we cannot be in Him, and like Him, and serve Him in that which costs us nothing. This is not sacrifice, it is not charity, it is not self-denial. May God give us grace to see this matter in the clear light of truth; may He put into our minds good desires; and in this and all our aims for the good of His Church, the welfare of His people, and the glory of His name, may we be found faithful and acceptable in His sight.