Project Canterbury








On Sunday Evening, February 15th, 1835,






Minister of the Mission Church of the Holy Evangelists, Vandewater-street, New-York










Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2007


AND WHAT SHALL WE DO?--Luke iii. 14.

Such was the question addressed to the faithful Baptist by several distinct classes, whom his startling call to repentance had roused from the slumber of indifference, or arrested in the bold career of guilt. It was, in substance, successively repeated by the people at large, by the publicans, and by the soldiers. He had so placed their sins in array before them, and so depicted the holiness of God and the retributions of eternity, as to make them supremely anxious to "flee from the wrath to come." It was therefore in the spirit of newly-awakened, but intense anxiety for the safety of the soul, and of incipient willingness to know and to do the will of God, that these startled and repentant multitudes inquired, class by class, "And what shall we do?" Their question evidently included the two particulars, of securing personal safety from threatened wrath, and of ascertaining, in order to obey, the rule of specific duty for their respective stations in life. The answer had reference to both particulars; for, in addition to the great essentials of "repentance toward GOD, and faith toward the Lord JESUS CHRIST," which were equally urged upon them all, the Baptist gave to each class a reply suited to their peculiar circumstances, temptations and habits.

Thus considered, my brethren, the question of the text, and the manner in which it was met, will bring into view some general principles of fundamental importance, specially appropriate to the occasion on which we are assembled. Would to GOD, that these might be so elucidated and enforced, as to induce every individual here present to ask of his own conscience, and of the oracles of truth, in all earnestness of Spirit, "And what shall I do?"

[4] Retaining, with a slight accommodation and extension, both the spirit and the application of the text, the positions which it will lead me to assume, and which I shall endeavor to establish, are the following:

I. That none are wanting in the power or exempt from the obligation of doing somewhat for the cause of CHRIST; and consequently, that the question of the text is one of universal concern and application.

II. That the impulse to do somewhat that shall meet the Divine requirement, is an invariable characteristic of the newly-awakened spirit.

III. That distinct classes and associations of men have their distinct spheres of duty, and their specific correlative obligations.

These topics having been discussed, the question of the text will be considered and answered, in its immediate reference to the association before which it is now my privilege to speak.

I. None are wanting in the power, or exempt from the obligation of doing somewhat for the cause of CHRIST; and consequently, the question of the text is one of universal concern and application.

God formed nothing in vain. Trite as is this remark, and obvious as may seem this truth, its clear perception is necessary to my argument. The mere matter of the visible world receives its properties from its infinitely wise Creator, and is made instrumental to the furtherance of his purposes; and even its smallest particle has its design and use, in the vast and varied economy of the universe. In the lower forms of the animate creation, whether in the vegetable or animal kingdom, the law of instinct is silently responded to, and passively obeyed; so that, not only through the varied departments of life and feeling, but through the whole range of the natural elements, "all things, even to the wind and the storm, fulfil His Word" by whom they were created.

Now, that GOD, who thus causes "all his works to praise him," who makes subservient to his will, and instrumental to [4/5] his glory, creatures and agencies which have no consciousness of the impulse by which they act--of the will which they obey--and no moral motive in the course which they pursue--exempts not his intelligent creation from the great law of exertion, of practical usefulness on the theatre of earthly action. The felicity even of the glorified spirits of heaven, we are expressly assured, is associated with high and heavenly, yet ceaseless duties; and however it be with them, man certainly comes into the world under the implied obligation to discharge certain duties in and to the world, and by these, to glorify the name, and help onward the purposes of Him who framed, sustains and governs the world. His own conscience records, presents, pleads, and enforces this law of obligation; society recognises it, and upon it bases its own law of mutual obligation, its own exactions upon the time, the talents, the skill, the substance of its individual members. But Christian man, by which is here intended man born under "the light of the everlasting Gospel," under the established empire of the Prince of Peace, receives the boon of existence under obligations of a higher grade, of greater moment, and having respect to a more enduring state. There are claims upon him more sacred than any connected with time and temporal things, with his domestic or civic associations. Not only is it required of him, that in his earthly stewardship "he should be found faithful"--that "whatsoever he doeth he should do it heartily as unto the LORD, and not unto men"--but there is a whole class of duties which the Gospel originates, in reference to which he must ask "what he shall do," from the Author of the Gospel, and answer to him for what he hath done. That Gospel places him in a new attitude, both to his fellow-men and to "God, the Judge of all." Taking cognizance of him as one of its legitimate subjects, and holding him responsible to CHRIST, as his sovereign Lord, it binds upon him the whole law of evangelic observance and of evangelic charity. It speaks to him of his soul, already perhaps but too long neglected, and its very existence almost forgotten, amidst worldliness and sin. It presents to him this soul darkened and degraded by the Fall, and stained by personal [5/6] sin. It tells him of its "redemption by blood divine;" its possible sanctification through the eternal SPIRIT; and binds it upon him as his first and highest duty, to secure its priceless salvation, through the rich provisions of the Gospel system. Passing beyond himself, it bids him think of the souls of others--the myriad souls, which, in this sin-stained world, are "perishing for lack of knowledge"--and to see to it, as far as in him lies, that upon them, also, may be brought effectively to bear, the restoring, sanctifying, saving economy of the Gospel.

Yes, my brethren, to all who are privileged to hear the voice of its teaching, and to inquire from its oracles of truth "what they must do?" the Gospel answer is this, Give all diligence to make your own calling and election sure, and love your neighbors as yourselves, that they also may have "the like precious faith"--a part in the same "great salvation."

Such is its universal requirement, from obedience to which it gives no dispensation. It challenges the cordial assent of every mind, the love of every heart, the witness of every life, and the furtherance of every hand. Whether men will hear or will forbear, whether they admit or spurn its requisitions, in every case these requisitions are made, and that too with all authority. Its equitable tribute is levied upon all who dwell within its borders, who have heard the promulgation of its laws, and who are sharers in its external privileges. Instead of admitting the indifference, the worldliness, the enmity of men as valid excuses for withholding this tribute, it charges their delinquency against them, in the book of its remembrance, and holds them additionally guilty for the very frames and feelings which they are wont to plead in justification. Popularly it is imagined, that because the natural man is disinclined to the service of God--to the course of Christian activity, these will not be required from him. The Scripture clearly dissipates this delusion--writing it in broad and legible characters, that "God commandeth all men every where to repent," and those who have repented to "do works meet for repentance," and those who have received the Gospel, no longer "to live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again." Stretching the pall of its righteous [6/7] authority over the wide extent of Christendom, it pronounces the apathy or aversion which keeps men back from its duties, their personal sin. And on the opposite ground, note, my brethren, the glaring inconsistencies and fearful consequences involved. The claims of God, and the duty of man, are suspended upon the variant feelings, the waywardness and perversity of man. Obligation is not admitted to exist until man acknowledges and has the heart to fulfil that obligation; and thus, all conscience of sin is weakened or removed; a blow struck at the root of all responsibility; and a bounty and encouragement offered to continuance in sin, by representing the carnal mind and heart as the sufficient apology for those who walk in the ways of their own heart, and the sight of their eyes, and according to their own lusts. Surely, my brethren, even reason itself would disavow a fallacy like this. It is the invariable tendency of habitual transgression, to render men blind, callous, insensate; and from those whom it has thus incapacitated, it were vain to expect the perception and acknowledgment of existing obligation; nor is this on their part at all necessary to the validity of such obligation. Neither conversion nor profession originates the claims of Christian duty. They do but open the blinded eyes to perceive those which were previously in full force, and cause them to overflow with tears of contrition for past neglect, and send forth the reclaimed idler to the works of his calling, in the full spirit of that calling. But deny this, and assert that the whole evangelic law was of no force until the hour of penitence, and faith, and heaven-implanted zeal arrived, and you virtually abrogate all sin, and give plenary indulgence to all the wicked; for "sin is the transgression of the law," and according to the hypothesis, the law was not binding until conversion, and conversion disposes to its immediate fulfilment; and so there is no space left, no, not a moment of time for the imputation of sin; and thus, the whole unbelieving, non-professing, godless world, is justified at once, being left entirely at ease, and represented as perfectly safe in sin; while the whole burden of Christian duty is transferred from them to those who have the Christian spirit. The common [7/8] and fatal mistake which has been so long enshrined in popular sentiment and feeling on this point, has been the more fully exposed, both in its abstract folly, and in its absurd and impious consequences when fairly carried out--with a view to the establishment and enforcement of the opposite general principle, viz.: that THE OBLIGATIONS OF DUTY DERIVE THEIR FORCE FROM THE AUTHORITY IMPOSING, AND NOT FROM THE DISPOSITION, THE ASSENT, OR THE MEETNESS OF THOSE UPON WHOM THEY REST. You see, then, brethren, the conclusion to which we are led by this unquestionable principle, fairly applied to us in our Christian associations. The Gospel, with all its constraining motives, its active duties, its final responsibilities, is upon us. We must live by it, die by it, and be judged by it. Be not deceived then, ye who are yet careless and unawakened. Delude not yourselves with a fancied right of free volition in the matter; think not to say unto the Most High, "It is corban, a gift, by whatsoever thou mayest be profited by us"--it is already devoted in sacrifice to the world, and may not therefore be given unto thee. Instead of feeling comfortably self-excused, and excused before God, because you have not the heart to serve him, this, if it be indeed so, presents the Strongest of all strong motives to deep abasement, immediate repentance, and fervent prayer, that He would forgive the guilt of this untouched, unwilling spirit, and quicken it to zeal, devotedness and love. Upon you all, my brethren, without a solitary exception, rest the claims of the Lord JESUS CHRIST. You must meet them here, or answer for it to Him in righteous judgment hereafter. The indifference, the enmity of nature, are calls to effort, not dispensations from duty.--"Putting away then all vain excuses--laying aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset him," let each individual ask in all godly sincerity, "What shall I do?" and having received his answer from the oracles of truth, let him arise and act. And this leads me,

SECONDLY, to remark, That the impulse to do somewhat that shall meet the Divine requirement, is an invariable characteristic of the newly-awakened spirit.

When a man awakes from the dreamings of vanity and sin, [8/9] when he "comes to himself," and in a sound mind takes a sober view of his duties and responsibilities, "What shall I do?" is one of the first questions that is forced upward to the lips by the strong workings of the spirit within. During the whole period of estrangement from God, the predominant thought of the unsanctified mind is this; that GOD is a hard master, and the Gospel of his Son a yoke and a burden too heavy to be borne; so that the impious question is ever and anon propounded, either secretly or openly, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey him, and what profit is there if I should serve him?" Ingenuity is taxed to find plausible evasions of his service; or the bolder tone of direct defiance is assumed, and the poor creature of a day, who lives but by his will, seeks to break his bands, and cast away his cords from him, and throws back his righteous laws toward his eternal throne. But no sooner has this natural enmity been overcome, and the Gospel taken full hold upon the affections, than the mental estimates and the predominant spirit are likewise changed. A persecuting Saul is no sooner struck to the earth by the power, and addressed by the voice of that same "Jesus whom he persecuted," than he exclaims, "LORD, what wilt thou have me to do?" The multitude are no sooner pricked to the heart by the word of truth on the day of Pentecost, than they call out to the Apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" And in the same spirit, the sinful multitude at large, the extortionate band of publicans, and the ferocious soldiery, under the Baptist's preaching, all asked in the words of the text, "And what shall we do?" All these spake and acted under the impulse given in every case to the truly awakened--the impulse to do somewhat, all that they can, for their personal security, and for the discharge of incumbent obligation. Not detaining you by the labored proof, or even illustration of this fact, which is matter of direct Christian experience, I would merely remark that its inferences are vitally important. It corroborates the view that has been already presented, that obligation exists before the perception of it--before conversion. No sooner are the eyes of the understanding opened, than the obligation is seen standing in all its [9/10] reality and its magnitude; and to suppose that it was created on the instant, that it was only coeval with the spiritual change, and produced by it, would be not less absurd, than to assert that the restoration of sight to the blind, originated or created the objects which are in a moment rejoicingly beheld. Moral obligation in the one case, and sensible objects in the other, unquestionably existed before the change from darkness to light. That change only secures their perception. It furnishes further, a test of the spiritual state. Let no man boast himself of his Christian feelings or professions, who never asks of his own heart, and of his redeeming LORD, "What he shall do?" Who does not burn to do something for his Master's cause. He lacks the right spirit. "That man's religion, it is to be feared, is vain."

And this dominant impulse must lastly be viewed as the sure indication of duty. It cannot be misconstrued. Implanted by the Spirit of God, it prompts to the work of God. It is as the voice of God, saying to the believer, "Son, go work in my vineyard." He who disregards it, whose heart and whose hand never take hold with energy of the works of Christian activity, is recreant to duty, and does despite to the Spirit of GOD. Be it then remarked,

THIRDLY, That distinct classes and associations of men have their distinct spheres of duty, and their specific correlative obligations.

The common and equally-concerning duties of repentance, amendment, and faith in the coming Messiah--the Baptist, as we have seen, had pressed alike upon the whole diversified multitude that crowded, and trembled, and wept around him. But the distinct classes composing that multitude desired each its special directory of duty, and that directory was given. Their rescript of moral duty had special precepts for particular application; and so, my brethren, should and must it be to the end of time. In its facts, doctrines, and general precepts, Christianity, like its divine Author, "is the same yesterday, today, and for ever." But occupation, the different seasons of life, and special circumstances, will ever divide the great human family into distinct classes, and, consequently, require that to [10/11] each should be given "a portion in due season," and of such, moreover, as would be "convenient for it." "The children of this world," confessedly "wiser in their generation than the children of light," have long known and reaped the advantages of division of labor, in all the departments of human skill and industry. The Church has at length awaked to a sense of its importance, and practically adopted it in her whole system of evangelizing operations; having now, her separately organized bands of spiritual laborers, with a distinct field of exertion for each. The only danger to be apprehended and avoided is that of confining individual or associate zeal within the little circle of specially chosen duty--of mistaking the part for the whole--and of losing the enlarged spirit of the Christian, in the mere zeal of the party advocate, or agent. So that the one favorite cause or pursuit shall seem to its fond follower, to be identical with the Gospel itself. Temperance, for example, in one of its details, being substituted for Gospel "temperance in all things;" or, that again, for the whole sum and substance of Gospel duty; the zealous advocate and distributor of Tracts, forgetting that these are the words of men, but the Bible the word of God; while, the Bible distributor again, forgets that God, who by his Spirit, indited that blessed book, has also established a Church to guard, and a ministry to proclaim it. This unworthy insulation of zeal, and exclusiveness of effort, being prevented however, by enlightened and comprehensive views--by keeping the particular object ever subservient and auxiliary to the general object--and CHRIST first and chief, the Alpha and Omega--and his kingdom, as a whole, prominent over all the particular plans by which it is to be advanced,--the great principle of the division of labor, and the consequent concentration of individual feeling and effort, should be kept steadily in view. And even where different fields of effort may not be assigned, where one and the same great object is proposed; still there may be an advantageous classification of laborers. They who are assimilated in age, pursuits, or taste, may well be associated in effort. As the cement of their union will be nature--furnished and therefore strong--their combined action will naturally [11/12] be vigorous; while, by the severance into distinct bands, each having its own tie of union, room will be left for the exercise of a spirit of high, holy, Christian emulation, having none of the evil leaven of bitterness, envy, and malignity, belonging to human rivalry; that emulation to which the Apostle alluded, when he spake to believers of "provoking one another to love and good works." It is proper, therefore, that the classes of Christian laborers should maintain their distinct organization, while doing their Lord's will and work, and that they should ask, each for itself, "And what shall we do?"

My brethren, members of the Society whose cause it is this evening my privilege to plead! you see the position which you occupy. Not called to any new and previously untried department of labor, but being merely fellow-helpers of others, in the almost boundless field of Missionary enterprise; you still go forth as a band of brothers, having alike the yet unquenched ardor of zeal, the sanguine hopes of success, the buoyant spirits which belong to youth--in one common spirit of whole-souled devotedness, willing to consecrate the individual and associate vigor of your early days to "the LORD who bought you." A more noble, a more cheering cause than that to which you have pledged the first-fruits of your Christian zeal and strength, it were difficult to find in the whole compass of modern Christian enterprise. It is, in fact, the mainspring of the whole machinery which is to weave the garments of praise and beauty for the Church, the garments of salvation for the people. "How shall the nations hear without a preacher? and how shall men preach except they be sent?" And how shall they be sent, if not qualified? and how shall they be qualified, while the cold and iron grasp of penury binds them down to ignorance and toil? The allied cause of education and missions is that which bears most directly and most powerfully upon the destinies and the wants of the world to be converted, and of the Church which is to be sustained. Give to it, then, the whole strength of effort, the whole fervor of zeal, the full importunity of prayer. It is among the most signally owned works of GOD; and in it, [12/13] therefore, all that you do, you should do "heartily, as unto the LORD, and not unto men." Let the elasticity of youth be seen in all your movements, the freshness of early piety be over all your feelings, and the nerve and sinew of manly strength be put forth in your Master's cause. Let the question of the text be often revolved individually in your minds, and discussed with each other, and proposed on bended knee, to Him who "giveth wisdom from above;" and when the way of duty is opened before you, and a light from heaven shines upon it, in its whole extent, enter upon it with the spring and spirit of your age, and in the better, stronger spirit of your "high and holy calling."

But, why stand you so much alone? why are there so few willing to take part with you in your goodly and Christian work? while the coteries of folly are thronged; and youthful talent, and youthful energy are wasting and wearing away, amidst the toils of business, the feverish anxiety after present good, why, oh why, is not some refreshment sought, and somewhat a little elevating and ennobling aimed at, in the higher regions, and purer atmosphere of pure and undefiled religion? Why should the many thousands of our young men in this vast and favored emporium, to whom the day of life is yet in its morning freshness, bring a cloud of vanity and sin and sorrow over its brightness, and hide from themselves that Sun of Righteousness which would cheer them in their course? My young friends in this assembly, whose only ties are such as link you to folly and to sin--who keep aloof from all the associations of piety--who never ask what you can do for HIM, who did and suffered and achieved so much for you--O, that GOD, by his Spirit, would open your eyes to discern your true interest, and prompt you to your bounden duty! You have seen that the obligations of the everlasting Gospel are neither suspended nor invalidated by your disregard of them; that they are upon you in all their force, in these days of thoughtlessness and vanity, and will be required of you in the day of God's last account. How great the amount of wasted time, neglected opportunity, perverted talent, obligation unperformed, that already rests upon your endangered [13/14] souls? Will you wilfully increase it? Must day testify unto day, and night unto night; that while GOD has given you health, strength, intellect, feeling--all are remorselessly given to vanity, dissipation, and debauchery? Oh, beware! Stop while yet you may. "There is a way, (already are you entered upon it,) there is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." "You are sowing to the flesh, and of the flesh you must reap corruption." Listen to that solemn, that unearthly voice--"Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and the sight of thine eyes; but know, thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment." Turn then, I pray you. Act as those who have souls to be saved, and who care for the souls of others. Break every unhallowed band. Unite yourselves with those who aim at spiritual renovation, who consult true dignity of character, and who are working the works of righteousness and peace. [FOOTNOTE] GOD your Creator asks your reasonable service; CHRIST, who died for you, commends his Gospel to your care; the SPIRIT pleads with you; the Church which received you to her bosom, and nurtured your early years, asks you to remember your sonship; society looks to you with an anxious eye; perishing souls ask your aid.

[15] But, how shall we meet these claims? I hear it anxiously asked by the unrenewed and non-professing. Have we a right to take part in the works of Christian benevolence, and will GOD accept them at our hands? Yes, my brethren. On this point Scripture is explicit, and the course of duty clear. We have not a single hint that the want of entire meetness for Christian ordinances, disqualifies from the ordinary and external duties of the Gospel. If you have wealth, it will not, like Judas' bribe and "price of blood," be deemed unmeet for the treasury of GOD; on the contrary, that treasury will sanctify your gold. The influence possessed may surely be exerted for God, rather than against him. He has never forbidden the devotion of these, or of any other natural endowments and external advantages to his service. He spurns none who sincerely desire to promote his glory and human happiness. "He accepts according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not." The decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem was well-pleasing in his sight, although emanating from a Cyrus, himself deceived by the vanities of Heathen superstition. Assist, then, to the utmost of your power, in building up the Christian Zion. Watch around her precincts, seek to baffle the devices of her enemies, cheerfully bear the stones of her walls to her spiritual builders. Although, now, your interest in her advancement and her services is but secondary and partial, persevere, nevertheless, in "seeking to do her good." GOD will bless you in the act; and doubtless, in some day of special mercy, you will personally realize the promise, that "he who watereth, shall be watered also himself."

My friends of the congregation at large, permit me to remark, that the association which this evening asks your countenance and aid, is a token for good, in this too luxurious, too dissipated, and too worldly age. It tells well for the Church within whose pale it is found, and may be a wholesome leaven, that shall leaven the whole mass of its now youthful population. It is a blessing to the city of our inheritance, and should be hailed as an auxiliary in the cause of civic virtue and order. There is hope for that people, whose embodied youth [15/16] buckle on the armor of righteousness, and stand forth as the pledged champions of the Cross. When youthful ungodliness but too much abounds, so that parents tremble for their children, and public moralists for the cause they have at heart; parents, say, shall it want your aid, when it may receive, and discipline your sons, and ally them to all that is "pure, lovely, and of good report?" Citizens, shall it find from you no encouragement? Christians! Churchmen! Shall an association of the young, founded on gospel principles, for gospel objects, with a view to the extension of the Redeemer's Church, have the deep mortification of finding that maturity and age are alike devoid of interest in its concerns, and that it may lean for support, neither upon those who are the pillars of the social fabric, nor yet upon those who are "pillars in the house of their GOD?"

If, when the young, moved of GOD, are disposed to ask, what they shall do for his glory? and to do it with all their heart, and soul, and strength--their seniors in the world and in the Church, aid them not in their work, they put an effectual damper upon the pure flame of their early zeal, and wither the first-fruits of their strength. Let it not be so with you. Answer the well-grounded appeal now made to your Christian benevolence, gladly and liberally. Give to these youthful disciples of the Saviour, a cheering and a substantial proof of your confidence in them, your interest in their work. Help them to educate, and to send forth, the heralds of the Cross; that these heralds of the Cross may "prepare the way of the LORD," and win souls to his kingdom. Let each one contribute according to his ability, not grudgingly, after the stinted measure of avarice, and worldliness; but freely and largely; that so a new impulse may be given to the movements of this vigorous and promising association; and that of each of you it may be truly said, "He hath done what he could."

[FOOTNOTE] The Second Annual Report of the Society states that the whole number of life subscribers is six, and of annual subscribers two hundred and sixty-eight; justly adding, "a very small portion of those upon whose liberality our society has especial claims."

Let the following questions, suggested by this statement, be seriously weighed and answered.

Is it not the duty of all the young men of our Church, in this city, to become members of the Society in behalf of which the present plea is urged?

Should this duty be generally fulfilled, would it not have a most happy influence upon the religious and social character of the young of our communion? and would not the weight of zeal, talent, influence, and effort, thus brought to bear upon the Church, be sensibly felt throughout the Diocese? and would not the example be influential and salutary abroad?

Can any young man of our communion feel self-excused, while neglecting to give to the institution his countenance and support by personal membership?

Are you, my young friend, into whose hands this discourse may fall, a member? If not, will you not became such at once, and endeavor to influence others to do the same?

Project Canterbury