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A Sermon Preached in St. James' Church, Philadelphia, before and for the benefit of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in the United States of America; at the Triennial meeting of the Society, on Monday, Aug. 17, 1829.

By Benjamin T. Onderdonk, D. D.

From The Gospel Messenger: October 31, 1829 and November 7, 1829.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008

The seven Candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven Churches.--Rev. i. 20.

This is a part of the address of our Lord in St. John, when he appeared to him during his exile on Patmos. Preparatory to unfolding to him the stupendous visions, the full completion of which is still to add strong corroboration to the accumulating evidence in favour of Christianity, Jesus commissions him to address epistles of commendation, censure, encouragement, and warning, to seven of the principal churches of the time, and through them to all churches which at all times shall need similar addresses. These churches are to be addressed through the medium of their respective angels or bishops. These supreme and responsible officers in their respective churches are symbolically represented in St. John's vision; as stars, and their churches as candlesticks. This last figure, without any particular reference to the splendid vision with which it is connected, it is now designed to consider as suggesting some interesting reflections adapted to the occasion of our present meeting.

The word here translated candlestick means any utensil in which a light is placed. It gives us an idea of the character and design of the Christian Church, at once beautiful, interesting, and instructive.

All the blessings of the Saviour's religion are frequently brought to our notice in Scripture under the general term light. That religion discloses to us the character, attributes, and will of God and the path of duty. It shows us where and how pardon and Comfort are to be found. It dispels the gloom of affliction, and lights up peace, hope, and joy, in the faithful breast. Thro' all the mazes of this world's cares, trials, and perplexities, it brightens the Christian's path, and shows a rest beyond them. Amid the dark gatherings, and the dread violence, of the storms of adversity, it points to the bright bow of promise, and fixes the eye of faith upon that land of pure delight, where eternal sunshine rests upon the ransomed of the Lord. When nature is yielding to the summons to enter the gloomy valley of the shadow of death, it bids the true disciple of the Lamb even there to fear no evil; for even there the light of the Lord points to the bright regions of eternal day that lie beyond.

This light of Divine Truth, so satisfactory, so cheering, and so supporting, the Church is God's honoured instrument of holding forth for the guidance and comfort of men in this probationary state. This proposition is true of the great Catholic body of the Redeemer which, in the language of our nineteenth article of religion, is composed of all who, professing the true faith, enjoy the preaching of the pure Word of God, and the due administration of the sacraments, according to Christ's ordinance. It is true, also, according to the obvious sense of the text and context, of each constituent part of that universal body. Every such part, so duly constituted as to preserve the essential characteristics of the Catholic Church of Christ, is a candlestick, or a bearer of that light whence flow all the blessings of the religion of the Redeemer.

This truth may be considered as illustrated by the Word of God, of which the Church is the guardian and dispenser; by the sacraments which she is authorised to administer; and by the ordinances and services in which she holds out appointed means of grace and salvation.

The Church is the appointed mean of preserving and disseminating the light of the Divine Word.

Coeval with divine revelation was the appointment of an order of men, as the ministers of God's Church, for attaining and disseminating all accurate knowledge of its edifying and saving truths. For about two thousand and five hundred years (from the creation to the ministry of Moses) the only medium of the communication of God's revealed will to man was the oral instructions of the ministers of his Church. Honoured themselves with direct revelations from on high, or instructed in those which had been vouchsafed to others, patriarchs, priests, and prophets declared the will of God; and were his instruments of extending and preserving it. And when that will became the subject of written record, (as was first the case in the time of Moses,) so far was this from superseding the necessity of living teachers to disseminate a knowledge of it, that the organization of the ministry of the Church became more definite; and at every period it was the obvious will of God, as expressed by his prophet when the volume of inspired truth had become much enlarged, and its circulation greatly extended, that "the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth." And when the Church's last dispensation was brought in by the Messiah, and written revelation completed, not less obvious is the divine will that thro' the instrumentality of a ministry the truths of that revelation should be preserved and disseminated; the ministry was the honoured instrument of extending the religion of the Messiah; the Church was declared to be the pillar and ground of the truth; the edifying of the body of Christ, and the spreading of the knowledge of the Son of God, were represented as to be effected by the legitimate exercise of those functions which were committed to the Apostles and their associate ambassadors of Christ, to be handed down to the end of time; and separation from the Church or body of Christ was denounced as the source of every departure from the truth.

Thus, by divine appointment, inseparably connected with the true religion of the Redeemer, the Church may well be called, in the expressive figure of the text, a candlestick--God's chosen instrument for preserving and dispensing the light of his Divine Word. In wise and holy accordance with this characteristic, is the primitive and edifying provision for making the publick reading of the Scriptures an important part of the stated services of the Church. Here-in she appears in her legitimate character, holding forth the pure word of God for the edification and guidance of her members; by the exercise of an authority in her ministers from the same divine source whence flowed the commissions of prophets, evangelists, apostles, and even the Messiah, again announcing to the world their heavenly messages; and thus maintaining and emitting a perpetual light for man's guidance, consolation, and salvation.

In aid of the same great end is the important and extensive commission, held by the ministry of the Church, of explaining and enforcing the doctrines and precepts of Holy Writ. I am well aware, my brethren, of the magnitude of the obligation, and the awful extent of the responsibility, hence devolving on those who are honoured with this commission. It is saying indeed much of it; and what should come most seriously home to the consciences of all concerned; but it is saying no more than is justified by God's own appointment; to place this among the most important means of the Church's duly maintaining, and profitably exercising, its divine prerogative of holding for man's guidance through this probationary state, that light of the Lord which only can direct him in the ways of his laws and the works of his commandments, give him true gospel comfort and support, and carry him onward to the bright regions of eternal day. The ministry of the word, by imparting that light which is derived by diligent and careful study of the inspired Volume, accompanied with devout meditation on its contents and faithful prayer for the direction and blessing therein of God's unerring grace, may well be considered as symbolized by that ministry in the Church of old, which was devoted to preserving pure and bright the light which, in the holy candlestick, was kept continually burning in the sanctuary of the Most High.

And very necessary for the encouragement of those whose is this sacred ministry in the Christian church, and a most powerful motive to their diligence and fidelity, is the consideration suggested by the fact exhibited in the same vision whence the text is taken, of the Son of Man, the gracious Saviour, walking in the midst of the candlesticks, vouchsafing that presence with his churches, which, while it manifests an inspection and supervision that should call loudly on all his ministers for the utmost of their zeal and devotion, is also to them a blessed earnest of that directing and supporting grace and care, with out which all their efforts will be in vain, and the light which they are appointed to sustain will grow dim, and sink and die.

By the administration of the sacraments, also, the Church fulfils her important function of sustaining and disseminating the light of the Gospel.

The foundation of the whole Gospel scheme is unmerited divine mercy, a covenant all grace on the part of God, and all benefit on the part of man. For entrance into the covenant, God, in his wisdom and goodness, has been pleased to appoint an interesting and significant sacrament.--When, by the use of this, his authorized representative receives a human being into that blessed covenant, pledges to him the divine compassion and grace, and puts him into the appointed way of salvation, a most impressive view is exhibited of our entire need of God's mere will, in order to enjoy the inestimable blessings of satisfaction and salvation. That is hallowed by him, which, but for his appointment, would be worthless for any spiritual effect. That is made a mean and pledge of his grace and mercy which, in itself, were but an idle ceremony. Man's entire dependance is illustrated by the fact, that he must seek God's favour in a way which, having no natural connexion with religious duty, is made such only because God pleases to have it so. Thus is set forth the important fact that we must, in order to be in the appointed way of grace and salvation, pass, by a visible transition, from the uncovenanted state of nature, to that state of covenant with God which he is pleased to make consequent on the reception of holy baptism. And this strongly exhibits the melancholy truth, that of ourselves we are alienated from God, unable to save ourselves, and without hope in the world; and the accompanying blessed truth, that God has provided a way for our obtaining, through Christ, that holiness here, and everlasting happiness hereafter, which, but for his sparing, sanctifying, and saving mercy, could never be ours.

Thus is the light thrown, by this blessed sacrament, on the method of God's grace and mercy in the Redeemer. And when, as a mean and pledge, it is duly improved by its favoured recipient, it opens to him all the fulness of that gospel light which will safely direct him in the path of duty, cheer and console him in every trial, animate and sustain him in the work of salvation, illumine the passage of his soul through the dark vale of death, and conduct him finally to the brightness of the Church's triumphant glory in the heavens.

But in his progress thither, his faith must be kept clear, and lively, and active, and his spirit be nourished, and his strength recruited, by the grace of God in Christ.--And here, too, visible means and pledges of this grace are provided in the blessed sacrament of the Eucharist. There is set forth the lively memorial of the great sacrifice for sin, presenting to the view of the faithful the symbols of the body and blood therein offered. In this appointed commemoration has been, and to the end of time will be, handed down incontestible evidence of the death of Christ as an atonement for sin. Never could an observance, claiming to have been a publickly received memorial of a transaction contemporary with its origin, have been imposed upon the world. It is absurd to suppose, that an ordinance then established had been observed for generations in memory of an event of which it was constituted, at the time, of the appointed memorial. Emphatically, then, may it be said of the Eucharist, in the language of St. Paul, that it shows the Lord's death till he come, till his final advent to close this scene of mortality and probation. While the world stands this ordinance will be incontestible evidence that Christ did die as a propitiation for sin. Whenever and wherever it is celebrated according to his appointment, there is set up a pure and holy light, drawing the view of faith to the Lamb Of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

And that view thither directed, in the true spirit of Christian penitence, humility, devotion, and undivided trust, cheering beams of hope consolation, peace and joy, will shine upon the soul. The body given, & the blood shed, received by faith with thanksgiving, will seal to the recipient a full and free pardon through the great atonement, and convey to him the strengthening, refreshing, sanctifying, and saving influences of the grace of God. These influences, duly improved, will draw around him the blessed beams of that heavenly light which will direct him in the right path, and enable him to go on his way, strong in the faith, and rejoicing in the hope of the Gospel; cheered and animated through all trials and difficulties, until even the dark gates of death will open on his happy spirit a flood of everlasting day.

And if particularly in the sacraments which it is divinely appointed to dispense, the Church is God's honoured instrument for holding out to men the light of heavenly truth and consolation; so also does this appear in the services and ordinances generally of that religion of which it is the constituted guardian and medium of conveyance.

Wherever the true Christian worship of God is duly established, and the ministrations of his authorized ambassadors faithfully performed, there is set up, and preserved, a pure and holy light flowing from God to his people in the influences of his grace, and reflected from them towards him in the spirit and exercise of evangelical devotion. He is held forth to them as the legitimate object of their adoration.--His nature, attributes, and acts are presented to their view in their most endearing and engaging forms, and the contemplation and reverence of them brought home to their hearts, as rules of faith, and motives to obedience, in the most powerful and interesting manner. Their view is perpetually directed to the great object of Christian faith, Jesus Christ and him crucified, as the only hope and refuge of perishing sinners. They are brought to the foot of his cross, there, in all humility, penitence, and faith, to look up for relief from the burden of their sins, and escape from the terrors of God's violated laws. They have the divine Sanctifier, the Holy Spirit, presented to their view as the only author of whatever of holiness, purity, and sincerity, can characterize their spiritual state. And at the end of all their hopes of being enabled, by God's grace, to worship and serve him, they see disclosed the Intercessor at his right hand, through whom the acceptance and blessing can be enjoyed.

In all these remarks, my brethren, on the various ways in which the Church may justly be termed a candlestick, or bearer of the light of the Gospel, I have had anxiously in view, for the purpose, not of invidious comparison, but of serious practical improvement, the methods adopted by our own portion of Christ's church for profitably sustaining that character.

With a ministry deriving its authority in direct succession from Christ and his apostles, with standards of faith partaking of all the purity and fulness of revelation, and with ministerial services rich in the direct use of the word of God, and fraught with all that in soundness of faith, fervency of devotion, purity of religious motive, elevation of religious feeling, and the full recognizing of religious obligation, can come up to the Gospel model, it holds the light for the guidance and comfort of its members, and would draw to it the admiration, and commend it to the reception of the world. The blessed sacraments it invests with whatever in form and manner can secure the due appreciation of their character and efficacy. In the ordinance of confirmation, designed to intervene between admission into the Church and the highest act of its communion, it makes a most interesting and affecting exhibition of the obligations and responsibilities of the Christian covenant. The daily services of the temple it invests with every view of God and man, of sin and pardon, of natural depravity and sanctification by grace, of condemnation and salvation, of man's inability and the all-sufficiency of redeeming mercy, which can secure a pure, holy, and evangelical homage and one offered with an understanding enlightened in all the precious truths and salutary requisitions of the Gospel. In sickness and affliction it visits its members with the most serious calls and warnings, and with the brightest hopes and consolations, of God's inspired word. And after depth, it draws down light from the heavenly sanctuary for the improvement and comfort of survivors.

Thus efficient, brethren, is our portion of Christ's church in fulfilling the character of God's instrument for bearing, for the benefit of mankind, the light of the ever blessed Gospel. Let us never forget, that to whom much is given, of them much will be required. We, surely, of all men must be without excuse, if, blessed with such peculiar means, our light does not so shine before men that they may see our good works, and in the consistency of our characters and lives perceive the practical value of our spiritual privileges. It is our part to add, by the soundness of our faith, and the piety of our lives, to the brilliancy of that light by which our Church would attract men to the knowledge and service of her Lord, and guide them in the way of truth and duty; which if we neglect to do, our guilt is marked with all the magnitude of awful ingratitude to God, and wilful refusal of profiting by his favours and blessings.

But our religion is one of sympathy, and not only of self. Our blessings fail to produce one half of their intended good, if absorbed, and not cheerfully and liberally reflected on all to whom their benefits may reach. Especially true is this of the inestimable gift of the light of Christian privileges and blessings. Possessed of the Church of the living God, his instrument for bearing and diffusing that light, hard and cold as ingratitude and insensibility can make it, is the heart which turns not, in affectionate sympathy, towards those who are destitute of that light, & is not filled with the holy desire and purpose of ministering to their spiritual necessities. For, brethren, many there are, bewildered in the mazes of iniquity, lost to religious feeling, and enshrouded in the blackness of moral and spiritual darkness, who have not among them the only light that can reclaim them from their degradation and misery, guide them in the ways of peace and safety, and dissipate the gloom that envelopes them.--There are the sorely afflicted, who know not of the consolations that have been lit up in your breasts, when sorrow has filled your hearts. There are the bereft who want the guidance which directs the eye of faith, to a blissful re-union in glory, honour, and immortality. There are the spiritually distressed, who feel and know their native frailty, their accumulating guilt, their distance from God, and their unfitness to hope in his mercy, who are fast sinking under an intolerable burden which they know not where or how to find relief. There is, in the awful hour of death, the combined misery of a wounded spirit and of agonized and sinking body without the alleviation which would flow from the directing and cheering light of the Gospel.

And where are these scenes? Behold they are at our very doors. Hundreds, and thousands, and tens of thousands, of our fellow citizens manifest them. A spiritual darkness that may be felt, that is most severely felt, hovers over no small portion even of our favoured land. The blessed precept of our Lord, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," and his Apostles richly fraught exhortation, "Remember them that are in bonds as bound with them, and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body," urge to a kind, a cheerful, and a liberal contribution to their relief. Set up, then, among them, the candlestick which will bear, for their guidance and consolation, the pure light that emanates from the word, the worship, and the ordinances of God.

There are clouds of even heathen darkness gathering over many and beautiful portions of our country. Infidelity reigns there. The fear of God is not there before the eyes of his creatures. Truth is fast perishing from those parts of the earth. Irreligion, immorality, and vice there triumph, and righteousness is refused an entrance. For there the Lord is not called on. There the worship and ordinances of the Church are unknown. There, therefore, the name of God continually every day is blasphemed; the son of God is trampled under foot; the blood of the Covenant is counted an unholy thing; and grievous despite is done unto the spirit of grace.--Thither, then, Christians, turn your eyes, and direct your efforts, for setting up the candlestick, for providing the Church, which is to shed abroad the convicting and converting influence of that light of the Gospel which shows the Lord terrible in might, to pursue, to overtake and to destroy the ungodly; but gracious, long-suffering winning, and holding out sanctification and salvation, to the humble and the contrite; which exhibits the Saviour in the constraining power of his suffering and redeeming love; and which discloses the offered Sanctifier, waiting to be gracious, to meet the first feeble efforts at return, to encourage and strengthen the weakest wishes, desires, and hopes, directed towards reformation, and to carry on with power the blessed work which turns men from darkness to light, and from Satan to the true acceptable, and saving service of the living God. Direct one soul in this path of conversion and salvation, and you do a work high in excellence as heaven, and lasting in its blessed consequences as eternity.

Over large portions of our country the mystery of iniquity is working, in setting up, instead of the pure truth of the everlasting Gospel, arts of man's device; whereby, in the strong language of the Apostle, damnable heresies are brought in to corrupt the minds of Christians, and turn them from the truth to wretched, impious, and blasphemous fables. Other perversion, also, of Scripture doctrines and precepts, though not so glaring, yet hardly less dangerous in their ultimate consequences, are stealing into a notice and influence which threaten the most disastrous effects on pure and undefiled religion. And in less degrees, and ways less obvious, still more numerous species of innovation on the pure doctrines and holy order of the Gospel, are undermining that beautiful fabric of the truth as it is in Jesus, which furnishes the only sure refuge to the convinced sinner, who would flee from the terrors, and lay hold on the precious promises, of the Lord.

Brethren; these things are, and their very existence, and especially their existence to the extent to which it lamentably prevails, calls most loudly upon us, not to be satisfied with our own possession of the candlestick which bears the only counteracting light, but to give, on this momentous subject, the fullest scope to those sympathies of our nature, raised by the Gospel into required evangelical graces, which teach us to feel for the woes and the deprivations of others. Woes and deprivations which affect temporal estate, and bodily necessities and comforts, being more obvious, gain a more easy access to the hearts, the hands, and the purses of the community. And God forbid that one word should be said to discourage the utmost proper efforts for their alleviation:--But that sympathy must fall short of the Gospel standard, and that benevolence sink far below the full character of Christian virtue, which regard not in their operation those necessities that relate to the soul and to eternity. If any proposition can commend itself to sound sense and to Christian principle, as true beyond dispute, it is, that a due value can there only be set on spiritual blessings and privileges, where there is a generous desire and effort to extend them. We may resist this principle as we will, and endeavor as we will, to disentangle ourselves from its consequences; still it stands secure against all just and reasonable objection. Men will make efforts and sacrifices for what they value. The true love of Christ will have a constraining influence, to which the love of the world, and the graspings of avarice, and the narrowness of selfishness, and cold insensibility, must and will yield.

And in presenting motives for the love of Christ to operate in the line of missionary effort, it is by no means necessary to roam far away. The spirit of missions, justly ranked among the most genuine fruits of the Gospel, by no means requires distant arguments in its favour. We need not search abroad for motives to its due value and full adoption. Let there be a just appreciation of the blessings of the Gospel, let the true love of Christ be stirred up in the heart, let the value of souls be duly estimated, let the character, the duties, and the benefits, spiritual, temporal, and eternal, of the Church of Christ, be owned and felt as they should be, and the cause of missions will find pleas at home more than enough to interest all the heart, and all the soul, and all the strength. If the alarming facts that hundreds, and thousands, and tens of thousands, of our fellow citizens depend yet on missionary labour for the temporal and spiritual blessings of the Gospel; that much of the infidelity, the heresy, and the wild, disorganizing, and destructive fanaticism, which, in no small portions of our country, are sapping the very foundations of the Gospel, and of the dreadful influence on social and political welfare of vice and immorality, can be effectually counteracted only by missionary enterprise; and that brethren of our own household of faith, mourning over their destitution of religious privileges, with which, in older portions of the country, they once were blessed, can have them restored only by our active sympathy in sending among them, through missionary labour, the services and ordinances of their church--if, I say, these facts are insufficient to warm our hearts, and call forth our energies, in the cause of missions, we may well fear that our sensibilities on the subject partake rather of the romantic character, which requires the constant stimulus of an interested imagination, than of that true love and devotion to the cause of Christ which builds all warmer feelings on an understanding governed by the honest truth. It may be pronounced an unmerited imputation on the holy cause of missions, to assert, or directly or indirectly intimate, that its due appreciation requires arguments drawn from distant regions. No, brethren, strong, deeply interesting, most sensibly touching, as those arguments may be and are, they are not necessary. Enough, (would to God there were not half so much!) enough, and more than enough, there is at home, to stir us up to the holiest and warmest emulation in this best of causes. Let justice be done to arguments hence arising, and all that the love of Christ and the love of the Church, and the love of souls, demand in their favour, be yielded, and nothing more is wanted, to invest the spirit of missions with its most powerful claims on the affections and the energies of our nature.

Citizens; do you value the best interests of your country, the blessings of social and civil order and fidelity? Exert the utmost of your ability to set up in every part of it that hallowed candlestick which will bear for general diffusion, the inestimable blessing, reaching every grade and sort of human welfare, of the light of the glorious Gospel.

Christians; do you own and feel the value of your religion? Provide largely and liberally for extending its influence among the destitute.

Convicted and converted sinners; have you found comfort under the grievous remembrance, and relief from the intolerable burden, of your sins? O pity those whose sins still rest, in all their enormity, upon them; and in whose blindness to their spiritual danger, no light springs up for their conviction, except you send it, through the medium of missionary labour. Pity, too, the smitten heart which owns, and feels, and sinks under, a sense of sin, but has, no resource for effectual Gospel comfort, save in missionary kindness.

Afflicted Christians, who have experienced the strong consolations and supports of the Gospel amid the trials and troubles of life; remember the multitudes of fellow sufferers who have not your refuge in the word, the worship, and the ordinances of that Gospel; but must go on their way in sorrow and in sadness, unrelieved by the light which brought you comfort, and enkindled joy even in the midst of all your grief.

Churchmen, who rightly appreciate the character of your church; show that you love it, by such efforts as are demanded for the due extension of its borders and its influence. Professions are an easy show, but deeds are a substantial proof, of principles. Christ loved the Church, and therefore gave himself for it. You profess to love it. What will you give? For that to which we are truly attached, we will gladly make sacrifices and efforts. To what we sincerely value, we will liberally and cheerfully contribute, and if there are those to whom, on the present occasion, an especial appeal should be made, it is to the professed strong friends of those peculiar and distinctive principles of our Church, in which we think we see its fairest claim to superiority among Christian communions in fitness for the character of being a candlestick for bearing God's own light in all its purity and brilliancy. Very fair and reasonable is it, to make the grade of effort and contribution in behalf of the Church, the test of sincere devotion to its cause. Be that test now applied, in the fear of God, and with a full sense of responsibility to Him, and a just estimate of duty to the Church.

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