Now, I want to say two or three very plain things about this matter, which lies very near my heart, as to some degree responsible for the amount of Christian activity and service in this my congregation. Brethren, the surrender of ourselves to Jesus Christ in acts of direct Christian activity and service will be the outcome of a real surrender of ourselves to Him in love and obedience.
I cannot imagine a person who, in any deep sense, has realized his or her obligations to that Savior and, in any real sense, has made the great act of self-renunciation and crowned Christ as his or her Lord, living for the rest of his or herlife, as so many professing Christians do, dumb and idle, in so far as work for the Master is concerned. It seems to me that, among the many wants of this generation of professing Christians, there is none that is more needed than that a wave of new consecration should pass over the church. If people who call themselves Christians lived more in habitual contact with the facts of their redeeming Savior’s sacrifice for them, there would be no need to lament the fewness of the laborers, as measured against the overwhelming multitude of the fields that are white to harvest. If once that flood of a new sense of Christ’s gift and a consequent new completeness of our returned gifts to Him flowed over the churches, then all the little empty ravines would be filled with a flashing tide. Not a shuttle moves, not a spindle revolves, until the strong impulse born of fire rushes in. And then, all is activity. It is no use to flog, flog, flog at idle Christians to try to make them work. There is only one thing that will set them to work, and that is that they shall live nearer their Master and find out more of what they owe to Him, and so render themselves up to be His instruments for any purpose for which He may choose to use them.
This surrender of ourselves for direct Christian service is the only solution of the problem of how to win the world for Jesus Christ. Professionals cannot do it. Men of my class cannot do it. We are clogged very largely by the fact that, being necessarily dependent on our congregations for a living, we cannot, with as clear an emphasis as you can, go to people and say, “We seek not yours, but you.” I have nothing to say about the present ecclesiastical arrangements of modern Christian communities. That would take me altogether from my present purposes. But I want to lay this upon your consciences, dear brethren: that you who have other means of living than proclaiming Christ’s name have an advantage, which it is at your peril that you fling away. As long as the Christian church thought that an ordained priest was a man who could do things that laymen could not do, the limitation of Christian service to the priesthood was logical. But, when the Christian church, especially as represented by us Nonconformists, came to believe that a minister was only a man who preached the gospel – which every Christian is bound to do – the limitations of Christian service to the official class became an illogical survival, utterly incongruous with the fundamental principles of our conception of the Christian church. And yet, here it is, devastating our churches today and making hundreds of good people perfectly comfortable in an unscriptural and unchristian indolence because, forsooth, it is the minister’s business to preach the gospel.
I know that there is not nearly as much of that indolence as there used to be. Thank God for that. There are far more among our congregations than in former times who have realized the fact that it is every Christian’s task, somehow or other, to set forth the great name of Jesus Christ. But still, alas, in a church with, say, 400 members, you may knock off the last cypher, and you will get a probably not too low statement of the number of people in it who have realized and fulfilled this obligation. What about the other 300 “dumb dogs that will not bark”? And, in that 360, there will probably be several people who can make speeches on political platforms, and in scientific lecture halls, and about social and economical questions – only they cannot, for the life of them, open their mouths and say a word to a soul about Him whom they say they serve and to whom they say they belong.
Brethren, this direct service cannot be escaped from or commuted by a money payment. In the old days, a man used to escape serving in the militia if he found a substitute and paid for him. There are a great many good Christian people who seem to think that Christ’s army is recruited on that principle. But it is a mistake. “I seek you, not yours.” – Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), from a meditation on 2 Corinthians 12.14.