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At other times he is equally tried by the fickleness of young converts. They appear to be sincere ; and earnest hopes concerning them are therefore cherished; yet not unfrequently, after awhile, their former levity of spirit returns, and they not only disappoint every hope, but bring an evil report upon the Christian profession. Many even of our Lord's disciples, after following Him for a time, and listening to His teaching with every indication of satisfaction and joy, “went back, and walked no more with Him."
The appearance of a spirit of error, or of faction, in the church, and the unfaithfulness of individual professors, are also causes of sore discouragement to Ministers and Pastors. Nearly all the Galatian churches were affected by this foul spirit, so that they regarded St. Paul as their “enemy,” renounced the doctrine which he taught, and even denied his apostolical commission. Many members of the Corinthian church fell into flagrant errors and sins, to the grief of St. Paul, by whose ministry the greater part of them had been turned from Heathenism to Christ and to God. Such was the violence of faithless professors of Christianity in the apostolic times, that some of them sought to terminate the life and labours of St. Paul by assassination ; so that he speaks of himself as being “in perils among false brethren,” as well as “in perils among the Heathen," and among his “own countrymen,” the Jews.
“ The thing that hath been is that which shall be ; and that which is done is that which shall be done : and there is no new thing under the sun.” The venerable Founder of our Societies often passed through fiery trials of this kind, as he has informed us in the interesting record of his labours which he has published ; and his soul was wrung with anguish when his spiritual children, the offspring of his self-denying toil, were not only alienated from him, but cherished towards him a spirit of bitter hostility.
Yet under none of these trials, nor under the whole of them combined, are the servants of Christ to despair ; 80 as either to desist from their labours, or to suffer their zeal to languish. They ought rather with patient perseverance to “endure hardness as good soldiers” of the Cross. Such fidelity is especially pleasing to the Lord Jesus, who “walketh among the golden candlesticks,” and holdeth “ the stars ” of the churches “in His right hand.” Thus He addressed “the angel of the church of Ephesus : “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil : and thou hast tried them which say they are Apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars : and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast pot fainted.”
The text suggests two considerations which were addressed to Joshua, for the purpose of producing in him a pious and cheerful courage ; and they are equally applicable to you.
1. The first of these is the fact of a Divine commission. Joshua had not assumed the command of Israel's army by his own will ; nor was he commissioned by his own people. He was the servant of God; who said to him, “ Have not I commanded thee?” This was Joshua's stay and support in the time of perplexity and peril, that he had not engaged in his bazardous undertaking under the influence of selfishness and ambition, but was the servant of the Almighty's will.
And is not this consideration, my brethren, equally applicable to you? Every true Minister of Christ is divinely called to the office which he sustains ; and in respect of this Divine call you have “witnessed a good confession ” this day; having declared before God and this congregation your persuasion" that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office and ministration, to serve God for the promoting of His glory, and the edifying of His people." This confession your fathers and brethren have accepted, confirmed as it is by your general conduct during the period of your probation. Of this Divine call I trust you will never lose the remembrance. A devout recognition of it will serve to sustain your minds in every season of temptation and discouragement. Whatever difficulties may beset your path, whether in the world, or in the church, whether in the ministration of the word, or the maintenance of Christian discipline, you will be authorised, as the servants of God, to cast your care upon Him, and to expect His guidance and all-sufficient help. If Christ have sent you, He will sustain you in your work, and your labour must succeed. “ Be strong, therefore, and of a good courage;" not strong in yourselves, but " in the Lord and in the power of His might.” Will the Lord send you on a useless errand ? or will He forsake the men whom He employs in His service ?
2. The assumption of a pious courage is enforced also by the declaration of God's constant presence. “The Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” The Lord was not merely the God of Joshua's people, but the God of Joshua himself; and He is also your God. He has pardoned, regenerated, and sanctified you, and given you the blessed hope of eternal life. At the same time, you have turned to Him in penitence and faith, and have taken Him as your covenant God for ever. You aspire to the enjoyment of all His covenant blessings, and you have solemnly declared your compliance with all the conditions of His covenant of mercy which He has given you in Christ Jesus. Abide by your engagements.
Maintain habitual intercourse with Him by constant faith and prayer; and the gracious declaration which was made to Joshua shall be fulfilled in you: “The Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
He will be with you in the study; giving your thoughts and inquiries a right direction ; fixing your attention ; strengthening your mental faculties ; opening the eyes of your understandings ; unfolding to your delighted view the true meaning of His own inspired word; giving you just, enlarged, consistent, and impressive views of Divine truth ; causing that truth “to dwell in you richly, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;” thus qualifying you for your public ministrations, and making you “workmen that need not be ashamed," "faithful and wise stewards," giving to your Master's “servants their portion of meat in due season.”
He will be with you in the pulpit ; enabling you to conduct the worship of His people in a spiritual and edifying manner; delivering you from that fear of man, which bringeth a snare upon the conscience; imparting to you the requisite calmness and self-possession ; inspiring you with heavenly affections, suited to your sacred employment, especially with zeal for His glory ; causing you love the souls of men “with a passion like" that of your Saviour ; touching your lips with a live coal from His altar; giving you a mouth, and wisdom, and utterance, such as mere human nature, unassisted from above, can never attain ; awakening the consciences of the careless, deepening the sorrows of the penitent, communicating the power of faith to the earnest seekers of salvation, justifying the ungodly, sanctifying the unholy, filling believers with unutterable consolation, making them perfect in love, and thus enlarging His spiritual church.
He will be with you in the closet; giving you liberty of access to Him in prayer, so that you shall come even unto His seat. He will there draw forth your sympathies with the miseries of the world, and with the wants of the church ; He will listen with acceptance to your agonising supplications for the people among whom you labour; He will cheer and strengthen you by renewed manifestations of His love, so that your enraptured spirits shall bow before Him in adoring gratitude ; He will render you partakers of His nature, more and more, till your resemblance to Him in holiness and righteousness shall be complete. When God is with you, your closets shall be to you the very gate of heaven.
He will be with you in the church, where your duties will be various, and often difficult. He will enable you to give suitable instruction to those who inquire, “What must we do to be saved ?” to give reproof, and warning, and admonition, to the negligent and the careless of the flock; to give encouragement to the tempted and suffering people of your charge. He will enable you to give a right direction to the talents and agency of every one, so that by the combined efforts of all, the cause of Christ may be sustained and extended, both at home and abroad ; and He will so endue you with wisdom and firmness, that you shall be able to preserve the purity of the church, by the maintenance of the holy discipline which Christ has instituted, and which never can be relaxed without serious injury to the cause of Christianity. For if the church lose the savour of piety, how can it season the world?
He will be with you in all your pastoral solicitude for the youthful members of His church. We live in an age of unexampled effort with respect to general education ; and our own community is providentially called upon to take an active part in this benevolent service. But all education, except that which is based upon religion, is essentially defective, and will ultimately disappoint the expectations of the parties who engage in it. Our Sunday-schools are strictly religious institutions, and ought always to be sacredly conducted with a reference to the salvation of the children who are congregated in them. As the Ministers and Pastors of the church, you will, I trust, often
visit these nurseries of youthful piety; giving suitable counsel and encouragement to the teachers, and to the children such affectionate instruction in Christian truth as they may be able to receive, uniting with them in acts of supplication and thanksgiving. You will diligently pursue the same course in respect of the week-day schools, and the classes of Catechumens ; assisting in the formation of them where they do not already exist; and then watching over them with pious fidelity, that the children and youth belonging to them may be trained to Christian godliness, and become intelligent, holy, and useful members of the church, into which they have been admitted by the sacrament of baptism. In all these labours of love your heavenly Master, who has said, • Suffer the little children to come unto me, and, “ Feed my lambs,” will assuredly be with you ; so that a blessing shall attend your happy toil.
He will be with you in the duty of pastoral visitation, when, like the Apostle of the Gentiles at Ephesus, you go “from house to house," "testifying” to all the families to whom you can gain access, "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is an important part of the work to which you are “separated” this day, and one to which some of the holiest and most useful Pastors of the church have applied themselves with untiring diligence. In performing these visits of mercy, pass not by the cottages, the cellars, and the garrets, of the poor. The inmates of these humble dwellings have but a small share of worldly comfort, and their privations and trials are many. While they are overlooked by the gay world, let them feel that they have a friend in their Pastor. Direct their attention to the providence and grace of God, whose never-failing mercy is upon them ; speak kindly to their children ; commend them all to the protection and blessing of God in earnest prayer. In this manner you will gain access to many individuals who are living in criminal forgetfulness of the great end of life, whom you will induce to attend the house of God, and instrumentally save from perdition ; and you will draw the accredited members of the church into a closer union with their Saviour, and with His people ; for He will accompany you in all these labours of love, and your visits will be blessed like the visits of an angel.
He will be with you in the visitation of the sick and the dying. “ To him that is afflicted,” said Job in the extremity of his sufferings, “ pity should be showed from his friend.” “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends ; for the band of God hath touched me. One characteristic of the men whom the Lord will own in the last day is, that they “visited” Him in the “sick” members of His mystical body. If it is the duty of religious people in general to visit the sick, it is eminently and especially the duty of the Pastors of the church. In the prosecution of this part of your charge, you, my dear brethren, I trust, will be examples of diligence, kindness, and fidelity. Medical practitioners do not hesitate to visit persons who are suffering from the most contagious and malignant diseases ; and why should you? When the hand of God is laid upon any of the people of your charge, hasten to their relief; sympathise with them in their affliction ; endeavour to soothe their troubled spirits ; bear their burdens; direct their attention to appropriate portions of holy Scripture ; and unite with them in prayer to the Father of mercies ; so that whether the affliction be unto death, or not, it may be rendered a means of spiritual benefit to the sufferers, and to their families. You will yourselves learn many important lessons in the chamber of sickness, which will be of inestimable advantage to you in your studies, in your ministry, in your general intercourse with the people of your charge, in respect of your personal conduct, and of your walk with God. If your God be with you in these duties, you must receive spiritual good, as well as impart it to others.
Never listen, I beseech you, to that inexcusable plea for negligence, that a death-bed repentance is unavailing. Mere repentance in every case is unavailing, in respect of actual salvation ; for we are not justified by repentance, however deep and sincere it may be, but by faith in the sacrifice of Christ. Yet it is a great and blessed truth, that at whatever time, and in whatever place, whether in youth, or in extreme old age; whether in the vigour of health, or on the bed of mortal pain and sickness, -any man, in a penitent state of the heart, believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, he is graciously absolved from the guilt of all his past sins, renewed and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, and is thus prepared for the kingdom of heaven. You will therefore, I trust, never hesitate to offer Christ as a Saviour to every conscious sinner who may be placed within the range of your influence, or whom your voice can reach. Is it not one object of sickness, to warn men of approaching death, that they may prepare to meet their God?
I have thus endeavoured briefly and familiarly to sketch the kind of service to which you are this day set apart, and the manner in which it should be performed. You perceive that your work is varied and extensive, and that every department of it is urgent and momentous, requiring all your powers of body and mind; so that there is “no room for mirth or trifling here." Leave “mirth and trifling" to other men. You are consecrated to a higher service. Go you and preach the kingdom of God; take care of His church ; preserve its purity; extend its boundaries; fight the good fight of faith against error and sin ; and manfully maintain the work and cause of Christ against every form of evil. If, after the example of St. Paul, you should be called to “ fight with beasts at Ephesus ;” and should, with him, be “in peril” of your among false brethren ;' regard it not. “Be not afraid, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you, whithersoever you go ;” and in the darkest hour of conflict, His presence will make your paradise, and His power will be your sevenfold shield. Whether your course be protracted, or of short duration, meekly leave to the wise and gracious determination of Him that sends you forth, and whose servants you are. Rather let it be your concern to serve your generation by His will, that whenever He shall call you to account, you may appear before Him with acceptance and joy. Even so, Lord Jesus. Amen.