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performed by Christ's ministering servants, edifying and perfecting his saints.
Contemplating our subject more directly now, let us consider
I. WHAT OBVIOUS OCCASION THERE IS FOR JUST THIS WORK, IN EVERY ONE OF THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST.
Take for example, this church to which we are to-day to give a pastor, a church of a hundred and twenty, or a hundred and fifty members, gathered out of all ranks, conditions, ages and callings, in this community. Set before your mind in the first instance, some one of these communicants, and carefully note his present condition as a christian. There are in his heart all the rudiments and first principles of genuine piety; all gracious af fections, all good instincts. These were secretly implanted by the Holy Spirit, at his conversion. There are also as the fruit of the first uses of these new affections, the beginnings perhaps of a complete set of christian habits. So much has been accomplished. Religion has unfolded so far in that regenerate mind. But look again, and that with a view to discover how much remains to be done in that mind and heart, before the religion of Christ has captured and cleansed and sanctified the entire man. In the first place, all the old corrupt affections, that like secreted diseases, or the roots of weeds, remain in that regenerate heart, are to be detected and dislodged. Secondly, all the old worldly habits of thinking, of feeling, of acting, that have been for years woven into the very fabric of his daily life, are to be separated and thrown aside. And then thirdly, the new affections and first principles of grace, now so weak, so timid, and so intermittent, are to be developed, and confirmed, and made strong within, and courageous and conspicuous in their outward acts. All the germs of christian habits too, are to be watched and nurtured and led up to strength and steadfastness. So much remains to be done, after the convert has entered the church and come under the care of a pastor. And you will observe, my brethern, that all this remaining work is to be done, in one and but one way. Since the Holy Spirit never adds a new faculty to the new man, the child of grace, like the babe of nature is complete, so far as organic powers are concerned, from the moment of birth. Accordingly, whatever the christian gains or reaches after conversion, must come as the fruit of simple culture; must come, that is, through the one process of perfecting present graces. What a work waits the hand of the pastor then, in every believing soul of his charge! And how appropriate the term which, to describe that work, calls it perfecting the saints.
Take another view of the case. You have before you a given christian, member of the church and servant of Christ. Take now the several traits, graces, and habits, that make up this religious character, and just picture to yourselves in imagination,
what would happen to those qualities and affections, if religion were to become fully developed in that converted soul. Descend to particulars. There is in that heart a genuine christian faith. You observe however that at present, it is exceedingly weak, is rather the germ of faith, than faith itself. But it is capable of an unlimited expansion and an immense improvement. Expand it then. Make it all that christian culture and christian capacity permit; all that can be expected or experienced this side of heaven. And what enlargement of capacity and power, would come to that single trait!
Take next the man's prayers. You see what they are now; genuine and sincere, but exceedingly deficient in scope and spirit, in devout affection and power with God. Improve these prayers in temper, in frequency, in faith, in tone, and substance, and scope, till the supplicant can accomplish day after day at the throne of grace, all that it is permitted to mortal supplication to achieve. And what an amazing increase and expansion has been wrought, by just perfecting in the saints the one grace of prayer. Take once more for illustration, the example of the christian. We all observe what it is now; luminous at points, but obscured and disfigured on every side by remaining sins, or the scars of sins erased. But improve that example. Improve it just as far as it is possible in this world, to improve the visible character, and increase the personal influence of a christian. And what a removal of the old eclipse of sin, and what an expansion of light, and beauty, and power ensue as the certain and glad result. Who can tell how much of this glorious and goodly work, of perfecting holiness in the fear of God, remains to be accomplished in any single christian mind. Here is the work given in charge to the gospel ministry. Take these converts, says the Saviour, and busy yourself day by day, perfecting their graces.
Thus far we have looked only at the work to be done in a single regenerate mind. Let us enlarge the view for a moment now, and conceive of an entire church of converted men and women. Here are a hundred, here are perhaps six hundred regenerate souls, committed to the care of a single pastor. And in each of these souls, there is such a work to be done, as we have tried to conceive and delineate. Take these babes in religion, these beginners in godliness, and perfect them, says the Saviour. In their interior graces, and their outward example; in their habits of worship, and work, and intercourse, improve them, improve them all, building up religion upon its own foundations, and perfecting the work, which has been so hopefully commenced. My hearers, can any of us fail to see, that there is in every church of Christ on earth, an occasion and a call for this very work which our text tells us has been assigned to the ministry? Had the Saviour omitted to provide for such a work, would not the churches, long before this, have together implored him to consider their necessi
ties, and give them apostles, and prophets, and evangelists, and pastors, and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ? You have seen the obvious need of this work. Consider now in the second place,
II. ITS VERY GREAT IMPORTANCE.
And to discern this, reflect, in the first instance, on the fact that the work in question is absolutely indispensable. Every christian is called to holiness: to incipient holiness at conversion; to increased and proximate holiness, by subsequent culture in the school of Christ on earth; and to consummate and perfect holiness in the kingdom of God on high. At conversion this great work of sanctification and growing purity commences, and as every such work must commence, in an act of divine power. The believer is then created in Christ Jesus unto good works. At the resurrection, there will occur another supernatural act, and another miraculous change in the christian's character and condition. But between these two points, between the regeneration of the soul, and the resurrection or regeneration of the body, there lies an interval in which there is to be in the case of all who live after their conversion in this lower world, a growth and a progress of genuine piety. And this growth in grace is everywhere set down in the New Testament, not only as a mark of the true religion, but also as an indispensable attainment. But the only way the saint can grow in grace is that described in our text. The believer grows, while, and only while ministers, and ordinances, and duties, and discipline, attended and enlivened by the Holy Spirit, perfect his existing habits and edify his present piety. Here then is a work, that is not only important, it is also indispensable. The christian must be delivered from his sins. These pernicious sores must be healed. If ordinances and instructions are too weak to do the work; if the ministers of grace labor in vain, to perfect his children, sooner than see his purpose fail, God will send his ministers of judgment, and hew off tenacious habits and tough sins, with his sharp axe of affliction. Here then is our first view of the work in question, looking at its importance. It is a work which if not done by the ministry, must be done by severity and discipline. The saints of God are called to holiness, and by one means or another, a faithful Saviour will make them holy. It will assist us to estimate aright the great importance of this work if we consider, secondly,
How much the peace and usefulness of every christian must of necessity depend upon his growth in grace. What is it that like a gangrene in the heart, is continually eating out the vigor and the life and the happiness of the saint, giving leanness to his graces, and alarm to his hopes? We all know. His remaining sins eat like a canker, so long as they are not subdued and eradi
cated. And what is it that is continually tarnishing the lustre, and defacing the beauty of the christian's example? Everybody answers,-His remaining sins, creeping ever between him and Heaven to eclipse his graces and darken his life. And what relief has the saint? How can he retain the vigor and the joy of his religion? How can he keep the light that shines in his example, that is to say, how can he escape this ever returning cloud of sin? There is but one way; and that is described in my text, where the ministers of Christ are sent to their task, and told to employ themselves continually in perfecting the saints. Whatever the peace and usefulness of a hundred or many hundred regenerate souls are worth to them, and to the world, then, that and more is the value of this work of perfecting the saints. I say that and more. For consider, thirdly,
That since by a law in the kingdom of God, the convert's capacities for receiving and enjoying the Holy Spirit on the one hand, and for communicating his influences on the other, increase in the exact proportion of his religious growth,-all the higher measures of grace, and all the riper and richer forms of experience are reserved, to be conferred, if at all, after the convert has advanced to superior stages of attainment, and reached a higher stature in grace. The lowest measure of the Holy Spirit-if such a phrase may be used for mere illustration-the smallest measure of renovating grace ever given to one of God's people, is given at conversion. Just as in the distributions of his Providence, God sends to the buds and the grasses of spring, the faintest beams of the sun, reserving the hot noons and harvest weeks, for their riper hours-and gives to babes, the tiniest thoughts and the feeblest strength, keeping manlier ideas, and greater vigor, for manly years; so in dividing to his people the grace of the Holy Spirit, he gives the convert what the convert needs, but withholds the higher and the richer measures, for riper wants and later uses. How then shall the members of a church attain to these higher measures of grace and power? What shall a pastor do to lead his regenerate flock up to these waiting treasures? Suppose he never tries to do this. Suppose he and his people are content with mere conversion. If they can gather annually, or once in ten years, a harvest of regenerated souls, and add them to the church, they are satisfied. Religion prospers. The gospel is doing its work, they say. But is it so? Does a church that receives only these first measures of grace; a church whose ripest and best members are ever its most recent converts; a church in which nothing is done or done effectually, to attain and enjoy and illustrate the higher forms of experience and the larger measures of grace; a church which habitually loses all but the mere beginnings of piety; does such a church prosper? Would a village ever prosper in which the babes remained babes to the last? Would a farm prosper if the blades of corn and wheat
which shot up in spring, remained stationary and the same, till autumn frosts fell on them? This is not prosperity, my hearers. Let us be grateful to God for his converting grace. Let us welcome with hearty thanksgiving, every regenerate soul that asks admission to our churches. But let us at the same time remember, that unless these converts, and the older saints with whom they associate, ascend together on this path of perfection described in the text, they and the church in which they sleep and shrivel, lose God's richest grace and come short of his best gifts. Let the pastor especially, understand and remember, that only by doing his appointed work, perfecting those whom God has converted and put under his care, can he lead his people to those wells of salvation and rivers of grace, for which conversion is no substitute, is only the preparation and the promise. What an accession of grace and power would come to our churches could we but get these reserved treasures, and these later donations of the Holy Spirit! Though not a soul were converted, and not another member added, if those who are now within the fold could be put in possession of the grace, which God stands so ready to bestow, what a baptism would that be to all these thirsty hearts. One well developed man is worth more than many babes. In a house, in an army, in a village, men are mighty, babes weak. When will pastors and churches so understand the mind of God, that they shall together seek, through the one method of perfecting the saints, to fill these nurseries with men, men in faith, men in stature, men in power! But there is even a higher view than this, revealing the importance of the work assigned to the Christian Ministry. It is, fourthly
The fact that the honor of Christ and the credit of his religion, depend in this world, on the development which that religion attains and manifests, in the visible character of its converts.
Christianity, it should be remembered, has but one residence in our world. Religion lives not in our creeds, or sermons, or scriptures. These are glasses, in which the daughter of God sees her own likeness. Religion lives in the hearts, and reveals herself in the lives of God's regenerate people. And as that is the only real christianity which men can find, they judge of Christ and his religion by this only specimen, looking ever at the example of the church. Now religion may exist in either of three conditions: in germ and embryo, as in the convert; in caricature and disgrace, as in the backslider; or in complete development and full splendor, as in the ripened and symmetric saint. What then if in our churches we have converts and backsliders, but no ripened souls, no finished saints. What if evangelists and pastors and teachers become content with labors and success that only restore the lapsed to the standing of converts, and increase the ranks with added recruits. What if we shall even get to that, that we ask and expect of our revivals, only that they shall