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Now the developments and virtues to which we may attain, lose at once their distinctive characteristics, and their high and peculiar value, the moment they are conceived of as the necessary product of foreign agencies, and not of our own inner and responsible being. The arts and sciences, whether arrived at by our own invention and observations, or acquired from others, derive their value not merely from the conveniences, enjoyments, and knowledge with which they furnish us,—they derive their highest and most lasting value from the fact that their attainment involves the permanent enlargement and cultivation of our mental faculties. These arts and sciences known in this infancy of our being, will appear but as elementary and limited acquisitions in the future glory of our being. But they have a most important bearing upon those high energies and the wide range of knowledge prospectively opening upon us. In the efforts of the intellect to know and comprehend, it becomes more apt and vigorous to know and comprehend, and thus becomes prepared for yet higher and higher knowledges, and those sublime exertions of thought which belong to a nobler state. Thus do we know ourselves and feel our strength, and plume our wings for a heavenward flight.
But yet more strikingly does this principle appear in the moral virtues. Benevolence, justice, and truth are not mere contemplations and speculations. They imply and demand in their several relations, voluntary and persevering exertions. In order to be holy-to be God-like-to be prepared for the fellowship and enjoyments of the heavenly state, these virtues under their various modifications must be inwrought, and pervade our whole moral being as delightful, congenial and habitual inspirations. And these cardinal and all-comprehending virtues are of such a nature that they can never limit themselves within a given number of objects, or within certain times. Wherever and whenever the objects and occasions of truth, justice, and benevolence appear, there must we voluntarily and cheerfully exert ourselves in administering these virtues. Had we spent ages in the practice of these virtues, we should not be relieved in the least degree from the obligation to exert ourselves to the utmost, whenever new objects and occasions should appear. Now in forming for ourselves a holy character in a world like ours, we cannot escape from the multiform duties which are opened to us on all sides in the ignorance, the sinfulness, and miseries which abound. In a less wretched world, less would be demanded; but it is the condition of all virtue to answer the demands which are actually made.
What a sphere of -moral discipline is then afforded in our world! Whatever be the origin of the wretchedness of our world, for all the purposes of moral discipline, it is enough for us that it exists. Whether omnipotent goodness might not consistently relieve it without delay, is a mere speculation. But that we are bound to exert our moral agency in relation to all the forms of evil presented, is an unquestionable truth resulting from the very nature of virtue itself. Sin and sorrow have made this world their home, and he that goes forth as the minister of mercy will be subjected to severe labors; but they are labors which, while outwardly sowing good seed abroad in the wide field, are nourishing in the soul all the springs of spiritual vitality and blessedness. There is no form of virtue but what is called forth into activity by the state of our world. There is, therefore, in God's universe probably no school of virtue so richly prepared for the purposes of the highest discipline which can be imposed upon the soul. From a cup of cold water given to a forlorn and forsaken wretch, to the sublime charity which aims to spread the Gospel like the morning light over the darkened world, lie the gradations of the benevolence which are here marked out to us. Every day, every hour, every place gives its opportunities, reveals its duties, teaches its lessons, and may enable us to take another step upon the golden ladder which reaches to the skies. Such a world is peculiarly fitted as the pilgrimage of a sinner struggling after redemption, and the possession of the divine life. All evil passions rankle by nature in these bosoms of ours : but this is a world in which we may learn to bear sorrow with patience, to forgive injuries and to bless our enemies, to repress pride and envy, to deny our lusts, to do good even to the unthankful, and to live a life of godliness for the sake of its pure and unrewarded excellence. It is in this world that it can be said, “Blessed are the
in spirit-blessed are they that mourn, -blessed are the meek,blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness, blessed are the merciful,-blessed are the pure in heart-blessed are the peace-makers,-blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake;" for it is in this world that the spirit is so tried and disciplined as to find blessedness in all these: and if it find blessedness in these, then hath it within itself the well of living waters springing up unto everlasting life.
But the discipline of the soul in relation to God is provided for in the state of our world, no less than in relation to man. Had God relieved man from all scientific investigation by directly revealing to him the constitution of his own being and of the world, man could not have manifested that earnest passion for knowledge which is implied in those voluntary labors by which he now travels upwards to the sun-lit pinnacles of truth: and so also, had He relieved him from all toilsome inquiry, and the possibility of doubt, in respect to the Divine nature and government, and the mediatorial system, that most worthy and sublime desire to know God and the invisible things of Him," and that noble faith, which is "the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen" would not
have been developed. God has made us capable of knowing him,
It is a beautiful economy which thus unites our highest duties to God and man with the cultivation of the highest principles of our nature. We cannot win heaven without becoming heavenly. But we cannot become heavenly without leading our fellow-men to heaven. We cannot be the children of God unless we love him and confide in him; but this child-like spirit becomes most deeply inwrought, and
honors God most when it appears fervent and cheerful and ready to obey, in the darkness as well as in the light, and soweth now in tears for the glorious harvest which is to come.
Shall we ask now, why the redemption of this world is so far committed to human agency? How rich, and clear, and abundant are the answers! Human agency is the fitting, congenial, directly effective, and the wisely appointed agency in the grand order of the world. Human agency accords with the great principle of progression which reigns through the wide universe of infinite wisdom. Human agency in this work, while it is fitting in relation to its objects, is no less fitting in relation to its actors, and proposes the discipline required for the formation of the character prescribed under the kingdom of heaven.
And again, barring all other considerations and inquiries, such is the nature of truth, justice, and benevolence—the cardinal virtues,—that they must apply themselves to their appropriate work, wherever the objects and occasions are presented. Without stopping to inquire into other methods of relieving the world or seeking for higher agencies, if we are good men, or if we would be good men, we must teach the ignorant, comfort the broken-hearted, and proclaim the Gospel to the lost, wherever we find them. It is our work, simply because it falls within our path. This will for ever be true; and in whatever part of God's universe we may be called to reside, the great principles involv. ed will be binding upon us.
In committing the propagation of the Gospel to human agencies, God has not debarred any individuals or any age from its possession. For in every age the great truths of salvation have been proclaimed in the world; and men either would not go to the fountains which were opened, or when committed with the great trust of publishing it to all nations, they have failed to fulfil it. Twelve poor fishermen did more to realize the command of Christ than the nominal christian world have ever done beside.
It is time that we wake up to the magnitude and reality of this trust. The Gospel IS TO BE GIVEN TO THE WORLD BY HUMAN Agency. When will it be accomplished ? It will be accomplished when those who now have the Gospel do their duty. It might be done now. The Gospel is always attended with the same promises and spiritual influences, and prayer is always heard by the prayerhearing God. The great failure has been in action. Kas there not been failure in prayer? Yes—but men will never pray for the conversion of the world effectually and fervently, except as they are actually engaged in propagating the Gospel. Prayer supposes the intensest fervor of the soul, and this fervor will contentedly leave nothing undone that ought to be done. But have not the prophecies pointed ever to remote times when speaking of the conversion of the world ? Prophecy is not the rule of duty, this rule is found in the plain command of Christ. Divine Wisdom, it may be presumed, has intentionally thrown a sublime mystery over prophecy, lest it should be assumed as a rule of duty. The interpreters of prophecy, however, have not generally placed the grand consummation remote from their own times. The language is so peculiar as ever to have induced the impression - The Lord is at hand”-and indeed the Lord has ever been at hand. Looking at the power of the Gospel, looking at the promises, looking at what we are called to do, we are justified in affirming that the redemption of the world has been delayed by the dilatoriness and unfaithfulness of the human agents; and that the great consummation might have taken place centuries past but for this.
Prophecy as now interpreted, (and it seems more wisely interpreted now than ever,) lends us nothing but encouragement. But I repeat again, the prophecies are not our guide in this matter. Our great work is not the interpretation of prophecy, although this is a work great in itself: nor does our work mainly lie in profound speculations, although these be also demanded in their place. Our work is to preach the Gospel to every creature—by the press ; by oral teachers, by Bibles, by Tracts, by schools, by every available means to spread abroad the word of God, the glad news of salvation. Some are prone to look for extraordinary sigos in the heavens and in the earth,-extraordinary manifestations of divine power resistlessly bringing in the nations. But this never has been, and I believe never will be the mode of divine operations. It does not accord with the great order ordained in the universe. God has already revealed the power which is to convert the nations—this power lies in and accompanies the Gospel. No less surely has he revealed the agency required, and that is the agency
of devoted men. In the progression of divine providence, in the onward developments of art, science and civilization, we have arrived at a period most favorable for the accomplishment of the great work so long delayed. The most distant nations are accessible. Communication between nations once unknown to each other has become easy and rapid. The cheapness and rapidity with which books can be multiplied are unexampled. The most civilized and nominally chrisiian nations rule the earth. The Bible is already translated into the most important languages of the world. The way is already prepared--the achievement is evidently within our grasp—the evangelization of the world is not a dream-it need be no longer delayed. O if we would but believe that it is for this we live, and for this alone-namely, the work of the Lord ; that our being is worthless and without dignity but for this-namely, that we are God's servants; then would we arouise and do his bidding, and be no longer the poor fools of time.