32638 Even as a humble Christian
In the old home church, they were teachers in the Sunday school or workers in the missionary society. They heard the call: Go into my vineyard and with alacrity obeyed it. In their ignorance, they supposed that they were led by the Spirit of God and were working in order to please him; and now they are in New York City, but they are doing no church work whatever. They teach in no Sunday school, their names are to be found on the book of no religious organization, they are constrained to do no Christian service, because the love of Christ is not in their heart. In the old church home they were led to work for divers reasons and from various motives, but their working was not Christian, it was not offered as a sacrifice to God. In the life of this great city the hollowness and mockery of much that has passed for religion in smaller places is made evident to the eyes of men. However, I imagine I hear someone saying: "Oh, I am not needed. I worked in the old home church because I was needed there. But certainly New York churches need no assistance from such a humble Christian as I am." Who told you that you were not needed? If you have heard such an assertion, you must have heard it from the devil, for it sounds like one of his lies.
Not needed in New York! You do not mean it! You have said it without thinking! Not needed in a city, which is a vast Pool of Bethesda, where the porches are full of sick and impotent folk, men and women who have come here in search of health and have not found it, who have come seeking fortune and have missed it, who have come dreaming of fame and have failed to obtain it! On every hand there are the discouraged, the disappointed, the lonely and the forlorn and you dare hold up your head and say that in such a place, at such a time, you are not needed? You are in the midst of a great mass of human beings created in God's image, hungry for the consolation of the gospel, and you, a professing Christian, will not help!
You forget what New York is. It is the metropolis of the new world, where fashions are moulded which will dominate the lives of millions of our fellow-countrymen. A city in which standards are fixed by which thought and conduct shall be bound in many a section of the land. A city in which every year fifteen thousand students are educated to go out to become leaders of society from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and the arbiters of the destiny of communities and commonwealths, and it may be nations. In addition, in a city where it is so important that the atmosphere should be warm with the breath of Christ, and where it is so necessary that standards should be high, and that tone should be true, you hold up your head and say that you, a Christian man, a Christian woman, are not needed in New York! Brethren, you have been called unto liberty, only do not abuse your liberty. You wrong yourself when you do it. You injure your own soul. For your own salvation, I urge you to throw yourself into the life of the church and to abound in the works of the Lord.
Let us now complete St. Paul's sentence. "Brethren, you have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another." Does he say servant. That is the word. Do servants and liberty go together? Most assuredly they do. There is no liberty in this world aside from servant ship. Only those who are bound are free. This is one of the paradoxes of the gospel. If you would be free, you must take the yoke. Stand fast in the liberty, brethren, wherewith Christ has set us free. Revere it. Fight for it. Keep it. Only do not use it for an occasion to the flesh. Look constantly unto Jesus, who was the freest man, who ever walked our earth, and yet who walked it always as a slave. When only a boy he learned to pronounce that hard word "must." "I must be about my Father's business." Later on, a young man, he said: "I must work the works of him that sent me." Still later, he declared: "I must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things, I must be crucified, I must rise again." And so he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, and as he went he said: " I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished." Always free, he was, but yet always bound, bound by the life of God within him. " Lo, I come to do thy will, O God." Unto his disciples, he could say: "I do always those things that are pleasing unto him." Would you be free? Then listen to his exhortation: "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me." "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."
The apostle is on Patmos, an island in the Aegean Sea. He is an exile, driven from his country and his work. He is a prisoner. His cell is ten miles long. The roof of it is God's great heaven and the walls of it are the waves of the encircling sea. And from his prison cell he looks out upon the world. There is darkness upon the lands, but in the darkness here and there, he sees high like the flame of a candle, which a group of the followers of Jesus have kindled. Moreover, a great wind is blowing. It is a terrible world upon which the apostle looks. Cruel despotisms and ancient tyrannies lift their frightful thrones and still go on writing a story, which is tragedy. All sorts of evils in divers shapes and in many forms of aggression and devastation move across the scene, squirming like serpents, devouring like locusts, crunching and crushing like dragons, torturing like fiends. Above the level of the sea, the spirit of rebellion lifts its hideous head like a great beast, huge, majestic, mighty, concentrating in itself the characteristic features of the brute creation. Sin with flashing crown and scarlet robe, bedizened and spangled, moves in the midst of the nation’s leading men captive to her will. It is worth noting that evil to the man on Patmos is no pallid or puny thing. It is not a petty and impotent antagonist, but majestic, persuasive, alluring, mighty, magnificent, with crown and sceptre and royal robes, captivating the eye with the glamour of its magnificence, and swaying the imagination by the exhibition of its power.
Moreover, against this vast and terrible hierarchy of evil another kingdom is making war. There is a tremendous struggle in the world, immeasurable forces are contending for the mastery, and the land trembles under the shock of the opposing armies. However, the apostle is nothing daunted. His eye does not quail nor does his heart grow faint. Undisturbed he looks upon the great thriving picture with light upon his face, because over the arena in which the age-long war is carried on he sees the glory of the great white throne. With this throne burning in his eye he looks upon the world with a heart undismayed and a soul radiant with hope.
This vision was not peculiar to the apostle John. It was one granted to all of the apostles. It was the secret of their overmastering power. We err when we suppose that the apostles turned the world upside down because they carried in their memory the parables and the Sermon on the Mount. The words, which Jesus spoke, were mighty words, but not by means of them did the apostles lift empires off their hinges and turn the stream of centuries into a new channel. The New Testament explicitly tells us that after the disciples had listened to the teaching of Jesus for three years, drinking in his parables, his discourses and his prayers, they were still impotent in the face of a world, which they were sent to conquer. They had seen Jesus as a teacher teaching on the hillside and by the sea and on the corner of many a street. They had seen him as a great physician healing men in Capernaum and Bethsaida, and in the market-places of old Jerusalem. They had seen him as a reformer upsetting the tables of the money-changers and driving the desecrators of the temple in dismay into the streets. But none of these things were sufficient to brace their hearts for the great work entrusted to their hands. In spite of all of Jesus' teaching and all of Jesus' mighty deeds, the disciples after the death of their Master were limp and impotent, helpless as children, timid as cowards, and hiding behind doors that were locked and barred, incapable of sending up a shout of triumph or a song of praise.
Then all at once, a change came. They stood upon their feet like so many giants of the Lord, and began to speak words and to sing songs at which the world wondered. What wrought this transformation? A vision of Jesus on the throne! Listen to Simon Peter in that great sermon by which he broke the hearts of three thousand men, as he says to them, "He hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear!" The teacher, the physician, the reformer has ascended to the throne, and from the throne he will henceforth as King rule the world.