The Great End and Object in Life.
What is, or should be, the great end and object in life of every true disciple of Christ?
Not to earn a living; not to get on in the world; not to win power, wealth, or influence; not to enjoy life and help others to do the same; not to marry and bring up a family respectably; not any of these things should be his primary or principal care, his end and aim in life.
Christ has forbidden His followers to make any of these things their object. "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
Note, the Lord does not say we are not to seek these things at all, but He does say we are to seek something else before them, and that something else is not our own personal salvation (that is already secured if we are believers), but the salvation of others, the extension of the kingdom of God among men, the spread of His righteousness on earth. "Seek ye first" these things, says the Saviour, and all other needful things shall be added unto you. Those things which are last in the world's estimation are to be first in ours, and vice versa.
During His life, our Lord clearly explained to His disciples what He had called them for, and what their life work on earth was to be. "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me," He said to them; and speaking of them to His Father in Heaven, He declared, "As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I sent them into the world." He had come to declare God's name and character to men, and He sent His disciples to declare His name and character, His person and work, to testify for Him on earth.
After His death and resurrection, He confirmed this as their vocation, saying to them, just prior to His ascension, "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto Me . . . in Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
His last great commission defined still more plainly their work: "Go ye into all the world, and proclaim the glad tidings to every creature." They were to herald everywhere and to all, the tidings of forgiveness of sin through the atoning work accomplished by their Lord. The apostles realized their responsibilities, and felt themselves to be primarily, not fishermen or tent-makers or tax-gatherers, but "ambassadors for Christ," witnesses for Him, men whose one great, sole object was to establish and extend the kingdom of God, by spreading a knowledge of Christ through the world.
Nor was it to the apostles officially that the great commission was given. The twelve could not go into all the world, nor preach the gospel to unborn generations. It was given to them as representatives of the entire Church; the lapse of 1,800 years has made no difference in the Church's duty, and no difference consequently in the duty of each individual disciple. To His young disciples in England, Scotland, Ireland, and America in the nineteenth century, this commission of Christ extends, as much as to His early Jewish disciples in the first century, otherwise He would be without witnesses now.
The special, proper, peculiar work of the Church in the world therefore is to spread a knowledge of Christ and of His gospel among men the whole earth over. The Church accomplishes this work through her members; her work is the work of each and all. That Christian who does not directly or indirectly live for this object, primarily, who does not keep the spread of the gospel before him as his main end and aim in life, misses the very object of his existence on earth as a Christian. He is not a witness, not an ambassador, not a laborer together with God. He is, as regards the vineyard, standing all the day idle, however busy he may be. He is not doing the work his Master has given him to do, however great his activities; he is, as regards the special, peculiar work of the Church, idle!
We are made "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light," when we are converted and made new creatures in Christ; we might as well go to Heaven at once if the Master had not a work for us to do on earth. The healed demoniac prayed that he might go with Jesus and stay with Him evermore. Howbeit, Jesus suffered him not, though He too would have loved to have with Him the trophy of His grace. He sent him nevertheless to his home and friends, to be a witness for his Deliverer. "Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee." And similarly, though He prays, "Father, I will that those whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am," yet He waits for the answer to this petition, and suffers us not to go to Him, in order that we may first act as witnesses to Him and ambassadors for Him to a world that knows Him not.
But you say: "We cannot all be preachers of Christ; if we were, there would be no congregations! It is hard indeed to find room for all the preachers and teachers that exist already. There is neither room nor need for me! With so many far better qualified than I am for the work, there is no occasion for me to come forward. That is really why I do no more. I am not wanted"
This excuse is really considered a valid one by many; and if Protestant countries comprised the whole world, there would be something in it! There are of course multitudes of unsaved souls still to be found in these lands, but there are few indeed who have not heard the gospel, and none who are unable to hear it if they wished. The proportion of Christian workers among the population, both in town and in the country, is very large—so large indeed that they are in many places actually in each other's way.
But Great Britain and other Protestant lands are not all the world, but are in this respect unlike every other part of it; and if Christian preachers abounded everywhere as they do here, there might be no need for you to become a witness for Christ. We have shown you how far this is from being the case. . . .How many witnesses for Christ are there among this mass? Are they so numerous that the greater part of them must needs stand idle for want of work to do?
Consider! We cannot expect to find any among the heathen who never heard of Christ, nor among the Mohammedans who reject Him, nor among the apostate Churches which acknowledge other mediators, and withhold the Word of Life from the people. Only in the Protestant Churches is the faith of Christ held in any degree of purity, hence it is only amongst them that we can expect to find witnesses for Him. And some even of them, notably the Church of the land of Luther, have sunk into dead formalism or barren rationalism, so that they need to be again evangelized themselves, instead of being able to evangelize others; while everywhere, even in Protestant countries, the true and living disciples are a little flock in the midst of a mass of professors.
The superabundance of workers then is simply local; the condition of the world precludes the possibility of there being one single witness for Christ to spare. Statistics alone prove that no one can fairly allege as an excuse for standing idle that the vineyard has too many laborers, that the harvest can well be gathered without his help. The mass of mankind is of course immensely larger than it was in apostolic days, and its evangelization demands a far larger number of ambassadors for Christ than that which turned the world upside down and overthrew the idolatry of the Roman empire in the early centuries of the Church's history. But, on the other hand, true Christians were never so numerous in the world as they are this day, and it is easier for them to travel and dwell among the heathen in every corner of the earth than ever it was before. The printed gospel exists in hundreds of languages, and the Church has never been so rich in material resources. There is no question that living Christians could give the gospel to their own generation if they tried. The demand for laborers is enormous, but the supply is equal to meet it, if only every man and woman who could and should be a missionary would become such.
Again then, young disciple of the blessed Saviour, why stand you all the day idle? Do you not love the Lord Jesus enough to be anxious to show and prove your devotion to Him? Love delights to give itself to the loved one. Have you no desire to give yourself to Christ for gospel service among the heathen? It will involve the pain of parting with cherished friends; involve the enduring of hardness, possibly even of suffering, sickness, and death. Perhaps! But what then? "If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.'' Do we not rejoice to suffer for those we love? Did Paul think much of what he gave up, or of what he endured for Christ's sake or the gospel's? Did he not speak of it as a privilege granted to Christians, not only to believe on Jesus, but also to suffer for His sake?
May we add a closing word to the stewards of God's gold and silver? Missions mean money as well as men, and some mean a great deal. . . . Missionaries may live upon little, but they cannot live on nothing. To attempt self-support is, as a rule, to defeat their own object, wasting on secularities, the time and strength that might be devoted to teaching and preaching the Lord Jesus. Ought not those who cannot go to give, that others may go? Ought not every man, every woman who can do so, to support a representative among the heathen? What shall we say of the awful fact that the royal, titled, and wealthy classes in England do not, on an average, give sixpence per annum to the missionary work of the Church! We pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth," etc.; but
"God teach us this and every day
To live more nearly as we pray!"
What are we doing or giving to hasten the advent of that kingdom? Have we ever worked for this object till we were weary? Have we ever even incurred a headache for it, much less a fever? Have we ever spent a sleepless night of thought, of prayer, of sympathy? Have your hearts ever ached or your eyes ever wept over the sins and sorrows of the heathen? Has your compassion for them in any way altered your lives? Have you ever denied yourself some legitimate indulgence that you might help missions more effectually? Have you honestly given even your first fruits and tithes to God for His service? How do your lives ever since you were converted bear the test of Christ's words, "Seek ye first the kingdom"—i.e., the spread of the kingdom—"of God"?
And yet this was what Jesus did! This is the standard by which we shall be tried at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This were the wisest use of time and talent, health and wealth; for this is investing for eternity.
Fully do some of the Master's stewards realize their responsibility; right nobly do they use their resources; and never will they regret consecrating their substance to this cause. We have known a servant surrender, for the privilege of helping missions, the savings of a life-time of hard work, laid by against sickness or old age, saying, "I may never need it; the Lord will take care of me." The Lord estimates the value of our donations, not by what we give, but by what we retain. Are we each doing all we might for the spread of the gospel?
We have no fires of martyrdom now to test our fidelity to Jesus Christ; but we are not left without a test. God is testing us all continually, as to the measure of our faith, love and devotedness to His Son, by the presence of ONE THOUSAND MILLIONS OF HEATHEN IN THE WORLD. It is a tremendous test! so real, so practical! It is no trifle, no myth, no theory, no doubtful contingency, but a great, awful fact, that we Protestant Christians, who rejoice in our rich gospel blessings, and claim to be the followers of Him Who gave up heavenly glory, earthly ease, and life itself, to save these heathen, are actually surrounded by one thousand millions of brothers and sisters who must perish in their sins, unless they receive the gospel.
This gospel they have never yet heard! This is a fact too many forget, but a fact none can deny; a fact of which we dare not pretend to be ignorant; a fact that ought to influence our whole Christian course from the moment of conversion; a fact that ought to shape our plans and prospects and purposes in life.
IT TESTS OUR FAITH. "Do we believe that "idolators shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone—the second death?" Do we believe that "the gospel is the power of God to salvation?" Where then are the works wrought in us by our faith in these truths? What do we do to turn idolators to the worship of the true and living God? What do we do to carry to them the gospel which can save them?
IT TESTS OUR LOVE. "If ye love Me, keep My commandments," said our Master; and His last commandment was, that we should preach the gospel to these heathen. Judged by our obedience to it, how much do we love Him? And how much do we love these poor neighbors, stripped and robbed, and cruelly handled by the devil, and left half dead in our path? What oil and wine have we poured into their wounds? What efforts for their recovery have we made? We ought to love each one as ourselves. Has the aggregate of our love for the whole thousand millions ever led us to endure a single suffering, or deny ourselves a single indulgence for their sake?
IT TESTS OUR DEVOTEDNESS. Hearts wholly given to Jesus would lead us to long that His wishes should be gratified, His desires fulfilled. What are those wishes and desires? Let His life, His death reply. That all should return, repent, and live; that the lost should be found, and the dead quickened. If, knowing that a thousand millions of our fellow creatures are still lost in heathenism, we make no effort for their enlightenment, how do we show our devoted attachment to Jesus Christ our Lord? Are we devoted to Him? What, even of ours, is devoted to Him? Is even a tithe of our time, a tithe of our substance devoted to Him? Have we surrendered to Him for this service even one child of our family, or one year of our lives? No; but we give an annual subscription to some missionary society. Ah, friends, gifts that cost us no personal self-denial, are no proofs of devotedness! Christ's devotedness to our interests involved Him in suffering, loss, and shame, because of the state in which we were; though hereafter devotedness to us will involve to Him only joy, "the joy set before Him."
Devotedness to Him now must similarly involve suffering, loss, and shame to us, because of the state of those for whom He died; hereafter it will involve only joy and honor, the bride's share of her royal Bridegroom's throne. But that time is not yet! Devotedness, consecration to Jesus, in a world tenanted by a thousand millions of heathen, means stem labor and toil, means constant self-denial and self-sacrifice, means unwearied well doing even unto death.
Judged by this test, how many faithful, loving, and devoted followers has Jesus Christ? ARE WE OF THEIR NUMBER?