- An Enquiry into the Duty of Christians in general, and what means ought to be used, in order to promote this work.
If the prophecies concerning the increase of Christ's kingdom be true, and if what has been argued concerning the commission given by him to his disciples being obligatory on us be just, it must be inferred that all Christians ought heartily to concur with God in promoting his glorious designs, for "he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit" (1 Cor. 6:17).
One of the first and most important of those duties which are incumbent upon us is fervent and united prayer. However the influence of the Holy Spirit may be set at nought and run down by many, it will be found upon trial that all means which we can use will be ineffectual without it. If a temple is raised for God in the heathen world, it will not be "by might, nor by power," nor by the authority of the magistrate, or the eloquence of the orator; "but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts" (Zech. 4:6). We must therefore be in real earnest in supplicating his blessing upon our labours.
It is represented in the prophets that when there shall be "a great mourning in the land, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon, and every family shall mourn apart, and their wives apart," it shall all follow upon "a Spirit of grace, and supplication." And when these things shall take place it is promised that "there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David, and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin, and for uncleanness," and that "the idols shall be destroyed," and "the false prophets ashamed" of their profession. (Zech. 12:10-13:4.) This prophecy seems to teach that when there shall be a universal joining in fervent prayer, and all shall esteem Zion's welfare as their own, then upon the churches shall be shed copious influences of the Spirit, which like a purifying "fountain" shall cleanse the servants of the Lord. Nor shall this cleansing influence stop here; all old idolatrous prejudices shall be rooted out, and truth prevail so gloriously that false teachers shall be so ashamed as rather to wish to be classed with obscure herdsmen, or the meanest peasants, than bear the ignominy attendant upon their detection.
The most glorious works of grace that have ever taken place have been in answer to prayer; and it is in this way, we have the greatest reason to suppose, that the glorious outpouring of the Spirit, which we expect at last, will be bestowed.
With respect to our own immediate connections, we have within these few years been favoured with some tokens for good, granted in answer to prayer, which should encourage us to persist and increase in that important duty. I trust our monthly prayer-meetings for the success of the gospel have not been in vain. It is true a want of importunity generally attends our prayers; yet unimportunate and feeble as they have been, it is to be believed that God has heard, and in a measure answered them. The churches that have engaged in the practice have in general since that time been evidently on the increase; some controversies which have long perplexed and divided the church are more clearly stated than ever; there are calls to preach the gospel in many places where it has not been usually published; yea, a glorious door is opened, and is likely to be opened wider and wider, by the spread of civil and religious liberty, accompanied also by a diminution of the spirit of popery; a noble effort has been made to abolish the inhuman Slave Trade, and though at present it has not been so successful as might be wished, yet it is to be hoped it will be persevered in till it is accomplished. In the meantime it is a satisfaction to consider that the late defeat of the abolition of the Slave Trade has proved the occasion of a praiseworthy effort to introduce a free settlement, at Sierra Leone on the coast of Africa; an effort which, if followed with a divine blessing, not only promises to open a way for honourable commerce with that extensive country, and for the civilization of its inhabitants, but may prove the happy means of introducing amongst them the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These are events that ought not to be overlooked; they are not to be reckoned small things; and yet perhaps they are small compared with what might have been expected, if all had cordially entered into the spirit of the proposal, so as to have made the cause of Christ their own, or in other words to have been so solicitous about it as if their own advantage depended upon its success. If an holy solicitude had prevailed in all the assemblies of Christians on behalf of their Redeemer's kingdom, we might probably have seen before now not only an "open door" (2 Cor. 2:12) for the gospel, but "many running to and fro, and knowledge increased" (Dan. 12:4); or a diligent use of those means which Providence has put in our power accompanied with a greater than ordinary blessing from heaven.
Many can do nothing but pray, and prayer is perhaps the only thing in which Christians of all denominations can cordially and unreservedly unite; but in this we may all be one, and in this the strictest unanimity ought to prevail. Were the whole body thus animated by one soul, with what pleasure would Christians thus attend on all the duties of religion, and with what delight would their ministers attend on all the business of their calling.
We must not be contented however with praying without exerting ourselves in the use of means for the obtaining of those things we pray for. Were "the children of light" but "as wise in their generation as the children of this world" (Luke 16:8), they would stretch every nerve to gain so glorious a prize, nor ever imagine it was to be obtained in any other way.
When a trading company have obtained their charter they usually go to its utmost limits; and their stocks, their ships, their officers and men are so chosen and regulated as to be likely to answer their purpose; but they do not stop here, for encouraged by the prospect of success they use every effort, cast their bread upon the waters, cultivate friendship with everyone from whose information they expect the least advantage. They cross the widest and most tempestuous seas and encounter the most unfavourable climates; they introduce themselves into the most barbarous nations, and sometimes undergo the most affecting hardships; their minds continue in a state of anxiety, and suspense, and a longer delay than usual in the arrival of a vessel agitates them with a thousand changeful thoughts and foreboding apprehensions which continue till the rich returns are safe arrived in port. But why these fears? Whence all these disquietudes, and this labour? Is it not because their souls enter into the spirit of the project, and their happiness in a way depends on its success? Christians are a body whose truest interest lies in the exaltation of the Messiah's kingdom. Their charter is very extensive, their encouragements exceeding great, and the returns promised infinitely superior to all the gains of the most lucrative company. Let then everyone in his station consider himself as bound to act with all his might and in every possible way for God.
Suppose a company of serious Christians, ministers and private persons, were to form themselves into a society, and make a number of rules respecting the regulation of the plan, and the persons who are to be employed as missionaries, the means of defraying the expense, etc., etc. This society must consist of persons whose hearts are in the work, men of serious religion, and possessing a spirit of perseverance; there must be a determination not to admit any person who is not of this description, or to retain him longer than he answers to it.
From such a society a committee might be appointed, whose business it should be to procure all the information they could upon the subject, to receive contributions, to enquire into the characters, tempers, abilities and religious views of the missionaries, and also to provide them with the necessities for their undertakings.
They must also pay a great attention to the views of those who undertake this work; for want of this the missions to the Spice Islands, sent by the Dutch East India Company, were soon corrupted, many going more for the sake of settling in a place where temporal gain invited them, than of preaching to the poor Indians. This soon introduced a number of indolent or profligate persons, whose lives were a scandal to the doctrines which they preached; and by means of whom the gospel was ejected from Ternate in 1694, and Christianity fell into great disrepute in other places.
If there is any reason for me to hope that I shall have any influence upon any of my brethren and fellow Christians, probably it may be more especially amongst them of my own denomination. I would therefore propose that such a society and committee should be formed amongst the particular baptist denomination.
I do not mean by this in any way to confine it to one denomination of Christians. I wish with all my heart that everyone who loves our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity would in some way or other engage in it. But in the present divided state of Christendom it would be more likely for good to be done by each denomination engaging separately in the work than if they were to embark in it together. There is room enough for us all, without interfering with each other; and if no unfriendly interference took place, each denomination would bear good will to the other, and wish and pray for its success, considering it as upon the whole friendly to the great cause of true religion; but if all were intermingled, it is likely their private discords might throw a damp upon their spirits, and much retard their public usefulness.
In respect to contributions for defraying the expenses, money will doubtless be wanting; and suppose the rich were to use in this important undertaking a portion of that wealth over which God has made them stewards, perhaps there are few ways that would turn to a better account at last. Nor ought it to be confined to the rich; if persons of more moderate circumstances were to devote a portion, suppose a tenth, of their annual increase to the Lord, it would not only correspond with the practice of the Israelites, who lived under the Mosaic economy, but of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, before that dispensation commenced. Many of our most eminent forefathers amongst the Puritans followed that practice; and if that were but attended to now, there would not only be enough to support the ministry of the gospel at home, and to encourage village preaching in our respective neighbourhoods, but to defray the expenses of carrying the gospel into the heathen world.
If congregations were to open subscriptions of one penny or more per week, according to their circumstances, and deposit it as a fund for the propagation of the gospel, much might be raised in this way. By such simple means they might soon have it in their power to introduce the preaching of the gospel into most of the villages in England; where, though men are placed whose business it should be to give light to those who sit in darkness, it is well known that they have it not. Where there was no person to open his house for the reception of the gospel, some other building might be procured for a small sum, and even then something considerable might be spared for the baptist or other committees for propagating the gospel amongst the heathen.
Many persons have of late left off the use of West India sugar on account of the iniquitous manner in which it is obtained. Those families which have done so, and have not substituted anything else in its place, have not only cleansed their hands of blood, but have made a saving to their families, some of six-pence, and some of a shilling a week. If this or a part of this were appropriated to the uses previously mentioned, it would abundantly suffice. We have only to keep the end in view, and have our hearts thoroughly engaged in the pursuit of it, and means will not be very difficult.
We are exhorted "to lay up treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal" (Matt. 6:19). It is also declared that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6:7). These Scriptures teach us that the enjoyments of the life to come bear a near relation to that which now is; a relation similar to that of the harvest, and the seed. It is true all the reward is of mere grace, but it is nevertheless encouraging; what a "treasure," what a "harvest" must wait such characters as Paul, and Elliott, and Brainerd, and others, who have given themselves wholly to the work of the Lord. What a heaven will it be to see the many myriads of poor heathens, of Britons among the rest, who by their labours have been brought to the knowledge of God. Surely a "crown of rejoicing" (1 Thess. 2:19) like this is worth aspiring to. Surely it is worth while to lay ourselves out with all our might in promoting the cause and kingdom of Christ.