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PRAYER BEFORE THE SERMON.*
OUR heavenly Father, we thank thee that thou hast permitted us to live and behold these blessed scenes; that thou hast created such joy within the sanctuary; making so many hearts glad. We thank thee that thou hast set the day in so much brightness without; that thou hast commanded the sun and the season, and that all things are springing up and breaking forth into life, and beginning to grow. Now, O Lord, thou hast brought spring hither also; and in thy garden thou art causing many and many a one to begin to show forth the power of the new life. We pray that thou wilt accept the wishes and purposes of thy dear children who have this morning been united to us; and grant that yet more significantly they may be united to thee; that the channel of intercourse between their souls and thy soul may be open and large; that continually thy Spirit may descend upon them, and inspire in them the noblest thoughts and motives; and that they may be cleansed from the imperfections of the world and the flesh, and be imbued with everything which partakes of the divine influence. We pray that thou wilt fill them with all joy, not only in believing, but in living. May they become the children of light and of joy; and may they be known everywhere by their righteousness. If troubles shall come upon them, may they have that spirit of illumination from above which shall enable them to pierce through trouble with the bright light of faith and hope. If thou shalt bring bereavements upon them, may thy grace be sufficient for them. Thou that hast in every age upheld thy servants in the dungeon, in the flame, in the wilderness, living or dying-thou canst still animate thy servants, and give them strength for their day. Grant that these dear souls now gathered into communion with us, through us may be strengthened for the emergencies of their lives, that they may be happier in themselves, and that they may better bring the voice of gladness and of cheer into the dwellings where they are, and show forth in the gentleness, and meekness, and humility, and love which they shall bear to all who are around them, the true working of the divine Spirit in them. We beseech of thee that they may not count themselves unworthy of suffering, since thou wert crowned with thorns-thou that dost now wear the stars for thy diadem. May they not shrink from enduring pain in such measure as is needful either to cleanse them, or to enable them to bear witness and testimony for Christ. May they, from day to day, find their hearts more and more fed with hope and gladness. May thy Word, an ever open and exhaustless treasure, be their delight, wherein they may find the way of life pointed out. May they find in it those communications of God which are needed by their souls. And so may they be made rich. Grant, we pray thee, that thy servants who have looked upon this ingathering may rejoice and have faith for the future. Behold, this is the result of seed sown in tears. Behold, here is the fruit of years of watching and care. We rejoice that there are some who see their *Immediately following the reception of members into the church.
children, that there are some who see those long dearer to them than their own selves, now recalled from wandering ways to the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls.
We rejoice, O Lord, that there are many who look down from the heavenly sphere, and whose hearts are made glad by sights like these on earth. We rejoice in the sense that those who have gonə out from among us into glory are yet with us in sympathy. We congratulate those who have lived and labored for the elevation of this people those who have beheld in the consecration of these souls the fruit of their prayers, and watching, and fidelity. And we beseech of thee that none may be discouraged. In these bright testimonies of the power of truth and God's faithfulness, may those who are discouraged be reassured. May those who have backslidden and are wandering, return to the fold of Christ. And may this house be filled with gladness to-day.
We cannot, O Lord, thank thee enough for thine illumining Spirit and grace by which thou hast comforted the hearts of thy people. How much occasion have we all to bear witness to the goodness of God and the sustaining grace of God; and together, as a church and congregation, we make mention of thy goodness, and rejoice in thee, and praise thy holy name.
And now, we pray that thou wilt make this a day of delight to every one of us. We rejoice in our liberty. We rejoice in the liberty of the spirit which makes us free, and which gives us all things. The range of the universe is ours. Thou wilt yet give us power by which to rise and fly. We shall cast off these bodies, this weight, the infirmities of the flesh, and shall go home to the general assembly of the first born in heaven, and to the spirits of just men mad perfect. May we take hold, to-day, somewhat of the largeness of the life which is coming to us, and learn less and less to look with care and anxiety upon the fleeting things of the present life.
Grant, we pray thee, that in our homes, in our avocations, in our walking by the way, wherever we may be, we may evermore rejoice in the Lord, so that men beholding our brightness and gladness shall seek to come into the same blessed experience.
And now, we pray that thou wilt grant to all those who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and in truth, grace, mercy and peace. Crant to all thy churches plenitude of power and wisdom by which thy servants may speak the truth efficaciously. May they rejoice in their labor; and though they may sow their seed in tears, may they speedily come again, their bosoms filled with sheaves.
We pray for the spread of knowledge throughout our land, and for the establishment of this great people, not in outward strength, but in the strength of God. And may all thy promises which respect the islands of the sea and the dark continents of the earth, and the whole realm of the world, be speedily fulfilled, and the glory of the Lord rest upon all mankind.
And to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit shall be praises ever lasting. Amen.
LIBERTY IN THE CHURCHES.
"But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way."-1 COR. xii. 31.
What were the gifts which they were to covet? What was that which was better than even those gifts? We are left in no doubt whatsoever. By turning back to the fore part of this chapter, it will be found that what may be called the whole ecclesiastical framework of the Christian churchits ordinances, its creeds, its officers, its polity, its methodswere undoubtedly included under this general term, gifts; and not only are they spoken of with respect, but there is the implication of a relative and graded excellence in them; and men are commanded to desire the best of them; yet there is something that is better than all of them. What is that? It is the contents of the 13th of First Corinthians which I read and comment on so often in this church that I am afraid you will think I do not read any other part of the Bible much.
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." I shall not read it. I merely announce what it is. the living force of Christianity.
Paul says, "Covet earnestly the best gifts;" but there is something better than they are, and that is the living power of God in the human soul. That, I take it, would be Paul's interpretation of this passage, if he were here, and should interpret it in the light of the present state of facts and of feeling in the Christian church.
SUNDAY MORNING, May 10, 1874. LESSON: Rom. xiv. 1-19; HYMNS (Plymouth Collection): Nos. 119, 970, 949.
By looking back you will see, in the fourth verse of the 12th chapter, this declaration :
"Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same spirit. There are differences of administration [governments, and so on], but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations [the phenomena attending the whole work of God in the human soul is infinitely various], but it is the same God which worketh all in all [all these things in all men]. But the manifestation of the spirit is given to every man to profit withal. [There is no inherent sanctity in these things; they are not worth anything in themselves. Their end and object is the profit which they work out in men. Their value is to be graded and decided by the profit which is in them. If they do no good, then they are not good; and if they do a great deal of good, then they are good. They are to be measured by the profit which they are capable of bestowing.] For to one is given, by the Spirit, the word of wisdom [that is, the instruction of the real old logician, preaching truth according to high philosophical forms, wisdom sig、 nifying philosophy, substantially]."
Now, you have no right to ridicule those old dry doctrinaires the men who preach solid doctrine. There is a place and a use for them. You may say that they look like great knots, and hard, twisted roots of forest trees. Well, very likely they do; but I notice that the veneers for the most beautiful furniture are sawed out of these very knots, and twisted roots, and what not. Therefore they serve a pur
"To another the word of knowledge [experience, practical life, things ethical], by the same spirit; to another faith by the same spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy [not merely foretelling, but teaching]; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the self-same spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ."
The unity of the Church is in Jesus Christ, and not in sects, nor in any feeble earthly churches. They are all members or parts. The unity is in Christ, in the Spirit. Some of these churches and sects are eyes; some of them are ears; some of them are hands; some of them are feet; some of them are nails, apparently, and they scratch. They have different functions.
"For [and this is a most radical and revolutionary passage, when you consider that it was spoken in the eyes and face of the Jews—a
bigoted and angry nation who would not listen-and that it was considered to be almost as much as a man's life was worth to say to them that a Gentile had any considerable rights] by one spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been made to drink into one spirit."
The essential unity of all men who are endeavoring to develop in themselves the life of Christ is here declared.
Now, having asserted the reality of all these externalities, these gifts, these instruments, the apostle says, "Seek the best of them." You may have a preference; you may take the best; "And yet," he says, "there is something which is better than they are; which ranks higher than they do; which has dominion over them." What is that? The essential
free spirit of a living soul-the life of God made manifest by love in men. That is superior to all these other things.
The doctrine, then, is this: that the mood to which love brings men is freer, is safer, is better than the external forms of the Church.
I think these Pauline chapters are not studied half enough in our day, when so many events are taking place which cannot be rightly judged of except by the free, lofty principles that are laid down by that apostle.
First, there is ample recognition in the New Testament of the need and wisdom of church institutions. It is true that our Master did not command his disciples to form a church. It is true that there is not on record one single line or word from him which prescribes a new church as distinct from the Jewish church. He lived in the Jewish church himself. He died a member and communicant of that church. Nor did his disciples understand that they were to step out of it and fashion another one. They, all of them, for more than twenty-five years, lived in communion with the Jewish Church. Forty years after the ascension of their Master they still sacrificed in the temple, and were a Christian brotherhood only as a party in the original Jewish Church. It would seem to be the height of historical phantasy, therefore, to declare that the Christian Church was outlined and prescribed by the Lord Jesus Christ, understood to be so by his apostles, and taught by them to be so. A greater mistake can scarcely be imagined.