THE CHRISTIAN SERVING HIS OWN GENERATION.
OCCASIONED BY THE LAMENTED DEATH OF
JOSEPH JOHN GURNEY, ESQ.,
AND PREACHED IN
PRINCE’S STREET CHAPEL, NORWICH,
SUNDAY EVENING, JAN. 17th, 1847,
BY JOHN ALEXANDER.
PUBLISHED AT THE REQUEST OF THE CONGREGATION.
PRINTED BY JOSIAH FLETCHER, UPPER HAYMARKET;
SOLD ALSO BY
JARROLD AND SONS, LONDON STREET;
LONDON: JACKSON AND WALFORD.
p. 2The following sermon, which the Author composed and preached without the slightest intention of publishing it, and which he prepared for the press at the bedside of a dying son, is now presented to his congregation, in compliance with their earnest request; and to the public, in the hope that they will mildly censure its defects, and that they will imitate the example of Christian excellence which it describes.
Some additional extracts from Mr. Gurney’s works are now inserted, which were omitted in the delivery of the discourse.
p. 3A SERMON.
Acts xiii, 36.
“For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers.”
There are, as you will readily perceive, several interesting points of resemblance, between David, here spoken of, and our beloved and honoured friend, whose lamented death has occasioned this discourse. Both of them became religious early in life; and consecrated their youth to the God of their fathers. Both of them were men after God’s own heart; who, in the midst of human infirmities and imperfections, reverenced the divine authority, looked for pardon and salvation to the divine mercy, and esteemed the divine loving-kindness to be better than life. Both of them had the tongue and the pen of a ready writer; and said much, and wrote much, for the edification of the church of God. Both of them contributed largely and cheerfully of their own property, for the support and extension of the cause of God and of true religion. Both of them, when brought into various tribulations, found it good to be afflicted, and made the everlasting covenant of their God, all their salvation and all their desire. And of both of them it may with propriety p. 4be said, in the language of our text, “They served their own generation by the will of God; they fell on sleep; and they were laid to their fathers.” There are also, as you are aware, some points of difference between them, as well as of resemblance; to which, however, it is not needful to refer particularly; especially as I am desirous to direct your attention, in this discourse, not so much to specific instances of resemblance between these holy men, as to the beautiful accordance which there is between the description given in our text, and the life and character of Mr. Gurney. There are indeed various terms by which he might be appropriately designated; yet the one which is used in our text, though in some respects the humblest, is perhaps the best. He was a servant; and till he fell asleep in death, and was laid unto his fathers, he was employed in serving his own generation by the will of God. I think that all who were acquainted with him, will acknowledge that his whole life was service; service as opposed to selfishness, and idleness, and injuriousness; service done for God, on behalf of the church and the world; and service which he was prompted to undertake by Jesus Christ his Lord and Master, and from the exercise of which he became eminently beneficial to society, and eminently holy and happy in his own person. As he was, to a great extent, a public man, well known not only to you who compose this numerous congregation, but to most of our fellow-citizens, and to many of our fellow-countrymen, I may without impropriety speak of him more freely and more fully than I would speak of a more private individual; and especially as I am desirous that his character and conduct, as a christian servant, should be clearly and influentially perceived by us all; that by the grace of God we may imitate his example, and enable survivors to say of each one of us, “He served his own generation by the will of God, and fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers.” In order therefore p. 5to describe and recommend to you the christian servant, we shall consider the office which he sustains; the manner in which he is to discharge it; and the state in which it terminates.
I. Let us consider, in the first place, THE OFFICE WHICH HE SUSTAINS. I make this a distinct and primary subject of consideration, not that there is any difficulty in ascertaining what christian service is, but because I am desirous you should perceive and feel that it is an essential part of christian character. It is true that the office of servant is not the only one which a man of God sustains; nor is the name the only one which is descriptive of his character and life. He is a disciple; who sits at the feet of Jesus, and learns from his word the great mystery of godliness. He is a professor of Christ’s gospel; who publicly declares his belief of its doctrines, and his subjection to its authority. He is a soldier; who endures hardness, and fights the good fight of faith. And he is a son; a child of God; a partaker of the spirit of adoption, whereby he cries Abba, Father; and an heir of God through Jesus Christ. But he is a servant, in a sense which includes these names and relationships, and which describes a condition, in some respects superior to them all. As a servant is one who is subject to the authority of another person, and is employed on his behalf, so a christian is in willing subjection to God, and is employed by and for his Master in heaven. Formerly he was in the service of Satan, serving divers lusts and passions; but from that service he has been redeemed, not with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ; and from that service he has been called by the effectual voice of the Holy Spirit, who has constrained him to renounce sin, and Satan, and the world, and to consecrate his service to the Lord. “Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves p. 6servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness. But God be thanked, that, though ye were the servants of sin, ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered to you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.”
The man who thus becomes the servant of God, receives a qualification and a commission to serve both the church and the world—to serve the church, by seeking the spirituality, union, and increase of its members; and to serve the world, by seeking the temporal and spiritual welfare of all mankind. Without the desire and the practice of service such as this, religion would be but an empty name, or a mere sentimental emotion. It would be, not a living, but a dead religion; “for as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” This christian service which is thus the effect, becomes also the evidence of personal piety. There are some things, the possession or the practice of which are no decisive test of character. You may be in membership with a church of orthodox principles; and you may be the zealous advocate of denominational peculiarities; and yet, by these very things, you may be gratifying prejudice rather than piety; and your religious professions and attachments, may be only modifications of selfishness. But if you are found sustaining the office and discharging the duties of a servant of Christ, you are walking in the footsteps of your Lord and Master; you are living, not to yourself, but to him who died for you and rose again; you are looking not at your own things only, but at the things of others also; and therefore you love not in word, or in tongue, but in deed, and in truth.
How perfectly was this office sustained by Jesus Christ, the servant of God in the redemption of sinners. He himself is Lord of all; the Maker and the Monarch of the universe. p. 7“He was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but he made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant.” And how perfectly this “form” was indicative of the reality. “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” “I am among you, said he to his disciples, as one that serveth;” and when, on one occasion, he had girded himself with a towel, and washed his disciples’ feet, he said, “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his Lord; neither is he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” Happy indeed! for both happiness and honour are derived, not from exalting, but from humbling ourselves; not from self-indulgence, but from self-denial; and from a cordial and practical imitation of Him, who was meek and lowly in heart, and who went about doing good. How peculiarly and prominently was this the character of our departed friend. How much he had received of his Master’s spirit, and how willing he was to walk in his Master’s steps. Many of you, my brethren, I trust have so received, and are so inclined. Let us therefore follow him as he followed Christ. And as we profess to sustain the office of Christian servants, let us now give the more earnest heed to the apostolic injunction, “Let every one of us please his neighbour, for his good, to edification.”
II. Such being the office, which the Christian servant sustains, let us consider, in the second place, The manner in which it is to be discharged. “He is to Serve his own generation by the will of God.” Here, you perceive, is a course of conduct regulated by an important principle; both of which are to be included in our consideration of the manner in which this office is to be discharged. On an ordinary occasion, I would have described and illustrated p. 8this conduct, and this principle, by an express reference to scripture doctrine, precept, and example. But it is our privilege to have had among us an individual, well and publicly known, who sustained this office, and whose life and character afford an impressive illustration of the manner in which it should be discharged; and therefore, as Peter “freely” spake to the people, of the patriarch David, who served his own generation by the will of God, I shall now freely speak to you of our departed friend and brother, as an example of the same religious service.
In the first place then, A CHRISTIAN IS TO SERVE HIS OWN GENERATION. He may indeed be the means of serving future generations also. While David was serving the men and the institutions of his own time, his prayer was, “Now also when I am old and grey headed, O God, forsake me not, until I have shewed thy strength to this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.” And the God to whom this prayer was addressed, enabled him to accomplish his desire, by the preparations which he made for the erection of the future temple, and by the Psalms which he composed, and which have contributed so richly to the instruction and comfort of our own and of preceding generations. Martyrs and Reformers of old, who, as servants of Christ, were faithful even unto death, and sealed their service with their blood, were also thereby the means of securing benefits to the church and the world, which have come down from their days to our own, and by which we ourselves are established and blessed. And our beloved friend too, who has served the present generation, will serve the future also. “He, being dead, yet speaketh,” and he will continue to speak, not only by the remembrance of his holy example, but also by the vigour which he has imparted to many of our benevolent and religious institutions, and by the books which he has published, and which future generations will read. Of every truly p. 9Christian servant it may therefore be said, even when he rests from his labours, that his works do follow him. His years are thereby prolonged to many generations. He lives on earth, and in heaven, at the same time. And blessed is that servant, who, amidst the repose and joy of his celestial home, is crowned by the benedictions of men of generations subsequent to his own, to whose salvation he was the means of contributing. But let no one aim at the future, to the neglect of the present. Let no one withhold time, and self-denial, and personal effort, from the present, with the intention of making an atonement by levying a tax on his property for the future. Let no one accumulate, and hoard up now, with the intention of letting a portion go when he can no longer retain it. But let every man be his own executor, as far as he is able, and let him endeavour to serve future generations by generously and religiously serving his own.
The present generation is emphatically “our own;” and, therefore, it has upon us peculiar claims. Every good man has been converted and sanctified by the grace of God, in order that he may be qualified and disposed to serve it. The objects which have the first claim upon our service, are our own families; nor are we to undertake the service of a philanthropist, of a Sunday school teacher, or even of a preacher of the gospel, to their neglect and injury; “for if any man provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” Those among whom we are placed as neighbours, demand our service next; and so on, according to our means and opportunities, till the circle of our service is as wide as the family of man. Our charity, which may thus begin at home, is therefore not to end there; but must resemble the service rendered by the sun, who sheds his light and sweet influences, first on the planets which are nearest to his centre, p. 10and then extends them to those which lie at the remote circumference.
Our Christian brother, now departed, so faithfully served his own generation, that his conduct in this respect may furnish an influential rule and encouragement to ourselves; and though we may not have the means and capacities which he possessed, yet from his extensive service, we may learn how to conduct our own, according to the ability which God hath given us. He, then, served his own generation, by a public profession of the gospel of Christ. In early life he was placed in circumstances where he was free to choose whom he would serve; and he had wealth, and talents, and attractive influences, which would have gained him a cordial welcome among the men of the world, who have their portion in this life. But he came out from among them, and was separate. He determined to become a disciple of Christ, not secretly, for fear of the frown or ridicule of the world, but publicly, declaring himself to society and to the church, as a Christian man, bound to act on Christian principles, and to exhibit them publicly and practically in all his religious and his secular affairs. This was a most appropriate act of Christian service; and the moral courage which he manifested in thus following out his convictions, by confessing Christ before men, is a noble example to the men of his own class, and of his own generation. “Vain,” says he, “will be our belief in the glad tidings of salvation through the crucified Immanuel, unless it be followed by a holy decision of mind, in giving up ourselves to God. The want of this holy decision, may be regarded as the second grand cause of the imperfections which so often interrupt our conformity to the divine will. When Saul was arrested in his career of violence, by a light and voice from above, he ‘was not disobedient to the heavenly vision;’ he surrendered at discretion p. 11to the all-conquering Saviour; forsook, at once, his self righteousness and self will, and became, without reserve, what every Christian ought to be, a servant of the Lord. The die was cast, which for ever determined his adherence to the cause of Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 
He served his own generation by a consistent and influential character. He not only began well in his Christian course, but having obtained help of God, he continued in it, even to the end. Suppose it had been otherwise. Suppose that, after he had made a public profession of the gospel, he had renounced it; or, by some act or course of immorality, had profaned it. What a frightful supposition! Can you estimate the evil and the disservice of such an apostacy? How would the church have mourned, not as she did at his death, with sorrow softened with hope, but with bitter tears, and a broken heart; and how would the enemies of truth and purity have rejoiced and blasphemed! Can you then estimate the service which he rendered to Christ and to his church, by that long course of holy and consistent conduct which, by the grace of God, he was enabled to pursue; and during which he was neither ashamed of the gospel nor a shame unto it. Brethren, let us watch and pray, that we may thus serve God ourselves, and let us devoutly listen to the charge which our divine Master is ever addressing to his servants, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
He served his own generation by his liberal contributions, which he rendered to the cause of humanity and religion. Giving money, in due proportion, and to proper objects, was placed by him among the duties inculcated by religion and benevolence; and his giving was distinguished, not only by the largeness of its amount, but by the manner in which it p. 12was conducted. He gave cheerfully, constantly, and religiously. If you have ever been refused money, when you have asked it for a really deserving case, the refusal was not from Mr. Gurney. If, after long and beseeching entreaty, you have received a donation grudgingly, it was not from Mr. Gurney. There were sometimes cases when he might have excused himself, by pleading the amount he had already given to similar objects, or the claims and the peculiarities of his own religious denomination; but, though he would not give against the convictions of his conscience, yet his giving was evidently limited only by those convictions, and by the range of his own means. “I only wish to keep my head fairly above water,” was the remark which he made to a friend, who had received a donation from him for a religious purpose, just after he had been giving some large sums of money; and when an effort was being made, some time ago, to induce persons to become collectors for a charitable institution in this city, to which he had given liberally, he said, “It sometimes requires more self-denial to ask for contributions than it does to give them, and the most liberal people are often those who beg, not those who give.” You know how he remembered the poor; and I shall never forget the gratification which he expressed when the District Visiting Society was established, because, as he then said, he had the means of sending money to the poor, in a way that would secure its proper distribution. I have said that he gave religiously. He regarded his possessions as a sacred trust, committed to him by his divine Master, for the supply of the wants of others as well as of his own; and he felt his responsibility as a steward who would soon be called to give an account of himself unto God. What he gave, therefore, was given unto the Lord; and many a cup of water has he given to his disciples, because they belonged to Christ. How many lessons of wisdom and religion, relative to the principle and mode of p. 13giving, may thus be learned from the example of our departed brother, who never saw an object of necessity or distress and then “passed by on the other side,” but whose oil, and wine, and purse, were always ready for the necessities of his neighbour.
He served his own generation by personal efforts. His gifts were not merely pecuniary. It was his own maxim, that a man may give much money, and yet exercise very little of benevolence or of self-denial. He gave what, to a man in his circumstances, was often more valuable than gold—he gave time, and personal attention, and laborious effort, to assist in the working of many of the public institutions with which he was connected; and till circumstances rendered it needful that he should in some measure withdraw his personal attendance, he was one of our most punctual and regular committee men; and sometimes undertook service which others preferred to decline. Many of our public institutions are really conducted by comparatively few individuals; and it will be a great advantage to the societies themselves, and to the public at large, when we have a greater number of men who, like Joseph John Gurney, will be seen in our committee rooms, and on our platforms, giving their presence and influence, as well as their silver and gold.
I need not say that, among his personal efforts, he served his own generation by his writings. In the many volumes which he has published, there are of course the expression and the advocacy of his peculiar opinions as a Dissenter, and as a Friend; but his writings are characterized, not by these peculiarities, but by what is common to the church of God. They are full of the truth as it is in Jesus. Some of them are eminently critical, argumentative, and learned; all of them are eminently excellent in their sentiments and influence; containing no words which, “when dying, he need wish p. 14to blot,” but only such as were serviceable to the interests of sobriety, righteousness, and godliness.
But he also served his own generation by seizing present opportunities of usefulness, and by acting in accordance with the requirements of the times. He was greatly impressed with the importance of thus acting; and during the eventful period in which he lived, he had many opportunities of manifesting it. When such opportunities presented themselves, he never lingered till they were lost, but whatsoever his hand found to do, he did it with all his might. He was a servant, who not only “knew his Lord’s will,” but also “prepared himself.” He was one of those “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” When therefore he was appealed to by the cause of Education, of Prison Discipline, of Slave Emancipation, of the Bible Society, of the Poor, or by any department of service which occurred to him as a Christian minister, he promptly responded to the call; and by his persevering labours, imparted strength and courage to his coadjutors. In such cases he sometimes manifested a degree of tact and holy wisdom, which showed how heartily he was devoted to his object. This appears very much in his writings; and in some of his letters, inserted in the unpublished life of the late Lord Suffield; and the anxious desire which he felt that his Lordship’s mind might be brought under the influence of religion, as the only right principle of action, and as the only spring of joy, is truly beautiful and affecting. For instance, when referring to the subject of Prison Discipline, he says, “I truly rejoice in thy thus being enabled to employ thy time, talents, and influence, in the cause of humanity; and may I not say, Christianity? Most heartily do I wish thee well on thy way, and may the preserving power of the Lord be with thee, to protect, bless, and sanctify all thy proceedings, and thy whole self, in body, p. 15soul, and spirit.” In another letter he says, “So much for politics; with regard to my last subject—religion—I was a little afraid lest thy silence might indicate dissent, and I am truly rejoiced to find it otherwise. To salute thee as a brother, in ‘him who died for us and rose again,’ is a pleasure indeed! I cannot consent to keep silence on this subject, though I feel with thee how much it requires all our reverence; but I remember what a certain prophet said, ‘they that feared the Lord spake often one to another.’ I am however quite aware that there are right times and seasons; that the temple must not be polluted by unhallowed feet; and that our feet are too apt to be unhallowed, unless they are first ‘shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.’” “I cannot express,” says he in another place, “what I think of the value of those religious convictions which are hinted at in thy letter. I consider them to be beyond all price, because the work, not of man, but of God. I should conceive that it must have been through much mental conflict that thou hast come at them, for I have long found occasion to believe that we must be made in some measure partakers of the sufferings of Christ, before we can enjoy the privileges of true religion. ‘Are ye willing to drink of the cup that I drink of?’ ‘After what is past, it is impossible not to feel a warm personal interest in thee.’ ‘Such a heart and mind are talents to be employed in thy Master’s service.’” Can you conceive of any thing more spiritually beautiful than these extracts are? And who can hear them without thanking God on the writer’s behalf?
And to shew how naturally and gracefully he could mingle religion with the common affairs of life, I may relate to you an incident which was told me by a friend, who one day happened to travel with Mr. Gurney, and some other persons, on the outside of the coach. When they had proceeded a few miles, Mr. Gurney said, “as we started rather early this p. 16morning, I was not able, at home, to read my portion of Scripture, so that if there be no objection, I will read a chapter aloud.” He did so, making suitable remarks on the verses as he read them, and diffusing such a hallowed influence on those around him, that my friend said, “it was one of the happiest days I ever spent.” Now, with Mr. Gurney, the doing such a thing as that, was as free from ostentation, as it was from awkwardness. It was a deed of “simplicity and godly sincerity;” and was so conducted, as to seem as appropriate for the top of a coach, as for a meeting house, or a cathedral. There is a paragraph in one of his unpublished manuscripts, which is in beautiful harmony with this anecdote, and which may possibly have some reference to it. After speaking of the duty and importance of “always being on the watch, to make a good use of our time,” he says, “I have sometimes endeavoured to apply these principles to travelling, in which a considerable portion of the time of some persons is almost unavoidably occupied. A call of duty or business, may often carry us to places at a distance from our own homes. Is the time, taken up by the journey, to be one of mere indolence? Is the convenience of being conveyed from one place to another, to be the only profit which it shall yield? Ought we not rather to make a point, on such occasions, of adding to our stock of knowledge, and of useful ideas, by reading, by conversation, and reflection? Is there no object of interest which may be examined by the way? Is there no person of piety or talent, with whom we may find a passing opportunity of communicating? Are the motions of the coach or chariot so rapid, that we cannot leave behind us, as we pass from place to place, important instruction in the form of Bibles, Testaments, or tracts? Much may not be required of us; but it is well, if on our arrival at our place of destination, we can acknowledge that we have both received and communicated a little good in the course of our p. 17journey.” And again. “As the servant who waits well on his master, is ever on the qui vive to know what will be next wanted, so are we to wait on the hours, and even on the moments of each passing day, to know what duties they point out to us, or what employments they suggest for the improvement of our minds.”
Thus it was, brethren, that our departed friend endeavoured to discharge the office of a servant in his own generation. He served it, by a public profession of the gospel of Christ; by a consistent and influential character; by his liberal contributions to the cause of humanity and religion; by his personal efforts and writings; and by seizing present opportunities of usefulness, and acting in accordance with the requirements of the times.
But we have still to remark, secondly, that a Christian is to serve his own generation in accordance with the will of God. The text may indeed be read, “after he had, in his own generation, served the will of God.” But even this arrangement of the words implies, that the service which he rendered, in the midst of his own generation, was according to the will of God; and as this refers to the principle and motive of Christian service, it can be applied, equally with the former expression, to the service rendered by our Christian brother, the strongest desire of whose heart it was, so to serve as to please God.
A man may do right acts from wrong motives. The Pharisees gave alms to the poor. That was right. But their motive in giving, was to be seen of men. That was wrong. It was seeking to please men rather than God, who trieth the hearts. No action can be religious which has not its motive and its end in God, and which is not in accordance with his will. The man, therefore, who properly and acceptably serves his own generation, must do it by the will of p. 18God. This was exactly the opinion of our beloved friend. “Paul,” says he, often declares himself to be “an apostle by the will of God. Now we may rest assured that had not his will been surrendered at discretion, he would neither have been enabled to lead a life of holiness, nor have been qualified for his peculiar path of religious duty. His whole work and service would have been marred; and he would have been comparable to nothing better than a stunted tree, bringing forth fruit destined not to ripen. Such a sacrifice of the will, is indeed absolutely necessary, not merely to the general purposes of virtue, but to the specific value and usefulness of every member of the church of Christ.”
Acting on these great principles, our departed brother served his own generation in accordance with the revealed will of God in the Bible. Whatever peculiarities distinguished him as a member of the Society of Friends, he believed them to be in conformity with the holy Scriptures; and I am sure that, so far as the office of a christian servant is concerned, he would acknowledge no will that appeared to him to be contrary to “the will of God” as revealed in the inspired volume. If he followed the light within himself, it was because he believed it to be from the same divine source with the light without, which shines upon the sacred pages. He was a most attentive and devout reader of this holy book, not only in the family, but in the closet, and in the study; and it was not unusual with him to invite the visitors at his house to join him in those morning readings in the Greek Testament, in which, after breakfast, he was accustomed to engage. The frequency and devotion with which he searched the scriptures, to ascertain his Lord’s will, he earnestly recommended to others; and you are all witnesses how often, in his Bible society Speeches, he repeated and enforced the apostolic declaration, “all scripture p. 19is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.”
He served his own generation, under a deep conviction of the supreme and rightful authority of God over him. There are many persons who live and act on the principle that they have a right to do what they will with themselves, and with what they call their own. “Our lips, say they, are our own, who is Lord over us?” “I am not my own,” was the language of our christian brother. “I belong to Christ, my Lord and Master.” And in language literally his own, he declares, “there is nothing more distasteful to the natural man, than the piercing spirituality, the comprehensive grasp, and the binding authority of God’s precepts. The child of darkness prefers his own devices—he is a rebel to the core. But Christianity requires an uncompromising compliance with the whole counsel of God as it relates to our conduct. Our whole life must be regulated by the directions of his perfect law. No rebellious feeling, no corrupt motive or thought must be harboured; no favourite sin spared; no unwelcome duty omitted.” 
He served also in remembrance of his responsibility to God. Every step he took in this service, he felt was on his way to the judgment seat, there to give an account of himself unto God. And we, be it remembered, are perpetually approaching the same tribunal. We can no more get rid of our responsibility, than we can of our immortality. Whether we admit it or deny it; whether we declare ourselves to be accountable to God, or independent of God; the great white throne is before us, and he that sits upon it, “will bring every work into judgment, and every secret thing, whether it be good or bad.”
p. 20And, once more, he served under a deep sense of obligation to God. There is no motive in the universe of such mighty power, in the divine service, as the love of Christ to sinners; his love in redemption; his love in dying for the ungodly. “The love of Christ constraineth us.” And while it constrains us to love Christ, who redeemed us with his precious blood, it also constrains us to persevere in a course of christian service, with an alacrity and devotedness which no other motive could inspire. Oh! how this was felt by our beloved friend. What a master motive to his heart was the love of Christ in becoming the propitiation for our sins! In his speeches, and in his writings, what lofty inspiration did the theme produce! and how he seemed to feel as if he could never say enough, nor do enough, to testify his obligation to that benignant Master, “who loved him, and gave himself for him!”
Delightful as it is, thus to speak of one, who, after this manner, served his own generation according to the will of God, we nevertheless desire to say it all in perfect accordance with the doctrine, that all his disposition, and all his capacity, for his Master’s service, was derived entirely from his Master’s grace. I should be doing a grievous wrong, not only to Scripture sentiment, but to his own most cherished convictions, if I were in the least degree to intimate that any of his spiritual excellencies were either self-originated or meritoriously exercised. No—amidst my highest admiration of his character, I would remember the admonition which he gave to me, when he met me on my way to preach the funeral sermon for Joseph Kinghorn—“praise the Master, not the servant;” and I do so when I say, that all which the servant became, the Master made him. The same hand which gave him the reward of the faithful servant, had previously given him the fidelity; and, therefore, we glorify God in him; and we carefully p. 21remember, that the holiest christian on earth, and the brightest saint in heaven, willingly unite in the one declaration, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
III. Our remarks on the christian servant must now be brought to a close; and having considered the office which he sustains, and the manner in which it is to be discharged, I must briefly consider in the third place, THE STATE IN WHICH IT TERMINATES. “For David, after he had served his own generation, by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers.”
“He fell on sleep”—not, he died. “He that believeth on me, says Christ, shall never die.” He becomes absent from the body, and is present with the Lord; but this is not dying. It is not death, to close our eyes on earth, and open them in heaven; to lose the embrace of earthly friendship, and fall into the arms of Christ. This is not death; nor is it even sleep, so far as the spirit of the Christian servant is concerned. The spirit becomes absent from the body, and present with the Lord. It goes out of its tabernacle of clay, into the house which is not made with hands, eternal in the heavens; and there it joins the spirits of just men made perfect, in the general assembly and church of the first-born. But the body sleeps, and sleeps in Jesus, who redeemed it with his precious blood; who made it a temple for the Holy Ghost to dwell in; who will watch over its precious dust while it remains in the grave, “waiting there for the adoption, to wit the redemption of the body;” and who, when that morning of adoption dawns, will “come to wake it out of sleep, and to fashion it like unto his own glorious body;” “for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”
“And was laid unto his fathers.” The phrase in the Old Testament is, “He was gathered to his people.” So far as it may refer to the body, it alludes to the gathering in the p. 22grave; but even in the earliest times, when the phrase was used, it looked beyond the grave, to the people whom God had begun to gather round his throne. And from the days of the patriarchs to our own, the God of all grace has been still increasing the number, and gathering his saints together, “who have made a covenant with him by sacrifice.” And when the spirit of our departed friend entered the mansions of his Father’s house, to what a numerous and a glorious company was he gathered, of those who had gone before, in ancient and in modern times. And while it is to Christ, that the gathering of the people shall be, and while he will be to them, throughout eternity, their joy, and glory, and heaven, yet blessed and celestial will be the recognitions and the remembrances, when the newly arrived guest is introduced to his former companions and coadjutors. What heart can conceive of the heavenly joy with which our departed brother, on his arrival there, met with those eminent and holy men, with whom, when on earth, he had taken sweet counsel, in works of faith and labours of love. What tongue can tell the greetings with which he was welcomed to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, when he sat down with Patriarchs, and Prophets, and Apostles, and Martyrs—with Wilberforce, and Simeon, and Buxton, and the glorious company of the Redeemed, in the presence of Christ the Master of the feast! Oh! to be thus gathered to the general assembly and church of the first-born, in that land of light and immortality, where there is no shade to dim its brightness; no sin to defile its purity; no tribulation to interrupt its joys; no languor, no pain, no disease, to burden the willing spirit; and no death to break up the blessed family. Lord “gather not my soul with sinners.” Let me, O Lord, be gathered to my fathers in Christ. “Let me die the death of the righteous, let my last end be like his!”
Well might “devout men carry him to the grave, and p. 23make great lamentation for him.” Well might the whole city assume the appearance of a consecrated sabbath, and send forth its thousands and tens of thousands to mourn at his funeral. Well might the voice of triumph mingle with the voice of tears, and exclaim at his sepulchre, “Thanks be to God who hath given him the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ;” for “a prince and a great man has fallen in Israel.” And by his death, which has brought such gain to himself, the poor have lost a sympathizing benefactor; society has lost a bright example; the church of Christ has lost a beloved brother, a laborious servant, and a faithful minister of the gospel; and his own mourning family have lost “the desire of their eyes with a stroke.” Let us then endeavour to supply all this loss, as far as we are able. Let each of us determine, by the grace of God, to serve our own generation with increasing energy and devotedness. And let the review of his life, and the rapidity of his death, urge us all to be “steadfast and unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as we know that our labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
p. 24BY THE SAME AUTHOR.
THE PREACHER FROM THE PRESS. Sermons to explain and to recommend the Gospel of Jesus Christ.—2 vols., cloth boards, Price 6s.
THE DEATH OF A MINISTER AN EVENT OF PECULIAR IMPORTANCE. A Funeral Sermon for the Rev. John Sykes, of Guestwick.
THE MOURNING CONGREGATION REMINDED OF THE WORK OF THEIR DECEASED MINISTER. A Funeral Sermon for the Rev. Joseph Kinghorn, of Norwich.
CHURCH MEMBERSHIP. An appeal to Christians on the Duty and Importance of Communion with the Church.
THE OBJECTS AND MOTIVES OF MODERN NONCONFORMISTS. A Sermon preached at the Opening of Hingham Chapel.
THE BAPTISM OF THE PRINCE. A Sermon preached in anticipation of the Baptism of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.
APOSTOLIC WAYS IN THE CHURCH. The Introductory Discourse delivered at the Ordination of the Rev. Andrew Reed, B.A. in the Old Meeting House, Norwich.