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SERVING THE LORD CARIST.
REV. H. MELVILL, B.D.
CAMDEN CHAPEL, CAMBERWELL, JULY 24, 1836.
"And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that o
the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance; for ye serve the Lord Christ." --COLOSSIANS, iii. 23, 24.
We have had frequent occasion to remark to you, how little Christianity interfered with the institutions of society, and how carefully its Founder abstained from all attempts at prescribing or altering the form of civil government. It was not because there was not much which required to be changed; for the social system was then but ill-arranged, the relation of man to man was little understood, and the mutual dependence of ruler and subject imperfectly recognized. But the religion which Christ came to teach, was a religion equally adapted to all forms of government and all conditions of society; and which, therefore, though it introduced principles which, thoroughly followed out, would act upon the politics as well as the morals of a land, made it no part of its business to excite prejudice by any appearance of an endeavour to re-model the state. The religiou took nothing for granted, except the sinfulness and helplessness of man ; that sinfulness and helplessness which are precisely the same beneath a republic or a monarchy; the same, whether the man be a king or a slave. Hence it was not essential to the progress of Christianity, nor required for the performance of its duties, that there should be any political revolution, or any alteration in the form of society. A state could not, indeed, as we have already binted, receive Christianity, and not find that it had taken to itself a great, though silent, corrector of abuses, and regenerator of institutions ; but nevertheless, Christianity needed and demanded no change, as either preliminary to its admission or necessary for its advancement. The bondsman, for example, might as well be a Christian as the freeman; and therefore, Christianity made no direct attack upon the system of s'avery: it opened to all men the glorious liberty of the Gospel, and left it to be inferred, as it has gradually been, that where all are freenen none should be slaves.
And it is yet further observable, that the religion of the New Testament not only abstains from direct interference with much that is opposed to its spirit, but even sets itself to the support of existing institutions, by requiring of its disciples that they be content, whatever their condition. The slave is not taught to labour for the acquisition of freedom. If he have his choice, then, indeed, St. Paul bids him prefer liberty; but the general rule was, that every man should abide in the same calling wherein he was called, and make it his great effort to adorn the doctrine of his Saviour in all things. And to reconcile men to the inequalities in human condition—inequalities which, so far as they are inconsistent with the genius, must be gradually removed by the march of Christianity—the inspired writers insist on the truth, that there is no respect of persons with God, but that all were on the same level, and all possessed the same privileges, when considered as candidates for a home beyond the grave.
In this respect, but in no other, Christianity might be said to interfere with the distinctions of human society, making them of no moment, and even inverting, as it were, the position of the several ranks. Thus, in St. Paul's address to a slave, to which we have already referred, you find he speaks as though, through this operation, the master and slave had actually changed places: “For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman; likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant.” The freeman, you observe, is declared to become a servant, and the ser. vant a freeman. And why, then, should those differences in station, which exist only for this temporary scene, and have nothing corresponding when men are verging on immortality, why should they minister to pride in the exalted, or cause uneasiness in those in lower ranks ? St. James takes much the same course, in reference to the rich and the poor: “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted, but the rich in that he is made low, because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away." Christianity, he seems to say, has conferred such dignity on the mean man, that he may regard himself elevated, and has so taught the mighty his own nothingness, that he ought to feel himself depressed. Thus, in a certain sense, wealth and poverty, like freedom and slavery, changed places when men embraced the religion of Jesus: that religion made such compensation to the poor, and so showed the rich their worthlessness, except as used to God's glory, that it might be said to have brought the two to equality, or even to have transfer red the one into the position of the other.
Now this is a very beautiful, and should be a very effectual, pode ot' reconciling men to the inequalities of human condition, and repressing all those murmurings which oppression and hardship are likely to excite. If, indeed, there had been differences in spiritual advantages, corresponding with the differences in external circumstances; if servitude or poverty extended to another world, so that distinctions were perpetuated, and men's position for eternity were determined by their position upon earth ; why then there might be just grounds of complaint, and we could not treat as unimportant the distinctions in society. But if all are on the same level, as probationers for another world, each station having its appropriate duties, and the recompenses of eternity being equally attainable by the occupants of each, certainly there ought not to be repining among those who fill the lower offices in life: they have the same prizes within reach, as though they filled the higher; and if they walk a rougher road, they may possibly reach a loftier eminence hereafter.
This is, in fact, the sum of St. Paul's statement in our text; or rather, it is by this kind of reasoning that St. Paul urges on servants the being diligent in their calling. It is to servants, or rather to slaves (for such were the servants of antiquity), that he speaks in the words on which we discourse. In the verses preceding our text, he had said, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God.” He then carries on the admonition : “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily” (or, from the soul),
as to the Lord, and not unto men.” This was placing duty on high ground; they were to lose sight of men, and have respect only unto God; and lest the lowly and mean nature of the offices they had to perform should be thought to incapacitate them for having so lofty a regard, the apostle adds, “ knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance ; for ye serve the Lord Christ.” You observe, at once, that the motive to diligence and faithfulness in their calling is here derived from their being the servants of Christ, and from their having consequently the same rewards proposed to them as though they had moved in a higher sphere of life. And there is much in this statement and reasoning of the apostle, which deserves our most serious examination. It is not necessary that we confine our thoughts to the precise instance of servants or slaves; we may rather extend them to all classes of the community ; for if it can be said of the lowest, that in performing the duties of their station, they “serve the Lord Christ,” we may fairly regard that the duty was rightly discharged, as dis. charged in the service of the Saviour. It is not merely that every employment is to be considered as an employment under God (for this might be true, and yet the men differently employed have different advantages); it is yet further that the reward of the inheritance is equally set before the various servants, however dissimilar the offices they resportively fill.
We say again, that there is much in these assertions demanding and deserving our most careful consideration; and this we now proceed to give them, arranging our remarks under the divisions which have already been indicated; considering, that is, in the first place, the fact that servants “serve the Lord Christ;" and, in the second place, the inference, that “ of the Lord they shall receive the reward of the inheritance.”
Now the first assertion is not wholly without its parallel in the case of a human household or kingdom. There may be many gradations of rank in the establishment of a great and mighty princegradations descending from the noble to the ignoble: but it may with equal truth be said of each rank in succession, that it is in the service of the sovereign; the dignity of the high not raising him above being a servant, and the meanness of the one of low parentage not disqualifying him from the bearing such office. It is altogether possible that those who serve in the inferior places are never brought into contact or association with the prince, that he is unacquainted with their persons or names, and that thus they may be the servants of his servants, so obscure is their station in his household. But all this evidently interferes not with what we have affirmed; the men are in the prince's service; the duties they discharge are duties in whose performance he has direct interest, and the neglect of which would as rapidly tell on his comfort and wellbeing as that which devolves on the highest of his functionaries. The labourer who tills the ground, is as actually serving the king as the nobleman who is assisting at his councils; and if this lowest of his servants were to neglect his occupation, and refuse to be the cultivator of the soil, all the higher servants would soon be forced to the vacating their posts, and confusion of the worst kind would pervade the whole kingdom.
Now if the church be regarded, according to the scriptural imagery, as a kingdom or household, of which Christ is the head, we may argue, in like manner, that all the members of which it is composed are the servants of Christ; so that, however diverse their occupations, they all belong to the same master. It is but enlarging the household, and supposing it to comprehend the Christian community, and then we have the Saviour occupying the place of the
universal ruler, and every individual, whether exalted or despised amongst men, employed by the ruler in some appointed capacity. And we may say, yet further, that such is the connexion between the duties of the several servants, so thoroughly do they conspire to the making up one harmonious obedience, that you could no more spare the Christian usefulness of the humblest individual, than the minute labour of the tiller of the soil, and would as much unhinge the church by diffusing infidelity, as a kingdom by diffusing rebellion through the lower classes.
The parallel, however, altogether fails, when we come to observe the knowledge which the master has of his servants. We may contend, and we may prove, that the lowest in the royal establishment is as truly the servant of the king as the highest; but only the higher servants are at all known to the king ; the others are strangers, of whose labour he makes use, but with whom he holds no intercourse. But the beautiful thing which we can affirm in reference to the church is, that the eye of the master is as much on one servant as on another, and his acquaintance with one as actual as with another; so that when we declare of a man, that he “ serves the Lord Christ,” we mean a great deal more than when we make the assertion of the various retainers in an overgrown household. We do not merely mean, that the duties which the man discharges, are duties by whose performance the cause of Christ is advanced or uphell; we mean that the man is as actually employed by Christ, and as actually working for Christ, as though he had received directions from his lips.
We cannot infer less than this, from the statement in our text. The parties there spoken of have masters upon earth, who both possessed and enforced the right to their service; but nevertheless, however they might have appeared to serve only men, it was the service of Christ in which they were all along engaged. The apostle thus takes away, as it were, all intermediate grades, and brings the servant into direct communication with the master; in place of supposing that his ministration only reaches him through a long and intricate channel, in fact substitutes Christ for man, and represents every duty as a duty to the Saviour, rather than to our fellow-men.
And here is the great principle on which we wish to fasten and which we wish to illustrate. We are quite accustomed, it may be, to the regarding certain men as employed in the service of Christ, and certain occupations as of wholly a spiritual character. But the question is--for it is to this length that we are carried by our text-whether we are wont to regard all Christians as his servants,