Christian Effort

By James Henley Thornwell


The life of the Christian is not a life of inactivity and ease. He becomes the servant of God by receiving the Lord Jesus Christ, and is sent into his Master's vineyard for the purpose of working for his Master's glory. The Apostle, in Philippians 1:27, gives us a brief but comprehensive description of the work which the Christian is required to do and the manner in which it should be done.

I. The followers of Christ must "strive together for the faith of the Gospel." This is their business -- their duty -- their Master's work which they must perform. The faith of the Gospel may mean only that, particular feature of the Gospel which relates to justification, or all the doctrines and precepts of the Gospel taken together as a whole. It is a matter of very little consequence which interpretation we adopt, as they both come to the same thing at last. There can be no cordial acceptance of Christ for righteousness without a cordial acceptance of Him for sanctification. He cannot be divided. No man can receive Him as a priest who does not at the same time receive Him as a king. The general idea of the Apostle, therefore, is that Christians should strive together for the purpose of promoting the success of the Gospel in themselves and others. Here, then, are two important objects held up before the Christian, demanding his efforts, and these are, The sanctification of believers and The conversion of sinners. The Gospel is not the power of God to salvation until it is cordially received and cheerfully obeyed, and it is the business of the Christian to strive that it may have free course in his own heart, the hearts of his fellow-disciples and the world lying in wickedness.

1. His own heart is the first theater of his efforts. If he be really the servant of Christ, it must be his supreme desire to glorify his Father in heaven by a well-ordered life and godly conversation. He cannot be content with a bare hopethat he has passed from darkness to light, but he strives and prays and labors that the body of sin may be mortified in him, and that he may day by day become more conformed to the image of Christ. His regard is fixed on holiness, hishatred is directed against sin, and he can neither be content nor at rest until he is freed from every vestige of corruption and indwelling sin, which will only be when he awakes fromthe sleep of death in his Redeemer's likeness. "I shall be satisfied," says David, "when I awake in Thy likeness." Sanctification, progressive growth in grace, and the havinghis light shine brighter and brighter until the perfect dayhe knows is his privilege, secured to him in the Covenantof Grace, and he shows by his efforts and evinces by his life that he feels it to be a sweet, delightful, precious privilege. Such are the Christian's views of his own heart, such hisregard for the glory of God and the beauty of holiness, that he cannot intermit or relax his efforts so long as the deceitfulness of the one distresses or the loveliness of the other allures him. Now this holiness of heart can be obtained only through the faith of the Gospel. Christ by His Spirit sanctifies the soul, and the Christian must be found restingupon Christ and looking to Christ for every blessing of theCovenant of Grace. " Without Me ye can do nothing;" and hence the faith of the Gospel is peculiarly dear to him whohungers and thirsts for holiness of heart. There alone wesee our strength -- that strength of Christ which is imparted to us through the medium of faith.

2. The edification of the body of Christ is another field of important effort presented to the Christian. The believeris not to be viewed merely as a solitary individual; he is a member of a great and glorious community, and his efforts must be aimed at the welfare of that whole community on earth as well as of himself. He must look not on his own things alone, but on those of others. The good of the visible Church would be much more extensively promoted if each individual member could be brought to feel more deeply his own personal responsibility to labor for its welfare. The Church is the light of the world, and upon the. conduct of every professing Christian much depends in regard to the brilliancy or dimness with which that light shall shine. There should be no spots in this moral sun. Now, if each Christian should keep the good and holiness of his own brethren in the Lord prominently in view as an object of his efforts, there would and could not be dissensions and animosities, coldness and lukewarmness in the Church. There would be a delightful scene of perpetualrevival. It ought, then, to be an object of anxious effort with every follower of Christ that all his brethren might daily grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And for this end there ought to bea mutual striving together for the faith of the Gospel. The sanctification of every believer is accomplished by the same glorious Agent, and His influences are received by allthrough the same medium.

3. The conversion of sinners is another object of effort which the sincere Christian should never forget. The world is lying in wickedness, under the wrath and curse of God's violated law. The impenitent are daily and hourly in danger of experiencing the realities of an undone eternity.They are already under the condemnation of a holy law,and the short season of their reprieve is the only period which they have of obtaining pardon and securing eternal life. The only possible mode of salvation is through the faith of the Gospel. "There is no other name given underheaven or amongst men whereby we must be saved" but the name of Jesus. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned." Unless the sinner, therefore, can be rendered obedient to the faith of the Gospel, he must be lost; there is no hope but in the Lord Jesus Christ; and if he reject the Saviorthere "remaineth no more sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries." It should, therefore, be a prominent object of effort among Christians to bring the Gospel to bear with powerful effect upon the ungodly and disobedient. They should labor and pray and live with special reference to the case of those who are blinded by the god of this world and led captive by the Devil at his will. They should regard themselves as "workers together with God," as humble instruments in His hand of reclaiming a lost and perishing world to its proper allegiance. He thatsaveth a soul from death hideth a multitude of sins.

In striving, then, for the faith of the Gospel, the prominent objects before the mind of the Christian are the sanctification of believers and the conversion of sinners. These are the great purposes which the Gospel is intended to promote, and let it be remembered that nothing will promote these purposes but the Gospel. We cannot expect that God will bless anything but His own truth, and "philosophy and vain deceit" palmed off upon men under the specious pretense of Divine revelation will prove utterly unavailing in the edification of Christ's mystical body, orin alarming and converting the impenitent and careless. A healthy and vigorous Christian character can be formed only by feeding on the solid and substantial food of uncorrupted truth. Not by any means that the truth has any sanctifying power in itself. All its efficacy depends on theaccompanying operations of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit will accompany nothing but His own Word. Just in proportion as the true faith of the Gospel, the pure doctrines and precepts of Christ are enforced and inculcated by the life and efforts of professors of religion, just in the same proportion will the Church be edified and sinners born into the kingdom of heaven. Hence, the duty of "striving together for the faith of the gospel" is solemn and imperative; it is no less than striving for the salvation of lost, helpless,immortal souls. It is striving to establish the reign andauthority of Christ upon the ruins of sin, iniquity and rebellion. It is no less than striving to open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, and knock the fetters from the hands of the captive and set the prisoner free.

II. Having now stated the leading objects of Christian effort, the next thing to be noticed is the manner in which that effort should be put forth. And in the first place --

1. Christians should strive with earnestness. This characteristic of their efforts is implied in the term which the Apostle uses, and which our translators have rendered strive. It is a term descriptive of athletic exercises, and is manifestly borrowed from the Grecian games, in which the wrestlers exerted all their might against each other. We are required, then, by the Apostle to wrestle for the faith of the Gospel -- to exert ourselves with as much intensity andearnestness as the wrestlers at the Grecian games. The ardor of pursuit ought to bear some reasonable proportion to the value of success. Great results should be sought with great industry. And what result is so grand and glorious as the salvation of the soul? Heaven or hell, life or death, eternal life or eternal death, depends upon the reception which is given to the Gospel; and if there is anything terrible in hell or desirable in heaven, if the interests of eternity are matters of supreme importance, if thefrown of God is above all things to be dreaded, and thesmile of God above all things to be won, then the efforts put forth in the salvation of the soul ought to be deep,intense and powerful. There should be no trifling here;our all is at stake, and at stake for eternity. Who can think without emotion of the bare possibility that he or his friends may be damned for ever? and yet who does not know that this must be the case unless a cordial obedience is rendered to the Gospel? The Christian looks aroundupon sinners, he sees the storm of Divine wrath gathering fearfully above them, there is a burning gulf beneath them, and they are fast asleep upon its very edge; in a moment they may be lost eternally, and shall he not strive to awake them -- strive with an intensity and earnestness proportioned to their danger? Oh if there be no object which from its intrinsic value and tremendous results ought to call forth all the energies of the soul in strong and mighty exercise, it is the faith of the Gospel. If there be anything in the whole universe of God that is worth contending for, it is the salvation of the soul. "Therefore, let us not sleep as do others;" let all who are called Christians awake, let them strive as one man with all possible intensity of effort for the furtherance of the Gospel in the conversion of the world. Here is a commanding object requiring commanding energy. Soldiers of the cross! shall we sleep at our posts, and while we are at ease in Zion shall our fellow-men around us sink into the torments of hell? How terrible is the idea that one soul should be lost, and lost for ever, through a criminal neglect in us!

2. Unanimity is another characteristic of Christian effort which is quite essential to success. When the Holy Spirit was poured oui on the memorable day of Pentecost, it is particularly recorded that the disciples were with one accord in one place, and the text requires that Christians should with one mind strive for the faith of the Gospel. When there are dissensions and animosities in the Church, the moral influence of the saints is distressingly weakened; nay, these unhappy divisions very often exert an influence decidedly against the cause of Christ. And the existence of such a state of things is alleged by the Apostle as a manifest proof of carnality among the Corinthian professors.

Christians have strong and powerful motives to unanimity of effort. They have been redeemed by a common Savior, regenerated by a common Spirit; they are animated by a common hope and are striving for a common end. Why then should they fall out by the way? Why should they wound the Savior in the house of His friends by their wranglings and animosities? They may differ in their views on some points, but they should not permit these differences to distract their efforts and mar their success in the grand object of converting the world. They have an important work to do, and it too often happens that when theyought to be working they are only quarreling. Instead ofaiding, abetting and assisting each other in bringing the Gospel to bear upon the hearts of sinners, they are too often found weakening each other's hands and hardening the hearts of the impenitent against the overtures of grace. There should be one mind, one spirit among Christians, andthat the Spirit of their Master -- a spirit of active benevolence and persevering effort for the glory of God and the salvation of men. They ought to feel the solemnity and importance of their business, and then there would be little disposition to wrangle with each other. These remarks are not designed to intimate that Christians should not resist, and resist with firmness, every effort to corrupt the purity of the Church in doctrine and in discipline: such resistance is actually striving for the faith of the Gospel. All that I mean is that private and personal differences should not be indulged by the professors of a common religion and the followers of a common Savior. Soldiers should act together on the field ofbattle. Union is strength in religion as well as in everything else.

3. Steadfastness and regularity of effort are also necessary. What I mean by this is, that Christians should not be flightyand unsteady in the exertions which they put forth for thefaith of the Gospel, at one time boiling over with zeal, atanother frozen up with indifference; now earnest and engaged for the salvation of souls, and now as careless as though there were no souls to save. This irregularity in their exertions for the faith of the Gospel has a decided tendency to throw a shade over their own personal piety; it destroys, by a necessary consequence, their influence in the world, and it defeats the very object at which the Christian professes to be aiming -- the success and furtherance of the Gospel. The light of the Christian should be a steady and uniform light. Casessometimes happen in which a whole church becomes cold and careless and lifeless, and continues so for a considerable length of time, and then suddenly bursts forth, as if by volcanic action, and puts forth deep, protracted and earnestefforts for the faith of the Gospel, and subsequently relapses to the same state of lukewarm indifference. Such successions of heat and cold make up the whole history of some congregations, and the reason is to be found in the unsteadinessand irregularity of Christian effort. The followers of Christought always to be impressed with a deep sense of the transcendent importance of those objects for which they are, striving; they should feel their value to the race, and their there would not and could not be those dreary stages of relaxed exertion which too often occur in the history of theChurch. Christians become cold and careless only when eternity is out of view and the value of the soul forgotten.The advice of the Apostle requires them to stand steadfast in one spirit, striving together for the faith of the Gospel. They were not to be blown about by every wind of doctrine or every gust of feeling, but they were to have correct apprehensions of their Master's business, and then to exert themselves with earnest, intense, united and steady efforts for the success and honor of His name. Their efforts were not to be flighty, but uniform; not irregular, but constant; not heartless, but powerful; and by such efforts they might wellexpect to advance their Master's cause and glorify their Master's name.

4. The above considerations have suggested the generalcharacteristics of the manner of those efforts which Christians are required to put forth for the faith of the Gospel. But they have determined nothing in regard to the nature of the efforts themselves. Very bad measures may be adopted foradvancing the cause of Christ, and yet professing Christians be very earnest, unanimous, steadily and decided in pushing them on. These features may be found in the exertions of errorists and fanatics as well as in those of humble and sincere followers of the blessed Savior. The next reflection,therefore, that I would present, is that the measures which Christians adopt should be such as become the Gospel of Christ. The spirit of the world should not be suffered to appear in the bosom of the Church. Our weapons are not carnal, but spiritual. The religion of Jesus demands a peculiar temper, and that temper ought to be observable in all the movements of His disciples in striving for the faith of the Gospel. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." "For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth."

In these days of morbid excitement and reckless enthusiasm there prevails, in some quarters of the Church, a melancholy disposition to receive a counterfeit spirit for the temper of Christ. Measures are adopted and encouraged and defended which manifest more of the cunning and dexterity of worldly-minded policy than the honest simplicity of an unsophisticated Christian. Men are trapped into the Church. A course of committal, or rather of efforts to make them commit themselves, is pursued, which does not indicate the simplicity of the Gospel. "Only let your conversation be as becometh the Gospel of Christ." The censorious spirit which is indulged toward those who are not willing to be duped into a ready acquiescence with these unauthorized measures shows but too plainly the source from which they spring. In all our efforts, then, to promote and strive for the faith of the Gospel, let nothing be done in a spirit which the Gospel must condemn. Let all our measures be characterized by that honest simplicity and unsophisticated charity which are so conspicuously manifest in the character of Jesus. Let there be no breach of that decency, sobriety, dignity and decorum which become us no less as men than as Christians. And in our universal deportment let the world see the natural influence of the Gospel when cordially received and cheerfully obeyed. The Gospel can be lived as well as preached -- enforced by the life as well as from the desk. Cultivating, then, the Spirit of Christ, let us put forth our efforts earnestly, unanimously, steadily and firmly in striving together for the faith of the Gospel.

5. Everything should be done, however, under a sense of deep and entire dependence upon God for success. Paul may plant and Apollos water, but God alone can give the increase. He alone has power to convert or sanctify the soul. All the help of man, all our earnest, warm and persevering efforts to alarm and awaken the sinner and lead him to the Savior, will be utterly unavailing unless the Spirit of God should accompany the truth with His gracious and saving operations. The truth of itself can do nothing at all in the way of a saving work, but it is mighty when wielded by the Spirit and driven home upon a heart prepared by the Spirit to receive it. The agency of the Holy Spirit is a fact which, in the fullness of our arrogance and pride, we are shamefully prone to forget. It is an humbling doctrine, but then the Christian must keep it in view, and have his eyes continually directed to that Agent if he would be successful in his efforts for the furtherance of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit must have the glory of His own work; and if we assume to ourselves and ascribe to our own doings what belongs only to Him, we may expect leanness and barrenness and miserable disappointment until we shall have learned the true source of all spiritual strength.

All our Christian efforts, therefore, should be carried out in a spirit of dependence upon God. The blessing of His Holy Spirit must, be continually invoked, as that alone which can give efficiency and success to the movements of the Church. "The excellency is of God and not of men." It is God's work and not ours, and we should not dare to assume the glory to ourselves.

We have now seen the great ends for which a Christian should strive, the manner in which he should strive, and, in conclusion, it might be well to suggest a few considerations showing the necessity of striving. The believer in Christ becomes a servant of Christ: "Ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price;" and it is surely the part of an affectionate aud faithful servant to feel a strong attachment to the interests of his master. Shall not the Christian, then, labor in the Lord's vineyard with all possible diligence and industry? Shall he not be deeply concerned for his Master's cause, and exert all his powers and energies in carrying it onward? We are not our own. Our great business is to labor for Christ, for heaven, for eternity. We have no right to consult ease and comfort and self- indulgence. We are the Lord's, and His glory is the great end which we should ever have in view.

The consequences which depend upon our efforts are tremendous. Sinners are in the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity, under the wrath of God and the curse of a holy law, and there is no possible way of escape but in the faith of the Gospel.

If Christians, then, value the souls of their fellow-men, if they look upon salvation as a matter of eternal moment, considerations of humanity, independently of any regard to the glory of God, would urge them to labor and toil and pray and strive for the success of the Gospel. It is the only hope of a sinking world; it is in the hands of Christians, and they are required to proclaim its glad tidings of hope and pardon and mercy to every creature. Shall they not strive, then, with earnest, unanimous, steady, persevering efforts for the recovery of their race? Is there a man who professes to have the spirit of the Savior that would wish to be exempt from a work like this? Is there one who would excuse himself from the delightful task of hastening on the latter-day glory of the Church? This is an age of great enterprises. None are too humble or too poor to labor for the Savior. All have some influence, all have some work assigned them, and it is the duty of all to be just in that part of the field which the Redeemer has allotted to them. May we all be found of Him in well doing -- faithful, laborious and devoted servants, such as the Lord will delight to honor!

Text scanned and edited by Michael Bremmer

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