My dear Sisters and Young Friends,
If the circumstances had admitted of it, I should have liked very much to have visited you each one separately - to have had a serious talk with you. I have not the time at my disposal to do this, nor the strength, if I had the time, for it would be a very considerable undertaking now to visit all of even the younger sisters. We have become such a numerous people. It is perhaps because we are so numerous, that it is difficult for us all to know each other, and still more difficult to pass much time in each other's society, so as to really benefit and influence each other. I have often felt very sorry for my younger sisters when I have thought of their responsibility, and of the great importance of their realising while young, the great - the unspeakably great - matters to which they stand related in the gospel. I have often felt very sorry when I have looked round upon so many young faces, that I have not been able to carry out the purpose I formed at the beginning of this year - to gather them, or as many of them as could come, together once a week, that we might talk over the matters and duties pertaining to our hope, and exercise ourselves in the contemplation of these most weighty matters in such a way as to practically influence and assist the young sisters in carrying out the principles and precepts of the truth. The idea would have been to find out by our readings and studies, the essentials and necessities pertaining thereto, in the hope of being thereby helped in the work of preparing ourselves for presentation to the Lord at His coming. Not having been able to do this, I thought it might be of some little service if I could now, at the close of the year, put down a few of the thoughts which frequently occur to me, and, through Brother Roberts, give you the benefit of them in a more public way than it would otherwise be possible for me to do.
THE NECESSITIES OF OUR POSITION IN THE TRUTH
Let us consider then for a little some of the necessities that pertain to our position, and let it be understood that my remarks are specially addressed to the younger sisters. There are none among them who are not old enough to take hold of the responsibility which belongs to the household of Christ. It is a necessity with you that you be in earnest about the work of Christ. Our Lord has told us very distinctly that unless we are very much in earnest, we cannot please him, "Because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." "Be diligent to make your calling and election sure." "Redeem the time." Are you in earnest about your service to Christ? Or are you easy in your mind about it? Do you think to yourself, when any manner of work is to be done in His name, "0, someone else will do it; it won't matter about me doing it." Or do you ask yourself," Can I do anything to further this work? If it is only a little, I should like to help." Do you try to help? Do you offer your help? Do you wish to help? If you are in earnest you will wish to help, and you will try to help. If you are in earnest, you will be very anxious to know and to find out what you can do to serve Christ. Well, supposing you are not in earnest, but wish to be so? How can we become earnest about what Christ requires of us? Study the patterns God has given us. We cannot be much in the company of those we admire without becoming assimilated to them. Christ and his apostles are our patterns. Study their lives, with a view to imitating them. You will find they were deeply in earnest always. Try to give your mind more to thinking about what you read, and above all things make it a daily duty to read the scriptures. Do not be content with having read your portion or portions, but strive to carry away from the reading some of the ideas to meditate upon. Try to be in earnest. Try to remember that you must be in earnest to please Christ. Try to remember that you will not be able to stand before him with confidence if you have not been in earnest. How can you bear the thought of having to be ashamed before him at his coming!
LOVE CHRIST TRULY
Now in order to be in earnest about the work of Christ, we must truly love him; that is a necessity. "He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me." Many people fancy they love Christ, and no doubt they entertain a sentimental love for him, but their love is not acceptable to him, because it is not an obedient love. "He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." "If ye love me keep my commandments." "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you."
Now, it is possible for some who profess the truth to overlook this very necessary qualification for Christ's friendship. I am sure you all desire to be acknowledged by Christ when he comes. You would - each one of you feel intensely anxious when that dread hour arrived, in which the Lord of glory is revealed to your gaze for the first time, surrounded by his attendant angels, and the righteous of all yea hourly, "Lord what wilt thou have me to do? How can I show my love for thee?" The answer will be found daily, yea hourly, in the remembrance of what he has caused to be written for your guidance. All scripture is given for this purpose, and in proportion as you are in earnest in your service of Christ, and in proportion as you truly love him, will be your diligence in studying this written guide that you may know his will, and knowing it, in the doing of it. In proportion as you realise the love which Christ bears to you, will you have your love for him stimulated. "We love him because he first loved us." And you shall be moved, constrained by your love to do what he commands, even when the doing of it is contrary to your own inclination.
The practice of doing things because Christ has commanded them, will bring with them a sweet reward even now. The very consciousness of being thus under law to him - that is to say, the consciousness of submitting ourselves to him, in obedience to his commandments, gives you that confidence and hope in prospect of standing before him, which is so desirable to attain to. Not that you can ever feel that you have done all that you ought to have done, or that you have never done anything that you ought not to have done: but the consciousness of a constant endeavour, and of an ever present solicitude to do that which Christ requires of you, brings with it a peaceful hope of acceptance, knowing that you are assured that the sins and shortcomings of such are forgiven in answer to prayer presented in the name of Christ, our High Priest and Intercessor.
AN OBJECT IN LIFE
There is nothing so likely to help us to hold on in an earnest, loving manner, to the work of the truth, as the realising in our own minds of an object in life! For what object do you live? Have you an object? Too many, it is to be feared, have no definite object in life beyond the whiling away of the passing hour; they are satisfied if they have succeeded in passing the day or the hour without being truly miserable, and such will tell you that they do so and so "to pass the time away." If such would only busy themselves in any useful direction with an earnest mind, they would find the time go too quickly with the greatest ease. What result have those accomplished whose chief business in life is to while away the time? None! When the time is gone everything is gone, and there is nothing laid up in store against the day of reckoning.
We have a very distinct object set before us in the gospel. There is a something to be attained, there is a glorious destiny to be reached; but it is not to be attained with folded arms, or with sluggish mind. Surely the great object of our mortal existence is to achieve -- to develop -- to possess a character which will gain the approval of Christ when he comes; for if we succeed in this, we shall have gained all that could possibly be conceived of or desired by the heart of man. Ask yourselves then if this be your object in life. Don't take it for granted, but test yourself -- prove yourself. Find out for yourself whether it is so, and determine with yourself that it shall be so -- that if you have been a little doubtful in the past, you will begin now, with the new year, to be more diligent than you have ever been; to be in real earnest -- to be real lovers of Christ, and all that belongs to him, to have him before you constantly, as the object of all you undertake - to be quite sure about it -- to be no longer in a half-and-half state, in which you were not quite sure whether you were living for him or for yourself. Resolve to rouse yourself from past lethargy, and not only to rouse yourself up, but to help others to rouse up.
"LET CHRIST BE FORMED IN YOU"
Paul said to the early believers that he travailed in birth on their account, that Christ might be formed in them. From this it is quite clear that a work has to be done in every one who has been immersed. Indeed, the work of being formed into Christ's image only begins after immersion. I should like my young sisters to ponder this. "It is the will of God concerning you that you be conformed to the image of his son." Do not overlook the necessity for this conformity. Forgetfulness will deceive you to your ruin. Conformity to a given example cannot be attained by a passive indifference. It requires a very decided endeavour on the part of every one who shall ultimately stand approved of Christ.
Every one who is striving to attain this likeness to Christ -- this perfection of character, knows the fact. Each one of you, my dear sisters, knows whether she is so striving -- whether she is conscious of a yearning desire to be like Christ - to crucify the old desire of the flesh, and of the natural mind, and to live more under the power of Christ's commands, and to be animated by the same spirit.
It is a step in the right direction, when the necessity is perceived and recognised of our being conformed to the character of Christ, and if you set about this work in earnest, you will find much to help you.
You may find it very difficult, and many times you will feel almost despairing of success. But your difficulties have been all anticipated, and provided for. Your difficulties, and perhaps your failures, should only make you take more diligent heed to the Word, which is your chart and guide. You will find in the warning, "Take heed lest you fall short" a recognition of the danger of failing short after having started, owing to the difficulties in the way; but, then, there is the cheering word of encouragement on the other hand. "Be of good cheer." "Stand fast." "Be strong in the Lord." "In due season ye shall reap if ye faint not." "If ye suffer ye shall also reign with him. "
In trying to imitate the example of Christ, and to follow in his steps, that we may become assimilated to him, it will be well to study the various characteristics which he manifested. He tells us that he came not to do his own will, but the will of him that sent him. Paul tells us that Christ "pleased not himself." You belong to Christ, and as he pleased the Father, and made it his meat and his drink to do his will, so you, in like manner, must imitate him in this respect. In this matter, young people, and perhaps, especially young sisters, have to be on their guard. In some circumstances - such as when in company - on special occasions - on holiday excursions, or in pleasant social gatherings, it is very easy to forego your own pleasure and hand it over to another, because the eyes of many are upon you, and it does not cost you any particular effort. There are many who would be willing to follow Christ, if they could do so in public, and be borne along by the approbation of those who look on; but the testing time of our loyalty to Christ is in every day life, when his service (the giving way for his sake) is often against our desire and inclination, and when, in some cases, none but the Master himself would know how great an effort is required to submit to another's will for his sake. But you must accustom yourselves to this kind of submission one to another. If you would please Christ you must "consider one another to provoke unto love." What so likely to provoke unto love as a kind act or a kind word, or anticipating of another's wishes? This is true politeness. In the world there is a great show of politeness on the surface; and even this is only shown where things go smoothly and when all are receiving honour one from another. But let any affront be offered, any indignity practised, or any omission of what is thought due to one's position, and how instantly it is resented! It is in fact a point of honour with them to resent an injury or a slight. But it must not be so with you. You must bear patiently if you think you have been slighted, and rather overcome evil with good, by returning good for evil and continuing in the way of right doing. This you will be able to do if you are striving to please Christ; for you will remember that he said ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you, and he commands us: "Resist not evil." "Love your enemies."
The grappling with the difficulties which you will experience in carrying out this feature of the household of Christ, of pleasing not yourself, will bring this satisfaction with it, that you will be able to recognise that you are on the right track, the difficult track, and you will be comforted when you remember that all the family of God are treading and have trod the same path. The continued practice of remembering what you ought to do under this head, and the courageous doing of it, will bring to you the sweetest of all reflections when your race is run and your warfare is over (and you know that might happen any day), that you have denied yourself present gratification to please Christ, and receive from him true and lasting joy.
There must of necessity be a very great contrast between the two conditions of one's life, the one in which the thinkings of the natural mind are in the ascendant, and the other that in which the mind of the Spirit is the controlling power. In the first condition, the mind is in an unchastened state, self-willed, and not subject to God and His authority. The thoughts do not rise to God with any intelligence; but are exercised merely upon created objects, being shaped and controlled and influenced by them in a variety of ways. God seems at a distance - He is in reality at such a period an unknown God. But when, by the entrance of the truth, the good news concerning what God has done in the past, and what He is going to do in the future, we know God, or rather, as the apostle puts it, are known of God (because He takes hold of us by the gospel, and makes us partakers in His most glorious work), then a change sets in; we turn round, so to speak; set our back to the world, and our face towards the kingdom of God. We make the good beginning in being immersed; we thereby enter into covenant with God and His glorious Son, and from thence forward we are new creatures.
The old nature, with which we were very well pleased, begins to be troublesome, and has to be crucified. This term crucified implies a most painful process. How many will be equal to the performance of that mighty achievement? Paul says, "They that are Christ's, have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." There is nothing required of us, my dear sisters, that we cannot perform, therefore if some of the commands of Christ and his apostles seem very hard to obey - remember that it is possible to obey them, however hard; but there is a secret in the matter. It is not possible for everyone to obey Christ's commands, neither is it possible for everyone to be saved. Christ has said, "Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of God." If you bring the carnal mind into the service of Christ, you cannot obey his commands; you cannot please him. There is a preparation of the heart necessary before it can be offered to the Lord as an acceptable offering. The offerings under the law (which were shadows and types for our instruction had to be washed and all the inwards cleansed before presentation to the Lord.) David prays "Create in me a clean heart, 0 God, and renew a right spirit within me." Now in order to perceive the spirit of Christ's commands, you must be in this willing and obedient frame of mind. This necessitates your constant watchfulness in keeping under the thinkings of the merely natural mind. So long as you are in the present state, this conflict will last. You have to subdue the natural mind by substituting the ideas of the spirit, and allowing them to govern your actions. The apostle's words are, "That ye put off concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your minds; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."
How very dreadful it would be if any of you should fail of the great salvation, because you failed to see the necessity of having your affections set upon Christ and his affairs, and thereby failed to be the subject of that great change which characterizes every one that is born of God.
THE DAILY READING OF THE SCRIPTURES
Without the daily reading of the scriptures, and meditation thereon, there is no chance of success in the endeavour to put on the new man. There is so much in us by nature to hinder and oppose the work, that we shall certainly be defeated if we do not use amply the aids within our reach in this life-long struggle. First of these aids is the diligent and attentive reading of the word - daily. Do not allow a day to pass without reading. You may think it does not much matter, or that you can make it up by reading a double portion tomorrow... It matters a great deal. In the first place, you miss the sustaining power for the day which you would have had if you had read, and you also miss the closer communion with God himself which is brought to you in His word; and the comfort and strength you would have enjoyed in the company of those who are undoubtedly presented to us in the Scriptures as the approved of God. Then if you try to read up, you cannot well digest so large a quantity of mental food; you are liable to have more than you can deal with in one day, and some of the precious words are sure to be overlooked. By far the better way is to read every day, and all the appointed portions if you can. They furnish variety and profitable food for thought by day and also by night, if you happen to have any waking moments. The daily reading of the Scriptures need not prevent you from reading other books that would be helpful to you; but be sure that what you read is really helpful. I have heard of some professing the truth who make a practice of reading light literature - novels and periodical publications of a sensational character.
I cannot, my dear young sisters, too urgently beg of you to refrain from so injurious a habit. You might as well put poison into your food and expect to enjoy good health, as to indulge in such mental food and expect the spiritual welfare of a saint. If you are in earnest about securing Christ's favour, you will not hesitate to cut off that fleshly lust. You will feel repaid for doing so by the much greater ability you will possess to concentrate your mind upon the Scriptures, when unclouded by the highly wrought images of merely fictitious and sensational stories, which only unfit the mind for grappling with the realities of life. What a very different effect is produced upon the mind by the reading of any of the histories recorded in Scripture.
You feel stimulated by them to courage and perseverance, even in the most obscure occupation of life, because you have your faith quickened in the direction of things unseen at present. You are reminded that your efforts are not in vain though no human eye witnesses them - that God regards those who fear Him, and has their names in remembrance. You are helped by the record of what others have done in the name and in the strength of the Lord, to realise that you also may be thus helped and, in due time, acknowledged. You find the Scriptures - when you really give your mind to the study of them - in harmony with human experience, and suited to every day wants and necessities. If you are joyful, you find full expression to your joy, and a solid foundation for it. If you are sorrowful, you find in the Scriptures that sympathy and perfect response which you can find in no other book, and a comfort which alone can touch the unapproachable sorrow of an overwhelming affliction.
Next to the reading of the word, and accompanying it, is the necessity of prayer. If the daily reading of the word is a necessary element in the preparation of the heart, and in equipping us for the battle of life - the good fight of faith - prayer also, not only daily, but hourly must characterise the true and faithful follower of Christ. The reading of the word, and the meditation upon what we read, leads the thoughts to God, and the desire arises that we may be led and acknowledged by Him, as were His servants in the days of old. There are many prayers in the Scriptures, and especially in the Psalms that you can make your own, because they express your very thoughts and aspirations, and strong desires. If you are at any loss how to pray, study these prayers; try to realise the feelings they express; ponder the words and their meaning; utter them as expressing your own request; make a practice of uttering the words of your prayer, instead of merely leaving them in your mind. You will find that this will help you to realise that you are speaking to God. Try to realise Him as a living, real person to whom you speak, who can hear what you say, and who does consider the words of your prayer, and who will answer you. Observe in the prayers we have recorded in Scripture that they were appropriate to the circumstances in which they were uttered. Moses, Abraham, David, Solomon, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Jesus himself - our great example - and the apostles, all prayed according to the circumstances in which they found themselves. This is very different from the heathenish practice of praying always a set form of prayer, or the Papal practice of saying so many prayers, that you must count your beads to know when you have said the requisite number. No! Prayer to Yahweh is the uttering before Him the homage of a reverent and grateful heart, and the asking of Him those things of which we stand in need. Our necessities vary as continually as our circumstances. Sometimes it is strength we require, to resist temptation; sometimes wisdom to guide our decisions; sometimes patience with those who annoy us, or in the suffering of wrong. We have many prayers expressed by Paul for the brethren and sisters of his day, which you will find most suitable now for presentation to God on your own behalf. Study them, use them, and you will realise in yourselves that result which Paul so earnestly desired when he prayed that the Colossians "might be strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience, and longsuffering, with joyfulness."
We do not always realise how much help there is to be derived from prayer. We are promised help if we ask it. But in these dark Gentile days, when everything is explained without reference to the God of heaven, we are apt to be unconsciously influenced by the surrounding unbelief - the more especially as God's hand is veiled at present. We cannot point to direct answer to prayer openly seen and recognizable by everyone as in the days when the Spirit of God was visibly present as a witness, working with and confirming the words of the disciples. You must not be moved from the steadfastness of your faith and hope in God. Faith can see what the natural eye cannot. You know that God cannot lie. He has promised to hear and answer your prayers if presented by faith in the name of Christ. You must not conclude that because your prayer is not answered just as you wished or expected, therefore it is not heard and answered. God's ways are not as our ways. He takes everything into account. This you cannot do, because you do not know what lies before you, and you may be mistaken as to what is best for you. He will not, cannot make any mistake, and you may rest satisfied that what He permits or appoints for you is right, though at present it may seem very wrong. Faith holds on in the dark, in strong assurance that in the end all will come out right. Never give up the great privilege of constant prayer. You will find it a source of strength, of comfort and peace, and in the close communion with the Father you will yet find the sweetest, the most satisfying and soul rejoicing experience that human heart can reach.
THE TRUTH IN PRACTICAL MANIFESTATION
Having perceived the truth in the love of it, and having realised the necessity for daily reading and prayer, that you may be built up in it, and firmly established on the true foundation, having God as your Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as your elder brother, and the good hope of sharing with him the glory and honour of the future age, it is well not to content yourself with a general determination, to obey Christ's commandments, but set about finding out some definite way in which you can manifest the truth in practical form, some way in which you can identify yourself with the work of Christ. There are many ways in which you can successfully do this. There are many forms of service in which you can take part. There is the Sunday School. Can you take part in the teaching? If not, you may be able to attend the Young Women's Class, and help by your earnestness the work going on there. There is the distributing of finger-posts. Can you find time to help in that department of the work? There is room for more workers here, and I would just observe here that the number of sisters on the list at the present time is very small, compared with that of the brethren. It is a work that requires courage; but the courage comes with practice, when it is done "for Christ's sake." Perhaps your occupation does not admit of your having time for this form of service. Well, you can help by proxy. Many of those who take part in this work would be glad to have a larger number of "Finger Posts" at their disposal - none of them have enough for their districts. You could help them in this matter by procuring according to your means what additional "Finger Posts" you may think well, and placing them at Brother Challinor's disposal, who would have them distributed for you, and thus you could identify yourself with this good work of sowing the seed.
There is another department of ecclesial work, specially calling the young sisters into service - that is the singing. You ought to recognise your duty in this matter. Whatever you can do, the Master requires of you. And it is the least you can do for him, who has done so much for you. You ought to consider what part in the singing you can perform, and faithfully perform it. Even when you do not feel that you can sing, owing to cold or other disqualification, you ought to take your place. It does not come hard upon any particular voice when there is a goodly company to sing, and even if you cannot make a sound for the time being, your presence in your accustomed place contributes to the comfort of the rest. They do not suffer so much as they would if you were not with them. You will have done what you can in the circumstances to serve God by your presence. Also you will have helped to cheer your fellow labourers in the truth.
This is a matter which I hope the younger sisters will take hold of with earnest purpose. There is, or could be made, room on the platform on Sunday evenings for 10 or a dozen more than at present come up. Some have been discouraged because they have happened to come up once and could not find a seat. Do not be discouraged by anything in the shape of a difficulty. Try and try again. What we want to see is the seats all full of hearty co-operators, and if there is a vacancy, come up and fill it. It has a good effect upon all concerned to see the singers' seats well filled. It renders the service of praise more effective and much more of a pleasure to those who have to sustain the leading part; it enhances the heartiness of the service, and presents also to the alien a more hearty co-operation in the work for which we come together, and can we doubt that such hearty cooperation is much more pleasing to God, to whom it is rendered, than when those who ought thus to help together are for their own pleasure scattered among the audience, where they cannot be of the same service in this particular matter? This does not refer to those who conscientiously cannot so help. They can serve in other ways. Try to help in this form of service - not only on practice nights, but on all occasions.
CHOICE OF COMPANIONS
Another very important matter affecting young sisters is their choice of companions. The company you keep, like the books you read, will go a long way in forming your character. You cannot help being influenced by those with whom you associate. There are many natural affinities which draw young people together, and render intercourse pleasurable; but there is need for great care that pleasure - mere gratification of the natural mind, or what is called pleasant company - does not bias your minds in this matter. You have been called to be saints, and you are not at liberty to form any friendships which are incompatible with your high calling in Christ Jesus. Even among those who profess the truth, you must distinguish between those whose society is helpful and those who are of an opposite character. There are some who profess the name of Christ and pass current as brethren and sisters, who do not make you feel that they are such. They are not ready to speak of the hope which has brought us into fellowship.
They are ready enough to speak of the mere accessories, the meetings and the qualities of the various speakers, and any commonplace subject. You will not be helped in the race for eternal life by the companionship of such. You will rather be hindered and deceived to your hurt. For want of a hearty response to spiritual ideas, you will be discouraged from your attempts to give your conversation a profitable direction, and the tone of your own mind will be lowered in consequence.
Just as you would avoid foolish and injurious reading, because of its poisonous tendency, so be on your guard against forming friendships, which would have a similar effect upon your mind. If you can have the society of an earnest, loving companion in the truth, you will find in her society much comfort and help. Be sure that in this respect, you give as well as receive. Some people are unhappy and dissatisfied because they make the mistake of expecting others to minister to their gratification; but forget that they must contribute their part in the ministration. When this necessity is recognised, mutual profit is the result. Especially is this the case when your companion is a brother, and no sister ought to make a companion of one who is not a brother, and one whom you anticipate will be your companion for life. You cannot be too careful in the selection of such a companion, or over-estimate the importance of having in such a companion a true helper in the highest sense. See that you both regard its aims and ultimate object; see that your companion is a lover of Christ, and one who desires to please him. Have these important matters well understood now, so that a solid basis may be laid for after years, if life lasts. "Two cannot walk together unless they are agreed," and in no relationship of life is this more true than in that of husband and wife. If you wish to live a useful and harmonious life in the truth, choose a companion who is in earnest to please Christ, and who strives to act out his commandments. In that case, you will be able to continue the same policy of life after marriage as before it. If you seek to serve Christ before marriage, and strive always to let His claims weigh with you in every undertaking, you will continue so to do, and your companion being of the same mind, you will be able to do more instead of less, when you become one by marriage. Every brother and sister ought to begin their married life with this distinct purpose - the purpose of living as Christ's servants. For example, I know a brother and sister who on getting married, decided that they should always have a spare room for the Lord, and they have acted on that principle for nearly a quarter of a century, and mean to keep it up while their probation lasts. If every brother and sister would do so, it would work well in a variety of ways. For one thing, many, whose spiritual needs would lead these to come to Birmingham, would be able to take advantage of such brotherly service, and this would result without doubt to the mutual profit of both the giver and the receiver. You cannot bless others without yourself feeling that it is blessed to give. And you must always remember that the truth requires that we manifest its power in the spontaneous blessing of others, even as God blesses us of His own goodness in Christ Jesus, and not because of anything in us in the beginning to draw out his love to us. Be generous in all your plans for serving your Lord and Master, remembering that "he that soweth bountifully shall reap bountifully," and "the Lord loveth a cheerful giver."