Spiritual Life in Churches

Boston Evening Transcript

Extract from a paper read by Rev. Joseph Robertson, M.A., at the International Congregational Council in Boston, Mass., September 26, 1899.

Our churches are nothing if not spiritual. We live in a time when much is made, in the church and out of it, of organization and machinery. We may be in danger of having men think that salvation is by public meeting and committee. It is admitted that our churches have ever exercised an influence great out of all proportion to their mutual strength, and, through their members and adherents, played a very important part in such matters as securing civil and religious liberty, advancing education, helping in municipal and political life and in developing works of philanthropy and benevolence, but our churches are nothing unless spiritual. The heroic band who began the work of laying the foundations of the American nation came to plant a church, and, as it has been said, in planting a church they founded a nation. Two dangers require to be avoided. There is an easy, selfish pietism which feels like sitting and singing itself away to everlasting bliss, that puts not its hand to the work of helping the lives of men, sympathizing with their sorrows, relieving their want and woe, not sufficiently realizing that, if man is a soul, he has a body, and that, if he is an heir of heaven, he is, meantime, a citizen of earth, and there is an active, busy—yes, and noble—service of man which may be in danger of losing its realization of the unseen and eternal. Spiritual men may need an ethical revival, but the busy organizer and worker must have the spiritual power which alone can make fruitful the works that are being set in operation by the desire to improve the moral and social condition of mankind.

A life of activity for God must spring from a life of communion with God. The spiritual life of our churches may be appraised by the measure of peace, purity, and power to be found in them. The time limits of this address will not permit any amplification of that position. Briefly let it be said, the spirit-filled church will be marked by the peace, not of inaction, or the desert of death, but of movement, union, harmony, concord, good will, brotherly love. With this thought turn to consider the Christian life which is so common among us to-day. Surely much of that is never what is meant by the high, hope-inspiring words of the New Testament! Think of the position of the believer and the promise of the gospel. And yet, with all the believer's high claims, and all the great promises made to him by God, how often do we feel forced to think that our common Christian life is commonplace and contradictory. We say we are Christians, and go to church on Sunday. Do people find out without our saying it that the spirit of Christ is in us? And would those who have no knowledge of how we spend our Sundays discover from ourselves that we are Christians, indeed? Do our wives and servants feel it? Do our employers and employees know it? Do our fellow-workmen see it? Is there never such a thing as talking cream and living skim milk? Read Paul's wonderful prayer for his converts in Ephesus, ending with the words, "That ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." So far I have spoken of a much deeper life than we possess being possible for us. May I not say that it is more than possible for us all, and that without controversy this fuller life is obligatory?

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Food Fear
October 5, 1899

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