Second Address To The Young Women of the Birmingham Ecclesia
"Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
"But let it be the hidden man of the heart in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." - 1 Peter 3:3-4
SECOND ADDRESS TO THE YOUNG WOMEN OF THE CHRISTADELPHIAN ECCLESIA
by Sister Roberts, Dec. 1883
(read by her husband)
My Dear Sisters and Young Friends:
A whole year has rolled away since last we met together in similar circumstances. Our last meeting was held at the close of the year 1881, now we find ourselves in the first week of 1883.
Tonight, as on the last occasion, the meeting is specially convened for the benefit of the sisters who are young in years, and consequently young in the truth, the object being to stimulate and encourage those who are already faithfully working and to induce others to bestir themselves to take part in, or to increase by greater diligence their share in the toil while their day lasts.
We cannot do better, perhaps, in making a fresh start with the new year, than look back upon the year which has just gone, and ascertain whether it has been a satisfactory one to us individually. Try to recall your position at the beginning of last year. You cannot be now exactly what you were then. You are one year older, one year further on in the journey of life; you have added a year's experience to your history; you have had many privileges. Have you made the most of them? Have you been trading with your "talents" and increasing them? Are you nearer the mark of our high calling than you were a year ago? Has your course been steadily onward? Have you been persistent and courageous in the path of duty, or have you been lax and forgetful? Sometimes mindful, sometimes not?
If it is important for men of business to balance up and ascertain how their affairs stand at the close of the year; whether they have made progress and occupy a satisfactory position; or whether, on the other hand, loss and failure have resulted from their year's endeavours, surely it is much more important for us to reckon up and examine our position; for the matter we have in hand is one of life and death. We have only one chance. Only one short mortal life in which to determine our fate - our status throughout the coming ages. We cannot live last year over again. We cannot recall yesterday to rectify what was wrong or deficient in that day. But we can redeem the future by a wise course in days to come. If the system upon which your present every-day life is framed is faulty, it is not in harmony with the precepts of Christ; you cannot be making progress. The way you are walking will not lead to life. The saints at the coming of Christ are represented as saying, "In the way of thy commandments have we waited for thee, 0 Lord." None but those who can say this will receive his approval.
But doubtless there are some who can truly say in looking back, that the past year has been with them a year of progress. There are landmarks visible as they review the year's experiences. There have been triumphs and victories in the good fight of faith. They have added to their treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The light of the truth shines more clearly upon their path. The way of duty seems more plain - though not less difficult. They are more satisfied that they are in the way of life.
FOR EVERY EFFECT, A CAUSE
Well, it does not come by chance that some have made progress in the things of the Spirit while others have not. For every effect there is a cause. If we desire to produce a certain effect, we take pains to ascertain how it is to be produced; and we try and try again, till at last our efforts are crowned with success. Those who have made progress during the past year have doubtless succeeded in doing so, because among other things, they have commenced the year with the determination that they should do so. That determination was an important element in their success. They realised, perhaps from past failure, that it does not do to be easy in this matter, and that unless a determined attitude is taken to accomplish spiritual ends, failure is inevitable.
Then again, those who resolved that they would give diligent heed to their way, did not make or keep those good resolutions in their own strength. It is necessary for us to seek and to find our help and our strength in God. Those who trust in themselves, or in mere human support, are sure to fail, but they who truly seek God, are helped to ultimate success.
In our readings in the Old Testament, we have many instances of this. How the fearful Nehemiah, a captive in a strange land, yet trusted in God, and boasted that his God - the God of Israel - was with them that put their trust in Him. And God did help him. Many of the kings of Judah made manifest by their prayers to God, and His direct answers, that God is indeed a living and true God. King Asa, in the beginning of his reign, made God his trust, appealing to Him when surrounded by his enemies, and saying, "Lord, it is nothing with Thee to help whether with many, or with them that have no power; help us, 0 Lord our God, for we rest on Thee, and God did help him, and a message was sent him from God to say, "The Lord is with you while ye be with Him, and if ye seek Him, He will be found of you; but if ye forsake Him, He will forsake you."
Here is the secret of much strength. Some of you, I doubt not, dear sisters, have found as King Asa did, that God does help the weak, and gives them strength to carry out the resolution formed to do His will, though difficult, trying, and arduous. There has been an evident increase among us in the desire to be actively engaged in some specific branch of the work of Christ, more especially those phases of it requiring the sacrifice of time and leisure. Those who have given themselves to the work in this way, in the spirit of service to Christ, have assuredly been in the path of progress.
ONWARD AND UPWARD
We have a goal to which we are advancing. We have a standard to which we wish to attain. "Onward and Upward" is truly our watchword. If we linger in the attractive but destructive surroundings out of which we are called by the Gospel, we are hampered if not altogether hindered in our progress. We are called to "come out" of the world, and to be "not of it". Nothing surely can better help us to go forth outside the camp, than to take part in an active way in some shape or form, in bringing the light of the truth to bear upon the surrounding darkness. Our very act in testifying to the truth, in opposition to the darkness, if done in the spirit of meekness, is also testimony to the world that we are not of it. The world knows us not if we are in the right way. Those who have taken part in handing round "The Finger Posts" feel this. Their experience is not encouraging in a certain way. They have to encounter many dark looks, besides surly remarks, and the thought, too, sometimes, that many of the papers may never be read. Never mind. It is "God who giveth the increase". That is His department. Our's is to sow the seed. We never know when we hand a Finger Post to a stranger, or drop it in a letter-box, where that seed may yet germinate. And even if nothing came of it, we have done our duty. Remember Noah, a preacher of righteousness. Humanly speaking, nothing came of his preaching; but that is a mistake. He saved himself by it. He was saved because he was righteous, and part of his righteousness was to do his duty - to do what God had appointed. He obeyed like Abraham, and we must do the same. My dear sisters, shall we not do a great work if we secure for ourselves the favour of Him who is to be our Judge? Even if they receive not our testimony, it matters not. Our testimony, as in the sight of God, is precious to Him, and is remembered to our account at the judgment seat, as truly as Rome's iniquities are remembered against her, thought forgotten by the world, who is in league with her.
LABOUR "IN HOPE"
It is our's to hold forth the light, and to be lights in the dark places of this midnight hour, if all our labour should prove ineffectual upon the outside world. But we labour not without hope, for we are assured by brother Paul that our labour in the Lord shall not be in vain, and we may find (though now it appears not) when the great muster day comes, that some of those who shall be accounted jewels have been developed and polished by our humble endeavours. No doubt the honour will be shared by all who have faithfully "done what they could". Let us notice the use which the apostle wishes us to make of this hope and this assurance. It is to prevent us being "weary in well-doing", and to make us steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. Now we all feel the need of something that has the power to do this. Without some outside assistance we could not keep steadfast and persevering in a work which every day requires self-denying effort, and which most of the time seems of no use; because people by whom we are surrounded, are so callous, and, if interested for a little, soon relapse into their former indifference. So much is this the case, that if we were to be guided by the results - the present results of our labour - we should assuredly give up in despair. But the incentive which is held out to us carries us beyond the present. It leads us constantly in prospect to the time when Christ shall have returned, and the thought that what we are doing now will be inspected then; will have great power. Let us realise that our work will then be rated at its true value by him who invented the work we are engaged in - whose eyes have been upon it all the time - who spent his own life upon the earth in a similar service, in faithfulness to his Father. The thought that he regards our service must surely give the conviction that it is not a vain work; and this conviction nerves us to the doing of it, and keeps us to it, amid the most discouraging circumstances.
SEIZE YOUR OPPORTUNITIES
Those who are in the happy position of being able to report well of progress during the past year, have been trading to profit with what they have been entrusted with. They have been diligent. None of us are entrusted with very great wealth in any direction at present, and for that reason there is the more need for diligence in using what is in our power. Making the most of little opportunities. A fitting word of wisdom can sometimes be edged in by one who has not the opportunity of doing more. Everyone has opportunities, though some may not see their chance. Everyone sees where their opportunities have been when they are gone forever, and they are face to face with death. How often in such circumstances is it said with awful earnestness, "0, if only I could have another chance, I would do differently". It is very profitable to view our situation from this standpoint. Imagine yourself now told that you must stop just where you are - not another stroke of any kind of work added. Consider, whether you would be quite satisfied to do so, and to hand in your report. You ought to be satisfied. Paul was satisfied. Dr. Thomas was. We are commanded to be "always ready", and if we are not, there is something defective - something that wants rectifying. You will probably find that you have made resolutions enough to do the right thing; but you have not succeeded in carrying out what you resolved upon. The fact that some succeed shows that success is possible. It is true we are all differently constituted, and it may be easy for one to succeed in one department where it would be difficult for another; still, the one who finds it easy here, has got a difficult task somewhere else. The principle is the same in every case, and because we are different in our mental constitution, our circumstances as greatly, vary. We may rest assured that what we are asked to do we are equal to the performance of, if we accept the guidance which God has provided for us in the Scriptures.
HAVE THE RIGHT RULE OF LIFE
It is everything with us to have the right rule of life before our minds. Natural and spiritual things are for the most part antagonistic in their tendencies. For the most part truly, because there is a place for the natural as well as the spiritual. The great object to be attained is to have them in their proper relations one to another.
There can be no mistake as to which is to have the pre- eminence in our hearts and lives. Our Lord and Master is our authority here, as in everything. "One thing is needful", said he to Martha; and that would be his answer to many of his sisters now if they could hear his voice in reply to many anxieties. Many of the things they think very needful to be done, he would not think needful, that is to say, not indispensable. It is not needful in many cases to bestow all the care upon the things of the present which many - nearly everybody - does. We have to study to get a truer view of the present than is presented by our external surroundings, otherwise the sisters of the 19th century are just in as much danger as was Martha of the 1st, of giving too much prominence to that which is of a merely passing nature, and leaving too little time and energy for the things of Christ. How many lament that they have not time to read, and the consequent lack of spiritual vigour. They wish the blessed hope of the glorious time that is coming were greater power with them in every day life, and they have to acknowledge that they do not find time to read as they could wish, yet if any one of that class were to be laid on a sick bed, with the prospect of leaving earthly things for ever, she would see that these earthly things had held too high a place in her thoughts; that less service to the present, with its fleeting concerns, would have sufficed, and she would now have been better prepared for yielding up her mortal life, had she given only a little more of her time to getting acquainted with what she will be face to face with when she emerges from the grave to which she is hastening. She will be likely to think and to say, as I have heard it said in such circumstances, "Oh, if I had my time to live over again I should give more time to reading the Bible", and, again, in another case, "There are many things I should like to do if I had another chance. I wish I could have another chance."
ONLY ONE CHANCE
Well, dear sisters, we have but one brief life. Today will never return. There is no safety but in making each day just what we shall wish we had made it when we come to look back upon it from a dying bed, or from the judgment seat. Our life is short - no one knows how short. It is short even at the longest. The young are apt to think there is plenty of time, and that when they get older, they will begin to be more in earnest. The young sister in Christ would do well to be on her guard against this fallacy. You have a great advantage in receiving the truth in your youth, if you wake up to it. Most of you who are young hope to live to be old, if the Lord delays his coming. What age would you like to live to? Fifty? Sixty? Seventy? Eighty? What could you hope to do for Christ at that age? If you put off serving him till you are older, the chances are you will never do anything at all. It is a delusion to think you will serve him by-and-bye - later on in life, when the things of the present will be less attractive. Remember, you will be in the future what you are now, in an intenser degree, according to the direction you are growing in. If you are unconcerned now about being engaged in the service of Christ, you will be more so when you grow old, and you will be less able to begin a different course then, for your energies will be less vigorous, and you will more easily succumb to the difficulties in the way of self-denial. On the other hand, if you are now striving to serve Christ, or are making up your mind that you shall, without delay, proceed to make use of your opportunities, however small, the probability is, that if you live to be old, you will find yourself still and more actively in his service - busy even in advanced age in some way or other, showing your love, and faith and hope. A life-long accumulation of service will then stand to your account, and you will be able to stand in the day of inspection. You will not be ashamed, for you know you have not been idle or negligent. They may have only been little deeds that you have been able to do, still, you have always been doing the little that was possible. What a satisfaction in retrospect, and what a joy to hear the Master say, "She hath done what she could! " What a reward for present self-denial is the prospect of such an ending to mortal toil! Who would not make the attempt to win in such a warfare?
MANY DIFFICULTIES, DOUBTLESS
There are, doubtless, many difficulties to be encountered which are peculiar to youth, and it is to be feared many are hindered in the path of wisdom by these difficulties. It is well for the young sister to recognise at the outset that the path to the kingdom of God is not a flowery one. There are green spots for the weary pilgrim to be met with here and there; but these refreshing places are only arrived at through the rough and difficult paths of daily duty. Do not make the mistake of expecting the way to be pleasant. If the young pilgrim thinks that by making a wise choice, and picking her steps as it were, she may manage to keep in the sunshine, and with pleasant surroundings all the time, she is apt to be discouraged, when she finds that much cloud and darkness at times beset her. She is apt to think there is something wrong, because she had imagined that if she tried to do right, she would be sure to be happy, and make others happy, too. And, instead of being happy, she is often very much the reverse. It is well, therefore, at the start, to know what you are to expect, and much depends upon a correct view of this matter.
A WRONG PATTERN
A young sister, in being introduced to the ecclesia, where there are many young people besides herself, is apt to think that she will have in these a pattern how she ought to act, and that she will be safe in doing as they do. The consequence is that in many things she will be misled; for not many of the called are acting in a way to secure their being chosen at last, and while thinking she is copying one who is on the way to eternal life, she may only be following an example that will ultimately prove her ruin, because many are deceiving themselves and others, whose true position will only be made manifest at the judgment seat.
If she would find true help - the right pattern - she must seek it where it can, without doubt, be found. The Scriptures alone in our day are to be trusted as an unerring guide; therefore, the daily reading of them is indispensable. There is no chance for those who do not read the Scriptures. The things of the present are so incessant and pressing in their claims upon our attention, that without this antidote - this rectifying power - the mind, however naturally gifted, must succumb to the power of the present considerations and present pleasures. Apart from the reading of the word, regularly and prayerfully, the young aspirant after eternal life will find she has undertaken an impossible task. In the Scriptures she has her pattern, her guide, her model, by which to shape her life. She will have to be very determined to get this daily help, and the effort will have to be kept up, otherwise the apparent urgency of other things will crowd it out of the programme. Let it, therefore, be a fixed rule of life with her, that come what may, she will have her daily reading of the Scriptures. Let some other matter stand on one side, if it comes to be a question of which is to be done and which left undone - the reading or something else. She will find if she acts on this principle, that what some have pronounced impossible, is not only possible, but at last delightful - the one green spot in the day. We all know how things do get put on one side when anything very important happens. Now this daily reading of the Scriptures ought to be regarded in the light of one of the most important things that could happen to mortals in our day. A message from heaven. Shall you take time to hear it? It is more likely that you will win the battle of life if you do.
Ten minutes, quarter of an hour, or at the most twenty minutes, will suffice to get into your mind something that will remain with you as a power for the coming day. You will be more ready to remember what you ought to do in any circumstance of difficulty if you have listened to the Spirit's voice in this form, than if you have not. You will be better able to rule your temper during the day if you have than if you have not. You may sometimes have to lament that your opportunities for serving Christ are few. Here is one way in which you can serve him. Sit at his feet and listen. He commended Mary for doing this, when her busy, bustling sister wanted her to come and do something else. You may, by the power of his words, glorify God by your manifest subjection to his commands; and the constant reading in the Scriptures of what others have done by faith in God, will no doubt lead you to discover ways and means of serving that you had not thought of.
There is one great danger to which young sisters are exposed, and that is the companionship of the young, even in the truth. Folly is so natural to youth, that it is next to impossible for the young to get out of it by themselves. They require, help. Next to reading, the most important help is proper companionship. It cannot be too strongly impressed upon the young disciple that she is not too young to obey the commands of Christ, and that if she is to secure his favour and friendship, she must be careful in this respect. Whatever helps you in this direction is to be sought after. Whatever hinders is to be avoided. There are two ways of carrying out this wise rule. You can leave the society which you find frivolous and vain. But this is not enough. You ought to be brave enough to speak to your companions upon the things which constitute our hope. The day's reading will give you a ready way of doing this. Why not introduce profitable conversation among the young, as well as with the old? Are you to be shamed of your good resolve, because you may be laughed at for being of a serious turn of mind, as it will be called? If you are wise, you will disregard this reproach, and persevere in your endeavours to make wisdom rule among the young. In introducing topics of a profitable nature, do not be afraid to explain that you do so in order that you all may be helped to do what all probably feel and know they ought to do, and to occupy yourselves in a way that will be well pleasing to God, and that you shall not regret at last. If this may not be, rather be silent than join in foolish talking, which is forbidden. You need not be unsocial on this account; but you can choose your company, and you can keep out of company that is hurtful. The young sisters will find it of advantage to get into the company of those who are older than themselves, when they can avail themselves of that privilege, so that they may accustom themselves to sober ways, and by this means they will acquire the power to engage the attention of their younger companions, and to sustain the effort which this may require. They must be on their guard when in the company of those who are of their own age, not to be drawn into the flippant and smart ways of worldly young people, whose manners indicate a total lack of reverence for God or man. It is some time before worldly ways are got rid of, even by those who desire to do so. Be courageous in this matter. You know what is required of you by the Master, who is now your Lord, and will shortly be your Judge.
PEACE OF MIND
Nothing will make you happier at the close of the day than the thought that you have been courageous for him - that is to say if you are truly his. If you have really given yourself to him, and have not merely joined the ecclesia so that you might pass muster as a sister. Some will prove at last to be mere wood, hay and stubble. Such will not continue, if they even begin in the way of wisdom. The parable of the sower explains to us how it is that some who begin in seemingly a right way, do not hold on. They are hindered by the difficulties, and give in when they find that before wearing the crown they must carry the cross. But some will receive the good seed in the right spirit, prepared to go where and to do what their Lord commands. "They bring forth fruit with patience, they endure to the end". These are they who trim their lamps daily, whose light shines with a steady brightness, always ready to reflect the truth in some shape or form - in testimony for its maintenance against error, or in rejoicing in the hope which has been enkindled by its loving reception. They are also the class who take the means to have the seed sown in their hearts well watered, both in the attendance of public meeting, and in the private reading and study of the Word. No wonder that the seed withers in some hearts. It has been planted down among so many thorns that it is choked, and the thorns, or things of the present, receive all the moisture, and grow accordingly. The two classes have always existed from the beginning, and they exist today. We cannot always distinguish them while they are in course of development. They require time to be manifested; but meantime the process is going on in each case which will ultimately ripen - in the one case, resulting in acceptance with joy unspeakable, and in the other with rejection in anguish unavailing. No one will be rejected but the disobedient, who might by taking heed have been among the joyfully accepted. Be careful, then, that nothing is left undone by you which you can possibly bring to bear to secure this endless life of well-being which will bring you everything you deem desirable now, or could possibly wish to possess. "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" is the language of the true child of God, and at every stage of life this is the language of earnest desire to do the things that please Him. Get into the right way yourself - be sure you are in it, and then see what you can do to help others in it. Continue in this endeavour, however long your day may last, and you will not be found lacking when you are called upon to give an account of your stewardship.
COMPANION FOR LIFE
No sister will treat this subject with indifference who has regard to the ultimate issues of life. It is a subject which has often been mentioned, and one would think must be well understood, and yet we are constantly hearing of sisters making alliances with those who are not in the truth. Even during the year that has just gone, we have had cases of this direct disregard of apostolic command, not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. A sister who contracts such a partnership is laying up for herself untold sorrow in the future. She is sure to be greatly hindered in her endeavours to fulfil the law of Christ, and the chances are, as has actually happened in almost every case where a sister has married an alien, she will be turned entirely out of the way. Let the young sister be most careful not to form even an ordinary friendship with any who is not a brother; but above all not to consent to be united for life to a man who is not a brother. Do not deceive yourselves with the idea that it will come all right after marriage. If a sister can help an unbelieving friend it is while yet unengaged. Do not trust to promises of putting matters right after. The matter is too serious to be left to after chances. If there is a chance of your influencing such a friend, you have a greater chance of doing so if you withhold your friendship until he has first yielded obedience to the truth, then he would be in a position to be your true companion and helper. So much of your future happiness and welfare depends upon a wise decision in such matters, and duty to Christ is so clear in the matter that you cannot be too earnestly entreated to give it your most serious consideration, and as you sow now you will afterwards reap.
Another secret in the growth of the good seed in youthful, but good soil, and next in importance to the reading of the Word, and indeed, to be placed along with it is daily prayer to God. At first it is not possible to realise how great a help this is, nor how great the privilege of being permitted to approach God, as a child of His; in confidence that He will hear and answer our petitions. It is generally some dire affliction or strait to which she is brought that brings the young sister to this, and sooner or later this experience of affliction and chastisement is the lot of all who are born into the family of God. It will be much easier and a sweeter comfort to come to God in affliction, if from the start we make it a rule to pray to Him daily. The very coming to Him, in the spirit of submission, in supplication for forgiveness and guidance, will give tranquility to the mind - a gladness that there is some one very great who cares for you, and who has promised great things in the future, and asks you to share them. Your knowledge of God will grow, and while your reverence for Him will increase with that knowledge, you will prize more and more the unspeakable boon of being allowed - nay, invited to come near to Him in the name of Jesus. The oftener you take advantage of this invitation, the more likely you will be to appreciate it, until your approaches to God will become seasons of communion, in which you will rise much higher than you could at first, for now you will be able to realize more of His greatness and majesty and of His exalted supremacy as the Creator of all things, His surpassing goodness in all that He has purposed for us in the future, in having called us to be co-workers with Him in His glorious scheme to redeem this earth and its inhabitants, and to fill it with His glory. You will better realise to what a high and holy calling you are called by the gospel, and you will better realise who it is that has called you, and what He requires of those whom He has thus called. And while you will never be beyond the need of all the care which you found necessary at first (for the heart is deceitful, and we are always liable to be drawn aside by the allurements which appeal to the old man of the flesh), still these exercises of reading and prayer to God form a powerful aid to the subjugation of the old man, and the development of the new.
HELP IN TROUBLE
And when trouble comes to you - real afflictive trouble, you will find that there is true help to be found in prayer to God. He does help, He does sustain, He does comfort in trouble. You may think many grievous thoughts about the trouble, how it might have been avoided, and that you have brought it on yourself, and fear that in your case God has had nothing to do with it, and fail to receive the help you so much need, because you do not ask or expect it. Now, in whatever way the trouble may have come, if you belong to God, it has not come by chance. He guides your affairs. He plans your good and your evil. You must have evil. We all scheme to keep out of it, and if we could manage it we should never have any trouble, and we should then not be suitable for God's purpose at last. Human nature requires to be chastened that it may be purified and made meet for the Master's use. It is God's plan, because in His wisdom it is the best, the only plan whereby this erring nature may be perfected for the glorious destiny He has in store for it. Let not the young sister then be cast down when trouble comes, but rather recognise it as God's fatherly dealing with her. Let her seek His presence and ask His strength. He has promised it. It is in times of weakness we require it. Trust Him when things look dark. His power is equal to letting in the light upon your path. "Who is there among you that feareth God and walketh in darkness and hath no light, let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God." Wait upon Him, He will hear you and answer you, but perhaps not as you expect or wish at present, still have faith that all will be for the best, though it seems otherwise. His word cannot fail, and that is our confidence. "Come unto me". "Look unto Me". "Cast thy burden on the Lord and He will sustain thee". All who trust Him find it so in the long run.
While this is true in a special sense - when we are excercised in sore affliction, it is true at all times that God careth for us, and that He wishes us, and asks us, to cast our cares upon Him. He wishes us to acknowledge Him in all our ways. Whatever we undertake, our daily routine of duties or more perplexing engagements should all be undertaken as in His sight. His blessing and guidance asked and desired all the day long. In this spirit we feel that everything we undertake is done to Him, and we shall assuredly often realise that He hears and answers our prayers. When things come out differently to what you purposed or desired, wait before you conclude that it is a pity it is so. Most likely in course of time you will be able to see that His way was best, and He knows better than we do what is best for our ultimate good, and that it is the true standard of goodness. This life is so short that we make a great mistake if we measure the goodness of our experience by what it brings us here. We shall probably find when we come to look back upon our mortal experience, that, but for the dark and sorrowful passages in it, we should never have attained the crown of life. How well it is for us that God, in His wisdom, has hidden from us what our experience here is to be, and graciously unfolds it to us day by day as we are able to bear it.
If it had been otherwise arranged, and each one had received her programme of all she had to go through from the time she entered the straight gate which leadeth unto life, until the day on which she was to finish her account, it is to be feared very few would feel that they could go through it, but would give it up as an impossible task, and so it does prove in many cases, where the difficulties deter from, instead of impelling to, active exertion. If no progress is made from the time the armour is put on till the time it is put off, the ability to cope with trial and difficulty is never developed. On the other hand, if we obey as far as we can see our way, and seek to know the right way, this practice increases the power to do and to endure what is commanded, and what the young beginner would pronounce impossible is daily practised by the steady student, and brave soldier in the heavenly warfare. How wise, then, to seek daily that help which alone can enable the weak to be strong for the battle of life, and will eventually lead to victory.
Then there comes a stage further on in life when the sister in Christ, who is still young it may be, finds herself surrounded with many cares from which the young unmarried sister is free. It will be good for her if she has been able to make a right start in the married state, with the companionship of one of like precious faith, for then she can better regulate her life and her house, with a view to making the truth the guiding and predominating motive power in all she undertakes. She will be happy in this most important relationship, if she finds in her husband a helper and a stimulator in divine directions, which he will be if he is a true brother, and not a merely nominal one. It is one of the most pleasant experiences with which one can meet, to find husband and wife happily united on the basis of mutual love naturally, and under the power of the truth individually besides. Sometimes it happens that the husband is very earnest in the truth - trying, in all things to be subject to it, and the wife is not. She has perhaps yielded obedience more for the sake of being at one with her husband, than because she realised the goodness of the message which the gospel brings, and the responsibility of those who have enrolled themselves as candidates for the blessings of the future age, and so she is lacking in enterprise, and is not so helpful as she would be, if she rejoiced, like her husband, in the glorious hope of eternal life in an incorruptible body, and in the highest and most desirable companionship. And in so far as this is the case, her husband is deprived of her valuable and warm- hearted co-labourship. Sometimes the wife is the one who is warm-hearted in the truth, and the husband is not. The sister in that case is at a great disadvantage. She is without that stimulating help which the husband undoubtedly ought to be to his wife, "nourishing and cherishing her even as the Lord the Ecclesia", seeking her highest good by taking the initiative, and encouraging her in every good work. She who has the advantage of having made a right start, and had the companionship of a true brother, has all the more responsibility attaching to her position. "To whom much is given of them much is required". She has as it were unlimited scope for service in the truth, according to her circumstances in life. If we lived in times of persecution, no doubt we should often imagine how zealous we should be if we only had liberty to carry out our desires. We should think to begin with, if we could only secure a Bible all to ourselves, how we would study it - how we should ponder its words - its precepts, and its promises. How we should try to remember the exact words of David when he was in affliction, and his songs of thanksgiving when he was delivered out of trouble. How we should treasure every opportunity of snatching a look at the forbidden book, and make sure that we had a "thus saith the Lord" for all we did. How we should think, too, what we should be prepared to do for Christ's sake, if only we had a home, and an ecclesial circle in which to serve him without the fear of being put in prison. It is good for us sometimes to think of these things, and to contrast our surroundings with what it might be if the "Man of sin" still had the power to prevail against the saints as he formerly had.
Now, you dear sister, in the favoured position you occupy, are at liberty to show how you choose to spend the opportunity thus afforded. In these times of liberty, you can do as you like. You are at liberty to serve Christ, or you can serve yourself. You can serve him little or you can serve him much. Remember you ought to be an example - you ought to show by your example how you estimate your privilege, and how you choose to use it. If you rightly estimate the advantages of your position you will think of this; you will stir yourself up to do things for Christ because you are at liberty to do it, and because you know that you will surely regret it if you do not. It is a good plan to dedicate yourself every morning to God and His service, asking His guidance and strength. "Give thy strength unto thy servant". So prays David, and every night reckon up whether you have faithfully done what you could. You will almost be sure to find that you have not done all you purposed or wished, but if you have striven all day to do the will of God you have been redeeming the time, and the day will stand inspection at last. Where you have failed you will be warned for the future, and where you have erred let it be confessed and forgiven. Day by day, day by day, in this way, and step by step, you will at last arrive at your last day, as some of our number have done this year, when your race will be run, and your warfare will be over, and the victory will be won. Be sure that you are not satisfied with less than is possible. We are told to be perfect. We are by no means perfect when we begin the race. We have much to learn, and we have to acquire the power to put in practice what we learn. Still, we are told to be perfect - to go on unto perfection. We read of some who were said to be perfect and upright before God. God said to Abraham, "Walk before me and be thou perfect". Abraham believed God, and he showed his faith by his works. We are called upon to do the same; to be the children of Abraham, to be perfect, as he was. "He staggered not through unbelief; but was strong in faith".
SHOW YOUR FAITH
We ought to act as if we believed God in the things He has promised - also in obeying him. The more you try to practice obedience - that is doing things because God has commanded them - the more you will realise the truth of what the apostle John says, that "His commandments are not grievous". You will find that you can do what you thought it impossible to do, and, in your privileged position, you ought to venture beyond what others dare, because you are at liberty to do it if you are courageous enough to do it. Your love for Christ, and your desire to have his approval when He comes, will suggest many ways in which you can turn your liberty to account. If you make up your mind that you will use your liberty to fellowship his sufferings, to carry his cross, and to be with him in all you do, you will be able to help those who are less fortunately situated, by your example. If they see you set light by the things of the present world, that the things pertaining to the truth may be attended to, they will feel stimulated by your courageous example. If they know that you make it your choice, and your practice to give heed to the voice of wisdom in the scriptures daily, they will be helped in their endeavour to do the same. You may be so situated that you have very little time for deliberate reading, because of the multitude of duties that your family and household and perhaps business, demand of you. Still, you feel and know that you must read some every day, that the lamp may burn steadily, and that you may with all readiness meet the various emergencies of life. You know that your final success depends upon it, and you must have it.
You will have this reading by some ingenious invention, if it is not to be had any other way. A little at a time perhaps, but you will have it. A little extra, too, if possible - that is, a little enriching to the mental furnishing beyond the daily prescribed portion which is absolutely necessary for existence. Such books as Eureka, for instance: is it possible for a busy mother ever on her own initiative to attain to the reading and understanding of it? The mind that has received the ideas contained in such a book, or had the ideas contained in it passed through the brain, is in a very different condition from the one who never has. If you would like to have your mind opened up to a higher preception of what God has purposed for you in the future, and how He has been unfolding His plan in the past, let your ambition be to know what that wonderful book contains. A sentence or two at a time will supply you with food for the day when you cannot get more, and there are many ways by which such an apparently impossible task is to be accomplished. Only be in earnest in your desire for the knowledge it contains. That is the first requisite. Then your ingenuity will bring it about. I have heard of many ways. One sister used to read a sentence or two, then go on with her work, thinking about what she had read, then take another chance as soon as possible for another sentence or two in the same way resuming her work. I have it suggested to me that I should tell of another sister who keeps the volume open on her bedroom mantelpiece, so that while dressing, or attending to little matters about the room, she can cast her eye on the page, and in this way carry away a valuable amount of information and food for reflection, and also for conversation.
The same plan might be adopted with reading the Bible or any other book, where it is difficult to get time to sit quietly down without interruption. Several classes have been formed, too, now, for the reading of Eureka, so that anyone who can spare an hour away from the scene of household duties can have the advantage of hearing it read and commented upon. A true sister who appreciates her liberty in Christ, and has the opportunity, will not fail to gain all the information of this sort that is within her reach; for the more she knows of the wind of the spirit, the greater her power in every spiritual direction. The things pertaining to the present life are so urgent in their demands, that if you give in to them, you will have no time or opportunity for taking in and assimilating the things of the spirit.
RECOGNISE THE SITUATION
You have to recognise the situation, and frame your life accordingly. Something must be left undone. Some give the preference to the mere passing requirements of every-day life. They tax themselves to get all the supposed necessary things done. And they, and their houses and children, look like it. Everything is in what is called "apple-pie order". Much time is bestowed on each department, and the verdict is that they have not a minute to spare for reading. It takes them all the time to get through. They must have the children looking nice, and they cannot bear a spot or stain anywhere on their furniture. What shall we eat and what shall we drink, and how shall we best set out the delicious things we contrive, to please the palate, and wherewithal shall we be clothed, are the all-absorbing themes with them, and any interruption to this regular round of self- imposed slavery is a cause of irritation and loss of temper. I know of one sister who regretted much when she came to die that she had spent her time in this way, and said if she could have her time over again, she would give more time to reading, and especially to reading the Bible. I knew another with whom it was just the opposite. The Scriptures were her constant study and comfort. She gave them an early place in the daily programme, and the future in consequence was an ever present reality to her. She was content to have things in the present befitting a stranger (one not at home) and a pilgrim (one passing through), and when her time came to die, she was ready to lay down her weary head in prospect of a glorious resurrection to a permanent and perfect state of things. Take for instance now, a sister who is delicate in health. She is likely to take a sober view of things. She is not able to do this and that, that perhaps she would like to do, and she says, "I am not able to do so and so. I can manage without", and she gets along. She cannot go through such an elaborate programme as her stronger sister, and she resigns herself to it. She is perhaps forced to have seasons of quiet rest. In these she can read a little and meditate upon what she has read, and she is inwardly furnished and enriched. Now why should a busy sister wait until forced by illness to take time to read and think? If she would stop to consider, she might as well, and much better, take a little time - make a little time, for taking in the wisdom that is to guide her in the way that leadeth unto life - content to get along in other things in a middling way. Let her make sure of that as a first necessity, and she will be helped to find out what the things are that she can leave out.
NOT OF THE WORLD
Many of the things that worldly women think essential are nonessential with us. And here comes one great advantage of not having friends of this world. By not having worldly friends, we are at liberty to do our part better. Worldly friends are a snare. They look at things from the opposite side from what a woman does who is striving to please Christ. Their thought all the while is what will commend itself to the good taste of the present evil world, and in most cases what a woman of the world would commend and admire is what the true sister cannot. The only safe course is to refrain from friendships with the world, and if you do you will find your way wonderfully relieved from the hampering tyranny of conventionality. You feel outside "society", so called, and you rejoice in your freedom. Your chief anxiety, too, is to be approved of Christ when he comes, and this strong sentiment will continually come to your aid. Your dress may not be fit for the promenade, but it is fit to visit the poor in, and for the purposes of the truth generally. You desire to be about your Lord's business. You are serving him in whatever you do, whether directly or indirectly. "Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever you do - do all to the glory of God". If in such common place matters as eating and drinking, then in everything else that pertains to this life you can serve and glorify God. If you make this your rule, you cannot be friends with those who are of the world, for your aims will be different, and you cannot afford to give the time and attention to the things of the present which they think necessary. For this reason you will not be regarded favourably by the friends of the world; they will not understand you; they cannot understand you, and you must be content to be misunderstood. God knows your endeavour to please him. Your Lord and Master sympathises with you; for he underwent the same experience and he will be with you and help you. He will give you courage to bear the askance, and perhaps derisive, glance when your neighbours see that you have courage to disregard their standard of what the purpose or object of life ought to be. His words, which you delight to read daily, will be in your mind, a store of ready admonition and counsel, as to your behaviour in all circumstances, whether adverse or otherwise, and you know he has said "If my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you". If his words abide in you, your requests are likely to be such as he can grant. We can have this confidence that he hears the prayers of those who abide in him, and obey his commandments.
GO FORWARD, WITH MIND STORED
So let the sister who is bent upon pleasing Christ, go forward in the assurance that he is with her, and in that confidence she will astonish even herself at what she will be able to do. With a mind stored with the truth, in loving and longing anticipation of the time shortly to come, when Christ himself will be manifested, she will not quail before any of the tests to which every child of God must be subjected before being pronounced fit for the kingdom of God. She will be ready with her testimony to those who are outside, to whom she may have access. Benevolently making opportunities for their benefit, not caring if she be considered weak- minded or too strong minded. She wishes to earn at her Lord's mouth the favourable verdict that "she has done what she could", and she is only satisfied when she can conscientiously say this of herself. Not that she will ever reach the time when she will have no weakness to lament or shortcoming to regret; but the colour of her daily life will partake of this constant desire and aim. This was the Apostle Paul's attitude in the truth; he says, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
This pressing toward the mark indicates a definite object in view. Paul prayed that the brethren might be pleasing in God's sight - perfect in all things doing His will. He desired the perfection of the believers. We are often exhorted by Him to be perfect. Christ himself taught his disciples to follow a certain course in life that they might be perfect. The Apostle James also exhorts to the same end - "that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing". This Scriptural perfection must mean something attainable. We would not be asked to be what we could not possibly be. We have mentioned before Abraham who was told to walk before God and be "perfect". We know what sort of man he was. Then concerning Job, we are told that he was a perfect man, in explanation of which it is added, "and upright, one that feared God and eschewed evil." There were those in Paul's day who were perfect in the Scriptural sense, among whom he includes himself, saying to the Philippians, "Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded;" that is to say, all pressing forward together, with the same ultimate aim, in love to God, and the love of the brethren, striving to be accepted of the Lord, and to attain to a place in the resurrection. We are called to God's kingdom and glory. What for? That we may reflect His glory throughout the ages. If a thing answers the purpose for which it is made, it is a perfect thing. A watch, for instance; if there is a flaw in the machinery, and it won't go, you say of it, "Oh, it's of no use, it won't go, it's imperfect". But a perfect watch gives you the right time, and answers the purpose for which you purchased it. It may not be the handsomest or most costly of watches, but it keeps good time, and in comparison with the one which won't go, it is perfect. So with us. God has made us for His glory; for this purpose He has called us out of darkness into His marvellous light. If we walk in the light we glorify Him, and we are perfect in His sight. Justified from our sins and accepted in the beloved.
Perfection of character is not to be attained all at once; but, by taking heed to our way, that we may order it according to the written Word, the progress is steady. "The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." Practice in anything will lead to perfection at last; but there may be much stumbling and disappointment at first; courage and perseverance continued will bring triumph in due time.
So far, we have traced the course necessary for the young sister, and the sister engaged a stage further on in the midst of busy family life, and surrounded by many cares and responsibilities; in all of which there are many difficulties to be encountered by a true sister of Christ. The source of strength is the same, though the circumstances may differ. Each one will find that if she only try it, and persevere in the trying, she will always have a strong tower into which to run for safety in trouble, and a counsellor to direct in every emergency of life. The sister who is in the position of servant, need be no exception. Paul especially mentions servants, and gives them the encouraging assurance that they also will be judged on the same principle as all their fellow believers. Obedience under trying circumstances is required of all. A servant's duties are very plainly laid down. If she wants to be strong in her position, and sure of pleasing Christ, who is her master, she will render a humble and faithful service with good will, as to Christ himself, as the apostles commanded. In this spirit her services will be rendered willingly, readily, heartily, not grudgingly. Some young sisters overlook this, and probably for want of studying what their duty is, are unhappy and dissatisfied, because, though sisters in Christ, they are not treated as on a level with those whom they serve. There is a time for everything. There is a time for masters and servants, who are in the truth to be all one, as when they meet to worship God and to remember the Lord Jesus in breaking of bread, or any other gathering on the basis of the truth. All are alike before God, but He asks us to conduct ourselves in certain relations in certain ways towards Him and towards each other. Servants He commands to be obedient to their masters, and masters He commands to be kind and considerate to their servants. Where each has a regard for the word of Christ, there is sure to be no hitch; even where a servant finds herself under an unreasonable master or mistress, she has a guide to go by. She is not to answer back again in the spirit of retaliation, even when found fault with when doing right, far less when she is in fault. She will find the Scriptural prescription work well. Solomon says, "A soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stirreth up anger". How true this is; if you are found fault with, and you give an angry answer, you make matters worse. If you take it patiently and show by your manner that you desire to do the right thing in a pleasant manner, the way is clear for amendment, and probably a better understanding. In this way the sister who is a servant can commend the truth where she may have an unbelieving master or mistress, and she may help her mistress, if she is also a sister of Christ. She may always take comfort from the thought that her present position of hardship, if such it be, will not last for ever; and in committing her way to God in well doing, she is in the way to secure His favour, and in His good time she may find herself in happier circumstances. The great mistake generally made is that of looking at circumstances and individuals, and blaming them all round, instead of endeavouring to perform individual duty as in the sight of God, and being satisfied with the knowledge that He knows and will approve, if His will be done, where it is impossible for any human heart to know or appreciate. Faithfulness through good report and bad report, making His commands your guide, will bring you out at last among the approved and chosen. Loving Christ, you will love those who are like him. The characteristic of the family of God is love. Love leads to a tender interest in the object of it. The great aim of those professing the truth should be to develop those qualities which evoke love. Study to provoke love. If you wish to be loved, try to be loveable. Love begets love. A ready and obliging disposition in a servant, makes her valuable to her master and mistress. She has her sphere, and an important one, though limited, in which she can show her loyalty to Christ.
The truth really helps the development of good manners. It inculcates true politeness. "Honour, to whom honour is due". Some who profess the truth seem to think that this is not required of them. I am not now referring specially to servants or sisters, probably none of that class are present. Only it is well to be warned of the existence of such, for all the precepts of the truth are binding. We are told to "be courteous". "Honour all men". "In honour preferring one another", and many like exhortations. To follow up these maxims is to develop a character which will enoble the possessor of it, whatever their position in life. A servant who has a believing master and mistress is asked to give them even more honour than if they were unbelievers. A believing master and mistress are called upon to be kind and considerate to their servants. They must attend to their part. But a sister who finds herself in difficult and adverse circumstances, is like her other sisters to endure in patience, and not in any way to manifest impatience or resentment. It would be well for both mistress and servants to regard the circumstances of the other. We are told to consider one another. This will lead the servant to honour, in the true sense, those whom she serves for Christ's sake, and the few who may be called from among the rich will, on the same principle, esteem the poor, who have received the love of the truth, and are striving to walk worthy of it. In this way master and servant, each in their sphere, can command the truth, and receive approval from their common Master. The servant, like her mistress, will have to make an effort to get her reading, and she will manage it. It is quite a common thing now to see a Bible on the kitchen table, as in days past it might have been seen daily on a brother's bakehouse trough. "Where there is a will there is a way" in this matter of daily reading, and the difference is manifest even now in those who read and those who do not. Servants in the world honour their masters and mistresses and defer to them according to their wealth, etc. But a sister of Christ will be faithful in her duties from a higher consideration than that. The former do it with eye service, to please man. She not only to please her earthly master and mistress, but that she may please Him who has called her to a high honour in the future if she is faithful to His commands now. She, like all her sisters, whatever their occupation, for there is no exception to this rule, will have to bear the cross first, before she can wear the crown.
There comes sometimes a note of lamentation from isolated sisters, and with a few words for their encouragement, this address will close. A sister writes to say that she reads with great interest and hearty response, the exhortations from month to month in the "Christadelphian", and she would so gladly take part in the many forms of service therein referred to. She says these duties imply the existence of an ecclesia - a community among whom and by whom the various acts of service recommended can be rendered. But here she is, shut up in a lonely home, with no one to whom she can speak, or give the tracts that have been on her shelf for years. What is she to do, she asks. Well, God is just, He does not ask where service cannot be given. A lonely sister can at least hold fast to the sure word of promise. Abraham was all alone, and his case brings courage to us in these late Gentile times. He held fast, without wavering; our sister must do the same. If she cannot distribute her tracts where she is, let her put herself in communication with some ecclesia where they can be distributed. They will distribute the tracts for her, and thus she will work through them, while they on their part will feel that in so doing they are helping that lonely sister to do what she cannot do herself. She may find agents for other forms of work. A letter to the sisters who are privileged to have companionship in the truth, would doubtless stir them up to be more hearty in the performance of the many little things in their power, which they could not have the opportunity of doing if they were in complete isolation like their sister. She may, by this means, recall some to a sense of the responsibility resting upon them in consequence of their superior advantages.
Let all who are lonely do likewise, and constitute themselves workers together with those who are associated together in communities. It may be little they can do, but if they do that little, it will be reckoned to their account. If they can do much, then much will be required. And as we sow now, we shall reap afterwards. Nothing could be fairer than that. If we sow sparingly, we shall reap sparingly. If we sow bountifully, we shall reap bountifully. God is bountiful, and when He promises that we shall reap bountifully at His hands, we know that great will be the reward for those who thus honour Him.
It is presumable that even an isolated sister will have some living soul to whom she may show the power of the truth in her own life and conversation. Her children, if she has any, ought to be an object of solicitude to her in such circumstances, taking pains to instruct them and train them up in the fear of God. This is specially incumbent on parents who have not the opportunity of sending their children to a Christadelphian Sunday School. If, from any cause, they feel necessitated to send them to a school where error is taught, their diligence should be thereby increased to make manifest the contrast between Bible and Orthodox teaching. This will quicken the young minds, and load them early in life, to contend for the truth in its purity. Neighbours, servants, any one at all capable of receiving the truth, may be tried for sowing the good seed. If the soil be barren, you are not responsible for that. Be diligent in what is possible.
Those who, in these days of darkness, whether in isolation or as members of busy communities, seek the light which shines from the pages of the Bible; that they may, by faith in what they read, become conformed to the image of Christ, and walk in his steps - having the same mind as he had - obedient in all things, even unto death, fully assured that what God has promised, He will perform in due time. These brave ones belong to the same class which Paul strove to develop in his day, and whom we are striving to imitate, that we also may be added to their number and be presented perfect in the day of Christ.
Although the apostle of the Gentiles classed himself with the perfect of his day, it was evidently in the sense that they were all of one mind, striving after perfection, for in the same connection he says of himself, "Not as though I were already perfect;" he had not yet finished the work of perfecting holiness in, the fear of God - the process was going forward. Shortly afterwards, in prospect of death, he wrote to Timothy, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but to all them also who love his appearing." He did not need to say in prospect of death, "0, if I had my life to live over again, I would do differently." His motto in life was, "To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
We cannot do better, dear sisters than imitate Paul in this and make his motto ours through life. Christ before us now, and Christ before us at the end. All who have succeeded in the past in obtaining the approval of God, have been just like ourselves, encompassed with weakness. They were conscious of it, as we are, even to the verge of despair, but they field on. Faith in God gave the victory, and it will make us more than conquerors.
We read of the wonderful things that were done by the Saints in the days of old, and we are apt to think we could not have done as they did, and we are apt to think of them as if they were specially prepared people for the work they had to do. And so they were. There were thousands of people in the earth at that time that would not, and could not do the things they did - they were specially prepared. They were strong and of good courage, by reason of their faith in God, and God worked with them.
We also, in these latter days, are a specially prepared people. The merely natural mind would not, and could not, do the things that we are called upon to do; but the enlightenment of the truth nerves our hearts and hands to do strange things. By faith we overcome many a hill of difficulty, and endure what the natural mind would not brook for a moment. We are by faith enabled to humble ourselves as little children, that by child-like obedience to Christ's commands we may enter into his kindgom and share his joy.
Let us, dear sisters, all of us - young, middle-aged, and elderly - strive together to make this year, upon which we have just entered, the best of our lives, by the increased heartiness and steadfastness of our love and service in the truth. We may truly salute each other with the Jewish salutation, "May the Messiah come this year", with the additional wish that we may all be found ready.