The Oberlin Evangelist
April 27, 1859
The Bond of Preaching to the Free.
On Sunday afternoon, April 17, according to previous notice, Professor Peck, one of the Oberlin Rescuers committed to jail to await trial, proceeded to address his brethren in bonds and such of the free as chose to come. The hour appointed was half-past two o’clock, and at that time an immense crowd had gathered around the jail. The extensive jail yard was literally packed with human bodies, the space and street beyond filled, every roof and shed that afforded a prospect of the preacher crowded, and the windows of the new Court House building occupied. A large number of ladies were in the crowd in addition to those admitted by the Sheriff to the private apartments of the jail. The crowd was of the highest respectability, and numbered between three and four thousand persons.
Professor Peck stood just inside the doorway of the jail, and from that point conducted the exercises, which he opened with a short prayer. The immense congregation then united in singing the hymn,
“My soul be on they guard,
Ten thousand foes arise;
The hosts of sin are pressing hard,
To draw thee from the skies.”
A portion of scripture was then read, a prayer offered, and the congregation sang the hymn,
“Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the lamb?
And shall I fear to own his cause,
Or blush to speak his name?”
Professor Peck then read his text from Matthew 9:9.
“And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom; and said unto him, Follow me.”
It is of the utmost importance to men that they clearly apprehend the great law of right. Do they know that law; they are prepared to ascend from the knowledge to virtue and well-being. Are they ignorant of it; that ignorance sinks them to deepest sin and woe.
There are but few however, who can apprehend that law if it is stated to them in a merely dogmatic form; and fewer still are those who, knowing the law, can reduce it to details; who can frame for themselves a logical system of ethics.
The infirmity of the human intelligence which prevents its comprehending abstract rightness has been kindly recognized and provided for by our Great Father making account of it. He sent here his Son in the form of a man, to embody in an apprehensible way the law, which lays its precept upon us all. In the discharge of this errand, the Good Teacher seldom taught duty in an abstract way. He simply said to men, as he did to the tax-gatherer in our text, Follow me.
The doctrine thus taught was easily comprehended. Untutored “common people heard him gladly.” And even children learned from his life the truth they had need to know. And when the Divine Messenger left the world he commissioned and inspired men to put on lasting record the life in which he had displayed the law.
So Matthew, the business-man, and Mark, the plain, farmer-like man, and Luke, the cultivated man, and John, the susceptible man, wrote the story; each telling it in his own way. Thus the world got glad-evangels, which, written from different points of study, agreed in well presenting the common theme – the life which shewed the law. In this way, sage and savage were provided with the means of knowing just what God would have them do. They had but to follow Jesus and the law would be fulfilled. And in following the blessed Christ we find our law. It will, therefore, be profitable for us to consider a few of those things in the life of Christ, which have a bearing on, or illustrate, our duty.
We cannot but notice,
1. That the life we are studying was always pervaded by regard for the Father’s will.
In infancy, he replied to the chidings of his mother who sought him as he lingered in the temple, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business;” and when on that last night before his crucifixion, a bitter cup was put to his lips, he only said, “Not my will but thine be done.”
Nor could any thing ever divert him from accomplishing that will. When an arbitrary social law forbade his associating with publicans and sinners, he firmly kept on his own way, saying only, “ I came not to call the righteous by sinners to repentance.” And when civil law conflicted with the Divine will by pronouncing the gospel he taught an illicit system, still did he not pause. He would preach, and his apology was declared in the comprehensive doctrine, “ Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s.”
Here, them, we get our first lesson. Divine will is to be paramount law with us. We
must obey God always and human law, social and civil, when we can.
Pursuing our study, we observe.
II. That the Divine will was well expounded in the life of Christ. It teaches us
what that will is – that it is not an abstraction, but a living principle looking to more practical results. Describe the life in one word, and the word is love – “He went about doing good” – such is the Evangelist’s own summary of the career of Jesus. – Visiting the poor, healing the sick, cheering the disconsolate, such were his occupations. So it was that Christ set forth his idea of the Divine will.
And we may well note here that it was from his understanding of his Father’s will that Jesus took the gauge of his relations to me. Ordinary ties – those of consanguinity, for instance – did not bind Him as they did other men. The need of men was what inclined him to them. As they were poor, or despised, or sorrowing, so did he stand close to them, and the greater their want the closer was his relationship to them.
This then, for we pause here for another lesson, is always the divine will – that we love and do good to others, and that we fix our relationships and distribute our endeavors according, not to inclination, but to the need of those for whose well being we are called to act.
Passing on, we notice
III. That the spirit with which Christ carried out his Father’s will illustrated our duty.
His was never a grudging nor a self-seeking service. He gave up himself to his work. He assumed that he could not accomplish the will, which was his law, without inconvenience and loss to himself. So he went his way, expecting sorrow and pain. And when sorrow overtook him, he cheerfully bore it. The indignities with which the ungrateful compensated his love did not disturb him. The buffetings and mockings with which his persecutors assailed him as they crowned him with thorns, clothed him with purple, and put a scepter of reed in his hand did not move him. Serenely did he bear that keenest grief which he suffered when, looking from the judgment hall he saw his most beloved disciple hiding in the distance and his boldest one openly give himself up to treachery. And the last words, which trembled upon his dying lips, were, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
It will be well for us to note here that it was the spirit that Christ exhibited which barred the mischief that had otherwise come of his refusal to obey human law when that law contradicted the Divine will. His disobedience of Caesar was not divisive. The State did not suffer for it. A spirit, which is obviously benevolent and generous never, divides. Selfishness divides society. The good will, which Christ so well exhibited, unites men. It is when one follows Christ in this respect that kindred and neighbors are gathered most closely to him, and that society about him becomes most compact. It is the God-obeying, loving spirit, which Christ has communicated to those who follow him, which has given life to the social and political institutions under which we live and are glad.
Let that spirit be ours. Let us be cheerful in doing our work. Let us when we are wronged, give no place to vindictiveness, none to any desire, but that of god will to all.
We find a fourth item of instruction with respect to our duty, in the manner of Christ, in looking for a reward for his labors and pains, not to any personal recompense, but to the good to others which was to follow that labor and pains. He never paused to ask whether his merit was to be presently recognized; whether the honor due him was rendered; whether he was to enjoy either presents or posthumous fame. It was enough for him to know that the Gospel he was preaching was in all time to be life to many souls; that his beneficence, maintained through all the ages by those who should follow him, would minister good to the needy; that the poor and forlorn would be blessed by it, that those “sick and in prison” would be cheered by it, and that it would strike the iron from countless wretches unjustly bound. This was sufficient recompense for him. And such should be the only reward for well doing, which we should seek. Is toil appointed to us; are we called “to suffer for righteousness; sake,” it is enough for us to know that what we do and bear will bless some child of want, that some poor wretch who may never know our name, or realize his obligation to us, will be cheered by the beneficent influence which we set on foot; that the ministry of love which we discharge, will, after we are gone hence, be to parched tongues, a cooling drop.
We need pursue our subject no further. It will surely leave with us these practical thoughts, that –
1. We are in all things to follow Christ. There is no position in which we shall need
any other rule of life than the example of the Lord who has gone before us. When duty is demanded, we need not look up an abstract law for our guidance; we have but to ask, “What would Christ do?” And when we can answer ourselves that Christ would do this thing or that, we need not hesitate to do it ourselves, even though human law or the customs of men should forbid.
only, or in the closet, that we are to seek our Lord. Do we go where the needy are, do we seek out, to bless, the wretch who is crunching his last crust – there shall we find Christ. Do we visit the sick-bed, from which fear of contagion has driven others, and there rendered needed offices, behold there will Christ present himself. Do we take the panting fugitive from slavery by the hand, and help him on his weary way, pointing him to the Northern star, we shall presently find that “the Man of Sorrows” is also by his side. So let us seek our Lord, going as He always did, when he was here, where the neediest are.
And finally, let us learn from our subject to be satisfied in all our trials and labors to be as our Master was. Must we submit to toil – Did not he labor to utmost weariness? Are we paid for our self-sacrifices by the ingratitude of those we bless – was not he repulsed even by those He healed? Are we persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and taunted and buffeted by those who are in power – has not He been in the judgment hall before us, and was not He crowned with thorns, and did not deriding persecutors mockingly hail Him as the King of the Jews?
And when we have done all and suffered all, let us rejoice to know that we shall have our reward in the healing which shall come through us to some wounded spirit, and let us go cheerfully and joyously on our way, keeping in view Him who has trod the same weary way before us, still laboring, still suffering if need be, assured that, as it was with the carpenter’s son whose death was for the life of the world, our works will follow us, and that the sons of sorrow will be gladdened by us even when our hands have long mouldered in the dust.
At the conclusion of the sermon, a prayer was offered, the doxology sung, and the congregation dispersed, very many previously passing through the jail! And shaking hands with the prisoners. Cleveland Herald.