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These words seem to me to express the idea of true labour, such as God calls us to, and in the doing of which there is a great reward. They imply that the living God has a work to do on earth, in men and by men; that in this work He has if I may so express it a deep personal interest, because it is one worthy of Himself, and for the advancement of His own glory, and the good and happiness of man.

Now, God wishes us to know this work, and to sympathise with Him in it. He does not conceal from us what He wishes done, or what He himself is doing; nor obliges us to remain for ever blind as to His will and purposes regarding ourselves or others; so that, if we work at all, we must work according to our own wills only, and for our own purposes. Instead of this, He reveals in His Word, by His Son, through His Spirit, and in the conscience, what His will is what He wishes us to be and do. Nor does He say to us, “Learn my commands, and obey them; but seek not to know why I have so commanded.” Were it impossible, indeed, to know why any command was given, the mere fact of its injunction would itself demand instant compliance; “but,” says our Lord, “I have not called you servants, but friends, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth.” The servant or slave does not occupy the place which the friend does. The one hears only what is commanded; but the other, through personal acquaintance with the master, is enabled to sympathise with the righteousness and love in the command. The friend not only knows what, as a servant, he must do, but sees how right and beautiful it is that he should be commanded so to do. In like manner, we read that God made known His “ways” to Moses, but only His “acts” to the children of Israel. This revelation, of principle and plan to His servant was indeed a speaking with him “face to face;” and thus does God speak to us now in these latter days by the grace and truth revealed in His Son. And it is only when we thus know God’s work on earth, and when, from a will and character brought into harmony with His, we see how excellent the work is, that we can be, not labourers only, but “fellow-labourers” with God; not workers only, but “workers together with Him.”

Consider, for instance, the work of God in our own souls. This is, as far as we ourselves are concerned, the most important work in the universe. Upon it depends whether the universe shall be to us a heaven or a hell. “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” is a question which assumes that to the man himself nothing can be so valuable. But has God any work to do in our souls? Has He ever expressed any wish as to what He would have us believe, become, or enjoy, or revealed for what end or purpose He made our spirits? Is there no wrong state or condition in us with which He is “angry” and “grieved,” and no right state with which He is “delighted,” and over which He “rejoices?” Has He laid no command upon us to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling?” and has He given no intimation of His “working in us to will and do?” Or is it to Him the same whether we are wrong or right? Surely we can have no difficulty in replying to such all-important questions! If a man loses faith in the reality and sincerity of God’s wish, that he personally should have his guilty soul freely pardoned, and his unholy soul sanctified, and his whole being renewed after God’s own image, that he himself should be a good, a great, a happy man, by knowing and loving his God; and if a man brings himself to such a state of practical atheism as to doubt whether God knows or cares anything about him; then it is impossible for such a man to be “a fellow-labourer,” a “worker together” with God in his own soul; for he does not know and has never heard of any work of God required there. But if he believes that God is indeed his “Father in heaven;” that He has goodwill to him, and therefore desires his good by desiring him to be good; that, for the accomplishment of this end, all has been done which is recorded in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation; that God has been working in him, through agencies innumerable, since his childhood, by parents and friends, by tender mercies and bitter chastisements, by Sabbath ordinances and pulpit ministrations, by the constant witness of conscience and the Word of God, in order that he should know and love God his Father, then, seeing this, will he see also how he may be a “fellow-labourer with God.” And have not you, my reader, been conscious of this work? You cannot get quit of the conviction that there is One higher than yourself with whom you have to do, One who is ever with you, seeking to deliver you from evil, from your own evil self, One whose voice is never silent, and who is righteously judging your daily life. And have you never been conscious, too, of fighting against what you certainly knew was not self, but a holy, winning, mysterious power or Person, who opposed self, and for that very reason was resisted by self? And therefore your sin has not been the ignorance of good, but opposing the good, not the absence, but the resisting of a good work in you. It is on this very principle men will be condemned, for “This is the condemnation, that light hath come into the world, and men prefer darkness to light, because their deeds are evil.” And if this has been your sin, so has it been your misery. In exact proportion as you thus “hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord,” you become wretched and unsatisfied. No wonder! for with whom does the man work when he works in opposition to the will of God? In refusing to serve God, he serves Satan, and becomes a “worker together” with “the spirit who now worketh in the children of disobedience!”

Well, then, what are you to do? I reply: “Yield yourselves to God;” “be subject to the Father of your spirit, and live.” “Wherefore do you spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live.” Instead of being workers against, seek to be “workers together” with God in your own souls; to have His “work of faith and love,” and everything beautiful and holy, perfected in you. Believe in Jesus Christ as the living Person who alone can and will save you, by pardoning your sins, and giving you His Spirit to make you like Himself. Begin your work by assuming that God is working in you to will and do; and because you have Him, through His omnipotent Spirit, working in you, do not be as one who beats the air in aimless and profitless warfare, nor strive against nor grieve that Spirit, but through Him “work out your own salvation.” In thus pleading with you, I feel that I myself am but working with God; for I can say with the apostle, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.”

Put this question in another way: Suppose you had met Jesus Christ when He was on earth; that you had listened to one of His appeals when He preached the gospel from city to city, and felt His eye looking at you as He spoke in His own name, and in the name of His Father, saying, “Come unto me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” “The Son of man hath come to seek that which is lost,” and the like; that you had witnessed the delight it gave Him to do good, and to find any one willing to receive His overflowing love, and the sorrow He endured when men would not believe in Him or trust Him, but preferred remaining without the blessing; and that you had accompanied Him during His ministry on earth, and studied His character from all you saw and heard, could the impression made upon you in such circumstances be thus expressed, “I believe that Thou carest not for me; that my well-doing or ill-doing are equally matters of indifference to Thee; and that there is no faith or love that Thou desirest to see accomplished in my soul?” Would you have dared to speak in anything like this strain of blasphemy to the holy Saviour had you met Him? Or would you not have been overwhelmed by the conviction, that whether you yielded to His wishes or not, these wishes were clear and unquestionable that from His character as a man having fellowship with God, His work as the Saviour of sinners, His revealed will as Lord, nothing could be more certain than that He wished you personally to be holy and happy through faith in His name; and accordingly, that if you accepted His call, and His offer of power to be so, you were but working with Him; and that if you neglected both, you were certainly working against Him?

But with this personal Saviour you have to do just as really and truly now as any of His disciples who had followed Him when on earth; and so I beseech you to be fellow-labourers with Him in His own holy and living work within your own soul. Let your prayer then be: “Thy will be done! Let Thy holy and loving will, my Father, be done in me! I believe in Thy forgiveness, and am at peace with Thee, according to that will, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. And as this is also Thy will, even my sanctification, and Thy revealed purpose, that I should be made conformable to the image of Thy Son, so let Thy grace, which is sufficient for the chief of sinners, daily bring this salvation into me, by teaching me to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; that so learning Christ, taking up His cross daily, following Him and being disciplined by Him, I may be taught to put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of my mind; and, as Thine own workmanship, be created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works. Amen!”

Let us consider for a little longer God’s work in us, by His providential dealings towards us. A moment’s reflection will suffice to remind you that God, in His providence, is constantly working with you. He is, for instance, a wonderful Giver. “He gives us all things richly to enjoy.” “He openeth His hand liberally.” His mercies are more than can be numbered; though as a father He also chastises His children. “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.” Now, in whatever way God deals with us, whether He gives or takes, there is a purpose which He wishes accomplished. He has a work to do in us by every joy and every sorrow. There is a voice for us in the rod of darkness, and in the ray of sunshine; and it is our duty, our strength, our peace, to hear that voice, and to know that work of providence so as to be fellow-labourers with God in it. Perhaps you are disposed to excuse yourselves for want of sober inquiry into God’s dealings with you, by saying, that it is very hard to know, and often impossible to discover, what object or purpose He has in view when sending to us this gift or that grief. In some cases it may be so; but it is much to know and to remember what God’s purpose is not, and what He can never wish to have accomplished, either by what He gives to us or takes from us. Never can it be the purpose of God, in any case, to advance the work of Satan in our souls, or to retard within us the coming of His own glorious kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Never can He send us a gift to make us proud, vain, indolent, covetous, earthly-minded, sensual, devilish, or in any degree to alienate us from Himself as our chief good. For whatever purpose He fashioned our body with such exquisite care, providing so rich a supply for all its senses, it was not, assuredly, that we should make that body the instrument of degrading and ruining the immortal soul, and of sinking our whole being down to a level with the beasts that perish! He never gave beauty of form to make us vain or sensuous; nor poured wine into our cup that we should become drunkards; nor spread food on our table merely to pamper our self-indulgence and feed our passions. He never gave us dominion over the earth that we should be Satan’s slaves. He never awoke from silence the glorious harmonies of music for our ear, nor revealed to our eye the beauties of nature and of art, nor fired our soul with the magnificent creations of poetry, that we might be so enraptured by these as to forget and despise Himself. He never gifted us with a high intellect, refined taste, or brilliant wit, to nourish ambition, worship genius, and to become profane, irreverent, and devil-like, by turning those godlike powers against their Maker and Sustainer. We cannot think, that if money has been poured at our feet, He thereby intended to infect us with the curse of selfishness, or to tempt us to become cruel or covetous men, who would let the beggar stand at our gate, and ourselves remain so poor as to have no inheritance in the kingdom of God; or to make us such “fools” as to survey our broad acres and teeming barns with self-love and worldliness, exclaiming, “Soul, take thine ease; thou hast much goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, and be merry;” or to tempt us to refuse the cross, and to depart sorrowful from Christ, because we had great possessions; or to choke the seed of the Word as with thorns, so that it should bring forth no fruit to perfection! Can it be possible that He has spared our family, and enriched us with so many friends, in order that, being “so happy” with them, we should never wish to know God as our Father, Christ as our Brother, or have any desire to become members of the family of God? Has He given us so much pleasant, useful, or necessary labour in the world, that we should forget the one thing needful, and leave undone the work for which we were created? Has He given us the Church, the ministry, the Sabbath, the sacrament, that we should make these ends instead of means instruments for concealing, rather than revealing our God and Saviour? And if the Lord has taken away, and visited us with sharp sorrows and sore bereavements, was this “strange work” done by Him who does not “willingly afflict” His children, in order that we should have the pain without the “profit,” “faint under” or “despise” the chastisement, or become more set upon the world and the creature, more shut up in heart against our Father, more dead to eternal things, or fall into despair, and curse God and die?

Without prolonging such inquiries, enough has been said, I hope, to enable you to apprehend what I mean by our being fellow-workers with God in all His works of providence that concern ourselves. We believe that these things, whether of joy or sorrow, do not come by chance, nor through the agency of dead mechanical laws, but that a living Person is dealing with us wisely, lovingly, righteously, that, in truth, “the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away,” and that, accordingly, there must be a design or purpose to serve in what He gives or withholds, that this never can be an evil purpose, but must, in every case, be good, and that we may derive good and a blessing from it. Let us, then, be fellow-workers with Him in seeking, through faith and love, to have this purpose realised, and to have the end designed by God fulfilled in us or by us, so that every joy and sorrow may bring us nearer the glorious God, and make us know Him better, and love Him more, and thus possess “life more abundantly,” even “life eternal!”

But not only is there a work to be done in us, but also by us, in the doing of which we are to be “labourers together with God.”

This kind of labouring with others is illustrated by Saint Paul when he says, what I have already quoted, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” He is here, you perceive, addressing those who were enemies to God, and beseeching such to be “reconciled.” But in what spirit does he plead with them? In labouring to bring them into reconciliation with their Father, and to save their souls, he does not feel himself alone and solitary in his work and labour of love; as one prompted by his own goodwill to lost sinners, and his own wishes to redeem them from evil, yet in doubt or in ignorance as to what God’s wishes or feelings were in regard to them. He does not proclaim the gospel to one or to many sinners with such thoughts as these: “It is no doubt my duty to preach to them, and to plead with them, and from my heart I pity them, love them, and could die to save them; but whether God pities them or not, or truly wishes to save them, I do not know, for I am totally ignorant of His will or purpose.” Surely such were not the apostle’s convictions! Did he not rather engage in this work of seeking to save souls with intense earnestness, because he knew that however great his love, it was but a reflection, however dim, of the infinite love of God to them, and his desire to save them but a feeble expression of the desire of God? Was he not persuaded, that in “beseeching” them to be reconciled, he could speak “as though God did beseech” them by him, as one “in Christ’s stead;” and that “in beseeching” them “not to receive the grace of God in vain,” he was but “a worker together with God?”

In this same spirit may we, and must we seek to do good to others. We dare not look upon our brother as one belonging exclusively to ourselves, or one dear to ourselves only, but as one belonging to God his Creator, and dear to God his Father. We must ever keep before us the fact, that there is a work which God wishes to have accomplished in his soul, as well as in our own; and that our brother is given to us in order that we should be workers together with God in helping on that good work. And if so, this will very clearly teach us at least what we ought not to do to our brother. We should never, by word or by example, by silence or by speech, strengthen in his spirit the work of evil: for that is not God’s work. For when we flatter his vanity, feed his pride, shake his convictions of the truth, or when, in any way whatever, we lay stumbling blocks in his path, or tempt him to evil, we are surely not workers together with God. In our conduct to our brother, let us ask ourselves, Is this how Christ would have acted to any one with whom He came in contact when on earth? Is this helping on His work now? But, on the other hand, when our brother’s soul is dear to us, when, at all hazards, we seek first, and above all, his good, when our love is such that we are willing to have its existence suspected, and ourselves despised and rejected by him, even as our loving Lord was by His “own whom He loved,” rather than that we should selfishly save ourselves, and lose our brother; then indeed we are labourers together with God, and possess the spirit of Jesus! Oh, little does the world understand the deep working of this kind of love, which, however imperfect it may be, yet burns in the heart of Christians only, because they only partake of that love which is possessed in perfection by Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us!

Let us, then, remember that we are not to concern ourselves about another’s good as if we were alone in our labours, our wishes, and our sympathies; as if we really cared more than God does about the well-being of this relation or of that friend. Let our love flow out with all its force, and express itself with holiest longings and tenderest sympathies; yet infinitely above all this love is the love of our God and their God! In our truest and holiest working be assured that we are but a worker together with Him, the true and holy One, otherwise our labours could not be right; for they would not be in harmony with God’s will, or such as He could command or bless.

The same principle applies to our more extensive labours for the good of the whole world, and is the very life and soul of home and foreign missions. We can enter the abodes of ignorance and crime at home, and ply with offers of mercy the inhabitants of the foulest den, and plead with every prodigal to return to his Father, because we believe that in all this we are in Christ’s stead, and are warranted to beseech in God’s name, and with the full assurance that we are not working alone, but “together with God.” We can visit any spot in heathendom, cheered and borne up by the same assurance amidst every difficulty, discouragement, and danger. Whatever else is doubtful, this, at least, is certain, that in every endeavour to save sinners, we are but expressing our sympathy with Jesus in His love to them, in His longing to see of the travail of His soul, and to be satisfied in their salvation; and that when experiencing the deepest sorrow because men will not believe, we are only sharing the sufferings of Him who mourned on account of unbelief, and wept over lost Jerusalem because it would not know the things of its peace. All this is as certain as that there is such a living person as the Saviour, unchanged in character, everywhere present, seeing the evil and the good, hating the one and loving the other, whose labour and whose joy is that God’s name should be hallowed, His kingdom come, and His will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.

Oh, how depressing, how deadening, to have any doubts as to this reality of the interest which our God and Saviour takes in the good of human souls! How must the dread thought silence the tongue, wither the heart, and paralyse the hand, that however ardent the wish influencing us to be good ourselves, or to do good to others, God is indifferent to both, and has no real interest in either as if we had more love, more holiness, and more desire that the kingdom of righteousness should advance, than the loving and holy God! Nay, how is it possible for us to have any true love at all to human friends unless it is first kindled by Him, and is in sympathy with Him, who loved His neighbour as Himself?

Let me here remind you of the only other alternative set before you, it is the awful one of being a “labourer together” with Satan. Our Lord rejects neutrality; for such is really impossible. He recognises the no real friend as a positive enemy. “He that is not with me is against me;” “He who gathereth not scattereth;” “Ye cannot serve God and mammon,” but must serve either. Now, Satan has a work on earth. It is this spirit which “worketh in the children of disobedience.” Will we, then, work with him in his desire to destroy our own souls? Will we have “fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness,” and take part with that wicked one in his dread work of opposing the kingdom of light, and advancing the kingdom of darkness in the world? Will we assist him in tempting others to evil, in entangling souls more and more in the meshes of sin, in propagating error and opposing truth? And will we, by our words and example, by our coldness or open opposition, help to keep any man back from Christ, or to drag down to hell a neighbour or friend, a brother, sister, or child? A labourer together with Satan! Oh, consider the possibility of this being the record at judgment of our history, that we may start, as from a nightmare, from so hideous an imputation! Instead of anything so inconceivably dreadful being true of us, may we know and love the Father, through the Son, and by His Spirit, and thus realise more and more in all our labours the strength and blessedness of being “labourers together with God!”

The more we reflect upon this principle which I have been illustrating, the more we shall see that it is the life of all true work, and can be applied to any work in which a Christian can engage. The true artist, for example, ought to occupy the elevated position of being a labourer with God in faithfully, industriously, and conscientiously working in harmony with Nature, which is “the Art of God.” He ought to study, therefore, the sculpture, the paintings, the music, of the Great Artist, and understand the principles on which He produces the beautiful in form, in colour, or in sound. The humblest mason who plies his chisel on the highest pinnacle of a great building, or who fashions the lowliest hut, should have an eye to Him who makes all things very good, and for conscience’ sake, ay, for God’s sake, he should, to the very best of his ability, work in the spirit of the Great Architect, who bestows the same care in building up the mountains, moulding the valleys, fashioning the crystal, making a home to shelter the tiny insect, or a nest where the bird may rear her young. Without loving our work, and doing it to the best of our ability, as in the sight of God, we cannot be fellow-workers with Him who hath made our bodies so wonderfully, and cultivated our souls so carefully; for “ye are God’s building” “ye are God’s husbandry.”