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Continually employed in the works of their own hands, they understand wel the price of the recompense. They are therefore always much affected by such proceedings towards themselves from whatever quarter it may arise. When they see those who are confessedly superior, placed beyond the necessity of such work, who have all things given them by God which are requisite for themselves, who can descend from this state only from charity, charity in its evangelical sense-when they see that they are cared for and that they are laboured for, by those who lay aside for this very purpose all the outward marks of their superiority-then they can perceive and estimate the extent and difficulty of the sacrifice, and seeing no other motive but love for doing it, return it with a corresponding feeling of unbounded thankfulness. Wherever thankfulness is raised, there also will good be found to those. And thus from personal services like those commended to us by our Saviour's conduct, does the best of all effects to society arise in the cementing of its various orders, in the bonds of concord, unity, and love.
The usefulness, the excellence, and the beauty of that particular form of beneficent humility here set before us for our imitation, and the necessity of so ordering it, are manifest. If we examine further we shall discover, that the period to which it was deferred, and the statement by which it is introduced, are peculiarly calculated to give our Lord's example in this instance an additional weight: "When," says St. John, "Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father," then did he begin to wash the Apostles' feet. At such a moment it might have been supposed, it surely could have raised in us no possible surprise, had Christ in his human nature been almost, if not altogether occupied with the contemplation of his own approaching sufferings, with their necessity for the salvation of a lost world, and their efficacy in regenerating mankind, the result of the final accomplishment of the great purposes of God. But we then see that he was alive, not only to the wants, but even to the comforts of his followers. He did not let his own business come between him and his care for others; but snatched a moment of the best, the most afflicted, and important of his own life to shew his sympathy, and to do what lay in his power to make others feel sympathy for their brethren's happiness.
It was impossible that any period, therefore, could have been chosen more effectually calculated to shew us, that we owe it to the Lord not, even in our deepest distress, to be swallowed up by our own sorrow-not, even at the last period of life, to give up the works of kindness, and tenderness, and regard for the convenience and happiness of those around us. It was his purpose to shew us, that the love of our brother, to have its perfect work, should be manifested even to the end of our days, and even in the most afflicted of the occupied portions of our own existence. Most wisely, therefore, did he defer the example he intended to set before us upon such an important point, to the hour 10 which his own days were about to end, and he was pressed down with more than common heaviness of soul at the prospect of that contest with the powers of darkness which lay before him, and immediately begun. And if any time could have been taken in the whole course of his ministry more fit than another to impress upon us the paramount regard to do all that we can even at the sacrifice of what our own circumstances seem to require for ourselves, in order to promote the happiness of our brethren; we cannot doubt
but that that period was, when Jesus knew that his hour was come, that he was about, through the means of the cross, to depart to his Father. That was a period when he might have been fully justified in bending his whole powers to prepare his mind against the pains and miseries of his own coming hour; and to see, that having loved his own he loved them to the end. To the end of life, therefore, are we, and all his disciples, called by this his example, to love our brethren in the Lord, the children of the same Almighty Father, redeemed by the same merciful Saviour, and heirs of the same everlasting promise and hope.
The evangelist proceeds: "Supper being ended, the devil, having now put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him," then did he begin, though fully aware of his own disciple's wickedness and hypocrisy, to wash the feet of all his disciples. It was not only, therefore, those who loved him, it was not only, therefore, those who were cleansed from iniquity, because of their sincerity and faith, but it was him also who through covetousness and treachery went to his appointed place, to whom our Lord condescended to perform this act of humble kindness. To enemies, therefore, as well as friends, to those that forget, as well as those that remember God, our consideration is due. It is not their evil which should hinder our doing them good, even in the smallest matter, when it is in our power so to do.
Lastly, the evangelist tells us, that when Jesus began to wash the apostles feet, he knew that the Father" had given all things into his hand, and that he was come from God, and that he went to God." It was not, therefore, any unconsciousness of his divine dignity, it was not any ignorance of his own incalculable superiority to those with whom he ministered, that led our Lord to the humble office of washing his apostles' feet. At any period of his ministry, such a thought it would be impossible for us to entertain, that he could be ignorant of his divine glory. But the evangelist directs our attention more decidedly to this circumstance of our Saviour's acquaintance with his own divinity and glory at this moment; it impresses upon us more strongly the idea, that there is no imaginable situation which a man can hold in the vast constitution and multiplied varieties of human society, which can emancipate him from an imitation of the example of his Lord on this particular duty of performing the humblest personal services for his brethren's sake. It is impossible but those whom Providence has raised high above others in rank, in wisdom, in talents, or position upon the earth, must be aware of the distinction which separates them in many things from their fellow-creatures. It is even desirable that men should not forget their place in society, because upon their just appreciation of its responsibility depends their knowledge of what it becomes them to perform, and of the various claims which God and man have upon their time their exertions, and their possessions. But high as they may be raised by human distinctions, they can never reach in the faintest degree to that superabundant honour which places the Lord Jesus at an infinite distance above his believing servants. Neither can they even so clearly perceive, or ever so correctly appreciate, their own loftiness above all that is called great or common, as did the Saviour of the world comprehend his own superiority as the Creator of all, above the created. Not all the loftiness of men, not all their distinctions, not all their knowledge, pre-eminence, or dignity, can ever excuse them from the imitation of that virtue, to the imitation of which the example of our Lord washing the apostles' feet was intended to persuade.
We perceive, then, at once, when thus considered and reasoned upon, how wisely the apostle has introduced the incident to our notice by his statement of these various particulars; for, as the incident itself is intended to recommend to us the performance of personal services and lowly services, and services which are calculated to minister, not only to the wants, but to the comforts of our humbler brethren, so are the prefatory remarks and solemnities with which it is brought forward calculated to shew us, that no dignity, however exalted, is raised above the necessity of following this example; that even in the last hours of life, and even in the most busy and troubled moments of existence, still the notice from our Lord is, to attend to the works of charity, and be filled with the feelings of consideration and brotherly love.
The application of the conclusions which are thus drawn from the washing of the disciples' feet by our blessed Lord, appears to be peculiarly adapted to encourage, vindicate, and command those various works of charity, in which the Society for the Promotion and Encouragement of District Visiting is engaged, and upon whose interest we are now assembled this night. What is its design? It is to regard the general systematic visitation of the poor, with a view to the improvement of their temporal and spiritual condition. To accomplish this object, it appeals to all classes-to the clergy as well as the laity to those who, by station or talent, their influence or piety, their wealth or leisure, are any way raised above their brethren-it calls upon them all to assist in reforming, comforting, relieving, and instructing the poor, the humble and the afflicted, the vile and the impenitent of our land. It calls upon them to compassion, with their own labour, their own strength, their own faculties, vigorously and fervently to do works of charity, both to the bodies and the souls of their poorer brethren. Personal services-the personal services of superiors to inferiors, even of the highest to the lowest, are therefore exactly what this institution, after the example of our Lord, gives to every man a call and an opportunity to perform. Blessed indeed are those who, in the spirit of Christian love, have undertaken this self-denying and humbling, but most useful and important, duty. They truly may be said to fulfil the purpose of the Saviour in washing the apostles' feet, and to set out a pattern to his disciples after them for their imitation. Like him, though in a far less exalted sense and degree, they know that their heavenly Father has given them the good things of the world, and raised them to rank, riches, and privileges, from which their lowly brethren have been, by the dispensation of the same heavenly Father, withdrawn. Yet, like him, they look upon those distinctions, not as given for their own enjoyment or idleness, not as exempting them from the necessity, but as urging upon them the propriety, of making such blessings means of becoming benevolent and useful to those who are around them. Like him, they rise from their sumptuous abodes, they lay aside the garments of their pride and worldly pre-eminence which separates them from the dwellings of the destitute, and gird their faculties and powers with love, and disseminate both mental, moral, religious, and temporal, treasure around them. Like Christ, they undertake a humble and personal service; and to their feelings and sympathies too often a painful service, in visiting the houses, not merely of inferiors, but of the enemies of righteousness and truth, and those that are subject to all the miseries and destitutions of the earth. They have to try too, like him, to win back those who betray the Gospel by iniquity, to a sense of
better and holier things. No matter how mean may be the abode they enter; no matter how much of their own ease and pleasure they are obliged to forego, no matter how foreign to their habits, how revolting to their delicacy, how harassing to their tenderness, how contrary to all that they are accustomed to behold even now, are the scenes of misery and iniquity through which they must pass. As Christ's servants, after the example of Christ's humility and love, they gird themselves to the task, and fulfil it, after the example of Christ, under the hope of benefitting, either temporally or spiritually, some of the members of Jesus Christ. Without price and without money, save the testimony of their own conscience, the district visitor gives up, for the sake of doing Christian good to the very lowest of mankind, his ease, his business, his superiority, and humbles himself to give advice, assistance, consolation, exhortation, and instruction.
Such are they; such is the character of their work; so exactly does it fall within the scope and purpose of what Jesus commanded when he washed his disciples' feet. Surely, my brethren, it is impossible that personal service so disinterested and holy can fail of doing much to remove the ignorant, the degraded, and the destitute, from the darkness and misery of their errors and their vices. Every report, indeed, of the Society assures us, that the fruit is plentiful, according to the circumstances. Families raised from the neglect of all public worship to a continual attendance in the house of God. Individuals who had nothing to employ them, furnished with the means of subsistence by their own industry. Children growing up in ignorance of God, directed to schools, where salvation becomes a sound known and blessed upon their lips. Parents roused and directed to a sense of duties to their children which they had never known before. The poor taught, how their more favoured brethren care for them as brethren in the Lord; and their more favoured brethren taught, how holy, and happy, and Christian a thing it is, to seek out the poor in knowledge and in wisdom, and feel for them, and communicate to them a portion of the glorious treasures of eternity. Comfort to the needy; light to the ignorant, peace to the wretched; good-will among the various orders and degrees of the vast social machinery: these are among the benefits which, in many instances, have followed from the lowly personal services of the district visitor, under the sanction of this Society. Would to God that the vineyard was supplied to overflowing with labourers, then might the work not be long of duration! But it is not so; the harvest, even when we confine our view to the limits of this metropolis, are great, but comparatively the labourers are few. The complaint made in various districts still is, that more voluntary visitors are wanting: and the most extraordinary feature of the society, the employment of unpaid, disinterested agents in benefitting the poor, may be lost, if Christ's voice reach not the heart, and his example stir not up Christian workmen to go and do to their brethren as he vouchsafed to do for his disciples. If this be not the case, all the blessings of this Society to the visitors and to the visited is likely to be lost.
Con I beseech you, therefore, brethren, to meditate upon these things. sider the station you bear in society; consider what superiority has been given you and others; consult with your own hearts; consider with your own hearts, what are the talents you possess ; talents of wealth too often misapplied; talents of information too often applied to your own aggrandizement; talents of leisure
perpetually conceded to gratification and indulgence. By the love of Christ, by the force of his example, by the power of his command, I beseech you consider what it is you owe to your brethren, not only in casting them the crumb of your own superabundance, but in labouring for their benefit in personal service, by giving to them your example, the works of your hands, the knowledge you possess, the powers of your understanding, and the blessing of your
Brethren, I do not think that in thus dwelling on the particular view of the object of the Society, and of the services of the voluntary district visitors, that I shall run any risk of lessening your contributions to the wants of the Society this evening. Christian men approve, at least should approve, their beneficence to every object which solicits their benevolence, by the knowledge of their conviction of the excellency of the end to which the Society is directing its energies. If I have persuaded you that this Society is according to the Gospel and ex. ample of Christ; if I have set it before you so strongly that you must feel the necessity of such personal service as its visitors are engaged in, in benefitting the ignorant and the poor, I doubt not you will contribute according to that feeling which you have of the excellency of the object to which you are called to contribute, and you will give according to its wants and its exigences. With these considerations I leave that Society wholly in your hands, conscious that what you feel it right to give, you will give: and beseeching you if you cannot give to it, and will not contribute to it the riches of your purse, to do it the still more essential benefit of joining some of those excellent societies which may exist in the neighbourhood in which you dwell, thereby fulfilling the precept of the text, doing after that example which Christ gave to his followers.