Posted by: rcottrill | July 12, 2009

Lord’s Day Meditation – A Sacred Duty

David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep [in death, and] was buried with his fathers” (Acts 13:36).

That is our challenge–to serve our own generation. And one of the most powerful works of God in history was accomplished by the Methodists in England, in the mid-eighteenth century. That was a time when the nation was virtually a spiritual wasteland. Coarseness and violence in society were widespread, and drunkenness was rampant. Moral values were in retreat.

With few exceptions, the clergy of the time were part of the problem, not part of the solution. They did no more than was absolutely necessary to keep their positions, preferring to spend their time fox hunting, playing cards, and guzzling alcohol like their parishioners.

But against that tide of immorality God launched the dynamic ministry of John and Charles Wesley. Not only did they preach a strong salvation message, they issued a call to holy living as well. But it was not easy going. The two men often faced strong opposition in their service for Christ. And scornful abuse was shared by their converts too. It was a costly thing to identify yourself as a follower of Christ in those days. One writer says,

“They were outrageously treated–stoned, mauled, ducked [in water, until nearly drowned], hounded by bulldogs, threatened, [their] homes looted, businesses ruined.” It was said that anyone walking through a town could pick out, by their ravaged condition, the homes where Methodists lived. Commitment to serving God back then was far more than a word. It involved the sacrifice of a life upon the altar of sacred duty.

One day in 1762, Charles Wesley was pondering this truth. He read in Scripture of the responsibility assigned to the Levites in Israel to guard the tabernacle of worship. God’s command was, “You shall stay at the door of the tabernacle of meeting…and keep the charge of the Lord” (Lev. 8:35). They were to see that no unauthorized person entered, and that nothing offensive to a holy God was done there. Later, the Lord said, “The Levites shall camp around the tabernacle…that there may be no wrath on the congregation…and the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle…” (Num. 1:53).

As his meditation on this continued, Wesley consulted a commentary written by a man named Matthew Henry. That author said, “We shall every one of us have a charge to keep, an eternal God to glorify, an immortal soul to provide for, one generation to serve.” Those glowing words became the basis for Charles Wesley’s hymn, A Charge to Keep I Have. God’s Word says of King David, “He…served his own generation by the will of God” (Acts 13:36). No greater charge and challenge confronts us. Will you do that today?

Wesley’s hymn reads in part as follows, with one change. The third line of the opening stanza was originally, “A never-dying soul to save.” But this almost seems to imply “by my own efforts”–a notion Charles Wesley would reject as unscriptural (cf. Eph. 2:8-9). It is sometimes altered to what you see here.

A charge to keep I have–
A God to glorify,
Who gave His Son my soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfil;
O may it all my powers engage,
To do my Master’s will.


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