In 1785, Oliver Hart preached the Association sermon at the Philadelphia Association’s annual meeting in 1785. Now a revered elder statesman in Baptist life, he had labored mightily in gospel ministry for some 35 years. He titled his sermon, “A Humble Attempt to Repair the Christian Temple;” it was a rousing call for all those related to the church, from ordained ministers to ordinary members, to whole-heartedly devote themselves to its prosperity. Drawing on the temple-building imagery of Habbakuk 2:9, Hart sought to stir his listeners from their apathy in his introduction:
“It will readily be granted, that lukewarmness and indifferency in religion, is injurious to the best cause in the world — contrary to the spirit of Christianity, and highly provoking to the King of saints, who complained of a declension in the church of Ephesus . . . And are not some of our churches equally reprehensible? Have not most of them lost their first love? Are not ministers and people become too remiss? Alas! where is our flaming love, burning zeal, and assiduity in religion? Fled? And irretrievable? We hope not! The gospel means of a revival are still in our hands. Let us then rouse from our lethargy — gird on our strength, and work vigorously in repairing the Christian Temple; which through our sloth and negligence is too much gone to decay. (A Humble Attempt, 3-4)”
Hart would develop his sermon by explaining “the work belonging to the several ranks and orders of men, in the Christian church.” I hope to highlight some of Hart’s directions this week. This initial quote provides a needed reminder of the kind of intentional, devoted churchmanship our Christian forbears sought to practice. In addition to personal spiritual growth, seeing “the Christian temple,” the local church, built up through conversions and beautified by the godliness of the saints, should be one of the great longings of the Christian’s heart.