It is time for thee, Lord, to work. Was ever vessel more hopelessly becalmed in mid ocean? or did crew ever cry with more frenzy for some favouring breeze than those should cry who man the Church of the living God? If God work not, it is certain there is nothing before the Church but the prospect of utter discomfiture and overthrow. Greater is the world than the Church if God be not in her. But if God be in her, she shall not be moved. May he help her, and that right early!
When he arises to work we know not what may be the form and fashion of his operations. He works according to the counsel of his own will; and who knows but that when once he awakes, and puts on his strength, it may not be confined in its results to the immediate and exclusive quickening of the spiritual life of the Church; but may be associated with providential upheavals and convulsions which will fill the heart of the world with astonishment and dismay.
His spiritual kingdom does not stand in isolation. It has relations which closely involve it with the material universe, and with human society and national life. There have been times when God has worked, and the signs of his presence have been seen, in terrible shaking of the nations, in the ploughing up from their foundations of hoary injustice, in the smiting of grinding tyrannies, and in the emancipation of peoples whose life had been a long and hopeless moan. There have been times, too, and many, when he has worked through the elements of nature— through blasting and mildew, through floods and famine, through locust, caterpillar and palmer worm; through flagging commerce, with its machinery rusting in the mill and its ships rotting in the harbour. All these things are his servants.
Sometimes the sleep of the world, and the Church too, is so profound that it can be broken only by agencies like the wind, or fire, or earthquake, which made the prophet shiver at the mouth of the cave, and without which the voice that followed, so still, so small and tender, would have lost much of its melting and subduing power. When society has become drugged with the Circean cup of worldliness, and the voices that come from eternity are unheeded, if not unheard, even terror has its merciful mission. The frivolous and superficial hearts of men have to be made serious, their idols have to be broken, their nests have to be stoned, or tossed from the trees where they had been made with so much care, and they have to be taught that if this life be all, it is but a phantom and a mockery.
When the day of the Lord shall come, in which he shall begin to work, let us not marvel if it "shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low; and upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall, and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures. And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day." [Isaiah 2]
But this working of God will also take other shapes. Will it not be seen in the inspiration of the Church with faith in its own creed, so far as that creed has the warrant of the Divine word? Does the Church believe its creed? It writes it, sets it forth, sings it, defends it; but does it believe it, at least with a faith which begets either enthusiasm in itself, or respect from the world? Have not the truths which form the methodized symbols of the Church become propositions instead of living powers? Do they not lie embalmed with superstitious reverence in the ark of tradition, tenderly cherished for what they have been and done. But is it not forgotten that if they be truths they are not dead and cannot die? They are true now, or they were never true; living now, or they never lived. Time cannot touch them, nor human opinion, nor the Church's sluggishness or unbelief, for they are emanations from the Divine essence, instinct with his own undecaying life. They are not machinery which may become antiquated and obsolete and displaced by better inventions; they are not methods of policy framed for conditions which are transient, and vanishing with them; they are not scaffolding within which other and higher truth is to be reared from age to age. They are like him who is the end of our conversation, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever." There is not one of them which, if the faith it awakens were but commensurate with its intrinsic worth, would not clothe the Church with a new and wondrous power. But what would be that power if that faith were to grasp them all? It would be life from the dead.
Enoch Mellor (1823-1881), in "The Hem of Christ's Garment, and other Sermons."
Dr Enoch Mellor's books are still available secondhand, but biographical information about him mostly exists on Google Books. There is a delightful story from a newspaper about him from the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin.
A brief summary of his life appears in Malcolm Bull's Calderdale Companion.
There is no difference between what Mellor is crying for in his day, and what is cried and prayed for in our day. If anything we see more calamity in the world, and though people turn to God for a time, they slide away as soon as the pain has eased. On the other hand see this brief post from Steve Bell on the way in which God is at work in the Arab countries in the midst of their turmoil.