[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)
In 1837, page 87 [sic], we have the following: 
THE POWER OF RELIGION.
Every object of contemplation may be viewed in various attitudes and relations, because no created thing exists only for its own sake. There are as many dependencies as creatures in the universe, and consequently as many relations. The mighty whole is but the aggregate of innumerable parts; and of all these there is not one independent of the rest, or unrelated to them. This is not more true or more worthy of observation in the material than in the intellectual system.
Religion, therefore, of all subjects the most comprehensive and sublime, is capable of being placed in many points of view before the mind, and of being regarded in reference to every human relation and circumstance. A clear and full perception of this great truth is one of the best antidotes against a narrow, illiberal, and dogmatic spirit.
We occasionally read and speak of a theory of religion and of the practice. We have religion objectively and subjectively discussed. We have the substance and the form, the matter and the spirit, the attributes and the accidents of religion. We have also the doctrines, the precepts, and the promises--the laws, the statutes, and the ordinances of religion. In other words, religion is capable not so much of divisions and subdivisions of this sort, as of being contemplated and regarded in all these bearings upon the individual and society. We are at this time, however, only intent on viewing religion in reference to its power in forming character--to its influence upon the heart and upon the life of man. That distinction, therefore, expressed by the Apostle in his second letter to Timothy between "the form" and "the power of godliness," is more apposite to our present design than any other.
We do not intend to regard the form and the power of godliness as antagonist, or in the slightest degree opposed, to each other. They are distinct, but not contradictory terms, or ideas, or conditions of the same thing. The form without the power is conceivable; but the power without the form is impossible. The power of an instrument to keep time, and the form of that instrument, are easily distinguished; but how often do we see the form of such instrument, clock or watch, without this power; but who ever saw this power without a form?
Ever since Satan seduced and polluted our first progenitors, and alienated their affections from the Lord their Creator, our heavenly Father, from a due regard to his own dignity and the other portions of his immense empire, hid his face from us, and is no longer visibly present in these his lower works. Yet in the deep and unfathomable mines of the unsearchable riches of his manifold wisdom and love, he has instituted on earth a system of remedies adapted to the whole nature and genius of man, and to the preternatural complexion of his  circumstances. This is what the master spirits of Protestantism call "the religion of the Bible;" an institution which, as it is one of the most splendid conceptions of the Infinite Intelligence, bears deeply imprinted upon its surface, and infused into its essence, the glorious attributes of its author. But in our intellectual and moral imbecilities we are apt to take both feeble and partial views of its divine excellency, and often to be wholly engrossed with one of its attributes or accidents, to the disparagement, neglect, or forgetfulness of all the rest. Hence how often is the power, and purity, and holiness of the gospel forgotten or overlooked in the fierce and hostile controversies about its forms, its precepts, and its ordinances.
The form of godliness, as well as its power, just as "the form of truth" in the Decalogue, and the truth itself, is indeed celestial and divine. True religion, whether in mode or substance, in matter or spirit, in form or power, is a native of the skies. It is heaven-born, heaven-descended, and heaven-destined. It came from God, and it leads to God. It is therefore the wisdom, the grace, and the power of God in every person who embraces it. Yet in all our zeal and contentions for the simplicity, appropriateness, and excellency of its forms, we should never forget the purity, the mildness, the gentleness, and the holiness of its spirit and its power.
Religion printed on paper, religion existing in the perceptions of the understanding, religion flowing from the lips and floating in the air, and religion dwelling in the heart, and living and breathing in every thought, and word, and action, are very different and distinct conceptions and predicaments. Religion printed upon paper is the work of human science and art, which can be performed as well by the mechanical skill of the atheist as by that of the Christian. Religion existing in the perceptions of the understanding is as natural and easy as the theory of astronomy or electricity, and can be obtained by the same talent and application which master any branch of mental or moral philosophy, and is often one of the literary and scientific accomplishments of the most grossly immoral and profane spirits of the age. Religion flowing from the lips, or falling upon the ear, differs in no respect from the enunciations of our vocal powers on other themes; and therefore preachers, orators, lawyers of good lungs and distinct articulation, may equally entertain, amuse, or terrify their audience, according to all the varieties of times, subjects, and circumstances.
But religion dwelling in the heart, rooted in the feelings and affections, is a living, active, and real existence. It purifies the fountain of moral life and health. It animates, inspires, controls, and gives a new impulse to our active powers. It imbues the soul with a divine life, and plants the incorruptible seeds of a glorious immortality in man. This is religion; all the rest is machinery or imagery. Language  and all its signs, oral and written; ordinances and all their forms, as types, and paper, and ink, are but the means or channel through, which the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit plants or waters the undecaying germ of an eternal life in the intellectual and moral nature of man.
Religion in the Bible, in the understanding, in the lips, and in the heart, may be pictured out to the child of nature by that life-giving light, which, while it emanates from the sun, is not in the sun, nor in the rays nor undulations from the sun, nor in the air through which it passes, nor in the eye which sees it; but, which, while it paints the images of things upon the retina, by its control of other agencies sets in motion the animal machinery, imparts warmth and vigor, and strikes life into the man.
Such, in part, are the phenomena of that animal life which man in common with other animated beings receives from the laws of Nature, arranged and directed by the Supreme Intelligence. That vital spark which enlivens the animal creation, like that stricken from the flint by the touch of steel, is distinct equally from the hand that guides, from the steel in contact, and the flint that is stricken by it; yet without this economy and collision, that spark which now beams light and cheerfulness around the social hearth had never begun to be.
It is indeed impossible fully to depict in colors incapable of confusion, that wonderful process by which either animal or spiritual life is infused into man. The microscope with all its powers can not detect the delicate touches of the hand of Nature in the inmost recesses of its sublime operations. No more can language explain, or faith apprehend, that agency of truth or of grace which quickens the soul, sets in motion its powers and gives them a bias to the skies. But that the thing is done, and that man is morally and spiritually a new creation is as clearly taught and as faithfully propounded to our acceptance as that Jesus Christ is the author of an eternal salvation to all that obey him.
Types we have, and beautiful figures innumerable; but our prejudices and other malign influences around us interpose and veto the use of Nature's own imagery and her analogies, from the persuasion that the more unapproachable and mysterious the wonders of creation, providence, and regeneration, the better for the interests of religion and morality. Although we can not, ex-animo, subscribe to this dictum, of the untaught and unteachable, still we can bear with that fastidiousness which forbids the help of one of God's volumes to illustrate and explain the other; provided only, we may not be registered amongst the chief of heretics and schismatics; because, in imitation of the great Author of our religion, we sometimes throw our eyes over the volume of Nature for a simile or a comparison, by the help of which to set  forth more intelligibly and vividly our conceptions of the revealed secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven.
To return: Religion in the heart, or rooted in the moral nature of man, transfuses itself through the whole frame and identity of its happy and holy subject. It crystalizes everything in human nature that can be immortalized, and sheds a divine gracefulness over all the workings of the human soul. It distils the dews of heaven upon the heart--it breathes a delicious odor on society, and imbues with a heavenly sweetness the temper and conversation of the happy spirits who cherish its divine and holy influence by submitting to all its sacred ordinances and requisitions. Its active power never shines with more splendor than when most oppressed. Hindrances, difficulties, dangers, but increase its momentum and impart a peculiar lustre and heroism to all its efforts and enterprises. The more it is oppressed the more it aspires towards heaven whence it descended, and the more efficiently it struggles with every weight and entangling influence which world retard its flight to the supreme object on which cluster all its pure and holy affections.
There is no exaggeration here. In the prosecution of this subject it will more and more appear that Christian faith, hope, and love are a three-fold cord of more than earthly strength--a mainspring incomparably superior to all the other springs of human action--the power of God stirring up the divinity that is within us, urging man to a conquest of more glory than ever adorned an earthly triumph. It will appear that there is no hyperbole in saying with the Apostle John, that faith conquers the world, and that the Christian is the only hero that shall wear a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
If there be strength in the everlasting hills--if there be power in the laws that bind the earth together--if there be might in the hand that launched the universe, and that grasps its various powers; then, indeed, is there power in that moral system of redemption which almighty love contrived and infinite compassion vouchsafed for the recovery of a ruined world. It is moreover intended by the benevolent Author of this religion, that this new power, moral and divine, should, with the scheme which it originated and perfected, be translated into the human heart, and that there it should unfold and gloriously display its almightiness in disenthralling, renewing, re-creating, and saving not only the soul, but the man, from the overwhelming train of physical and moral evils consequent upon his apostacy from God.
Every truth in this divine system is animated and quickened by its intimate relation to the Spirit of the universe; and when written upon the heart, vitalizes the soul with a life forever new, forever fair, and forever blessed. This eternal life harmoniously pulsates with the supreme moral power, and uncreated fountain of all the life and all  the felicity known and enjoyed through all the ranks of existence, celestial and terrestrial. Religious truth, sometimes called "the word of life," not only enlightens, but it also enlivens the soul. The admission of it into the heart not only gives light, but it imparts life: "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes." There is, then, an enlightening, animating, sanctifying, vivifying power in religion, both objectively and subjectively considered.
Take, for example, the truth which proclaims the omniscience, and consequent omnipresence of our God and Father; contemplate this truth as it stands related to us and to all other truths in the evangelical economy. Man, with all the glory he assumes, and all the power and grandeur which he can appropriate from his admiring contemporaries, ever feels, and in all his lucid and sober intervals must confess, that he is an imbecile, frail and helpless creature. He shrinks within himself in the presence of ten thousand dangers, and feels that, as a moth, he may be crushed every moment by various antagonist forces over which he can have no control. He fears not only the falling mountain, the fierce volcano, the earthquake, the mad tornado, the forked lightning, or the ravenous beasts of prey; but he fears the insensible malaria, the invisible miasmata, the pestilence that walketh in darkness secretly, the asp, the spider, and the gnat, which may poison life at its fountain, or sting him to death in an instant, amid all his watchfulness and care. All this he perceives and fears.
Awakened from the sleep of death and roused into thought, perceiving the character of a revealed God and Saviour, he finds among the attributes of his glory one that ineffably charms and strengthens him. It is the thought that this self-existent, omnipotent, omniscient One, whose countless excellencies and glories no angelic tongue, no cherubic eloquence can unfold, is omnipresent. On this splendid discovery, he breaks forth into the enrapturing soliloquy--"Whither shall I go from thy Spirit! Whither shall I flee from thy presence! If I ascend into heaven, thou art there. If I make my bed in hades, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me, even the darkness shall be light about me; yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee."
This discovery disarms danger of all its terrors, dispels ten thousand fears, and gives an impulse to the soul stronger than the fear of death--stronger than the love of mortal existence. But it is not the  isolated thought that God is omnipresent that so invigorates and delights the soul: for no truth is solitary, no single attribute of God is abstract and independent of himself, or of his other excellencies; but it is the thought, the transporting thought that this God is my God, my Father, my strength, my life, my bliss; that through the mediation of his Son, the Lord Jesus, all his adorable perfections are pledged and promised to my defense, deliverance, and rescue from all evil. Boasting in this, the saint exclaims--
|"How are thy servants bless'd, O Lord!
How sure is their defence!
Eternal Wisdom is their guide;
Their help, omnipotence!"
Feeble though I am, says the Christian, the Lord Jehovah is my strength; he is my shield and my defense. Weak is my arm, but strong is his right hand. Short and indistinct my clearest vision; but he dwells in light: his eye irradiates the universe, illumines eternity, and watches over all his saints. He slumbers not, nor sleeps. His angels encamp around the dwellings of the righteous, and minister to the heirs of salvation. At his command,
|"An angel's arm can snatch me from the grave."|
And when my time of deliverance comes--when the time of redemption draweth near,
|"Legions of angels can't confine me there."|
Embraced by the everlasting arms, the feeblest lamb in David's flock is strong as the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Thus the Christian is forever safe in the Lord, and strong in the power of his might.
The power of this single conception of God to beautify the soul, has never yet been adequately expressed. Time is "too short to utter all its praise." But it is not only precious because of its soothing and consoling power
|--"To the stranger in distress,
The widow and the fatherless,"
but its sanctifying and restraining efficacy is equal to those prelibations of future bliss to which it elevates those in whose hearts it has a constant abiding. The thought that "thou God always seest me"--that,
"One glance, of thine, Almighty Lord,
Pierces all nature through;
Nor heaven, nor earth itself, nor hell,
Can shelter from thy view.
"The mighty whole, each smaller part,
At once before thee lies;
And ev'ry thought of ev'ry heart
Is open to thine eyes."
This thought, I say, is a sovereign guard against impiety and immorality, as it is the oil of joy and the unction of peace to all the sons and  daughters of distress. Like the burning cherubim that guarded the tree of life, so this consciousness of the Omnipresent Father, when healthy and vigilant, bids Satan, and temptation, and evil passion to stand aloof. It sanctifies and animates every place, and sheds a cheerfulness and delight wherever we place our foot.
Amongst that class of licensed murderers, called heroes, but one is said to have conquered the world. That world, however, which he conquered, finally conquered him; for his conquest was but the momentary triumph of one ambitious spirit over other ambitious spirits, equally daring, but less fortunate than himself. Like a splendid meteor, thundering as it shines, his noisy flight, though brilliant, was short and soon past; and to the midnight revel the victor becomes a victim and vanishes from the wonder, rather than the admiration of humankind. The Macedonian Chief, though often the derision of the sage and the grave moralist, is fortunately enshrined amongst the most instructive monuments of the weakness of earth's proudest conquerors in the appalling conflict between reason and passion; or rather, as in this case, between the love of glory and the love of wine.
In the proper sense of the term, the world, however, as indicative of all those artificial creations, the root and offspring of human passion and appetite; or, as defined by an inspired writer, the compound of "the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but of the world;" I say the world, in its Biblical import, never was vanquished by any person destitute of the faith of God's elect. On the contrary, all unbelieving men are overcome by it. In some of its ten thousand forms it lays in wait for them; and, adapted as it is, to all the corrupt and selfish workings of the human heart, it finds in every human being a sympathy with it, or a taste for it, in some of those respects in which it opposes God, and Christ, and heaven; and thus by its allurements and fascinations all are captivated who are not of the faith, or amongst the expectants of another and a better world, suited to beings of a more elevated character--of a purer and holier order.
All, indeed, are not subdued by the same arguments or adaptations. All are not the victims of ambition, the devotees of avarice, the sons and daughters of gaiety and pleasure. Nor are the immense groups that worship in any of these temples of one general or catholic communion. Amongst the ambitious there are perhaps a thousand sects. There are those ambitious of ecclesiastic as well as political honors, and of ecclesiastic honors of every description; ambitious of the honors of a Churchman or a Dissenter; of a Calvinist or an Arminian; of a Baptist or a Pedobaptist--an Episcopalian or a Presbyterian--an Erastian or an Independent. 
Of political honors there are as many castes as there are kinds of human government, and officers and grades in those governments. Here the proud autocrat disdains the limited monarch, and there the supercilious aristocrat is contemned by the more humble democrat. The ambition of every aspirant after political, literary, or ecclesiastic honors is not placed on the same object, nor gratified with the same eminence. Here a Curate's charge, and there a Bishop's diocese; here a Cardinal's cap and there a Pope's mitre, fill the horizon of certain individuals, as fully as the magistracy of a county, or the presidency of a state, as the regalia of a nation, or the imperial honors of a continent sate the aspirations of the various incumbents of these particular stations.
Society seems to have cast itself into an endless variety of moulds for the sake of baiting the hook by which to gull the thoughtless multitude of worshippers in the temple of Ambition. The names of places and of offices in the literary, political, and religious world--in the peace and war establishments--the sea and land armies--the occupations, callings, and pursuits honorable, more honorable, most honorable, would fill a dictionary larger than the Bible; and then of the three just mentioned--the ambitious, the avaricious, the voluptuous, but the first would stand in full array before us.
I can not speak of the slaves of avarice, the sects of philosophy, nor of the mighty hosts whose god is their appetites--whose only end and aim are sensual gratifications of one or more of a thousand varieties. But all these, of each and every class, may be as fully sold to the world, and enslaved by it, as was Alexander, or Cæsar, or Hannibal, or Napoleon. Every Mammonite becomes not a Croesus, a Girard, or a Rothschild; every rhymester becomes not a Pope, a Goldsmith, or a Byron; every orator becomes not a Demosthenes, a Cicero, or a Sheridan; every student becomes not a Bacon, a Locke, or a Newton; nor every voluptuary a Boniface, or a Belshazzar: yet they may be as sincere, ardent, and devoted to this worship as the most successful laborers in their respective avocations; for success is not the fruit of sincerity, else amongst the worshippers of Mammon what multitudes would have been rich who are yet poor!!
But one thing is certain, that "his servants we are whom we obey," and that every one is conquered by that which controls him; and, therefore, from the prince to the beggar all may be, and, in many nations and tribes, all are overcome by the world in some way or other--he only excepted who believes that Jesus is the Christ.
And here the question arises, How does faith conquer the world? or, What in the belief that Jesus is the Christ is more powerful than the world? To understand this we must first understand the phrase "course of the world." This apostolic phrase denotes that current of  earthly affection, lusts, passions, or cares, which carry the soul downwards from the knowledge, love, and admiration of God, which material nature and the daily providences of God would, in subordination to Revelation, but for that current, greatly promote. For I would emphatically say, that universal being, or, as some would express it, universal nature, were it not for this "course of the world," would furnish innumerable arguments and motives to admire, to adore, and delight in the Author of this stupendous and beautiful frame of nature, which seems to us to have no end but the existence and happiness of man.
Such, however, is the power of present objects over the human constitution, for which we have both a natural and acquired taste and appetite, that reason, philosophy, and moral suasion assail it in vain. Under the idolatries and philosophy of the Pagan world, in its best forms, this power was supreme and irresistible. The brightest names of Grecian and Roman fame were subject to the supremacy of this influence; and, therefore, not one of them could stem the current or course of this world, or make a successful effort to overcome it. The secret, then, in pursuit of which we have instituted this inquiry, is, that all systems of human philosophy or wisdom furnished not suitable or competent motives to oppose this current, and to excite and enable men to wage war against so powerful an alliance as the world, the flesh, and Satan.
The strength of every moral system will always be found to consist in the strength of the motives which it offers: for rational beings can not act without motives; and they must always act in accordance with the strength or force of the motives presented. If, then, there are two classes of motives offered, human nature will always be controlled by the most powerful, according to its own apprehension of them. Men may not, indeed, always perceive the most valuable consideration, and, therefore, they can not appreciate the weightier motive: for it is not enough that the object be a superior one, but that the mind perceive it to be such. In the science of motives the perception of the value of an object is essential to its becoming an argument or motive to action: for every thing must act as it is when all circumstances are considered, and therefore if different objects stand before the mind, no matter which of them be intrinsically greatest or best, that which under all circumstances appears to be such, will become a motive to action, and control the percipient to the disparagement of that which may be, in truth, the most valuable, though not so in his estimation.
Our conclusion, then, is, that human nature is so constituted that it must act in unison with that class of objects or motives which appear to be the best and most desirable under all circumstances of  the case. Now as the world, without the knowledge of the gospel, could offer no objects or motives beyond itself, but such as were a part of itself, or of its own nature, it followed that all mankind so placed must be ruled, or led by it, in some one or more of its ten thousand motives suited to the ten thousand varieties of human organization and circumstance. Hence all mankind, without the gospel, are inevitably the slaves of the world and are conquered by it.
But still, although a new world is revealed and a future life discovered by the gospel; if that gospel be not believed, that future world and all its excellencies and charms will be as though it were not; and hence the possibility of still being governed by the world and of being enslaved to it, although life and immortality are brought to light, so long as that gospel is not understood and believed. Hence the necessity of faith. It is in the philosophy of man and of his condition necessary, not as a quid pro quo, a valuable condition, but as a means, or rather as the only possible medium, of acquaintance with another class of objects, celestial and divine. And this is the true reason why faith conquers the world; because by it, as through a telescope, a person sees another world so incomparably superior, that, from the moment of its discovery, he lets go his hold on the present, and supremely devotes himself to the future. The new objects are so lovely, excel dent, and overwhelming as to control all the objects of time and sense, and to set the mind adrift from the moorings of temporal and perishing things. The Christian then, indeed, acts the philosopher, or, in other words, acts most rationally in "counting all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus the Messiah," and of "treating them as refuse that he may win Christ," and be found in his party in the day of rewards. This explains the conquests of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and all that class in every age who endured all pains and privations--"as seeing him who is invisible"--"having respect to the recompense of the reward"--" looking not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen"--"placing their affections on things above, and not on things on the earth"--"walking by faith, and not by sight'--"anxiously desiring the coming of the day of the Lord;" and "striving to be found in him without spot, unrebukable at his appearing and his glory."
We can now explain the whole mystery 'of these words, "Who is he that overcomes the world but he that believeth that Jesus is the Messiah?" because he is the only person who has the distinct vision of another world, so transcendant and so glorious, as to eclipse all the pleasures, honors, and glories of earthly things--of "sceptres, monuments, and crowns;" and which so fully adapts itself to the vastness and grandeur of human aspirations, promising with infallible certainty the full enjoyment of all that human nature in its  most cultivated and improved condition can either conceive or desire. The class of objects which the gospel presents to one "led by the Spirit of God," affords motives so much stronger than all earthly objects, that the reason of this victory is as obvious as the reason of any of the effects, physical or moral, of which human science treats.
How great the power of religion, then, when faith alone--the simple belief of the gospel facts, as they are set before us by the demonstrations of the Spirit of God and of almighty power, is more than a match for "all the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them"! Superadded to this faith, the love of God shed abroad in the heart, and the living hope of being raised incorruptible, and being forever with the Lord, render exceedingly efficacious the gospel in elevating and adorning human character, and in imparting zeal, courage, fortitude, and devotion to all who clearly understand and cordially embrace it. It is, indeed, "the power of God unto salvation" to all those that believe it.
Christian heroes are, then, the brightest and most illustrious victors in the annals of the world. Through faith in the promises of God, they have "subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the strength of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, became valiant in battle, overturned the camps of aliens--women have been tortured not accepting proffered deliverance in the hope of a better resurrection; and others overcame the trials of mocking, scourging, bonds, and imprisonment--of being stoned, sawn asunder, slain by the sword--of going about in sheep-skins and goat-skins--being destitute, afflicted, tormented--wandering about in deserts and mountains, hiding themselves in caverns and caves of the earth."
As this picture is by no means an exaggeration, let us compare ourselves, and ask, What lack I yet? How few Christians, does any one ask, if such must always be the power of religion? We dare not place its power below what the ancient saints achieved in the faith of the better promises which we enjoy. Its power is certainly greater than all the powers of the present world; for if any one has realized "the powers of the world to come," he is certainly more than a match for all earthly powers that can be arrayed against him.
What then shall we say of those Christian ministers who have left off preaching the gospel for the sake of a more lucrative employment!! This is a question reserved for future and farther discussion; and as the times require, we shall pay this class of victorious Captains of the Christian Army a more respectful attention.
But, nearly akin to it, is another question, which also demands, at the hand of impartial justice, an equally grave consideration. It is simply this: Under what head of the power of religion in  overcoming the world, shall we place those Christians, who, while amassing for themselves treasures on earth, are preaching to preachers the necessity of denying themselves, and of making, or of keeping themselves poor, for the kingdom of heaven's sake; that they may cut off occasion of mercenary imputations on the part of worldly Christians who would rejoice to see all the world converted by a miracle without costing them a penny. I will acknowledge before the world my want of logical discrimination, when any person proves to me that he would lay down his life for Christ or heaven, or that he possesses the faith which conquers the world, who can not, while he has it in his power, lay down some of the good things of time and sense, either for the sake of the orphan, the widow, or the preacher of the gospel whom the Lord has specially foreordained to live by the gospel, temporally, as well as spiritually and eternally.
The man of sense and the man of faith derive their controlling and supreme principles of action from two different worlds. The man of sense has within his horizon only such objects as excite his appetites and passions, those strong impellant forces of animal effort and enterprise; whereas the man of faith has within his mental vision objects of such superlative excellence and value as incomparably transcend all earth-born objects of pursuit, and throw into the shade, in forms the most diminutive, the largest and most splendid achievements of human genius, the richest and the noblest trophies of mortal ambition. Hence, as was shown in a former essay, the power of religion in overcoming the world.
But yet it is asked, Who is he among the Christian community that overcomes the world? Does not the present life, with all its pleasures and its pains; its cares and fears, its joys and sorrows, its honors and rewards, so far engage the hearts, and lips, and hands of professors, as to make the line that separates them from the mere man of sense so indistinct, that it is impossible to distinguish the Christian from the worldling in the common routine of earthly transactions or of temporal affairs, unless we follow him to church on one day in the week or month, or attend with him some of the more solemn convocations of the people? Are the few religious services during the year, or the poor pittance of worldly property which flows into the Lord's treasury, (so reluctantly given too, if one might judge from actions,)--I say, are these the irrefragable evidences of heavenly mindedness, the all-convincing proofs that the Christian overcomes the world, and is a man of faith, rather than a slave of sense--the expectant of a better world, rather than the contented and firmly attached tenant of the present? If there be other and superior arguments in proof of this power of religion than those which we  ordinarily see in the lives of our acquaintance, do let us see them--not on paper, or in verbal description; but let us see the Christian living, moving, acting on the great theatre of life, as one who plainly confesses himself in pursuit of a "better and a more enduring substance." "I admit," continues the Christian sceptic, "that from the accounts given and read in the New Testament--from the lives, sufferings, and heroic achievements of the Christians of other times, there is no lack of evidence that the sons of faith could overcome--nay, did overcome the world. But on whom have their mantles fallen? or who inherit their spirit and walk in their bold and heavenward steps?
It ought to be candidly and feelingly acknowledged, that amongst the multitudes who profess the faith of things unseen and eternal, there are but comparatively few who appear to be so wholly or so supremely devoted to religion--so "diligent to make their calling and election sure," as to make it manifest to all men that they supremely seek the heavenly inheritance. And that, out of the immense multitudes who in all the great revivals are said to be converted, but few continue in the faith and "hold fast their begun confidence unshaken to the end," is a matter so notorious that it would be impossible to conceal it, did we most ardently desire it. That there are many erroneous views and theories of religion extant, is a very small matter, in our judgment, compared with the fact that there are numerous delinquencies, apostacies, and a very general carnality, selfishness, and covetousness manifest amongst the most Scriptural and intelligent professors of the gospel. This is the most alarming characteristic of the age.
A form of godliness without the power, is the most helpless and the most hopeless case which any one can describe. While the cholera subdued only the intemperate and the vicious, or the extremely feeble and aged members of community, the young, the vigorous, and the temperate had little to fear for themselves from the announcement of its rapid progress in its peregrinations round the globe; but when it was ascertained that the young, the healthy, and the temperate frequently became victims of this appalling scourge--that it seized in its fatal grasp all ages, classes and conditions of life; then it was that its approach spread a deep and melancholy gloom over the whole visage of society, and struck a dismaying consternation into the hearts of all. Thus while lukewarmness and indifference, or a carnal, selfish, covetous, worldly temper followed in the wake of error in theory, or accompanied the promulgation of heretical and demoralizing tenets, those who were zealous for sound doctrine and devoted to the faith and sentiments of the golden age of Christianity, felt but little alarm; but when a similar temper and demeanor begin to  appear amongst those who build upon a better foundation, and place their acceptance upon the consecrated ground of apostolic principles and practice--then, indeed, have all professors not only reasons for self-examination and serious inquiry into the causes of this fatal delinquency, but of alarm for their own personal safety, lest in the epidemical character of this contagion they might inhale the pestilential air and perish from the way of life.
An age of persecution for righteousness' sake, or of public calamities, is always a prosperous time for Christians and the cause of spiritual and eternal things; but times of great worldly prosperity are always perilous. When Christianity or the cause of religion is in high reputation, flattered and complimented by all; when those who are the most religious are most popular and sit in the highest places, then indeed it behooves Christians "with fear and trembling to work out their own salvation;" and to fear lest having a promise of the future and eternal rest, any of them should even appear to fall short of it.
This is, in our country and in our day, the present condition of the church; and such the circumstances by which the Christian profession is environed. May I not, then, affirm that in such a crisis the advantage in every conflict is a hundred fold more in favor of the world than of the church? That the Christian now enters the ranks having the most fearful odds against him, and that to overcome in such a struggle is the most glorious victory that can be achieved. To see a person voluntarily forsaking a throne, and esteeming the reproach for Christ greater treasures than all the riches of Egypt, is a more illustrious proof of the power of faith, than to see one in the humbler ranks of life, in times of persecution, giving himself up to the flames, or the dungeons of the Inquisition, for the sake of Christ and heaven. The times, then, at present, call for all the power of religion to sustain the church against the sweeping spring-tide of prosperity which now inundates this highly favored country. Those of weak faith can not possibly stem this tide. The current of worldly favor and prosperity will surely bear them down, and a hundred chances to one that their faith will fail, and they will sink, not like a stone, but like a saturated iceberg, in the mighty waters.
Still we feel a good degree of assurance that there are more, than seventy times seven thousand persons who have not bowed themselves at the shrine of the gods of this world--that have not had their ears bored on the door-posts of the temple of Mammon, and that are supplicating day and night at the footstool of Divine Mercy in behalf of the waste and desert places of God's professed Zion. In all this class faith triumphs, and the power of religion overcomes the power of the world.
|1. Alexander Campbell. "The Power of Religion.--No. I." The Millennial Harbinger 8 (January 1837): 7-11.|
----------. Extract from "The Power of Religion.--No. II."
The Millennial Harbinger 8 (March 1837): |
----------. Extract from "The Power of Religion.--No. III."
The Millennial Harbinger 8 (April 1837): |
----------. Extract from "The Power of Religion.--No. IV."
The Millennial Harbinger 8 (May 1837): |
[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)