[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)
THE REGENERATION OF THE CHURCH.
The word regeneration we have found once used in the sense of a new state of things, or of the introduction of a new state of things.  (Matt. xix. 28.) In this application of the word, we would turn the attention of our readers to the necessity of the regeneration of the church.
I speak not of the regeneration of any sectarian establishment. They are built upon another foundation--upon the foundation of decrees of councils, creeds, formularies, or acts of Parliament. But we speak of those societies that professedly build upon the foundation of Apostles and Prophets, without any human bond of union, or rule of life--our brethren of the reformation or regeneration now in process.
Should any one imagine that the state of things to which we have attained is the sole, or ultimate object of our aspirations, or our efforts, he would do us the greatest injury. Societies indeed may be found amongst us far in advance of others in their progress towards the ancient order of things; but we know of none that has fully attained to that model. It is, however, most acceptable to see so many societies formed and forming under the banners of reformation, with the determination to move onwards in conformity to the sacred oracles, till they stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.
Our opponents can not, or will not, understand how any society can be in progress to a better order of things than that under which they may have commenced their pilgrimage. Their sectarian policies were soon formed, and the limits of their reformation were soon fixed, beyond which it soon became heretical to move. The founders of all new schisms not only saw through a glass darkly, but their horizon was so circumscribed with human traditions, that they only aimed at moving a few paces from the hive in which they were generated. A new creed was soon adopted, and then their stature was complete. They bounded from infancy to manhood in a few days, and decided if any presumed farther to advance, they should be treated as those who had refused to move from the old hive. Hence it became as censurable to grow beyond a certain standard, as not to grow at all. This never was our proposition, and never can be our object. We have no new creed to form, no rules of discipline to adopt. We have taken the Living Oracles as our creed, our rules and measures of faith and practice; and in this department, have no additions, alterations, nor amendments to propose. But in coming up to this standard of knowledge, faith, and behaviour, we have something yet before us, to which we have not attained.
That we may be distinctly understood on this subject, we shall speak particularly on the things wanting in our individual characters, and of the things wanting in our church order, to give to our meetings that interest and influence which they ought to exert on the brotherhood and on society at large. 
It will be understood, that our remarks on the things which are wanting in the disciples, are applicable not to every individual, but to the general mass. And first of all, there is wanting a more general and particular knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, than is possessed by the great majority of the reformers. There is, perhaps, wanting a taste or disposition for that private devotional reading of the oracles of God, which is so essential to a growth in that knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ, which constitutes the most striking attribute in Christian character. We thus reason from the proficiency which is discoverable in the bounds of our acquaintance, which is large enough to afford data for very general conclusions.
To read the Scriptures for the sake of carrying out into practice all that we learn, and to read them for the sake of knowing what is written, are very different objects, and will produce very different results. Their influence on the temper and behaviour, in the former case, will very soon become manifest to all with whom we associate; while in the latter case, there is no visible improvement. David said that he "hid the word of God in his heart," or laid it up in his mind, "that he might not sin against God;" and that he had "more under standing than all his teachers, because God's testimonies were his meditation." It will be admitted that the sacred writings of the Apostles and Evangelists of Jesus Christ ought to be as precious and as delightful to the Christian as were the ancient oracles to the most pious Jew. Now as an example of what we mean by a private devotional reading and study of the oracles of Christ, we shall permit a Jew to tell his experience--
"The law of my mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver. With my whole heart have I sought thee; my soul breaketh for the longing that it has to thy judgments at all times. Thy testimonies are my delight and my counsellors. Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes, and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep thy law; yes, I will observe it with my whole heart. Make me to go in the path of thy commandments, for in it do I delight. Thy statutes have been my songs in the hour of my pilgrimage. At midnight I will rise to give thanks to thee, because of thy righteous judgments. O how I love thy law; it is my meditation all the day! How sweet are thy words to my taste; sweeter than honey, to my mouth! Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage forever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart. Great peace have they that love thy law, and nothing shall cause them to stumble."
These are only a few extracts from one piece, written by a king three thousand years ago. On another occasion he pronounced the following encomium on the testimony of God:-- 
"The law [doctrine] of the Lord is perfect, converting [restoring] 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. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and the honey-comb. By them is thy servant warned, and in keeping of them there is a great reward."
This fully reveals all that we mean by a devotional private study of the Holy Scriptures. Every Christian who can read, may every day thus refresh, strengthen, and comfort his heart, by reading or committing to memory, and afterwards reflecting upon some portion of the book. He may carry in his pocket the blessed volume, and many a time through the day take a peep into it. This will preserve him from temptation, impart courage to his heart, give fluency to his tongue, and the graces of Christianity to his life.
In this age, when ignorance of the Christian Scriptures is so characteristic, and the rage for human opinions and traditions so rampant, it is a duty doubly imperative on our brethren, to give themselves much more to the study of the book, and then one of them will put a host of the aliens to flight; and, what is still more desirable, he will have communion with Gad all the day, and ever rejoice in his salvation.
In the second place, there is wanting amongst disciples who are heads of families, more attention, much more effort, to bring up their children "in the correction and instruction of the Lord." The children of all disciples should be taught the oracles of God from the first dawning of reason. The good seed should be sown in their hearts before the strong seeds of vice can take root. From a child Timothy knew the Holy Scriptures, and they were able to make him wise to salvation, through the Christian faith. How many more Timothys might we have, if we had a few more of the daughters of Lois, and a few more mothers like Eunice! Most saints, in this generation, appear more zealous that their children should shine on earth, than in heaven--and that they may be rich here, at the hazard of eternal bankruptcy. They labor to make them rich and genteel, rather than pure and holy; and spend more time in fashioning them to the foolish and wicked taste of polished society, than in teaching them by precept and example the word that is better than gold, and more precious than rubles. Well, they sow darnel, and can not reap wheat. They may have a mournful harvest, and years of bitterness and sorrow may reward them for their negligence and error. If only a tithe of the time, and the labor, and expense that it costs to fit a  son or a daughter to shine in the middle or front ranks of genteel society, were spent in teaching them to fear God and keep his commandments, how many more virtuous, solid and useful citizens--how many more valuable members of the family of God--how many more faithful and able witnesses for the truth of God, would be found in all corners of the land!
Every Christian family ought to be a nursery for God. Their offspring should be trained for the skies. For such are the promises of God, such are the facts on record, and such is the experience of Christians, that every parent who does his duty to his children, may expect to see them inherit the blessing. Their didactic labors, aided by their example and their constant prayers, will seldom or never fail of success in influencing their descendants to walk in their ways. The very command to bring up their children in the Lord, implies its practicability. And both Testaments furnish us with all assurance that such labors will not be in vain. That men of high renown in sacred history, were generally the sons of such a parentage. The sons of God were found among the sons of Seth, while the daughters of men were of the progeny of Cain. Abraham was the descendant of Shem; Moses and Aaron were the sons of believing parents; Samuel was the son of Hannah, and David was the son of Jesse. John the Harbinger was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth; and it pleased the heavenly Father, that his Son should be the child of a pious virgin.
But it is under Christ that the faithful are furnished with all the necessary means of bringing up their offspring for the Lord. The numerous failures which we witness, are to be traced either to great neglect, or to some fatal notion which paralyzes all effort; for some think that the salvation or damnation of their offspring was a matter settled from all eternity, irrespective of any agency on their part: that some are born "vessels of wrath," and others "vessels of mercy;" and hence the instructions, examples and prayers of parents, are of no avail. Among the descendants of such, it will no doubt often happen that some become vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, while others become vessels of mercy, predestined to glory.
When God gave a revelation to Jacob, and commanded a law to Israel, he gave it in charge that they "should teach it to their children, that they might put their trust in God, and might not be, like their fathers, a rebellious race." The Apostles of Christ have also taught the Christians the same lesson. This is our guide, and not our own reasonings. Now let the disciples make this their business, morning, noon, and evening, and then we shall see the effects. 
We are sorry to see this great duty, to which nature, reason, revelation alike direct, so much neglected by many of our brethren; to find amongst their children those who are no better acquainted with the Scriptures than the children of their neighbors who believe in miraculous conversions, or think it is a sin to attempt what they imagine to be the work of God alone--never suspecting that God works by human means, and employs human agency in his works of providence and redemption.
I never knew but a very few families that made it their daily business to train up their children in the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, to cause them every day to commit to memory a portion of the living oracles; but these few instances authorize me to think, and to say, that such a course persisted in, and sustained by the good example of parents, will very generally, if not universally, issue in the salvation of their children. And before any one says, I have found an exception to the proverb of Solomon which says "train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it"--let him show that this child was trained up "in the way he should go."
In the third place, there is wanting among many disciples a stricter regard to relative duties--we mean, not only the dues which justice, truth, and moderation claim, but all relative duties. So long as Christians live after the manner of men in the flesh, according to the fashion of this world, they must, like other men, contract debts which they can not promptly pay, make covenants and bargains, give promises which they can not fulfil, and stake pledges which they are unable to redeem. All this is wholly incompatible with our profession. Such were not the primitive disciples. Sceptics of every name, men of the world, who have ever read the New Testament, know that such behaviour is utterly incompatible with the letter and spirit of Christianity. A Christian's word or promise ought to be, and is, if Christ be honored, as solemn and as obligatory as any bond. And as for breach of bargain or covenant, even where it is greatly or wholly to the disadvantage of the Christian, it is not even to be thought of--"he changes not, though to his hurt he covenants." How much has the gospel lost of its influence, because of the faithlessness of its professors! O when shall it be again said of Christians in general, that "they bind themselves as with a solemn oath, not to commit any kind of wickedness--to be guilty neither of theft, robbery, nor adultery--never to break a promise, or to keep back a deposit when called upon." Pliny writes to the Emperor Trajan that such was the character of Christians A. D. 106-7, as far as he could learn it from those who were not Christians. Were all the common (nowadays rather uncommon) virtues  of justice, truth, fidelity, honesty, practised by all Christians, how many mouths would be stopped, and how many new arguments in favor of Jesus Christ could all parties find! But even were these common virtues as general as the Christian profession, there are the other finer virtues of benevolence, goodness, mercy, sympathy, which belong to the profession, expressed in taking care of the sick, the orphan, the widow--in alleviating all the afflictions of our fellow-creatures. Add these virtues, or graces, as we sometimes call them, to the others, and then how irresistible the argument for the divine authenticity of the gospel! Let industry, frugality, temperance, honesty, justice, truth, fidelity, humility, mercy, sympathy, appear conspicuous in the lives of the disciples, and the contrast between them and other professors will plead their cause more successfully than a hundred preachers.
In the last place, there is wanting a more elevated piety to bring up the Christian character to the standard of primitive times. We want not fine speeches nor eloquent orations on the excellencies of Christian piety and devotion. These are generally acknowledged. But we need to be roused from our supineness, from our worldly-mindedness, from our sinful conformities to an apostate generation, to the exhibition of that holiness in speech, in behaviour, without which no one shall see the Lord. What mean the numerous exhortations of the Apostles to watchfulness and prayer, if these are not essential to our devotion to God and consecration to his service?
If our affections are not placed on things above, we are unfit for the kingdom of glory. To see the folly of a profession of Christianity without the power of godliness, we have only to put the question, How is that person fit for the enjoyment of God and Christ, whose heart is filled with the cares, anxieties, and concerns of this life--whose whole life is a life of labor find care for the body--a life of devotion to the objects of time and sense? No man can serve God and Mammon. Where the treasure is the heart must also be. Thither the affections turn their course. There is no room for the residence of the Spirit of God in a mind devoted to the affairs of this life. The spirit of the policies of this world and the Spirit of God can not dwell in the same heart. If Jesus or his Apostles taught any one doctrine clearly, fully, and unequivocally, it is this doctrine, that "the cares of this world, the lusts of other things, and the deceitfulness of riches, stifle the word and render it unfruitful."
If any one would enjoy the power of godliness, he must give up his whole soul to it. The business of this life will be performed religiously as a duty subordinate to the will of God. While his hands are engaged in that business which his own wants, or those of his household make necessary, his affections are above. He delights in  God, and communes with him all the day. A Christian is not one who is pious by fits and starts, who is religious or devout on one day of the week, or for one hour of the day. It is the whole bent of his soul--it is the beginning, middle, and end of every day. To make his calling and election sure is the business of his life. His mind rests only in God. He places the Lord always before him. This is his joy and his delight. He would not for the world have it otherwise. He would not enjoy eternal life, if he had it at his option, in any other way than that which God himself has proposed. He accedes to God's arrangements, not of necessity, but of choice. His religious services are perfect freedom. He is free indeed. The Lord's commandments are not grievous, but joyful. The yoke of Christ is to him easy and his burthen light. He will sing with David--
|The love that to thy laws I bear,
No language can display;
They with fresh wonders entertain
My ravish'd thoughts all day.
The law that from thy mouth proceeds
Of more esteem I hold
Than untouch'd mines, than thousand mines
Of silver and of gold.
Whilst in the way of thy commands,
More solid joy I found,
Than had I been with vast increase
Of envy'd riches crown'd.
Thy testimonies I have kept,
And constantly obey'd;
Because the love I bore to them
Thy service easy made.
In the same ratio as Christians devoutly study the oracles of God, teach them to their children, practice all relative duties to society at large, and rise to a more elevated piety, they will increase their influence in the great and heavenly work of regenerating the world.
A few remarks on the things wanting in the order of Christian assemblies, to give to their public meetings that influence on themselves and on society at large, will finish this section of our essay.
Our heavenly Father wills our happiness in all his institutions. His ordinances are, therefore, the surest, the simplest, and the most direct means of promoting our happiness. The Lord Jesus gave himself for the church that he might purify and bless it; and, therefore, in the church are all the institutions which can promote the individual and social good of the Christian community. In attending upon these institutions on the Lord's day, much depends upon the preparation of heart of all who unite in commemorating the death and resurrection of the Son of God. 
In adverting to the most Scriptural and rational manner of celebrating or observing the day to the Lord, and for our own comfort and the regeneration of the world, we would first of all remark, that much depends upon the frame of mind, or preparation of heart, in which we visit the assemblies of the saints.
Suppose two persons, A and B, if you please, members of the same church, taking their seats together at the Lord's table. A, from the time he opened his eyes in the morning, was filled with the recollections of the Saviour's life, death, and resurrection. In his closet, in his family, and along the way he was meditating or conversing on the wonders of redemption, and renewing his recollections of the sayings and doings of the Messiah. B, on the other hand, arose as on other days, and finding himself free from all obligations arising from the holiness of time, talks about the common affairs of every day, and allows his thoughts to roam over the business of the last week, or, perhaps, to project the business of the next. If he meet with a neighbor, friend, or brother, the news of the day is inquired after, expatiated upon, discussed; the crops, the markets, the public health, or the weather--the affairs of Europe, or the doings of Congress, or the prospects of some candidate for political honor, become the theme of conversation. As he rides or walks to the church, he chats upon all or any of these topics, till he enter the door of the meeting-house. Now as A and B enter the house in very different states of mind, may it not be supposed that they will differ as much in their enjoyments as in their morning thoughts? Or can B, by a single effort, unburthen his mind, call in the wanderings of his thoughts, and in a moment transport himself from the contemplation of things on earth to things in heaven? If this can be imagined, then meditation and preparation of heart are wholly unnecessary to the acceptable worship of God, and to the comfortable enjoyment of his institutions.
But is it compatible with experience, or is it accordant to reason that B can delight in God, and rejoice in commemorating the wonders of his redemption, while his thoughts are dissipated upon the mountains of a thousand vanities?--while, like a fool's eyes, his thoughts are roaming to the ends of the earth! Can he say, with a pious Jew, "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs--yes, even faints, for the courts of the Lord! My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Happy they who dwell in thy house; they will be still praising thee! A day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." "One thing have I desired of the Lord, and that I will seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. O send out thy light and thy truth! Let  them lead me, let them bring me to thy holy hill and to thy tabernacles. Then will I go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; yes, I will praise thee, O God, my God!"
Or had the Jew a sublimer worship, more exalted views of God's salvation, and more piety than a Christian? Or were the ordinances of the Jewish sanctuary more entertaining and refreshing than the ordinances of the Christian church? This will not be alleged; consequently, B, and all of that school, are utterly at fault when they approach the house of God in such a state of mind as they approach the market place, the forum, or the common resorts of this present world.
Christians need not say in excuse for themselves, that all days are alike, that all places and times are alike holy, and that they ought to be in the best frame of mind all the time. For even concede them all their own positions, they will not contend that a man ought to speak to God, or to come into the presence of God, as they approach men. They will not say that they ought to have the same thoughts and feelings in approaching the Lord's table, as in approaching a common table; or on entering a court of political justice, as in coming into the house of God. There is, in the words of Solomon the Wise, a season and time for every object and for every work:--There is the Lord's day, the Lord's table, the Lord's house, and the Lord's people; and there are thoughts, and frames of mind, and behaviour compatible and incompatible with all these.
In the public assembly the whole order of worship ought to do justice to what is passing in the minds of all the worshippers. That joy in the Lord, that peace and serenity of mind, that affection for the brethren, that reverence for the institutions of God's house, which all feel, should be manifest in all the business of the day. Nothing that would do injustice to all or any of these, ought ever to appear in the congregation of Jesus Christ our Lord. No levity, irreverence, no gloom, no sadness, no pride, no unkindness, no severity of behaviour towards any, no coldness, nothing but love, and peace, and joy, and humility, and reverence should appear in the face, in the word, or action of any disciple.
These are not little matters. They all exert a salutary influence on the brethren and the strangers. These are visible and sensible displays of the temper and spirit of Christians; and if Paul thought it expedient to write of veils and long hair when admonishing a church "to do all things decently and in order," we, in this day of degeneracy, may be allowed to notice matters and things as minute as those before us.
We intend not now to go into the details of church order or Christian discipline, nor to expatiate on the necessity of devoting a part of  the time to singing, praying, reading, teaching, exhorting, commemorating, communicating; nor on how much of this or that is expedient. Times and circumstances must decide how much time shall be taken up in these exercises, and when it shall be most fitting to meet, to adjourn, etc. Nor is it necessary now to say, that there must be simply order, and presidency, and proper discipline, and due subordination to one another in the fear of God. We now speak rather of the manner in which all things are to be done, than of the things themselves, their necessity or value.
After noticing what in some instances appears to be wanting in the manner of coming together on the Lord's day, we proceed to notice in order the things wanting in many congregations for the purposes already specified.
And first of all, be it observed, that in some churches there appears to be wanting a proper method of handling the Scriptures to the edification of the brethren. It is admitted by all the holy brethren that the Scriptures of truth, called the living oracles, are the great instrument of God for all his purposes in the saints on earth. Through them they are converted to God, comforted, consecrated, made meet for an inheritance among the sanctified, and qualified for every good word and work. Every thing, then, depends upon the proper understanding of these volumes of inspiration. They can only operate as far as they are understood.
The system of sermonizing on a text is now almost universally abandoned by all who intend that their hearers should understand the testimony of God. Orators and exhorters may select a word, a phrase, or a verse; but all who feed the flock of God with knowledge and understanding, know that this method is wholly absurd. Philological lectures upon a chapter are only a little better. The discussion of any particular topic, such as faith, repentance, election, the Christian calling, may sometimes be expedient; but in a congregation of Christians the reading and examining the different books in regular succession, every disciple having the volume in his hand, following, up the connection of things, examining parallel passages, interrogating and being interrogated, fixing the meaning of particular words and phrases by comparison with the style of that writer or speaker, or with that of others; intermingling these exercises with prayer and praises, and keeping the narrative, the epistle, or the speech, so long before the minds of all, as is necessary for the youngest disciple in the congregation to understand it, and to become deeply interested in it, will do more in one year than is done in many on the plan of the popular meetings of the day.
Great attention should be paid to all the allusions, in any composition, to the peculiarities of time, place, and circumstance, to the  geographical, historical, and chronological particulars of all questions of fact connected with all persons of note in the narrative: for these are often the best interpreters of style and expositors of the meaning of what is written.
This searching, examining, comparing, and ruminating upon the Holy Scriptures in private, in the family, in the congregation, can not fail to make us learned in the knowledge of God, and in the knowledge of men. The Bible contains more real learning than all the volumes of men. It instructs us in all our natural, moral, political, and religious relations. Though it teaches us not astronomy, medicine, chemistry, mathematics, architecture, it gives us all that knowledge which adorns and dignifies our moral nature, and fits us for happiness. Happy the person who meditates upon it day and night! He grows and flourishes in moral health and vigor, as the trees upon the water courses. His leaf never fades--his fruit never fails.
The congregations of the saints want system in furthering their knowledge of this book. The simple reading of large portions in a desultory manner, is not without some good effect; for there is light, and majesty, and life in all the oracles of God; no man can listen to them without edification. But the profit accruing from such readings is not a tithe of that which might be obtained in the proper systematic reading and examination of them. The congregation is the school of Christ, and every pupil there should feel that he has learned something every day he waits upon his Master. He must take the Master's book with him, and, like every other good and orderly pupil, he must open it and study it with all the helps which the brotherhood, his school-fellows, can furnish for his more comprehensive knowledge of all its salutary communications.
A Christian scribe, well instructed in its contents, or a plurality of such, who can bring out of their intellectual treasury things new and old, will greatly advance the students in this heavenly science; but in the absence of such the students must be self-taught; and self-taught scholars are generally the best taught: for they can not progress unless they study with diligence and carefully learn the rudiments of every science.
To give some idea of the diligence and attention to the minutest matters, which are necessary to proficiency in the knowledge of all that is written in the New Testament, we shall suppose that the disciples have for their lesson on some particular day the Nativity of the Messiah. The second chapter of Matthew is read. After reading this chapter, or the whole of the first section of Matthew's Testimony, the elder or president for the day asks some brother, a good reader, to read what the other evangelists have testified on this subject. Mark and John being silent on the nativity, he reads Luke, 2d section,  2d chapter, from the 1st to the 41st verse. After the reading of this chapter, the following points are the subjects of inquiry, and most of them are proposed to the brethren for solution:--
1. Who was Cesar Augustus, and over what people did he reign?
2. At what period of his reign was the edict for enrolment issued, or when did the first register take effect?
3. What did Syria include, and what were its boundaries?
4. Who presided over Syria at the time of the first register?
5. Who was king in Judea at this time?
6. How far did Judea extend, or in what part of the Holy Land was it situate?
7. In what country was Jerusalem, where situated, and by what other names was it known?
8. What was the native city of Joseph?
9. Where was Nazareth situated, and in what district?
10. What was the boundary of Galilee, and what were its principal towns?
11. In what canton or district was Bethlehem, and how far from Jerusalem?
12. Who were the magians?
13. Why was "Herod alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him," when the magians reported the Star in the East?
14. What were the scribes and chief priests assembled by Herod, and why were they called together?
15. By what means did they decide the questions referred to them?
16. On what Prophet do they rely, and where shall the quotation be found?
17. Of what family and lineage were Joseph and Mary?
18. What does "betrothed" mean?
19. By what means did the magians find the house in which the Messiah was born?
20. Why did the magians not return to Herod?
21. Whether did the shepherds of Bethlehem or the eastern magians first pay their respects to the Messiah?
22. In what quarter of the globe does Egypt lie?
23. How far from Bethlehem?
24. How long was the Messiah kept in Egypt?
25. Who predicted his return from Egypt, and where shall it be found?
26. Who foretold the slaughter of the male infants in Bethlehem, and what instigated Herod to this cruel massacre?
27. Who succeeded Herod in the throne of Judea?
28. Why did Joseph retire to Nazareth? 
29. What Prophet foretold this circumstance, and where shall it be found?
These matters being all ascertained, to which the maps, geographical and chronological indexes, and the appendix to the Family Testament will greatly contribute, some moral reflections will naturally occur; for in all these incidents are manifest the wisdom, care, and economy of our heavenly Father, his faithfulness, condescension, and love; the great variety of his instruments and agents; the ease with which he frustrates the evil counsels and machinations of his enemies; the infallible certainty of his foreknowledge; the perfect free agency of men, good and evil; the deep humiliation of his only begotten Son in all the circumstances of his nativity. Irresistible arguments in favor of his pretensions may be drawn from these ancient prophecies, from their minuteness of time, place, and circumstance; many eloquent and powerful lessons on human pride, vanity, and arrogance may be deduced from the birth-place, cradle, and family connections of the Heir of the Universe; and many other touching appeals to the heart, which the birth, circumcision, and dedication of the Messiah, with all the incidents in Bethlehem, in Jerusalem, and the Temple, connected with his first appearance on earth furnish, will present themselves with unfading freshness and beauty to the brotherhood of Christ.
A hint to the wise is sufficient. Were this method pursued only two hours every Lord's day, every disciple giving his heart to the work; and were the results then compared with the products of the scrap Doctors, or sermonizers to sleeping and dreaming hearers, no man, having any regard for his reputation for good sense, could give his vote for the popular system.
A reformation in the manner of handling the living oracles is much wanting; and the sooner and more generally it is attempted, the greater will be the regenerating influence of the brotherhood on the world. Intelligent in the Holy Scriptures, clothed with the armor of light, every disciple going forth will be a David against the Philistines--a host against the armies of the aliens. And better still, the words of heavenly favor dwelling in his heart, he will carry with him into every society a fragrance like the rose of Sharon--a sweetness of perfume like a garden which the Lord has blessed.
There appears to be wanting in some congregations a proper attention to discipline, and a due regard to decorum, in the management of such cases as do occur. In every family, and in every congregation, there is occasional need of discipline. Offenses, delinquencies, and apostasies did occur in the congregations over which the apostles either were, or had been, presidents; and they will happen again in this state of discipline and trial in which we are all placed. They must be expected; and every congregation ought to be prepared to act  upon the emergency with intelligence and decorum. Much injury has been done to the progress of churches, by a remissness in attention to such cases, and in the manner they have been disposed of when taken up.
Nothing can be more preposterous and revolting to every sentiment of good order and decorum, than that every offender and offense should at the very offset be dragged into the public assembly. Persons who have the care of a congregation, the seniors whose age and experience have taught them prudence, ought to be first informed of such cases; and they ought not to lay a case before the congregation till they have prepared it for the action of the congregation. Every novice is not to feel himself at liberty to disturb the congregation by presenting, on his own responsibility and at his own discretion, a complaint against a brother, whether it be of a public or private nature.
But we are now speaking of the manner of procedure in such cases. The most tender regard for the feelings of all, the utmost sympathy for the offender, the most unyielding firmness in applying the correctives which the Head of the church has commanded, and the necessity of acting promptly in accordance with the law in the case, are matters of much importance.
No passion, no partiality, no bad feeling--nothing but love and piety, but faithfulness and truth; nothing but courtesy and gentleness, should ever appear in the house of God. And when any one is found guilty and excluded from the society, it should be done with all solemnity, and with prayer that the institution of Christ may be a blessing to the transgressor.
But evil-doers, or those who act not honorably according to the law of Christ, ought not to be tolerated in the professed family of God. Such persons are a dead weight on the whole society--spots in every feast of love, and blemishes upon the whole profession. One sinner destroys much good: yet separation or abscission, like amputation, is only to be used in the last stage, when all other remedies, of remonstrance and admonition, expostulation and entreaty, have failed. To prevent gangrene, or an injury to the whole body, amputation is a necessary, an indispensable remedy. More strictness, more firmness, and more tenderness in such cases, would add greatly to the moral influence of every society. A few persons walking together in the bonds of Christian affection, and under the discipline of Christ, is better than the largest assembly in which there are visibly and manifestly many who fear not God, and keep not his commandments.
In the house of God all should be purity, reverence, meekness, brotherly kindness and love. Confidence in the honesty and sincerity of our brethren, is the life of communion. To feel ourselves united with them who are determined for eternal life, and resolved to seek  first of all, chief of all, above all, the kingdom of heaven and the righteousness required in it, is most animating, comforting, exhilarating. But to be doubtful whether we are uniting with a mass of ignorance, corruption, and apathy, is as rottenness in the bones; love waxes cold, and then we have the form, without the power of godliness.
That the church may have a regenerating influence upon society at large, there is wanting a fuller display of Christian philanthropy in all her public meetings; care for the poor manifested in the liberality of her contributions; the expression of the most unfeigned sympathy for the distresses of mankind, not only among the brotherhood, but among all men; and an ardent zeal for the conversion of sinners proportioned to her professed appreciation of the value of her own salvation, and to her resources and means of enlightening the world on the things unseen and eternal. The full display of these attributes are the most efficient means of causing the gospel to sound abroad, and to achieve new conquests amongst our fellow citizens. The Christian health and vigor of every church is to be estimated more by her exertions and success in bringing sinners home to God, than by all her other attainments. Too long has it been considered the duty, the almost exclusive duty of the preacher, to convert the world. He must spend his time and wear out his constitution in journeyings and preachings, while the individual members of the church are to mind their own business, seek their own wealth and domestic comfort. He must endure the heat and the cold, forsake his wife and family, and commit the management of his affairs to others, while they have only to look on and pray for his success. Strange infatuation! Has he received a commission from the skies--has he been drafted out of the ranks to go to war, and they all left at home to take care of their wives and children! Some may believe this--some may imagine that it is his duty alone, to spend his time and his talents in this work, and theirs daily to labor for their own interest and behoof; but surely such are not the views and feelings of our brethren!
The work of the Lord will never progress--or, in other words, the regenerating influence of the church will amount to little or nothing, so long as it is thought to be not equally the duty of every member, but the special duty of one or two, denominated preachers, to labor for the Lord.
There is either a special call, a general call, or no call at all, to labor for the conversion of the world. If there be a few specially called, the rest have nothing to do but to mind their own concerns; "to seek their own things, and not the things of Jesus Christ." If none be called, then it is the duty of none, and the Lord has nothing for his people to do--no world to convert; or, at least, nothing for them to  do in that work. None of us are prepared for the consequences of either of these assumptions. It follows, then, that it is the duty of all to labor according to their respective abilities in this work. All are called to labor for the Lord. I hold that every citizen in Christ's kingdom is bound to take up arms for the King, as much as I am; and if he can not go to fight the battles of the Lord, he must take care of the wives and children of those who can, and who will fight for their King and country. But the expense of the war must be borne by the subjects of the crown; and as the Lord will not have any tax-gatherers in his kingdom, but accepts only voluntary contributions, he makes a mark over against the names of those who do nothing, and he will settle with them at his return. He calls even the contributions for the gospel made by those at home, "a fragrant odor, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God."
But we are afraid of doing any thing of this sort, lest we should be like some other people, who we think have acted imprudently. Strange, indeed, that when any thing has been once abused, it is never again to be used! But I have inadvertently strayed off from my purpose. The manner in which the brethren labor for the salvation of the world, is all that comes within our prescribed limits. On this, enough has been said. Let the brethren solemnly consider the things that are wanting to give to their meetings that influence which they ought to exert upon themselves and upon society at large.
We are as susceptible of receiving moral and religious advantages from our own good order and decorum in the congregation, as those who attend our meetings as spectators. And in this instance, as well as in all the variety of doing good, he that waters others is again watered in return; for he that blessed others, is always blessed in blessing them. None enjoy the blessings of the gospel more fully than they who are most active and influential in blessing others. What happy seasons are those in which we see many turning to the Lord! Now if we would have a perpetual feast, we must be perpetually devoted to the promotion of the happiness of others. We must live for God, as well as live to God.
In filling up these outlines, other matters still more minute, but perhaps equally important, will present themselves to the attention of the brethren. Now we can not set about these matters too soon The time has again come, when judgment must begin at the house of God. The people who have long enjoyed the word of life and the Christian institutions, must soon come to a reckoning. They must give an account of their stewardship, for the Lord has promised to call them to judgment. An era is just at the door, which will be known as the Regeneration for a thousand years to come. The Lord Jesus will judge that adulterous brood, and give them over to the  burning flame, who have broken the covenant, and formed alliances with the governments of the earth. Now the cry is heard in our land, "Come out of her, my people, that you partake not of her sins, and that you may not receive of her plagues." The Lord Jesus will soon rebuild Jerusalem, and raise up the tabernacle of David which has so long been in ruins. Let the church prepare herself for the return of her Lord, and see that she make herself ready for his appearance.
Alexander Campbell. "The Regeneration of the Church."
The Millennial Harbinger Extra 4 (August 1833): |
[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)