[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)
A WORD TO THE MORAL REGENERATORS OF THIS AGE.
God, our heavenly Father, works by means, as we all confess. His means are wisely adapted to the ends he has in view. His agents are the best agents for the work he has to accomplish. He employs not physical means nor agents for moral ends and purposes. Nor does he produce physical effects by moral means and agents. He has been pleased to employ not angels, but men in the work of regenerating the world. Men have written, printed, and published the gospel for nearly two thousand years. They have perpetuated it from generation to generation. They have translated it from language to language, and carried it from country to country. They have preached it in word and in deed, and thus has it come down to our days.
During the present administration of the Reign of Heaven no change is to be expected; no new mission is to be originated, no new order of preachers is to be instituted. The King has gone to a far country, and before his departure he called together his servants, and committed to them the management of his estate till he return. He has not yet come to reckon with them. They were commanded first to proclaim the doctrine of his reign; then to write it in a book, and  to commit it to faithful men who should be able to teach it correctly to others. By these faithful men the records have been kept; and through their vigilance and industry they have been guarded from corruption, interpolation, and change. One generation handed them over to the next; and if ignorant and unfaithful copyists neglected their duty, others more faithful have corrected them; and now we are able to hear the words which Jesus spoke, and to read the very periods penned by the Apostles.
Thus whatever the Prophets and the Apostles have achieved since their death, has been accomplished by human agents like ourselves. Where men have not carried this intelligence in speech or writing, not one of our race knows God or his anointed Saviour. No angel nor Holy Spirit has been sent to the Pagan nations: and God has exerted no power out of his word to enlighten or reclaim savage nations. These indisputable facts and truths have much moral meaning, and ought to give a strong impulse to our efforts to regenerate the world.
The best means of doing this is the object now before us; and this is one, the importance of which can not be easily exaggerated. There are three ways of proceeding in this case, which now seem to occupy a considerable share of public attention. These are properly called theorizing, declaiming, and preaching; on each of which we may offer a remark or two in passing.
The theorizers are those who are always speculating upon correct notions, or the true theory of conversion. They are great masters of method, and with some of them it is a ruinous error to place faith before regeneration, or repentance after faith. Heresy, with these, is the derangement of the method which they have proposed for God to work by in converting the sinner. And the true faith which is connected with salvation is apprehension of this theory and acquiescence in it. These are all theorists, heady, or speculative Christians; and with them the whole scheme of redemption is a splendid theory. These are all cold-hearted and light-headed Christians. "Take off their heads," as a Methodist declaimer once said, "and you have got all their religion!"
Our maxim is, Theory for the Doctors, and medicine for the sick. Doctors fatten on theories, but the patients die who depend on theory for cure. A few grains of practice is worth a pound of theory. The mason and the carpenter build the house by rule; but he that inhabits it lives by eating and drinking. No man ever was cured physically, politically, morally, or religiously by learning a correct theory of his physical, political, moral, or religious malady. As soon might we expect to heal an ulcer on the liver by a discourse upon that organ, its functions, its diseases, and their cure, as to restore a sinner by  means of the theory of faith, repentance, regeneration, or effectual calling. But on this enough has already been said, and more than is necessary to convince those who can think, and who dare to reason on such themes.
The declaimers are not those only who eulogize virtue and reprobate vice; but that large and respectable class who address themselves to the passions, to the hopes and fears of men. They are those who are so rhetorical upon the joys of heaven and the terrors of hell: who horrify, terrify, and allure by the strength of their descriptions, the flexions of their voices, the violence of their gestures, and their touching anecdotes. Their hearers are either dissolved in tears or frantic with terror. These talk much about the heart; and on their theory if a man's heart was extracted, all his religion would be extracted with it. The religion of their converts flows in their blood, and has its foundation in their passions.
The preachers, properly so called, first address themselves to the understanding by a declaration or narrative of the wonderful works of God. They state, illustrate, and prove the great facts of the gospel; they lay the whole record before their hearers; and when they have testified what God has done, what he has promised, and threatened, they exhort their hearers on these premises, and persuade them to obey the gospel, to surrender themselves to the guidance and direction of the Son of God. They address themselves to the whole man, his understanding, his will and his affections, and approach the heart by taking the citadel of the understanding.
The accomplished and wise proclaimer of the word will find it always expedient to address his audience in their proper character; to approach them through their prejudices, and never to find fault with those prepossessions which are not directly opposed to the import and design of the ministry of reconciliation. He will set before them the models found in the sacred history, which show that the same discourse is not to be preached in every place and to every assembly, even when it is necessary to proclaim the same gospel. Paul's addresses to the Athenians, Lycaonians, Antiochans, to Felix, the Jailor, and king Agrippa, are full of instruction on this topic.
Augustine has written a treatise on preaching, which Luther proposed to himself as a model; but it is said that Augustine fell as far short of his own precepts as did any of his contemporaries. We all can with more facility give precepts to others, than conform to them ourselves. In Augustine's treatise, which in some respects influenced and formed the style and plan of Luther, and through him all the Protestants, there is much said on the best rhetorical mode of exhibiting the truth to others; but it savors more of the art of the schoolmen,  than of the wisdom of the Apostles. He labors more on the best style and mode of expressing oneself, than on the things to be said.
Our best precepts in this matter are derived rather from the books of Deuteronomy and Nehemiah, than from any other source out of the New Testament. The book of Deuteronomy may be regarded as a series of sermons or discourses, delivered to the Jews by their great teacher, Moses, rather than as a part of the Jewish history. Two things in this book deserve great attention. The first is the simplicity, fullness, and particularity of his narratives of the incidents on the journey through the wilderness;--God's doings and theirs, for the last forty years, are faithfully and intelligibly laid before them. The next is the use made of these facts; the conclusions deduced, the arguments drawn, and the exhortations tendered from these facts. For a fair and beautiful specimen of this, let the curious reader take up and carefully read the first four chapters of the book of Deuteronomy. The fact and the application, the argument and the exhortation, after the manner of Moses, can not fail to instruct him.
The writings of the scribes during the captivity, teach us how to address a people that have lost the true meaning of the oracles of God. The readings, expositions, exhortations and prayers of Ezra and Nehemiah, are full of instruction to Christians in these days of our Babylonish captivity. To address a people long accustomed to hearing the Scriptures, yet ignorant of them, and consequently disobedient, is a matter that requires all the wisdom and prudence which can be acquired from Jewish and Christian records.
The manner of address, next to the matter of it, is most important. The weightiest arguments, the most solemn appeals, the most pathetic expostulations, if not sustained by the gravity, sincerity, and piety of the speaker, will be like water spilled upon the ground. A little levity, a few witticisms, a sarcastic air, a conceited attitude, or a harsh expression, will often neutralize all the excellencies of the most Scriptural and edifying discourse. The great work of regenerating men is too solemn, too awfully grave and divine, to allow anything of the sort. Humility, sincerity, devotion, and all benevolence in aspect, as well as in language, are essential to a successful proclamation of the great facts of the Living Oracles. He that can smile in his discourse at the follies, need not weep over the misfortunes of the ignorant and superstitious. He that can, while preaching the gospel, deride and ridicule the errors of his fellow-professors, is, for the time being, disqualified to persuade them to accept the truth, or gladly to receive the message of salvation.
Those preachers have been sadly mistaken who have sought popularity by their eccentricities, and courted smiles rather that souls;--who, by their anecdotes and foolish jests, told with the Bible before  them, have thought to make themselves useful by making themselves ridiculous--and to regenerate men by teaching them how to violate the precepts of the gospel, and to disdain the examples of the Great Teacher and his Apostles.
It will not do. These are the weapons of this world, and no part of the armor of light. Jesus and his Apostles never sanctioned, by precept or example, such a course, and it is condemned by all sensible men, whether Jews or Gentiles, professors or profane.
In attempting to regenerate men, we must place before them the new man, not the old man, in the preacher as well as in the discourse; and while we seek out arguments to convince and allure them, we must show them in our speech and behaviour that we believe what we preach. So did all the Apostles and Evangelists. They commended themselves to every man's conscience, in the sight of Jesus Christ.
Error must be attacked. It must be opposed by the truth. But it may be asked, whether the darkness may not be more easily dissipated by the introduction of light, than by elaborate discourses upon its nature and attributes? So with moral darkness, or error. To dissipate it most effectually, the easiest and readiest way is to introduce the light of truth. No preacher is obliged to learn all the errors of all ages, that he may be able to oppose them; nor is a congregation enlightened in the knowledge of God by such expositions of error. Present opposing errors may require attention; but, to attack these most successfully it is only necessary to enforce the opposing truths.
This is a very grave subject, and requires very grave attention. Much depends upon a rational and Scriptural decision of the question, Which is the most effectual way to oppose and destroy error? To aid us in such an inquiry, it is necessary to examine how the Prophets and Apostles opposed the errors of their times. The world was as full of error in those days as it has ever been since. The idolatries of the Pagan world, and the various doctrines of the sects of philosophers, in, and out, of the land of Israel, threw as much labor into their hands as the various heresies of apostate Christendom have thrown into ours. Their general rule was to turn the artillery of light, and to gather into a focus the arrows of day, upon the dark shades of any particular error. Their philosophy was--The splendors of light most clearly display the blackness of darkness, and scatter it from its presence. Thus they opposed idolatry, superstition, and error of every name. Going forth in the armor of light, as the sun in the morning, the shades of the night retired from their presence, and the cheering beams of day so gladdened the eyes of their converts that they loved darkness no more. Let us go and do likewise. 
An intimate acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures is the best furniture for the work of regenerating men. The best piece I have found in the celebrated treatise of Augustine on preaching is the following:--
He then, who handles and teaches the word of God, should be a defender of the true faith, and a vanquisher of error; should both teach what is good, and unteach what is bad; and in accomplishing this, the object of preaching, he should conciliate the adverse, excite the remiss, and pour out to the ignorant their duty and future prospects. When, however, he finds his audience favorably disposed, attentive, and docile, or succeeds in rendering them so, then other things are to be done, as the case may require. If they are to be instructed then, to make them acquainted with the subject in question, narration must be employed; and to establish what is doubtful, resort must be had to reasoning and evidence. If they are to be removed rather than instructed, then, to arouse them from stupor in putting their knowledge into practice, and bring them to yield full assent to those things which they confess to be true, there will be need of the higher powers of eloquence; it will be necessary to entreat, reprove, excite, restrain, and do whatsoever else may prove effectual in moving the heart.
All this, indeed, is what most men constantly do, with respect to those things which they undertake to accomplish by speaking. Some, however, in their way of doing it, are blunt, frigid, inelegant; others, ingenious, ornate, vehement. Now he who engages in the business of which I am treating, must be able to speak and dispute with wisdom, even if he can not do so with eloquence, in order that he may profit his audience, although he will profit them less in this case, than if he could combine wisdom and eloquence together. He who abounds in eloquence without wisdom, is certainly so much the more to be avoided, from the very fact that the hearer is delighted with what it is useless to hear, and thinks what is said, to be true, because it is spoken with elegance. Nor did this sentiment escape the notice of those among the ancients, who yet regarded it as important to teach the art of rhetoric; they confessed, that wisdom without eloquence profited states but very little, but that eloquence without wisdom profited them not at all, and generally proved highly injurious. If, therefore, those who taught the precepts of eloquence, even though ignorant of the true, that is, the celestial wisdom "which cometh down from the Father of lights," were compelled by the instigations of truth to make such a confession, and that, too, in the very books in which their principles were developed; are we not under far higher obligations to acknowledge the same thing, who are the sons and daughters of this heavenly wisdom? Now a man speaks with greater or less wisdom, according to the proficiency he has made in the sacred Scriptures. I do not mean in reading them and committing them to memory, but in rightly understanding them, and diligently searching into their meaning. There are those who read them and yet neglect them--who read them to remember the words, but neglect to understand them. To these, without any doubt, those persons are to be preferred, who, retaining less of the words of the Scriptures, search after their genuine signification with the inmost feelings of the heart. But better than both is he, who can repeat them when he pleases, and at the same time understand them as they ought to be understood.--From the Biblical Repository, p. 574. 
Luther's favorite maxim was, "Bonus Textuarius, Bonus Theologus;" or, one well acquainted with the Scriptures makes a good theologian.
There is one thing, above all others, which must never be lost sight of by him who devotes himself to the work of regeneration. This all-important consideration is, that the end and object of all his labors is to impress the moral image of God upon the moral nature of man. To draw this image upon the heart, to transform the mind of man into the likeness of God in all moral feeling, is the end proposed in the remedial system. The mould into which the mind of man is to be cast is the Apostles' doctrine; or the seal by which this impression i:: to be made is the testimony of God. The gospel facts are like so many types, which, when scientifically arranged by an accomplished compositor, make a complete form, upon which, when the mind of man is placed by the power which God has given to the preacher, every type makes its full impression upon the heart. There is written upon the understanding, and engraved upon the heart, the will, or law, or character of our Father who is in heaven.
The Apostles were these accomplished compositors, who gave us a perfect "form of sound words." Our instrumentality consists in bringing the minds of men to this form, or impressing it upon their hearts. To do this most effectually, the preacher or evangelist must have the word of Christ dwelling in him richly, in all wisdom; and he must "study to show himself an approved workman, irreproachable, rightly dividing the word of truth." He that is most eloquent and wise in the Holy Scriptures, he who has them most at command, will have the most power with men; because being furnished with the words of the Holy Spirit, he has the very arguments which the Spirit of God chooses to employ in quickening the dead, in converting sinners. For to the efficiency of the living word not only Paul deposes, but James and Peter also bear ample testimony. "Of his own will he has begot us, by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of his creatures" (Jas. 1. 18). "Having been regenerated, not by corruptible seed, but by incorruptible, through the word of the living God, which remains" (I. Pet. 1. 23). To the fruits of his labors, such a preacher with Paul may say, "To Jesus Christ, through the gospel, I have regenerated, or begotten you."
Thus, in the midst of numerous interruptions, we have attempted to lay before the minds of our readers the whole doctrine of Regeneration, in all its length and breadth, in the hope that after a more particular attention to its meaning and value, by the blessing of God, they may devote themselves more successfully to this great work; and not only enjoy more of the Holy Spirit themselves, but be more useful in forwarding the moral regeneration of the world. 
To God our Father, through the great Author of the Christian faith, who has preserved us in health in this day of affliction and great distress, be everlasting thanks for the renewing of our minds by the Holy Spirit, and for the hope of the regeneration of our bodies, of the heavens and of the earth, at the appearance of the Almighty Regenerator, who comes to make all things new! Amen.
Alexander Campbell. "A Word to the Moral Regenerators of This Age."
The Millennial Harbinger Extra 4 |
[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)