Great Texts of the Bible
Victory over the World
And this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith.—1 John 5:4.
1. These words occur in a letter written by St. John to all the different Christian communities in the cities and towns of the Empire. These little churches or congregations consisted of men and women of humble position, little or no wealth, not much learning, not much influence, and they were found in cities given up for the most part to modes of life wholly incompatible with Christianity. The little Christian communities had gone through the severest persecutions. Hundreds and thousands of Christians had been put to death for refusal to worship the Roman Emperor; they were condemned as disloyal subjects, as atheists—because they had no image of their God—as secret conspirators. The power of Rome was irresistible. They were surrounded with a society which tolerated evils and vices which would shock them, and on which at present they had made little or no impression. There was wild extravagance of luxury, and abject poverty and starvation side by side, with no poor law, no hospitals, and but very slender private charities. There was a cruelty towards slaves and children which was so common that it had ceased to shock people. There were vices which cannot be named, against which Christians set their faces like flint. This was the world that St. John saw, and these were the little communities to whom he wrote. And what he said was: “This is the victory that over-cometh the world, even our faith.” Is it not an amazing, a sublime audacity, to say that the faith of these little insignificant churches was overcoming this great powerful world of Roman armies, pagan vices, and heathen cruelties and superstitions? Yet this is what St. John says: “Our faith is overcoming this world.”
2. Of all the Apostles there was none that dwelt so constantly on “overcoming” as St. John. One can see that the idea of battle and triumph runs through his Epistles, as well as through the Book of Revelation. It is he that speaks of “overcoming the wicked one”; it is he that records those glorious promises which we find in the Epistles to the Seven Churches, promises that belong to the overcoming one. In all these references we have the thought of a victorious power overcoming a mighty, perpetual, opposing force. And yet, what is St. John’s ideal of the Christian life? Is it one of feverish excitement and strain? No, it is the very opposite of this. He more than all the disciples had learned the secret of the rest of faith; he knew what it was to abide under the shadow of the Almighty. He it was that learned the meaning of the paradox that the secret of all real activity is stillness of soul, and that the condition of continuous victory is an attitude of repose on the power of God. Well, that teaches us that the man who knows most about victorious conflict is not the man of restless energy and intense human activity, but the man who realizes his own weakness and knows fully what it is to rest in Divine omnipotence. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”
The World that Challenges the Believer
1. What is the world? The term rendered “world” means properly “arrangement”; and is then applied to the universe of created things in its orderly and systematic conformation, as opposed to the confusion of the original chaos. In all this, however, the idea is rather that of God’s handiwork than of God’s antagonist: in this sense, the world is not God’s enemy, but God’s witness. The term passed, however, in the hands of the inspired writers, into a designation of things visible and temporal, the state of things that now is, and the persons who have their treasure, their home, and their all, in it, as opposed to things spiritual and eternal, the state of things that shall be, and the persons who belong, even in this life, as to their home and higher being, to that Heaven in which God dwells. The world thus became a brief title for all that is not God nor of God, all that is earthly, sensual, and evil, all that tempts to sin, and all those who live without God, apart from God, or in enmity against God.
In the Apostle’s time, the world meant, no doubt, the whole mass of human society, with the exception of the handfuls here and there of those who had embraced the Christian faith. The line of separation between the Christian and the non-Christian elements of society could be readily and sharply drawn. But it is not so now. The Church has leavened the world; the world has leavened the Church. The non-Christian element of society is no longer a distinct and definable aggregation of men. The world exists, but it is, so to speak, no longer visible and separable. Its existence is as real, but its form is vaguer. It is the sum of the many forces, principles, and tendencies which oppose and counteract the progress of the spirit and the spiritual. It exists not only among us, but in us. It is all that part of each one of us which gives a more or less active resistance to growth in goodness, in knowledge, and in sympathy; the sum of the influences of fashion, and prejudice, and selfishness: “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”1 [Note: Memorials of Edwin Hatch, 4.]
The world of the nineteenth century is very different indeed from that of the first. There is no Nero or Domitian now on the world’s throne; there is no Coliseum with its hungry lions, and with its hungrier, crueller crowd of brutes in human form, to gloat over the sufferings of their innocent victims. The fight of faith is in another region, perhaps a harder one for us, for it was not of a lesser but of a greater conflict that the Apostle spoke when he said, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” The wrestling of the nineteenth century has been of that high and difficult kind; the great foe has been Materialism, uttering itself in sceptical thought on the one hand, and in selfish luxury on the other. The world which is faith’s antagonist has laid aside in our day its bludgeons, and all its apparatus of torture and intimidation, and has taken up instead flute, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of music to soothe conscience and to allure along the flowery paths of inglorious ease to sunless gulfs of ignominious death. And it is unutterably sad to think what multitudes allow their faith to lose all its fibre, and permit the aspirations and enthusiasm of youth to die down into the dullest commonplace, till they find satisfaction enough for their immortal spirits in coining their hearts, and dropping their blood for drachmas. Not the ferocious dragon of the Revelation, but the insidious Mammon installed in our time as the prince of the power of the air, and his wiles are as much to be dreaded as the ferocity of the beast.1 [Note: J. Munro Gibson.]
This is the world of which Carlyle said, “Understand it, despise it, loathe it; but cheerfully hold on thy way through it with thine eye on the highest loadstars.” This is the world of which Horace Walpole wrote, “It is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.” This is the world of which Wordsworth wrote:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.
2. This world is a gigantic power, not easily resisted. It is not a thing of yesterday: it is a tradition of many ages, of many civilizations, which, after flowing on in the great current of human history, has come down, charged with the force of an accumulated prestige, even to us. To this great tradition of regulated ungodliness each generation adds something; something of force, something of refinement, something of social or intellectual power. The world is Protean in its capacity for taking new forms. Sometimes it is a gross idol-worship; sometimes it is a military empire; sometimes it is a cynical school of philosophers; sometimes it is the indifference of a blasé society, which agrees in nothing but in proscribing earnestness. The Church conquered it in the form of the pagan empire. But the world had indeed had its revenge when it could point to such Popes as were Julius ii., or Alexander vi., or Leo x.; to such courts as were those of Louis xiv. or Charles ii.; for it had throned itself at the heart of the victorious Church. So now between the world and Christendom there is no hard and fast line of demarcation. The world is within the fold, within the sanctuary, within the heart, as well as without. It sweeps round each soul like a torrent of hot air, and makes itself felt at every pore of the moral system. Not that the world is merely a point of view, a mood of thought, a temper or frame of mind, having no actual, or, as we should say, no objective existence. It has an independent existence. Just as the Kingdom of God exists whether we belong to it or no, and yet, if we do belong to it, is, as our Lord has told us, within us as an atmosphere of moral power and light; so the world, the kingdom of another being, exists, whether we belong to it or no, although our belonging to it is a matter of inward motives and character. The world penetrates like a subtle atmosphere in Christendom, while in heathendom it is organized as a visible system. But it is the same thing at bottom. It is the essential spirit of corrupt human life, taking no serious account of God, either forgetting Him altogether, or putting something in His place, or striking a balance between His claims and those of His antagonists. And thus friendship with it is “enmity with God,” who will have our all. And a first duty in His servants is to free themselves from its power, or, as St. John says, to overcome it.
(1) Sometimes the world brings its power to bear on us by direct assault. In the first ages of the Church, when it was confessedly pagan, it made great use of this instrument for enforcing its supremacy. It imprisoned and killed Christians from the days of Nero to the days of Diocletian. It persecuted by social exclusiveness, by inflicting loss of property and position, by bodily tortures and by death. The mildest forms of persecution are all, thank God, that are now possible in this country, but if a man be deprived of advantages which he would otherwise have enjoyed, if he be met by a cold bow or a vacant gaze where he expects a cordial greeting, if he feels, in short, that he is under a social ban, and all this because he has dared to obey his conscience where obedience has been unwelcome or unpopular, he is, to all intents and purposes, persecuted. And if he can stand this persecution patiently, calmly, silently, so much the better for him. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness, sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” But how is he to stand it? By “seeing him who is invisible.” Who that has had to undergo a painful operation does not know the support that is derived from holding the hand of a friend who stands by, full of love and sympathy, till all is over? And faith links the hands of the persecuted with the very hand of Christ. “Fear not,” He says, “for I am with thee. I have called thee by my name: thou art mine.” And it is thus that the world, when it has done its very worst, is vanquished.
(2) The world assails us by offers of compromise, by appealing to our interests, our desires, our passions. It seeks to throw its spell over us. As music charms the ear, so do the world’s honours, applause and popularity the hearts of many. Over some they exercise an irresistible sway. Over all they are mighty. There are few who can bear, without a sense of pain, the turning away from them of the world’s favour. It may be regarded as a test of the strength and sincerity of one’s religion, that one can bear without wincing the frown or scorn of the world. It requires more than human strength to contend against and overcome that for which we have a warm desire. But the more we delight in the favour and approval of God, the less will we care for that of the world. The approbation of God and our own consciences is a better support than all the smiles the world can bestow.
(3) The world seizes the opportunity of attacking us when we are worn out by manifold cares and duties and troubles. Its influence is continuous and persistent. It seeks to absorb us. How many notable housewives, busy from morning to night with their household affairs, their children, their servants, could tell us that they scarce can find a minute to read the Bible, or to stop and think where they are going; and that at morning they are so anxious to get to the avocations of the day, and at evening so completely wearied and worn out, that they have not time or heart for prayer! How many a toiling, anxious man, working and scheming to make ends meet, and to maintain his children, and to advance them in life, has not a thought to spare for the other world—for his own soul’s eternal destiny, or for the eternal destiny of those he holds dear! It is when we are “careful and troubled about many things,” that we are ready to forget that “one thing is needful.”
The world overcomes us, not merely by appealing to our reason, or by exciting our passions, but by imposing on our imagination. So much do the systems of men swerve from the truth as set forth in Scripture that their very presence becomes a standing fact against Scripture, even when our reason condemns them, by their persevering assertions, and they gradually overcome those who set out by contradicting them. In all cases, what is often and unhesitatingly asserted at length finds credit with the mass of mankind; and so it happens, in this instance, that, admitting as we do from the first that the world is one of our three chief enemies; maintaining, rather than merely granting, that the outward face of things speaks a different language from the word of God; yet, when we come to act in the world, we find this very thing a trial, not merely of our obedience, but even of our faith; that is, the mere fact that the world turns out to be what we began by actually confessing concerning it.1 [Note: J. H. Newman, Oxford University Sermons, 122.]
One of the severest trials of Gladstone’s life was the assassination of his trusted lieutenant and most intimate personal friend, Lord Frederick Cavendish. And it is pathetic to be told that in the stress of duty and responsibility following on this tragedy he referred sadly to the impossibility of dwelling on his loss as one of the penalties of his position. But think of the faith that could so rise superior to a gnawing grief as to be in no wise unfitted by it for the closest thought and most assiduous application. It is an illustration of the restful side of his faith.2 [Note: J. Munro Gibson.]
3. If the world is not being overcome by us, then we are being overcome by the world. It is like a stream. We are either going up against the stream, or we are being carried down by the current. When is it that the world is conquering us? When we are induced to accept its views, its maxims, instead of the principles of God’s holy word; when we are influenced by the opinion of men and by the spirit of the age. The world is conquering us when it is petrifying all our desires after God, when it chills all our aspirations upward, and when it steals out of our hearts the very inclination to pray to God and to listen to His voice. The world is overcoming us when it fills us with the fear of man, so that we are afraid to speak for Christ, and are dumb. The world is conquering us when it fills us with love of earthly things, and leads us to set our affections upon things below.
This is the victory wherewith the world overcomes us, even our doubt. The world has a principle, a bond of union, a faith; and the world must conquer us if we have none. It is necessary that we should keep hold of this truth, which we have, it would seem, almost forgotten, that faith is meant to defend us, not to be defended, to be an active principle within us, not the dead body round which the battle rages. Faith and religion ought to be our weapons of warfare, the instruments by which we are to do our duty. But how far will our present faith answer to this definition? “A man’s religion consists not,” as Carlyle has said, “of the many things he is in doubt of, and tries to believe, but of the few he is assured of, and has no need of effort for believing.”3 [Note: A. T. Lyttelton, in Keble College Sermons, 1877–1888, p. 193.]
The world, which he defined as “the activities of this life with God left out,” seemed to him to invade everything in London, even the Church, tempting some of the clergy to aim at success and popularity, and become absorbed in efforts to gather large congregations around them by competing in attractions with neighbouring churches.
“We have moved to London House till Easter. It makes my work easier for me, as I have not so much travelling. It also brings me more visitors and makes me feel more in the world. But oh! how much world there is! The devil and the flesh are not nearly so dangerous combined. The trial of a bishop is that he is always engaged in outside matters. I really rejoice in Confirmations, which bring me into contact with the young. I do not find so many human beings in London as there were at Peterborough.”
“I am perpetually overwhelmed with work. I have to express more opinions than I have time to verify. I am in the very centre of all that is worldly. I am exposed to all the most deteriorating influences. All that I can do is to realize these facts, and try to possess my soul as well as I can.”1 [Note: Life and Letters of Mandell Creighton, ii. 224.]
Just when we are safest, there’s a sunset-touch,
A fancy from a flower-bell, some one’s death,
A chorus-ending from Euripides,—
And that’s enough for fifty hopes and fears
As old and new at once as nature’s self,
To rap and knock and enter in our soul,
Take hands and dance there, a fantastic ring,
Round the ancient idol, on his base again,—
The grand Perhaps! We look on helplessly.
There the old misgivings, crooked questions are—
This good God,—what He could do, if He would.
Would, if He could—then must have done long since:
If so, when, where and how? some way must be,—
Once feel about, and soon or late you hit
Some sense, in which it might be, after all.
Why not, “The Way, the Truth, the Life”?2 [Note: Browning, Bishop Blougram’s Apology.]
The Faith that Conquers the World
1. Faith is not a new faculty conferred upon the soul, but the quickening and expansion of a faculty that we already possess. Cold iron is precisely identical with iron heated in the fire; but though the metal is the same, the fire that has entered into it entirely transforms its condition, and endows it with a new power. And the fire also, by entering the iron, takes upon itself new action, making of the metal a vehicle of its dynamic potency. So does the Spirit of God take and transfuse and transform our ordinary faculties for His own great ends.
Thus faith is the conquering principle in religion. For Christian faith is not a thing apart from one’s ordinary human nature and imposed upon it from without; it is the expansion of an original inherent moral quality, common to us all; it is the spiritualization of a natural faculty; it is the daily energizing, vitalizing power in which we live and do our best work, brought into contact with the Divine power. So glorified, it overcomes the world—the worldly spirit with its carnal aims, countless temptations, and unholy methods, being the hardest there is to overcome. But even unglorified, it has this overcoming power, and if we only come to see this clearly, we shall not find so much difficulty in transferring to the life of religion a quality which we have learnt to regard as the supreme essential in every secular sphere.
Without belonging to any religious communion, Renan has his full share of religious feeling. Though he himself does not believe, he is infinitely apt at seizing all the delicate shades of the popular creeds. I may perhaps be understood when I say that faith does not possess him, but that he possesses faith.1 [Note: Anatole France, On Life and Letters, 284.]
2. The virtue of faith lies in its object. Faith is in itself nothing better than an organ, an instrument; and it derives its character entirely from that upon which it is fixed. The adorable majesty of God, His omnipotence, holiness, and love, His nature, so far as it has been revealed to us, the union of perfect God and perfect Man in the person of Jesus, the full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction offered by Him for the sins of the whole world, the free and gracious offers of pardon which are made in Him, His mediatorial sovereignty over the world, the secret and mysterious workings of God the Holy Ghost—these are the objects proposed to faith, upon which, if we fix the eye of the soul, we shall assuredly have power to overcome the world in the strength of that Divine vision. And in all this there is one central figure, even the Son of God made very Man, nailed to the Cross, pouring forth His precious blood for our sakes and in our stead, and then in triumph risen, exalted, crowned, sitting on the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
The Power is all in Christ. Faith is the link that binds us to Him. Is there any power in faith? None whatever. Is there any power in a railway coupling? No; but look at these carriages, look at that train, look at that locomotive. Where is the power? You see it moving along, and you say, “All the power is in the locomotive.” Well, how do these carriages manage to get along if it is all there? You say: “There is a coupling, a link, a very simple thing.” There is no power in the coupling, but it links the power in the locomotive with the carriages, and if you break the link, all the power is gone.1 [Note: E. Hopkins, in The Keswick Week, 1900, p. 27.]
People say, “Lord, increase our faith.” Did not the Lord rebuke His disciples for that prayer? He said, “You do not want a great faith, but faith in a great God. If your faith were as small as a grain of mustard-seed, it would suffice to remove this mountain!”2 [Note: Hudson Taylor.]
3. The faith that conquers is a personal force or power in the soul. Not only does the truth conquer all that is false; not only does union with our invincible head make our victory sure; but we also conquer in the exercise of a personal faith, sustaining us in all the conflicts in which we engage. Such was the faith of Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and all the host of worthies whose names and deeds illustrate the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It was by faith that “Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” It was by faith that “Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” It was by faith that he chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” It was by faith that he esteemed “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.” Faith made men strong, courageous, and capable of daring exploits. Through faith common men subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword. By faith Joseph exercised self-restraint, regarded sin as an offence to God, and said, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” By faith men still overcome temptations, endure cruel mockings and scourgings, bear privations and tortures, discharge duties, lay aside besetting sins, achieve the mastery over themselves and all their enemies.
Faith is not the mere sum of probabilities, conjecture, or reasonings of any kind.… It implies the action of the affections and of the will, the exercise of all those inner powers of our being which the Hebrews called “the Heart.”1 [Note: Edward King, 120.]
Often enough our faith beforehand in an uncertified result is the only thing that makes the result come true. Suppose, for instance, that you are climbing a mountain, and have worked yourself into a position from which the only escape is by a terrible leap. Have faith that you can successfully make it, and your feet are nerved to its accomplishment. But mistrust yourself, and think of all the sweet things you have heard the scientists say of maybes, and you will hesitate so long that, at last, all unstrung and trembling, and launching yourself in a moment of despair, you roll in the abyss.2 [Note: W. James, The Will to Believe, 59.]
Yet over sorrow and over death
Cometh at last a song that saith—
“This, this is the victory,
Even our faith.”
Love maketh all the crooked straight,
And love bringeth love to all that wait,
And laughter and light and dewy tear
To the hard, blind eyes of Fate.
All shall look tenderly yet and free
Outside over the lea,
And deep within the heart of me.
4. The Apostle speaks of the victory in the past tense, as if it were already accomplished. Our Lord Himself exclaimed, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” These words were uttered by Him in the Upper Room in that hour when the burden of a great mystery rested upon Him, when He stood beneath the chilling shadow of the Cross itself before He descended into the valley of the Kidron, and crossing the brook, entered into Gethsemane, there amid the shadows of the Garden to pray more and more earnestly. Thus, before the conflict had as yet reached a deadly heat, the note of victory was sounded. This was the joyous anticipation of One who knew that virtually the conflict was now over. That fact was the inspiring assurance which He gave to His disciples. They, too, would have very similar tribulations, though not in the same degree, but those troubles would not necessarily mean defeat to them. He had conquered the world, why need they therefore be dispirited? The fact that He had conquered was the pledge of their final victory if they were His. He had supplied the great precedent. The world henceforth would be a conquered world. It would to the end of time have to acknowledge one total defeat at least. Christ, moreover, identified Himself with His followers, so that His conquering power should be also manifested in them.
5. The text does not say that faith is the means by which the world is overcome. It does not say that by faith the battle is fought and the victory is gained. It says that faith is the victory itself. It does not bid us marshal our forces against the world. It does not command us to contend with this or that evil. It does not require us to array on one side faith and on the other the world, and assure us that when the weary fight is done, through blood and toil and bitter contest, the latter shall be overcome. It draws us up into a higher plane. It leaves the world far below. It lets it move on for the time unheeded. It does not care for its hurried rush, its shout of defiance, its cry of victory. It places before the soul the eternal realities—heaven and hell, life and death, the power of the sacraments, the influence of prayer, the ministrations of the angels, the watchful love of an overruling Providence, and, above them all and in them all, the Incarnate Saviour uniting man and human nature to the Eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Three in One and One in Three.
The one victory over the world is to bend it to serve me in the highest things—the attainment of a clearer vision of the Divine nature, the attainment of a deeper love to God Himself, and of a more glad consecration and service to Him. That is the victory—when you can make the world a ladder to lift you to God. That is its right use, that is victory, when all its tempting voices do not draw you away from listening to the Supreme Voice that bids you keep His commandments. When the world comes between you and God as an obscuring screen, it has conquered you. When the world comes between you and God as a transparent medium, you have conquered it. To win victory is to get it beneath your feet and stand upon it, and reach up thereby to God.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
One of our famous philosophers tells of an Italian who was placed upon the rack to secure a confession, and who bore the agony with courage by crying out continually: “I see it, I see it.” What did he see? The victim explained afterwards that he had conjured up the direr punishment that awaited him if he revealed his secret. He used the thought and vision of the scaffold to turn his mind away from the consciousness of present pain. So by looking at things which are not seen, men and women have borne the greatest hardships, and triumphed over the fiercest foes. And if it be the case that fear can in a measure expel the sense of pain and make torture tolerable, what will the passion of a great and thrilling love not do? Faith is the link that brings our love into contact with the Eternal Love, that puts us alongside the infinite resources of God. It is
The desire of the moth for the star
Of the night for the morrow,
The devotion to something afar
From the sphere of our sorrow.
(1) Faith has been conquering the world of ignorance and error by the promulgation of truth, which is the law of the intellectual life. There is now a lessening tendency to acquiesce in what is false, a growing tendency to find out what is true. Men are beginning to regard facts rather than opinions, the things that are rather than the things that are imagined. New tracks are being opened up, and every step of the old tracks is being resurveyed. This spirit of investigation is the spirit of Christianity. There are, no doubt, unbelievers in the manifoldness of the works and ways of God, who take every discovery as a fresh rebuff, who would put chains upon the feet of every traveller into the domain of science or of history, lest his report of what is to be found there should be different from their own or other men’s dreams. But the number of such timorous doubters is lessening; the number of believers in truth is increasing.
When Dr. Lazeer, in Cuba, made up his mind by experiment that yellow fever was propagated solely through the bite of a mosquito, and gave his life in supreme testimony to this truth, the world not only added one more undying name to her roll of heroes, but began forthwith to act upon the new knowledge sanctified by this sacred test.1 [Note: D. Scudder, The Passion for Reality, 45.]
What thou of God and of thyself dost know,
So know that none can force thee to forego;
For oh! his knowledge is a worthless art,
Which, forming of himself no vital part,
The foremost man he meets with readier skill
In sleight of words, can rob him of at will.
Faith feels not for her lore more sure nor less,
If all the world deny it or confess:
Did the whole world exclaim, “Like Solomon,
Thou sittest high on Wisdom’s noblest throne,”
She would not, than before, be surer then,
Nor draw more courage from the assent of men.
Or did the whole world cry, “O fond and vain!
What idle dream is this which haunts thy brain?”
To the whole world Faith boldly would reply,
“The whole world can, but I can never, lie.”2 [Note: R. C. Trench, Poems, 315.]
(2) Faith has been conquering the world of selfishness, by erecting the republic of unselfishness, by spreading the spirit of love, which is the law of social life. There is a greater desire now to relieve the burdens of the afflicted and the poor, an increasing effort to reform the criminal, a growing admission of the possible variety of human beliefs, a lessening disposition to settle all international disputes by the terrible decision of war, a growth of the mutual respect which is the parent of liberty—for the mutual respect of each for each means the common liberty of all. The growth of this is a growth of Christian influence, and of the Christian temper: it is a victory of “our faith,” for it is the victory of Christian love.
Alexander the Great, when he was master of the whole world, was the greatest slave within it, for he was discontented even with his victories; the pride of conquest held him in captivity by its iron chain. No; he who aims at the highest greatness in this world may only be more greatly selfish than the rest of mankind, and what is that but to be really little? He is truly great who is the most unselfish, and he is the least of all who lives for himself alone.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
In the Patriarchate of Antioch there is a marvellous memorial to the victory of Christianity. In the centre of it, in a mountain region not far from Antioch, are to be found the ruins of one hundred and fifty cities within a space of thirty or forty leagues. In the most glorious days of Christianity, when it ruled the Roman world, these Christian cities were invaded by either the Persians or the Saracens, and, as the story goes, forsaken by their inhabitants in a single night. Twelve hundred years have passed away since then, and, in spite of time and earthquake and the burning Syrian sun, the traveller who visits them scarce dares to call them ruins. Not as thoroughly preserved, indeed, as Pompeii or Herculaneum, they still tell the story of Christian civilization in the days when the Church had recently won its victory over persecution and tyranny. The signs of comfort and of peace appear on all sides. Bath-houses and stables, balconies and shaded porticoes, winepresses, and even jars for preserving wine, yet remain. Still are to be seen magnificent churches, supported by columns, flanked by towers, surrounded by splendid tombs. Crosses and monograms of Christ are sculptured on most of the doors, and numerous inscriptions may be read upon the monuments. He who has visited Pompeii, with its sad record of the refinement and corruption of Rome, cannot fail to notice the difference, as he reads written over the door of a house, “The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth for evermore”; and on another, “Lord, succour this house and them that dwell therein”; or on a tomb where the dead are sleeping, “Thou hast made the Most High thy refuge; no evil shall approach thee, no plague come nigh thy dwelling.”
But what is most observable is the tone of triumph and victory that the inscriptions seem to breathe. On the porch of a house is written, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” and a sepulchral monument records the triumphant sentence, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” Even an obscure painter who, while engaged in decorating a tomb, tried, it would seem, his chisel on the wall of rock, as he rudely traced a monogram of Christ, in his enthusiasm as a liberated Christian, carved in the stone to remain for ages, “This conquers.”2 [Note: J. de Koven.]
“I do not know,” Mazzini says, “speaking historically, a single great conquest of the human spirit, a single important step for the perfecting of human society, which has not had its roots in a strong religious faith.”3 [Note: Bolton King, Mazzini, 223.]
Victory over the World
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