So in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone. Let them go! For if their purpose or endeavor is of human origin, it will fail.
I. REGARD IT AS THE PRODUCT OF JEWISH EDUCATION.
1. Reverence for the Word and will of God - in truth and in providence. The Jews, possessed in their Scriptures a good philosophy of history. Taught that God must triumph.
2. Sense of humanity and righteousness deeply pervading all the Jewish system. "Refrain from these men."
3. Yet evidence of the corrupt and formal state of the Jewish teachers - temporizing policy, weakness of conviction, unwillingness to face truth, the ecclesiastical spirit in its mildest form.
II. CONSIDER IT IN ITS RELATION TO CHRISTIANITY.
1. The influence of Gamaliel on Saul of Tarsus (see Conybeare and Howson; Farrar) and so on the history of the gospel.
2. The contrast between Gamaliel and his fellow-counselors in the Sanhedrim. They agreed to him then, but how about their former action and what followed? The Gamaliel character was then exceptional.
3. The contrast between Gamaliel and the apostles. He was prudent, they were earnest. Consider the necessity of following conviction. Sweetness and light are not means but ends; they have to be fought for, not rested in, before they are fully obtained.
4. The great appeal: "Lest haply ye be found... fighting against God." All must acknowledge it. How easily ignored! The position of the soul is here indicated; it is either fighting with God or against God. Though Gamaliel did not see it, there is no middle position. "A fearful thing to fall into his hands." - R.
And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone.1. Christianity was on trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin. It had then no history. Now it has an history of more than eighteen hundred years. Wisely spake that wisest of Jewish Rabbis: Let us wait awhile and see. If it be of men, no blow is needed. If it be of God, no smiting will do it any harm. Leave it to history. Such was the appeal. We are ready now for the verdict. If Gamaliel were here I would be willing to leave it all to his candid judgment. Is Christianity a success or a failure?
2. This argument from history requires discrimination. Mere age makes out nothing decisive for a religion. Religions in general are apt to be long-lived; longer-lived than civil politics.(1) Those of Egypt, of Mesopotamia, of Phoenicia, of Greece and Rome, all lasted many centuries; and, while they lasted, might have made an argument of their longevity. But they are all dead now, and nobody names either of them as a rival of Christianity.(2) Brahmanism and Buddhism vary the problem for us. Here are very old religions. What is to be said of them? This; that they are like the old dead religions in having a limited domain. Not one of them has had much strength or currency outside of its own native land. They might as well be dead. They fight no battles, win no victories.(3) Mohammedanism makes the problem a still nicer one. Here is a religion, not merely of great age, but of great expansiveness and versatility. There is truth in it, these two great truths: that God is, and rules. In less than a hundred years from its origin men were praying towards Mecca over a wider territory than the Roman eagles had shadowed in nearly a thousand years. Why was it? Partly because they had been persuaded to do so. The argument for one God was better than the argument for many gods. And so idolaters were vanquished. Then the worship was simple, and the degenerate, sacerdotal, tawdry, idolatrous Christianity of the Orient went to the wall. But had no sword been drawn, Islamism must have stayed in Arabia, or have gone but little beyond it. For idolaters the alternative was Islam or the sword. For Jews and Christians Islam or tribute. And so the crescent shot along the sky. Christianity has had no such history. Its symbol has always been a wooden cross. Now and then it has drawn the sword, as Peter drew it in the garden; but only to be rebuked, as Peter was. Its beginning dates significantly from the gift of tongues. Not sword, but sermon was to hew its way for it. It must spill no blood but its own. Nor might cunning serve it. Wolves are fierce and cunning both. The disciples of the Man of Nazareth were sent forth like sheep and doves. Such was Christianity; the Christianity of Gamaliel's time. Let us see now what came of it.
I. Its first conflict was with JUDAISM, with which it should have had no conflict at all. Judaism, then fifteen centuries old, was not human, but Divine. And Christianity had come out of it, as an apple comes out of its bud and blossom. But madness ruled the hour. They hanged their Prophet on a tree, hissing that awful prayer which God has been answering ever since: "His blood be on us and on our children." Many Jews, as we know, passed over into the Christian Church, in all, perhaps some ten or twelve thousand within the first six years. Then their most learned and ablest Rabbi, Saul of Tarsus, went over to the new religion. And his voice rang all along the northern shore of the Mediterranean, from Damascus to Spain, in countless synagogues, entreating his countrymen to follow him. It was their golden opportunity. And they lost it. Judaism, they shouted, is final. Not Judaism, answered the pupil of Gamaliel, but Christianity. This was the point at issue. In their madness the people thought they could tear the Roman eagles from their battlements and reestablish the fallen throne of David. They tried, and failed. Judaism was shattered when, as foretold by Daniel, the oblation ceased. Since then no smoke of sacrifice has ascended from Mount Moriah. Since then the story of our Christian sacrifice has gone round the globe. And almost everywhere it finds the forsaken and scattered remnants of that ancient people, over whose city the Redeemer wept.
II. The second conflict of Christianity was with the GRAECO-ROMAN CIVILISATION. The whole theatre of ancient history, the whole garden of ancient letters, art, and social refinement, now acknowledged the supremacy of Rome.' Christianity she greeted with contempt and scorn.
1. In this lay the safety of the new religion. It thus had chance to grow. All over the Roman Empire its roots went down into the soil unnoticed. After a hundred years its branches were in all the air. There were at least two or three millions of Christians. They were a people by themselves, sifted out of society, organised, drilled, and handled by their leaders, as no other religious body ever had been. They could no longer be ignored. And then the leaven had been working upwards, as well as downwards, among the people. The commercial middle class furnished many converts. By and by philosophers and scholars began to come over, who boldly proclaimed the new faith as the final philosophy. Christianity could no longer be despised. Books had been written in its defence, and these books must be replied to. Then there came out on the heathen side such champions as Fronto, Lucian, and Celsus, learned and witty men, attacking Christianity with every known weapon of argument, abuse, and raillery. By and by, persecution began in terrible earnest. It was, however, chiefly the work of mobs, stirred up and hounded on by men whose interests were imperilled. Of the emperors, only Nero and Domitian, and they for reasons of their own, had dipped their hands willingly in Christian blood. Now, soon after the middle of the second century, persecution began to be a part of the imperial policy. It was assumed that the old Roman religion was essential to the welfare of the Roman State. It was seen that Christianity was getting the better of that old Roman religion. Bad emperors, like Commodus and Heliogabalus, who cared nothing for the welfare of the State, let the new religion alone. Able, patriotic, high-toned emperors, like Marcus Aurelius, Decius, and Diocletian, could not let it alone. Those were times of awful agony when the powerful Roman Empire, shutting the gates of the ampitheatre, leaped into the arena face to face with the Christian Church. When those gates were opened, the victorious Church went forth, with the baptism of blood on her saintly brow, bearing a new Christian Empire in her fair, white arms. It only remained for heathen frenzy to contest this verdict of Providence, as Jewish frenzy had contested the verdict of Providence in Palestine. Philosophers had been for some time at work, elaborating what we call the New Platonism, a strange conglomerate, which taught one God in the lecture-room and many gods in the market-place; which discoursed loftily of union with God; and stooped to magical arts. This was the informing spirit of that notable reaction and revival of heathenism which found a fit champion in Julian, who, burning with zeal for the old religion, resolved to put the new religion down. Did he do it? In less than two years after mounting the throne of the Caesars, he, pierced by a Persian arrow, confessed "Thou hast conquered, O Galilean." But Christianity, you tell me, did not save the life of the Roman Empire. No, it came too late for that. But Christianity prolonged that life; by a century or two in the Occident, by six or eight centuries in the Orient.
III. The third conflict was with the TEUTONIC BARBARIANS. In German forests Christian captives were the first evangelists. They had to learn a new language which had then no alphabet. The men that spoke it had no culture. In a hundred years those rude barbarians were reading their Gothic Bibles. From tribe to tribe the sacred message ran till, in another hundred years, the barbarian conquest of Rome was essentially a Christian conquest. From generation to generation the missionary work went on, till at last the whole Teutonic race in Europe, now numbering well-nigh eighty millions, took on a Christian civilisation, higher, stronger, more radiant than that of Greece and Rome. The Kelts, now numbering about nine millions, were also evangelised; the Slaves, now numbering nearly eighty millions, came later; then the Scandinavians, one of the finest races in history, now numbering some eight millions, whose old mythology is richer and grander than that of ancient Greece, and whom it took two centuries to conquer. And not one of the nobler historic peoples, once evangelised, has ever let go its hold of the gospel. The decayed churches of the Orient are only decayed, not dead, while the tide that went over them is evidently going out.
IV. The fourth great conflict is with A LOWER TYPE OF HEATHENISM AT HOME AND ABROAD, and is now in progress. There is, indeed, a conflict with science which is sharp enough just now, and many good people are needlessly alarmed about it. There are tidal waves in all human affairs, and scepticism, like everything else, comes and goes on its endless round. But every time Christianity sails through it all like an ironclad. The great mass of Christians have never troubled themselves about it. made an end of Manicheism. The great schoolmen of the thirteenth century silenced the sceptics of the twelfth. And out of the scepticism of the fifteenth century came the reaction that culminated in the Protestant . Christianity, the mother of universities, the nurse and patron of all high study, has no fear of science. No. The real strain and conflict of our day are more practical. Christianity has conquered all the best races in history thus far. Now, can it conquer to the bottom as it has already conquered to the top? Can it bring the whole human family, its lowest peoples with its highest, into one common fold? Can it evangelise the Chinese, Japanese, Polynesians, Africans, North American Indians? Can it evangelise its own cities, going down into the cellars, up into the garrets of its own heathens here at home? Hard as the task may be, Christianity stands squarely committed to it. If Christianity fails in this its supreme endeavour, it is not of God. But it will not fail. What it can do may be known from what it has done. We have carried the gospel into the huts of the bushmen, we shall yet carry it into every cellar and every garret of every Christian city. Let us be of good courage. It is not long we shall have to wait.
(R. D. Hitchcock, D. D.)
I. THE FAVOURABLE ASPECT OF THIS POLICY. Let us point out what there is that is commendable in this policy of awaiting the test of time.
1. Time certainly is a most searching and accurate test. It is very difficult to judge a movement that is in its infancy. By their fruits movements too are known. But then you must allow time for the fruit to appear and to mature.
2. Certainly this policy is opposed to that objectionable method of procedure which is characterised by "zeal without knowledge." There are those whose zeal in itself is really commendable; and they rush on rashly, never taking time to consider the bearing of present action on future events; they will run and risk their life to rescue a child in danger, but, perhaps, they will knock down half-a-dozen children on their way and do them serious harm. They will spend their best energies to advance a principle which they hold dear, but, perhaps, they will trample on many other principles which are equally true and Divine. "Zeal without knowledge." Their warm hearts are not under the direction of wise heads. Their action, while enthusiastic, is ill-directed. Well, Gamaliel and his friends are not guilty of this fault. They are never led into anything rash. If they err, they err on the safe side. They do not do much harm if they do no good. They will not hinder a good movement, though they may not help it. They will not further a bad cause, though they may do nothing to hinder it. Their policy is to refrain, to take heed, to take no action until time makes it quite clear whether the cause be human or Divine.
3. There is some amount of wise, cautious humility and devoutness also about this policy of Gamaliel and his friends. They greatly fear lest they should be found fighting against God, opposing His will and purpose. They knew that that would not only he fruitless, but sinful and blasphemous. It is a sad thing to find even a portion of one's life fruitless. Moral fruitlessness is a terrible calamity. To fight against God then is fruitless, for He must conquer in the end and our work come to nought. But it s also sinful, and even blasphemous. Blasphemy, properly so called, is speaking against God, but there is also a blasphemy which consists in acting against Him, in using those faculties with which He Himself has endowed us, to frustrate His will and purpose, and to further the ends and intents of the devil. Well, Gamaliel and his friends strove to steer clear of this evil. They are cautiously humble and devout. They would not for the world be found fighting against God. Hence their policy is to "take heed," to "refrain," to wait until time proves whether God be in the movement or not.
II. THE UNFAVOURABLE ASPECTS OF THIS POLICY.
1. It makes this mistake, it regards the external results of a movement as the unfailing test of its character. Or to put it in this way: It says, "this movement succeeds — it is Divine; this movement fails — it is human." Success or failure is taken as the test. But is it a true test? Some of the most successful movements have had the least of God in them, and some of the least successful have had the most of God in them. The followers of Buddha are more numerous than all other religionists. Is Buddhism more Divine because of that? It is evident then that external success is not an absolute test of the spirituality and Divinity of a religion, or of the character of a movement. Results I results! That is the great cry of the day. And it is almost thought that spiritual results can be got to order just like material results. You send your boy to the tailor for a suit of clothes; he gets it, you are satisfied. Do you send him in the same spirit to the master of the grammar school, saying, "I want a good education for my boy, so much time, so much money?" The master would reply, "Education is not to be had to order; there are other matters to be taken into consideration: has your son the ability, the application to learn? Without that I can do nothing with him." If it is so with intellectual results, how much more so with moral and spiritual results. We cannot get true conversions to order; we may get spurious ones. Nor is it possible to count true converts. Men can count heads; but it takes God Himself to count hearts. Therefore the test of external results is not an absolutely safe test. Are we, therefore, not to aim for success? By all means. All the success that we can get; as many hearers, as many converts, as many Christian workers as possible. Only do not rely on external results as furnishing an unfailing test of the character of any work. This the policy of Gamaliel is guilty of.
2. Moreover this policy is productive of culpable inactivity and moral cowardice. Now the most critical period of any movement, or of any new religion, is its infancy. Then does it bear the severest brunt of prejudice and hostility. The severest period in the history of Christianity was the apostolic age and the ages immediately following. We ought to thank God that there were men brave enough and strong enough to overcome the first opposition. After a while it makes itself felt in the world; it proves itself to be a power for good. Now Gamaliel and his friends will join it. "We are glad to see you even now, you Gamalielites; but you did not lend us a helping hand when the waves of opposition nearly swamped our ship; we and our cause would have perished for you; you looked out on us with timid, cautious, neutral eyes. But now that we have got to shore, and established our character and power, you seek to join our ranks. Come in; even at this hour we are glad to see you; only we must tell you that you have been guilty of culpable inactivity and of moral cowardice." Gamaliel and his friends will only join a successful cause, but a flagging interest they will refrain from touching. On the other hand, take a movement directly the reverse of that to which we have alluded, not only not Divine, but sinful and calculated to do a terrible amount of mischief. In its earlier years its destructive features are not written in large letters, still they are written in such letters as the keen observer can read. What do Gamaliel and his friends do? They refrain from taking any action. They allow the evil, the mischievous movement to grow, to establish itself. They might nip it in the bud, were they to take prompt, decisive action. "You cautiously timid, inactive Gamalielites, you are anxious not to be found fighting against God; wherefore are ye not equally desirous to fight for Him? You do not further His will when you allow evil to grow unchallenged and unopposed." There are many of whom it may be said, "They have done no evil." But what evil have they opposed, what good have they done? Nothing! Then is their poor, harmless inactivity culpable in the sight of God.
3. Then there is that further error in this policy of neutrality and delay, viz., that it presumes too much on Divine power and relies too little on human instrumentality. It says, "If that work or counsel be of God, He will make it successful; if it be sinful, then He will bring it to nought." Now, how does God promote His purposes? Through good men. How does He baffle and bring to nought evil doings? Through good men. The old excuse for inactivity is, "God will see to it." No! He will not, unless you place yourself humbly in His hand and say, "Send me, send me!" What was the excuse of our ancestors who were opposed to modern missions: "If God means to convert the world He will see to that." But He would never convert the world unless the men came forward and severally said, "Send me, send me!" We can never rely too much on Divine power; we can never rely too much on human co-operation. Are we allowing Him to use us for that grand purpose? Or are we endeavouring to cover our culpable inactivity by the old excuse: "The work is His, and He will see to it." What is the conclusion of the whole matter? Every movement, social, political, religious, let us try to understand. Let us bring to bear upon it the faculties which God has given us, without prejudice and with prayer. Should it remain a mystery, let us wait, not listlessly, but with faces wistfully upturned towards heaven, solicitous to know the will of God. When light is given from heaven let us act accordingly, whether in favour or in opposition, act sincerely, with heart and soul. By doing the will of God, as far as it is revealed, we shall know more of the doctrine.
(Henry Harries, M. A.)
1. This conviction is the foundation of all true tolerance, liberality of mind, and of charity and candour in judging. For want of it we are often falsely liberal, or foolishly bigoted.
2. I need hardly say how this principle and conviction bears upon our daily life, or point out how much calmness, wisdom, and peace it would, if recognised, pour upon the distractions which surround us. We live in the midst of new things. In our religious, social and political life new and startling opinions meet us. Like Gamaliel we see old faiths and old institutions in Church and State, and old habits, relations, and customs in society crumbling away or threatened.(1) In religion, men have arisen who call upon us to go back to the beliefs and practices of bygone centuries. We may safely leave them in God's hands, who will make them work out His purposes, and establish whatever is in accordance with His will, and wither up what is false and foolish in their teaching.(2) The same thing may be said with respect to another department of human thought in which great activity prevails. Men of inquiring mind will examine, speculate, and try to solve the riddle of human life. And what is called science in our day claims to have made very startling discoveries, which have shaken, and will enevitably destroy, many an old belief. And why not? God makes men of inquiring minds, and He gives them light to discover new facts and truths. The agitation of the so-called Christian world, its hostility to our men of science, and its senseless alarm at their discoveries, when viewed in the light of Gamaliel's calmness and candour, are simply a proof how little Christianity exists amongst us, and what low and miserable ideas we have of God and His truth.(3) So again in those sad disputes between class and class which distract and disturb us. It must needs be that these things come in the course of this world's progress, and much sorrow, sin, and suffering will follow in their wake; and to the eye of the faithless, the future may, for a time, look dark. But how much comfort, too, the thought affords, that in this respect also God rules — is working out here, too, His purpose and plan — and how much calmness and wisdom is the example of Gamaliel capable of imparting, whilst it warns us to refrain from anything like the spirit of violence or hasty judgment, and to wait patiently to see how much of the counsel and work we deplore is of God and cannot be overthrown, and how much is merely of men and therefore destined to perish; and to rest assured that God has not forsaken us, or let the reins of government fall from His hands.(4) When tried by misfortune or sorrow, when harassed by the tempers or injustice of others, when suffering in pain or sickness, amid the sundry and manifold cares and perplexities which entangle us all, what an untold gain it would be to us if we would refrain from a hasty or sinful judgment, and keep in our feelings, tongue, and temper from the conviction that God was overruling even in the midst of these seemingly evil things; that a truth and a purpose underlie them all, and would wait and watch how much in them there is which is from God, how much from our own perversity, and how much from that source of evil from which all comes that opposes and seeks to thwart His Divine intention, and abide in the faith that nothing but what is true and good for us will endure, while all that is false and foolish will soon be swept away.
3. And if it should seem that an example such as that of Gamaliel is too much insisted on, that the preacher who again and again enforces largeness of mind, charity in judging, patience and gentleness in thought and action, together with the rest of the Christian graces and tempers, shows himself unmindful of his special work, and of his duty to teach the way of salvation for the souls of men; then I would submit that, in enforcing these things, we are setting forth man's salvation; for the soul which lives in the feeling and conviction that God our Father is constantly present, and overrules all things; that He will take care of the truth and of us when we stand upon it; the soul that tries to catch the Spirit of Christ, and to let it penetrate thought, temper, and action; the soul that waits to see what God will establish and what He will overthrow, that soul lives in the light of the truth; and he who lives in the truth, lives in the love of God; and where God's truth and love are, there is salvation, strength, and peace.
(John Congreve, M. A.)I. THE ARGUMENT FROM THE SUCCESS OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. It may be regarded, like all other evidences, as an argument from miracles. Here are certain undoubted facts. They cannot be accounted for without the immediate hand of God. Note, then, that this success has been —
1. Wide and extensive. In the early ages this excited universal attention both among friends and foes. About thirty years after our Lord's death, Tacitus tells us that an "immense multitude" of Christians were either crucified or burned alive in Rome during the Neronian persecution, whence we may have some idea of the number of Christians in that capital. Forty years later, Pliny, in his letter to Trajan, states that in Bithynia the heathen temples had been deserted, and the victims used in sacrifice had ceased to be purchased. By the end of the second century exclaimed, "We are but of yesterday, and we have filled up every place: towns, islands, castles, boroughs, councils, camps, tribes, wards, palace, senate, forum; we have left you nothing but your temples." In little more than three centuries the Roman empire became professedly Christian under Constantine; and all the efforts of his successor Julian could not avert the total downfall of Paganism. The wide diffusion of the gospel, though in a corrupt form, did not cease. It was extended from Britain to China, and the foundation was laid of the present Christian nations of Europe, which have never since abjured the religion of the Cross. It has become the religion of the New World, and the efforts of missions have, in recent times, given it a footing in parts of the earth the most remote from one another, and renewed its early triumphs. The spread and hold of the gospel is thus a truly wonderful fact, when we consider its scanty beginnings and forlorn prospects. Even an unbeliever who looks calmly at this astonishing fact may well feel something of the misgiving of Gamaliel.
2. Inward and radical. All experience shows how hard a thing it is to make men converts even to the mere outward forms of a new religion; and the attempt to convert men from one sanctuary to another — from the synagogue, for example, to the Church, or from Popish to Protestant temples — is still more arduous. We can judge of this matter from the widest experience; for we see what frightful sufferings have been in all ages endured, what wars have been waged, what mutinies have been stirred up, from men's reluctance to change their religion. Had the gospel only brought heathen nations into the same state that Christian nations are in at this day, though not a single person had been regenerated, it would have been something not easy to explain without calling in the power of God. But the true miracle begins with making man a new creature in Christ Jesus, and when we see this done everywhere among the polished Greeks and the wandering Scythians, among masters and slaves, among Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles — we are constrained to exclaim, "This is the finger of God!" In this sense the age of miracles is not past, and never will be. What is the turning of water into wine to the turning of a sinner into a saint? Compare heathenism, even in its brightest scenes and noblest passages, with Christianity, the martyrdom of Socrates with that of Stephen, the life of Plato with that of Paul or John, the return of Regulus to die at Carthage in his country's cause with the advance of Luther to Worms to testify for Christ's truth. Where was there a Howard among the heathen? Where a Wilberforce? Where a Francis Xavier? Where anything corresponding to the honourable women who have laboured much in the Lord, and who, from the beginning, have been last at the Cross and first at the sepulchre? These are all facts to be accounted for, and with them the whole moral and spiritual influence of the gospel in life and in death; and so long as Christianity can produce them we feel that it is in a great measure independent of other signs and wonders. It bears upon its front the very seal of heaven.
3. Prolonged and renewed. When Gamaliel compared the gospel to the movements in the days of Theudas, or of Judas of Galilee, he was quite in order. Had the cause of Christ been no more Divine than theirs, it would, after some noise and commotion, have as speedily died away. There is something very impressive in the vitality of genuine Christianity. Persecution drove it from Jerusalem; but it returned and dwelt there when its Jewish persecutors were scattered and overthrown. The Roman Caesars arrayed against it the brute force of forty legions, but the empire with all its forces became subject to the Cross. There is a plant called the rose of Jericho, one of a class which, when withered by the scorching heats, rolls up its leaves into the form of a ball, and suffers itself to be drawn from the ground, and borne on the wings of the wind to a great distance, till, meeting with moisture, its roots again strike down, its leaves spread, and its rose-like colour returns in all its beauty. Thus did Christianity roll over the arid wastes of the Middle Ages, till, in the Reformation period, it reasserted its living power, and all but equalled its ancient glory: and since then the same sign has been repeated; for as it rolled harmlessly over the great desert of Popery, so has it, not less uninjured, crossed the dreary sands of infidelity which have spread out to intercept it, and expanded in our own days at home and abroad with all its primitive loveliness. Everywhere it puts forth the same flowers — zeal for God, love to Christ, pity for men. The self-renewing power of the gospel exceeds all fable. The converts of Polynesia, Ceylon, Burmah, Madagascar, speak all one tongue, and exalt one name which is above every name. Christianity has returned to the old seats of revelation, to Ur of the Chaldees, to Shechem, to Nazareth, to Bethlehem. It converts the house of Voltaire into a Bible depository, and the palace of Frederick the Great into a meeting-place of Christian union.
II. SOME OBJECTIONS TO ITS FORCE, which, however, one and all, turn out in its favour, and strengthen its validity. It is objected —
1. That false religions have had great success in the world. Not to mention the various systems of idolatry, there is the delusion of the Arabian prophet which spread over a very wide circle with great rapidity, and even expelled Christianity from its ancient territories. But we may use here the tests already employed.(1) The spread of Mohammedanism, though extensive, has been far more limited than that of Christianity. With the instinct of some oriental beast or plant, it keeps to its own habitat, without going into all the world.(2) It has had no inward or radical success. Let it be granted that it set up the unity of God, and maintained some excellent moral lessons, it had in its bosom no doctrine of regeneration, no strict and unworldly discipline, no heaven of purity and spiritual blessedness; and, therefore, its success is as little parallel to that of Christianity as the success of a man who could mould pieces of tough clay into different human shapes would be parallel to that of a man who could endow these shapes with true life.(3) Its success has not been prolonged and renewed. It did not take long to reach its limit; and since then it has never been revived. It lies at this day effete and helpless, not only unable to heal the "sickness" of the nations that embrace it, but itself their true disease, which they must shake off before they can have any promise either for the life that now is, or for that which is to come.(4) All this would have been true, and, I think, unanswerable, even had this false system, like the gospel of Christ, been introduced on its own merits, and supported by persuasion and argument. But, as we all know, it was propagated at the point of the sword.
2. That it has not been universal. Many are staggered by the slow progress of the gospel, and by the fact that it is not yet the religion of the majority of the human race. This difficulty admits of a complete answer. Consider how it limits the power of God. Upon this supposition He cannot reveal Himself to one or many without revealing Himself to all. Even one true conversion is a superhuman result, and much more a multitude of such conversions; and all that we are warranted to infer from the partial nature of the result is, that the Divine Author of the gospel has, for reasons known to Himself, not chosen everywhere to exert the same power. To hold that God must work at the full stretch of Omnipotence before we can know that it is God, is the same absurdity as to hold that a man must speak at the full pitch of his voice before he can be recognised. We must plainly know what God's intentions were before we find fault with the partial success of the gospel.(1) If He meant to punish the wilful rejection of His own gift this will sufficiently explain the non-conversion of the Jews.(2) If He meant to leave room for human co-operation, this will explain the slow progress of the gospel in professedly Christian nations.(3) If He judged it better to proceed by degrees, than at one sweeping stroke, this will obviate a host of difficulties connected with the gradual and interrupted march of Christianity. When are we to be satisfied? Suppose that the whole world was converted but one man, this objection would still hold good; nay, that solitary unbeliever could stand up and make the whole truth of God of none effect! It is enough that we see a power at work which has converted many, and which is able to convert all.
3. That this success has been less with those who profess to be influenced by the gospel, than might have been expected from a Divine religion. What evils have been associated with the Christian name, what scandals, what inconsistencies! But we must first of all separate between nominal and genuine Christians. The distinction exists among Christians alone; for no other religion is spiritual enough to allow of this division. Is the true Church, then, to blame for its nominal adherents and their evils? Nay, is not the tribute to its own light and truth and goodness all the greater that men seek to cloak even their vices under its venerable sanction? It is among true Christians that the true effects of Christianity are to be seen, and here we fearlessly join issue with objectors. And is there not in Christian lands a general purpose, somewhere deep down in the heart of the worldling, to become himself a Christian? "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his."
III. SOME INFERENCES WHICH FOLLOW. The success of Christianity is —
1. A tribute to the glory of the Saviour. Every onward movement is like a step in some solemn piece of martial music which sounds His praise. Every conversion is a trophy to His invincibility. Every land added to His sway is another crown placed upon His head. And the final conquest of the world will awake the final peal of the anthem to His glory. It is delightful to a Christian heart to identify the success of the gospel with the personal efforts and sympathies of the Redeemer.
2. A source of confidence to the Church. Christianity can never be in such danger again, as it has already triumphed over. Had it been of man, it had long ago come to nought. Its enemies have assailed it with every possible weapon, and searched every rivet of its armour. And therefore it moves a smile of pity when this hero or the other comes forth against the gospel, forgetful of the hosts that have sunk already in the attempt, like insects rushing against the flame, or birds of night glaring defiance at the sun.
3. A motive of conversion to the unbeliever. There is nothing so mournful as to be at once on the wrong, and on the losing side. To perish in a good cause surrounds the name with glory; but where is the wisdom, the magnanimity, the honour of dying a martyr to error, to folly, to sin and wickedness? This is not to be a hero, but a traitor; not to be a sacrifice, but a suicide!
(J. Cairns, D. D.)
Scientific Illustrations.M'Kenzie, in his North American tour, speaking of the country bordering on the Slave Lake, says: "It is covered with large trees of spruce pine and white birch; when these are destroyed poplars succeed, though none were before to be seen." Evelyn notices a fact very similar to this, which is observed in England, in Nova Scotia, and in the United States of America, that where fires have destroyed the original wood the new saplings which spring up are generally different species of trees. All these phenomena indicate the inextinguishableness or vegetable vitality; and on this point they may be employed to typify the inextinguishableness of moral truths in our world. No fires of insurrection, no deluges of persecution, no changes in the forms of human society by kings, or priests, or mobs have ever had the effect of obliterating moral ideas. They are inextinguishable, and spring up unaccountably in perennial beauty despite all social conflagrations and convulsions.
(J. L. Nye.)
PeopleAnanias, Gamaliel, Israelites, Judas, Peter, Sapphira, Solomon, Theudas
PlacesJerusalem, Solomon's Portico
TopicsAction, Activity, Advise, Alone, Aloof, Case, Counsel, Destroyed, Fail, Hold, Human, Leave, Naught, Nothing, Nought, Origin, Overthrown, Plan, Present, Purpose, Refrain, Scheme, Stay, Teaching, Undertaking, Withdraw
Outline1. After that Ananias and Sapphira his wife,
3. at Peter's rebuke had fallen down dead;
12. and that the rest of the apostles had wrought many miracles;
14. to the increase of the faith;
17. the apostles are again imprisoned;
19. but delivered by an angel bidding them preach openly to all;
21. when, after their teaching accordingly in the temple,
29. and before the council,
33. they are in danger to be killed;
34. but through the advice of Gamaliel, they are kept alive, and are only beaten;
41. for which they glorify God, and cease no day from preaching.
Dictionary of Bible ThemesActs 5:38
8410 decision-making, examples
LibraryDecember 28. "The Holy Ghost, whom God Hath Given to them that Obey Him" (Acts v. 32).
"The Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him" (Acts v. 32). We can only know and prove the fulness of the Spirit as we step out into the larger purposes and plans of Christ for the world. Perhaps the chief reason why the Holy Spirit has been so limited in His work in the hearts of Christians, is the shameful neglect of the unsaved and unevangelized world by the great majority of the professed followers of Christ. There are millions of professing Christians--and, perhaps, real Christians--in …
Rev. A. B. Simpson—Days of Heaven Upon Earth
Whom to Obey, --Annas or Angel?
The Indwelling of the Spirit, the Common Privilege of all Believers
The First Sermon in the Tabernacle
Of the Recollection of God's Manifold Benefits
The Reader Reminded How Much He Needs the Assistance of the Spirit of God to Form Him to the Temper Described Above, and what Encouragement He
May one Lose the Blessing?
Whether Fraud Pertains to Craftiness?
Whether Whatever God Does Outside the Natural Order is Miraculous?
Whether Subjects are Bound to Obey their Superiors in all Things?
Whether Shamefacedness is About a Disgraceful Action?
Whether Anyone Should be Excommunicated for Inflicting Temporal Harm?
Whether Human Law Binds a Man in Conscience?
Whether the Devil is Directly the Cause of Man's Sinning?
Whether it is Praiseworthy to Enter Religion Without Taking Counsel of Many, and Previously Deliberating for a Long Time?
Whether the Precept of Fraternal Correction Demands that a Private Admonition Should Precede Denunciation?
The Wheat and the Tares
That the Christian Miracles are not Recited, or Appealed To, by Early Christian Writers Themselves So Fully or Frequently as Might have Been Expected.
The Birth of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit Bearing Witness to Jesus Christ.
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