2 Corinthians 10:4
(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
In the writings of St. Paul you meet with frequent military allusions, but you must not consider them as introduced by the apostle's preference of the figurative style. We doubt whether it be altogether just to speak of these allusions as metaphorical. The Christian is not so much metaphorically as really a soldier, if by a soldier we understand one who is surrounded by enemies. You will at once perceive, by reference to the context, or, indeed, by observing the verse itself, that the apostle is here describing Christianity, not in its operations within the breast of an individual, but rather as the engine with which God was opposing, and would finally overthrow, the idolatry and the wickedness of the world. We admit, indeed, that it is perhaps unnecessary to separate altogether Christianity, as ruling in the individual, from Christianity as advancing to sovereignty. The weapons with which the preacher conquers himself must, in a measure, be those with which he conquers others. But still the points of view are manifestly different. St. Paul is describing himself as the champion of righteousness and truth, against the vices and errors of a profligate and ignorant world; and the point which he maintains is that the engine with which he prosecutes his championship, though not "carnal," is "mighty through God" to the accomplishing the object proposed.
I. WE BEGIN WITH CHRISTIANITY AS ADAPTED TO THE CONVERTING INDIVIDUALS. And we fasten upon the expression of the apostle that his weapons were not carnal; they were not such weapons as a carnal policy would have suggested, or a carnal philosophy have approved. The doctrines advanced did not recommend themselves by their close appeal to reason; neither did they rely for their cogency on the eloquence with which they were urged. It seems implied that the virtue of the weapons lay in the fact of their not being carnal, for the apostle is put on his defence, and the not using carnal weapons is his self-vindication. And, beyond question, in this lies the secret of the power of Christianity, and of the thorough insufficiency of every other system. If Christianity demanded nothing more than confession of its truth, Christianity would be carnal, seeing that we satisfied ourselves of its evidences by a process of reasoning, and such process is quite at one with the carnal nature, flattering it by appealing to the native powers of man. If, again, Christianity depended for its reception on the eloquence of its teachers, so that it rested with them to persuade men into belief, then again Christianity would be carnal, its whole effectiveness being drawn from the energy of the tongue and the susceptibility of the passions. And if Christianity were thus carnal — as every system must be which depends not on a higher than human agency — it could not be mighty in turning sinners unto God. But Christianity, as not being carnal, brings itself straightway into collision with every passion, principle, and prejudice of a carnal nature, and must therefore either subdue, or be subdued by that nature. I do not think it possible to insist too strongly on the fact that the great work of Christianity, considered as an engine for altering character, is derived from its basing itself on the supposition of human insufficiency. If it did not set out with declaring man helpless, it would necessarily, we believe, leave man hopeless. It goes at once to the root of the disease by proclaiming man lost if left to himself. It will not allow man to take credit to himself for a single step in the course of improvement, and that it is which makes it mighty, inasmuch as being proud of the advance would ensure the falling back. Hence the stronghold of pride gives way, for there must be humility where there is a thorough feeling of helplessness, and with the stronghold of pride is overturned also the stronghold of fear, seeing that the lesson which teaches us our ruin, teaches us, with equal emphasis, our restoration. And the stronghold of indifference — this, too, is cast down; the message is a stirring one; it will not let the man rest till he flee impending wrath. Neither pan the stronghold of evil passions remain unattacked; for the gospel scheme in proffering happiness exacts the mortification of lusts.
II. BUT WE SHALL GREATLY CORROBORATE THIS ARGUMENT IF WE EXAMINE THE POWER OF CHRISTIANITY IN CIVILISING NATIONS. It admits of little question that paganism and barbarism go generally together, so that the worshippers of idols are ordinarily deficient in the humanities of life. We may not indeed affirm that heathenism and civilisation cannot co-exist; for undoubtedly some of the nations of antiquity, as they could be surpassed by no modern in superstition, so they could by few, if by any, in literature and arts. We shall not pretend to say that a vast revolution might not be wrought among a heathen population if you domesticated in their land the husbandman and the artificer, and thus awakened in them a taste for the comforts of civilised life, even though you left them undisturbed in their idolatry, and sent them no missionary to publish Christianity. So that we are not about to affirm that Christianity is the only engine of civilisation; but we venture to affirm that none can be compared with it as to effectiveness. You may introduce laws, but laws can only touch the workings, not the principles of evil; whereas every step made by Christianity is a step against the principles, and therefore an advance to the placing government on its alone secure basis. To civilise must be to raise man to his true place in the scale of creation, and who will affirm this done whilst he bows down to the inferior creatures as God? We have a confidence in the missionary which we should not have in any lecturer on political economy, or any instructor in husbandry and handicraft. You may think it a strange method of teaching the savage the use of the plough to teach him the doctrine of the atonement. But the connection lies in this — and we hold it to be strong and well defined — by instructing the savage in the truths of Christianity I set before him motives, such as cannot elsewhere be found, to the living soberly, industriously, and honestly; I furnish him at once with inducements whose strength it is impossible to resist, to the practising the duties and evading the vices which respectively uphold and obstruct the well-being of society. And, if this has been done, has not more been done towards elevating him to his right place in the human family than if I had merely taught him an improved method of agriculture? Shall not the mental process be deemed far superior to the mechanical? And shall it be denied that the savage who has learned industry in learning morality has gone onward with an ampler stride in the march of civilisation than another who has consented to handle the plough because perceiving that he shall thereby increase his animal comforts? This we conceive is the true order; not to attempt to civilise first, as though men in their savage state were not ready for Christianity, but to begin at once with the attempt to Christianise, computing that the very essence of the barbarism is the heathenism, and that in the train of the religion of Jesus move the arts which adorn and the charities which sweeten human life. And in this is Christianity "mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds." The missionary, with no carnal weapon at his disposal, with no engine but that gospel, has a far higher likelihood of improving the institutions of a barbarous tribe, introducing amongst them the refinements of polished society, increasing the comforts of domestic life, and establishing civil government on more legitimate principles, than if he were the delegate of philosophers who have made civilisation their study, or of kings who would bestow all their power on its promotion. We will ask the missionary who is moving, as the patriarch of the village, from cottage to cottage, encouraging and instructing the several families who receive him with smiles, and hear him with reverence. We will ask him by what engines he humanised the savages, by what influence he withdrew them from lawlessness, and formed them into a happy and well-disciplined community. Did he begin with essays on the constitution of society; on the undeveloped powers of the country; on the advantages derivable from the division of labour; or on those methods of civilisation which might be thought worthy the patronage of some philosophical board? Oh, the missionary will not tell you of such methods of assaulting the degradation of centuries; he will tell you that he departed from his distant home charged with the gospel of Christ, and that with this gospel he attacked the strongholds of barbarism; he will tell you that he preached Jesus to the savages, and that he found, as the heart melted at the tidings of redemption, the manners softened and the customs were reformed; he will tell you that he did nothing but plant the Cross in the waste, and that he had proved that beneath its shadow all that is ferocious will wither, and all that is gentle spring up and ripen. Such is Christianity, mighty in the converting individuals, mighty in the civilising nations. This is the engine through which we ourselves have risen to greatness, and from which each of us draws the means of grace and the hope of glory. This is the religion, thus effective in fertilising the waste places of the earth, and elevating the most degraded of our species.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)