The Prevalence of Christianity
In the World for Nearly Two Thousand Years
One of the Highest Moral Proofs that it is a Divine Revelation
Preached as a Commencement Sermon, before the University of Georgia, Athens Georgia, July 30, 1843, by Rev. Wm. T. Brantly, Jr., pastor of the Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia.
“And now I say unto you, refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it: lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.” - Acts v:38, 39.
You remember the occasion of this advice. Very shortly after the return of our Lord to heaven, the preaching of the gospel by his Apostles, was attended with such extraordinary success as to excite the apprehension of the Jewish rulers, lest the new religion should supplant the faith of their ancestors. They had already given orders to the heralds of the cross to quit Jerusalem, and to desist from the publication of their offensive doctrines. But acting from the highest convictions of duty, the Apostles persisted in preaching Christ crucified. Perceiving that their injunctions were disregarded, a council was convened to devise a plan for the suppression of the troublesome heresy. After some deliberation, it appeared to the assembly that the most effectual method of extinguishing this religion was to put to death its preachers, the obstinate advocates of its claims. They were about to carry this measure into effect, when as we are informed by the narrative, Gamaliel a doctor of the law, held in high reputation among the people, urged the adoption of a different course. He reminded the council of several impostors, who had previously risen up and caused them much trouble by seducing the people; but who, having been put to death, their followers were in a short time dispersed. He brought to their notice the case of Theudas who had enlisted in his cause about 400 disciples who continued faithful during the life of their leader, but who were disbanded shortly after his death; he adverted also to Judas of Galilee, who in the days of the taxing drew away much people after him, but who were scattered when he died. From these cases he inferred, that if Jesus Christ was really an impostor, inasmuch as he had been crucified, the believers in what he published would soon be dispersed and there was no necessity for shedding their blood. If they were
not thus disbanded they might take it for granted that he was no deceiver. In view of these facts, I say unto you, refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men it will come to naught: but if it be of God ye cannot overthrow it lest haply you be found even to fight against God.
The advice of Gamaliel, though agreed to in this instance, was soon forgotten. These men were not let alone. Every conceivable obstacle was thrown in their way. Ridicule, wit, learning, wealth, secret treachery, open malice, industrious violence, were all excited against them. Persecution in its multiplied forms, torture of every species, the most malignant passions of the human heart, have been arrayed against this work, but has it been overthrown? What has been the result of this contest? At the lapse of nearly 2000 years since Gamaliel gave this advice, have the developments of this long period, permit me to ask, evinced this to be the work of man, or have they demonstrated it to be the power of God? I put the question this morning: Has the combined hate of its uncounted foes been sufficient to accomplish its annihilation? No, my hearers. The trophies of redeeming love in every age cry, NO. The unnumbered multitudes who through faith in the cross of Christ, this day exult in the hope of a blessed immortality, cry No! the tens of thousands now in glory, from their exalted abode echo back the cry, no! No!! In vain have the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers taken counsel together. Victorious over every foe, trampling down every obstacle, this despised gospel has lived, and still lives, and will continue to exert its saving power when time shall be no more.
Christianity, then, is a fact whose existence demands explanation. When I find it flourishing in the world notwithstanding the opposition which it has encountered; when from century to century I see it subject to the most rigid scrutiny – tried by the severest tests which man or devil could devise; when I look at its advocates hunted down with the most unsparing fury; when, notwithstanding every effort which has been made for its suppression, I find that the religion of Christ still triumphs, I can account for that triumph but from one consideration. And that is that it has been preserved in the world by the power of Almighty God. He who can resist the force of evidence like this, I must pronounce hopelessly sceptical [sic]. He would not believe Christianity to be a divine revelation though one should rise from the dead and assert the truth. His unbelief is as wil[l]ful and as obstinate as that of the man, who, at mid-day, should plunge into the dark mines of the earth, and contend in the face of truth and of reason that the sun did not shine.
With these remarks, I invite you to the consideration of the theme suggested by the text. It is this. The prevalence of
Christianity in the world for nearly 2,000 years, constitutes one of the highest moral proofs that it is a divine revelation.
And I do not propose this subject at the present time because I deem it essential to the conviction of any who may be sceptical [sic] upon this point. I presume that the greater portion of those to whom I now speak entertain no doubt of the truth of the proposition which has been announced. Whilst however, you may feel perfectly satisfied that you are not following a cunningly devised fable, - that your faith stands in the power of God and not in the wisdom of man - it cannot be uninteresting to review those considerations by which we should be at all times ready to give a reason of the hope that is in us. Our proposition is sustained if you consider
I. That Christianity has found in every unrenewed man an uncompromising opponent of its claims. Had the religion of Jesus imposed no restraint upon the tempers of a depraved nature; had it thrown no curb upon the passions of the human heart; had it called upon men to encounter no self-denial; to undergo no hardship; to make no sacrifice; then the argument supporting its divine original, drawn from its protracted life, would be very materially invalidated. Being a religion at least inoffensive, its harmlessness might have shielded it from assault, and it might have been allowed to stand or to fall by its own merits. Were such its character, the caviler might contend that it owed its existence to accident, or that it was protected by the imbecility of its doctrines. But even in this case, its preservation in the world for so many centuries, amidst the revolutions of kingdoms, the ceaseless fluctuation of human opinions, and the ravages of time, would be very powerful presumptive evidence that it had been defended by an omnipotent energy. If besides imposing no restraint, Christianity had coincided with man's corrupt propensities; if it had fostered the pride of his heart, encouraged him in his sinful pursuits, and taught him how he might gratify ambition, revenge, malice, and all the degenerate desires of fallen humanity; had such been the character of the Christian religion, then I admit that no argument in favor of its being a divine revelation could have been derived from its extended prevalence. With such principles it could need no supernatural power to sustain it. Being of the world, the world very naturally would love its own and strive to keep it in the world.
But the religion of Jesus Christ has ever been directly at war with the darling passions of depraved nature. From its earliest appearance it has been the determined enemy of every sinful indulgence. Its doctrines were the most unpalatable to the carnal mind which could possibly be conceived. There was scarcely a feature in the whole system adapted to secure for it the least popularity in a guilty world. Its very presence was a rebuke to sin-loving mortals. To man disposed to trust in his self-righteousness,
to extenuate his offences, and to laud the virtues and excellencies of his own character, Christianity declared that, as a creature, he was mean - as a sinner, he was vile; that his moral character was radically disordered; that a deadly taint had seized and corrupted the breath of every desire; that from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot there was no soundness. It published the humiliating truth, that that heart which he cherished as the seat of so many fine affections and elevated dispositions, was deceitful beyond all comparison, and desperately wicked. It sounded in the ear of those inflated reptiles of the dust who, swollen with vanity, would lift themselves up and be of consequence, - “He that exalteth himself shall be abased,” - “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall,” - “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” To man in love with ease and indulgence, said Jesus, deny thyself, deny thyself. If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. He who would be my disciple, must crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts. It called upon those who were prosecuting with inexpressible eagerness the vain objects of time, not to labor for the meat which perishes, but for that which endureth forever. To the man inflamed with envy, hatred, and revenge, and burning to gratify these unhallowed tempers, Christ preached a doctrine which confounded the philosophy of this world; a doctrine as novel as it was repugnant to those who heard it. “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Christianity thus being in direct opposition to the whole current of man's natural desires, it is not surprising that he should have hated it. It is not extraordinary that its preaching should stir up the most violent opposition, of those whose pleasures it abridged, and whose practices it condemned. There were soon seen innumerable proofs that Paul spoke the truth, when he declared “the carnal mind is enmity against God.” Every unconverted man was the enemy of the Gospel. He looked upon it as the censor of his morals, and the opponent of his cherished gratifications. He regarded his very happiness as identified with the extermination of a religion so objectionable in all its provisions. And the early history of Christianity, is a history of the industry manifested by men in the adoption and execution of such measures as they thought best calculated to effect [sic] this desirable consummation.
But how is it that we still find in the world this religion, so long a stumbling-block to human pride and ambition? Why has it not long since been banished from the earth? When its enemies have ever been so much more numerous than its friends, when it has met on every hand such unrelenting hostility, how comes it to pass that Christianity is still triumphant? How is it,
that a religion so universally hated, has achieved such wonders in subduing pride, in breaking up hard hearts, and in melting into contrition and penitence stubborn natures? How is it that the phenomenon, of a man to-day breathing out threatening, and slaughter, and maddened with rage against this religion, and tomorrow, its most ardent supporter, has found a parallel in every age of the Church? Whence has the gospel this soul-subduing energy? By what might has Christianity effected all this? I answer by the power of the living God. Leave divine interference out of the question, exclude from all this the hand of God, and the fact that on this, the 30th day of July, 1843, there is such a religion prevalent in the world as the Christian religion, is itself a miracle far more astonishing than any of the wonderful miracles said to have been wrought by its divine founder in support of its claims.
II. If you look at the means which have been employed to promote the extension of Christianity, you will perceive that these must have been unavailing unless seconded by an almighty power. We could conceive that a religion as objectionable to the pride of man's heart, as is the religion of Jesus, yet protected at all times by the strong arm of civil power, or recommended by the imposing forms of learning and of grandeur, might attain a currency to which it was by no means entitled. Indeed all spurious religions, which have ever gained much popularity in the world, must ascribe that popularity to secular support, or to their acquiescence in man's corrupt propensities. For it has been universally found that where the former has been withdrawn, or when they no longer chime in with the carnal mind, these false systems have declined and ultimately become extinct. There have ever been some peculiar circumstances of an accidental and secular character to which they have been indebted for their extension. Look, for an illustration of this remark, at the sects which existed in the world antecedent to the Christian era, and contemporary with Christ. The leaders of the different sects of philosophy - secured for their opinions, very considerable circulation, but did not their authors and patrons render themselves commendable by means and arts either merely specious, or positively sinful? The followers of Plato were numerous, but it is well known that they courted public favor by their skill in the sublime science of geometry. How was it that the peripatetics acquired such celebrity? It was because the pupils of this school devoted themselves to the study of plants and of animals, and by their extraordinary proficiency in natural science, exhibited to the people many of the secrets of nature and thus acquired their esteem and veneration. Whence the popularity of the Stoical doctrines? The Stoics were distinguished for their learned subtleties in disputation, and being able to confound their opponents, they acquired a reputation for wisdom. What was there so
facinating in the doctrines of Pythagoras as to secure the attention of such multitudes? It is well known that the Pythagoreans charmed their hearers with lofty speculations respecting the soul, the enchantments of harmony, and the origin of all things. We need not stop long to account for the popularity of the doctrines of Epicurus. His doctrines are not entirely obsolete at the present day. These systems were defended by some of the most powerful and eloquent writers which have ever lived, and this no doubt, in a very material degree, contributed to their currency. The temporary success which attended these and all other systems of religion which were in the world prior to the Christian religion, can be accounted for entirely on natural principles; we need look no farther than this world to learn the secret of their triumph.
The same remark is applicable to the false systems of modern times. Take for instance that popular defection, Mohammadism. The origin and the extension of this delusion can easily be accounted for. Mohammadism has been propagated by the sword: it is indebted for its success to the craftiness and hardihood of its founders; to the lenient eye with which it has ever looked upon human infirmity and depravity. It is moreover a religion in very considerable accordance with the perverted tastes and passions of men. By holding up a heaven of sensual delight, it has excited the pursuit of the groveling, and secured a numerous train of followers. If you advert to the different systems of paganism now existing in the world, it will be seen that they owe their propagation to the support of civil power; to the slavish fears of their subjects; or to the fact that they pander to the debasing appetites of those whom they would secure as their votaries.
But to what is the success of Christianity owing? Who can account for its origin and extension upon any principles of human calculation? Who will explain its existence as he would explain the progress of any of the counterfeit religions of the world? The success which has attended the preaching of the gospel must be accounted for on principles widely different from any of these. Look at its early advocates - men selected from the most humble avocations in life, - without distinction of birth, without learning, without refinement, - without the smallest pretensions to greatness - save that which they derived from being the advocates of an unpopular religion. Look at its doctrines. As we have already seen, most unpalatable to the carnal mind; such as must have excited all the opposition of which it was capable. To one class, the Jews, who were expecting a Messiah clothed with temporal power, the fundamental doctrine of Christianity, that its founder had been put to death as a malefactor, was an absolute stumbling block; whilst in the estimation of the Greeks, who were in quest of wisdom, it was the veriest foolishness. Look at the class of
people upon whom they proposed to operate. These, in the view of the world, were as insignificant as those who preached to them. Other religions had aimed to reach the opulent, the learned, the great of this world, neglecting those in the humble walks of life. Christianity aimed to save the vilest, to recover the meanest from their degradation. Indeed it was the peculiar glory of this religion, that the poor had the gospel preached unto them. Whilst the wise, and the prudent, and the proud of this world looked with disdain upon its doctrines, the humble rejoiced in the saving efficacy which they imparted. Other religions, as we have already seen, owed their extension to secular support, or to some contingencies. But Christianity has had no such support. It has been for the most part, opposed by those very influences which have been exerted to sustain false religions. Some of the most enlightened governments have only tolerated it, (which indeed is all that it asks,) designing in no way to touch the question of its merits; while in a great majority of cases, the kings of the earth have planted themselves against it, and the powers of this world have been leagued with the powers of darkness to “blot out its memorial from under heaven.”
But how is it, I ask again, that Christianity is still triumphant? How comes it to pass that with men so illiterate and obscure for its advocates; with doctrines so offensive; with people so poor and despised for its adherents; with the strongest powers ever known in the world, exerted to arrest its progress; how comes it to pass, that the religion of Jesus yet prevails, and that successive centuries have only rendered more and more resplendent the lustre which encircles it? Upon what principles of historical calculation can we account for all this? What human reasoning will explain it? For my part I can assign but one reason, the protection of Almighty God. Its existence under circumstances such as I have described, is powerful proof that it is a divine revelation. Well may we change the phraseology of Gamaliel and say: If this counsel, or this work had been of man, long since would it have come to naught; if it had been some scheme like that of Theudus, or Judas of Galilee, or like that of Plato, or Pythagoras, or Epicurus, or Aristotle, or Mahomet, or Juggernaut, long since would it have perished. But having God for its author, truth without any mixture of error for its subject, and salvation for its end, it has prevailed and must prevail. It will continue to add victory to victory until there shall not be found one enemy, not one heart a stranger to its saving power. Infidelity may as well attempt to teach the stream to forget its nature and to roll up the mountain side; or it may as soon hope to hurl the earth from its orbit, or to pluck the sun from the firmament, as to stay the mighty progress of the religion of Jesus.
III. The success of Christianity in exterminating the false philosophy, and the false religions of the world, is another fact
supporting the proposition before you. It is a common observation, that “man is a religious being.” And there is much truth in the remark. Our hopes and our fears, our love of pleasure, and our dread of pain, our sense of right and of wrong, the vast longings of our nature, all dispose us to seek a religion of some sort. Now if Christianity had found the world in utter destitution of every thing which could be called religion, it might have been contended that inasmuch as this was the first and the only system presented to the world, that the religious nature of man would dispose him to embrace a religion which he secretly despised, rather than to be without any religion. Under such circumstances, it might be maintained, with some plausibility, that no argument supporting the divine authority of Christianity could be deduced from its success. But let it be borne in mind that the religion of Jesus found the minds of men pre-occupied with systems and creeds which they held in the highest veneration, and which were adhered to with all that tenacity with which the enlightened disciple now clings to his faith. It was therefore requisite that much error should be dissipated before the world could be prepared for the reception of the truth. The minds of men must be liberated from the ignorance which had enslaved them, and the delusions under which they had been laboring must be exposed, before they could be qualified to listen to the gospel of the Lord Jesus. To do this was a work replete with difficulty. They had to convince those who did not wish to be convinced, and whose idolatry impelled them to fortify themselves against all the assaults of the truth. There is nothing about which a man is so sensitive as about his religious belief, and though that belief be false and pernicious in the extreme, it is hard to persuade him that such is the case and to induce him to abandon it. When the Apostles of the Savior went forth upon their work, they were instantly met and opposed by the mythology of the pagans and the philosophy of the Greeks, which had for centuries enslaved the minds of the people, and entrenched themselves behind the sanctity of established customs and long venerated opinions. The religion of Christ was the decided antagonist of both these popular systems. It met the system of paganism with the declaration that it was entirely false, and charged it with teaching precepts directly at variance with those moral principles which Deity had implanted in the human bosom. Paganism held, that religion consisted in part, at least, of impure observances and unbridled excesses. Christianity taught, that it was the pure in heart alone who could see God. Paganism embodied the Deity in sensible forms and represented him under images which human hands had made. Christianity condemned such representations, teaching that God was a Spirit, and requiring those who would worship him acceptably, to worship in spirit and in truth. Paganism inculcated the worship of many deities.
Christianity preached one only living and true God.
Such was the discrepancy between Christianity and paganism. Nor were its doctrines less strikingly in contrast with the philosophy than with the religion of the age. Whilst one sect of these philosophers declared that matter was eternal, that the world had no beginning and could have no end; Christianity proclaimed that God spake and it was done, that he commanded and it stood fast, and that the world is to be one day destroyed by fire. Another sect held, that the world owed its origin to the fortuitous concurrence of atoms, and that the same chance which had created it, preserved it in existence. Christianity taught, that the world was created and preserved by a Being so particular and designing as to number the very hairs of the head. Instead of the doctrine held by many, that the wise man might defy the gods; Christianity taught that all created things are in God's sight but as the small dust of the balance; that we are sinners against him, and that we can only approach unto him in the exercise of penitence, humility and faith. Whilst pagan philosophy relied for its support upon the authority of man, the autos ephe of the Master, Christianity claimed to be a revelation from the supreme God, supporting that claim by incontestable miracles.
Such was the religion of Jesus, and with all the opposition which it encountered from the false worship and the false philosophy of the age, mark how rapidly the truth was circulated. In the language of another,* soon we hear they have filled Jerusalem with their doctrine. The Church has commenced her march. Samaria has with one accord believed the gospel. Antioch has become obedient to the faith. The name of Christ has been proclaimed throughout Asia Minor. The temples of the gods, as if smitten by an invisible hand, are deserted. The citizens of Ephesus cry out in despair, great is Diana of the Ephesians. Licentious Corinth, is purified by the preaching of Christ crucified. Persecution puts forth her arm to arrest the spreading superstition. But the progress of the faith cannot be stayed. The Church of God advances unhurt amidst racks and dungeons, persecutions and death, yea, smiles at the drawn dagger and defies its point; she has entered Italy and appears before the walls of the eternal city. Her ensign floats in triumph from the capitol. She has placed upon her brow the diadem of the Caesars!
And whence, I inquire again, this success in surmounting obstacles so formidable? By what power has it achieved a victory in comparison with which the proudest victory ever achieved by man dwindles into insignificance.
The sceptic may seek an explanation in ordinary causes, he may ascribe it to accident, or chance. I ascribe it to the power of the Lord God of hosts. Tell me that chance has done this!
I would as soon believe that chance turns the earth upon its axis or moves the planets in their orbits.
IV. I remark, finally, that the severe ordeal to which Christianity has been subjected, must have destroyed it but for divine preservation. Whatever may be said of the sufferings to which the early believers in Jesus were subjected, it is certain that they prove this much: that those who submitted to them were firmly convinced, that what they believed was true. Hypocrisy might make a profession, when that profession costs nothing. It might be willing to enter the Church, when the path to be traveled was one of flowers and of sunshine; when it was cheered on by an approving world. But when it comes to the fire and the sword, to the dungeon and the rack, hypocrisy will flinch and run away from the trial. There were not many hypocrites in those days. They were sincere men. And if these men were convinced, then the evidence for the truth must have been sufficient for this purpose, for it would have been consummate folly and madness to have staked their lives upon an uncertainty. It is difficult to conceive of more terrible tortures than those which were employed to compel believers to renounce their faith. The mind sickens at the recital of the horrible cruelties by which the enemies of the cross strove to effect [sic] their fiendish designs. The early history of Christianity, is a history of persecutions, distresses and tortures, by which the followers of Jesus were destroyed. A Roman lawyer wrote seven volumes, in which he attempted an enumeration of the various punishments with which it was judged that Christians should be afflicted. A favorite practice, we are told, was to pelt them to death with stones; multitudes were sent out of the world in this way. At one time, the flesh was torn and lacerated with saws, and the torment was continued until they were literally cut to pieces and destroyed. Again, it was the agony of the rack, an instrument which effected the death of its victim by tearing asunder the limbs from the body; at another time, it was to be shut up in a loathsome dungeon. where in gloomy darkness, the believer in Jesus was left to meet death in all the horrors of starvation; and again, as if to impart a terrific variety to their tortures, their victims were subjected to the inexpressible misery of the scorching flame encircling the body of the sufferer and literally burning away the foundations of life. It would seem as if man's diabolical ingenuity had ransacked the very magazines of hell, to devise modes of consummate torture. In the language of an eloquent defender of our faith: The most furious efforts of fanaticism; the concentrated strength of kings and of empires; have been frequently and perseveringly applied to blot from under heaven the memorial of Christianity. The blood of her sons and of her daughters, has flowed like water; the smoke of the scaffold, where they wore the crown of martyrdom, in the cause of Jesus, has ascended in
thick volumes to the sky. The tribes of persecution have sported over her woes, and erected as they supposed, monuments of her perpetual ruin. But Christianity still lives. She has lived to celebrate the funeral of kings, and of kingdoms that plotted her destruction. When her persecutors have gone to their reward, she rears her head in triumph and tramples upon their ignominious dust. She lives when the puny arms which were raised to stay her progress, have palsied in death and now lie mouldering in the grave.
And whence this victory? Whence this wonderful conquest? How comes it to pass that amidst the faggot, and the fire, and the dungeon, and the rack, and the blood, the religion of Jesus still lives? How let me ask, has it been enabled to survive unhurt, the fires of persecution and the fierce hostility of her foes? I answer, because this work and this counsel was of God, and could not be overthrown. Divinity was enstamped upon it. The signature of omnipotence was clear and legible. Though storm after storm has for centuries been beating upon it, still it remains unshaken. Like the tempest which strengthens the sturdy oak of the forest and forces it to strike its roots deeper and wider in the earth, the fury of its opponents has only implanted it more firmly and immoveably in the affection of those who know its saving power. Well has it been said, that “opposition, like the wind from heaven blowing upon a conflagration, instead of quenching it, has only blown it into a brighter blaze.” The very blood of her sons and of her daughters which has flowed so freely, has only enriched her soil, and drawn from it a multiplied host of followers.
I ask then, may we not most confidently assert, that the prevalence of Christianity in the world for nearly 2000 years, constitutes one of the highest moral proofs that it is a divine revelation.
My Christian brethren, what abundant reason have we to exult that our faith stands in the power of God. Can we ever be sufficiently thankful for such a religion, and for all the evidence which we possess of its being a divine revelation. With the bright hope of the Gospel, how is every ill of life alleviated, every tempest of this stormy pilgrimage assuaged. With this in our hearts, we may smile on suffering, tribulation, adversity of every species, and even on the last enemy himself. Wrest from us this hope and we are undone. We are plunged into uncertainty and darkness. With this we may ask,If we be stript of this support,“What is the bigot's torch? the tyrants chain?
I smile on death, if heaven ward hope remain.”
130But thanks be to God, this religion can never be wrested from us. You may heap suffering upon the disciple of Jesus. You may subject him to the keenest torture, you may tear from him his very heart, but you cannot wrest from him the faith which he has received from the Holy Ghost. We have this hope as the anchor of the soul sure and steadfast. It is the solace of our lives, - let it pass into fruition and be the perfect bliss of heaven. What shall I say to him who is refusing to receive Jesus Christ and his religion? You are fighting against God, impenitent hearer. You refuse to acknowledge the claims of his Son, and this is opposition enough to destroy you. Do not tell me that you have not been fighting against God, when I see you resisting his Spirit, refusing the calls of his grace, tearing from you the cords which a merciful being has thrown out to draw you to himself. What an unhallowed war you are waging. Wo unto him that striveth with his Maker. Who hath hardened himself against Him and has prospered. In such a contest expect defeat, expect ruin, expect to be covered with eternal shame. But desist, desist. Come over to the Lord's side. Enlist with the soldiers of the cross. Fight the fight of faith, and a glorious victory shall be yours. - When you come to die, as you look back upon the fading scenes of time, and look forward to the realities of eternity, you can say in the language of one of old: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.”“If the warring winds of nature's strife,
Be all the faithless charter of my life,
If chance awaked-inexorable power
This frail and feverish being of an hour,
Doomed o'er the world's precarious scene to sweep,
Swift as the tempest travels o'er the deep -
To know delight but by her parting smile,
And toil, and weep, and wish, a little while,
Then end ye elements that formed in vain
This troubled pulse and visionary brain
Fade ye wild flowers - memorials of my doom -
And sink ye stars that light me to the tomb.”
I have left myself but a moment to speak a word to those* who are about to go forth from this venerable Institution to engage in the more public duties of life. My brothers, I am not a stranger to the emotions which this morning pervade your bosoms. It is but a few years since my circumstances were similar to your own, and the feelings with which I was then exercised are yet vivid in my recollection. In view of the
* The Graduating Class.
interesting position which you now occupy, what can I say to you? This is not the time for any protracted advice. I can only exhort you to cherish the elevated sentiments of virtue and of truth, which I doubt not have been again and again impressed upon your attention by those to whom has been confided the important work of training your intellects, and of guiding your morals. Those who have been distinguished for any thing very great or good in this world, have generally had some particular maxim, some leading truth to which they have looked as to the polar star of their being. Permit me to suggest one maxim for your guidance in all future life. It shall be that which an inspired man addressed to a youth dear to his heart, when he was about to enter upon the responsible duties of his vocation, “Study to show thyself approved unto God.” This advice has a stronger claim, because it is the dictate of revelation. If you enter any of the learned professions, let this study form a part of your daily studies, and let it adorn the profession which you may choose. Should your life be devoted to the pursuits of commerce, let this study incite you to write holiness to the Lord upon your merchandise; and should you engage in the ancient and respectable business of agriculture, let this study shed its sacred influence over this vocation. That is a most shallow and miserable philosophy which excludes God from its calculations. The time has gone by when the vituperation of Christianity passes for superior shrewdness and penetration. Believe me, gentlemen, the way of transgressors is hard. Believe me, nay, believe inspiration, That wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness, and that all her paths are peace. Study to show thyself approved unto God. Do this then, my brother, and whatever thou mayest fail in hereafter, you will not have failed in the one thing needful. Neglect it. Then in whatever else thou mayst succeed, life will be to thee an utter failure! May God bless you!
[From Henry Keeling, editor, The Baptist Preacher, July, 1844, pp. 119-131. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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