Dr. J. William Jones, a Civil War Baptist chaplain, says of this sermon:
I especially recall a sermon I heard him preach at General Gordon's headquarters about sunset on the evening of the Confederate Fast Day (he preached four times that day). General Gordon had sent around by special couriers notice that Doctor Broadus would preach, and there was an immense crowd - probably five thousand - in attendance. Generals Lee, A. P. Hill (an old schoolmate and special friend of Doctor Broadus), Ewell, Early, and a number of other generals were there, while all through the crowd the wreaths and stars and bars of rank mingled with the rude garb of the private soldier, and the vast sea of upturned, eager faces as the men sat on the bare ground, made a scene not easily forgotten.
The songs, simple old hymns, containing the very marrow of the gospel, were sung "with the spirit and understanding," and stirred every heart. The reading of the Scriptures, and the appropriate, fervent, melting prayer, such as only John A. Broadus could make - were all fit preparations for the sermon. The text was Proverbs 3:17, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."
I have heard him preach from that text several times, but never with the pathos and power that he had that day. He caught the vast crowd with his first sentence, and held, and thrilled, and moved them to the close of the sermon. There were times when there was scarcely a dry eye among those gathered thousands, and all through the sermon "Something on the soldier's cheek washed off the stain of powder." It was touching to see the commander-in-chief and his great lieutenants and other officers, the very flower of our Confederate chivalry, mingling their tears with those of "the unknown heroes" of the rank and file - men who never quailed in battle, trembling and not ashamed to weep under the power of the simple preaching of the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus. At the close of the service they came by the hundreds to ask an interest in the prayers of God's people, or profess a new-found faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I doubt not that our beloved brother has greeted on the other shore not a few who heard him that day or at other points in the army. - Life and Letters of John A. Broadus, pp. 208-9.
The Pleasures of Piety
A Sermon by John A. Broadus
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, And all her paths are peace. Proverbs 3:17
Some have thought it wrong that Christianity should appeal so much to the desire of happiness - most men, on the contrary, dislike its requirement of self-denial. As objections, a French preacher has well said, we might leave them to refute each other. But then both statements are true - and religion herein corresponds with human nature as we find it. Men in general have a conflict between feeling of interest and of duty - desiring gratification, yet feeling that they ought to deny themselves. Religion proposes to reunite and harmonize these so that the desire for happiness may be satisfied with holiness; that not only interest in fact, but men's feeling of interest, may coincide with duty - and while denying themselves all unlawful gratification, they may have new desires, whose gratification shall afford real happiness. Religion should make us happy, for love is the fulfilling of the law, and love is happiness. Religion may properly appeal to our desire for happiness, because we cannot exercise love to others without self-love. Selfishness, the perversion, the caricature of this, is wrong, but self-love is a necessary part of our nature, indispensable to our loving others, and thus indispensable to religion.
Condescending to our infirmities, and seeing that men have lost the relish for holiness, God appeals to their relish for happiness. If attracted by this, they may then be less averse to holiness. But observe, there is no compromise - it is not by the offer of sensual pleasures, here or hereafter, that we would attract men to religion. We do not say that you can be religious, and still enjoy the pleasures of sin. We do insist that you can be religious, and still have pleasure. It would not do if happiness were the sole object in seeking religion - but it may attract, and other elements enter in afterward.
Take this, then, as the subject of the sermon, "Religion affords Happiness," or, "The Pleasures of Piety."
I. The influence of piety upon those objects and relations which are commonly thought to contribute most to happiness.
1. Influence upon length of days. How religion contributes to this. Even conscientious care, even strong religious principle, fails to save many persons from neglect of health; but what would become of them without such principles?
2. Influence upon reputation. Consistent piety secures respect and confidence. Those who are religious should refuse to compromise with others. They may be annoyed, even vexed, at your refusal, yet in their hearts they will honor you. A firm, decided stand is easiest to maintain, and at the same time most reputable.
3. Influence on riches. I cannot speak of this, any more than the former topics, at length. Riches do not of themselves make a man pious - they often, though not always, have a contrary effect. Piety does not necessarily promote wealth - but it must always have that tendency. It deters from vices, and vice is commonly expensive. It enjoins and encourages those virtues, which are promotive of wealth, as frugality.
4. Influence upon our social relations. Affection for kindred and friends is enhanced by piety and mutual duties are performed better where there is piety. Piety gives a greater disposition to forgiveness and to self-sacrifice. It sheds a new luster over the brightest home, bestows an added joy upon the most loving hearts.
With reference to all these, observe the disposition religion produces, as regards both prosperity and adversity. Piety gives contentment, the disposition to make the best of everything. How great the value of this to happiness!
II. The new sources of happiness which piety opens up within us.
Piety opens up many new sources of happiness.
1. Trust in providence. Rather than "trusting to luck," or trusting merely to the uniformity of the laws of nature, we place our trust in a personal God who governs all things by his powerful Word. How immense the importance to our happiness of regarding the doings of providence as the work of our Father.
2. Peace of spirit. This grows out of reconcillation with God. How often the happiness of the impenitent is marred by thoughts of his danger as the enemy of God. But reconciliation with God, what a ground for peace of spirit - appropriating all the gracious promises, resting upon them, delighting in them. Then we may be able, by God's grace helping, to attain peace of conscience.
3.The enjoyment of religious exercises. Piety makes our worship, both public and private, pleasant. In seasons of private prayer and in Scripture reading, truth comes with unwonted clearness and preciousness.
4. Self-sacrifice for the good of others.
5. The hope of eternal blessedness.
Let it not be objected then to religion, that it would destroy happiness. It confers the highest happiness in life, the only happiness in death and in eternity.
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