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world confront that question, “What think ye of Christ ?” and more than any Christian man could do to precipitate the great issue, still upon us, whereby we are driven, as at the point of the bayonet, to take our stand and make our election between an unhesitating supernaturalism and the abyss of blank doubt and despair; and the Church is made to see that it is engaged in a struggle for everything or nothing.
These illustrations are on the broader scale. But the world is full of instances on the narrower scale in which hostile aims and efforts have recoiled, and the reaction has been greater than the action. Thus the deliberate agreement of two friends, West and Littleton, to disprove two special topics of God's Word, extorted from them two powerful vindications of Christ's resurrection and Paul's conversion. The very falsehoods of certain infidel writers opened the eyes of the young skeptic, David Nelson, and led him to give his life to the reclamation of infidels, and with singular success. The endowment of a college on infidel principles called forth a defense of the Christian religion from the greatest American statesman and orator of the past generation; and in the present generation certain scientific assaults upon the Gospels have summoned to their firm defense one who in after years will be recognized as the noblest public man in the history of the British empire.
Men's evil passions have been abundantly used for the diffusion of God's truth. Before the coming of Christ. Alexander's insatiate ambition had spread far and wide the noble language in which his messengers might address all the nations, and Roman rapacity had constructed a vast empire under which the first missionaries could travel along its great highways from Babylon to Spain. In the time of greatest spiritual declension the prodigality of a luxurious and perhaps infidel pope kindled the Reformation; and the balancing of evil policies and corrupt purposes, together with wicked wars and Mohammedan incursions, saved Luther and the Reformation from premature destruction,
. Selfish reasons of state have more than once protected the infant religion till the powers of state could not destroy. The unbridled passions of the eighth Henry rent England from the Church of Rome. The British conquests in India, stained with many crimes and once hostile to the gospel, at length gave a breadth and security to the missionary work impossible under the multitude of petty chieftains. The discreditable opium war with China yet threw open to God's Word a vast empire hermetically sealed. The jealousies of European powers centering around Constantinople are perhaps all that for years have saved the Christian Church in Turkey from extinction, till doubtless now it cannot be extinguished. God often gives individual good men strange helpers. William Tyndale's enemies bought up his first edition for destruction, and thus enabled him to issue his second. When Whitefield was preaching with such power in this country, the most enterprising religious publisher was the thrifty Benjamin Franklin, at that time probably a disciple of Shaftesbury and Collins.
Human wickedness has been made not only to aid in diffusing but in establishing the Church. Its most hostile demonstrations, in the form of persecutions, have often been the most effective; as saith the proverb, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” How conspicuously has the violence of its enemies proved the means of discipline. It has kept Christians humble, prayerful, vigilant, faithful. It has proved their temper, chastened their fire, evoked their spirit of forgiveness. It has exercised their faith and self-denial. It has often confirmed the timid, settled the wavering, and scattered the fears of the doubting. Peter grows bold before the magistrates, and Cranmer is nerved up at the burning fagot. One almost thinks at times that we need another persecution for the over-prosperous and pampered Church, to purge out its follies, scandals, and heresies, to clear away its lax morals and loose theology, its impotent preaching and unworthy members. For how often such scenes in the past have winnowed the Church of its chaff, unmasked its hypocrites, cast out its drones! How have they hushed all inner strifes in the common danger and the higher work, and brushed away the hangers-on who in fairer times are its burden and reproach! It was when the terror of the Master's death had cut down the disciples to a hundred and twenty that they were all with one accord in prayer together, and the Holy Ghost came down, and multitudes were soon brought in. Thus, too, these things have consolidated the Church. The times of greatest pressure have been times of
When the storm without was loudest, the peace within was greatest. It has not diminished the happiness of the home that the foe was barking at the door.
How often also has the most bitter hostility served to show forth the religion of the Church in its beauty. Man's extremity has been God's opportunity to make known the meekness and constancy, the courage and the victory. It has arrested the gaze and won the admiration and sympathy of men as nothing else could do. Many an auto-da-fé with its array of inquisitors has been a gala day for true religion, when the heir of glory drest in ascension robes in sight of assembled multitudes has passed away in his chariot of fire to heaven. “We shall this day," said Latimer to Ridley, “light such a candle by God's grace in England, as shall never be put out.”
The hand of violence has helped disseminate the Church. As the first disciples lingered round Jerusalem it was persecution that drove them forth “every where preaching the word.” So Philip was sent on his eventful journey to Samaria. When the time came for Paul to labor in Rome and make converts in the household of Nero, it was his foes that took him thither free of charge, with a stout ship at his service and a Roman band in attendance. The process has not seldom been repeated down to the present generation, when the Armenian priest, Vartanes, was first imprisoned at Marash and then exiled to Nicomedia to preach the gospel in both those monasteries and on the
way thither. God has thus often made involuntary missionaries. He has suffered his Church to grow like a flower in a garden and spread its petals to the sun; and when the seed is well ripened then comes the rude blast and scatters it far and wide. So were the Huguenots spread over Europe and to America. And when God would transplant his choice vine to this continent, it was wholly hostile forces that sharply pruned it of all dead and weakly branches, ejected it from its native border, gave it no resting place, save across the ocean, then hedged it in for years till it filled the land with its boughs. Again, centuries later, when true patriotism was dying out, and religion was losing its savor by its silence on foul wrongs, when the Church seemed chained to a corpse and endangered by the world, in good time God let loose a storm of human passion to do what all human wisdom had failed and despaired to achieve; to resuscitate true patriotism, to unchain the fettered Church with the unmanacled slave, to unlock her dumb voice and open her sealed coffers, that religion might flow forth from its imprisonment, permeate the dark places of the land, and .cause the American Ethiopia to stretch out its hands unto God.
And as the eye glances back over that strange record, it is a marvelous study to see how every telling stroke upon those chains of civil and religious bondage, whether it be Florida wars, Texas invasions, Kansas slaughters, the Fugitive Slave Bill, the Dred Scott decision, the rendition of Burns, the expulsion of Judge Hoar, the imprisonment of women or the hanging of men, the