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magnify the possibilities of heathen salvation into probabilities. It is the era for “ Theodicies” and “Sciences of Religion” and “Comparative Theologies"; an age when men can discover “Ten Great Religions" --perchance eleven.
Surrounded thus by the glory of secularism, we are called at times to take our bearings and look forth for the polestar of our heavens. Permit me, therefore, fathers and brethren, to strike once more the keynote of the whole Christian enterprise at home and abroad, and to recall to your thoughts and mine this primal truth :
THE DIVINE FORCES
OF CHRIST ARE THE ONLY ULTIMATE
By divine forces I mean those which come direct from God; which, though they act in nature and through man, are behind nature and above humanity
supernatural and superhuman. When the Church fails chiefly to invoke these influences her most magnificent appliances are but a mechanism and her own beautiful form is a corpse. These things need not all be specified in technical detail. The text sketches them in bold outline: the expiatory offering of the Son of God, recorded in sacred Scriptures inspired of God, and applied by the Spirit of God to the regeneration of sinful hearts and the holy energizing of human lives, through institutions appointed and preserved by God, and by God made effectual to overcome the universal repugnance to truth and duty. That here must be our reliance would seem clear,
First, from the emergency of the case. After all sentimental dreams, when we open our eyes one appalling fact stands full in view : every member of the race is clearly out of harmony with the God of holiness and plainly in conflict with his searching law. The Bible did not make it so; it finds it so. I have heard the godless man of business preach as stern a doctrine of depravity as the apostle Paul. And so radical is the ruin that when you look upon the newborn child in his cradle you know that, train him as you will, in the bosom of refinement and love, none the less certainly will he go astray. Gravitation is no surer. You look upon the stranger, of whose existence you never knew before, and you assume that his character is traversed with sin. The man of the world would otherwise scorn your simplicity. So thoroughgoing is the aversion of men to God that when the full remedy is offered them their opposition to being saved from sin long seems, and often proves, unconquerable. Nay, it seems proved by fact that the forces of the gospel are needed to awaken the desire to be saved by the gospel. And though we grant that the presence
of the redemptive work in this world creates a possibility that men may be saved in pagan lands; and though we conceive that for Christ's sake God may accept even a potential or germ faith, — the readiness to believe, yet in the whole history of heathenism who will recount to us a hundred undoubted cases where that potential faith was found without the coming of the gospel ?
When, therefore, we look forth on this great moral Sahara, where the highest moral attainment is the despairing confession, “I see the better and approve, I pursue the worse,” how can we fail to see that where the whole course of nature has but led to sin the rescue from sin must be out of the course of nature; and where the whole race are fallen together into the pit, the only arm to save is the arm of God ? Deliverance, if it come at all, springs not from earth, but from heaven.
But we are persuaded of the same truth, secondly, by the manifest inadequacy of human agencies to accomplish the end.
It would seem needless to speak of the ordinary influences of civilization and culture, for the reason that at their highest scope they never aim at the reconciliation of man to God. But since so many are still ready to propose the plow, the anvil, the loom, and the press as at least needful pioneers of Christianity, we may well take notice in passing that but for some higher influence than has yet shown itself in such schemers, no man can be found to send, much less to carry, the plow and the press to the brutalized. Loudly and vainly has the missionary called on them for these magic implements. Nor have I ever read of an instance, outside of Christianity, where mere culture has sent forth its choicest men and women to raise the degraded races. And when the contact has been made providentially it has been more commonly the fact that the solitary white man has sunk toward the level of the savage, and that in the fuller contact of races the savage has caught chiefly the vices of his superior his drunkenness, profanity, and gambling.
Civilization and culture have no doubt some diffusive force, but alas ! in conflict with human depravity they have no self-perpetuating power. After all our declamations upon the progress of the race it remains perhaps to be proved that there is any line of sure, permanent progress for the race, except along the line of revealed religion. In the long run human depravity outstrips human intellect and worries it down. Nearly all that survived the wreck of classic culture was wafted down in the ark of the gospel. Scattered through the world are indications which fairly raise the question whether the race as a whole has not fallen away from a primitive moral light just in proportion as it has receded in time and space from its original source. There are traditions of that golden age, old mythologies with gleams of lost expression on their now hideous features, universal memories of the great deluge, tattered theologies, discarded moralities, dead languages, and extinct civilizations. The splendid Sanskrit speech all buried beneath the debris of modern Hinduism is a more startling phenomenon than those vast western mounds and ancient copper mines that lay beneath the trail of the unconscious moccasin.
But be these things as they may, what corruptions of society may underlie the glory of culture, he who cannot read in Martial, Juvenal, or Catullus may see in Pompeii. And of at least the average tendencies of unsanctified commerce the world has had some evidence in the East India Company's relation to Hindu idolatry, in the African slave-trade, in American debauchery of the Indian tribes, in the opium war with China, and in the white man's hellish pollution that fought fifty years with the missionary for the Pacific Islands.
But when we speak of conversion or even reformation from vice we sound a deeper chasm. What human power can rescue the individual once thoroughly sold under sin ? To the slave of the cup some Burns or Poe or Hartley Coleridge — how often have wife, children, and friends, wealth and fair fame, yea, life itself come pleading in vain! How every consideration of prudence and national well-being goes down before some great organic sin, till half a nation hugs the chains of slavery with its heartstrings and finds deliverance only in the frenzy of suicidal war!
And when we deal no longer with individual sins but with the bitter root and essence of all sin, how desperate the struggle! The very gospel then seems destined to be the victim and not the victor.
No more forlorn prospect is conceivable, humanly viewed, than that of Christ's kingdom in the presence of the kingdoms of the world. A babe lying in a village stall at Bethlehem while a king and his councilors are deciding its fate at the capital is its standing type. It is the still small voice amid the universal uproar; straggling