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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
compactest union. 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 genera. tion, 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
blow at Sumner's head or the shot at Fort Sumter's flag - these and every other telling stroke came from the hand of human wrath and folly.
“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform."
Such are some of the ways in which the wrath of man is overruled to praise God. And yet this is but a faint outline of the record as it can already be read on earth, and doubtless but a glimpse of the vision as it shall be seen from heaven.
Young Gentlemen of the Graduating Class : The theme I have presented may seem to you theoretical, but it is in reality intensely practical. It goes to the foundation, not alone of divine government, but of human life. It is matter of deep discouragement to the enemies of righteousness and of God. For all their efforts against him and his plans are of no avail. Willing or unwilling they shall do his work. He will use them and dispose of them. He will master their weapons and bind them to his chariot in the triumphal march.
In the same proportion it is full of comfort to all the earnest, honest, upright, and good. It is a word of cheer and of hope. So let it be to you as you look forth on the scene and the struggle of life. Should you see iniquity abounding and prospering, fraud and violence proud and boastful, wicked men and wicked passions bold and defiant, impiety arrogant and blatant,
then be not dismayed. The Lord sits serenely above it all, and will say, “Thus far and no farther."
It is yours, then, as you launch forth into outer life to push out trustfully and fearlessly. Place conscience at the helm, fix your eye on the polestar of duty and your hand in God's, and ride safely over the waves of life. Choose your calling wisely, enter upon it earnestly, follow it faithfully, and give yourselves no anxiety for the issue. With a thoroughly right purpose be sure you will find your place and your level and achieve your work. No man but yourself can prevent you. You, and you alone, can be your effective enemy by abandoning the alliance with God. As you pass on in life you will often be permitted to see for yourself the truth of that Scripture, “He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made,” as well as of this broader, higher truth, “The wrath of man shall praise God.” Unless your eyes are holden, you will see more and more that there is a God in history and in life.
Press on, work on, hope on, young men, neither envying the prosperity of the wicked nor fearing his machinations. “He that walketh uprightly walketh surely.” Ally yourself to every good enterprise, and above all to that one enterprise against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. Stand at your post through life, and so stand in your lot at “the end of days." God be with you in life, death, and eternity. Amen.