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BETAPAGE, July 20th.
One party has been wont to say, "The word is called "the sword of the Spirit." It is the Spirit, then, to whom this sword belongs, and who pierces with it, by adding his own power, the heart of the sinner.' The other party has been accustomed to reply to this: It is not said that the Spirit takes his own sword, but in the passage adduced, (Eph. vi. 17.) it is to Christians the address is made; they are commanded to take the sword of the Spirit, and make use of it for the purposes intended.' But I would say to the latter, Do you not see that special agency, or a power out of the word, is supposed necessary according to your view of this passage, just as much as in the view taken by yonr opponents? In neither case does the sword slay of itself. In both cases power is added;--in the one, it is the power of the Spirit; in the other, the power of the Christian. We could not well have a more striking metaphor than this to show the perfect inefficiency of the word alone. For a sword has no power whatever, except it be taken into the hand of some one. I am therefore, you perceive, perfectly justified in taking it as a point conceded, or rather maintained by all, that there is a special agency, power, or influence, co-operating with the word to render it effective in conversion. *
* I would not wish to be understood as approving the use made hy either party of thie passage referred to, (Eph. vi. 17) It does not in either case prove the point in behalf of which it is adduced. In truth it has nothing to do with the controversy. Had the A pos. tle been discussing the question and introduced the nelaphor as applicable to the case, it might then indeed be apposite. But this was not the suliject, and there is no authority whalever to make such an application. I have referred io ii only to show th: perfeci agreement of the contending parties as to the question in delate.
The true question, then, is: How is this power exerted? or, What is the nature of it? It is this which I have proposed to examine, and in my last communication it was argued that the effect would be just the same whether the extra power were really added to the word itself, or were occupied in removing the obstacles or hindrances which prevented the word from reaching the heart. Thus, to use the figure above referred to, if we suppose a sword, impelled with a certain degree of force, but unable to reach the heart by reason of a breastplate which is interposed, it will be obvious that the agency which would simply remove the breastplate, allowing the force of the sword 10 remain the same, would effect the purpose, just as fully and effectually, as if sufficient additional force had been added to the sword itself to enable it to pierce through the breastplate.
That the agency exerted is of the former and not of the latter character, is susceptible, I think, of abundant proof. The arrangements provided in the scriptures for the spread of the gospel, the cases of conversion therein recorded, and all true experiences are in proof of it. The Lord "opened Lydia's heart, that she attended to the things spoken by Paul.” Now "the things spoken by Paul” were the gospel facts, which he preached in every place; and “the Lord opened her heart so that she attended” to them. Her heart then is represented as an apartment closed. He did not communicate to the gospel power to force its way into her heart. No: he adopted the much more simple and natural method of opening, as it were, the door of the heart, that the gospel might enter. Thus there was no additional power given to the gospel, but power was exerted in removing obstacles out of its way.
But it will be asked: And how did he open her heart? This may perhaps be better understood when I have considered the general quesa tion, to which I have now come, to wit: What is the nature or charace ter of the power employed to remove the hindrances which prevent the gospel from taking effect?
I answer this first in general terms thus: The character of this power or influence must, in order to success, be always precisely adapted to the nature of the obstacle to be removed. For it is not in every case the same obstacle which prevents conversion. The hindrances to the conversion of men are very various indeed, and require a corresponding variety in the means employed to overcome them. Some of these hindrances I shall notice—others l shall leave to your own reflection,
1. Ignorance of the gospel. This ignorance may be due to several causés: Distance or remoteness from those portions of the globe where the Bible is read and the gospel preached, will of course wholly pro
vent conversion: the inhabitants of such remote districts being left to the light of naʻure, and being not only ignorant of God and his Son Jesus Christ, but enveloped in the darkness of gross idolatry and superstition. Such is now the condition of many tribes and nations among the heathen, and such was almost universally the case, at the close of our Lord's ministry. It is manifest that the first thing neces. sary to be done in this case is to send the Bible, or missionaries who can declare its truths, to these persons. They cannot be converted else. Their want of knowledge of the gospel is an insuperable barrier in the way, and it is an absolute pre requisite to their conversion that this should be removed. All agree in this, both in theory and practice. All unite in sending missionaries and the scriptures to the destitute and ignorant in every place. It was the course pursued at the beginning. The Apostles and first Christians went every where preaching the word. They were commanded to do so. It was the natural and proper course-a measure just suited to overcome the obstacle in the way.
If, however, when a missionary should go to a foreign land, with the gospel, he found himself incapable of making it known to the inhabitants on account of ignorance of their language, they would remain as ignorant of i', and as far from being converted as though the missionary had never visited them at all. The difficulty here would be, not the want of the soriptures, nor the want of a missionary, but the want of means of communication; and the proper remedy would be an interpreter, or a knowledge of the language. This is just the remedy which men employ now, and it was to provide against this obstacle that the gift of longues was given to the first missionaries, so that all nations might hear, in their native languages, the wonderful works of God.
Here, then, are two obstacles to be removed, each requiring a differ. ent means, and each sufficient of itself to prevent conversion according to either theory. The Bible would not go of itself to Ispahan, nor proclaim itself in the Persian tongue: neither would the Spirit of God, by special power, convert a worshipper of the Grand Lama who never heard the gospel. Hence all agree to send missionaries to all lands and to translate the Bible into all languages, because all perceive very clearly that the gospel cannot be expected to affect the heart until it is first presented to the mind, and duly understood; and no one expects the gospel itself to receive additional power sufficient to overcome such abstacles as those just mentioned; but all labor to remove them out of the way by a buman agency adapted to the purpose.
Ignorance of the gospel, however, may arise from other causes than
the circumstance of its not having been yet preached. All will admit that ignorance from this cause is an insurmountable obstacle to the effect of the gospel. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." How shall ihey call on Him in whom they have not believed? How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? How shall they hear without a preacher? or how shall they preach wi hout a message? But people may hear the gospel proclaimed and yet remain ignorant of it from a cause which is of sufficient importance to demand special and separate consideration. It is then,
2. A want of attention. If a person will not attend to what is spoken, the case will be the same with him as if he had not heard-he will be ignorant of, and corfsequently unaffected by, the things spoken. Now this want of attention is the most common hindrance to the effect of the preaching f the gospel, and the great mäter always is, and that which is intended to be accomplished by most of the agencies employed, to fix the attention of men upon the subject, so that they may consider it, understand it, and realize its importance. This inattention itself ;
f may spring from various causes, and may exist in various degrees; but from whatever cause it arises, or in whatever degree it exists, its measure will be the measure of ignorance, and this again will be the amount to be deducted, in each particular case, from the whole power of the gospel.
The means by which inattention is to be overcome will depend upon the cause of it. Persons whose minds are engaged with worldly business will sit under the sound of a preacher's voice without really hearing five sentences of the discourse. Their thoughts are wandere ing the while over the uncertain regions of speculation, or they are amused with the notice of the audience, and the circumstances of particular individuals. But if the meeting be protracted for several days, by and by they hear enough to engage their attention; their minds begin to work upon the subject of the gospel and their eternal salvation; they reflect, they feel, and resolve to turn to God. This is natural; and it is the true explanation of the success which usually attends a protracted meeting, that the attention of the people being called to the subject day after day, their minds begin at last to work upon it, and to examine and consider it with such interest, that it is fully understood and felt, and exerts consequently its full power upon them.
The fixing of the attention is also the secret of the great success of some preachers. One who is eloquent, and can thus not only engage the attention, but present the truth in an attractive and forcible manner to the mind thus ready to receive it, will make many converis; while one who is without such ability, and discourses in a dry and uninter. esting style, will convert no one. The difference is mainly in the power of fixing the attention, and so engaging the mind in the con. sideration of the subject. He who pays no attention to what is delivered, might as well have remained at home, or have been addressed in a foreign tongue, or have lived in the mountains of the moon in the heart of Africa, where he would not have seen a missionary or a Bible; for he will be just as ignorant of, and as indifferent to the gospel from not attending to it, as he could possibly be from not having it in his power to hear it at all.
A thonsand circumstances may serve to fix the attention of individuals upon their religious interests in a land where all have the Bible and the ministry of the word. The admonition of a friend will lead one to read the scriptores and to attend religious meetings uniil he becomes a convert. The death-bed injunctions of a relative or the casual remarks of a travelling acquaintance will suffice to remove that inattention which previously hindered, and might have forever hindered conversion. How many persons can trace their first serious thoughts to such circumstances which have been turning points in their destiny! Such persons, thus influenced, then go to meeting in order to attend 10 the things spoken. Their hearts, like that of Lydia, are thus opened for the reception and consideration of the truth.
Man is so constituted that he is affected, as you have shown, by the objects present to his mind. This, however, will depend upon the attention with which he regards them; and as the attention is under the direction of the will, man is clearly accountable for his condition. We may direct our attention to any subject we please, and just according to the direction which we give to our powers of observation will be our state of mind. “The heart of this people is become gross," said Jesus, "and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” The reason why the people, addressed by our Lord, were not converted, is here distinctly stated. They had gross and carnal views in regard to the Messiah's kingdom; their desires were for worldly honor and enjoyment, and their attention was engaged by the things appertaining thereto: consequently, they did not give their attention---their eyes and ears, to the Spiritual Teacher, so as to understand with their heart, and be converted and healed. Jesus, therefore, knowing their condition, and that they had given themselves up to the world, very properly couched his teachings in parables, the obstacle to the understanding of which was