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Say then, ye almoners of Heaven's bounties, shall this empty treasury be replenished by your contributions no more? Shall the fountain of benevolence, which woman's watchful care has guarded, "lo, these eighteen years," gush forth no more in generous streams, to make glad the dwellings of the poor? The thought is painful, and your generosity forbids me to entertain it. You will gladly feed the sacred fountain! Bless, Father of mercies, the tributary streams which flow into it, and the healing waters which gush forth from it!
NOT BY MIGHT, NOR BY POWER, BUT BY MY SPIRIT, SAITH THE LORD OF HOSTS.-Zechariah iv, 6.
CHRISTIANITY is a system peculiar to itself. It differs from every other, not only in the evidences of its authenticity, the sublimity of its doctrines, and the purity of its morality, but also in the manner of its promulgation. If there were nothing else to prove its divine origin, its wonderful progress, to the reflecting mind, would be amply sufficient. Of all other systems of religion which have at different times prevailed in our world, one remark may safely be made; they have all owed their success to the efforts of man. "The wisdom of men" invented them at first, and has been the only means used in upholding them in existence. The infinite God has not been recognised in their promulgation; he has stood aloof, and looked down with abhorrence upon those who have thus strayed from him in seeking out " many inventions." But far different from this is the remark which must be made by every candid man respecting Christianity. It owes its origin and success, not to might, nor to power, but to the
Spirit of the Lord of hosts. Its excellency is of God, and not of man. True, it recognises the pious man as an instrument in its promulgation; but it relies not on this instrumentality, but on the Spirit of the Lord; for he has worked, and does still work, independent of human means. It awards to man an ample compensation for his agency, but at the same time secures to God all the glory. For the song which shall for ever ring in heaven is, "Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever." Here is wisdom which can be found in no human system, and to which no man can ever attain. Well may we say with the apostle, "The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God."
Let us endeavour to spread out the proof of the doctrine implied in our text; namely, The Christian religion owes its success to the Spirit of God alone. To do this, it will be necessary only to show that this success cannot otherwise be accounted for.
I. Is Christianity adapted to the natural dispositions of man? Were this the case, without supposing any supernatural agency, it would not be wonderful to behold multitudes flocking around the banner of the cross. Men will easily believe what is in accordance with the passions and propensities of their nature, and will readily embrace any system which lays no restraint upon their actions. The various systems of religion which prevailed in heathen nations, at the time of the introduction of Christianity, had suited themselves to the passions of man's carnal heart, and had therefore been embraced with avidity. The wise men who invented them imposed but few restraints; and, as if to compensate for these, allowed the free indulgence of many of the most degrading vices. Indeed, the very gods whom their imaginations created, and whom they blindly worshipped, were represented as
addicted to many crimes, and as looking down with complacency upon those who followed their example. And further, if a favourite propensity craved indulgence, the only thing necessary was to create a god who would be pleased with such indulgence, and accept it as a sacrifice. To such extent was this carried, that all these creeds appear childish and ridiculous to us who are blessed with a revelation from heaven. But they were exactly adapted to the feelings of men in those ages of the world, and were of course universally embraced by the heathen.
So also it is not at all difficult to account for the spread of Mohammedanism. The inventor of this system was a man well acquainted with human nature; he was familiar with all its devious windings; and, availing himself of this knowledge, draughted a plan to which thousands subscribed. To the lover of the marvellous he gave scope for the exercise of his propensity; to the warrior he gave the laurel of earthly glory; to the hero the crown of empire; and to the sensualist the key of indulgence. To all classes and conditions of men he had something to offer to gratify their desires; he promised his faithful followers an earth of pleasure and a heaven of sensuality.
But far different from any and all of these systems is Christianity. When Christ delivered his messages from heaven, they grated harshly upon the ears of the multitude, and roused into action all the resentment of the human heart. His maxims were opposed to the maxims of the world, and his doctrines required an entire change in the spirit and conduct of men. He maintained the excellence and dignity of that God against whom the carnal mind is enmity, and the claims of that holy law against which man had rebelled. He at once strove to annihilate the self-righteousness of the Pharisee, the skepticism of the Sadducee, and the wisdom of the scribe. He required of all men, Jews and Gentiles, humility and repentance,
to which man has always been averse. He commanded them to lay aside their boasted wisdom, and, with all the simplicity and humility of a child, to approach unto Jesus of Nazareth, and learn of him; more than all this, he required a change of heart to prepare them for heaven, and, in the strongest and boldest manner, endeavoured to awaken their hopes and fears by describing a future judgment and a coming eternity. He hesitated not to foretel future misery, but as confidently and as fearlessly asserted that there is a hell, as he did that there is a God and a heaven. All these doctrines were in opposition to the human heart; but the Saviour stemmed the tide of error, and breasted the waves of opposition, and his disciples fearlessly followed his example. And thus it must be at the present day. True religion has not lost its peculiarities, nor have men lost theirs; they are both arrayed against each other. The minister of the gospel cannot preach a gospel which men as sinners love. No man loves to be told that he is a sinner, exposed to God's wrath for ever; that he must humble himself, repent of his sins, and be converted; and that "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." These doctrines never yet pleased the careless sinner, and they never will. But this religion has spread, does spread, and shall spread all over the earth; not because its doctrines please the sinner,-not by might, nor by power; but by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts.
II. Does Christianity offer its converts worldly honours? The various heathen religions found their way to the hearts of men by the earthly pomp and glory with which they were surrounded. They secured to their votaries all that the world could offer. Those who desired to fill important stations in society, or to gain reputation and influence, were careful to reverence the gods of the land. They were strict in going through the whole round of
superstitious practices and ceremonies. Union of church and state in those days was of no rare occurrence. So Mohammed offered his followers all that was splendid and fascinating in the honours of earth.
But Jesus Christ commenced his mission under all the disadvantages of obscurity and poverty. He came into the world destitute of every appearance of worldly honour -born of an humble virgin, and cradled in a manger. He desired no worldly honour, for his kingdom was "not of this world." He "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich." When the people would have taken him by force to make him a king, he escaped from them; he would not meddle with crowns or empires, nor lift his finger to free his countrymen from Roman bondage. He would not even assume the character of an earthly judge to settle differences between his brethren. "Who made me a judge or a divider over you?" No, he came to die for man. You are well acquainted with his history, with the disgrace which the Jewish nation heaped upon him, and with the last insult they offered him. When he entered Jerusalem, I know that, at first sight, there was some appearance of worldly honour; but on close investigation this appearance vanishes; it has been called a triumphant entrance; but to me it seems to have been the triumph of humility over pride.
So also the religion which Christ taught partook of his divine nature. It promised no man riches, but taught him to despise them. It ensured no man worldly friends, but commanded him to forsake them. It placed on no convert a crown of earthly glory, but taught him to look for a crown which is reserved for the faithful in another world.