BAPTIST THOROUGH REFORMERS
THE AIM, THE
REPROACH, AND THE TRIUMPH OF
THE RELIGIOUS REFORMER.
"These that have turned the world upside down, are come hither also." ACTS xvii, 6.
It has always been the policy of the advocates of error, when unable to sustain themselves by sophistry, specious reasoning and false logic, to stigmatize the advocates of the truth as innovators, disturbers of the peace, and dangerous to the harmony and interests of the community. Such was the course pursued by those who uttered the language of the text. Paul and Silas, having been released from the Macedonian prison, where they had been confined for preaching the Gospel, took their departure from Philippi, and passing through Amphipolis and Apollonia, "they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews." Here Paul, according to his usual custom, met the Jewish rabbis and teachers, and reasoned with them out of the Old Testament Scriptures, concerning Jesus of Nazareth proving to them that he was the Meesiah. His reasoning on this subject was so forcible, that many of the Jews were convinced, and professed their faith in the Saviour. This stirred up the hatred and envy of the discomfited rabbis; and, finding themselves unable to cope with the superior logic and masterly reasoning of Paul, they enlisted the prejudices of the rabbis, and gathered a mob, and created a riot, and endeavored to lay violent hands on the disciples, and thus accomplish by force and superior numbers, what they could not effect by fair argument. Their accusation against the disciples is contained in the words of the text: "These that have turned the world upside down, are come hither also." My theme is,
THE AIM, THE REPROACH, AND
OF THE RELIGIOUS REFORMER.
I. THE AIM OF THE RELIGIOUS REFORMER. A
Reformer is one who seeks to remove abuses which have crept into an organization or
community, or one who boldly enters a field where error has held undisputed sway, and
fearlessly wields amid giant powers of opposition, the weapons of truth. He aims to
entirely revolutionize the minds of the community in which he labors, on that particular
subject where he believes reform to he needed. A compromise between truth and error is not
what he seeks, and will not satisfy him. "The truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth," is his motto. Old systems of error, however sacred on account
of their antiquity, he boldly attacks. Though massive darkness has long brooded over the
people, he aims to dissipate the gloom, and shed upon them brilliant rays of light. His
work is a mighty one; the end for which he labors is noble and sublime. He
holds a position in advance of the community in which he resides, and the age in which he
lives hence he possesses traits of character that are peculiar, which fit him to
toil and suffer for the accomplishment of his designs.
A spirit of noble daring is his. He fears not to grapple with error, though sanctioned by age, and supported by popular favor. He scruples not, if need be, to stand alone, as the champion of truth. With undaunted intrepidity he braves the "world's dread laugh" or meets its frown. With a spirit of indomitable perseverance, he steadily adheres to his purpose and determinedly pursues his single object. Every obstacle thrown across his path affords a new incentive to increased activity. Every difficulty he meets, only gives new strength and inspires fresh courage. He is not to be turned aside. Having put his hand to the plough, he looks not back.
Self-sacrificing effort and benevolent labor are his. His time, talents, property, are all laid upon the altar of truth. He toils, not to achieve a name, to amass wealth, or to advance a sect. He labors for the good of others, while often he receives only their hatred, reproach and persecution. If there is one picture on earth that reminds us, more than any other, of the meek and lowly Saviour, it is the spirit and conduct of the reformer, patiently suffering at the hands of those whose moral elevation he labors to effect. And here is the test by which the true and false reformer may be tried and discovered. Infidelity boasts of seeking a reform. But when did Infidelity ever inspire its advocates with a spirit of self-denial for the good of others? Where are its sacrifices made to benefit and elevate the human race? Did infidelity ever suffer to benefit man? Does it to-day go forth, as an angel of mercy, to labor, to suffer, and to bless? No, no. But the true reformer has a high purpose, a benevolent aim; he occupies holy ground, and he can suffer, unjustly suffer, to benefit his fellow-men. Let us notice,
II. THE REPROACH OF THE REFORMER. All Reforms are attended with agitation and conflict, but none more so than reforms in religion. At first, the reformer may attract but little attention. His attacks on error may appear so feeble, and his efforts to advance the truth may seem so faint, that the opponents of truth may esteem only the smile of ridicule and scorn necessary to throw his work into insignificance, or a slight exertion of authority sufficient to extinguish it. But let him continue with boldness, energy and eloquence, to plead for truth and begin to make an impression upon the public mind, and gather adherents around him; then will his adversaries become agitated and alarmed. Like the fierce storm, lashing into foam the waters of the mighty deep, they stir up the popular mind, until the entire community moves in angry surges, and persecution and violence ensue. The more bold the onset, the more forcible the elucidation of truth, the more numerous the adherents to the reform, the more fiercely will the advocates of error oppose the effort, and the more desperately will they seek to crush by force, or circumvent by cunning, what they cannot master by argument, or defeat by sound logic.
In such an event, the reformer labors under every disadvantage. He is reproached as a disturber of the public peace. He is regarded as the cause of all the confusion and uproar, and must bear all the odium connected with it. Look at the text and its connection. The disciples had peacefully taught in the synagogue in Thessalonica, yet all the uproar was charged upon them: "These that have turned the world upside down, are come hither also." Thus it has ever been. The opposers of reform have lashed into fury the elements of political strife, and then have charged the peace-loving disciples of truth with all the disastrous results.
The reformer is also reproached as an innovator. He is opposing old customs and popular usages. He seems to be ruthlessly trampling on all that has been held beautiful and venerable. He seems to be setting up individual and novel opinions against the united and established wisdom of ages. He seems to be destroying every thing and advancing nothing. He seems to be a reckless intruder, trespassing on ground rightfully occupied by others. He seems to touch sacred things with an impious hand. He seems to be sowing dissensions, destroying hallowed institutions, and introducing unauthorized innovations. But he perceives that these old forms and venerated institutions are the offspring of error, and that truth and right demand their extermination; in the name of God, therefore, he goes forth, to overturn, to revolutionize, and to reform.
He is further reproached as illiberal, uncharitable, bigoted, and narrow-minded. Because he refuses to call error truth, and darkness light, and wrong right, the slaves of error, the victims of darkness, and the followers of wrong conclude that he is uncharitable and narrow-minded. They forget that it is the highest charity to expose error and oppose wrong, and that only the largest minds and most benevolent hearts will seek to disseminate light and dispel darkness, even though "the darkness comprehendeth it not."
There never yet was a reform attempted, that did not suffer the reproach of the dominant party. Look at that old reformer Lot: "This one fellow came in to sojourn, and will needs be a judge." Look at Moses, the prophets, John the Baptist, Martin Luther, Roger Williams. All these were reproached as innovators, and virtually charged with "turning the world upside down." But the greatest innovator that ever appeared in our world was Jesus Christ. He was the Great Reformer. He aimed directly to abolish the old dispensation and make all things new. He paid no respect to the antiquity of the scribe, the morality of the Pharisee, or the sanctity of the priest. He threw himself upon the merits of the truths he delivered, and declared himself a radical innovator and reformer. Did not He meet reproach? Let the purple robe, the reed sceptre, the thorny crown, the mocking homage, and the blood-stained cross reply.
The apostles were reproached. The Gospel which they preached was a great innovation upon old and venerable institutions. No reform could ever be compared with that which they sought to effect. They aimed to overturn all the religions in the world. Hence they were accounted "vagabonds, fools, and moon-struck madmen." They were treated with ridicule, scorn, and contempt. They, a few ignorant fishermen, seeking to abolish those religions which had stood for centuries, and which had gathered around them all the charms of history, philosophy, and poetry; religions whose massive temples towered in majestic splendor to the very clouds religions which numbered among their devotees, crowds of kings and heroes, artisans and sages, and which were cherished by the most powerful and refined nations of the earth. It is not strange that at first they were only deemed worthy of ridicule; nor is it surprising, that as success crowned their persevering labors, they became the subjects of violent hate and bitter persecution. They were shaking the foundations of ancient superstitions, they were disturbers of' the public peace, they were detestable innovators, they were hateful reformers, in short, they were "turning the world upside down."
This kind of reproach Baptists especially have been called to endure. They are great innovators. Of all persecuted sects, the Baptists stand forth as most prominent, simply and only because they aim at a more complete and thorough reform than any others ever attempted. They teach that Christ's kingdom is not of this world; that the church is not a national, political, or provincial establishment; but a congregation of holy men, separated from the world by the receiving of the Holy Spirit. They seek to "turn the world upside down " not in the odious sense, but in the proper and desirable sense. The world is wrong; it is morally wrong side up; it needs to be revolutionized, and primitive Christianity alone can do it. This is the instrument by which Baptists aim to accomplish their design. By the propagation of primitive Christianity, they confidently expect to achieve a complete and entire Reformation in the Pagan, Romish, and Protestant world, and bring the race of man back to God. We pass on to notice,
III. THE TRIUMPH OF THE REFORMER. The true religious reformer must ultimately triumph. However opposed, reproached, and persecuted, he triumphs. Even when he appears to be discomfited he triumphs. While he struggles on in adversity, and while sad reverses meet him in his work, still he triumphs. The power of the truth is manifest in the support it yields him amid these disheartening circumstances. The consciousness that he has discharged his duty with fidelity, fills his mind with peace. He feels that the smile of God is upon him; hence the frowns of the opposers of truth, and their anathemas, are lighter than vanity to him. He esteems "the reproaches of Christ greater riches than all the treasures" of earth. The shame of the cross he counts greater honor than all the applause of the world, and the martyr's death is to him sweeter than all earthly pleasures. He exhibits a dignity of character that far outshines all others, and totally eclipses, on the historic page, all his slanderous persecutors. He is as far superior to the time-serving demagogue, as are the burning beams of the meridian sun to the last sickly rays of the feeble taper, flickering in its socket, and just ready to expire. He knows no fear of consequences. Duty, it is his to perform results, are God's to control. He stands firmly, as the rock in the ocean, unmoved amid the howlings of the tempest and the fury of the waves. For him there is a, glorious future, however dark the hour of trial may be; and though for a time he endures reproach, he will have a name when his persecutors have perished and are forgotten.
Every true religious reformer that ever lived in our world triumphed. Daniel, and the three Hebrew worthies, possessed the spirit, endured the reproach, and achieved the triumph of Reformers; they saw their enemies clothed with shame, and the cause of God, which they had espoused, gloriously advanced. And though their pathway to success lay through the lions' den and the burning furnace, these only made their triumph more sublime, and shed a new halo around their names. Martin Luther triumphed and though Rome anathematized and bitterly execrated him, the name of the poor monk of Erfurth is honored wherever evangelical Christianity prevails; while the distinguishing doctrine for which he contended has become one of the strong bulwarks of the Protestant world, and the terror of Antichrist. Roger Williams triumphed though banished from the Massachusetts colony, and driven into the desert wilds among the Indians. The religious liberty for which he suffered, and which American citizens today enjoy, forms the most distinguishing and pre-eminent glory' of our country. How superior the fame of such men to that of the mere military hero! Napoleon won his fifty battles; William Carey translated the Bible into almost as many different languages; and while to-day the name of Napoleon begets sentiments of disgust, or wakes emotions of unhallowed ambition, the name of William Carey touches a chord in every Christian breast, arousing to new life and to more unreserved consecration to Christ, the energies of the ablest and best of Zion's sons and daughters.
There is a great deal of this work of reform before the church at the present day. Especially is this true of the Baptist churches of this country. They are prepared to labor for a more thorough reformation than any others can undertake. There are forms of error, productive of incalculable mischief, which none others can consistently attack; while all others retain and seek to perpetuate the unscriptural dogma of infant baptism, which with every other traditionary rite must be abolished, before the world's revolution will be complete. Let it be remembered that each has a personal interest and responsibility in this matter. Let the inquiry be, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Every Christian is to aim to reform, first himself; then the world. The Word of God must be our weapon. With this, old forms of error must be attacked, and the conflict only end when the field is left in possession of truth. "Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved