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BAPTIST THOROUGH REFORMERS

LECTURE III

THE WEAPONS OF THE RELIGIOUS REFORMER

"For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God
to the pulling down of strongholds." – 2 CORINTHIANS x. 4.

 

Ever since the introduction of sin into the world, there has been an unremitting conflict between truth and error. The earth has become a vast battle-ground; the theatre of a mighty moral warfare. Truth and error are necessarily opposed to each other, and whenever they come in contact, a fierce contest ensues, which ends only when error is destroyed. This conflict is not, however, one of a material kind; nor should physical force be used in carrying it on. It is a moral warfare; and ultimate success can be sensed only by the use of corresponding weapons. The advocates of error may press into their service carnal weapons, as indeed they are always forced to do, in their vain efforts to sustain themselves. and oppose the truth; but thus they only acknowledge their own weakness, and betray the defects of their cause, and insure in the end their own defeat. The disciple of the truth needs no such weapons. He knows that they can yield him no advantage, and secure no permanent benefit; and he sees that they would only encumber and embarrass him in the conflict, and retard the cause he seeks to advance. He feels that in order to be successful, he must use only those means which God has appointed, and which He can bless. He therefore appropriately adopts the language of the text: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds." The theme of this Lecture is,–

THE WEAPONS OF THE RELIGIOUS REFORMER

In conducting any enterprise, or effecting any work, instruments are neccessary implements adapted to the end designed. The work of the reformer is, in a great measure, a work of destruction. He goes forth to demolish all that is opposed to truth – all that prevents its free and rapid advance. He is the pioneer, who is accounted "famous according as he lifts up the axe upon the thick trees."[1] Error is rather negative than positive. Truth was intended to enlighten man; error, like a cloud, intervenes to shut out its brilliant rays. Truth was intended to make man happy; error infuses poison, and introduces the ingredients of misery. Truth was intended to make man free; error rears her fortress and strongholds, and makes him a captive in them. Now the work of the reforrner is to dissipate this cloud – to extract this poison – to pull down these strongholds. The work of Christ, the Great Reformer, was eminently a work of destruction. He was manifested that He might "destroy the works of the devil." Let us notice,


I. THE STRONGHOLDS WHICH THE RELIGIOUS REFORMER IS CALLED ON TO DEMOLISH.

1. lgnorance.– All religious error is the offspring of ignorance and mistake. God is true, and His Word is true. No religious error can find any support there. Yet we know that error does exist to a vast extent. How mighty, then, is this fortress! and how strong! Look at the ignorance of heathen nations. See the ignoranee of those who are under the dominion of the Papacy. Behold the lamentable ignorance of a vast majority of Protestants. Now the reformer meets this stronghold wherever he undertakes to labor. He beholds wilful ignorance of plainly revealed truths. He beholds one body of men wilfully ignorant of the views and practices of another body which they condemn. He finds himself misrepresented, misunderetood, and opposed, because men are entrenched in this stronghold. The Apostle Paul once found himself a victirn of misrepresentation which had gained currency simply through the inexcusable and wilful ignorance of those who believed them. "Art not thou that Egyptian," he was asked, "which, before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?" The religious reformer is frequently assailed with questions as absurd, betraying the wilful ignorance of those who oppose him in his work. This ignorance he labors to remove.

2. Prejudice.– Prejudices are generally in favor of that to which men are accustomed, and opposed to that which appears new to them. If men have been accustomed to error, they love it on account of its antiquity; and the inquiry too frequently is not, what is truth? but, is it in accordance with our prejudices? is it what our fathers practiced? is it what they taught us? Men speak of time-honored customs; they forget that, while errors may be time-honoved, truth is eternal. Prejudice is a mighty stronghold. Its walls are of adamantine strength and of almost impenetrable thickness. Entrenched in this fortress, men are unapproachable. The soundest logic, the strongest arguments, the most convincing proof, the fairest reasoning, all fail, all are powerless, while prejudice holds the mind within her grasp. The very work of the religious reformer brings him in direct contact with those customs whieh appeal most powerfully to men's prejudices. He aims to remove old errors; but, in order to do this, he must first demolish the stronghold in which they are entrenched. He aims to convince men that it is better to be the willing subjects of reason, than the blind slaves of prejudice.

3. Self-interest.– Many go with the crowd, merely because it is to their present interest. After they are enlightened by truth, and after their old prejudices are overcome, still, selfishness prevails; and instead of doing that which they know to be right, and laboring to advance the truth, they prefer to act contrary to their own convictions. They perceive that the truth is unpopular – that its advocacy will necessitate self-denial and sacrifice – that their temporal interests will suffer, and their names be cast out as evil. Now the religions reformer aims to make men benevolent; he labors to make them willing to deny themselves and cheerfully suffer for the good of others and the sake of the truth. Selfishness must be demolished, this mighty stronghold must be pulled down, ere the reformer can succeed in his work. Thus, the victims of error must be driven from every refuge, and their hiding-places must be destroyed, before they will be made free by the reception of the truth. Notice


II. THE MEANS BY WHICH THIS IS ACCOMPLISHED.– These are stated in tlie text negatively. "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal." The religious reformer does not invoke

1. The Civil Power.– He does not seek to force men by legal enactments to embrace his views, or profess attachment to his cause. He does not seek to unite the Church with the State, or enforce his teachings at the edge of the sword and the point of the bayonet. He does not use persecution or oppression of any kind. He does not use authority of office, either civil or ecclesiastical. He does not use the authority growing out of the domestic relations to force the consciences of those who are subject to him, or compel them to adopt his views of truth. He utterly renounces compulsion of every kind. The gibbet, the rack, and the stake, are all discarded by him. Here was one radical defect of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. The civil arm was invoked, the State was united with the Church, a political element was infused, and carnal weapons were used as freely by the Reformed Churches in enforcing their dogmas as by the Papacy in maintaining its heresies. The thorough religious reformer uses no such weapons. Neither does he employ

2. Calumny and Misrepresentation.– In order successfully to combat the opinions and practices of an opponent, individuals sometimes distort and falsify his views. They present an absurd doctrine, which is inconsistent both with reason and revelation, falsely charge it on those whom they oppose, and then eloquently declaim against it. Or. they mistake the arguments used by their opponents to sustain their views, and endeavor to make the impression that they are but weak fanatics, or men laboring under mental imbecility. Or, they openly slander and vilify them, and injure their reputation. And thus they labor to bring into disrepute both the views and practices they oppose, and the persons who advocate them. All who persecute, love to have some pretext; they therefore first slander their victim, and then put hirn to death. Thus it was with Jesus; false witnesses rose against him; and though their testimony carried its refutation on its very face, it was made the pretext for his crucifixion. But the thorough religious reformer, having no desire to persecute, needs no pretext for it; he therefore discards calumny and misrepresentation. Neither does he resort to

3. Flattery and Cunning Artifices – He appeals not to sinful passions, such as pride, ambition, self-indulgence and a desire for worldly honor. This is often done in order to advance a sect or party. "Our denomination," it is urged, "is the most popular – it numbers more than any other – it has more wealth." "Our church is the most respectable – it embraces the most learned and talented men; therefore we are right." "It will be to your interest to join our church, because it is THE church of the place." Now all such motives as these must be classed among the carnal weapons. They appeal to selfishness. The true reformer makes no such appeals, urges no such motives, wields no such weapons: "For the weapons of his warfare are not carnal."

        Such weapons are impotent, and worse than useless, in seeking to advanee the trnth. If a man becomes an honest and faithful follower of the truth, it must be for the truth's sake, and not to avoid persecution, or reproaeh, or unpopularity. Such weapons can never pull down the strongholds of error, but rather render them more impregnable. Persecution will never enlighten the mind of the ignorant, misrepresentation will never remove prejudice, and flattery will never demolish selfishness. And further, such weapons only recoil on the heads of those who use them. It is an immutable decree of Jehovah, that " they who take the sword shall perish with the sword." We have a striking illustration of this in the burning of Cranmer and Rogers. We have been taught to sympathize with them in their martyr-deaths at the stake; and that sympathy we would not check, for they were cruelly persecuted. But we would at the same time recognize in their sufferings a, fulfilment of Christ's words, "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." The hands of both of them had been stained with the blood of Joan Boucher, a noble-minded and pious female, who, in the reign of the youthful Edward, was committed to the flames for the sin of being a Baptist. "Cranmer is said by Fox to have been most urgent with the you?g king to affix the sign manual to the cruel document. The youthfnl king hesitated. Cranmer argued from the law of Moses, by which blasphemers were to be stoned to death. With tears but unconvinced, the royal signature was appended. Rogers also thought that she ought to be put to death, and when urged with the cruelty of the deed, replied, 'that burning alive was no cruel death, but easy enough.'" [2] God has shown, in an unmistahable manner, his disapprobation of carnal weapons. While the reforrner deprecates the use of these means, there are weapons employod by him which are "mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds." Among these we notice,

1. The Word of God. This is the double-edged sword of the Spirit. This is the grand weapon which is to cut its way through all error. It always has been successful, and always will be. Those only have been successful reformers, who have used this as their great weapon. Look at the Great Reformer; when he went forth to encounter, in the wilderness, the arch adversary of truth, how did he vanquish hirn? Though all the hosts of heaven were ready to do his bidding, and drag Satan back to his prison, He disdained to exert physical force. He used this great weapon; and every assault of the Tempter was repelled by the calm reply, "It is written – it is written – IT IS WRITTEN. When the apostles went forth, the Word of Cod was the iustrument with which they overcame the opposition of Judaism. And what gave rise to the reformation in the sixteenth century? Why, a poor monk found a Bible, and in his cell made it his study. Happy would it have been for the world, if the reformers of that age had been guided exclusively by its holy precepts. Discarding tradition, aiid every human invention, the thorongh religious reformer makes the Bible both his text-book and test-book.

2. Candor and Affection. He takes pains to ascertain accurately the views of those whose errors he would correct, giving them credit for the truth they hold, and acknowledging their excellences wherever they exist. His work is not to destroy their lives, their liberties, or their reputations, but their errors. He therefore speaks the truth in love, and seeks not theirs but them. His great wish is to benefit them; and, like the blessed Redeemer, who could mingle His tears of compassion with his denunciations against sin, the reformer boldly and sternly denounces error, yet cherishes ardent affection for those who are "out of the way." He also employs

3. Sound Reason. He appeals not to passion or prejudice, but to the understanding. He is able to give a reason for every thing he attempts. He shows the fitness of things, and their propriety; he invites the exercise of the judgment of those whom he addresses. Instead of regarding men as brutes, who are to be driven by force, he recognizes them as rational, intelligent beings, who are to be convinced, and persuaded, and moved by mental and moral power. Christ and the apostles were great reasoners; especially is this true of the apostle Paul. Who can read the epistles to the early churches, without being struck with the force of his reasoning? The advocates of error cannot stand before the reformer who is well skilled in the use of this weapon.

4. Earnest, believing, importunate prayer. – "Mighty through God." He must give success in the use of the weapons. The religious reformer, therefore, while he wields the "sword of the Spirit" and exhibits in his own life the power of the truth he holds, depends only on God for success in his work. He pleads for men with God, while he pleads with men for the truth. Every successful religious reformer has been a man of prayer. Earnestness in the pulpit has not accomplished so much as earnestness in the closet. With a deep conviction that it is God's work he is endeavoring to advance, he confidently looks up for God's aid and blessing in prosecuting it, and feels assured that while his weapons are not carnal, they are yet "mighty through God" to the pulling down of strongholds."

        These are the weapons of the reformer. With these he goes forth to attack the strongholds of sin, and raze to the ground the giant fabric of error. To be successful even in advancing the truth, we must use only the divinely appoirited means; for wherever the opposite course has been pursued, the most disastrous results have followed. Truth is only trammeled and retarded by the use of any but the heaven-approved weapons.

        These weapons, only, have been used by Baptists. They have never figured on the historic page as persecutors. Though the subjects of bitter oppression and cruel persecutions themselves, it has been their glory always to exclaim, "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds!"

 

[1] Psalm lxxxiv. 5.

[2] Religious Liberty, its Struggles and Triumphs, p. 110.

  

 
 
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