by Cornelius Tyree, 1859
In everything, mankind
are impressed by facts—not by theories. It is by what men see and meet with
in life, that they are impressed—rather than by what they hear and read. Now
the incarnation, the death, resurrection, ascension, and dominion of
Christ—is Christianity in theory. True in themselves, these are the most
affecting and important of all subjects. Yet to man, buried in the things of
time and sense, they are not only repulsive—but, to a great degree,
antiquated and mystic abstractions. After all our books and sermons, it
is amazing how little the world around us are interested in the great facts
and doctrines of the gospel. These great soul-saving verities are out of
the range of their observation and sympathy. The fact that God has given the
world His word to teach, His Son to atone, and His Spirit to sanctity—are
themes about which the mass of this godless race think but little—and care
Now, the first step in awakening the impious, is to interest and impress them with the truths of the gospel. This, from the nature of the mind, cannot be done until they are induced to attend to, and think on these things. Much is done toward the sinner's conversion when his attention is enlisted to the subject of Christianity. When he is inspired with thoughtfulness, angels gaze on him as hopeful. When from any cause there has been awakened in him a spirit of inquiry, there is a strong probability of his being won to Christ. Here then arises a question as momentous as the soul's value!
How can the attention of men be most effectually drawn to the great subject of Christianity? If there can be no sound conversion to God without thought and investigation—then how can men be induced to entertain the gospel proposition? The most effectual way to enlist general attention to the religion of Christ—is for its professors to display it in their tempers and conduct. The unconverted allow the Scriptures to remain in their possession—unread, and uncared for. But they cannot, without closing their eyes, avoid reading, thinking of, and being impressed by the truth, when it shines out in the life and character of the Christians with whom they mingle. After all, the most striking, novel, unique thing in this world, is high-toned, personal piety. The sun in mid-heaven is less remarkable, exhibits less of God, is less sublime, than one thoroughly pious man. He who believes in Jesus Christ, and acts correspondingly, is a great light which those around him can no more avoid seeing, and being impressed by—than they can avoid seeing the natural sun, and being impressed by it.
A Christian! He should be the truth of God impersonated, living and moving among men in deeds of goodness. A Christian! He should be a duplication of Christ in this world. In his heart Christ's compassion should throb afresh. He is Christ's representative to a lost world. He should shine as the image of God. What are all the productions of art and science, and the scenes of nature—to the humble man who is Christlike? What are heroes, statesmen, and sages—to the Bible Christian? No matter where such a man lives, he will be the observed of all observers. No other character will be so much scanned, studied, and remarked upon. Said a pastor in an address to some young converts, "Study the Scriptures." "Yes," added an aged deacon, "for the world will study you." True, some will observe you to cavil and condemn; but others, with a deep interest, will behold your walk—"to see if these things are so."
The Christian who displays the charms of a pious example, will be to his neighbors a reminder of Christ and eternity. Evil-doers find far less difficulty in forgetting and neglecting the truth as it is preached and taught in the Scriptures, than when they see it lived by godly men. Just as a light, in a dark night, will be seen by many, far and wide; so a pious man is a moral light in this dark world, that must catch the eye of men.
2. A pious life CONVINCES THE JUDGMENT.Many are kept from embracing Christ's religion by a lurking skepticism. Some book long since read, a conversation long since had with some infidel friend, or some train of thought has produced in their minds a secret doubt as to the truth of the whole or some of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. These doubts they have found neither time nor inclination to remove; and indeed it may be well questioned whether all unsaved people are not more or less kept from Christ by a lingering skepticism. With some it is the result of thought; with others it is the result of thoughtlessness. No matter whence these doubts originate, they must be removed before there can be conversion to Christ.
Now, for the truth of our holy religion, there are many independent, powerful, and convincing arguments. But which, after all, is the most unanswerable and effectual argument in favor of Christ's religion? Is it the fact that some five or six hundred prophecies have been most literally and remarkably fulfilled? Or it the many miracles that have been wrought in its attestation? Is it the wonders of Calvary and the resurrection? Is it the unearthly sublimity of its doctrines, and beauty of its precepts? Or that it spread at first, within a few years, from the Jordan to the Americas, and is now heard and read in more than two hundred languages of the earth? No! These though in their place mighty, are not our mightiest proofs. In many ways their force can be evaded. The books that record them may never be read; the preacher who proclaims them may never be heard; or should they be read and heard, their power may be evaded by sophistry, diversion, neglect, or rejection.
Our crowning evidence—our unmistakable, unanswerable, unavoidable argument—is practical personal religion after the Scriptural pattern. An intelligent and accomplished young man, on his death-bed, once told a minister who visited him, that he had been an infidel and a profligate, and that in the whole course of his infidelity there was but one thing that disturbed him; that he could answer every argument for Christianity but one, and that was the pious example and prayers of his believing mother. That was a difficulty he knew not how to get over. The remembrance of it would come to him in his mirth and disturb him; and it was finally the means of his being brought to the belief of Christianity, and to a timely and happy repentance.
The writer once asked an intelligent gentleman who was relating his experience in order to membership in the church; what had been the means of his awakening, who replied that the example and prayers of his wife had, under God, more effect in bringing him to Christ than all the sermons he had ever heard.
A conversion from depravity and sinfulness--to active godliness, is a more sublime miracle, and a more effectual proof for the divinity of the gospel--than was the resurrection of Lazarus! Of all modes of inculcating Christianity, exemplifying it is the best. The best commentary on the Bible that the world has ever seen--is a holy life of growing likeness to Christ. The most eloquent sermon in behalf of the gospel that the world has ever heard--is a uniform, active life of piety. The best version of the Bible that has ever been made--is a consistent pious example. The Christian whose light thus shines, not only correctly renders--but beautifies the sacred text. His life and conduct are a sort of second edition of the written Scriptures--a living epistle which all can read, all understand, and that convinces and convicts all.
Now, when all who name the name of Christ thus become living, radiant likenesses of gospel truth—then there will be an end of all controversy as to the truth and importance of the Christian religion. Then the gospel will achieve rapid and saving triumphs over the minds, the consciences, and the hearts of men. Then we can say to all cavilers and infidels—Come see our proofs for the gospel—and refute them if you can! Behold how humble the disciples of Christ are in prosperity! how forgiving under wrongs! how fair in their dealings! how patient under sufferings! how submissive under losses! how kind to the unkind! how calm and gentle when the storms of furious passions raged in the bosoms of others! how useful in life! how triumphant in death!—and doubt if you can! Infidels have said that out of the Scriptures and the creeds of the churches, there is no such thing as genuine religion—that there is nothing in the life and character of professing Christians that may not be equaled by men of the world. Christians of the above type are a refutation of this slander. Nay more, with Christians around them of this grade, how can unbelievers defend their infidelity? Environed with these living verifications of the great doctrines of the Bible, how can they, in the light of reason, justify their unbelief? Have they any logic rigid enough to resist such a plea for Christ and His gospel?
The eloquence of our books and sermons we know they call withstand—but can they, without being more than ordinarily depraved, turn aside the living, breathing, beaming, tender argument of a pious life, especially when displayed by those to whom they are bound by near relationships? If many bright pious examples do not shame them out of their infidelity, and shame it back to the bottomless pit—then do they love darkness rather than light; for the plea of a holy life shuts them up to the alternative either of closing their eyes to the light, or of seeing it and being illuminated by it.
But practical piety will appear in stronger light as an argument, if we observe how comparatively inefficient the other appliances of salvation are without it. We may translate and put into the hands of every individual a pure version of the Scriptures. We may erect fine houses of worship, and fill every pulpit with a well-trained, eloquent minister. We may supply every family with good books, tracts, and periodicals. We may indoctrinate our membership until they know and believe all the truth. We may extend to all our religious societies all needful patronage—and yet, as vastly important as all these instrumentalities are—the general unbelief of men will never be overcome until there is among Christians a higher type of piety.
In vain may we put into the hands of infidels our best books on the evidences of Christianity, so long as those infidels are acquainted with professing Christians whose lives contradict their profession. The inconsistency of such will neutralize all the Biblical arguments that these infidels may read or bear in favor of Christianity. To convince the gainsayers in his congregation, the minister may preach logical, eloquent sermons—but if the membership of that minister's church are in the habit of touching the wine cup, and patronizing sinful amusements, they will render their pastor's sermons powerless with those gainsayers. We urge in vain the claims of Christ on that man of business who has had dealings with church members who are regardless of their promises and the just claims of others. How improbable the conversion of that young man whose professing mother and sister are as proud, pleasure-loving, and as fashionable as the multitude who are going away from Christ and heaven—down the broad path which leads to destruction! That unconverted husband will most likely die in his sins whose professing wife is habitually morose and irritable in the management of her domestic matters. How difficult to convert to Christ those children who see in their professing parents—the same pride and worldliness they see in others!
Woe to the world if all the professed friends of Christ were Christians of this low standard. So far as the honor of Christ, and the good of the world are concerned, better that they had never been born; or being born, had never assumed Christ's name. Of all arguments against Christianity, their lives are the most formidable. They strike Christ's ministers speechless. They wound and discourage the godly, and provoke the ridicule and scorn of the ungodly. They justify and harden the wicked in their iniquity. The destruction of souls will, on the day of eternity, lie at their door. They hinder the world's conversion more than all Christ's outward foes.
Now, let all such mis-named Christians be called to repentance, and rise up to that standard of godliness that the Bible and the world's needs demand. Or, if they will not put away their idols and reform, it will be best for all concerned, that they be excluded from our churches. Let the time come when Christians shall everywhere live out the principles of the gospel. Let skeptics live amid neighbors whose religious example shines brightly; let the rising generation have parents who reflect in their daily walk the image of Christ; let the unbelieving husbands have wives who, by their meekness, gentleness, prayerfulness, and compassion—adorn their profession. In fine, let all the visible Zion of God live as it becomes the gospel of Christ, and men's intellects everywhere will be won to Christ, and thus a mighty vantage ground be gained in effecting their conversion. The crowning argument for the truth of the gospel will then be given, and the great triumph achieved.
3. A pious life not only attracts attention, and convinces the judgment—but REMOVES OBJECTIONS.Most of the objections raised against the religion of Christ, are drawn from the inconsistent lives of professing Christians. France was once made a nation of atheists by the corruptions of the Romish church. The leading English infidels of the last century avowed that their disbelief in Christianity was caused by the corruptions and immorality of the 'Church of England'. From this source, Hume, the Goliath of skepticism, drew some of his weapons of attack, and it is acknowledged on all hands that the different types of modern infidelity, on the continent of Europe, had their origin in the perversions and inconsistencies of the so-called churches of Christ.
And every pastor knows that one of the greatest obstacles in the way of bringing men to Christ, are the objections they derive from the flagrant contradictions between the 'professions' and 'conduct' of Christians. To arouse the impenitent to a sense of their danger, we appeal to the Scriptures. To justify their irreligion, they appeal to the inconsistent lives of Christians. We seek to win them by preaching the pure life, the holy precept, and the sublime death of Christ, by calling on them to judge the disciple by his Lord. They resist our appeals by judging the Lord by His followers, and making His religion responsible for the faults of its friends. We reply by pointing to some in the churches who adorn their profession; they evade us again by referring to some who disgrace theirs. These, like the falling star, fill the entire field of their vision. We aim to convince their minds and move their hearts by arguments drawn from prophecy, miracles, and the progress of the gospel, in reforming nations. They break the force of our reasoning, and ward off our appeals by calling to mind some church member who has a name to live, while he is dead.
In vain may we complain of this injustice and unfairness on the part of the world toward the friends of Christ. We cannot drive them from this sheet-anchor excuse. In vain may we tell them that they magnify our failings into crimes; that there is neither logic nor justice in holding Christianity responsible for the shortcomings of some of its professors, any more than there is in holding patriotism responsible for the treason of Benedict Arnold. From this refuge they will not be driven, though they have mistaken a mud-shed for a tower.
How can this wide-spread objection be taken from the impenitent? How can we induce in them the conviction that they have no cloak for their sins? How can we shut them up to the necessity of taking all the blame and shame of their irreligion to themselves, and thereby gain a third mighty vantage ground in bringing them to Christ? Not (and let all the churches mark it,) merely by preaching religion, not by writing religion, nor by arguing religion, nor by talking religion, nor by singing nor shouting, nor by praying religion—but by acting religion. Let our faith develop itself in making "us blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation;" let our religious principles take the form of self-denying exertions to do good and get good; let the religion of Christ, in some good degree, reappear in the lives of its professors—and the caviling, carping world will be silenced and excuseless.
The religion of Christ, thus 'exemplified', will be more effectual in refuting objections—than ten thousand voices; more efficient in answering excuses—than a thousand volumes; and thereby accomplish a mighty work in removing one of the great stumbling-blocks out of the way of men's conversion!
4. A pious life also WINS ESTEEM.The unsaved sometimes talk as if they considered zealous Christians over scrupulous, when they stand upon their principles and refuse to yield a sinful compliance with the spirit and practice of the multitude, when really they think no such thing. When they see a Christian truly consistent in his conduct, their hearts are constrained to do him homage; yes to do homage to the religion he professes. In consistent personal piety, there is something so intrinsically lovely and winning that the most wicked profoundly respect and venerate it. Piety of the right type always secures the esteem of men's judgments and consciences, however much, in some of its aspects, it may excite the dislike of their hearts. However far men may, in heart and life, depart from God, their reason and conscience will always condemn their own sinful course, and with awe and admiration approve the conduct of those who follow Christ fully. While the hearts of the wicked are averse to the righteous just in proportion as the tempers and conduct of the pious are unlike and rebuke those of the wicked, it is at the same time equally true that the better and nobler part of man's nature will admire and confide in the people of Christ just in proportion as they are consistently and Scripturally pious.
That mankind venerates high-toned religion is apparent from facts. Why had they rather make bargains, form connections, and deal with those who serve God than with those who serve him not? Why had wicked, skeptical young men rather, other things being equal, select as partners for life pious young ladies than those who are not? Why had parents, though infidels themselves, rather send their children to pious than to irreligious teachers? Why had unbelievers, in moving to new countries, rather settle in a community of praying, Bible-reading, church-going people, than in a community of infidels? Why, in Florida some years ago, did the infuriated Seminoles spare the missionary and his family while butchering all the whites besides? Why, in times of danger, calamity, and death, do the impenitent so much desire the presence and prayers of the pious? Let a man make a profession of religion and dishonor that profession, and he at once sinks in the estimation of his ungodly companions. But let another profess, and go on to adorn that profession, and nothing will so much raise him in the esteem of the world. Of all characters, the fairest, the most lovely in the eye of the world, is the well-developed Christian character.
Would you, then, professors of religion, inspire the unconverted with the highest appreciation of your religion; would you win hearts for your Master; then rise up from the dust of self-seeking, and put on the shining garments of salvation. In this way your piety will become converting, because it is attractive.
5. A pious life is the most powerful appeal to the consciences of the unbelieving.The consistently religious man says to the ungodly, more eloquently and urgently than all others, "We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it to you. Come then with us, and we will do you good," The example of the godly man is a living, standing memento to all around him of Christ, death and eternity. His life and character urge on others the religion of his Lord in tones they must hear and understand. Who invites a slumbering world to Christ so pressingly—as they who give proof of having gone to Christ themselves? Who teach the world so well how to believe—as they who walk by faith? Who inculcate so effectually the great work of repentance—as they who hate, sorrow over, and forsake all sin? Who reprove pride like the humble? Who warn men so solemnly against going to hell—as those who proclaim by their conduct that they have forsaken destruction's broad pathway? Who point out the way to heaven so plainly—as those who walk in that way? Who so overwhelmingly draw men after them to heaven—as "these who declare plainly that they seek a country?"
A sermon by an angel every day would not as deeply stir the conscience of the unbelieving husband as does the pious example of his wife. The God of grace has no mightier instrumentality to bring to bear on depraved man than a holy life. In the personal piety of His people, Jesus is personated, and comes near to the unbelieving. If the plea of a striking pious example does not awaken the impenitent beholder, then he loves darkness rather than light. Most likely the next appliance God will bring to bear on him will be heavy afflictions. God did much for man's salvation in giving him His word to teach him, His Son to die for him, and His Spirit to sanctify him. He shows still further His deep concern for the sinner by calling and beseeching him through His ministry; but when He places in their communities and families His own redeemed, obedient children, He has reached his ultimatum in the way of mercy.
6. In fine, practical piety not only catches the attention, convinces the judgment, removes objections, wins esteem, and arouses the conscience—but CONVERTS to Christ.Exemplified religion does not convert sinners meritoriously—that would be an invasion of the work of Christ. Nor effectually—that would be an invasion of the influence of the Holy Spirit. But, like the written and preached truth—it converts to Christ instrumentally. God's Spirit must make the truth efficacious in the sinner's conversion, whether it is read, heard, or seen in the conduct of Christians. If in any of our attempts to convert the world we confound the instrumentalities of grace, with the grace of instrumentalities, disappointment and defeat await us.
Now, instrumentally considered, some unbelievers are more difficult to convert than others. Some men are both Bible-proof and sermon-proof. This class can only be reached, if reached at all, by Christ-like piety. Thousands on earth, and millions in heaven, have been won to Christ by this means. Such convert because they evidence their conversion. They allure to brighter worlds because they lead the way.
It is easy to see how such Christians save souls from death. In the life of such Christians, the ungodly having before them an end of all controversy as to the reality of the Christian religion; seeing in people of like passions, age, occupations with themselves marked proofs of the practicability and desirableness of personal piety; seeing neighbors humble, meek, forgiving, benevolent, and prayerful, whom they knew once to be proud, vain, revengeful, covetous, and profane; beholding those who were once their companions in sin now wearing the name and reflecting the image of Christ; being both condemned and encouraged by such instances of piety, being forced to draw the contrast between the character and prospects of such and their own unhappy circumstances, and these appeals coming to their hearts and the consciences through tender ties, they are most powerfully drawn away from the path of death to Christ the sinner's friend.
O what a mighty motive this to all Christians, to exhibit before the world the bright light of personal holiness. All cannot be Luthers to reform countries, nor Whitefields to preach to thousands, nor Judsons to translate the Scriptures into other tongues; all are not rich that they may give to the cause of Christ their thousands; nor learned that they may write and argue for Christ; all cannot become ministers, nor missionaries, nor even Sunday-School teachers; all ought not to pray in public. But all Christians of both sexes, however poor and obscure, can so possess and display the religion of Christ, as not only to die safely and augment their bliss in eternity—but so as to save souls and honor Christ.
Piety of this grade is not only the key to Paradise but the key to men's hearts. While the truth is being read from the Bible, and proclaimed from the pulpit, let all the members of our churches second and enforce that truth by the silent eloquence of holy lives, and the world's conversion will move forward at home and abroad, with primitive speed. "A nation will be born in a day." Millennial dawn will blush deeper and deeper, the sun of truth will rise on our darkened world, and revivals will roll from land to land, like the waves of the mighty deep. The way to hell will then soon become a dreary waste, and the way to heaven crowded with converts as numerous and as resplendent as the stars that bestud the broad galaxy of the midnight heavens. Come that day! Who would not pray, and live, and labor—for such a glorious state of things?