By William S. Plumer, 1867
"Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord, shout
There is a general impression among Christians that true religion will yet pervade the earth. There is a difference among some godly people as to the manner in which this work will be accomplished; but all agree as to the fact. Neither do we know the time when the inconceivable blessings of the gospel shall be made known to all men. "In giving us prophecies, God did not intend to make prophets of us." Yet we may modestly inquire what and what manner of time the Spirit of Christ did signify, when he foretold the latter-day glory. Much prophecy is yet to be fulfilled, and some prophecies are now in course of actual fulfillment.
I. Let us take a brief view of the present moral state of the world.It is admitted that appearances are often dark; and that the aspect of the world is discouraging.
Now and thenAtheism proclaims its tenets, is confident that mankind are superstitious in their worship of Jehovah, makes its disciples of the drunkard, the licentious, the prostitute, and the blasphemer, and once in a while threatens a terrific eruption of its scalding lava on the face of society. Its latest form of development is in a wretched Pantheism.
Infidelitystill uses great swelling words of vanity, makes hard and ungodly speeches respecting Jehovah and his saints, often spews out its venom against all that is pure and holy, asserts the sufficiency of human reason as a guide to heaven, betakes itself to the caves of sorcery, and can boast of nothing better than a death without hope, and a grave without a resurrection.
Heathenismstill boasts her myriads of altars, purple with human gore and smoking with abominable incense. What heathenism once was, it still is. The pencil of inspiration has drawn a perfect portrait of it, Romans 1:21-32. For nearly six thousand years the pagan world has been seeking an image of the invisible God, and the summit of its aspirings still reaches no higher than the sun, or moon, or stars, or devils, or crocodiles, or peacocks, or serpents, or images of gold, silver, wood, or stone. Its morals never mend. Under its sanctions every precept of the decalogue is broken publicly and privately, ritually and legally. No marvel that when Satan is worshiped, there should be found habitations of cruelty. No nation without God's word has in its language any term expressing what Christians mean by sanctification. Corruption is and ever has been the alpha and the omega of heathenism. All that is stupid in the donkey, silly in the dove, filthy in the swine, fierce in wild beasts, and venomous in serpents—is fitly ascribed to heathenism. "The wicked freely strut about, when what is vile is honored among men." Psalm 12:8.
From what abominations has the the gospel saved us! "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Although just now somewhat shorn of his power to persecute,Muhammad, the prophet of Mecca still practices his sorceries, maddens the passions of men, holds the cup of carnal delight to the lips of his besotted worshipers, and endeavors to light up the horrors of the grave by pointing to a Paradise of sin!
Notwithstanding all that has been done in blessing and in cursing, in fulfilling prophecy, and in setting up Messiah's kingdom,Judaism is still entrenched behind Targums, Paraphrasts, an oral law, endless traditions, and the most inveterate prejudices and enmity against the truth. Thus it is with things claiming no connection whatever with Christianity. When we come to nations professedly accepting the gospel, there is still much to dishearten.
TheCatholic church still adheres to her ignorant priesthood, her sacraments of human invention, her apostolic supremacy, and her nearness to Messiah's sepulcher; but knows not that she is poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked, far from Christ's precepts, far from his example, far from his doctrines. In the pride of her apostolicity she renounces every distinctive truth taught by apostles.
She, that has made the kings, merchants, and dwellers on earth drunk with the wine of her fornications, holds forth other goblets to the nations, saying: "I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill." Follow her footsteps to any region of the world, and you find that "the doctrine of the cross is least understood where crosses most abound." The lamp of God's Word is put under a bushel, candles are substituted, and darkness becomes visible.
Universalismstill teaches that the wheat and the tares shall both be gathered into the garner, that the sheep and the goats shall be forever in the same fold, that hell is a fiction, and damnation a mere fabrication of the mind.
Pelagianismis not dead. It does not even sleep, but still preaches human ability, and boasts of the ease with which the Ethiopian can change his skin, and the leopard his spots. It boldly calls evil good, and bitter sweet. It denies the need of efficacious grace.
In its grossnessSocinianism still talks about a created God, and speaks loudly in praise of virtue, though its rules and motives for a pious life are no better than those of Epictetus.
Unitarianismtells of the magnificent Jesus, philosophizes into thin air the vital doctrines of the gospel, emblematizes the blood of Christ, and raises its hideous voice against a vicarious atonement.
Arianismsoars to its usual adventurous heights, and speaks of a grade above finite and below infinite. It discusses divinity as though by searching it could find out the Almighty to perfection.
Then, too, we meetfanaticism, presenting us a congeries of wild speculation, silly purpose and wicked practice. Break up its nest among the lawless, and presently you shall hear of it among the orthodox pretending to aid in a revival of religion.
AndAntinomianism—that horror of all good men—still flourishes in many places. It boldly marches up to the cross of Christ, and from his precious blood draws arguments for living in sin. By its dearth of good fruit, you shall know it.
Besides,a low state of piety paralyzes half the limbs of the body of Christ. Cold and selfish, many never aim high. A low estimate of evangelical doctrine makes many indifferent to the teachings of Christ himself. Often too do we hear unpleasant whisperings and buzzings in the Christian camp. Some act as if they would rather make a proselyte from a sister church—than a convert to Christ who would not follow with them.
The standard of Christian living and morals is low.
Doubts of personal piety afflict many of Christ's professed followers. Sadly
is the Christian profession compromised. Covetousness has fearful power. The
lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life terribly
prevail among professors. Fashion is the Juggernaut of Christendom. Christ
and Belial are invited to the same feast. Blasphemy vomits forth her poison.
The church is a vassal often ingloriously chained to the car of state. The
seed of the bondwoman lords it over the seed of the free woman. Tyranny,
like the owl, loves darkness, and binds the masses in chains of ignorance.
Often the shaking of the nations makes the loops of society fall from their
ancient fastenings, and introduces wild lawlessness. Yet there is no room
II. Let us consider some of the encouragements to hope for the wide spread of truth and righteousness.
The promises of God and the prophecies of Scripture, like the udders of well-fed cows, are well distended and full of fatness. "All the promises do travail." Sixteen hundred and eighty-nine years before the Christian era, Jacob says, "Unto Shiloh shall the gathering of the people be." Gen. 49:10. Six hundred and sixty-six years later, the prophet David speaking in the name of God to Messiah, says: "Ask of me and I shall give you the heathen for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession." Psalm 2:8. Three hundred and eleven years later, by Isaiah, Jehovah says: "Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. . . . He shall see his seed; he shall prolong his days. . . . He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied." Isaiah 52:13 53:10, 11.
A hundred and fifty-seven years later, the great prophet of the captivity says: "I saw in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom—that all people, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." Dan. 7:13, 14. In this passage, by the "Son of man" we are clearly to understand the incarnate Savior and by "the Ancient of days" the everlasting God, seated on the throne of the universe. The coming of the Son of man with the clouds of heaven was his ascension to the right hand of God. This prediction was to begin to be fulfilled after the establishment of the Roman empire, spoken of in the same chapter as the fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly, having great iron teeth, devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping the residue with the feet of it, diverse from all the other beasts that were before it, and having ten horns, ver. 7. The terms "dominion, glory, and a kingdom," denote the extent, grandeur, and permanency of the possession purchased by Christ, and secured to him by covenant. What Daniel therefore saw was, "that in the vigor of the Roman empire Jesus Christ ascended to his God and Father, the Ancient of days, and took his seat at his right hand, and received a title to and entered on the possession of a kingdom—grand, glorious, and permanent."
Other Scriptures declare that under the reign of Messiah "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." "The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold as the light of seven days." Isaiah 11:9 30:26. With these texts compare Psalm 22:27-31; 72:19; Hab. 2:14; Zech. 14:9. These passages clearly indicate a state of things not yet fulfilled in the history of the world. There is no method of interpreting language so as to confine these predictions to the past. Christ has not yet had his reward in the gathering of the nations. Great and glorious things may properly be expected in behalf of Zion.
Nor are pleasing indications entirely lacking. The present mode of studying the Bible in the original, so generally adopted by many of God's ministers, is favorable to a clear understanding of Scripture doctrine. It often looks as if Providence was erecting machinery that was to move the world. There is a blessed sisterhood of institutions, cooperating for the spread of the truth. All modern controversies have been handled to the advantage of sound Christianity. In no case has the enemy gained any decided or permanent victory. Modern inventions are generally capable of being turned to good account. Commonly they have had a good influence. Many great political changes have favored freedom of inquiry, the reading of God's word, and a sense of individual responsibility.
The general orderings of Providence in this age
have favored the church. Great success has attended many efforts to spread
the gospel, especially among the most degraded tribes of men. The hope of
better days, powerfully animates the bosoms of many throughout the world.
What has been done in the last seventy years is great compared with
what was done for the same time preceding; yet much remains to be done;
large portions of the world are still sunk in gross darkness.
III. What can we do to promote the cause of Christ?
It should not discourage us that we can do nothing effectually. The excellency of the power is of God. We may plant and water, but God alone can give the increase. This is the best arrangement. If we depend on God, we shall not be disappointed. If he does the work, it will be well done; and to him, without dispute, will be all the glory. Yet we may do much instrumentally.
We may keep ourselves and those under our influence, informed respecting the state of the world. It is a great thing to know and to make known how men are living in sin and dying in despair, having a dismal eternity before them, and their ruin being unnecessary, salvation having been provided, a ministry instituted, and a glorious gospel commanded to be preached.
We may cultivate an ardent love to the souls of men. Oh that there were a thousand times more of that godlike spirit which Shaftsbury scornfully called a "rage for saving souls." No man ever had too much love or pity for those who were perishing under the load of their guilt and in the horrors of their depravity. It is easy to over-estimate wealth, honor, station—but it is not possible to set too high a value on the salvation of a soul by Jesus Christ.
We may all encourage, and should never discourage—wise and practicable schemes of usefulness. Let us hinder nothing good. Let us do all we can to cheer the hearts and strengthen the hands of all faithful laborers, even if they follow not exactly with us.
Let us believe assuredly that all flesh shall see the salvation of God, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. The decree has gone forth. Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The whole work of evangelizing the world is a work of faith. O have faith in God.
In particular, have faith in Christ, in his mediation, in his ability to execute all his offices. He has dominion over wicked men and devils. All power in heaven and earth is given to him. He saves, and he destroys. He kills, and he makes alive. He has the keys of death and of hell. He does all his good pleasure—in all worlds. For the good of his church he orders all things. He and his people are so far one, that in all their affliction he is afflicted, and in all his glory they rejoice. That which, in Daniel 7:14, is said to be given to Christ, is in the same chapter, verse 27, said to be given to the saints of the Most High. When Christ is glorified, his people shout for joy. When they are glorified, they enter into the joy of their Lord.
The desire to spread the gospel belongs to the very spirit of piety. "Let him who hears say, Come." He who thinks he has escaped perdition, and has no desire to rescue others from wrath, does not know his own heart. He who is begotten of God, loves his fellow-men. He longs for their salvation.
God's people can pray for the reign of grace over all the earth. Such supplications are agreeable to the will of God. Psalm 122:6. The first three petitions of the Lord's prayer embrace the same subject. There is too little united, hearty calling on God. All the progress hitherto made in bringing men to a saving knowledge of the Redeemer has been in answer to the fervent cries of the children of God. There is nothing more powerful for good, than prayer.
Those who know somewhat the doleful case of the heathen, ought to plead their cause before all Christian people. We are slow to believe how terribly the perishing nations have multiplied their sorrows, by hastening after other gods than Jehovah.
Every member of the church should be trained and urged to do his full share of the great work. He should know his place, and accomplish it. He should love to do what he can for so blessed a cause.
All the churches should be trained to liberality in giving their worldly substance for spreading the gospel. Systematic benevolence is loudly called for. We must learn to carry our liberality to the extent of self-denial. We must remember the power of littles. The ocean consists of the aggregation of drops.
Our young men must freely give themselves to the work of the ministry at home and abroad. Parents must cheerfully give their sons to this service. It must come to be, in popular esteem, an honor to serve the Lord in any way his providence may permit. Why is the ministry so lightly esteemed? Why do we so seldom find a Hannah, a Eunice, or a Monica in the church of God? One, well-qualified, laborious minister of the gospel is commonly far more useful than two men of equal talents in any other calling. It is enough to break the heart to see revival after revival without a group of young men rising up to publish salvation.
There should be a much deeper tone of piety in all the churches. Love is too cold. Faith too often staggers. Repentance sheds too few tears. Joy has but few feasts. Pity for the perishing too seldom stirs the soul to its depths. Adoring views of God have too little power over men's minds. Hope is too feeble to impart much animation. "In doing good," says Burke, "we are generally cold, and languid, and sluggish, and of all things, afraid of being too much in the right. But the works of malice and injustice are quite in another style. They are finished with a bold, masterly hand, touched as they are with the spirit of those vehement passions which call forth all our energies when we oppress and persecute." Oh that ministers and people, fathers and mothers, young men and maidens loved as they should a dying world, and labored as they ought to turn many to righteousness.
Look in mercy on this dark world. Remember Zion. Make Joseph a fruitful bough, whose branches run over the wall. Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion. Bring back the captivity of your people, that Jacob may rejoice and Israel be glad. You have set your Son on your holy hill of Zion. Righteousness is the belt of his loins, and faithfulness the belt of his reins. Hasten the time when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a child shall lead them; and the cow and the bear shall feed, and their young ones lie down together, and the sucking child shall play on the hole of the viper, and the nations shall learn war no more, and your ancient people the Jews and the fullness of the Gentiles shall be brought in; when the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ; when the Lord shall call them his people which are not now his people; when the angel shall fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto those who dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.
Lord God Almighty, cut short the work in righteousness. Let the ploughman overtake the reaper, and let a nation be born in a day.
"Pity the nations, O our God;
We are indeed asking great things, but we do it at your command. We ask no more than you have promised to your Son—and no more than he has purchased by his most precious blood—and no more than he himself intercedes for in heaven. Amen.