You're here: oChristian.com » Articles Home » Isaac Errett » The Law of Progressive Development

The Law of Progressive Development

By Isaac Errett


      "And he said, So is the Kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first, the blade; then the ear: after that, the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come."--MARK IV: 26-29.

      THE Law of Progressive Development is operative alike in nature and in grace. I have no confidence in the development theory which seeks to trace up all the forms of animated nature from monads, by regular development or spontaneous generation, and even to give the history of worlds and universes of matter, from a nebulous infancy through a patient growth into the solar and stellar magnificences that now gem the heavens. This stupendous effort to banish a personal Creator and to subdue all things--even the workings of mind, the movements of nations, and all historical developments, to the operation of blind and resistless forces of materialism, is at war with the fundamental idea of a Divine revelation, and can have no sympathy where faith rests in a Divine Creator, who spake, and it was done; who commanded, and it stood fast. Yet the fact that such a theory commands the advocacy of [471] distinguished and honored names in science and literature, shows that there is a sufficient groundwork of facts to invest it with plausibility. What geology has unfolded of a sublime series of creations and destructions in the history of our earth, and the just analogies of nature, which proceed from this starting point, render it probable that this law of progressive development pervades the universe. However this may be, we are certain in regard to its operation in and on our own globe, in the realms of matter and of mind. Life is growth, development, from a germ of existence through successive stages of infancy, childhood, youth, to manhood's perfection: "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." And the kingdom of heaven, in the text, is likened to this; thus teaching us that the laws of the kingdom of grace are analogous to those of the kingdom of nature; that religion does not outrage the established laws of matter or of mind; that the volumes of nature and revelation are from the same author, in the same handwriting; and that the same principles of rational investigation, which we carry with us in the interpretation of the former, are equally legitimate and necessary in the interpretation of the latter.

      It has long been a mischievous delusion that the operations of grace are, if not lawless, at least out of sympathy and out of harmony with the known laws of mind; that religion is not a science to be learned, or a life to be developed; that religious faith has nothing in common with other faith; that religious peace and happiness ignore all the established conditions of peace and happiness; that a touch of magic or of miracle flashes light on the mind, peace on the conscience, and joy on the soul; and that, like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, the child of God springs from the bosom of the supernatural, full-armed, into life. [472]

      It may be well, therefore, to examine the law of progress announced in the text, and, in its light, obtain more satisfactory and profitable views of the ways of God to man. We propose to examine the operations of this law

      I. IN THE GRADUAL UNFOLDING OF THE PURPOSE OF GOD IN THE PLAN OF REDEMPTION.

      II. IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF INDIVIDUAL LIFE AND CHARACTER.

      III. IN THE HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE CHURCH.

      Our purpose in this is not a complete elaboration of our theme--for this the limits of a sermon will not allow--but to furnish such outlines and landmarks as will enable the reader to pursue the investigation for himself; giving him such an insight into some of the laws and methods of the Divine government as will assist him more intelligently to survey, and more rationally to enjoy, the salvation of God.

      I. THE GRADUAL UNFOLDING OF THE PURPOSE OF GOD IN THE PLAN OF REDEMPTION.

      It has been with unbelievers a standing objection to the plan of salvation, and a source of embarrassment to many believers also, that the fullness of the Gospel was not communicated immediately on the fall of man. "Why," they ask, "must four thousand years elapse before the Savior appears? Why, for two thousand years must the favor of God be confined to a single family and nation, while all the rest of mankind are left to perish in their sins?" And why, we ask in return, does this law of progressive development obtain at all? Why must man begin in puling infancy, and grow into manhood, slowly developing not only his physical frame, but his mental and moral characteristics likewise? Why is not knowledge flashed instantaneously [473] into the mind, rather than left to be acquired slowly and painfully through a thousand struggles and repeated failures? Why must we have toys for infancy, and object-lessons for childhood, and carry the learner patiently through elementary instructions before he can grasp broad generalizations, or master the mysteries of any science? Why do nations grow, and ages move in cycles? Why did nations, without a revelation from God, struggle so long in vain with the problems of duty and destiny? At the very time when this objection was most loudly urged, unbelievers were looking to geology, to find such revelations in the stone-book as would forever silence the pretensions of the Bible. But, lo! when these revelations were made, the same lesson of progressive development was written on every page; the same calmness and patience were every-where traceable in the Divine Architect's plan of building a world. If we could say no more, we could be content in saying that this gradual unfolding of redemption is of a piece with the gradual unfolding of creation.

      We are far from saying, however, that we are ignorant of any reason for this slow progression. Nay, we see reasons for it in redemption, that we could not plead in behalf of progressive development in creation. It is consistent with our best ideas of Omnipotence that a world or a universe of matter should be spoken into instant perfection of existence. But it is not consistent with our knowledge of the rational nature of man that Omnipotence should instantaneously redeem it from error and guilt. Omnipotence might, perhaps, instantaneously annihilate such a nature, but certainly can not instantaneously save it; because the salvation of a rational nature implies that the nature itself desires to be saved; that it is weary of sin; is conscious of its curse; has trust in a Savior; and [474] penitentially returns to submission to the will of God. These are not the results of mere omnipotence. Some of them are results which can only flow from man's own experience. To know the whole bitterness and curse of sin; to know man's inability to redeem himself from its power and guilt; to attain to such a knowledge of human helplessness and hopelessness that a sinning race shall be willing to come, sin-sick and heart-broken, to cast themselves imploringly on the mercy of God--these are results which can only be reached through long and varied experiences, through repeated demonstrations, in human history, of man's depravity and helplessness, and of God's compassion and mercy. Therefore, when men did not like to retain God in their knowledge, he gave them up to their own ways, (Rom. i: 21-32,) until, like the prodigal son, their heritage wasted in riotous living, and every step plunging them into deeper want, they should be prepared to say, "I will arise and go to my Father."

      Meanwhile, Divine Wisdom set on foot such remedial measures as the condition of the race demanded, and developed these, step by step, during a long period of Divine forbearance, while the human experiment of self-government and self-redemption was pending. Let us glance at the landmarks which indicate this progressive development of Divine mercy.

      1. A promise is made to the first sinful pair that the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head. (Gen. iii: 15.) Here the seed of the Divine purpose is cast into the ground.

      2. Abraham is chosen as the founder of a nation, with the promise, In thy seed shall all nations be blessed. (Gen. xii: 3.) Here the seed is germinating.

      3. The Jewish nation appears, and is taken into [475] covenant with God, as a peculiar people. Here the blade springs forth.

      It was not for themselves, but for the sake of the apostate nations, that the Jews were elected to be a peculiar people, that through them truth might be preserved and disseminated, and the way be prepared for the ultimate return of the prodigal wanderers. Hence their location in the geographical center of the earth, as then known. Hence God's movements, through them, on the most powerful and enlightened nations of antiquity. It is worthy of remark, that Jehovah's movements were at the great centers of learning, religion, and authority--the radiating centers of the world. Through Israel he moved on Egypt and her idols, and radiated thence over the earth the knowledge of the true God; and similarly on Nineveh, Babylon, Ecbatana, Susa, and thence on all the provinces of vast empires. The books of Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel, as well as many other portions of the Old Testament, show how, through the Jews, alike in their victories and defeats, as a powerful nation at home, or as helpless captives abroad, knowledge was disseminated, sin denounced, idolatry overturned, justice asserted, mercy displayed, hopes of a coming Deliverer awakened, until, to a much greater extent than a superficial reader of the Bible would suppose, the leaven of Divine truth was deposited with the nations. The blade is growing. Jewish and heathen authors attest that, before the Messiah appeared, a general expectation of a Divine Redeemer had been awakened. Equally true is it, from all authentic testimonies, that at this time men were every-where weary of their own experiments, and had been driven to the conclusion that a Divine hand must save, or the race be hopelessly abandoned. [476]

      A complete view of this subject would require us to notice the respective missions providentially assigned to other nations, all subservient to the one great purpose of preparing the world for the coming of the Savior--the golden thread stretching across the ages, on which all influential events were divinely strung; but our space forbids us to undertake the task.

      4. Jesus is born. He comes when the world is waiting for him with eager expectancy; when the spread of the Roman empire has so far unified the interests of the nations as to prepare the way for the universal spread of the Gospel; when the Roman civilization is sinking in its dotage, and with it is departing the last hope of success in solving the problem of human regeneration; when human religions and philosophies have lost their inspiration, and over the ruins of ancient systems a shuddering skepticism dismally broods; when, from all quarters of the globe, men are looking with vague desire to the land of Judea for deliverance, and the wretched prodigals from all lands are sighing for a return to their Father's house.

      The purposes of God are ripening. The stars in the Jewish firmament are paling. John the Harbinger, the morning star, joyfully heralds the approaching sun, in whose beams are to be found life and health for all peoples. The Son of God is made known. Gentile sinners and Samaritans seek him for the blessings of his love. The corn is in the ear; and, in a full knowledge of the speedy approach of the time when he shall draw all men unto him, he says: Lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest; and he that reapeth receiveth wages and gathereth fruit unto life eternal, that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. (John iv: 35, 36.)

      Thus, while the Divine forbearance allowed ages to [477] come and go, waiting till a rebellious race should weary of its selfhood, and come back in submission to its Sovereign, Divine wisdom selected and employed individuals, families, tribes, nations, through whom to communicate his intentions and reveal his will. And step by step can we trace, through the history of four thousand years, the unfolding of the eternal and unchangeable purpose of God to save men by his Son, Jesus Christ.

      This sketch, we are aware, is too brief to be satisfactory, except for starting inquiry. But it is sufficiently clear to prepare us for one conclusion of immense importance to all who would understand the Bible, namely, the Old Testament is no longer a book of authority. The stars shine no longer in presence of the sun. The blade and ear are no longer trusted in, after the full grain in the ear has been obtained. The revelations and ordinations of former ages were preparatory. They belonged to the infancy and childhood of the race. They were pictorial, ritualistic, adumbrative. The law was a pedagogue to bring men to Christ. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under the pedagogue. (Gal. iii: 24, 25.) The same God, who, at sundry times and in divers places, spoke unto the fathers by the prophets, has now spoken by his Son, not the words of a temporary law, but of the "everlasting Gospel;" and has established, not a kingdom to be shaken and destroyed, but a kingdom which can not be shaken. (Heb. xii: 28.)

      Leaving this ante-christian development of the kingdom of heaven, we proceed to notice--

      II. THE DEVELOPMENT OF INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN LIFE AND CHARACTER.

      In this application of the text--and we do it no violence in thus applying it, for the principle is still the same, [478] whether applied to individuals, societies, or nations--there are three things worthy of note.

      1. There is a seed, containing the germ of all spiritual life, without which the fruits of righteousness and holiness can not be grown. That seed is the word of God--the truth of the Gospel. (Luke viii: 11. )

      2. There is a soil in which that seed must be deposited, to cause it to grow. That soil is the human heart; and as "the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself"--automatically, by virtue of her native capacities, and through the certain, though mysterious, chemistry by which the ever-present God elaborates life, and bloom, and fruitfulness from the dull clod of the valley--so is the spiritual nature of man possessed of capacities for automatic development of the truth it has received. The truth of God is adapted to our nature, and the soul "brings forth fruit of herself," by virtue of her own capacities and powers for receiving, digesting, and appropriating truth. It is this that clothes our rational nature with fearful responsibility.

      3. Men plant and water--God gives the increase. We are at last dependent on Him who gives the seed-time and the harvest; who gives sunbeams, and showers, and all needful heavenly blessings to crown the labors of man with success, to multiply the seed sown, and increase the fruits of our toil.

      4. The life that springs from this germ, through this soil, is feeble in its beginnings, and grows into completeness; "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear."

      How sadly mistaken are our conceptions of religious life! We have been taught to rely so much on religious experiences, and have listened to so many extravagant narrations of the miraculous transformations instantaneously [479] wrought, that we are constantly looking for the kingdom to come "with observation," with signs and wonders, and outward display. We fail to learn that the kingdom of God is within us,, in the truth which an honest heart has welcomed, in the faith to which that truth has led us. We look for the earthquake, tempest, and fire in which God is not, and fail to hear the "still, small voice, in which God is.

      There will always be great variety of psychological manifestation attendant on conversion, because of the great variety of physical organization, temperament, and education. Yet, as a general rule, especially in Christian lands, where we grow from infancy into the knowledge of the Gospel, there will be found a silent working of truth in the heart and conscience, and a growth into life, silent and gradual, but beautiful and progressive. The New Testament Scriptures every-where contemplate spiritual life as a growth from small beginnings; as involving necessarily the weakness of infancy, and the struggles of childhood, ere we are prepared for the ripeness of manhood. The child of God, when born of water and Spirit, is but a babe. The faith and baptism that bring him into Christ but enable him to begin to live in "newness of life." And this life, like all other life, depends for its perpetuation and development on food, air, and exercise.

      1. Truth is the Christian's food, milk first, meat afterward. As new-born babes earnestly desire the pure, spiritual milk, that you may grow thereby. (1 Pet. ii: 2.) Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and the rejoicing of my heart. (Jer. xv: 16.)

      2. The atmosphere of the kingdom of God is a pure atmosphere; we "live in the Spirit," and "walk in the Spirit." It is essential that we keep our place within the [480] limits of the kingdom; for, outside its walls there are marshes of unbelief and carnality, whose malarious exhalations wither the life of all who inhale them.

      The exercise to which we are called consists of the delightful activities of faith and love to which the example of Christ and of the primitive Church leads us.

      All these are essential to the fullness of life. We may eat, and not thrive, if we live in a bad atmosphere. We may live in a pure atmosphere, and languish, if we refuse to eat, or if we eat forbidden fruit. We may have good food and pure air, and still be dwarfed, if we fail to exercise ourselves unto godliness--to employ all our ransomed powers to do good to man, and to give praise to God.

      With these premises before us, we deduce some conclusions of practical importance.

      1. Many fear that they were never converted, because there has been nothing extraordinary to mark their transit from death to life. But this arises from the use of human standards of conversion, and a foolish comparison of ourselves with others. The apostolic tests were different. He that believeth that Jesus is the Christ, has been begotten of God. (1 Jno. v: 1.) Every one that works rIghteousness has been begotten by him. (1 Jno. ii: 29.) Every one that loves has been begotten of God. (1 Jno. iv: 7.) We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. (1 Jno. iii: 12.) If the kingdom of God is within us, and is like to a man that sowed seed in his field, we must have our eye on small beginnings, and test the genuineness of our life by the character of its growth. The first converts to Christ began with slender capital. They learned simply to put their trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and, for his sake, to renounce their sins. They were then baptized into Christ, and placed in the Church--the [481] plantation of grace--where, from this germinal faith, they might, in God's own sunshine, watered with the dews of his love, and sustained by the Spirit's inspiring breath, develop the blade, the ear, the full corn in the ear.

      2. Many doubt their acceptable standing, because they fall, in actual life, so far below their ideal. They have many imperfections, many conflicts with evil, and even many sins. This, they think, could not be if they were Christians; especially in view of the inspired declaration, He that has been begotten of God does not commit sin. (1 Jno. iii: 9.) But if Christian life is a growth, of course our attainments must fall below our ideal. Why doubt that the tender spear, that first breaks through the clod, is wheat, because you see no "ear" on it such as your ideal grain-stalk has? It is growing to that. Are you growing in grace and in knowledge? Are you gaining additional victories over weakness and impulse? Is your hand growing steadier and more skillful in holding the helm to guide your vessel through the storm? Then remember that it is first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. Remember, too, that childhood is a period of struggle and of peril, and that the symmetry and strength of manhood are gained only through toil and conflict, overcoming opposition and failure. True, he that is begotten of God does not work sin; it is not his vocation; he pursues it not as his calling; that which he works at is righteousness. Yet he may be a feeble worker, and sometimes a failing one; but the greatest of all questions to settle is, does be grow in the right direction?

      3. Many are living in the past. They have no growth. They had an overgrown infancy--a precocious piety--and now they are spiritual dwarfs. They have grand stories to tell of their conversion, and it is all they have to tell. [482] The abundant blossoms of their spring-time have brought no fruitage. There was a blade of great promise, but it never yielded grain in the ear. Beware of these pretentious beginnings. Mourn not if thy faith is like a grain of mustard seed; only let it grow until it becomes a tree.

      But we hasten to consider, in the last place, the operation of this law,

      III. IN THE HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF CHRISTIANITY.

      The Jews, ignorant of this law, were looking for a kingdom to appear, in full-grown might and splendor, to command the instant submission of the nations. Yet Daniel had predicted it as a stone cut out of the mountain without hands. (Dan. ii: 34.) Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, (Zech. iv: 6,) was the decree of Jehovah, touching the erection of this spiritual edifice, which "groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord." The kingdom of God cometh not with outward display, (Luke xvii: 20,) said the Teacher. Its sole original herald was an obscure Nazarite, in coarse garments, lifting up his voice in the wilderness, and soon arrested, imprisoned, and beheaded. Then comes the lowly Nazarene, attended by a feeble band of poor people. He spends a few years in works of mercy, and in peregrinations through the land of Judea, to instruct the people. Then, without leaving a written speech behind him, or a page of written history, or an organized society, he yields himself meekly to a dishonorable death. The shepherd is smitten, and the sheep are scattered. Next, we see one hundred and twenty disciples assembled in an upper room in Jerusalem. They are poor. They are unlettered. They are unpolished. They are without public influence. They are on their knees, in prayer and [483] supplication, waiting for the promised Spirit of Truth. The germ of all the life, dominion, and grandeur of the kingdom of heaven is in the keeping of that little band. When we remember that this was in the Augustan age, when Rome's imperial power and greatness filled all the world with awe; and then reflect that Rome's imperial grandeur, and the military prowess that supported it, and all that made that vast dominion the terror of foes, and the pride of citizens, has long since passed away, leaving to us only the hopeless wrecks of her greatness, and the melancholy history of her decline and fall; while the kingdom, whose fortunes lay sleeping in the hearts of that little assembly in Jerusalem, survives the decay of empires, of races, and of religions, sways the destinies of nations, and is to-day the most puissant of the moral forces at work in the world; we may well divorce our souls from the cheating splendors of material greatness and the triumphs of brute force, and bring our votive offerings to the King of Truth, whose victories are bloodless and immortal.

      It was indeed a small seed--a diminutive lump of leaven--a little stone; but it has grown to be a great tree whose roots strike into every soil, and whose branches shelter nations and continents; it has leavened the literature, science, jurisprudence, and commercial, social, and domestic life of the most powerful and enlightened nations of the earth; it has broken in pieces the once worshipful tyrannies and superstitions of universal empires, and from a little stone is becoming a great mountain.

      This, it is true, has not been speedily accomplished. The first springing of the blade was speedy and promising. But, as with the seed which the farmer sows in the autumn, which springs at once into beautiful life, the frosts of winter lock it up, and the snows of winter hide it away, and the storms [484] of winter howl over its grave, as if in dismal prophesy of utter ruin, so that any one ignorant of the wonderful ways of God would regard the labor and hopes of the husbandman an utter failure; so here, after the beautiful upspringing of the seed of the kingdom in the first century, came on the reign of a fierce winter of adversity, when the kingdom was hidden from the view of men, and the persecuting rage of the nations swept over it, until to one unskilled in the workings of Providence, the cause of Christ was a failure. But the spring's sweet influence comes, in nature's regular course, and melts the ice-bands, and breaks the fetters of frost, and opens the bosom of earth, so long locked up in sullenness, to the sun's directer ray; and the quickened pulses of life thrill through all her frame, and her hidden treasures of bloom, and fragrance, and fruitfulness are brought forth to enrich and adorn the desolate surface of the earth, and it is found, at last, that stern winter was performing a necessary work, and helping on, in strange, mysterious ways, the glories of the harvest-time. And so in the moral world, after a long reign of wintry desolation, during which it seemed as if truth had perished, the vernal season of rejoicing came at last, heralded by such warblers as Wyclif, Huss, and Jerome, who, like robins, came with the first gleams of rosy light and the first breath of spring, out from the darkness and the cold, sweet harbingers of better times. There were, indeed, a few of God's minstrels who had never ceased to sing. Away in the mountain solitudes of the Alps and the Appenines, hidden in the deserts, caged up in the caves, God gave them "songs in the night" which they never ceased to carol. Some of their lays were sweet memories of the past, and some of them gay prophecies of the coming glory of the kingdom. And many a brave heart that lay bleeding in despair, weary of [485] watching for the morning, faithless of any returning spring-time, and ready to ask, on the brink of utter faithlessness, "Who will show us any good?" had been charmed into new hope and courage, and had risen for new toils and sufferings. And the spring-time came; and the blade, so long hidden, grew into vigor and fruitfulness. The Bible reappears; the Christ is again proclaimed Lord of the conscience and Savior of the soul. His quickening voice again goes forth, and nations spring into new life, and go after him, out of darkness into light--out of slavery into freedom--out of a dismal stagnation of soul into heroic activities and gloriously free adventures--out of weakness, and sin, and inglorious vassalage, into strength and righteousness, and the priceless treasures of civil and religious liberty. The Protestant Reformation, with all its blessed fruits of intelligence, liberty, and progress, was the spring-time of the Kingdom of God. The blade grows and the ear appears.

      But "the full corn in the ear" has not yet been seen. Between spring and harvest there is a season of peril for the grain. It is subject to upheavals by frosts and thaws; to raids of insects, which burrow into the very heart and root of its treasures; to the sweep of storms and the tramp of beasts; out of all these perils we clutch with joy at last the golden sheaves. Analogous to this has been the history of the kingdom since Luther's Reformation. We can not trace a steady and prosperous growth. There have been many drawbacks, many sad failures, many heavy disasters; but still the fields wave in golden beauty and richness, and glow with promise of a coming harvest. The brightest day of promise is yet to come. We have seen the stone break the image, and roll on with accumulative magnitude; but we have not yet seen it "fill the whole [486] earth." We have seen the witnesses of God, that prophesied in sackcloth, slain, and have witnessed their rising; but we have not yet heard the seventh trumpet proclaim: The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. (Rev. xi: 1-15.) We see "the man of sin" consumed by the spirit of the Lord's mouth, but we have not yet seen him destroyed by the brightness of the Lord's coming. (2 Thess. ii: 8.) The kingdom is not yet given, "under the whole heaven," to "the people of the saints of the Most High."

      We can not enter here on the question of the millennium farther than to say that we look for no such materialistic and sensuous, if not sensual, paradise as many seem to expect; we leave all such carnal dreams to Mohammedans and Mormons; nor yet do we look for such a universal spiritual triumph as many others hope for. This world can not, while it lasts, be other than a scene of trial--of probation; but we do look for "the full corn in the ear," for such a spread of truth and triumph of righteousness as has never yet been seen; for such an overthrow of beasts and false prophets, such a splash, and gurgle, and roar of waters when Babylon, like a millstone, is cast into the sea; such an overthrow of tyrannies, oppressions, superstitions, and impostures, and such a recognition of the supremacy of the Lord Jesus, on the very earth which was the theater of his suffering and shame, as shall vindicate the long-suffering, the wisdom, and the justice of God. And we feel like saying to our blessed Lord, so long insulted and rejected, as the fields grow white to the harvest--as the morning-star glows with unusual brilliancy in the heavens--as the dim twilight of the past gives way to the roseate hues of a gay morning--as we listen to crash after crash of falling errors and wrongs, and catch the notes of one and [487] another song of deliverance--we feel like saying, in the beautiful language of Cowper:

               "Come, then, and, added to thy many crowns,
               Receive yet one, the crown of all the Earth,
               Thou who alone art worthy! It was thine
               By ancient covenant, ere Nature's birth
               And thou hast made it thine by purchase since,
               And overpaid its value with thy blood.
               Thy saints proclaim thee King; and in their hearts
               Thy title is engraven with a pen
               Dipped in the fountain of eternal love.
               Thy saints proclaim thee King; and thy delay
               Gives courage to their foes, who, could they see
               The dawn of thy last advent, long desired,
               Would creep into the bowels of the hills,
               And flee for safety to the falling rocks.
               The very spirit of the world is tired
               Of its own taunting question, asked so long,
               'Where is the promise of your Lord's approach?'
               The infidel has shot his bolts away,
               Till, his exhausted quiver, yielding none,
               He gleans the blunted shafts that have recoiled,
               And aims them at the shield of Truth again.
               
               Come, then, and, added to thy many crowns,
               Receive yet one, as radiant as the rest,
               Due to thy last and most effectual work,
               Thy word fulfilled, the conquest of a world!

      From this phase of our subject we deduce some practical reflections, with which this discourse will be concluded.

      1. Whatever triumph is yet to come, is to be the result of moral power. "The full corn in the ear" is but the full development of the germ in the seed sown, and has the same source as the blade and the ear. We must not grow skeptical, then, as to the conquering power of the [488] truth. There are many whose faith in the triumph of truth is paralyzed; and, in sheer skepticism as to the deathless force of the word of God, they are seeking comfort in the wildest imaginings of earthquake, and fire, and tempest, to close the scenes of time. They indulge in the most dolorous croakings over the hopeless degeneracy of the times, and overwhelm with evil vaticinations every hopeful enterprise for the world's salvation. Dante has placed in one of his hells such as predicted future events. Their punishment is to have their faces reversed, and set the contrary way on their bodies, so that they are compelled to look and walk backward. It seems to us that many of our modern prophets have had their heads reversed even here, so that their lugubrious gaze is led into the past rather than the future; and they find more material for reflection in the wrecks of past struggles than in the promises of coming triumphs. We should carefully guard against such a paralysis of faith. The triumphs of our King are assigned, in the Scriptures, to moral power. As a King, he is King of Truth. It is in this that his kingdom is declared to be "not of this world." Were the raging passions of men to be subdued until harmony would reign over the scenes of former discord and cruelty? The reason given is: For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isa. xi: 6-9.) Is Babylon to fall? That fall is preceded by the mission of an angel having the everlasting Gospel to preach to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people. (Rev. xiv: 6-8.) Are wars to cease, and peace to brood, dove-like, over all the earth? The reason given is: For the law shall go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isa. ii: 1-4.) It may seem like a slender reliance; but it lives to plant its standard over the ruins of colossal [489] empires that once sought to destroy it with the sword! It is not alone. Its author lives and reigns to guide it to victory. His providences open for it a free course. If men and nations erect themselves in pride and stubbornness against the Lord and his anointed, He that sitteth in the heavens knows to abase the proud and exalt the lowly.--If nations become incorrigible, Divine judgments can annihilate them, and give their places to others. The Great Engineer has been for ages tunneling the mountains, bridging the chasms, spanning the floods, forcing a highway through flinty rocks, along precipitous heights, and over barren deserts. The track is partly laid, and trains are running over sections of the road. A day may consummate at last what it required ages to prepare the way for, and we shall reach the desired terminus. Deep down beneath the tumults and wrecks of the surface of Time's stormy sea, in the eternal calm of His own purposes, God is stretching the wires that shall connect this world with the next, and bring heaven and earth into unison.

      To the eye of sense it seems as if the Church is a feeble instrumentality to work out these great results; and so it is. The Gulf Stream is, in comparison with the ocean, a small stream, and one would think, to look on that river of warm water, that the cold waters of the ocean would swallow it up right speedily. Yet there it is--in the ocean, but not of it--an everlasting river, never failing in drouths nor overflowing in floods, flowing steadily and resistlessly on from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic seas, bearing the warm treasures of the tropics to frozen regions--changing climates--giving channels to winds--spreading grateful blessings of warmth over regions that otherwise would be locked in eternal frosts, and receiving back the cold [490] currents of the north only to be elevated to a more desirable temperature, and sent back again in gratefulness of blessing to the unfriendly regions whence they came. Such a stream does history reveal in the ocean of human life--the Church of the living God. Flowing from the tropical regions of Divine Love, it goes out a river of life, bearing to the icy regions of human selfishness and sin the warm streams of truth and love from God, and, by a thousand gentle influences, as it flows along rocky coasts, or amidst the desolation of icebergs, subdues the severities and conquers the desolations of sin's wintry reign, and gives the bloom of spring and the fruits of summer to lands which else were locked in the everlasting embrace of death. It never ceases to flow. Men may not know it; navigators may look on it with suspicion; fogs may enwrap its beneficial currents and hide them from the gaze of the mariner; but as growing intelligence dispels the mysteries of the past, and unfolds the beneficent purposes of Him who is "wonderful in working," the world will bless the giver for this river of life, and gratefully acknowledge the blessings which it brings.

      2. Let it not be forgotten that the noblest fruitage of Christian life is yet to be seen. We sometimes speak of primitive Christianity as if the noblest perfection of character belonged to the first age; as if the blade, in its first springing, was superior to the full corn in the ear. The full revelation of truth belongs to the first age--for that was the harvest-period in the revelation of truth; but it was the seed-time, so far as the fruits of the Gospel are concerned. No one can read the first and third chapters of Romans, and expect to see hewn out of such quarries of Jewish and Gentile humanity blocks of Parian marble. We inherit a Christian civilization which they had not; and, [491] in view of the blessed heritage of faith, and hope, and love which we possess, God has a right to demand of the Church now, a strength, symmetry, and fruitfulness beyond any thing that glorified her early history. More than the miracles which we have lost, is the strength and certainty of the faith which has been tested through the storms and conflicts of eighteen hundred years. Perhaps the passive virtues adorned the lives of the patient sufferers of the early ages more than ours; but the active virtues of Christian character ought, in the blessed sunlight of this nineteenth century--in this land of freedom, with our surroundings of a high Christian civilization, with our unparalleled facilities for conquering space, and time, and nature, and for condensing into an hour more of real life than used to belong to a year; invested by science with an almost godlike command over the elements, and a godlike dominion over the treasures of the soil, the waters, and the mountains--the active virtues of Christian life ought to shine in us with unmatched luster! The fruits of Christian philanthropy should abound in unparalleled richness and variety, and the blessings of a triumphant faith and cheerful piety should spread their light and power over all the earth. We can not take time here to sketch our ideas of the triumphs yet to be won by the Church of God. A Spiritual Brotherhood, redeemed from all human authority, united only in Christ, with no test of admission but submission to Christ, and no test of membership but obedience to Christ's commandments--such a brotherhood, enjoying, in the closest spiritual unity, the highest spiritual freedom, and consecrating all their powers, in holy enthusiasm, to the world's regeneration, would soon banish infidelity, superstition, and tyranny from the earth, mold the governments of the world into humaner forms, drive out selfishness, oppression, [492] aristocracy, and caste, before the light of Christ's ideas of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, and plant in all lands, and in the islands of the sea, peace and good-will among the families of mankind. The Spirit of God would brood lovingly, in dove-like sweetness and gentleness, over such a scene, and heaven stoop down to bless, with unwonted lavishness of bounty, the reconciled earth. The glorious harvest of the full corn in the ear would be gathered in with joyful shouts of harvest-home, and the sower who went forth with tears, and the reaper who gathered in the sheaves with joy, would rejoice together before the Lord. [493]

      The Living Pulpit of the Christian Church: A Series of Discourses, Doctrinal and Practical. Ed. W. T. Moore. Cincinnati, OH: R. W. Carroll & Co., 1868. Pp. 471-493.

Back to Isaac Errett index.

Loading

Like This Page?


© 1999-2016, oChristian.com. All rights reserved.