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THE

NEW ENGLANDER.

No. LXVIII.

NOVEMBER, 1859.

ARTICLE I.-CHRISTIANITY A STRONG SYSTEM.

It has long been the practice of infidels to assert the inherent weakness of Christianity. A century ago it was given out at Ferney that the system might be demolished by a single vigorous arm. A little later, the author of “The Decline and Fall” penned a stately sneer and discovered that the religion of Mohammed possessed more tough stability than the religion of Jesus. To-day a brilliant Quarterly comes into our reading rooms and argues that Protestantism, which to us is Christianity, is both feeble to conquer and feeble to endure—that it has little influence with its friends, less force against its enemies, and no ability whatever to bide the light of science.

Nor are low views of the strength of Christianity confined to Voltaires, and Gibbons, and friends of the Westminster Review. Many sincere believers have them. We have ourselves met good men who seemed to have the timid hearts of children in respect to the future of their religion. We have known of very many more, the genuineness of whose faith

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VOL. XVII.

could not be questioned, who evidently looked upon the sys. tem as a weakly bantling needing on both sides the tenderest propping of influential men and even of the State in order to its walking or even standing. And how few use it for its proposed ends with anything like that buoyant energy which indicates men consciously wielding one of the greatest forces the world ever saw! And yet such it is, according to the Bible—a fire and rock-breaking hammer, the sharpest of twocdged swords, a might for pulling down strong holds, the Power and Wisdom of God in happy coöperation, a stone resistlessly expanding till the world is filled and the strongest kingdoms crushed into chaff of the summer threshing floor. It may well be doubted whether Christian man has ever yet risen fully to the high level of these Scripture statements. The faith of the best is never quite perfect and their hearts are always more slow at realizing than their faith is at accepting. And if at an auspicious moment that great hight of conception were sorely gained by some strong-limbed soul, why, we know what human nature is; how easily its natural gravitation carries it away from a just sense of divine truth on the slightest remission of vigilance and labor, and how frequent such remissions are in the history of the most steadfast.

It is under the influence of these two classes of facts, the charges of the infidel and the deficiences of the believer, that we propose now to illustrate the Dynamics of the Christian Religion. This theme has special claims on the ministers of Christ. Of all men they most need to fight his battles against unbelief ; in none others will a vivid sense of mighty forces residing in the instrumentality they wield do so much to animate the general Christian heart and give success to all Christian enterprises. Why those infidel charges ? Plainly from the idea that if Christianity should be proved inherently weak it would be proved inherently false. And the idea is correct. A weak system of religion is not adapted to human wants—is not adapted to the end it proposes to itself, and so cannot be from a wise and Almighty God. And those good men, who, from not having duly considered this fact or from other reasons, allow their own sense of the power of Christianity

to sink below the Bible standard, will surely find the comfort and success of their labors sinking correspondingly. It is with the soldiers of the Lord as with other men at arms. If they feel that they may confidently rely on the temper and edge of their weapons, they will descend into battle with promising firmness and spirit. And if, like certain heroes of the old fable, they feel that their divine arms are not only absolutely sure to hold, but are so instinct with strange, living might as almost to win battles of themselves, then many among them will hew their way through all obstacles and rule the red field like kings. God bless that white day that sces all captains of hundreds and of thousands in Israel leading on the host to missions and revivals with the confidence of men who see munitions of rocks in their heaven-wrought suits of proof, and feel the swords in their hands throbbing toward the war with divine and immeasurable forces !

The method of our discussion shall be very simple. Let us first state such general proof of great power in Christianity as is furnished by the experience of mankind, and then add such specifications of the various sources of this power as may best serve to confirm the argument and give it vividness to the mind.

“ Appeal to the experience of the world !” exclaim the unbeliefs and weak faiths; “why, it is just here lie our great stones of stumbling! How slow have been the advances of Christianity in certain quarters, and how quick its recessions in others! What little influence has it exerted on the mass of its professed friends-on the measures of Christian government, on the masses of Christian nations, on even the membership of Christian churches ? Into how many mutually contending sects have its followers been divided from the earliest times? How is it possible to construct an argument for a mighty Christianity out of an experience that bristles with such facts as these?

It really is of no consequence to dispute the genuineness of any of these stumbling experiences. Admit them, and it does not follow that Christianity is weak; unless indeed it is true that there is no system on earth which is strong. For a similar experience belongs to every other historical system, whether of religion, science, or government. Perhaps the objector is a deist. Has deism, any more than Romanism, Mohammedanism, or Polytheism, never had times of gaining slowly and declining swiftly; times when the actual practice of its friends was but a poor exponent of its theories and rules; times when its different schools were numerous and mutually contestant? Perhaps the objector is a politician. Has the democracy, or the monarchy, or the aristocracy ever been without its parties, without its courts and prisons in full play, without occasions when friends increased slowly, or enemies rapidly? Perhaps the objector is a man of science. Is there any prominent science which has not had its slow as well as rapid diffusion, its rapid as well as slow recession, a large practice among its nominal friends inconsistent with its principles, various schools shaking dialectic spears at each other? In short, no system with a history can be mentioned which has not had just such an experience in these respects, as is charged on Christianity. Even sin has had it: and is sin, as it exists among men, a feeble thing? Is there really nothing strong in the world ?

It is however not true that Christianity exerts small influence on its professed friends. Hereafter we shall attempt to show that influence to be vastly great, though much less than a Christian could wish. But it is a fact, which there is no deny. ing, that the system has had its times of slow advances and quick recessions. The primitive church was soon corrupted. The reformation of the sixteenth century ebbed very rapidly in Germany. Our missionaries have often labored long with apparently sınall results. But before weakness can properly be inferred from these facts, two things must be shown; first, that substantially the whole strength of the system was enlisted in the contest; and, second, that the strength of opposing influence was not great. Until both of these points are proved, nothing is proved. But it may credibly be claimed that what Christianity had to contend against was human wickedness; one of the strongest things known to history, and indeed able from its very nature to resist successfully all kinds and degrees of force that may be brought against it. And further it may be claimed that never, as yet, have the full energies of the system been brought into play—that its power is partly that of an instrument committed to human hands, which are always in some degree unskillful and unfaithful and often vastly so. The strongest lever, the keenest sword may accomplish but little through the fault of those into whose hands it falls. Friends of Christianity may plausibly enough affirm that had it always been diligently used according to the laws of its nature, it would long since have subdued the world.

It is also true that nominal Christians have in all ages been divided into many mutually contending sects. So far as this division has given rise to bitterness and strife between true believers, it has of course obstructed the success of Christianity. But what is this admitting? Merely that its success is capable of being abated in some degree by the mighty weakness and wickedness of human nature-a thing surely consistent with the possession on the part of the system of any amount of power. Division in Christianity is one thing-division among its followers is another. The one would indeed involve weakness in the system—the other may spring merely from the weakness, natural and moral, of man. We claim that it does spring entirely from this source—that so far from being produced or in any way countenanced by Christianity, it is opposed by it at all points; and that so the system is no more responsible for it and its results than is the eagle for the head-wind through which with powerful and overcoming stroke he forces a somewhat retarded way.

So much for objections. On the positive side of the argument we ask attention to the following particulars : the single handed success of Christianity against prodigious opposition; its greatly superior rapidity and frequency of success, as com. pared with opposing moral forces, when all have equal field; and finally the fact that on such field it always conquers all these enemies as long as it remains pure and entire, while it maintains its purity and entirety vastly better than any of them.

Without help from any quarter this religion of Christ has achieved a thousand triumphs over prodigious power. As examples of successes under such conditions, we may instance

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