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Having thus cheered the heart by pointing out some particulars of the precise blessing which may be expected, we are more prepared to consider the difficulties in the way of its accomplishment, the means by which those difficulties shall be removed, the peculiar signs of our own times, and the duties to which we are called.
What are THE DIFFICULTIES, whether in the Christian or unchristian world? They are various and multiplied; and, to unaided human power, quite insuperable; but not really insuperable, for God works by man, and with man, in every effort to advance the king.. dom of his Son.
Let us then look without dismay at the present low state of religions knowledge in the whole world. Its actual ignorance and misery will only furnish the Christian with motives to exertion, and will finally afford more illustrious occasion and opportunity for the display of divine wisdom, power, and love, in the removal of all. The Lord of all seems to have permitted the great enemy to have entered into every land, to have long reigned over Heathen countries, to have strengthened himself in his possessions by every power that he could attain from lengthened experience, only that as on an arena, large as the whole earth, and visible to the whole creation, he might receive that signal overthrow from which he shall never recover: when the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. Isa. xl, 5.
Take then the prophetical description of the worldDarkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people. Isa. lx, 20. Take the Apostles' account, the whole world lieth in wickedness, (EV TW πovnew, in the wicked one,) 1 John v, 19. It is admitted, that the
Papal and Mahomedan Antichrist have overspread countries where once pure Christianity flourished. It is admitted, that in the most favoured Christian country, or the most religious town in that country, we are very far from the happy state which God has promised, and there are great difficulties' every where in advancing divine knowledge.
Each faithful minister feels this. There is a natural averseness to divine truth in every bosom; religious education does not necessarily remove this, and the ordinary course of education strengthens and increases it. The great multitude of professing Christians dislike the holy and humbling truths of Revelation; and often those having influence and authority, entertain unfounded suspicions against the faithful declaration of Divine Truth, as injurious to the welfare of the country, and hence they oppose it in every way. +
Lord Bacon says, "If a hue and cry was to be raised after Antichrist, and the Pope was to be taken up in consequence it, and brought before me as a justice of the Peace, I should consider it my duty to commit him, as having all the distin guishing marks by which Antichrist was described, and to put him upon his trial."
+ The remark of the reformer L. Ridley, respecting Paul's imprisonment under Nero, for preaching the Gospel, is as true now, as in the days of the reformation
"See how sometimes devilish persuasions are brought into the heads of high princes and rulers, yea, persuaded unto them, as here was to Nero the emperor, that the preaching of the Gospel of Christ should be the destruction of his realm, and the cause of rebellion of the subjects against their heads and rulers. Whereas there is nothing that is more for their salvation, than is preaching God's word; for that is the mean by which God hath ordained to save his people, and nothing more keepeth the people in good order, and in due obedience, with all humility and subjection to their heads and rulers, than the word of God truly and sincerely preached." It is no new thing that men will not endure sound doctrine, and turn away the ears from hearing the truth. 2 Tim. iii, 3, 4.
But in heathen lands, even where Christians have sway or influence, and especially where they have neither, these difficulties to the diffusion of Divine Truth are much augmented. The religion of their forefathers for untold generations; the long-continued habits of idolatry and iniquity; the chains of caste, or learning, or barbarism; the hardened heart, and the seared conscience, and the blinded eyes of the millions of benighted gentiles all around, mutually confirming and strengthening each other in an error, delightful to the carnal heart, gratifying to pride and sensuality, strengthened by every early association, and every relative affection: O, these present mighty obstacles! We feel them, we sigh under them, we acknowledge our utter impotence. None can have been in, or know the true state of Africa or India, Turkey or Persia, China or New Zealand, even with the liveliest faith, without seeing, and without feeling that there are strong barriers to be forced, ere the word of the Lord can have free course.
The man of the world says at once, "The thing is quite impossible: It is not only utterly impracticable, but to attempt it is dangerous and mischievous.' What would such have said to the twelve Apostles, beginning to labour for the conversion of mankind, unprotected by temporal power, and persecuted in every place? What would they have said to the Reformers, commencing the Reformation? Yet look at the conduct, even of men of the world; in worldly things, by courage and activity, they triumph over apparent impracticabilities: it has been eloquently said, "The whole of the British Empire in India is a series of impossibilities accomplished:" O how will their conduct in worldly things refute their views in spiritual things, and reproach the Christian's lukewarmness in the cause of God!
But we will give the worldly man every advantage which he claims. We will allow all his natural impossibilities. Nay, more; we can tell him that there are difficulties of a still more severe and arduous character, of which even he knows nothing. He knows not that there is a fallen nature at enmity with God, and his word. We must admit this. He sees not that there is a spiritual adversary, mighty, and subtle, and malignant, having undisturbed sway in heathen territories. We must admit this. He thinks not of the weakness and corruption of every human instrument which man can employ. We fully admit this. Do you then ask, How can we possibly expect any success? on our own shewing, are there not spiritual as well as natural impossibilities? and must it not be concluded to be impossible? No, O man of this world, throwing all these things into your scale, you are utterly mistaken in your calculation. God is not in your thoughts. You leave the Creator, and Governor, and Disposer of all, out of his own world. He has commanded his servants to commence this work; he has promised to remove every difficulty. Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. Isa. xl, 3, 4, 5. This work is one of those things of which it may be truly said, With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.
Bring then into the strongest light all difficulties and obstructions. We would not have one kept in the back ground. Difficulties yield, and are surmounted, when
superior wisdom, strength, riches, and power, concur in Him who has to meet the difficulty. Now this is the case with Christians in all efforts to spread the Gospel; for He who has all power in heaven and earth, says to them when engaged in such efforts, Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the world.
But the Scriptures give us intimation as to THE MEANS BY WHICH ALL DIFFICULTIES IN THE WAY OF THE UNIVERSAL DIFFUSION OF DIVINE
KNOWLEDGE SHALL BE REMOVED. We will notice three special means.
(1.) The PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL of Jesus Christ. This is an engine despised by the world, and wielded by weak instruments, yet powerful, through God, to beat down every obstacle; and wherever it is perseveringly applied, with his blessing it brings to Rought and vanquishes every difficulty. Those who had tried this engine under amazing difficulties, say of it, The weapons of our warfare are not curnal, but mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strong holds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. 2 Cor. x, 4. The divinely-appointed method. of converting mankind, is, Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.* We would not
*The above remarks are thus confirmed in an able publication, entitled, "The Advancement of Society in Knowledge and Religion," by Janes Douglas, Esq: a book taking large views, and having valuable suggestions.
"Of all methods for diffusing religion, preaching is the most efficient; other methods are indirect and preparatory; but the simple proclaiming of the Gospel, has in all ages been attended with the most transforming efficacy, elevating the few who have cordially accepted it, into a higher and happier state of being,