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PRIMITIVE MODE OF EVANGELIZATION.
BY REV. CLEMENT LONG, D.D.,
PROFESSOR IN WESTERN RESERVE COLLEGE,
“And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”-ACTS V. 42.
The apostles did not confine their labors at Jerusalem to public preaching on one day in seven. They seem to have thought it important thoroughly to evangelize the metropolis of their own nation. Jerusalem had enjoyed more religious light than any other city. But the apostles did not act as if it was a duty of equal love to raise all other cities to the same level in point of religious knowledge, before any further effort should be made for the spiritual good of Jerusalem. Nor did they think it was enough that the Gospel was accessible to the people. They believed it was their duty, if we may judge from their conduct, to proclaim the word of life in the already highly favored city of Jerusalem daily, and in every house.
If we were called to determine what they ought to have done, without information concerning the course they did in fact pursue, we might conceive that an enlarged benevolence should have directed them to tarry but a short time in any one place, since there were but few laborers, and the field was the world ; that they should rather have passed rapidly from town to town, lifting up their voice in public assemblies, so as to give opportunity for all to hear; and thus should have carried the Gospel to the greatest possible number, and made a more equal distribution of its blessings. Before the period to which reference is had in the text, multitudes had been converted in the first scene of their labors. Three thousand persons had been added to the Church on the day of Pentecost; soon after, the number of the disciples had risen to five thousand ; and we read that, a little later, “believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” We might suppose that from this prosperous beginning the good work could have gone forward without the apostles, and that they were wanted more in other places. But so did not the apostles themselves determine. They began to preach to their own country. men; they preached daily; they carried the Gospel to the houses of the people.
The example of the apostles, if it is not in itself decisive, may assist us to form an opinion concerning the degree and kind of spiritual culture which should be bestowed on these United States. I take the position, that the claims of the Gospel ought to be pressed on the atten. tion of every individual.
This statement, considered apart from the spiritual state of the world, secures the approbation of all who love the soul and the cause of Christ. But it may be doubted whether, taking into account the religious wants of other portions of the globe, and the inadequacy of the existing means, such a degree of thoroughness in our evangeli. zation of this country as I contend for, is admissible. If it should be granted that Christians ought at once to raise the means for sending the Gospel to every individual of all nations, it may be questioned whether, while they neglect or fail to do this, the existing instrumentality should be so applied as my proposition will demand. This is the point of my inquiry; it should have a candid investigation. Ought the means now in use, or practically available, for the extension of the kingdom of Christ, to be so employed that the Gospel shall be carried to every individual of our American population, and pressed on his attention ?
In answer to this inquiry, I would say :
I. That it is right and best to make a special effort to supply the religious wants of our population.
The example of the apostles removes all objection to this course, on the ground that it indicates partiality and a disregard of the law of equal love. The spiritual destitution of the world was greater then than now. But these inspired men tarried in Jerusalem till many thousands were converted, and they were so particular in their appli. cation of the truth as to carry the Gospel to private houses. If so great thoroughness as this, in the work of evangelization, did not evince undue partiality for their countrymen, and a want of general benevolence, neither would a special effort in behalf of the spiritual interests of America, be charged on the Christians of this country as an exhibition of uncharitableness and selfishness.
The supposition cannot be entertained, that the apostles were acting, in this instance, under the influence of a Jewish prejudice. They were following the instructions of their Master. When he sent forth the twelve to preach during his life, he said to them : " Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." And when, at his ascension, he enlarged their commission, charging them to “ go into all the world and preach," he taught them that they must begin at Jerusalem. And that the apostles considered themselves as performing a solemn duty when they gave the Jews a preference over ihe Gentiles, we see in the conduct of Paul and Barnabas on one occasion, when they met with opposition from their countrymen. They said: “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it far from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles." We find that Paul, in accordance with this view of his duty, always preached first in the synagogue of the Jews, when he commenced his labors in a heathen city.
This apostle thought it necessary to refute the objection to his doetrine of justification by faith alone, that the Jew would then have no advantage over the Gentile. (Rom. iii. 1.) He evidently supposed, that if such an inference could fairly be drawn from the doctrine, it would be a serious objection. He, therefore, affirmed that the Jews had preëminence in many respects, but chiefly because the oracles of God were committed to them.
He had a special desire for the salvation of his own countrymen. No language can express a stronger interest of one man in another than that which he used concerning the spiritual welfare of the Jews. “I could wish,” he said, " that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” He would will. ingly lose the blessedness of a follower of Christ, if that would avail to their conversion. The language of passion is not to be too literally interpreted; but he certainly meant to say, that he would gladly make any sacrifice for their salvation. This peculiar interest of the apostle in the Hebrews was partly the consequence, as he intimates, of his relation to them. They were his “kinsmen according to the flesh.” We may justify a special regard for the welfare of our own people by his example. But his anxiety on their account was partly also the effect of the favor they had already received from God. To them, as he said, “pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; and of them, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever.” This was high distinction. But the apostle did not feel that the preëminence of the Hebrews in the matter of religious privilege was a reason why no more effort should be made for their spiritual good, and that it would be a breach of the law of equal love to bestow on them further religious culture. Their superiority over others, as the chosen people of God, was the very reason why he was willing to suffer everything that they might be saved. He could not bear that those who had been thus exalted, should fall from the high eminence to which God had raised them. It is right, therefore, to de. sire, with special earnestness, the salvation of such as have had uncom mon religious advantages. We ought to seek the spiritual welfare of our country, both because it is the land where our friends and kindred dwell, and because the want of an elevated religious character in a people so highly favored as we, will be just cause for the deepest sorrow.
The Gospel sanctifies, but it does not eradicate, our natural affections. Nay, it is mentioned as one of the effects of human depravity, in the epistle to the Romans, that men were “ without natural affection," and this defect is there classed with sins of the darkest hue. And if an exhibition of natural affection is ever allowable, what form should it sooner take than that of solicitude for the religious character of those who are dear to us? Not to supply the temporal wants of our friends is wholly inconsistent with the principles of the Gospel. “If any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." He makes a wide departure from the spirit of the Gospel, who omits suitable provision for the necessities of those whom nature and circumstances have made dependent on him. The sentiment may justly be applied to the case of our town, our county, our state, and our coun. try, but with increasing emphasis as the circle of charity is contracted. If there are persons in our immediate vicinity who are in want of the necessaries of life, and we neglect to relieve them, it will not serve us for a valid excuse, that we have sent our bread to the poor in other lands. It is our duty, at all events, to care for those who are near to us. They are "our own" poor. If any provide not the necessaries of this life " for his own,” he hath denied the faith. But it is surely more inconsistent with the spirit of the Gospel to withhold the Gospel itself from the community in which we live, than to refuse to minister to the wants of the poor. And it will not excuse the omission of duty in respect to the religious wants of our countrymen, that we have sent our missionaries to the heathen. We ought, doubtless, to send our missionaries to the heathen; but if, for this purpose, we leave unsupplied the religious destitutions at home, we show that our piety is not of the same type with that of Paul. It is taken for granted in the Scriptures, as a thing which ought to be expected, that our affections will be the most powerfully attracted towards those with whom we have the closest outward relations. Thus the beloved disciple asks : “ He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen ?"
But not to insist on the superior claims to our charity of those with whom, by nature and situation, we are the most closely allied, it may be contended that a wise regard to the religious interests of the world at large, should prompt us to special effort in behalf of the spiritual welfare of this country. Our Lord knew well what was the best mode of proceeding in reference to the general prevalence of his cause, and he was disposed to carry it into practice. None of his true followers will be inclined to boast, that they have a more sincere, or a more enlightened philanthropy than he. He required his disciples to preach to none but " the lost sheep of the house of Israel” in their first missionary tour; and when, at last, he commanded them to evangelize all nations, he instructed them to begin at home. And we have seen how the apostles understood their instructions. The Hebrews had been selected from all other people to enjoy peculiar light; they had been under religious training for ages, while the rest of the world was left in the darkness of nature. Yet our Lord directed that the Gospel should first be preached to them. They were to have this advantage, it would seem, because they had already received so much religious instruction. We may conclude that we shall do no injustice to the world, if we use special exertions to evangelize Christian America.
Our Saviour has not given the sanction of his authority to the mathematical interpretation of the law of equal love. And it is clear, from other considerations, that an objection to special efforts for the evangelization of our country cannot be sustained on the ground that we shall then do more for ourselves than for others. Should we
undertake, in obedience to the dictates of an unenlightened conscience, an equal distribution of the means of grace among mankind, we should not only cease to add to the instrumentalities now employed in Christian countries, but we should pull down what for so many years we have been laboring to build up. To place ourselves as speedily as possible on a level with the heathen, we must suspend the cultivation of the home-field till an equal amount of labor had been bestowed on the wilderness. And as there are degrees of moral degradation among the heathen themselves, it would not consist with the law of love to man, mathematically interpreted, to begin their instruction with the more enlightened and the better-off, but we must lend our aid first to the lowest on the scale. He who does not feel prepared wholly to reverse the present order of things in the application of the means of grace, cannot make it an objection to a special effort for the evangelization of this country, that it is contrary to the law of equal love.
The kingdom of heaven is like leaven. It must diffuse itself from certain centres. The parts nearest to these centres will be leavened first. It is not in the power of man, with all the requisite pecuniary resources, to establish it at one and the same inoment in all places. It is wrong to make the attempt. We are bound to obey those laws of religious progress which Heaven has established. There is harmony between our natural affections and our duty in this instance. The world will be the most surely and rapidly evangelized, if we bestow the most abundant labor on those spots which have been the most highly cultivated in past time.
Jerusalem was a centre of religious influence in the days of the apostles. And we may conceive that this was one of the reasons why they were instructed to begin the publication of the Gospel in this city. The Jews residing in all parts of the world, often visited the holy city. There were at Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost, "Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven." A publication of the Gospel there, at that time, was equivalent to a publication of it in all parts of the Roman empire. The foreign Jews, converted on the day of Pentecost, afterwards acted the part of evangelists in the countries where they resided.
The same spirit of enterprise which existed among the Jews in the age of the apostles, prevails among the people of these United States. Americans are found sojourning or residing in every nation under heaven. Wherever there is an opening for trade, or the exercise of invention or skill, or the introduction of a new and profitable business, they are present. Were they in fact Christians, as they are called, Christianity would be carried, without the aid of missionary associa tions, to every country on the globe.
The intercourse of America with foreign nations will be much more frequent in coming years, with the increase of our population and of the productiveness of our industry. The improvement which is constantly taking place in our instruments of locomotion, will contribute immeasurably to the same result. Whatever our country is, in point of religious character, it will be known to be all over the world-if