“I will give thee the opening of the mouth in the midst of them.”
“The priests bear rule by their means, and what will ye do in the end thereof?”
IN a world where the power of God, the power of Satan, and the power of men, have their respective courses, it cannot be expected, that religion, in all its purity, will be possessed, understood and practiced without an alloy of error. From the entrance of sin into the human family, more or less until the present time, darkness has covered the earth, and gross darkness the people. From creation to the law of Moses, (almost 2500 years,) except what was known of God by his works, but very small gleams of light were given unto men to teach them the moral character of God, and what kind of worship he requires of them. The Mosaic ministration was glorious, but made nothing perfect, except by sacrificing figures, it gave no hope for pardon of sin and eternal life. When the writings of Moses, and of the prophets who lived a thousand years after him were reads the veil remained on the minds of the readers. When they prophesied of the coming of Christ and the glory that would follow, their predictions were greatly obscured by mystery and Judaism. God had provided some better things for those that should follow. When John the Baptist, like the morning star, came before and introduced the Sun of Righteousness the dayspring from on high visited the world. The true light then shone. The examples and preaching of Christ, with the inspired addresses of the apostles, recorded in the New Testament, form a perfect creed of faith and directory of life, for the followers of Christ to the end of the world. No man may add thereto or diminish therefrom. Those parts of the Old Testament which are brought forward and incorporated into the New Testament are binding on Christians. Other parts of it serve to show the conduct of men – the changes which have taken place on earth, and the wonderful works of God in the world. The remainder are purely Jewish, and have no great bearings on others. The establishment of Christianity introduced a change of the priesthood – a change of sacrifice and a change of the law; of course the divers washings and carnal ordinances, which were to continue no longer than the reformation, ceased to be obligatory; and a new code of laws, contained in the New Testament, became binding on the saints. Here was a radical change of the rituals of religion appointed by God himself. Since the close of inspiration, through the weakness of some, and the love of power and wealth of others, Christianity, in its exterior forms, has ever been changing its measures; but no length of time ever has or ever will change internal religion. From the righteous Abel to the last sinner that shall be brought into the fold of Christ, each must be created in Christ – renewed in the spirit of his mind – receive an unction from the Holy One – drink of the water of life – fear God and work righteousness to be accepted of God and be admitted into the everlasting kingdom. It would be an herculean task to give a history of the various sects of nominal Christians, and their religious creeds, that have existed at the same time, or followed in succession, since the close of inspiration. The present state of things calls for our attention. The religious world (particularly in the United States) seems to be much in the condition that it was in Europe, when the people protested against the claim of the Pope, and ran hither and thither, until the civil arm settled the controversies.
As citizens, it is our joy and boast, that the government of the United States proscribes all religous tests, and guarantees unto every citizen his religious opinions, with the freedom of the tongue and the press to support them. As John Wickliff began the reformation from popery, so the banished Roger Williams began the reformation from hierarchy: he established the first form of government ever known in Rhode Island, which excluded religious opinions from the civil code, on the true maxim, “That legal rewards should never be given for religious services.” This novel nest-egg was soon followed by the illustrious William Penn, in the government of Pennsylvania, and the inhabitants of New York pursued the track. The principle which at that time was considered so dangerous, immoral and anti-christian, is now interwoven as an integral part of the constitution of the government of the United States. The beginning was small, but the latter end has greatly increased. From this it does not follow, that from our liberality and benevolence to others, we are under obligation, or have any permission to believe all that others say. (though they support their schemes by signs and lying wonders;) no: though men or angels speak not according to the law and testimony, they have no light in them – we are forbidden to go after them, but ordered to consider them accursed. The greater sanctity they show, the more they are to be dread. ed and shunned: for the greatest religious errors that have ever been among men, have crept in under the robe of superior piety. They come with a great pretence of universal benevolence, crying aloud against bigotry and extolling union; but as soon as they gain influence enough, they forget their creed and draw away disciples after themselves. The cry of some of them is “Be ye reconciled one with another in union, that we may live (and make a gain of you) while another voice sounds “Be ye reconciled to God that your souls may live.” I will here add, that the universal forgiveness to our enemies and benevolence to all men, enjoined on us by the voice of God, lays us under no obligation to sacrifice our judgments and say that is right which we believe is wrong.
It is now sixty-three years since my attention was solemnly engaged to serve the Lord. When first alarmed, I forsook my loose behavior and ran to the law, as a covenant of works, in hopes of being delivered from condemnation by my reformation; but soon found that by the deeds of the law I could not be justified. It was then presented to my mind, that repentance for sin and faith in the Lord Jesus would secure my salvation; and I was assured from the pulpit and from the Bible, that Jesus would receive the chief of sinners that came to him with all the heart; but here I found that I could no rotors repent, believe, corpse to Christ, and give up my whole heart to him than I could create a world. That unless I was drawn by the Father, all the exertions of my natural powers of body and mind could not bring roe to the Son. That unless I was born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of mans but of God, and saved by grace, I must sink into hell. In this inquietude of mind I continued fifteen months; until it pleased God, by his truth and grace to draw me, by the cords of love (not against my will, but with my will and strong desired unto the hope of the gospel, which removed my guilt and set me free.
“O, what immortal joy I felt,
And pleasure all divine!
When Jesus told me I was his,
And wbisper'd he was mine.”
Soon after this, by the moving of my spirit and application of several texts of scripture, I felt myself bound, though unacquainted with men, manners, and books, to engage in the ministry, in which I have continued more than sixty-one years. From the prophecy, that many should run to and fro; and from the commission of Christ, Go, my impressions were, that travailing and preaching repentance on the way was the path for preach era. Accordingly, without going to Jerusalem, or any presbytery of preachers, or any theological school, or indeed any church, for licence or approbation, without conferring with flesh and blood, I began to preach, “Ye must be born again.” And the third chapter of John has been text for me ever since. The doctrine I have preached may be summarily described in two words, “ruin and recovery.” There are many commands given and many promises made to nations – to them in relative and social life, and, to individuals, which respect their happiness or misery in this worm; but when the eternal salvation of the soul is treated of, three things are either expressed or implied, viz: redemption by the blood of Christ – renewing of the Holy Ghost – and good works. In preaching this doctrine, I have travelled distances that would more than girdle the globe four times, and am not yet weary of it. In my journeyings, I have marked my own destination; observing the openings of providence – the request of people – the drawings of my mind, and the circumstances of things. I have never received any thing from a missionary fund to aid me; but have relied on the promise of God and the benevolence of the people for all that was necessary. My wants, fatigues and persecutions have been small, compared with what many have sustained; and recede to nothing when placed in competition with the sufferings which Christ endured. I have baptized 1,525, by immersion, on profession of their faith in Christ. My success has been small to what some have had; but when I reflect on my barrenness and languor of soul, I wonder more that God ever blessed my labors, than I do that he has blessed them no more. And now, in the eve of life, with a hoary head – decrepit limbs and a faltering tongue, I cry, God be merciful to me a sinner! Save, Lord, or I must perish!
In these days of novelty we are frequently addressed from the pulpit as follows: “Professors of religion, you stand in the way of God and sinners – give up your old hope and come now into the work – God cannot convert sinners while you are stumbling blocks in the way – sinners are stumbling over you into hell. Profane sinners, I call upon you to flee from the wrath to come – come this minute and give your heart to God, or you will seal your own damnation – God has given you the power, and will damn you if you do not use it – God has done all he can for you and will do no more – look not for a change of heart; a change of purpose is all that is necessary – to pray the Lord to enable you would be presumptuous. Some of you are mourning for the loss of a friend – I tell you your friend is in hell, and has gone there on your account – had you done your duty your friend would now be in heaven, but for your neglect your friend is damned. My hearers, you may have a revival of religion whenever you please – begin in the work, and the work will begin among the people – continue in it and the work will continue – keep on and the work will become universal.”*
Had I the spirit of infallible inspiration, I could fix a standard of orthodoxy; but as I have no claim to that high attainment, I shall only remarks that, “I have not so learned Christ – I do not understand the scriptures in that light – it is not the voice of my beloved,” it sounds like the voice of a stranger and I date not follow it. But, my brethren, while we believe that God saves us, not for works of righteousness that we have done, but according to his mercy in his love and kindness towards man, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost; let us never lose sight of the holy law, the eternal rule of right which is founded on the relation which exists between God and man and between man and man, and will be binding on rational beings as long as the perfections of God and the faculties of man endure. This law runs through the Bible like gold cord, and enjoins on men at all times, to believe what God reveals end Obey what he commands. Every transgression of this law is sin, called a debt. That all have sinned and are ten thousand talents in debt, is abundantly proved: and that they have nothing to pay is equally evident; but the bankruptcy of the insolvent never destroys the justness of the late or the obligation of the debtor. Christ did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil it; and those who are redeemed by his grace from the dominion of sin, do not make void the law through faith, but establish it. Any defect from the prestine innocence of Adam, is a charge on the human family: and the law cries pay: “Turn to the law and make your. selves new hearts – put away all your sins and be perfect,” &c. is as reasonably required of the human race, as any debt is required of a debtor. From this it does not follow that the insolvent sinner has any thing to make payment with. No. Whether his bankruptcy consists in the want of will or in the want of strength, or both; still he hath nothing to pay; and is led to see and feel his entire poverty before he is frankly forgiven.
Societies of various kinds are now formed, with ostensible views, to extirpate drunkenness, masonry, ignorance, slavery and idolatry from the earth; and the people, from the aged to the infant, are called upon to enrot their names and take a bold stand to moralize and Christianize the world. Lying, fraud, love of moneys hypocrisy, gaming, duelling, and fornication, as yet seem to be considered too sacred to be meddled with, for no society is formed to check them.
The missionary establishment, in its various departments, is a stupendous institution. Literary and theological schools – Bible and tract societies – foreign and domestic missions – general, state, county, and district conventions – Sunday school union, etc., are all included in it. To keep it in motion, missionary boards – presidents – treasurers – corresponding secretaries – agents – printers – buildings – teachers – runners – collectors – mendicants, etc., are all in requisition. The cloud of these witnesses is so great, that a saber man who doubts the divinity of the measure, is naturally led to think of the locusts in Egypt that darkened the heavens and ate up every green thing on earth; while the punster will compare them to the Connecticut pedlars who ransack every street and lane with their shining tin, and wooden nutmegs. This machine is propelled by steam [money] and does not sail by the wind of heaven. Immense donations and contributions have already been cast into the treasury; and we see no end to it for the solicitors and mendicants are constantly crying “give, give,” with an unblushing audacity that makes humble saints hold down their heads.
There are a number of religious denominations in the United States so equally balanced, that no one of them can tyranize over all the rest: the present scheme seems to be, for each society to sacrifice its peculiar characteristics, and all unite to form a Christian Phalanx, to be established by Congress as the religion of the United States. If my painful fears, on this head are ever realized, the glory of America will depart – the blood and treasure expended in the revolution will all be lost – and the asylum for the distressed turned to a prison and an inquisition But I forbear. The subject sickens. I close in the words of God himself, “Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” Are these thy ways, O Lord! hidden from him who wishes to Now arid do thy will?
Elder John Leland
Published in 1832
A communication to the Signs of the Times
The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland
Published originally 1845
Pages 665 – 670
* If these preachers really believe what they preach, we commend their honesty but doubt their religion. But if they do not believe it themselves, but do it to terrify their hearers, to immortalize their own names, as Great Reformers, who turn sinners from the error of their ways; verily they will have their reward, which is a poor one.
To this note I add, that the expressions moral – sovereign – anxious – probation – total depravity – means of grace – purchased salvation – seal your own damnation, are not in the Bible.