Religious principles are immutable and, therefore, eternal. The best annunciation of them was made by our Savior himself. His words contain the essence of all truth that can have any bearing on human prosperity or happiness. Whatever is in harmony with them is right; all else is wrong. It is by His words that we are to be judged. He, Himself, declares, “The word that I have spoken unto you, the same shall judge you in the last day” (John 12:48, Church of England paraphrase).
If, therefore, we would be approved of heaven, we must, in the acts of life, adapt ourselves perfectly to the sayings of Christ whether they accord with what is common, popular and fashionable, or otherwise. His words are “whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them” (Matthew 7:24 KJV).
The gospel is not a system of liberalism that will allow its exponents to accommodate it to the capriciousness of mortals, or adapt it to the ever varying customs of earth. It knows no person, or company of people, “after the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16 KJV). It follows evermore in the wake of the Holy Spirit, never for a moment turning aside, either to the right hand or the left. Its truths are every way simple, and within the comprehension of all, whose minds are sufficiently honest before God to receive them in the native simplicity. To apprehend these truths fully and properly, we must be deaf to human applause, and keenly alive to the approbation of God, and to the deathless interests of immortal souls. And what a crucifixion is this! How few there are in any age who submit to it.
In the words of poet and hymn writer William Cowper, “Oh, popular applause! What heart of man is proof against thy sweet seductive charms?”
None but the heart that is thoroughly washed in blood divine, and that counts all things of an earthy nature, but loss and “dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ” (Philippians 3:8 paraphrase from George Whitefield’s “The Power of Christ’s Resurrection” sermon ). The person who would know Christ must seek alone the approbation of God, or which amounts to the same thing, the approbation of the person’s own enlightened conscience in the Holy Spirit. He is self-approved and heaven-approved, and this satisfies him; yea, even though people curse him to his face, or in a cowardly manner behind his back, say all manner of evil against him, falsely, for the Son of Man’s sake (Matthew 5:11).
How very different from this person of God is the multitude of those who are governed by the maxims of earth, and swayed to-and-fro in their conduct by the opinions of others, or by what is common, popular and fashionable. It has ever been the history of the church (Patriarch, Jewish and Christian) in all ages thereof, that truth and righteousness were with the persecuted few, while a gilded formalism and spiritual barrenness were with the approved and honored many.
This is as emphatically true at the present as in a period of the past. The church is, for the most part, evidently in her Laodicean period of existence, wherein there is much form, much wealth and many communicants but comparatively little native Christian simplicity, spirituality and power. Converts to the church, or churches, are numbered by hundreds of thousands; but converts to God, who are born again of the Holy Spirit, and begotten to an endless life, are not so numerous. Indeed, they are comparatively few, though numerous in the aggregate, and as precious as they are few. With the mass there is too much time serving and not enough of the Spirit of the Master, who, “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 KJV).
Zion’s converts, who are truly converted to God, will not be multiplied by thousands in a day until the church more generally comes back to the simplicity of Christ, and to the social standard of apostolical times. There is too much of a display of wealth, and there are too many pompous forms. Many churches, or houses of worship, especially in the cities and larger towns, are far too costly, and there is too much display in dress and equipage. These things illy become the followers of Him who was born in a stable and who had nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 18:20, Luke 9:58). Principles change not. If there was the true humility, these things could not be.
We live in an age wherein a false social refinement is insisted on and maintained at the expense of Christian simplicity, and religious enjoyment, and this by the churches themselves. Outward morality controlled to an alarming extent by the “spirit of the times” is substituted for a godly life and innate self-esteem for the witness of the Spirit. Worldly wisdom has supplanted heavenly wisdom in the hearts of people, and the divine approbation is sacrificed at the shrine of popular favor. People are everywhere baptized at the cross, and the spirit of true religion is exorcised as foul fanaticism. God’s little ones are ignored, while worldly usurpers are elevated to the prominent places in Zion’s Holy Temple.
The spirit of caste has, to an alarming extent, taken the place of Christian love, and meekness is trodden under. The harp of Zion is mute, and the sweet singers of Israel are silent, while opera performers perform in the orchestra in a dry and artistic manner, to the very great annoyance of the spiritual ear. The seats in God’s houses are sold to the highest bidders, to the exclusion of the poor, to whom the gospel is especially sent. Written essays on moral subjects are, to a great extent, taking the place of simple gospel preaching, and enticing words of human wisdom are relished more than the burning words of heavenly wisdom.
How has the history of the American churches, for a few years past, proved that they were governed by public sentiment rather than by the Word of God in reference to the great evil of slavery? When pro-slaveryism was popular, the great balance of power in most of the American churches was pro-slavery, at least so far as to retain in their communion many slaveholders. (Thank God, however, there were honorable exceptions.) When, through the rebellion, anti-slavery principles came to be in the ascendant, lo the churches were anti-slavery.
And how many members of the various churches, both clerical and lay, are, with various classes of worldly men, bound associates, sworn to eternal secrecy by the most fearful oaths? How incompatible with the Spirit of Him who said, “All things have I done openly, and in secret have I said nothing” (John 18:20 paraphrase). And again, “I say unto you, ‘Swear not at all … but let your communication be, yea, yea; nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil’” (Matthew 5:34, 37 KJV).
But we desist; these thoughts are too painful to be pursued further. Oh, that Zion would awake, and shake herself from these evils, and array herself in her beautiful garments, and go forth, “fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (Song of Solomon 6:10 KJV).
Alas that these evils that are destroying the vitals of the Christian church are so feebly opposed by the religious periodicals of the day. What a toning down of God’s truth! What catering to the opinions of unregenerate men! If the truth with reference to these evils is published at all, it is put in such a shape as not to affect the captious, and at the same time please the most fastidious. We know that many people of marked ability, and of undoubted sincerity, differ widely on these various points. But this will not excuse us. We must clear our own conscience before God.
“The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” as it is in Jesus, must be faithfully, plainly, earnestly and affectionately told. And this shall be the object and scope of this publication. We shall expect all who love the plain, simple, earnest, blessed religion of Jesus, to come to our aid. We shall aim at the hearts of sinners, and strive to lead God’s people on into the higher walks of divine life. We shall give our readers a digest of news, and fill our columns with the best original and selected matter; in a word, we shall do our very best to make our paper all that a religious newspaper (or magazine) ought to be.
And now, brothers and sisters, to the rescue! Let everyone feel an interest and procure subscribers. Let us do all we can to get the pure, soul-saving truth of God before the people; and may heaven speed us in our work! Knowledge is power, and a sanctified use of knowledge is essential to the stability and prosperity of the church. Gross moral darkness covers the people, and God has made His church the source of moral light to the masses of unsaved people. The sun can only shine by an inherent process of continuous action. The fire burns by the perpetual absorption and consumption of oxygen, producing an inherent and unceasing action, so also can the church only prosper by drawing its light from God, by a perpetual inspiration from Him, and radiating the masses by its constant shining.
God imparts grace to activity, not to sloth; to wealth scattered by a liberal hand, but not to hoarded wealth. If there is true prosperity, the church must be active, and active in every possible way wherein good can be accomplished; and if there is wealth in the body ecclesiastic to carry on an enterprise that is essential to an increased usefulness, that wealth must be drawn out and appropriated, or the church will become feeble and sickly, and soon expire amid the jeers of its enemies. If it retains an organized existence, it will be that of an organized death rather than organized life. Although caloric (or heat), as a principle, inheres in all nature, yet its utility can be evinced only as it is brought into action by friction, or by a process of combustion; so, though all people are capable of holiness, yet are they benefited by the capability only as saving truth is, by some process, brought within the sphere of their comprehension, and impress on their hearts. Every process by which this important result may be reached should be prosecuted with the utmost industry and energy.
The press is the armorbearer of the pulpit in this important work. God’s people are a reading, thinking people. Religion makes them so. The pious, reflecting soul must have aliment suited to its spiritual nature and taste, and that not seldom but often. Not on the Sabbath only, but each day of the week as well.
If there are sufficient moral reasons to justify a distinct ecclesiastical organization, then those truths, which form the basis of such reasons, should be impressed on the minds of the people as far as possible. Here again the press is of great importance. Every effect must have an efficient cause, and it is oft times as important to know the cause as the effect. Let us then not only know ourselves, but know also why we are as we are, and what we are. Let us know, experience, and practice those religious principles that are the eternal heritage of all saints. Let us know the wants of others that we may, as far as possible, relieve them. Let us scatter the blessings of truth and righteousness all around us with an unsparing hand.
Reader, will you aid us in this good work? Do not say you have not the requisite time or talent. All can do something. The lame may reach the goal in season, and the feeble may win the well-fought day, for “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong” (Ecclesiastes 9:11 KJV).
Levi Wood was a Free Methodist elder who served from 1868 to 1870 as the founding editor of The Free Methodist, which began as a newspaper and eventually became the magazine now known as Light + Life. This editorial ran in Vol. 1, No. 1, which was published Jan. 9, 1868, in Rochester, New York.