A Sermon Delivered by JOHN JACKSON, at Lombard Street Meetinghouse, Baltimore, 27th of 10th Month, 1847, During Yearly Meeting.
Sermons of John Jackson Phonographically Reported. Philadelphia: T. Ellwood Chapman, 1851.
This is The Quaker Homiletics Online Anthology, Part 3: The 19th Century.
The doctrine of Jesus Christ has ever been distinguished from the various counterfeit productions that have assumed the name of religion, by its great simplicity, by the universality of its nature, by its complete adaptation to the spiritual wants of man, and by the influence it exerts upon human conduct and character. We have cause to admire, with feelings of gratitude, the wisdom of our heavenly Father, in that he has not made his doctrine and religion depend on the fluctuations of human opinion, but has established them on the firm foundation of eternal and unchanging truth. Neither has he made us dependent one upon another fro a knowledge thereof, but has condescended to be the teacher of his people himself.
When the blessed Jesus entered on his gospel ministry, he had not new doctrine to preach, no speculative opinions of his own to promulgate, but simply to "bear witness to the truth."--Truth as it originated with its author, and which is the same in all ages. Hence he called others to do the will of God, declaring that if nay man will do his will, "he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." The religion of Jesus Christ, is, therefore, the same in all ages. It is not one thing in the days of Moses, and another in the days of Jesus of Nazareth.
Although Paul or Peter, Wickliffe, Luther, Calvin, or Fox, and numerous others who have sustained the character of reformers, may all have labored in their proper sphere, and fulfilled the work, that the times in wich they lived demanded, yet Christianity has never changed its character. Its doctrines and obligations have not been altered, but they have been, and still continue to be, revealed to all the nations and families of the earth. We are forced to this conclusion unless we admit that God is partial and unequal in his ways, and that he has favoured a portion of mankind with a knowledge of his will, and excluded all the rest of his rational family from the enjoyment o his presence, his goodness, and his regard. We must believe it if we admit the doctrine of Christ is manifested in the flesh--for wherever Christ is, there the obligations of the Divine will are made known.
We do not limit the coming of Christ in the flesh, to its appearance in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Christ, that divine and spiritual illumination describe by the evangelist, as the "Word that was in the beginning," and by which the worlds were made, did not for the first time make its appearance when the spirit descended upon Jesus. The same word had spoken to Adam in the garden, when it reproved the first transgressor--it enabled Enoch to "walk with God"--it pointed out the Abraham the glory of the gospel day; it instructed the understanding of the prophets; spoke to Samuel at Shiloh; it was the "Rock that followeth Israel." The evangelist speaks of it as the "true light, that lighteth every man that cometh into the world;" and the apostle calls it "the power of God and the wisdom of God."
It is also revealed to us; and it is just in proportion as we become the subjects of its government and influence that we become "heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ." It is this union that makes us Christians and partakers of the Divine nature, one with Christ and God; and it is vain for us to call ourselves Christians or followers of Christ, if we have not been made possessors of his spirit; for, says the apostle, "If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his."
The teaching and guidance of this Divine power, and wisdom Christ, is what we call inward, immediate, and Divine revelation--a revelation that is not limited to time or confined within the narrow bounds of sects, but has "appeared unto all men teaching them to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world."
We have abundant evidence that such a revelation is universal, and adapted to the wants of man in his pursuit of heaven and happiness. In the Scriptures we find a great amount of testimony showing that the men of former generations acknowledged an immediate revelation of the Divine will to man, and we profess to believe that the holy men of old wrote as they were inspired by the Holy Ghost. The writings of the Scriptures are, however, chiefly confined to the history of a single nation of people; but there are, nevertheless, to be found among the records and traditions of almost every nation, traces of a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being, and of an immediate revelation of his will to mankind. Those records or traditions were ever found so far as they go to illustrate the goodness of God, and of his dealings with man, are of equal weight and authority with the Jewish Scriptures and ought to be so regarded. Inspiration was not confined to the authors of the Bible, neither does it follow as a matter of course, that every thing which is found in the Bible was written by divine inspiration. We find in the writings of many ancients, whose history is not contained in that book, declarations of a belief in Divine revelation, showing that it was not limited to any single class or nation, and the universal testimony of human experience in all times, proves, that God has not left himself without a witness in the souls of his accountable children.
Well, my friends, we have access to the same inspiration which has always influenced the minds of the righteous, and that too, without any human aid or instrumentality. We are not dependent upon men or books for it. We have as much evidence that the unlettered North American Indian, who has never seen the Scriptures, nor heard the gospel outwardly preached, believe in and understands Divine revelation, as certainly as did the prophets of old, or any of the Scripture writers. He speaks of the voice of the "Great Spirit," taking cognizance of his thoughts and actions, and leading him to a life of purity and holiness. It matters not whether we have every heard the name of Jesus outwardly named, or have ever seen the Scriptures, for such is the goodness of our heavenly Father, that he has adapted his dispensations of grace to meet our spiritual wants, under all the various circumstances in which man may be placed.
In all spiritual matters, in things pertaining to salvation, the Divine illumination is our surest guide; a teacher that can never deceive us, but will, as we obey it, lead us out of all error into the knowledge of the truth. It is this that opens to man the path or duty and convicts him for transgression; while it reproves him for doing evil it blesses him for doing good.
The duties it enjoins are the same in all ages. It leads but to one point, and that is the practice of the religion of Jesus Christ. Christianity being a Divine revelation does not changes; its doctrines are the same in all ages; we are as much bound to regulate our conduct by it as the men of past generations, for it remains to be its peculiar nature, to exert a blessed influence upon human conduct and practice.
Christianity owns no mysteries, it is plain and simple, easy to be understood. We must learn to distinguish between genuine Christianity and everything of an opposite character that bears its name; we must judge it, and know it by its fruits. We shall find it does not consist so much in opinion and profession as it does in faith and practice. It does not stand in the observation of external forms, but in daily practical righteousness. Neither does it depend so much on unity of opinion as in doing the will of our Creator. It embraces every good work of benevolence, leads it possessors to "visit the fatherless and the widow in their afflictions, and keep themselves unspotted from the world."
Such was the religion taught by Jesus of Nazareth; not as something that was new, and unknown before his time, for he came not to teach any new doctrine, as is evident from his own declaration: "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me." When the blessed Jesus was queried of after this manner: "Master, which is the greatest commanding in the law?" he answered "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hand all the law and the prophets." This doctrine, therefore, was not new, it was equally as true in the days of Moses as of Jesus. These ever have been, and ever will be the unchangeable requisitions of the Divine law, and every rational being who has ever been on the state of action, or that ever will be on the stage of action, has been under and will be under to obligation to regulate his conduct by them.
It would be utterly at variance with what we know of the character of Deity, to suppose that he would proclaim to one class of mankind such laws as "Thou shalt love thy Creator, thou shalt love thy neighbour;" and to another class, thou shalt hate thy Creator, thou shalt hate thy fellow-creature.
To love God, and to love man, embraces the whole of the Christian religion. These are among the unalterable command of Jehovah; obedience to which uniformly produced order, harmony, and happiness. While on the other hand disobedience to them is followed by contention, by anarchy and confusion, and by all the evils which render existence a curse instead of a blessing. We shall find, if we investigate the subject, that happiness can only be secured by fulfilling these laws of our being, and our failure to enjoy it is the consequence of our own rebellion.
Now we find that Jesus, our blessed example, fulfilled this law of love; both by precept and example he endeavoured to enforce it. He reproved the Jews for their conduct; he held up to their view the perfect rule of morality, the law of God, from which they could easily see that every opposite rule of conduct which they had learned from tradition was imperfect and of human origin.
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love the neighbour and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute you and despitefully use you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust."
Here then are the essential duties of religion. It matters not what we profess, or however diversified may be our speculative theology, or however various the forms under which we may apprehend it right to worship our Maker, still we must all fulfil these commands if we answer the end of our being. But unhappily for the professing Christian church, opinions and external observances are considered more important to the popular theology than loving God and loving man. A religion is propagated which does not consist in the fulfillment of these higher duties, and hence it does not exert that influence on the conduct of men which Christianity is intended to produce.
And yet we see how much contention and strife there are in the world on this subject; how the visible church has become divided into sects and parties, and what a spirit of bitterness is engendered between man and his fellow. The law of love leads us to regard all men as our brethren, no matter how widely they may differ in opinion from us, or from each other, or however various the forms under which they attempt to worship the same God. It does not lead any into contention and strife, but requires us to do those duties of loving God and man, which puts an end to all sectarian bitterness. It "lays the axe at the root of the corrupt tree."
If love were the ruling principle of human conduct, all strife and controversy about religious opinions would cease; society would unite in every work for human improvement; superstition and error would vanish; truth would reign triumphantly; falsehood, violence, and oppression of every kind would be unknown.
These are the view I entertain of the nature of the Christian religion, and this the influence which I believe it exerts upon human conduct and character. This is the only religion wich I would recommend to us all. It is calculated to better the condition of man. It is wisely adapted to his spiritual wants as to the regulation of his conduct. It is a religion that purifies the soul and makes it a temple for the Holy One to dwell in. It disarms death of its sting, and the grave of its victory; and wile it contributes to the enjoyment of this present life, it furnishes us with a well grounded hope, that when done with time, we shall have "a building in God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." This must be so, if the Scripture declaration is true, which says, "God is love, and they that dwell in God, and God dwelleth in them."
This then is the path in which Christ leads his followers. Man is created in a state of perfect innocence; by making Christ his guide, he is enabled, while passing through a state of probation, to rise form this condition of negative innocence to a state of active and positive virtue--for virtue is the resistance of temptation. As Jesus resisted temptation and thereby overcame the world, so may we also overcome the world in the same manner, for we must walk by the same rule and mind the same thing. Besides this, there is no other means of salvation.
Whatever speculations may be entertained on this subject, or whatever schemes of salvation man may embrace, his deliverance from the bondage of sin can only be affected by his being made a partaker of the Christ-like nature, and that must be like the Spirit of Christ ruling in him and regulating his every-day actions, filling his soul with love to God and love to his fellow-creatures.
I am well aware that these views of the doctrine and religion of Christ form but little part of popular theology. They are not considered of as much importance as a belief in particular creeds and doctrines of men. The doctrine of Divine revelation is partially, if not wholly denied by those who through the prejudices of education, are looking to men and books for the knowledge of Divine things, and who presumptiously assert, that immediate revelation was confined to holy men of old, and that it ceased when the last Scripture writer laid down his pen.
Good works are lightly esteemed or viewed as of secondary importance to man's present and eternal welfare, while the religious world seems almost entirely occupied in doubtful disputations, and endless controversies about speculative opinions.
The popular religions lays but little restraint on the every day conduct of men, in fact, it tolerates many iniquitous practices. By its fruits, it is easily distinguished from "pure and undefiled religion." When, therefore, we see that the popular profession of religion does not redeem men from the indulgence of hurtful passions, does not make them Christ-like, does not lead them to love God and one another, but lends its sanctions and influence to the grossest irregularities of human conduct, and even to the commission of crime, it is well for us to examine,, whether if such a religion be ours we are not deceiving ourselves, and making our hope the hope of the hypocrite, which it is said shall perish. Look over professing Christendom, and let us see what kind of fruits are produced. Let us not be deceived, "God is not mocked, such as we sow, such shall we reap." Look over our own land, and let us see whether the great profession of religion which is made among us, manifesting itself by revivals, by church-going, by sabbath-keeping, by a concern for the salvation of the heathen, and the ceremonious observance of religious forms, is likely to better out condition, and make us what we should be, considering how much we have been blessed among the families of the earth, "a people fearing god and hating covetousness."
We see that war, with all the evils and miseries that follow in its train, is encouraged in our midst; the spirit of war, which is directly the opposite of the non-resistant and peaceable spirit of Jesus, is applauded on every side. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Christianity requires us to love our enemies--to resist not evil. But according to the popular notions of religion, the warrior may return from the field of carnage, with the sword just drawn from the bosom of his brother, with his garments dyed in blood, and his hands polluted by the commission of crime, and still he is called a follower of Him, who said, "My kingdom is not of this world, else would my servants fight."
War is a violation of the divine law, its continuance is the effect of gross moral delusion, and yet we see how it is encouraged by the professors of religion. It would seem that they do not more firmly believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, than that they believe that he leads conquering armies to victory.
The name of the Sovereign of the Universe is connected with the scenes of human carnage, and his attributes of love and mercy, are supposed to sanction "Every battle of the warrior, which is with confused noise and garments rolled in blood."
Men calling themselves ministers of Christ are enlisted on either side imploring the aid of one common Father, to inspire them with strength and courage to slaughter one another. In almost every pulpit, prayers are offered up on the occasion of victories obtained in the field of carnage and blood.
Can we believe for a moment that the infinite and unchangeable God, whose holiest attributes are goodness, mercy and love, would suspend his eternal laws, and abandon his moral government, for the purpose of allowing his accountable children to kill and destroy each other? Certainly not.
I feel myself called upon to holdup to view in this plain manner, the inconsistency of our practice with our profession, when we tolerate and justify war on the one hand, and call ourselves the followers of Jesus Christ on the other. There is no truth more easy of demonstration, than that the warrior is the servant of antichrist; for it must be admitted, that the practice of war is incompatible with the practice of Christianity, and whatever is incompatible with the practice of Christianity is contrary to the will of God.
There may be advocates of war in this assembly, who are almost offended at the preaching of doctrine like this. I would have them examine the ground on which they stand, and remember that they have as good reason to be offended at the precepts and example of Jesus. We find that he reproved the Jews for their evil conduct, when he told them, "Ye have heard it hath been said by them of old time, thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you love your enemy, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, for he maketh his sun to shine on the good and evil, and sendeth his rain on the just and the unjust." This remains to be the doctrine of Christ; "love your enemies"is a positive Christian precept. Does the warrior regulate his conduct by this rule? If he did, the "sword would be beaten unto a plowshare, and the spear into a pruning hook, nation would no longer life up sword against nation, neither would men learn war any more." If he does not practice by this rule, he is the servant of antichrist.
I have no hope that wars and fightings will cease, until the benign influence of this doctrine shall dispel the delusions which envelope the minds of men, and in the same proportion that this doctrine is embraced we come to see that "God is love," and that it is only those whose conduct is regulated by the law of love, that can have fellowship with him.
It is indeed a sorrowful reflection, that war is now sustained and encouraged by many of the highest professors of Christianity in our land! While many of these are looking with indifference on it dreadful ravages, hastening thousands of our fellow men unprepared into eternity, the cries of the pitiless orphan, the widow and the fatherless, are protesting against these outrages on humanity, and uttering this solemn appeal, "Shall the sword devour forever?"
The doctrine of Christ leads us to visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction, but it never sanctioned a practice which fills the earth with mourning, lamentation, and woe; and let us not forget that everyone who gives encouragement to war, is implicated in the continuance of a custom which does violence continually to the laws of God, and the doctrine and practice of Jesus Christ.
So long as the sword continues to devour, the views I entertain of the doctrine of Christ, and the conviction of duty which I feel, will lead me to bear a testimony against wars and fightings, until this frail tabernacle shall go to its last resting place, and this voice be forever silenced in the stillness of death.
"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God." May this number be multiplied--let them be faithful to truth and duty, and they may yet be instrumental under the divine blessing, in advancing the peaceable kingdom of Christ, and in hastening the coming of that day, when every practice of violence and wrong shall be banished from the earth forever. My faith is in the principles of Christianity. These never have sanctioned and never can sanction the practice of war, or any of its kindred evils: when these principles shall govern the conduct of mankind, war and all its evils must come to an end. It is folly for any to say that Christianity sanctions war, because by the triumph of Christianity, it will be abolished and cease forever.
My young friends, I would call your attention to these doctrines of Christ. I wish to encourage you to embrace them. This is a holy cause for you to embark in, attend strictly to the convictions of truth in your own minds, this will open the path of duty, and show you a field of labour in which there is ample room for the exercise and improvement of the talents and gifts which God has committed to your care.
Let the wise counsel of one formerly have its due weight: "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them."
Our happiness is intimately connected with the remembrance of our Creator. He has brought us into being for a good and noble purpose, and we should endeavour to associate the ideal of his existence and presence, with all the duties and concerns of this life. I know of no reason why we should live in forgetfulness of God, but on the other hand I see much to make us better and happier by the remembrance of our Creator.
The religion of Christ is not intended to throw a gloomy aspect over the scenes and prospects of life--it inflicts no heavy burdens, but continually holds out the cheering language, "Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest; take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, an dye shall find rest to your soul; for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Think not that this religion to which I now invite you, stands in the opinions and speculative theories of men. It is not the observance of outward forms and ceremonies, but it consists of having your conduct regulated by the great principles of love to God and love to man. It is not confined in its exercise to days and times, it is not limited to the performance of our devotions in churches or in meeting houses, but it is an every day work, producing the fruits of benevolence, justice, mercy, and love.
Such a religion must, from the influence it haps upon human conduct, and from its own nature, bless you and make you happier in time, as well as prepare your to enjoy a blessed immortality. We feel a reward in being good, and in doing good, which is a foretaste of heaven on this side of the grave. Our own experience tells us, that while "the way of the transgressor is hard," the path of the just "shineth brighter and brighter unto the perfect day."
We have no need to regard the cry of "lo, here is Christ, or lo, he is there;" we have access to the same fountain of truth and inspiration, which has led the righteous of all ages, among all people. Here is a teacher always at hand, and one that can never deceive us. Its gentle whisperings are heard within, and it only requires watchfulness on our part to understand its admonitions.
With these views and convictions, I should no more think of looking to men or to books for a knowledge of the doctrines of Christ, than I should think of committing to another the keeping of my own soul. I fully believe in the testimony of the apostle James: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."
This, my friends, is our great privilege, we may ask of God for wisdom to direct us in all the duties that belong to this present state, and it will be given us. Let us therefore improve it, until we all "come into possession of that kingdom, which consists not in meat or drinks, divers washings and carnal ordinances, but in righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit."