British Protestantism: The First Step;By J. E. Gordon, Esq.
London: Protestant Association Office, 11, Exeter Hall; Seeley, Burnside, & Seeley, Fleet-Street. 1817.page break
The Protestantism of Britain.
My Protestant Brethren,—
When I took the liberty of addressing you through the columns of the "Record" newspaper,* I did not venture to hope that an effort, conceived and executed in so much weakness, would have prompted such a response as that effort has clone. But if it has authenticated, beyond doubt or question, the bursting pregnancy of a spiritual Protestantism in the land, it has also discovered the utter inability of the writer to meet the heart-cheering inquiries for information and advice which are daily reaching him, in any other way than through the medium of the public press. In this general answer, I shall restrict myself to such advice as is not merely preliminary to organized and systematic exertion, but indisputable in itself.
The duty of Protestants, in the circumstances which I have attempted to describe in my letter, may be considered under two heads—prayer and action. With respect to the last, there may be difference of opinion as it regards the modus operandi; and, therefore, I should hesitate to speak with confidence, until I have had better opportunities of consulting with those "who know what Israel ought to do." On the subject of the first, there can be no such doubt; as prayer must precede, rectify, and consecrate every Christian enterprise, whether personal or public. I propose, therefore, in the present communication, to restrict my observations to the duty and necessity of prayer, as a first step; leaving to a future occasion (should the Lord afford me ability) the development of a more deliberately considered plan of action.
In answer, then, to the general inquiry, "How are we to act?" I unhesitatingly reply, Retire to your closet. If the Protestantism of Britain can only be brought to its knees, the battle is won; for, either the Lord will restrain prayer, or He will answer it.
On this subject, I have no new doctrine to propound: but perhaps you will indulgently bear with me, if I presume to bring to your recollection a few practical illustrations of the truth of a very old one.
It is written, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you;" and further, "If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For page 4 where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them." And again, "All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer believing, ye shall receive." No doubt or difficulty can, therefore, exist in the mind of the believer respecting the certainty of an answer to prayer,—unless it be upon the single question, "Whether or not the object which is sought be in accordance with the Divine will? The answer itself is just as certain as the promise of God can render it: but, as we read of those who "ask and have not, because they ask amiss," we may be thrown back upon the inquiry, Whether or not our asking has the sanction of the word and the will of God? With reference to all that lies within the scope of that will, it is absolutely and unconditionally written, "Ask, and ye shall have;" "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it."
Now, among the objects which lie within the scope of the Divine will, national deliverance from the consequences of national sin occupies, in Scripture, a very prominent place; and the duty of prayer, arising out of the discovery of Divine visitation for national guilt, is just as imperative upon Christians of the nineteenth century, as it was upon David when he beheld an Angel standing over Jerusalem with a drawn sword in his hand. In one of its forms, it is thus expressed by Solomon, at the dedication of the Temple,—"When the heaven is shut up, and there is no rain, because they have sinned against thee; yet if they pray toward this place, and confess thy Name, and turn from their sin, when thou dost afflict them; Then hear thou from heaven, and forgive the sin of thy servants, and of thy people Israel, when thou hast taught them the good way, wherein they should walk; and send rain upon thy land, which thou hast given unto thy people for an inheritance. If there be dearth in the land, if there be pestilence, if there be blasting, or mildew, locusts, or caterpillers; if their enemies besiege them in the cities of their land; whatsoever sore or whatsoever sickness there be; .... Then hear thou from heaven," &c. (2 Chron. vi.26—31.) That this form of supplication was intended as a directory to believers in all ages will not, it is presumed, be disputed; and we are supplied with at least one interesting discovery of its application in the case of Jehoshaphat, King of Judah. I select the example of this monarch, because his case supplies, if not an intentional, at least a very remarkable parallel with that of our own country.
If the coming apostasy of Rome had its type or shadow in any part of Old Testament history, it was, assuredly, in that of the apostasy of the ten tribes from the worship of the temple to the idolatry of the "golden calves;" and if the union between the secular and spiritual power of the mystic Babylon is anywhere figured out in bold relief, on the dark ground of that defection, it is in the instance of Ahab and Jezebel.
Jehoshaphat was by far the most powerful monarch of the Judean dynasty; and his unrivalled prosperity stands connected with his official patronage and promulgation of Divine truth. He was, in fact, a patron of itinerant, as well as temple teaching; (Listen, ye sticklers page 5 for "Church order!") and he did not consider that he inflicted any degradation upon his princes by converting them into Scripture-readers. Yes, my brethren, it is written (and written, too, for our learning) that he employed five princes, in connexion with certain priests and Levites, to read and explain the word of God through the length and breadth of Judea. In brief, he effectually pervaded his kingdom with scriptural instruction, and it immediately follows, "The fear of the Lord fell upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were round about Judah, so that they made no war against Jehoshaphat." We are also informed, that the Philistines and Arabians, the most warlike and turbulent of those nations, voluntarily and gratuitously poured their riches into his treasury; and the internal prosperity of his kingdom kept pace with the external display of his power; for he had, moreover, "much business in the cities of Judah," while his military establishment amounted to no fewer than one million one hundred and sixty thousand fighting men! But what next?
"Now Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance, and joined affinity with Ahab." Jehoshaphat's prosperity, let it be observed, continued up to the date of his alliance with the representative of the great apostasy of his day. Mark the consequences.
First, there is mere affinity,—a cultivation of friendly relations, irrespective of religious discordance of sentiment,—a liberal disregard, in short, of those hampering restrictions which are imposed on little minds by the bigotry of religious caste. But affinity, "after certain years," ripens into friendship, and friendship naturally suggests a visit, and the visit results in political alliance. And why should it not? Where is the harm of entering into political relations with men whose religion may happen to differ from our own? What have politics to do with religion? Are politicians, forsooth, to take upon themselves the determination of "what is truth" in religion? But the bonds of union are drawn still closer, and the idolater is not merely admitted to the confidence and friendship of Jehoshaphat, the alliance results in actual identity of interest and feeling. "I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war."
The consequence of this, like that of every alliance of the kind, read to Jehoshaphat, when it was all but too late, a practical lesson of some importance. After an almost miraculous deliverance from the treachery of his idolatrous ally, and the swords of the Syrians, he is met by "Jehu the son of Hanani the seer" with the following message:—"Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord." Let us see what that rebuke involved.
"It came to pass after this also, that the children of Moab, and the children of Amnion, and with them other beside the Ammonites, came against Jehoshaphat to battle." Like the mighty Hebrew who was unconsciously shorn of his power while slumbering in the harlot's lap, Jehoshaphat no sooner awoke to a discovery of his actual position, than he found that "his strength had departed from him," and he now stands trembling in presence of the most impotent of the nations page 6 by whom he was surrounded. Where is that power whose very prestige so recently inspired terror into these nations? Where are the eleven hundred and sixty thousand "mighty men of valour," of whom we so lately heard? What revolution has produced this sudden eclipse of the national glory of Judah,—this threatened bankruptcy of her temporal prosperity? The answer is found in five words,—"Jehoshaphat joined affinity with Ahab."
We have seen what an idolatrous alliance can effect in the judicial prostration of a nation's strength: let us see what prayer can accomplish in lifting it again into an erect position.
Jehoshaphat had sinned: but Jehoshaphat had also repented of his sin; and, gathering up the spiritual might of the penitent saint amidst the threatened wreck of his temporal power, he gives utterance to one of the noblest appeals to be found in Scripture. In that appeal he falls back upon the part of Solomon's prayer which I have quoted, and concludes with these remarkable words:—"Neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee." In fear and perplexity and danger, he places his cause in the Lord's hand; and from that moment it is no longer his own. Mark the Divine response. "Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God's. . . . Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you, O Judah and Jerusalem."
The practical application of this glorious discovery of the power and faithfulness of a sin-hating, sin-chastising, but sin-forgiving God, is simple, intelligible, and encouraging. This first of nations, like that first of then living monarchs, has allied itself with idolatry, and stands trembling in dread of the threatened consequences. Like Jehoshaphat, "we have no might" against these consequences, "neither know we what to do." With Jehoshaphat let us add, "Our eyes are upon Thee."
I shall not detain you by even a bare reference to the numerous other instances of national deliverance, through the instrumentality of prayer, which are to be found in Scripture,—further than to remark, that such deliverances were not unfrequently vouchsafed to the prayers of individuals; as in the cases of Moses, and Samuel, and David, and Asa, and Hezekiah, and Daniel. The believer is just as welcome at the throne of grace with a large as with a small petition; and if his faith, and his patriotism, can grasp the extent of a nation's wants, God is proportionally honoured by the magnitude of the petition. In so far, then, as the testimony of Scripture is concerned, it is absolutely certain, that God will either restrain prayer for national deliverance, as He did in the case of Jeremiah; or He will hear it, as He did in the instance of Jehoshaphat. The very fact, therefore, of scripturally-warranted prayer, ascending to God for national mercies, is providential evidence that it will be accepted.
If we descend from Scripture to experience, we are shut up to the same conclusion: but the limit which I have assigned to this communication will only admit of the selection of one example.page 7
From the best histories of Luther in our possession, and, more particularly, the noble work of Merle d'Aubigné on the Reformation, it would appear that he was eminently a man of prayer; that prayer, in fact, was the very element of his spiritual being,—as we may infer from the discovery, that he did not pass a day without devoting at least three of its best hours to communion with God. It was the spiritual power of this Reformer which elevated him so immeasurably above both his contemporaries and his successors: for, although the new principle in his character rested upon a constitutional basement of indomitable courage, great energy and self-possession, it is to the sustained ardency of his prayer, and the scriptural simplicity of his faith, that we are to attribute his unparalleled success. It was the constant conviction of Luther, that no secular weapon was of any avail in the contest in which he found himself engaged; and, even when pressed by adverse circumstances to the very verge of despair, he was as anxious to disclaim the assistance of such weapons as the other great leaders of the Reformation were to court it. "It is neither," said he, "by wisdom, nor by violence, that the renovation of the Church will be accomplished; but by humble prayer, and bold faith which shall range Jesus Christ on our side;" and, when threatened with an outbreak of civil war, from the excesses of the Anabaptists, his language, in a letter to Myconius, is characteristic of his habitual dependence;—"Satan is raging, ungodly priests take counsel together, and we are threatened with war. Exhort the people to contend earnestly before the throne of the Lord by faith and prayer. The most urgent of our wants, the very first thing we have to do, is to pray. Let the people know that they are at this moment exposed to the edge of the sword, and the rage of the devil. Let them pray." But it was during the sitting of the ever-memorable Diet of Augsburg, so pregnant with danger to the interests of the Reformation, that we witness the most remarkable illustration of the manner in which this ever ready, omnipotent, and never-failing weapon was wielded by Luther. Prevented by the arrest of friendship, the anathema of the Pope, and the edicts of the Empire, from appearing in the Diet, the intrepid Reformer occupied a fortified position on the neighbouring hill of Cobourg: and, while "the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers took counsel together against the Lord," and against his faithful servant, Luther brought the artillery of prayer to bear upon the deliberations of that most august but most godless assembly. Like a monster mortar plat formed on a rock, with its mouth elevated to the heavens in the line of its object, his spiritual projectiles fell thick and heavy in the council-hall of Augsburg; and neither the ramparted defence of imperial power, nor the casemated covering of Papal intrigue, could resist the descending destruction. They met, they reasoned, they resolved, they menaced, they entreated, they despaired, they separated: for a mighty wrestler with God had said, "I shall weep, I shall pray, I shall never be silent until I know page 8 that my cry has been heard in heaven." Well might Diedrich exclaim, "How could not those prayers but prevail in the desperate struggle at Augsburg!" It was the breath of the same prayer which neutralized the defection of the pusillanimous Melancthon, sustained the calm and inflexible decision of John of Saxony, returned the half-drawn sword of the fiery Philip of Hesse to its scabbard; and not only gave a retrograde movement to the imperial cloud of war, which had so long been gathering blackness over the Reformation and slowly moving in the direction of Saxony, but poured down its desolating contents upon the head of guilty Rome.
Such, my Protestant brethren, was the weapon with which the immortal Luther achieved a conquest that far exceeded those of all the Reformers, whether of his own time or subsequent periods. Let us grasp the same weapon. It has lost none of its power: and the God who heard the cry of a solitary monk, from the heights of Cobourg, and the silence of a cloister, is as ready to hear the prayer of every believing British Protestant. For, let it be remembered, that Luther, as well as Jehoshaphat, was a man of like passions with ourselves; and what he achieved by prayer, we may warrantably attempt. It can hardly be a question with any one who has carefully contemplated the spiritual aspect of that singular character, that his success as a Reformer stands intelligibly identified with his closet exercises as a Christian; and the question I would ask is, What would Luther have recommended in the circumstances in which this country has been placed? Can any one hesitate in admitting that it would have been such an exercise of "humble prayer and bold faith" as, to use his own language, should "range Jesus Christ on our side"? Would he not have counselled us, as he did Myeonius, to "exhort the people to contend earnestly before the throne of the Lord by faith and prayer?" But, if such would have been Luther's advice if living, "he being dead yet speaketh."
There is a vagueness of thinking and feeling on the subject of prayer for the aversion of national judgments, which is as unscriptural as it is unprofitable. It is not by scattering—if I may so speak—the breath of prayer over the expanse of a darkened firmament that we shall pierce and dissipate the one well-defined and pregnant cloud, whose fiery bolts are pointed against the temple and the throne: there must be a specific reference to that particular sin, or course of sinning, which has separated between the nation and her God. To those who see and believe with the writer, that the sin, which has contributed, more than any other, to place this country under the ban of the Divine wrath, is her re-union with the Papal apostasy, the direction of prayer in our present circumstances will be clear and intelligible.
In that deeply interesting expression of Protestant feeling and sentiment which has reached me from different parts of the country, there is, in connexion with a desire to act, a very general feeling of despondency respecting the consequences of action; and this feeling page 9 evidently rests upon a survey of the apparently insurmountable difficulties which any such movement as I have presumed to recommend would have to encounter. Again and again I must remind the Christian Protestant, (and it is only to such that I address myself,) that his business lies with his God, and not with the difficulties of the question. Difficulties there confessedly are: but "we have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their clays, in the times of old." And is "the hand of the Lord shortened that it cannot save, or is His ear heavy that it cannot hear?"
It is not difficulties that we have to fear; but inaction and God-dishonouring compromise. If the ignorant and heartless mass of the nominal Protestantism of Great Britain shall be repelled from any attempt at the discharge of obvious and positive duty, by the apprehension of impossibilities in its front, let it have a care that it do not risk a collision with very opposite impossibilities in its rear. Let it beware, lest, in resiling from the apprehended obstruction of a five-barred gate, (which, like that of Peter's prison-house, may "open of his own accord,") it do not back over a precipice. The impossibility in front—admitting its existence—refers to the impotency of human instrumentality, and may, by the interposition of an Almighty arm, be overcome: but the opposite impossibility resolves itself into the immutability of the Almighty himself. It is the impossibility of saving a nation in a state of open rebellion against her God. Either we must deny, that the nation has, politically and religiously, identified itself with the apostasy of Rome; or we must admit, that salvation, in such a condition, is impossible. My youngest child, (the reader will pardon the reference,) when considerably under four years of age, on hearing her mother remark, that God could do every thing, immediately replied, "There is one thing, mamma, that God cannot do: He cannot do evil." This was the child's own induction; and I would that it were stereotyped upon the understanding of every Protestant in the empire, who is dreaming of salvation for the country in its present position;—who would huddle up all that regards the past in unexamined uncertainty, provided we can only ward off the evils and the consequences of future concession. God cannot do evil: and therefore fie cannot, contrary to His Word, and the established principles of His moral government, save either an individual, or a nation, in a state of open apostasy. If we cannot elevate the mind's eye of the national Protestantism to the apprehension of this solemn truth, we can have no clearer evidence that its back-bone is judicially broken.
I have assumed, from the outset, that the work to which the Word of God, the Church of God, the voice of our country, and the interests of posterity, are summoning us, is not man's but God's work. We are Conservatives to the heart's core: but not the sinister Conservatives of lucrative offices, green acres, party interests, and political shibboleths:—we are Conservatives of God's honour, God's Word, God's Church; Conservatives, in other words, of the authority, page 10 royalties, and prerogatives of the "Prince of the kings of the earth." Those rights and royalties, whether in the Church or in the State, it is at our peril either to compromise or surrender; and we, therefore, claim, in the Name of our Master, free course for His truth,—free course through the State, through the Church, through the palace, through the cottage. We advance this claim in God's Name, and on God's behalf,—leaving Him to realize it to whatever extent His wisdom and His mercy to Britain may see fit. But who shall attempt to circumscribe the answer to faithful persevering prayer? And let us have a care, my brethren, that, while we are piously and most properly limiting the influence of our own finite and fallible capacities, we be not, at the same time, impiously limiting "the Holy One of Israel." Resources we have none; and yet the available resources of prayer cannot be comprehended within a narrower scope than the exhaustless resources of Deity. We know something of what ascends to heaven by the vehicle of prayer, even when it is burdened by the "groanings which cannot be uttered:" but we know not what descends to earth from the censer of Him who, after having mingled and perfumed it with the incense of His own merit, presents it before the throne. That answer is destined to announce itself in "thunderings and lightnings, and a great earthquake."
When Jehoshaphat stood in presence of the confederated armies of the alien, his language was, "We have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee." But Jehoshaphat had made the battle the Lord's; and the Lord, in return, made his enemies his deliverers. "Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you, O Judah and Jerusalem." And can He not as easily commission the events of His providence to act the part of deliverers for us, as He commissioned the hosts of Amnion and Moab and Edom to destroy each other? There is no union of armies or events, however intimate, however powerful, which believing prayer cannot dissolve. We have, it is true, to deal with "a great company," which have "consulted together with one consent," and are confederate against us. "The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes; Gebal, and Amnion, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assur also," and "the children of Lot." But we may address to them the withering sarcasm, which Abijah addressed to the idolatrous hosts of Jeroboam, "Ye be a great multitude, and there are with you golden calves, which Jeroboam made you for gods. . . . But as for us, . . . . behold, God Himself is with us for our captain." (2 Chron. xiii. 8,12.) Oh, that we could transfer to our own experience the animating discovery, that God Himself is as certainly with us for our captain, as the golden calves are with our adversaries!
We, too, have our Rock; and what was pure fiction in the descriptions of Walter Scott, is solemn truth in the case of every believer. His hero was menaced by "odds," to which he could only oppose the few strokes of an arm that was soon to drop swordless by his side: but
"Come one, come all; this rock shall fly
From its firm base as soon as I."
With his back against the Rock of Ages, the feeblest warrior that marches under the banner of the cross can oppose the might of Deity to his adversaries.
"Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees."
But a challenge to prayer, my Protestant brethren, has been flung down to us by the apostasy itself. It is a tact, that, amidst the incense of ten thousand altars, public, special prayer is ascending to the images and idol gods of Rome, for the conversion of England! And shall we continue silent? While an idolatrous priesthood are "calling on the name of Baal from morning even unto noon," shall not the servants of the true God adopt the language of Elisha,—"Hear us, O Lord, hear us, that this people may know that Thou art the Lord God?" Such a movement upon the part of the spiritual Protestantism of Britain would put the faithfulness of God once more to the test before the intelligent universe: and nothing could be more hopeful or more certain than the issue of such a contest.
|That our alliance with the apostasy of Rome, being, as we believe it to be, the chief ground of the Lord's controversy with us as a nation, we should individually, and in our families, recognise the hand of God in the judgments inflicted or threatened, acknowledge the justice of the visitation, or, in the language of Scripture, "accept the punishment of our iniquity," and beseech the Lord to open, in His providence, a way of escape from both the sin and its consequences. I would most especially recommend, that the Lord may be entreated to render the sore judgment with which Ireland has been visited subservient to the spiritual emancipation of her people, and that He would inspire every minister of His true Church in that country with a spirit of fidelity and holy courage suited to the duties of the crisis.
|That there should be a special season for concerted national prayer on the same subject, say on one particular day of every month; when the united supplications of such of the people of God as entertain the views which have been stated should meet at the throne of grace. I would venture to suggest that this monthly concert should be of a page 12 social character, by the meeting together, in different localities, of at least "two or three" Christians, when more cannot be obtained.
|That every Protestant entering into this design, should hold himself prepared to harmonize his practice with his prayer, by the adoption of such means for furthering the severance of the nation from the apostasy of Rome, as the providence of God may Suggest;—ever keeping in mind, that the promise of deliverance, whether to nations or individuals, is only to such as turn from the iniquity which has provoked the rod. I would, moreover, recommend the diffusion of correct information respecting the nature of the sin of which the nation has been guilty, and the exertion of every species of legitimate influence that can be brought to act upon the understanding and conscience of the electoral constituency.
It will be seen, that the advice which I have thus presumed to offer, in answer to the numerous inquiries addressed to me, will only apply to those who entertain the views of Protestant principle and Protestant duty which have been expressed in my first letter. It is not necessary to the object we have in view, that these should be numerous;—only that they should be earnest. If those who are willing to unite in the plan recommended will forward their names and addresses to the writer, it may facilitate the ultimate object of national organization for both prayer and action.
J. E. Gordon.
Macintosh, Printer, Great New-street, London.
* This letter has been published by the Protestant Association, under the title of "British Protestantism; its present Position, Responsibility, and Duties."