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BY REV. GIDEON N. JUDD, D.D.,
THE MAGNANIMITY OF THE CHRISTIAN SPIRIT. "And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus receive my spirit! And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge."-Acts vii. 59, 60,
This brief record of the death of the first martyr to Christianity, is a complete refutation of one objection, which its enemies have urged against it. They have asserted, and often with an air of triumph, not merely that its doctrines are absurd, but that its spirit is degrading to the dignity of human nature. In their estimation, the lofty aspirations of ambition, the indignant spirit which kindles at every affront or injury, and visit it with implacable resentment, and the sanguinary exploits of renowned conquerors, constitute the elements of true greatness. Hence the homage, which in all ages has been paid to the daring enterprizes of cupidity and ambition; the prompt and cheerful obedience which has been rendered to the laws of honor, falsely so called; the indignant infliction of evil for evil, and the valor and skill which have been displayed in waging sanguinary wars. Those who place these achievements, and the spirit which prompts them, among the characteristics of true greatness, in the temper and morality which the gospel inculates see nothing to admire. Its devout, meek, patient, and forgiving spirit, they consider not adapted to elevate, but to depress men in the scale of true dignity and greatness. That this sentiment is false, and fraught with danger to the temporal and eternal interests of men, we hope to make evident.
We have not time to notice all the distinctive features of the Christian spirit. We shall confine our attention mainly to those which entitle it to the character of genuine magnanimity. We cannot accomplish this purpose, however, without subserving another of amazing moment to the professed disciples of the Lord Jesus. It will furnish them with a safe criterion of character-a test by which the validity of their claims to membership in His family may be tried.
What, then, are the elements of true greatness-of real magnanimity-embraced in the spirit which the gospel inculcates, and which instrumentally it originates and sustains?
I. Its greatness is shown by the victories which it achieves over the corrupt affections of the human heart. The existence of these affections is denied by few, even of those who withhold their assent from the statements of the Bible respecting the extent of native depravity. By the unsparing censures which they pass upon those who give unbridled indulgence to impure and malevolent passions, they make it abundantly evident that they believe in their existence. Nay, many attest their existence in their own bosoms, by pleading in self-justification, their inability to control them.
None who profess the Christian spirit, doubt that by nature there dwelleth no good thing in them;—that the heart, unsanctified by the Spirit of God, is “ deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” With them, the corruption of the heart is a matter of painful consciousness. From the pollution and power of sin, they pant to be delivered; but all human expedients for its expulsion, are vain. Philosophers and uninspired moralists have given wise rules for the government of the appetites and passions. The authority of human law has restrained from acts of impurity, fraud and violence. But neither the teachings of philosophy, nor the authority of law, nor both combined, have eradicated the passions which prompt to deeds of evil. And they have often been insufficient to hold them in check. To cleanse the corrupt fountain whence issue the streams of pollution and misery, which desolates families, societies, and nations, they have done nothing. They have never expelled from human bosoms, selfishness, pride, envy, impure affections, the inordinate love of the world, repining under the afflictive dispensations of Providence, and enmity toward God or man. All that human wisdom and power have been able to do, is merely to restrain the grosser ebullitions of depravity.
The explusive power of the Christian spirit has done more. By its introduction into the heart, its native darkness and impurity have been partially expelled; its pride, selfishness, and inordinate attachment to things earthly, have been diminished; and it has been expanded with benevolence, not toward friends merely, but foes, and love and devotion to God. Imperfect as is the degree of it in the present life, by its introduction into their hearts, its subjects are wonderfully transformed. Old things pass away and all things become new. The passionate become meek, the fraudulent just, niggardly generous, the intemperate sober, the violent gentle, the impure chaste, the profane prayerful and devout, and the vindictive forgiving. The worshippers of mammon, by its transforming power, become spiritually-minded, and “ seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God.”
What we have said concerning the purifying efficacy of the Christian spirit, is not disproved by the fact, that those who give decisive evidence that they possess a measure of it, often give mournful proof of remaining depravity. In this life they are but partially sanctified. Nor is the fact of the change wrought in the heart by this spirit set aside or weakened by the admission, that many who profess to have received it, exhibit none of its celestial fruits in the life. An apostle has taught us, that “they are not all Israel that are of Israel.” “But what is the chaff to the wheat, saith the Lord ?” No fact is more clearly established than that multitudes of all ages, from the little child to the old man leaning upon his staff-of every grade of intellect, and of all ranks and conditions-in every period of time, and in every condition of society, have experienced the change of which we are speaking. They have abandoned courses of evil which they had before eagerly pursued, resisted temptations to which they had yielded, and been eminent examples of meekness, spirituality, benevolence to men, and zeal for the glory of God.
And who exhibit the greatest magnanimity? Those who give indulgence to unhallowed affections, or those, who by the grace of God, labor to exterminate them ? Those who live after the course of this world, or those who are crucified to it by the cross of Christ, and strive to “perfect holiness in the fear of God?”
These inquiries admit of but one answer. There is no magnanimity in self-indulgence—in following the corrupt inclinations of the heart; but there is real greatness in Christian self-denial-in the victories of holiness over sin. There is real moral grandeur and heroism in cutting off the right hand, and plucking out the right eye that offend, and governing the heart and life by God's holy and immutable law.
II. The greatness of the Christian spirit is evident from its superiority to the principles, spirit, and practices of this world. Many of the practices in which the men of the world indulgemany of the maxims by which they regulate their conduct and prevailing spirit, are in direct conflict with God's requirements. With them, pecuniary advantage, honor, or the indulgence of the appetites and passions, separately or combined, is the paramount object; and, provided the pursuit of it be so conducted as not to trangress human law, many seem to think they have done nothing deserying censure, even though the feelings of others are outraged