When Mr. Comstock’s life story was given to the general public two years ago, it was interesting to study the reviews which appeared in journals secular and religious throughout the country. Many recognized the marvelous character of the man’s lifework; some followed time-honored precedent and criticized and ridiculed this Christian fighter. One newspaper reviewer paid a real tribute to the substantial character of the work that Comstock had done, but said that it was a glaring pity that his biographer had not dealt with the man and his work in a common sense way, instead of mixing the whole thing up with the religious views of Mr. Comstock,—as though religion had had anything to do with the real results that this practical man had accomplished! The biography, the critic felt, would have had much greater value if religion had been left out and the “real” and tangible facts alone had been set before the reader in an unprejudiced and normal way.
This critic of Comstock’s old-fashioned views did not realize that “if religion had been left out” there would have been no biography to write, no work to record. For the story of Mr. Comstock’s life is supernatural from beginning to end. He was a practical man because he was a religious man,—a Christian. The evils and the evil persons that he fought were terrifically real and practical. He knew increasingly as the fight went on that unless God’s supernatural power conducted the fight he would be overwhelmed by the human and devilish forces against him. When he faced such realities as unscrupulous men whose business and wealth depended upon his defeat, grafting political lobbyists who could swing legislation against decency, brilliant newspaper writers who could bring upon him a storm of public denunciation, together with such other concrete realities as sand-bags, infernal machines, smallpox scabs, revolvers, and murderous knives—he needed some really practical protection and power on his side. And he had it in God. Is it fanatical and foolish to recognize this, or does the folly lie in denying it?
In looking back over such an utterly exceptional life as Anthony Comstock’s, it is interesting to discover certain points that give us the secret of how he lived and worked and fought.
His life began with a Christian mother who made God and prayer and the Bible the great realities for her boy. Through her, moral heroism was instilled into his heart, his breath, his blood, from his birth. He learned to depend upon God and God’s promises.
In his early twenties he got the beginnings of the vision that grew increasingly clear to him of what his life-work must be; and he never lost that vision.
Comstock was always a man of extraordinary ability. He made notable successes in various ways; there is little question that he could have been a conspicuous figure in the American business world. And that was what he had set his heart upon. But with his increasing vision of the need of stopping the obscene traffic that was ruining lives, he made an unconditional surrender of his life to the will of God; he gave up his personal ambitions and took God’s will for himself, no matter what might be the cost. This meant abandoning the business world, with the wealth and power in which young Comstock had already begun to prove himself; it meant throwing himself body, soul, and spirit against the powers of evil in the closest and most repugnant contact with evil. As a newspaper editorial has said in commenting on Mr. Comstock’s death, “Few men like to fish in a sewer all day long, or to make such a fetid pursuit a matter of a life routine.” But God called; and the revolting character of the life mission therefore weighed not at all on the other side.
Having accepted God’s call, he stayed by it to the end. Few men of our generation have revealed more astounding thoroughness and persistent perseverance both in the lifework as a whole and in each duty or adventure as it arose. A newspaper dispatch reported that on the morning of the day he died, while ill with pneumonia, he summoned a stenographer from the offices of his Society to his home and dictated memoranda on the continuation of his business. God can use a man who fights his fight through to the end.
Because of his unquestioning and complete acceptance of the will of God for his life and work, he showed a courage and fearlessness that made his life one long marvel to others. Weapons, threats, physical attacks of fiendish ingenuity and effectiveness, could not intimidate him. He quietly accepted God’s promise as a personal word to himself, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper,” (Isaiah 54:17a) and went about his business letting God prove this to the confusion of his enemies.
We are to-day [Blogger’s note: remember this was written in 1915] living in a land that is comparatively free from open traffic in things that a generation ago were making their infamous appeal to the eye and mind of school children, of young men in business, and of older people; and this is so because Anthony Comstock lived out his life in self-surrendered and successful conflict with that evil. May God raise up others who shall fight as faithfully as he did.
[Taken from Outlawed! How Anthony Comstock Fought and Won the Purity of a Nation, available for purchase in our store, in paperback, ebook and mp3 audio.]