« EelmineJätka »
I. No community can ever become pervaded with the Christian spirit so long as it endures public schools of vice, and open gross profligacy.
Religion cannot be crowned with supreme authority, and enthroned in public reverence, so long as irreligion is openly vaunting itself, publicly attacking and secretly undermining that authority, and that reverence. The community which looks upon gross immorality running riot in her streets, without making resolute specific endeavors to put it down, can lay no claim to the spirit of Christ, and is not worthy the name of a Godfearing people. Whatever the character of individuals in it may be, however pure, however high, still, as a society, it does not fear God; does not love man; is neither righteous nor wise, nor in any Christian or truly human judgment, respectable. For the things that are pure and good, and the men that are faithful and just, alone are worthy of our honor and affection. A community that has not conscience enough to rebuke and sternly resist the open assaults of outrageous vice, cannot be held in veneration by any true and thoughtful soul. My brethren, it is impossible! Can such a soul be deluded into the fancy, that a community which regards gross iniquity as a venial thing, an enemy to be treated with, an evil to be endured--is yet conscientiously careful of lesser matters, and at heart a Christian society? There may be Christian men in it, and many Christian influences; but, manifestly, these men are not the ones who give it character; nor do these influences control it. Can we expect such a society to add to its faith, virtue; to its virtue, knowledge, brotherly kindness, charity; to become in its members" a partaker of the divine nature?" Can we for a moment, imagine that the mass of this society is in any sense christianized," or can become so-that it is advancing toward Christian perfection, or can advance, so long as it does, in its capacity of a social body and a body politic, permit an open, gross vice, which publicly, socially, and privately, is acknowledged to be gross, and abominable-permit this vice, not only to continue, in the main. unmolested, but even to be continually infused into the habits of the young, by incessant public example, solicitation, and almost by force-thus to be making daily progress, while thousands of criminals, and thousands of paupers are annually dragged thereby to almshouse and to prison, and thousands of unhappy wives are given over to a slow death in sore toil, and heart-breakings-and thousands upon thousands of poor, neglected children are left to grow up in ignorance, and sin, to become the pest of society, and the peril of the State! The Christians here would Christianize the whole mass of this community! Is there any reliance to be put upon such professions, while these Christians do not so much as try to make it a decently moral community? Is it agreeable with reason, and common sense, that those who are not moved at the daily contemplation of open wickedness, should be so very sensitive to inferior faults; to more refined and less destructive sins?-that those should be filled with grief in view of the general depravity of human nature, who meet every day some of the worst developments of this corruption, and pass coolly by on the other side?" There is but one answer to these questions: in short, we have no reason to expect that this city will be thoroughly christianized, until we see that at least gross vice is thoroughly hated. Men never climb to the top of a mountain, till they have passed the limits of its base. This community will not ascend the holy heights of Zion, till, at least, has left that valley of Hinnom, where it has been offering, so long, its sons and
daughters to Moloch-till it cease to yield them to these infernal fires. My brethren, it is necessary that your Christian principle should decide all great questions; then, possibly, it may come to decide all questions. But if you neglect the weightier matters of the law, then your laying tithes upon mint, anise and cummin, is but a mere matter of tradition or of hypocrisy; has no virtue in it, and will do little or no good. If you are the enemies of sin, prove your enmity upon those sins that are most fatal. If you are consecrated to the service of God, do not omit your service exactly there, where it is most needed. Having gone into his vineyard to labor, do not content yourself with pulling the comparatively harm
less weeds, while you leave the inveterate brambles, long embedded in the soil, to grow, and toughen, and extend-secretly rooting out the vinesopenly casting deadly shade upon them, and breathing mildew and decay.
These counsels, I am sure, do at once approve themselves to your reason and conscience. But no one can compel you to obey your reason and your conscience. Let us remember, my brethren, that God judgeth us.
We have now seen, how upon general principles of common sense, a community cannot become pervaded with the Christian spirit, so long as it quietly endures, the presence of public schools of vice, and of a gross, open profligacy. We have seen how that according to laws of human nature which we instinctively apprehend, it is impossible for such a people to make advances in spiritual things. Scattered individuals may,-the people cannot. We have seen how there is even a contradiction in terms, in supposing a society which is lukewarm in its concern for the most palpable and greatest interests to be really zealous for such as are less open and less impressive; and therefore that such lukewarmness is really an evidence of a lack of the essential principle of Christianity. It must be so. For the Church is not ignorant. It does not want for facts. It wants a will; it wants warmth of purpose; it wants love-in the absence of which all other things profit nothing.
But even if this were not so-if its present condition were all that any could pray for-if every heart was glowing, and every hand restless to engage in holy work,-even then, the quiet endurance of schools of vice, and of open profligacy would be enough to cool off all this love, and annihilate all this zeal.
He who stands by, and silently looks on while an evil thing is done, is almost a partaker in the sin; and always of necessity a partaker of it. His soul receives a taint; and a seed is dropped within it, mixed of the elements of imbecility and of corruption. It is dangerous to look on an evil, without hating it. For gradually the conscience becomes familiarized with its form, and familiarity diminishes aversion. At first, the soul abhorred the iniquity; but it checked the expression of its abhorrence-did wrong unto itself by neglecting to act or to utter its own deep conviction; and so, the evil that the soul looked upon, made a mark upon the soul; left a stain, a plague-spot there, and this not the first time only, but the second time also, and the third, and every time that the evil was witnessed, unrebuked. If then, we dwell permanently in the presence of open and bold corruption, permanently repressing our feeling and ever neglecting to act against the evil, there is a permanent taint, ever renewed and renewed again-made deeper, made wider every day; until, at last, our condition comes to be that of a large portion of this community, my brethren-a condition of careless insensibility to the evil, or perhaps even of absolute fondness for it, and possibly of hopeless subjection to its power. Not only, therefore, is it true that the Church cannot purify the world while itself sitting quietly down beneath the shadow of gross iniquity; but it cannot retain its own purity. There is no safety in such a truce There is no hope for the Church unless it breaks every such unholy peace, and maintains an incessant struggle, at the very least, against those forms of depravity which are gross and public. We must be true to our own souls, my brethren, if we would not have our own souls grow false. Thus our highest interest, and the very necessity of our spiritual life demands, that we refuse to have this sin forced upon us.
But even if this were not so-could there be any greater folly than for men engaged in a noble work, to remain at peace with those who are successfully opposing that work?-to disregard agencies, which on every side are thwarting and even anticipating their own efforts? Here are some fifty organizations, we will suppose, of professing Christians, who say, and who sincerely believe that they are striving to fill this community with the Christian spirit, and to turn these thousands of souls to God. Now is it possible, that while sincerely laboring for this, the highest end which either created beings, or the Creator himself can have-for an object
which involves all other good objects, and is itself the best of all-can it be possible, that they are neglecting to oppose those very agencies which are the most efficient, and which are fearfully efficient, in counteracting all their efforts, and making void all their solicitude and toil! Yet this is precisely what the churches are doing! What should we say of a general commissioned for the defence and deliverance of his country, who should employ his forces in arrestiug thieves, smugglers and highwaymen, but should pay little or no attention to a powerful invading army, which, besides creating three-fourths of all these thieves and robbers, was itself the greatest of all-burning villages, and sacking cities, and making the land desolate? What should we say of the physician, who being called to prescribe for a man that had poisoned himself, should amuse his patient with drugs for this pain and that, with liniments for one weakness and another, with anodynes and with irritants, with depletives, and tonics, and stimulants, and the whole "what not" of the materia medica, but should let him take the poison still? If we, then, permit those whose good we are seeking, to be tempted and seduced to the very sin which is most fruitful of sin, and the most potent enemy of all kinds of improvement, are not we, I ask, at once unwise and unfaithful? Is it possible that we should succeed?
But all will be well, says one, if we can but have a revival of religion. I remark, therefore
II. It is hardly possible that we should have a genuine and general revival of spiritual religion, at once intelligent and healthy, until we are ready to do our duty in regard to public and gross profligacy.
Tell me, my brethren, what mean you by a "revival?" A mere excitement? That is not the thing. A passing excitement is not what you wish!-but this:-You want a reinvigoration of the Christian spirit:-do you not?-of Christian love, Christian conscience, Christian humility, Christian readiness to yield the body up "a living sacrifice," in holy labor and endurance unto God. This is what we understand by a true revival." It is only such an excitement that we value: and there is no reason why a revival like this might not last forever. It would, certainly, have its fluctuations, but, in all probability, if once fully embodied in decisive and permanent public action, it would endure to the end of time, proving itself to be a genuine exaltation of the vital energy of the spiritual life in society, a positive and an immortal growth. This would indeed be a "revival" worth praying for, and if need be, worth dying for! a re-vival, a new life developed, that should never die. This is what we desire.
We will suppose, then, that the consciences of the good men in our community are awakened and freshly sensitive; that warm hearts which had been crusted over with worldliness, are now broken anew, and glow, and move themselves, tremulous with heat and energy, melting in sacred love, ready to flow, ready to bear the whole accumulaed force of the soul's deepest action forth upon the world. Now the community being in such a state is in exactly that state wherein it will not passively endure the continual assaults of open corruption. So long as it submits unconcernedly to these aggressions, its lethargy remains unbroken; and it can hardly by possibility be revived, without rousing from this fatal and dishonorable passivity to clear and decisive action. These two events must come at the same moment. When the Spirit of God touches our hearts, we shall awaken to our duty and do it. So whenever we shall try to put ourselves in the line of duty, we may reasonably trust that the Holy Ghost has excited, and will also sustain and promote our efforts, and that our whole being will be filled with the energy of the new fire from heaven.
It is almost a moral impossibility, that the churches should experience the blessing of a genuine revival so long as they wilfully neglect any plain and urgent duty. But what duty more plain, or more imperative than this? The impenitent heart that wilfully persists in known sin cannot hope for renewal. The imperfect Christian who clings with fond attachment to any wrong habit, knowing it to be wrong, or holds back from any arduous duty when the obligation is clear, cannot expect to grow in
grace. So the churches which behold iniquity surrounding them-gross, open, and vulnerable, cannot surely hope for a revival while neglecting to assail that iniquity. They may have a transitory return of morbid and unintelligent enthusiasm; an excitement which may not be wanting indeed in its good results; they may have an important revival in a few hearts, for a short time; but it is not possible for them to enjoy anything which shall rise to the dignity, or shall work out the results of a thoughtful, deep, genuine, and general revival of spiritual religion.
Our community is one body, my brethren. No great event can happen in any part of it without affecting the other parts. Neither any section, nor any class can make important advances alone. The head may not say to the foot, I care not for thee! nor the hand to the eye, I have no need of thee! Not even a single church and congregation can take any decisive step, or make any important progress without affecting the common interests of the whole body. We may, in the main, reason of any one community, as we would reason of an individual. The same great laws regulate its moral and spiritual progress. The same high justice, pure, and stern, sits in judgment upon all its proceedings. A like awful recompense is visited upon its sin. A like glorious crown rewards its fidelity.
Every public act re-acts upon the public conscience, and leaves its impress on the public character; and this controls the public destiny. If the laws are just and administered righteously, they tend to establish in the popular heart a reverence for justice and fidelity. If the laws are lax, or if they be administered in a loose or unprincipled manner; if enactments are made to serve private ends; if legislation, instead of being a reflection of the will of God-a translation into particulars of his holy law, becomes the tool of partizans, and of contractors; then are the people instructed in all manner of injustice and unfaithfulness; the public sentiment is corrupted, the popular conscience is debased and pray, what is the "popular conscience but the consciences of the individuals that make up the peoole. Yes, each individual soul receives the seed that the government is sowing in its acts of legislation and its course of policy. The principles which constitute the basis of these, will inevitably become the principles of an exceedingly large portion of the community. And now, can any city or town that is so morally dead as to endure meekly the pestilent example of a base government, the steady growth of pauperism and crime, the continual multiplication of public schools of iniquity-can any community, while remaining in this state, and voluntarily and obstinately insensible to the awful wickedness and peril of it, experience a genuine and general revival of spiritual religion? If you found your neighbor grossly unjust in the most important matters, openly mean, and avowedly selfish, a harborer of thieves, a companion of profligates-would you expect to find him honestly scrupulous of religious duties, and truly pious at heart? If before the world, he is boldly wicked, is he holy in secret? If then upon the open stage of its public acts the community is immoral, what sort of things will you expect to find behind the scenes, and when you come to investigate the privacy of its individual members? The community, as a whole, we will suppose, ignores the difference between right and wrong, suffers the most open and the grossest sins to pass with weak and inefficient rebuke, and makes no really earnest and vigorous effort to quell abuses and injuries which are utterly abominable and horrible. Now while such neglect is understandingly continued, is the community in its secret heart truly religious? Has it a deep reverence for God, and for his image in the human soul? Is it inwardly devoted to his glory, and to the welfare of his immortal children? Does any one believe that? But again; while the community is thus knowingly giving itself up to be debased, and supinely consenting unto sin-while remaining in this state, will it rise to new heights of spirituality, and pass through the happy stages of a genuine and general revival of religion? Remaining in this state, do you expect that it will be filled with saintly sentiments, and with godly purposes? Remaining in this state, will it abound in good the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and
keeping itself unspotted from the world?" Remaining in this state, will it cease to do evil and learn to do well," "put off the old man corrupt according to the deceitiul lusts, put on the new man" which is renewed after the image of him that created him, and " being followers of God as dear children"-"all come in the unity of faith and knowledge unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ ?" Tell me, can a sinner, remaining in a state of sin, be a saint!-the "carnal mind" "sold under sin," be "spiritually minded!" Then may we of this community; then may the people of this State, expect a genuine and thorough revival of spiritual religion, while remaining careless of the common decencies of morality.
Yes, indeed, do we need a revival-one that shall be deep and wide; one that shall do its work well, and shall deliver us from this crushing, poisonous load of public and private immorality which is breaking down our energies, and palsying our hope. But we cannot expect a revival while living in the neglect of known duty. And yet, without it, how can the community ever be filled with the spirit of Jesus Christ? It becomes a question of the greatest importance, therefore, under what conditions such a blessing may be rationally expected? Can it be hoped for on any terms? If not, then with religion, the cause of morality must fail, since, even if momentarily successful it can only be permanently established on a basis of religious principle. What, then, are the probabilities? Are we justified in regarding this great work of reformation as feasible?
In reply, I would remark:
II. It is plain that a successful effort for the suppression of open, gross vice, will certainly be followed by renewed Christian activity.
Here, now, a great practical, moral question is put to the community, and especially to the more conscientious part of it. Its bearings upon religion and morality are made most prominent, and are set forth under the combined light of principles and of facts, of reasoning and experience. Its claims are urged from a thousand different sources; from individuals of every class, rank, condition, and, it may literally be said, of every character; for perhaps the most touching appeal of all is that which comes up from our prisons, and the dens of iniquity in our great cities. Editors, lawyers and judges, chiefs of police, wardens of prisons and penitentiaries, Christian ministers of all denominations, churches, in their individual capacity, and as represented in central assemblies, governors of states, legislatures themselves clothed with all the attributes of popular sovereignty, while the great voice of the people rolls after them in approbation and support these all have united to present, to defend, to magnify and to urge home the claims of this question, as one which directly involves the dearest and the highest interests of morality and religion. The issue, it is impossible to avoid, to defer, or even to confuse. So prominently, so broadly, so luminously and definitely is it put, and with such tremendous weight is it pressed upon us, that we have nothing to do but to meet it. It is a question of duty, and can only be answered by action.
Now, I affirm, that when this question has been answered rightly, from the moment of the putting forth a successful effort to do this duty, there will be a renewal of Christian activity. In the first place, there is, already, a renewal in the very act of fulfilling this obligation. Is it reasonable to suppose that this reinvigoration should immediately cease upon the temporary accomplishment of a single object? Will it not rather find that the ground just gained must be held, as well as gained; that other points must be carried even in order that this may be maintained? on every side will there not be work demanding continued, and perhaps redoubled
My brethren, it is impossible, that when once the Christian spirit is roused among us, and has gained such a triumph as this, it should immediately go to sleep again! No-the conscience once re-enlivened, the whole spiritual being once well awake, and we should see a day of blessed labors, a day that would be memorable to all time for its rich results. The mere suppression of the outward_instrumentalities of vice, and of its grossest forms will