Page images
PDF
EPUB

be comprehended at the period ; and with an honest courage attempted to solve it. That Church knew emperor and king, peasant and slave, alike, only as subjects of its spiritual domain. It declared the state of slavery impossible for a Christian; and did in fact abolish it in Europe by embracing all ranks and conditions of men within its fold. It established the Truce of God; thus setting a check to the rage of private wars, and winning society slowly towards a reign of peace. It organized charities on a scale with which the world has nothing to compare; and, in an age of hopeless strife, and ravage, and destitution, grappled with the whole dread question of pauperism ; - on false principles indeed, by adopting and consecrating mendicancy; but perhaps no other way was possible then; and at any rate the Church did aim to meet the case. It assumed the charge of educating every child, at least so far as was needful to make him a subject of its empire or heir of its hope, and so of meeting hand to hand the vice, ignorance, and savagery of the streets. Now Protestantism — if we except individual efforts here and there, or voluntary associated action — has nothing to set side by side with this magnificent aim and pretension of Catholic Christianity. Not only its agencies are feeble, but its theory is at fault. The salvation of the individual soul, the culture of the individual conscience, has been the task to which it limited the sphere of Christianity. Its churches are voluntary associations ; its missions leave great haunts and hordes of heathenism in the streets at home, while they .carry their instruction or appeal thousands of miles away. By the very constitution of its churches, the intelligent, the conscientious, the wellprincipled, the respectable and prosperous, — those who best know the value of religious culture, and need it least, — are the ones looked to to sustain the institutions of Protestant Christianity; until the bitter satire of the reproach of the Apostle James falls literal and direct, that the rich are received and welcomed to the house of God, while the poor, for whom the Gospel was first preached, are kept away on system. And, busy with the task of conversion and culture within, or dissensions and rivalries of sect without, with costly pomps of worship, or itching ears for eloquence, the Church, in

its degeneracy and shame, turns aside from the great task given to it, and makes the name itself of Christianity a reproach. In the Catholic empire once, and in Papal countries still, every man, however rude or poor, is at least in theory to be met by the offices of the Church, for instruction, for comfort, for rescue from sin. In Protestant lands, more than half the population, numerically, stand in no acknowledged church relations at all ; and are only approached, at hazard, as it were, and uncertainly, by the voluntary efforts of a few, moved by the power of the Gospel and by the love of man.

This would not be a matter of reproach, if the Protestant churches did not assume and claim the complete interpreting of Christianity. As simple voluntary associations for culture and worship, they may be useful, beautiful, indispensable ; but then there should be no room for bigotry, no room for jealousy, no room for sectarian contentions, or threats of excommunication. It is just because Protestant Churches do assume to declare the whole counsel of God, and embody the whole aim of Christianity, that the error is fatal when they omit from their field these vast and most imperative claims. The scope of Christianity itself gets insensibly narrowed and lowered, to fit the standard which is found practicable within certain arbitrary limits. Protestantism has none of the infinite flexibility, skill, and strength, in dealing with all grades of character and condition, shown once, and in large measure still, by Rome; and a religious aim that cannot be compassed by its vastly inferior mechanism is held to be no part of Christianity at all. Thus we find the scandal and shame of Protestant churches, that many social questions are met in a spirit higher, gentler, truer, more religious and humane, by those outside of them than in them. Reform gets divorced from Religion. Social and organic sins find the Church noncommittal and neutral, and meet their rebuke elsewhere. And the singular spectacle is seen, on the one hand, of a petty jealousy which cavils, slurs, and hinders the free movement of thought and conscience towards higher forms of humanity and social justice; and, on the other hand, the inconsistency which owns as fellow-workers in the sphere of morals the same men whom it shuts out technically from the very pale of Christianity. A and B stand together on the platform of philanthropy; while, by their theology, A execrates B as a dogmatist, and B condemns A to perdition as an infidel. This helpless and equivocal position is the fatal result of the narrow and technical acceptation in which Protestantism has defined its work.

But thought and conscience play freely still, in wider channels, and still ever wider. There is an instinct in Protestantism higher than its theory or its creed. A thousand traditions and memories grave deep upon it the watchword of free thought, free conscience, political and religious liberty. That expansive, undaunted spirit, more bold to destroy than skilful to construct, still bursts all artificial limits, and compels those bred in the pale of sect and creed towards something broader than all sects, more comprehensive than all creeds. Entire individualism, perfect liberty of thought, is the mark towards which Protestantism always points. Willingly or unwillingly, its courses set that way. Liberal Christianity, on the one hand, where the devout and religious temper is retained; downright scepticism, on the other, where reverence is lost; absolute freedom, in either case, from all human dictation or control, — this is its last word, always and everywhere. It is greater in what it prompts and stimulates, than in what it is. No technical, prescribed, and limited form of faith can meet the world's want, or embrace the vast compass of the kingdom of God on earth. The boundaries which have been successively set up will one by one be broken down, that the Divine life may organize itself anew in larger and fairer forms. Let us thank God for our Protestant inheritance of liberty of soul. But let us not, through sectarian pride or narrowness of heart, refuse to see that all forms in which it is clothed hitherto are narrow and provisional; that a great work lies before us, which it has not so much as ventured to attempt; that religious liberty itself is but a shadow or a name, unless it signifies the spirit of loyalty and trust, with which we are to meet the larger issues of the time which lies solemn and shadowy before us.

We need the common faith. We need, in a thousand ways, the support of Christian fellowship. But even more, society needs, not an arena for the strife of tongues, not a university of popular debate, not stray bands or solitary groups of theorists, to speculate about the past and future and metaphysics of Christianity. It wants banded and Christian men to do its work. It wants to have the broad way of truth thrown open, for the reconciliation of jarring sects. It wants its works of humanity undertaken by men who understand one another, and are united in religious principles and aims. It wants the more large and complete development of a spiritual power, acting through the free heart and conscience of earnest men, conformed to the wants, thoughts, intelligence, and enterprises of this age ; – to control by a Christian humanity the antagonisms of a rude civilization and the bitter strifes of party. It wants the lines of old division to be broken up, that so men may meet on the broad platform of a liberal and practical Christianity. Not a hand raised to the good work, but shall have its blessing. Not a feeble few that gather for it, but shall have the cheer of those words of Christ, “ Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Art. VI. — THE PEACE POLICY: HOW IT IS URGED, AND

1. The President's Message, and Accompanying Documents. 2. The Programme of Peace. By a Democrat of the Old School.

Boston: Ticknor and Fields. 3. Dr. Putnam's Thanksgiving Sermon. The Boston Traveller, No

vember 29, 1862.

TWENTY months of war have never once weakened, in our people's heart, the longing and the hope of peace. We are not a fighting people. The interests we have cherished, the glories we have sought, the successes we have won, have very few of them lain in the track of arms and conquest. It was with heavy hearts and reluctantly that we were dragged into the present contest. Every demand but the last, — the surrender of private conscience and national honor, — we stood ready, even eager to make, to avert the horrible necessity of bloodshed. Nay, who knows how far these might not have been bargained and tampered with, had only one month more been given of delay ? Those who were the first to accept the challenge made on the 12th of April, were the last to suspect of any profligate ambition, or any fondness for strife and blood. It was the chief of our armies who counselled caution, compromise, and peace. It was the great industrial classes of our land, the farmers and mechanics, the merchants and bankers, all whose interests and habits lay in the direction of peace, - it was the scholars and thinkers, the loyal, earnest, and devout, whose very profession and faith was peace, — that accepted with prompt and stern determination the necessity of fighting. With a certain patriotic joy and pride at the marvellous awakening of a spirit thought to be slumbering or dead, yet in the main with grief and dread, has this mighty burden been undertaken and borne. The passion of empire, and the frenzy of war, which strangers thought they saw in us, have been as far as possible from being the animating spirit of the conflict. Sadly, but with the sincerity of absolute conviction, all that is noblest in our nation has answered the summons and offered itself for sacrifice. We have known that the way to peace lay through strife and tears, and that the ransom of our liberties could be purchased only at the cost of blood.

“Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem.” A nationality was to be defended ; a principle was at stake ; a form of civilized society containing in its bosom all our hopes for the future and all the seeds of good we trusted in Providence to ripen for us, was threatened with assault, treachery, and the menace of divisions, exasperations, and terrors without end. It was for peace in justice, for that only, we took up arms. We believed the cause so sacred that it could claim the uttermost loyalty and the last sacrifice of every true citizen. The only question with a loyal man would be, what line of service and what form of sacrifice his country

« PreviousContinue »