Page images
PDF
EPUB

1846.)

War.

163

done most, or that preaching against sin in general has been as effectual as preaching against particular sins. The greatest moral reforms that have been witnessed in the Church or society, have been effected by definite action on the definite evil. And it is at least questionable, whether the evils which still afflict humanity, retard Christianity, and make the very name of Christian professor’ to be a scoff to multitudes in our own and Heathen lands, can ever be abolished, or greatly diminished, without the decided expression and united effort of all Christians for the desired and definite change. Let there be that expression and effort, to any high degree, the change will be seen.

Is this romantic ? Take a single illustration, pressed upon us by passing events.

events. The most signal departur from the spirit and letter of the Gospel, confessedly one of the greatest and saddest obstacles to its progress, has been War. From the hour that a midday vision, so unlike that of the Apostle, presented to the imagination or ambition of a Roman Emperor the cross of Christ as an ensign of battle and pledge of earthly conquest, is to be dated that union of the Church with the State, which has brought so sad a verification of the words of our Saviour: -“If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight." They have fought. Expressly as his servants, in his name, for his truth and glory, they have fought. They have declared it to be right and Christian to fight. Not content with insisting that war is inherent in the fallen nature of man, they have proclaimed it consistent with the new religion of Christ. Nay, they go behind Christ to an earlier lawgiver, and say, as they have often said in so many words and constantly in act, that it is a libel on the God of Moses and Joshua to pronounce war barbarous or unchristian. So far from being regarded as unchristian, it has received its chief countenance and support from the Christian Church, and continues at this hour to have the sanction and employ the energies of the first Christian nations. It is in fact, as before intimated, the first and only element, in which all Christians have cordially united. From the times in which that holy man, of whom Luther said — “If there ever has been a pious monk who feared God, it was St. Bernard - took for his motto, and the incentive of his followers in battle, the bold declaration,

“To be slain, is to benefit yourself; to slay, is to benefit Christ,” — Christians of all names have merged all differences in the covenant of human blood. Refusing to kneel together at any altar of the Prince of Peace, they have welcomed all to the temple of Mars. Excommunicating each other to-day from the Church on earth, and so far as they may, from the Church in heaven, they will pray and commune together to-morrow, before they march in fraternal bands to the destruction of those whom their Lord commanded them to bless!

This is simple fact, to be used as illustration. Connect with it another fact; that Christians, through this whole period and practice, have been preaching the Gospel, have diffused it among all people at an expenditure and sacrifice only less than those of war, have made its acceptance and observance essential, and declared it to be the power that can and will regenerate the earth, changing even the wolf to the lamb, and the sword to the ploughshare. Let us suppose that this same preaching and evangelizing had been accompanied by a different commentary. Without imagining any extraordinary virtue, we may suppose that Christians were always opposed to war; that, as did most in the first ages, they had continued to this time to say mildly, but immovably, “We cannot fight.' Would this have been useless ? Would the Christian or the Heathen world have presented the same aspect that they now wear, in regard to any common evils or great interests ? Every one believes the contrary. We know, that according to the very principles of human nature, and through the mighty power of God in Christ, such a protest, calmly and consistently sustained, would have wrought a reform, whose power and blessing every cause and every man would have shared. And so will it be, if Christians will thus speak and act now. Let the Church, or any large branch of it, let one Christian nation, take this position, it will be felt throughout the world. Let ministers, with or without combination, speak and act as consistent Christians in all things, it will be seen whether their power or their present deficiency has been much overrated. If a church believes that it is itself the only proper or needed peacesociety, well; only let it show itself to be a peace-society. If a bishop, a pastor, or a brother, feels that he cannot join

1846.]

Accountableness.

165

any association, and cannot willingly preach or willingly hear on the Sabbath of such worldly and vexed matters as war, intemperance, slavery, and licentiousness, well; only let him, in his own way, with perfect freedom, undisturbed and unsuspected, speak audibly and intelligibly, for peace, temperance, liberty, and purity. Show yourself, respectfully would I say to every one, as I would have every one freely say to me, show yourself to be true to your own principles, and to your Master's commission. Let your light shine. Let it be seen where and what you are. This, the Church and the world, especially at this day, have a right to ask. Let it be known that you live. Let it be believed that you are a Christian. Let no man ask is he for or against Christian reform. Let no large, nor the littlest soul have reason to doubt, whether you care for other souls. Suffer not the sensualist, the defrauder, the corrupter, the revengeful and warlike, to extol your liberality, and quote you as no opposer. Speak the truth; speak it in love, but the truth, and the whole truth, personal, practical, spiritual. Speak as the servant of God, against all that God has forbidden, for all that he commands or asks. Speak as the minister of Christ, gently but fearlessly, and with authority, in behalf of that which Christ's pure and peaceful religion, his regenerating and saving faith, would accomplish.'

Greatly shall I be misapprehended and wronged, if in using this language, or any other, I am supposed to be actuated by that spirit of censoriousness, which has become so common that one can hardly speak freely without exciting the suspicion. We may none of us escape the imputation, may we all be kept from the weakness and wickedness of the temper, which is most intolerant when it calls most fiercely for charity and liberty, and in its mode of exercising love betrays a disposition akin to that which engenders hate and war. Our accountableness for that which we say and do, or refuse to say and do, is not to any man, however independent, nor to any number, however associated. There is an accountableness to God, which is quite enough for any one to bear. Of this I would say something, as an important point, and the principal one that I further touch. I view it in its single relation to reform, and the duty of the minister as a reformer.

It will be seen that I use the word, reform, not technically but broadly, as standing for all moral and religious improvement. It is therefore a large and solemn matter, to attempt to measure the accountableness of ministers of the Gospel, in this relation. It pertains to their very mission. It covers their whole work. And one is left to wonder beyond measure, how any human being can presume to judge of the degree of this accountableness for another. Yet this is done, whenever it is assumed that we ought to devote ourselves to this or that work, apart from our stated ministrations, and are guilty and responsible if we do not. It is necessary to say this, in order to put in its true light, and a strong light, our actual relation to those movements, which are commonly understood by the term 'reforms;' a term in which much is to be included, pertaining to ignorance, pauperism and crime, as well as more glaring evils. I hold this relation to be a very important one, but I hold that nothing connected with it is more important, than our duty as well as liberty to judge of it for ourselves, individually, and irresponsibly as regards all but God. This is true of our whole duty, as ministers and men. But it is particularly true of our duty there, where it has been particularly or impliedly denied. There has been, beyond dispute, a new and singular disposition evinced of late, to dictate to ministers their course and their duty, in reference to certain causes and associations. About this and against it, enough perhaps has been said in various ways. I am not inclined to magnify its importance, and am by no means willing that it should divert us, as it certainly does not exempt us, from the obligation to look at these alleged duties earnestly, as well as independently. Yet I am not willing to enter upon the question of duty at all, without a sober protest against all dictation and imputation whatever. There are duties which a Christian community, and those portions of it particularly with which we are professionally connected, have a right to expect of us as pastors and preachers. But the duties to which I now refer are not of this class. No community, no society, not our own churches, have any right to tell us what we shall do or not do, say or not say, in reference to the social and political questions which agitate the public mind. Our acting and our mode of acting, our speech and our silence,

[ocr errors]

1846.]

Means of Reform.

167

are to be as perfectly free, as those of other men; which is all we ask. There is a sense in which all men are bound to exert an influence in favor of truth and right. But that self-constituted authority, which undertakes to determine for others what truth and right are, and holds ministers in special accountable to itself for their decision and action, often branding them with epithets and imputations offensive alike to human and divine law, is a usurpation as bold, and a tyranny as intolerable, as any that Church or nation or autocrat ever exercised.

But this after all, and at the worst, is a small matter compared with duty. We demean ourselves when we allow folly to be an excuse for apathy. He who does nothing for temperance, because some of its advocates have been intemperate and injurious, or says nothing about slavery, except that many of its opposers are wild and intolerant, manifests in another form the narrowness and error which he condemns. Though you could prove that all abolitionists are madmen, and all non-resistants fools, and total abstinence suicide and murder, it would not be the only truth, nor the greatest truth, in regard to slavery, war, and drunkenness.

I suppose our whole duty and responsibility in this province may be expressed by some such affirmation as we made in the beginning, applicable to ministers in common with all; namely, for the removal of all moral evils, we are required to use Christian means, and forbidden to use any other; being personally accountable, to some degree, for the prevalence of those evils, to which we have failed to apply Christian truth and influence, and not accountable at all, where we have applied them faithfully, however ineffectually.

That Christianity not only proposes the removal of moral evils, but that it is able to effect it, and will effect it some time or other, is a common belief. If it be our belief, or if we believe in any social and spiritual progress, it is a primary question - how is that progress ever to be made ? Are we ever to possess any other means or other powers of accomplishing the great ends of Christianity, than those now possessed ? If not, there is a palpable absurdity in the way in which Christians talk of future advancement and final completeness, while they deny the possibility of removing present obstacles by any use of the highest, even

« PreviousContinue »