Page images
PDF
EPUB

plete, whole, — made up of many parts, each sustaining to the others, certain definite and uniform relations. He has a body, with its own laws, functions and properties. He has instincts and perceptions which belong to him in common with the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air. He has knowing and reasoning powers, tastes and desires, which are denied to these latter. Superadded to all these he has various powers and capacities which constitute his inoral and religious nature. Among these, and related to them, are Hope, throwing over all the future its golden light; Faith, dwelling amid the mysteries of God and the Universe, leaning on the high promises of his word and his works; Love, linking him by sweet but indefinable sympathies with his brotherhood; Reverence, bowing down before the great, the awful, the supreme, - the very act of adoration imparting to the spirit something of the excellence which it worships; and Conscience, the stern lawgiver of all his being, and its most delightful solace and rewarder. To this nature, thus constituted, belongs the supremacy. All the other elements of humanity were intended to be subject to this its sovereign element. Its ministers, its guides, were they designed to be, but always its servants. No one of the other powers, — sensitive, instinctive, social, intellectual, no combination of them can usurp dominion over the moral nature without reversing the order of creation, without upturning from its basis and poising on its apex the pyramid of humanity.

The whole universe of matter and of mind, so far as we can understand it, has been arranged and is governed in conformity to the principle of this harmonious development of all the human capacities, and the supremacy of the highest nature. This is the greatest single truth, except that of the irnmortality of the human soul, that can be put into human language. It is yet only dawning upon the world. The sky is but just reddening with its auroral light. But this light, like the ruddy harbinger of the morning, is the certain presage of the full coming, in his glory, of the day at last. And it is in this day only, by the light only of this moral sun, that God's universe of world and spirit can be clearly seen. Only by this radiance can the clouds and darkness, which have so long rested upon nature, providence, and man, be dispelled; only by the brooding of this spirit over the waste, shall the chaos be turned to order, and the void be filled. It will then come

to be seen, that all evil and all good, -all suffering and all joy hinge upon this principle; that they are the offspring of its violation or of its fulfilment. The earth persorms her perpetual and appointed circuit, — the firmament is fretted with its golden fires, - the dew gathers its liquid drop on the green blade of grass, — the lightning rends the oak, — the storm upheaves the sea,

rosy health warms the cheek, delight sparkles in the eye, — disease wastes, and pain racks the body, - neglect dwarfs, and culture expands the intellect, - low desires debase, and lofty aspirations and high hopes ennoble the soul, all in conformity to the laws of this great relationship. Men can be sure that the functions of their own bodies, the workings of their own spirits, the events of providence, and all the infinite operations and processes of the outer universe, will minister to their happiness and their good, only so far as they are obedient to the conditions I have stated. Only by this obedience, full and unqualified, can man bring himself into harmony with his position. Only by this obedience can he accomplish his highest and truest destiny. This is the great work which is given him to do. This is the mission on which he has been sent. Every individual soul of man that has ever heretofore issued, and that shall ever hereafter issue from the bosom of God, has been summoned and shall be summoned, by the manifold voices of truth and wisdom, to work out this destiny, each for itself, and in aid also of its brotherhood. The mission of humanity, as a race,

as an infinite succession of generations, the destiny to which it is called, and towards which, through much tribulation, in its strength and its weakness, through many hindrances and obstructions, it has ever been, and shall ever be struggling onward, is the gradual and more and more perfect evolving of this harmony ; the bringing into it of all the sons and daughters of men.

It is hardly necessary for me to say, that this relative value and importance of the moral and religious powers, which I insist upon, is nowhere generally recognised. It is preached, to be sure, nominally, from the pulpit, but too often sadly enough mutilated, and overlaid with technicalities and cant. It has always been the doctrine of the inspired teachers of men; it has constituted their chief message from Heaven to earth. But nowhere has this universal gospel been generally received. Every where do men overestimate the relative dignity and worth of the mere intellect. Strength of mind receives the hom

[ocr errors]

age which properly and of right belongs to goodness of heart and greatness of soul. Intellectual power is too much coveted and honored, and moral worth not enough.

From this wrong appreciation, it comes, of course, that intellectual culture is much regarded, and moral culture much neglected. This is true every where, but it seems to me to be especially so here. What is the great defect in our own national character? It seems to me, that there can be but one answer to this question. This 'national character is faulty, especially, in the want of high moral principle. The intellect, - the general intellect, -- is very well cared for amonyst us. Its enlightenment and guidance are the themes of constant discussion. This Institute was established expressly to promote the culture of the general intellect. To the same end are our local state governments, many of them at least, lavish of their bounty. Agents are sent to Europe to study its systems, and no pains are spared to procure, for all our children, the means of education. The subject is a popular one, and it is every day growing in favor with the popular mind. Political parties write it on their banners. Fashionable, in some quarters, and in some schools of constitutional politics, as the let alone doctrine of government is becoining, jealous as our people are disposed to feel of all legislation which touches their personal freedom of thought and action ,- sensitive as they are to any apparent infringement of their dear rights to do with themselves and with their own as seemeth to them good, the doctrine, that the children, in a certain qualified sense, belong to the state, and that the state not only may interfere in the matter of their education, but that it is in duty bound so to interfere, is becoming every day more and more a settled article of our political faith. We submit, not passively, merely, but cheerfully, - gladly, — to the imposition of heavy taxes, in the benefits of which many of us have no direct share whatever. The man with no children, paying largely for the education of the children of his neighbor, who pays nothing, makes no complaint of unfairness or inequality in the apportionment of the public burden.

Physical education, the laws and conditions of the wellbeing of the body, are subjects less attended to, but, by no means, wholly neglected, and they are coming, daily, to be better and better understood.

The purely religious and devotional part of our character is

in the

very extensively developed. It is active, earnest and fervent. Weekly, from thousands of public altars goes up the sound of worship; and daily and nightly, from tens of thousands of single hearts ascends the sweet incense of silent adoration and prayer.

Neither are the benevolent and philanthropic sentiments at all wanting in activity amongst us. The efforts which are prompted by these sentiments have kept, and they are likely long to keep, the entire moral elements of the country in commotion, - often in commotion of wildest and stormiest character. All forms of spiritual evil, and of physical suffering,

at home and abroad, are met with our warmest sympathies. We feed the hungry, we minister to the sick, we clothe the naked, we give ears to the deas, and

eyes to the blind. In almost every pagan island of the sea, frozen earth of the arctic circle, and in the sands of hot Africa, rest the bones of our Christian missionaries.

But with all this we want high, stern, uncompromising moral principle. We want conscience. We want the sense of duty. We want simple honesty. The Golden Rule is not where it should be, a sign upon our hands, and a frontlet between our eyes. We have more religion than morality. Our feeling of pie

stronger than our sense of right and wrong. We worship the good, not too much, but we worship the right far too little. How uncommon,

even in matters of mere worldly concern, in the every day transactions of dollars and cents, .- is true, thorough-going, absolute honesty! I do not advocate any Utopian system of life or philosophy. I am no dreamer of vain visions. I hold up no fanciful and unattainable ideal of right. 1 have lived more in the world than in the closet, and I claim to be guided by common sense. But still, I say, how rare, in the business world, is true, simple, genuine, thorough-going honesty! A man who pays bis honest and just debts, after he has been legally exempted from discharging them, — or in other words, who returns to his neighbor the money which belongs to him, the payment of which that neighbor is unable to enforce, is regarded as a moral anomaly. People, - very good, and benevolent, and religious people too, — will call him either a fanatic or a fool. He is stared at, as he walks the street, or enters church, as something strange, unusual, out of the way. As he passes, men say there he goes. If he has heirs, they will hint at the shattered condition of his mind,

ty is

at his lost wits, and at the necessity of a legal guardian to look after him, before he is utterly ruined. Some of the best men amongst us will accept a reward, as a matter of course, for the restitution to its owner, of a lost sum of money.

I have spoken especially of this want of conscientiousness, as it shows itself in the business relations of men, because it is in these relations that this want is most manifest and flagrant. But the same defect vitiates, still more deeply and fatally, other elements of our national character. It renders us unjust in our social and civil relations. It transforms our political and religious differences of opinion into harsh and ferocious controversies. It makes us intolerant, uncharitable, censorious. It curdles the milk of human kindness. It turns to bitterness the sweet charities of life. It renders us reckless of means in the accomplishment of our favorite ends. How seldom is it, that in the fierce strife of opinions, we calmly and honestly ask ourselves, whether these things which we are saying, or these measures which we are about to adopt, to further our own purposes, and to frustrate those of the men or party from whom we differ, are right! Is it not notorious, that every species of misrepresentation, deception and trickery is daily and hourly resorted to in the partizan warfare, which so constantly agitates and embroils our whole country? Is it not notorious, that a siniple return in figures, of the result of an election, is not to be depended upon? Is there a single public man amongst us, of any considerable eminence, whose character is not perpetually and wantonly traduced, misrepresented and vilified? Is there any defamation too malignant, — is there any outrage too cruel, -- is there any scurrility too low to be received with favor and relish. And is not the infamous doctrine, that all this is fair and right, very generally admitted to the heart, and in some instances boldly and openly avowed? This same absence of moral principle, more than anything else, is the cause of that want of moral independence, with which, as a people, we have been so frequently reproached. It is the profound feeling of right and wrong, far more than intellectual strength or attainment, which gives individuality to a man. It is the sense of duty which enables him to stand on his own feet. It is this, and this only, which gives him true freedom; it is this only which delivers him from fear and dependence.

There may be many, perhaps, who, while they are willing to admit the truth of these remarks upon the relative value and

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »