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BY REV. ROBERT R. BOOTH,
PASTOR OF THE MERCER - STREET PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH,
MAY 12, 1861.
THE NATION'S CRISIS AND THE CARISTIAN'S DUTY.
"Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them."2 KINGS 6:16.
There is no quality of character so admirable and impressive as that which is calmly confident in the midst of adverse circumstances. That is the highest courage, the proof of the most complete manhood, which can stand firm on solid principle, and meet the storm of opposition or the thrilling peril of the hour, reposing on the strength of God and the majesty of eternal truth.
A signal illustration of this trait of character, and of the basis upon which it is sustained, is presented in the text. In that far. off age of Israel's ancient history, we witness the fortitude and moral strength which flow from a calm confidence in God, in the character and conduct of Elisha, the prophet, who was exiled and hunted from city to city for his unwavering faithfulness to the God of his fathers, who sent him to be a messenger of rebuke and warning to Israel.
One of the incidents of his manifold trials is contained in the narrative of the text. The prophet had been accused to the king of Syria of communicating to his enemy, the king of Israel, the plans and movements of the Syrian armies.
Inquiry of his dwelling-place had been made, and it was found that he was in Dothan. "Thither, therefore, the king sent horses and chariots and a great host, and they came by night, and compassed the city about. And when the servant of the man of God was risen early and gone forth, behold! an host.compassed the city, both with chariots and horses. And his servant said unto him, Alas! my master, how shall we do?" The prophet's answer was the text, a reply sublime in its confidence of faith, and in its firm repose on God: “Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” And then Elisha prayed, and the forces of God, sent for the prophet's protection, were revealed to the young man.
side around him he saw the grand display: “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” Against such allies the hosts of Syria
STRENGTH AND THE
could not contend. By their presence and by the power of prayer the might of the enemy was broken, and a complete deliverance accomplished for the servant of God.
Now, my brethren, we may regard the situation of Elisha amid these startling perils, and his calm faith in the higher power that was engaged for his defense, as a distinct illustration of a great truth wbich is engraven on the history of the world. That word of cheer which Elisha spoke to his trembling companion, is a clear prophecy of that which has since been realized in the experience of God's people amid all conflicts and reverses, and which shall be true unto the issue of the last battle in the great day of God. The substance of the truth herein presented may be set forth in the proposition, that IN ALL THE MORAL ANTAGONISMS OF THE WORLD, THE REAL
ULTIMATE SUCCESS IS ON THE SIDE OF THOSE WHO ARE ALLIED WITH GOD.
The fundamental thought in this proposition is, that this world, and human society as existing in it, is the scene of ceaseless moral conflict. The truth of this position can not be intelligently questioned. On every side, in every age, there is clear evidence, that the agencies of good and evil are actively at work, each intent on its own end or purpose. The moral government of God is proceeding to its sublime and triumphant issues, only through protracted and desperate conflicts.
A recognition of this truth may be traced as an article of belief in the popular creed of almost all nations. The ancient Parsees, or fire-worshipers, believed in the existence of two independent deities, whom they represented by the elements of light and dark.
the former the author of good, and the latter the source of evil. These divinities were self-existent, eternal, and incessantly active. Thus they accounted for the presence of good and evil in the moral system. Most Pagan nations, it is well known, had in like manner their good and evil deities, who are always developing their opposing natures in the moral conflicts of the world.
That great truth which is thus included in the popular beliefs of mankind at large is abundantly manifested in the practical events of life. On every page of history, in the grand and solemn progress of the Church, in the long and weary struggles of Liberty with Oppression, in the revolt of men against the restraints of wholesome laws-yea, in the social life of every community, and of almost every family, there is a constant vision of this field of strife, in which battle is joined between the good and evil.
The elements of this antagonism are presented in the text by the words, “they that are with us,” and “they that are with them."
The fact herein suggested is a reality for us in our generation, as much as for any that have gone before us; the responsibilities
of this great conflict, in its broad moral and religious aspects, are upon us, and thus we need, for our encouragement and consolation, to understand the nature of the antagonism, and to discern the certain prospects of the issue.
But the significance of this truth is increased immensely, in our apprehension, by the magnitude of the crisis to which this nation has been brought, by the
mysterious providence of God. One of the boldest and most striking developments of this great antagonism which the world has ever witnessed, is right upon us. By agencies and occurrences apparently beyond the control of the great mass of the people of the land, we are brought face to face with the most stern and awful aspect of moral conflict—that in which armies are gathered to the standard of the right or are arrayed against it—and war, with all its wild accompaniments, with all its sacrifice of treasure, tears, and blood, is the immediate result. When one considers the peculiar import of this nation's life, and the tendency of our institutions hitherto, this result seems the more mysterious, shall I not say the more appalling?
For we have dwelt so long and so securely beneath the free institutions which our fathers founded; it bas been so much our custom to settle our disputes by the decision of the majority ; our conflicts have been so harmoniously adjusted by the tribunal of public opinion and established law; our armor has been so wisely and benignantly composed of argument and appeal to reason, that now, when at last we are brought face to face with the appeal to arms and martial prowess—it is not strange that Christian and reflecting minds are startled by the unusual summons, and shudder even while they prepare for the stern and awful struggle. It is important, therefore, in the highest and most Christian sense, to recognize the great element of moral conflict which runs through human history and is expressed every where in the word of God, as we survey this great antagonism which now shakes our land and moves the world.
Permit me, then, to speak to you of the SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS CRISIS IN ITS OBVIOUS NATIONAL AND MORAL ASPECTS; to present the CHRISTIAN DUTY OF THE HOUR, and THE STRONG GROUNDS WHICH SUSTAIN US IN SAYING : “ Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.”
I call your attention to this subject, deeming it no departure from the legitimate and Christian service of the sanctuary. For this is a reality that presses directly upon every one of us. It takes hold of our dearest ties and fairest prospects. It enters into business circles, hindering all the movements of trade and finance; into domestic life, torturing the hearts of those who have sent sons and brothers to the field of strife; into our secret thoughts, disturbing our composure and almost shaking the foundations of our religious trust. It behooves us to understand this reality, and to
bave faith in God concerning it, or its present and coming terrors will either drive our minds to madness or turn our hearts to stone.
1st. We speak of the moral significance of this great conflict, and the magnitude of the crisis which is upon us. Several points will here suggest themselves.
Most obviously, in this conflict, the UNION is at stake, and its integrity depends upon the issue. A compact and solid nation was constructed, by the wisdom of our fathers, out of the various elements of civil life which combined in the war of independence no mere confederacy, no former league of diverse tribes, but a strong nation, occupying territory that must be united in political union, speaking one language, choosing one form of government, establishing an identity of interests. It was intended to be perpetual; it was accepted with that understanding; it was ratified by the most solemn oath and covenant, and thus introduced to its own place among the nations of the earth. Under this Union we have been the happiest and most favored people in the world. It has secured us peace among ourselves, and a strength which made us respected by every foreign power. It has given us prosperity. without a parallel, so that the area of our territory has been extended by honest purchase and by healthful emigration, and the sails of our commerce have whitened every sea. It has given us position and prestige throughout the world; beneath our honored ensign the traveler has been as safe as when dwelling in his own habitation, the merchantman has pursued his traffic without disturbance, and our institutions have commanded respect and honor in cabinets and courts beyond the seas. It is this Union, with its dear blessings of peace, prosperity, and power, which is at stake in this tremendous crisis.
But, further, the conflict now upon us might be settled peaceably, if this were all. Were it merely a question of the nation's boundaries and the relations of its people, it might be practicable for the conflicting sections to part in peace; the great North saying to the South, as Abram said to Lot when a strife sprang up between their herdmen: "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, for we are brethren."
But not only is the Union put in peril, but the very idea ana fact and force of government, as a divine institution, are imperiled in this struggle. Let the principles concerning government, which have been advanced in justification of this rebellion, be generally sustained and applied, and there is no form of law existing that could survive a year. Anarchy is the immediate and dire result. And this is so upon whatever ground it is attempted to justify the assault upon the Government. If on the ground of SECESSION as a right, then clearly it is false in fact, for no such right is conferred by the letter of the Constitution; and false in philosophy or in principle, for the right to secede from one established govern
ment at will involves the right to sunder the ties of every govern. ment, and to take refuge in individual and universal license. But if, on the other hand, this attempt be justified under the plea of the RIGHT OF REVOLUTION, the defense is just as weak; for revolution, with the woes and horrors of civil war, can righteously be the result only when all proper constitutional modes of seeking the redress of wrongs have failed. It is worthy of notice that the word of God does not recognize the right of revolution in any cause. Its principle, as expressed in the 13th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, is that of entire and hearty and perpetual loy. alty to an established government; but it has generally been conceded by writers upon civil ethics that this mode of redressing grievances may be attempted when three conditions coexist: (1.) When the people's wrong and grievance have become visibly and manifestly unbearable ; (2.) When there exists a reasonable prospect of securing speedy deliverance; and (3.) When the evils connected with the abuses complained of are clearly less that those involved in desperate conflict. These three conditions must be certain to justify a revolution. They were so clear in the great struggle for constitutional liberty in England in the 17th century, and so clear in our own revolution of the 18th century, that no one could gainsay them. But it is the hight of misrepresentation and folly to affirm that under our benignant Government, administered according to the Constitution, with modes of redress prescribed and open to the use of all, revolution is a righteous appeal as a refuge against anticipated evils and wrongs that, in the nature of the case, could never be inflicted. It is therefore manifest that, in meeting this appeal to violence by the force conferred by God upon the established government, by resisting it to the last expense of treasure and of men, there is only the discharge of solemn obligation, and a resolve to continue in the exercise of that right for which government is ordained of God and approved by man. In a government which recognizes the liberty of the subject under law, there is no event so dreadful as the dishonor of the law, and no tendency so perilous as the tendency towards anarchy and license. Next to the authority of God over the heart and conscience, the majesty of constitutional law is the most sovereign, the most glorious thing upon the earth. The men who struggle in such a cause are patriots in the highest sense—the men who die for it are martyrs, and they who contend against it make war upon the best interests of humanity and the awful decree of God.
But, further, it is to be understood that in this struggle our own peculiar mode of government is equally imperiled. The interests of free institutions are at stake at this time of conflict. This crisis has a significance in this republic such as would be involved in the destinies of no other land. It was a new event in the world's history when our system of government was first estab