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XXVI.-Confounding Right and Wrong, By Rev. S. G. Buckingham,
Vol. III.-New Series.] JANUARY, 1861. [No. 1.-Whole No. 833.
BY REV. A. L. STONE, D.D.,
PASTOR OF THE PARK-STREET CHURCH, BOSTON.
THE MINISTRIES OF TIME.
"I the Lord will hasten it in his time."-ISAIAH 60: 22.
GOD is Sovereign and Omnipotent, but he waits the ministration of Time. He could force seasons and laws, but it is his way rather to work through them and by them. He has ordained them as servitors of his will. His purposes on the earth, in the conduct of human affairs, had, in respect to their accomplishment, a germination, a process, and a harvest-hour of consummation.
Time is the prime-minister of Providence, and brings to pass in due order, at their full periods, and at the appointed juncture, the patient counsels of the Most High. There is no hurrying and nosickness of deferred hope on that eternal and tranquil mind. "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." It lends a new dignity and a sterner and loftier majesty to Time, when we consider it thus, not impersonally, as
the passing away of our days-the swift, mute lapse of the stream of life sliding down the vale-but as a strong executive angel, a sceptered and conscious force that has it in charge to reveal and fulfill the hidden plan of God.
Man is strong and works great changes upon the earth and his fellow-man. Art is strong and produces its rapid marvels. The forces serving the human will are nimble and muscular. Heat and frost lift up monuments of their might and magic. The fires of earth's center, the winds that sweep over her surface, the seas that thunder along her shores, these have their power and their trophies. But Time is the great magician. All these latter forces are sinews of its own arm. The changes, the revolutions, the histories of this world are only chronicles of the vice-regency of Time.
It is fitting, as the swift shuttle glances past again, drawing another thread into the woven fabric of God's scheme for earth and man, bringing out yet more clearly the parts in the pattern for the whole, that we pause to consider
This ministry of time in accomplishing the Divine pleasure. If the whole scope of the supreme administration may not be known thus, we may gather at least some of the principles and particulars that unite at last to perfect that consummate whole. We shall see that Time is among men, the revealer, the attester, the vindicator, the rectifier, the fulfiller.
Time tests the principles of human conduct. I speak here of avowed principles, consciously, perhaps boldly proceeded upon, set in contrast or antagonism with one another. There is a differference among men, both in theory and in practice, in respect to these principles. The diversity and the divergence illustrate themselves in innumerable ways. Look in upon two scenes of family training. In one of them the idea is, with the controlling head, that the true end of domestic nurture is social success. Special stress then will be laid upon the accomplishments, whose chief grace is external. The manner is a matter of first concern. gloss of an outward polish is of great price. The step must be put under tuition. Motion must be artistic-graduated to rule and canon. Exits and entrances must be fashioned after a model. The introduction into society is a grand and solemn crisis. Acquaintances must be made. The young lives must be launched upon the social world. What if they should be neglected, thrown out of the current, stranded high and dry upon the bank-the stream of their generation flowing merrily by, and leaving them, as it were, only to serve as landmarks for the progress of the gay, iris-tinted bubbles that float, with music and laughter, ever on amid greenness and bloom? This must not be. A social triumph must in some way be achieved. And all the care and painstaking converge to this issue. In the other the commanding object is the
formation of a right character. The interior life of gentle manners must be gentle thoughts. The only external polish that will never grow coarse is the outshining of inward purity and kindness. The law of love is the sufficient code of politeness and etiquette. The best social furnishing is the wealth of the soul's virtuous intelligence, an appreciation of what is true and beautiful in nature, in mind and morals, the utterance of generous sensibilities and of a self-respect that prefers its own calm approval to admiration and flattery, and sets the price of its modesty too high to offer itself as a prize for social bidding. You shall hear now the first of these two systems remonstrating with the other-predicting social isolation, social failure, urging the demonstrative and forcing culture, adopting it for the sons and daughters under its guardianship, and resting cheerfully and complacently in its superior discernment and wisdom. This subject carries me back in thought to my own early rural home. I look in again upon the families that were so ambitious of social conquests. I see the youths and maidens there planning festive entertainments, and delighting in gay assemblies. The fashions and the gayeties were, to be sure, somewhat on a rural scale; but it was our world, and a miniature in all essential features of the most brilliant metropolitan life. And, to be sure, the sober puritanical portion of the rising generation that were left quite outside this conventional society their faces are not seen, nor their hands sought in the ball-room. The winter evening ride, the rural party, and generally all scenes of youthful merry-making in which the set came together, were made up without their presence. Here there were smiles and laughs and romps and dances and cards and all the staple of vain and thoughtless fellowship and enjoyment, from which our graver style of young life was self-exiled. And so the issue was made, and the trial of the two systems entered upon. And in the one circle, quick friendships were formed-a score of acquaintances were added to one's list in a single evening. No danger of being lost sight of socially-dropt out of social recognition: here the doors stood wide open to social settlements and domestic alliances. And sometimes it was felt, I know, on the other side, that all such doors were shut against them. They seemed isolated from those of their own age; their seclusion was uninvaded, they could improve their minds, cultivate their taste, study the secrets of happy, dignified, and well-ordered homes, quite to themselves. Who would know ever whether they were prizes or blanks? The drawing would be all in the other circle, and the more worldly policy looked like a success. There all was bright and glittering. Here lay a shadow. There, there was mating and marrying and giving in marriage. Here all relations were undisturbed. Taking life as it is, this more select discipline promised to be barren of results. But principles are everlasting verities; they change not;
they are of slow development often; their seed lies cold and motionless long; their harvest comes late, but it comes. Such issues are not to be settled in a day. Their trial takes in, in its progress, more elements than are at first seen to be included. The earlier appearances are not reliable exponents of the final consummation. Across the breadth of years I look and read the story truer. The paths of life from those two circles, the streams from those separate fountains, are visible before me. The gay, brilliant type quickly darkened and degenerated. That was its best. It never rose higher. There were early excesses-there were early and dishonored graves-there were floating wrecks of vice and dissipation-there were sad, sad tales of shame and anguish-there were miserable disappointments. Those that were specially decked and tutored for proudest triumphs, somehow always missed their goal. What they won was trash, or worse, and for the most part they drew utter blanks. It all came to naught. The glittering bubble burst, and there was nothing in the hand but the stain of defiling moisture.
And on the other side, once more, there was always a wealth of personal resources; there was a growing but unconscious refinement; there was fostered a selecter and more discriminating taste; solid and abiding qualities grew with the passing youthful season, and when more difficult and fastidious minds came searching for fresh, unsoiled natures, and an outfit for wider and higher spheres, they found the golden fruit hidden beneath the overshadowing leaves, and gathered it with pride and joy. I have lingered too long upon this, but it is a most instructive page. And the record is repeated at ten thousand social centers, only it can not be written at once, or read at a glance. Like Chinese writings, the lines stretch down the lengthening scroll of Time. Time is the slow scribe, the sure expounder.
One man argues that: "Take the world as it goes, and you must practice upon it to gain your ends. You must manage a littleyou must move subtly and dexterously toward your aims-you must not show your hand-you need not tell the whole story out -you must ask more than you expect to get-you must put the best face on a thing it can be made to wear-you may well enough leave sharp eyes and keen wits to explore and interpret your silence. The universal system is such that if we do not adopt this policy, we shall be left hopelessly behind." Another man plants his foot immovably upon the conviction that honesty is the best policy. He must be frank, transparent, true. More or less, his gains must bring within his doors no reproaches. Poverty is a pleasanter household companion than remorsestrict right with a crust, rather than wrong with princely dainties. And the two procedures start together on the track. The first success is almost always on the side of cunning. Slow mov