Page images
PDF
EPUB

as Rome herself sinned in ber inordinate lust of dominion, multiplying her slaves as she squandered the lives of her citizens in in. cessant war, till the Teutonic barbarians came down and crushed her like an avalanche.

The circumstances of our assembling to-day require no extended recital, being as well known to all as they are or can be to any of us. So grave an occasion has never before befallen us in the whole course of our national existence. We are in the midst of what all history declares to be the bitterest of public calamities. A gigantic armed rebellion is on foot, bent upon accomplishing a permanent dismemberment of the Republic. Should we consent to this dismemberment, it would settle nothing. Two clusters of States, such as the proposed dismemberment would give us, can not possibly divide our territory amicably between them. The very structure of the continent forbids it. All the antecedents of our history forbid it. All the passions of our nature forbid it. The ink upon a treaty of peace so utterly preposterous would hardly be dry before the hot embers of this civil strife, now so flagrant, would be flaming afresh. The only way out of this frightful war is straight on through it, with gleaming steel and bellowing cannon, till the rebellion against the Government is crushed, and so crushed as never to be repeated. Such is the well nigh unanimous conviction of the twenty millions of people still loyal to the Union; a conviction shared also by multitudes, by other millions, perhaps, in the disloyal States, whose voices are now stifled by a reign of terror almost unparalleled in history. Such is our present distress. We are inexorably shut up

to the horrors of civil war as the only possible condition of a righteous and lasting peace. It does no good now to inquire whose immediate fault this is ; whether it has come about, as some would have us believe, through the culpable intermeddling of our Northern abolitionists, or is the work of disappointed Southern politicians, as the Vice-President of the seceding Confederacy himself declared not many months ago. It does no good now to inquire whether the present catastrophe might or might not have been averted. Here it is upon us, in all its stupendous proportions ; and there is no deliverance for us but by the sword.

It is a huge calamity, from whose stunning, staggering stroke it will take us long to recover. Thousands of brave hearts must cease to beat, while the voices of other thousands, widowed and orphaned, send up their piteous wail; miles upon miles of fertile territory must be ravaged; and millions upon millions of precious treasure sacrificed, before this war is ended. In the midst of such troubles, thoughtful men recognize instinctively the presence of a Higher Power, presiding over the fortunes, and about to determine the issues, of this gigantic struggle. It is well that the voice of our President, echoing the voice of both Houses of Con

soon.

gress, is to-day calling the whole nation to its knees in humble fasting and prayer. The hand of God is very heavy upon us. His hottest judgments are abroad in the land. We have no inspired prophet among us, infallibly to interpret these judgments. Whether leveled against our sins in the past, or sent as a paternal chastening, to insure us a nobler future, or charged with the double office of punishment and discipline, who will presume to say? Nations, we know, are sometimes simply punished, even to their extinction, for their crimes. Sometimes they appear to be hardly more than gently chastened for their obvious and immediate good. But oftener, by far, they suffer a deserved punishment, which it lies with themselves to accept, if they will, as a timely and whole some discipline. How it may be with us, we shall know full In our case, as in every other, it will be found that

“God is his own interpreter,

And he will make it plaio.” But whatever may be the divine purpose concerning us, our own duty in this sharp and painful crisis of our national life is clear. T'he trumpet of God's providence, now breaking on us out of the lurid war-cloud, is a startling challenge to thoughtfulness and prayer. The whole nation finds itself suddenly con. fronting the awful Arbiter of nations. There is no escaping the grand arraignment. The nation must now review its career, as under the eye of an eternal and inflexible justice. While no man, not inspired, may dare to say against what particular offense any particular judgment is hurled, there is no offense which any man may venture to shield or palliate. Any one of our offenses, for which conscience reproaches us, may justly enough evoke against us the divine displeasure. Now, then, is the time for us to bend our beads, in penitential shame, over each and every offense which has marked our national career. Nor is this all. The nation must now reckon with itself in respect to its inmost life, and come to a right understanding of its moral state. If the ideas which have inspired the national life, and the purposes which have guided the national career, and the enterprises which have molded the national character, are beneath the nobleness of our origin and the dignity of our errand in history, now is the time for us to discover it. If, by reason of glaring faults or se. rious defects of character, we are misimproving our unexampled opportunities ; if, by bringing liberal institutions to needless reproach, we are embarrassing the friends of such institutions in other lands, and so are impeding the general progress of the race; now is the time for a thorough self-knowledge, for repentance and amendment. Brayed as we are in this terrible mortar of Providence, it is of the last moment that we so confess and renounce our folly as to have it depart from us.

For myself, holding as I do the office of a public teacher, a constraint of conscience is upon me which I dare not resist, requiring me to attempt what will be confessed to be a much needed an. alysis of our national infirmities and defects, as they now stand revealed to us under the light of these flaming judgments of God. Assuming that this nation, like every other, has its easily besetting sin, some one type of evil peculiarly its own, my task now is, if possible, to determine what it is. The delicacy of the task, imagined or real, shall cause me no disquietude. Honest plainness of speech, inspired by the fear of God, and by a love for our common country, which only deepens under disaster, can surely offend no bonest hearer, if he be either a Christian or a patriot. The inherent difficulty of the task is quite another matter. It is not easy for a man to understand exactly his own nation or his own age. A philosophic foreigner like De Tocqueville will some. times see more in a month than any native had ever seen. And yet it seems to me that the rawness of our national character has given it a boldness of outline, which precludes the possibility of any very serious misjudgment.

Were I required to express, in a single word, what strikes me as the grand characteristic of our American civilization, that one word would be, Materialism — employing the word in its etymological and largest sense. Not materialisin as a speculation in philosophy, but materialism as the passion and the presiding genius of our life.

A slight historic survey, which need not detain us long, will suffice to set this matter in its proper light, and show us precisely wbere we stand. The middle ages, hirsute and turbulent as in some respects they may have been, were yet singularly thoughtful and spiritual ages. In politics, they laid the foundations of modern Europe. In art, they reared Gothic cathedrals and hung their walls with Madonnas. In science, they have bequeathed us prodigies of metaphysical and theological acuteness and power. But in agriculture and manufactures, they were rude and clumsy. They had almost no commerce, and no physical science. Men were consequently poor; wore coarse garments; lived on earthen floors; ate from wooden trenchers; had, in short, scarcely one of our modern luxuries, and but very few even of our modern comforts. We now build our barns better tham most of those medieval saints and heroes built their houses. Such was the Europe of the iniddle ages.

But in the fifteenth century, the whole aspect of society underwent a sudden and signal change. There came on a crop of wonderful discoveries and inventions which put the world upon a new stadium of its career, discoveries and inventions for several of which we are indebted to the monks of the Papal Church. Printing, gunpowder, the mariner's compass, the doubling of the

Cape of Good Hope, the discovery of America, and the revival of classical learning consequent upon the fall of Constantinople into the hands of the Turks in 1453 — these are the things we name as of chiefest significance in modern history. Printing cheapened books immensely, and so sent knowledge down in due time into the peasant's cottage. Gunpowder revolutionized the art of war, bringing in artillery to decide the fortunes of battles and the fate of empires. The mariner's compass gave daring to timid sailors, whitening dangerous seas with swelling canvas. The new passage to the East-Indies shifted the theater of commerce from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The discovery of America gave not merely a new continent to geography, but a new life to the world ; wbile the revival of classical learning waked up the slumbering fires of geuius like a new inspiration. Close upon the heels of this remarkable cluster of inventions and discoveries trod the great leaders of the long procession of our modern workers and heroes : Erasmus, Luther, and Melancthon, followed at due intervals by Gustavus Adolphus, and Lord Bacon, and Oliver Cromwell, and George Washington, and the two Napoleons; in whose train are votaries of natural science, inventors of useful machines, steamboats, and telegraphs, such as Whitney, Fulton, Morse, merchant princes rolling in wealth, newspapers, socialistic reformers, and many-minded revolutionizers of society and governments without number and without end.

These names, events, and features of our modern civilization, as you readily perceive, are mostly Protestant. The Roman Catholic part of Christendom has been jealous of all this stir and thrift. If France and Belgium are industrious and thrifty without being Protestant, it is in part, and in large part, because they were both of them quickened by the Reformation, receiving an impulse which could not be lost. It can not be denied that Roman Catholic Europe, left to itself, is mostly poor and torpid; Protestant Europe, rich and enterprising. Commerce and the mechanic arts, though not begotten of Protestantism, were quickly adopted by it, baptized at its altars, and made to fight its battles for the dominion of the world.

This continent now underneath our feet, though discovered by Roman Catholics, first colonized and desperately struggled for by them, soon passed into Protestant hands; and, of all Protestant countries, this is the most intensely Protestant. The adventurous energy which came of the Lutheran Reformation, subsidizing the inventions and discoveries which shortly preceded it, has found here its amplest and most congenial theater. Every thing about the continent, and about its history, has served to stimulate to the utmost the material development of its occupants. Its vast and virgin territory, which had been for centuries gathering fatness;

its bays, and lakes, and rivers, offering its harvests a ready exit to market; its varied and boundless mineral resources; its population, a cunning amalgam of the boldest blood of the best races of Europe ; its free institutions, electrifying the character of every immigrant—these things have all told upon us with tremendous power, impelling us, as no people were ever before impelled, to: ward a rank and rampant materialism.

I am no extravagant eulogist of the middle ages. I do not stand up here to depreciate the achievements of modern times. I admit

, without reluctance, that great improvements have passed upon the whole face and the whole structure of human society. We must certainly believe in progress, as we believe in Providence, whose wheels roll ever forward and not backward. We may certainly allow that the world is manifestly nearer its millennium than it was six hundred years ago; and yet, let us not fail to observe, that this entire mass of improvements, which distinguish the modern age, is distinctively material rather than spir: itual. The mind of the middle ages, loyal to the Organon of Aristotle, as then interpreted and applied, was introspective and metaphysical; its social and public life unthrifty, but chivalric; its piety ascetic and cloistered, but meditative and climbing. The mind of the modern age, loyal to the Organon of Bacon, and swayed still more by his example, gazes and travels ever outward amongst the phenomena of time and sense. Use is its watch word. It levels forests, builds factories, bridles rivers, tunnels mountains, bridges oceans, and sends the mysterious whispers of its intelligence like lightning around the globe. In science, the branches most honored have been astronomy, geology, chemistry, and the like, since these help us most in commerce, agriculture, and the mechanic arts. Our social life is noisy, flaunting, and feverish. Even our religion is more of the hands and the head, than of the heart. Men would rather carry the Gospel amongst the gray ruins of Asia or into the wilds of Africa, than into the unexplored territory of their own souls. They would rather assault some outward institution than a bosom sin. They would rather serve God by doing good, than by being good.

And so the genius of our age, especially in Protestant lands, and preeminently in our own, is distinctively mechanical, objective, and practical. An age by no means to be utterly decried. On many accounts, an age to be admired and applauded rather. We give it credit for seeking to realize, as it never has been realized, the noble idea of man's dominion over nature; wrestling to subdue to itself all material elements and forces and all brute in. stincts, making them docile and subservient to human uses. It has added largely to the sum total of human comfort and happiness; emancipating the race from many grievous burdens and afflictions, formerly endured; and holding forth the promise of

« PreviousContinue »