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search, you will find that the men who have distinguished themselves on this field, and contributed most largely to the advancement of human knowledge, are not the men who have trodden the beaten track of their fathers, governed by the precedents of opinion, and content to retail old ideas, but the bold, the fearless, the original, the radical investigators of truth. These are the men who have made their mark on the thinking of the world. Lord Bacon, in laying down the fundamental principles which should govern all investigation, and by those principles exposing the sophistries practiced by the schoolmen of the dark ages ;-Sir Isaac Newton, in that profound inquiry after truth by which he at length discov. ered the great law that gives regularity and harmony to the motion of the heavenly bodies ;-Dr. Franklin, in catching the lightnings of beaven with a key, and resolving their phenomena into an electrical agency;
our own illustrious Morse, the inventor of the electric telegraph, in conceiving both the idea and the mechanism by which he could give a tongue to this agency;-John Locke, in his deep exploration of the origin of knowledge, correcting many of the cherished errors of former times :—these, and men of like stamp, were intellectual radicalists, going to the bottom of things, advancing beyond the ideas which had preceded them, and cutting for themselves and for the world new channels in the great domain of thought. Plato did this in his age, and Aristotle in his age. Such men refuse to bow to the authority of mere precedents. Assuming that ideas must at last rule the world, they not only drive the plowshare of truth into the errors of the past, but also greatly enlarge the kingdom of human ideas. True, they may sometimes go astray; they may delude themselves and mislead others; yet to this class of men the world is mainly indebted for those sciences that have conferred such exalted honors on our nature, as well as those arts and inventions which have done so much to improve the condition of mankind. But for their life and mental activity, the intellectual status of earth would be stationary, perhaps retrogressive.
Passing out of the circle of pure science into the sphere of reformatory movements, we find that the progress of the world is largely due to the same style of agency. A reform supposes an evil existing in human society, intrenched in some fundamental error of thought, or fortified by some vicious feeling, or,—what is generally the fact,-supported by both of these causes in combination. Now, in the very nature of things, a reformer must attack this evil; he must make an exhibition of its nature; he must reason about it; he must try it by some standard of truth; he must make an appeal to the conscience of men; and in doing ibis, he must of pecessity lay the axe at the root of the tree. He proposes a fundamental change in the notions and practice of men; and this can be gained only by truth as fundamental as the change itself. The truth must be as deep as the error -- deep enough, at least, to go to the bottom of the error.
Take an example:
The immortal Wilberforce, being impressed with the horrible iniquities of the slave.trade, as tolerated and fostered under the prestige and patronage of the British government, exposed it and denounced it in the English Parliament and before the British public, till the moral sense of the nation awoke to the enormity of the system, and sternly demanded that it should come to an end. The merchants of Liverpool and the merchants of London, the men who were interested in this infamous traffic, denounced Wilberforce as a radical, a fanatic, an agitator; like the men of Ephesus, when their craft was in danger, they cried out: “Great is Diana of the Ephesians !" Even Pitt, contrary to his personal pledges, had not the moral courage to breast the storm and do his duty; yet Wilberforce, the radical, the man whom all honest men now delight to honor, held steadily to his purpose till he carried his point. He kept the ear of England tingling with the terrible wickedness of the slave-trade, till England's conscience could no longer bear the sound. England now makes that piracy punishable with death, on which she once bestowed her sanction. It was the radical spirit of Wilberforce that brought about this result.
So, all the reformatory movements which have marked the history of England, or that of this country, and I may add that of the world, have sprung from the same spirit, and been conducted by the same class of men. Who are the men that have resisted the assumptions of despotic power;—curtailed the prerogatives of kings, -made the monarchies of Europe far more liberal and just than they were a century ago,—-contended for the doctrine of popular rights, — sympathized with the suffering, the oppressed, and the down-trodden of our species, contributed to the emancipation and dignity of labor,—enlarged the right of suffrage,-pleaded most earnestly for the education of the masses,-poured forth their blood like water upon the altars of freedom ;-yes, who are the men that have done these things? Who projected the American Revolu. tion? Who wrote the Declaration of Independence, than which a more radical document never met the eye of earth or heaven? Who supported it with their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor? To whom are we indebted for the political and civil system under which we have so long, and until lately, so happily lived? The plain and honest voice of history will tell you, that these achievements are mainly due to those men who have acted on the principle of laying the axe at the root of the tree, and then cutting down every tree that did not bring forth good fruit. Sometimes called Roundheads, sometimes Puritans, sometimes disorganizers, sometimes agitators, sometimes radicals, sometimes fanatics, sometimes one thing, and sometimes another, they have neverthe
less been the most prominent actors in promoting the advancement of humanity, correcting its abuses, and in all respects improving the social and political condition of our world. For a rule, they are earnest and honest men, having strong convictions and deep feelings, not, indeed, always right in their ideas, or prudent in their measures; yet men of vast power, men whose absence from earth would make a chasm which nothing else could fill. They have done too much for the good of the world to be branded with opprobrious epithets.
Rising now to a still higher plane of thought, and observing the spiritual and religious history of mankind, we meet the same class of facts springing from essentially the same source.
When the Man of Sin had for ages spread the pall of moral death over all Europe, corrupting the very fountains of society, and prostituting the pure religion of Jesus to the vilest purposes, who was it that lifted his voice in thunder-tones against this enormous and widespread iniquity? Who laid the axe at the root of the tree? Luther --the bold, the honest, the earnest, the godly, the radical Luther, going to the bottom of things, and bringing doctrines and morals to the test of God's word,- is the man who, under God, did this work. Who, during the long night of the dark ages, refused to bow the knee to the Pope, and in their humble way maintained the pure worship of God amid their mountain-homes, persecuted but not destroyed? The radical Albigenses and Waldenses are the men on whom history has placed this mark of honor. Who were the martyrs in the early ages of the Church, boldly meeting the storm of Pagan persecution, and cheerfully dying in the cause of their Master? They were the men whose religious convictions neither earth nor hell could suppress or conquer. Who first planted Christianity among men, turning the world upside down, and laying the axe at the very roots of Pagan Rome and a corrupt Judaism? Who made such a stir in Judea and in various parts of the Roman Empire some eighteen centuries ago? This was the work of Jesus and his apostles, than whom, considered in reference to the existing status of the age, greater radicalists the world never furnished. Who, when he mounted the throne of Judea, cut down the idolatrous groves, and purified the temple and worship of the living God? This was the work of Josiah, a young and pious prince, who meant to make the remedy as deep and broad as the disease.
Coming nearer to our own times, who, let me ask, were the Dissenters and Puritans in England ? Who fled from the old world and came to this, for the purpose of enjoying their religious rights? Who are the men that floated in the Mayflower, and in the depths of winter landed at Plymouth Rock? Who planted the Church, and the School-house, and the State on these western shores? The same men, as to their spirit and temper, that in the
armies of Oliver Cromwell sung psalms and made prayers, and then fought for God and liberty as no other men ever did. They were radicalists, hated by the English aristocracy, persecuted for their faith, yet fulfilling a mission in the history of the world which one must be blind not to see. Their power consisted in the thoroughness and depth of their principles. They belong to the class whom kings and politicians sometimes disdain, and as often fear. They are the men who have a gospel, and they believe it. Their brains are not too narrow to comprehend fundamental principles.
Who stirred up all New-England, some century ago, purifying its theological atmosphere, and showing the unscriptural character of what has been styled the “Half-way Covenant," in respect to the question of Church-membership, reasoning with the people of his special charge, and reasoning with the ministry, and choosing to forfeit the good esteem of his people rather than sacrifice the truth? The man who faced opposition, and, under God, accomplished this task, is Jonathan Edwards,—that illustrious prince in theology, that profoundest of thinkers, as well as that most beautiful exhibition of the Christian virtues; and he did the work by laying the axe at the root of the tree. Who, by deep and earnest discussion, struck such heavy blows against the Unitarian beresy, so prevalent and so popular in New-England some half a century ago? Moses Stuart and the venerable Dr. Woods, both of whom, I trust, are now reaping the heavenly reward of their labors,-buckled on the armor of God, and contended earnestly for the faith. They, too, laid the axe at the root of the tree.
You thus see, without further recital, that the radical spirit in science, in the reformatory movements of earth, and the religious developments of man, so far from being justly obnoxious to our suspicion or censure, is really worthy of all praise. It is one of the elements in human character by which the mighty God makes his power felt on earth. It is one of the chosen instruments of Providence to bless and save this fallen world. The most effective men of our race have been actuated by this spirit. Such men do quite as much thinking as other men, and vastly more than some. Very often they win victories, over which, being won, the conservatives are ready to shout in terms of the highest laudation. Doubtless, there are many who glorify Luther to-day, who, if living in the sixteenth century, would have passed him by as a radical. Some people are very bold in killing dead lions; but no motive can persuade them to touch a living question till all doubt about the issue is removed. Then their courage comes up to the mark. You can never find them when you want them; and when
do not want them, they are quite ready to help on the good cause. They are too conservative to peril any thing. Their consciences are too elastic to have much force.
I really wonder what those newspapers, and those orators, and
OUR OWN COUNTRY AT THE
those office-seekers can be thinking about who denounce the radical spirit as if it were the quintessence of all evil. Are they playing with words? Are they trying to deceive the people? Do they understand what they so freely denounce? Are they honest? Have they read history? I take the liberty of saying to them that the facts do not justify the opprobrium they design. The word radical, analytically and historically expounded, is a royal term. In reference to the momentous questions of the Revolutionary age, George Washington was a radical, Thomas Jefferson another, John Hancock another, and John Adams another. They lived in a radical age, and were as radical as the age. They were the men of the future, while the Tories in this country and George III. in England were the conservatives, the men of the present.
I come now, my brethren, to what I had in view in the commencement of this sermon, and what the preceding remarks must have suggested.
IN THE THIRD PLACE, TO MAKE AN APPLICATION OF THESE THOUGHTS TO THE AFFAIRS OF PRESENT MOMENT. I am not here to preach politics in the low, party sense of this term. I never did this in the pulpit, and I think I never shall. Nor am I here to make any apology for my utterances. I bave but one rule in preaching, and that is, to speak what I think, leaving the people to judge for themselves.
The times, in my judgment, imperatively demand that the Christian pulpit should have a distinct and clear ring. It is no hour for God's servants to hide themselves, and practice ambiguities for the sake of being unintelligible. The tremendous and appalling drama of events which divine Providence is now enacting in this land, should bring every man to the altar of prayer, and then carry him from that altar to discharge the duties he owes to God, his country, to posterity, and the world. What is now the great American question, has sent its thrill over all Europe. It will, either for weal or woe, cast its shadows on the path of coming centuries. With a single exception, it is more radical and more fundamental, and involves larger interests, than any other upon which mortals or immortals ever fixed the gaze of thought. God, I believe, is in this question. "There is a divine reason in it. There is a divine justice in it;" and we may be sure that there is a divine purpose to be answered by it. Providence is in the crisis of the hour,
As I survey the matter, there are three radical principles crowded by the God of Providence upon this nation, and demanding our solution. The first is one of national life; the second is one of moral justice ; and the third is one of an enlarged and generous Christian philanthropy. On each of these points I wish to say a word, beginning,
First, with the question of national life. It would be folly either