Page images
PDF
EPUB

hope for man. It addresses him, and with paternal authority and paternal love summons him back to the Father's house as the lost child of God. It offers him a perfect code, a sure help, a great salvation. Oh, follow that code, take that help, receive that salvation !

Look upon that religion and its sacred volume as the most benign and blessed of influences. See how it has fostered and is fostering all that is highest and best in this world, spreading civilization, literature, art, beneficence in its myriad forms, furnishing the peace and quiet in which science has achieved its triumphs and the very security in which its foeman makes his attacks. For its transforming influence upon the individual, the nation, the world and all it contains, cherish it as a priceless boon and enlist yourself in all its enterprises and activities.

Look upon it, too, as destined to prevalence and to victory — the one movement in this world of ours so entwined with human wants, affections, and hopes, and so entrenched in the attributes, purposes, and promises of God, that nothing will stand in the way of its complete and final triumph. And, O young friends, cast in your personal labors, life, and lot, your hand and mind and heart, into the fortunes of that blessed and eternal kingdom, and hear at last from the lips of its mighty Monarch those words: “Well done, good and faithful servant!"

CHRISTIANITY IN THE COMMONWEALTH.

BACCALAUREATE SERMON, JUNE 26, 1887.

If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. — JOHN 8:36.

THESE words of our Saviour bear directly upon

I personal character and affirm that they only are the truly free men who are delivered by Christ and his gospel from the bondage of sin. But, like so many of his deep sayings, these words are pregnant words of germinant fulfillment. They apply with equal force to communities of men as to individuals, and with even more signal power upon the broader scale.

A week and a day will bring us to the commemoration of American Independence. The college festival is this year to the national festival in its perigee. We step from the one to the other. Having spoken to the previous graduating class upon the relation of Christianity to the college, I propose this morning to extend the theme beyond the college, and, following these young men as they pass from the special condition of students to the broader sphere of citizens, to speak upon the fundamental relation of Christianity to the State. “If the Son therefore shall make you free,” says the incarnate wisdom of God, “ye shall be free indeed.” Applying to the community of men what is here applied to individual men, I propose to show that

CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLE IS THE BASIS OF CIVIL FREEDOM.

By Christian principle I mean more than the presence of Christian creeds. I mean the vital power of Christian religion, the live action of fundamental and distinctive Christian truth on human character, conduct, relations, and institutions — an action both direct and reflex; first renovating and molding the man and the men, then slowly but surely pervading and transforming the notions, the habits, and the whole organism of society, till the amplest possibilities shall be given to all and to each. And I maintain that in the entire exclusion of the light and heat of Christian principle from a nation's life there will be no general social condition deserving the name of freedom ; in its mixed and imperfect prevalence liberty will be mixed and imperfect, rising or falling like some celestial barometer with the destiny or levity of the Christian atmosphere in which the nation has its life; and its perfect prevalence, could it ever be seen on earth, would constitute “the perfect law of liberty.” In short, just in proportion as true Christianity is inwrought into a nation from center to circumference, in just that proportion — let the nation call itself what it will — will there be general and genuine freedom in that land.

I. The presence of Christian principle is needful to qualify men for the outer state of freedom ; the presence of it in some good degree, not necessarily its universal prevalence or absolute predominance. For when some active portion of a land's inhabitants, as in

Japan, have felt the power of vital religion, and that but imperfectly, its diffused influence is soon reflected and refracted throughout the laws and customs. Its warmth and light are, like those of the noonday sun, felt in the shade, and even when intercepted by thick clouds, consigning no portion of the land to midnight darkness or perpetual frost.

Christ's gospel has come to give mankind a right notion of liberty itself. What follies have been chased and what crimes have been perpetrated under that sacred name! He who visits the narrow dungeon of Carmes in Paris may (or might) read the lamentations which three noble women once inscribed with the points of their scissors and the teeth of their combs on the walls of the prison; and among them these sad words : “O liberty! when wilt thou cease to be an idle name?” For it was in the name of liberty that Josephine and her two friends lay in that dungeon in 1794, while in the name of liberty Paris was deluged in blood.

One of the commonest abuses of the name and the notion, almost universal aside from strong Christian influence, is to confound the love of liberty with the burning hatred of outer control and the fierce following of unfettered impulse and all-grasping greed. That was the freedom of the northern hordes. It was the spirit of the chevalier. It was once the liberty of the southern gentleman. It is the liberty which the despot and the mob and the oligarchy alike contend for. Extremes meet. What a burlesque scene it was at the great congress of Vienna, when on the plea of "security and independence,” of “justice and equity,” three of the “high contending parties” entered into a secret treaty against the other two, and when the five great despotic powers jointly made their solemn announcement of “uniting all their efforts for the preservation of the general peace against the disturber of the world ” — while they proceeded to dismember Saxony and Poland, and, as the historian caustically remarks, “in the midst of a congress assembled for the general pacification of the world a million of armed men were retained around their banners ready for mutual slaughter.” The mockery of the scene was surpassed only by the greater one that ended it in consternation, the apparition from Elba of “the man of destiny' hastening on to Waterloo with the stirring appeal to his soldiers to be “the deliverers of their country.” Even more extraordinary, if possible, was the spectacle in our country a quarter of a century ago, when the representatives of eleven states, loudly proclaiming themselves to be “freemen,” rose to arms for “equality and justice ” — an equality and justice which consisted in the claim of some four hundred thousand men to hold four million men in bondage.

On the other hand, the reckless mob strives for the abolition of law, of right of property, and of the restraints of passion, as the great boon of freedom. So Shakespeare read that spirit long ago. “Your captain,” said the rebel Cade, “is brave and vows reformation. ... The three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops.

« PreviousContinue »