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equality, fraternity” in France were three abstractions, and the Marseillaise Hymn a bit of poetry; but by what truth there was in them they made a prodigious upheaval, and by their perversion a terrible overthrow. Personal liberty for the African in America was once a fanatical abstraction, while the coffle and the lash were realities; but the abstraction did its work well, and the great fanatic with a bounty on his head died victorious. The old starred and
The old starred and striped banner was once to most of us a very dim thing, a piece of bunting that lazily drooped over some useless fort or arsenal, or streamed over some gasconading orator on “the Fourth.” There came a time when suddenly we saw that its whole broad expanse meant liberty and law, that every star was a star of hope to the human race, and each crimson stripe blushed red with human wrongs. And then those ancient abstractions struck with a million strong arms, shouted huzzas from many million tongues, and rained tears of joy from a nation's eyes. You and I now venerate that flag for the grand principles it emblazons, and on Decoration Day we say from the heart : “God bless the old flag !”
It is contact of the human soul with thoughts and themes and objects commensurate with its high capacity which develops its capacity and expands its powers. And thus we often make the mistake of terming certain men uneducated, when, though little taught in the schools, they have had the noblest training — in contact with minds, thoughts, and events of the highest order. was Cromwell marvelously developed. So was Washington rounded up. So the noble Lincoln who from his boyhood, grasping after clear truth and broad principle, and early expanded by professional responsibilities, yet never developed so gloriously as when the great issues of American destiny were forced upon his mind and tongue, and then upon his daily life. Many a self-taught man has thus had the highest education. He deals with influences that are greater than schoolmasters.
A revolution may have rocked some young Napoleon in its cradle. He may have been the companion of great generals and statesmen, and a father's influence may have been the legacy of the young Hannibal or the young Quincy Adams. The “wee modest crimson-tipped flower” may whisper long and earnestly to the soul of a Burns. The gloom and grandeur of the Highlands may have poured themselves into the heart of some veritable Ossian. Or in his nightly solitude the psalmist hears the blue heavens telling the glory of God, and sees the firmament showing his handiwork; he meditates on the “marvelous things" of that “law," and from that stirring contact he sings a song so sweet and pure and high and loud that age after age has caught up the strain, and it will never die till the “new song” begins.
The quality of the nourishment, the themes which our minds and hearts feed determine the thews and sinews of our souls. Strong men must have solid food. It is well for young men to associate with their superiors. It is often the bane of our children that
their reading is so Lilliputian. It is the dwarfing of many a son that his parents lay on him no duties and responsibilities. It is the belittling of many a business man that he sees nothing nobler than money. And so some Vanderbilt dies worth his scores of millions ; he dies, and who cares? It is the pitiable condition of many a fine lady that she never thinks of anything but her laces and her jewelry, her presents and her parties, and the endless replenishing of her wardrobe; and so the capacity of her soul grows smaller than that of the little thimble that she never wears.
It is the great misfortune of a church when it hears from the pulpit nothing but prattle and small talk, instead of the high truth of God whereby Christ declares that his Church is to be sanctified.
In some degree from amidst the same scenes we may draw either food or poison. The most distracting household cares may be dignified by thoughts of duty and of God in them; and she that has those thoughts, whether mistress or maid, is a true woman. The pettifogger and the judge may explore the same laws, the one on the track of paltry quirks, the other of broad principles; and the one grows smaller and the other greater as long as they live. As David's gaze swept over Judæa and the cattle upon a thousand hills, where those cattle, and perhaps their owners too, saw nothing but the green grass, David saw the glory and goodness of God. And if he had not, then had we never heard of David or his song. The illiterate Bedford tinker lay twelve years in Bedford jail. Instead of reading
there only those blank stone walls, he pondered and dreamed over the matchless volume of divine inspiration, and from that education sprang the marvelous allegory which fascinates the Scotch peasant and the nursery child, extorts the admiration of Cowper and Southey and Johnson and Macaulay, and is steadily making its Pilgrim's Progress through the languages of the world.
Contact with the highest thoughts and influences makes the highest training. But the highest of all conceptions are those that are of the great God : his being, his law-giving, his loving, his planning, his working, his redeeming — incomprehensible in full, yet expanding every power and capacity, as man stretches himself toward their infinity. Accordingly it is not theory but fact that these themes have laid deeper, firmer hold on human hearts than all other themes together. So when God sent Moses to the children of Israel he gave him this text, “I AM THAT I AM”; thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, “I AM hath sent me unto you”; God eternal, God self-existent, God unchangeable, God self-contained, and God self-revealing in all the fullness of infinite love and patience, — this transcendent theme, itself unfathomable, was yet to fathom all the depths of man.
It is upheaving the world. Do we ever wonder what gave such success to the career of Mohammed ? It was the sudden breaking in of certain great live truths upon a mass of petty mummeries and falsehoods. There was a widespread Oriental Christianity of silver crosses and wax candles,
priestly robes, picture idols, and saints' bones. In upon these wretched puerilities burst a strong man all aglow with the idea of the one great God, his living presence and resistless will — Alla-hu-akhbar, -"God is great ”; and it swelled in the great vein on Mohammed's forehead and rode forth on the white horse of “Taric the one-eyed," and gleamed on the scimiter of Saladin, and pealed from every minaret, till a hundred and eighty millions had yielded to its sway. By the intense positiveness and brightness of its one central truth it swept all before it. Now that it too has become a formalism and a pure Christianity has met it, the crescent is waning before the real cross. Its main strength now in its chief stronghold is the power of the sword.
A great truth incarnated is concentrated power — the true lever that moves the world. It has grown to be a fashion in certain quarters to decry theology. Never was a more empty clamor. Theology--what is it? It is the doctrine of God. And who or what is God but the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things, the concentration of all that is great and good and glorious and lovely? And next to God himself the strongest thing in this world of ours is the doctrine that is from God and of God, springing to life in human souls. Yet under this shallow drift of thought, how many a worshiper could almost say like the Indian chief to Sir John Franklin, “I am an old man and have never seen God,” or could even go to his religious teacher and say as those Greeks to Philip, “Sir, we would see