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CHARACTERISTICS AND DUTIES OF
BACCALAUREATE SERMON, JUNE 25, 1882.
Which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.- I CHRONICLES 12:32.
HIS sentence occurs in the dry statistics of the
army that assembled at Hebron to place David on the throne. Among the “thousands" of Judah "that bare shield and spear,” the tens of thousands of Simeon and Ephraim, "mighty men of valour," the scores of thousands of Zebulon and Asher, "expert in war,” and all the rest of the great host, there is one tribe of which the writer simply says: “and of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.”
A plodding German who has reckoned it out that the whole army was but one fourth of the fighting population of the land, yet rouses himself to remark that “the greatness of a host of God is to be measured by the power and spirit, and not by the number of the warriors." His words are a faint echo of the statement that the heads of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, were but “two hundred,” and “all their brethren were at their commandment." They were the leaders of thought and of men.
Clearly those were times of peculiarity and of peril, of emergency and of opportunity. These men had mastered the times, and they were masters of the situation and of their generation. Skill is stronger than strength.
Other times, all times, are peculiar. The flow of events never returns on itself, but rolls on with new windings, by changing bluffs and headlands, through ever varying channels to its infinite ocean.
. Each child is born into environments greatly diverse from his father's. And it is the father's commonest blunder to attempt binding the son fast with all the methods of his own childhood and youth — of a generation that is dead and gone. Doubtless “the thing that hath been, it is that which shall be,” but only in the substance, never in the accidents. The figures of the problem of life perpetually change; the ratio alone remains the same. He only who under the fluctuating figures discerns the hidden ratio is truly rational. Many a man is, in a different sense from that of Paul, “born out of due time.” Men may be a generation behind their opportunities. The times drift by them. They come floating sluggishly down like a northern iceberg in the Gulf Stream, warming and coalescing only as they melt and disappear. There is a fatal fixedness, the mother of fatal mistake. The Austrian generals adhered to their time-honored tactics and were cut in pieces by the youthful Napoleon. The American statesmen of a past generation clung to their obsolete compromise, and compromised their own name and fame. The antiquated theologian steadily fires his gun at some dead heresy; and whole flocks of live errors cover the fields or darken the air. The preacher brandishes his arms and aggravates his voice over his yellow manuscript or his dead thought, and the youth listen in cold surprise. The young man who sets forth on this modern voyage of life, with no clear recognition of its shifting channels and currents, is like a steamer on the Mississippi with its pilot from the long past. The young educated men of this day are specially called upon to be like those ancient men who had understanding of the times, what Israel ought to do themselves Israelites indeed in whom is no guile, yet as thoroughly wise in their generation as are the men of this world. I propose therefore to speak to you
THE CHARACTERISTICS AND DUTIES OF OUR TIMES.
I shall mention, first, some of those prominent characteristics of our times which the young men of understanding will discern; and secondly, some of the great duties which they will be prompted to perform in these times.
I. What are some of the prominent characteristics of our times, to be discerned by the men of understanding?
We look at once beneath surface changes. It requires no men of understanding to see the great protruding facts of modern outward life that lie upheaved like mountain chains on the earth's surface: wonderful locomotions, instantaneous communications, astounding mechanisms of war, huge machineries, vast social combinations, gigantic forms of business, colossal fortunes, and the like. These things strike the dullest eye. And they mean, among many other things, the practical prolongation of human life and expansion of human powers. If I can travel in forty hours what took my grandfather forty days; if I can farm six thousand acres of wheat easier than my father sixty; if I can turn over my capital twenty times a year where he could but twice; if I can transform the sickle to a reaper, the needle to a sewing machine, the distaff and the hand-wheel into tens of thousands of spindles in a cluster; if I can see more of Italy in six weeks than Hillard saw in six months; if I can send a message from Jerusalem to Chicago in the same forenoon; if through the press I can speak to hundreds of thousands instead of a hundred or a thousand, clearly my seventy or ninety years of life have, for all the purposes of activity, influence, and power, become equal to Methuselah's nine hundred. These great changes are to be rejoiced in as so many long levers put into the hands of the Church and the individual Christian to multiply a short life. So far as man can turn off his servile work upon the elements, and make them run and row and grind, and draw and dig, and spin and weave, and write, and shout across the world for him, so much does he save to the higher uses of his manhood and gain to the beneficent uses of the race. The Church has used and will use these things more and more. Every young man should rejoice unspeakably that God has placed this mighty enginery around his opening life. Many a man that is passing away would gladly stay another generation to work again with such appliances.
No doubt the young man experiences one disadvantage — that, invested as he is with mechanism and organization, he too has become, far more than formerly, part of a machine or an organism. As the great enterprises absorb the smaller, so they hamper the freedom of individual forthputting. The youth cannot, as once, enter directly on some separate scheme at his own cost and risk, building up from nothing whether it be a daily journal, a manufacture, a school, a traffic, or a benevolent enterprise. He must come in as the appendage and subordinate of an establishment, the subclerk or agent, the fractional teacher of a specialty, the almoner of others' bounties. In these ways the outlook has been narrowed for the individual in proportion as the vista has widened and lengthened for the race. But as he travels onward in that opening vista, it opens for him toward the infinities.
But these are not chiefly the facts that call for the discerning Israel. They quite as much concern Ishmael and Esau. Nor is it in the deeper changes from which these changes grow and to which they tend, — advances in the sciences and the arts, - wonderful though they are, that our interest mainly lies. It is rather the effect of all these multifarious processes upon the minds and hearts of the masses, the intellectual and spiritual phenomena which they have engendered, that we are