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The story of Christianity in America is one of the most astonishing chapters in the annals of the world. The events of Providence in reserving and preparing the country of these United States to be the theatre of its development and triumph, constitute one of the most remarkable passages of modern history.
This is a Christian nation, first in name, and secondly because of the many and mighty elements of a pure Christianity which have given it character and shaped its destiny from the beginning. It is pre-eminently the land of the Bible, of the Christian Church, and of the Christian Sabbath. It is the land of great and extensive and oft-repeated revivals of a spiritual religion, the land of a free conscience and of free speech,--the land of noble charities and of manifold and earnest efforts for the elevation and welfare of the human race. The chief security and glory of the United States of America has been, is now, and will be forever, the prevalence and domination of the Christian Faith.
The materialist may find in other aspects of our country many grounds of complacency. Compared with other nations, we have had a wonderful career. The marvels of the republic stand thick along the line of our advancement. Whether we consider the colonial period, or that of the Revolution, or those of subsequent times, our growth in numbers, in territory, in wealth and power, has been almost unparalleled. The spirit of our Government and its institutions is singularly adapted to secure the general peace and happiness of human society. Our example has long been an object of jealousy and fear to the oppressors of man. Our country has thrown open an asyluin to the unfortunate from every quarter of the globe. All the kindreds of the earth have been welcome to repose beneath the shadow of our Tree, which in less than a single century is spread its branches across the continent. And if our civil
polity has not realized all the possible blessings of a free government, the reason lies less in the genius of the economy than in the acknowledged imperfections of human nature itself. In addition to these things, Providence has signally favored the nation in its geographical position, the fertility of its soil, the plenty of its seasons, and the salubrity of its climate. The vigor of the people has found ample scope in utilizing the physical resources of the country, by all the industries and arts of agriculture, manufacture, and commerce; while in conducting the educational and intellectual interests of society, no modern nation in the same space of time has contributed more to the great elements of that higher civilization towards which the world is everywhere slowly but surely tending. These are sources of just satisfaction to every friend and lover of his country. But they are, meanwhile, considerations which fall far below those great moral and spiritual principles in the absence of which no state on earth can perpetuate its existence.
The true theory of national life and prosperity is clearly unfolded in the revealed word of God. The secret of all stability and enduring greatness in human governments, as with individual men, is to be found alone in the quickening power of the Christian Faith. This only, imbuing and pervading the mind and heart of human society, can organize and preserve to the body politic its highest and most untroubled fortunes. Fallibility and corruption inhere indeed in the materials of
every commonwealth,—the result of which is a liability to continual change. Growth succeeded by decay, and decay forcing another growth, is the philosophy of national vicissitude, as it is also the great fact of the physical creation. “ One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh," and therefore the permanence of empire must rest in the ideas of a people. If then there be in such ideas no great enduring principle of spiritual life, there can be no perpetuity of national existence. If there be no grand, sublime, and imperishable thought, filling the soul of a people with its fire and fashioning their progress after its pattern, there can be no sense in which they may escape the inevitable mutations of the world, or avoid the fate of so many that have gone before them.
The most powerful empires of the past have perished because they were wanting in a principle strong enough and spiritual enough to resist the self-destructive energies of human nature.
The pagan world could not furnish such a principle. It was in neither their philosophy nor their religion. It is not in the power of man unaided to discover and apply such a principle. Nothing short of divine wisdom and power can actualize among the nations that principle of spiritual life which not only originates but preserves the substance of social and civil welfare. Christianity is the divine method of imparting this principle to men and nations, and the only method revealed from Heaven for regulating our present state, and, after this, conferring upon us the lasting awards of a glorious immortality. The doctrines of Christianity form a system of perfect and saving truth, its duties comprise the sum of all genuine beneficence, while its ascendency over the human soul is effectually secured by the regeneration of no less than the infinite Spirit of God.
The dispensation of this Spirit has been distinctly and constantly affirmed in our country, and the people have been instructed to expect “times of refreshing from the presence
of the Lord,” not more in the early and latter rains of heaven than in the silent but reformatory processes of our moral and religious condition. The Author of human nature is that same God who must re-supply its wasting energy, and diffuse in human society the life and light of truth, by turning men from the way of transgression unto “the wisdom of the just.” According to this belief, there is a direct and immediate connection between the human soul and the Divine Spirit; and wherever the sacred influence falls, there human beings are sure to “walk in newness of life,” supporting and stimulating all that is precious and invaluable in the temporal and eternal well-being of mankind. This doctrine, which lies equally removed from the superstition of ignorance and from the levity of unbelief, has been more thoroughly explained and more widely disseminated among the people of America than anywhere else on the face of the earth. And it is due to the influence of evangelical religion among all classes of society, more than to all other considerations together, that our prosperity has been so great and our progress so unexampled. “Ye are the light of the world. Ye are the salt of the earth.” This is the description of men whose views and conduct are the result of the inspiration of Jesus Christ. All time attests its truth. “Righteousness exalteth a nation, while sin is a reproach to any people," and must, if persisted in, pave the way to their final destruction. This divine maxim has
been exemplified in all the old seats of human population, and is borne onward in the spirit of prophetic admonition from age to age. The voice of history is lifted in repeated accents of solemn warning, and rolls in thunder-blasts its own great lesson upon the ear of nations.
But while, without doubt, there has been, and is now, the presence of an evangelical power in this republic, that has left its impress and its influence upon our institutions and our society, and has reared so many sacred monuments for the gratitude and the admiration of mankind, it cannot and ought not to be denied that the nation as it stands to-day is far below that moral and religious condition which constitutes the essential safety, prosperity, and honor of any people. It is sadly true that a very large proportion of the population are strangers to the genuine spirit of the Christian religion, and almost, if not altogether, unacquainted even with the history of its facts and the extent of its influence in the land of our inheritance. The standing complaint of human degeneracy remains against us. Causes have been operating—and of late years with fearful rapidity and strength-to produce a state of moral obliquity and practical atheism among us, appalling in magnitude and of alarming consequence.
It has become of late quite customary to sneer at the puritanism of our fathers, and to speak with contempt of the severity of their manners and the bigotry of their faith. This impious treatment, by the present corruptors of society, of a generation of men whose lofty principles and illustrious virtues they seem utterly unable to comprehend, is well adapted not only to arouse the deepest indignation, but also to excite the most lively concern. There are two quarters from which these evil influences chiefly proceed. A class of men without conscience, and reckless of all moral restraint, have gained ascendency in public favor, and assume from their prominent position to mould and direct the public sentiment of the nation. Their general influence upon the public morals has been like the wind of the desert,--poisonous, withering, and destructive. Another and very large class of men moving in the lower walks of life form a significant element of our American population, whose hard and vicious instincts, gratified without compunction and paraded everywhere in the most offensive manner, would seem to render them wellnigh incapable of reformation. Apparently insensible to all the
nobler sentiments of public morality and virtue, and ever ready to perform their congenial part in the general demoralization, they demand that all the higher classes shall pander to their depraved appetites, as the price of their patronage and support. In this reciprocal play of the baser passions the common principles of morality are daily sacrificed, and the strong and the weak join hands in carrying down the nation to the very verge of ruin. No man can observe the conditions of society in our country, and the obvious impulses of human conduct, without feeling that the perils against which the fathers warned us, and which have been so faithfully and constantly pointed out by the ministers of religion, have, notwithstanding, increased at a fearful rate, without seeing that the most alarming departures from the standard of individual rectitude and social integrity have occurred among us within the century that is past.
And, while every period has exhibited the signs of public degeneracy, none in our history presents more fearful proofs of the impiety and obduracy of great masses of the people. We have abandoned, in a great measure, the faith and practice of our ancestors, in putting aside from their lawful supremacy the Christian ordinances and doctrines. The natural result is, that we have corrupted our ways in all the circles of society and in all the pursuits of life. We have become as a field rank with the growth of all the vices and heaped with the pollution of mighty crimes. The rigid training of former times through family government, discipline, and instruction has been greatly relaxed, if not in many cases wholly neglected. Indeed, there are multitudes of parents in the land who from physical and moral causes are totally unfit to have the care of the children to whom they have given birth: so that a generation of human beings is growing up in one of the most favored regions of the globe, whose preparation for the responsibilities of their age and mission has been sadly at fault, and whose precocity in levity, mischief, and insubordination already equals the vitiating examples that are set before them. The education of the nation is going forward with rapid strides, but it is in a lamentable degree under the auspices of immorality and irreligion, alike in the high and the low places of the community. The unblushing venality and brazen wickedness of a large portion of the conductors of the public press and of the public men of the country have strongly tended to demoralize the nation, to