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Heaven forbid, that we should accept this as the predestined and unalterable current of history in all time to come! Why, why shall not the influence of religion be sought for, and be found, in the councils of princes, in the debates and resolutions of popular assemblies, in the conduct of governments towards their subjects and towards one another? Why shall it not be sought for, and be found, in the conduct of conquerors at the head of their armies abroad, and of parties, not “ intriguing,” indeed, but honorably striving for power at home? Why shall any who figure on the stage of the world know nothing of religion, believe nothing of it, and be actuated by motives more impetuous than any which religion is able to excite? And why, why shall public history continue to be only a register of the vices and follies and quarrels of those who engage in contentions for power
But let us hear Paley once more, in another of his most impressive and powerful passages, before I conclude this discourse by a brief reply to these questions :
“ The truth is," says he, " (and pity 'tis, 'tis true), there are two opposite descriptions of character, under which mankind may generally be classed. The one possesses vigor, firmness, resolution ; is daring and active, quick in its sensibilities, jealous of its fame, eager in its attachments, inflexible in its purposes, violent in its resentments; the other, meek, yielding, complying, forgiving, ---- not prompt to act, but willing to suffer, --- silent and gentle under rudeness and insult, suing for reconciliation where others would demand satisfaction, giving way to the pushes of impudence, conceding and indulgent to the prejudices, the wrongheadedness, the intractability of those with whom it has to deal.
“ The former of these characters is, and ever hath been, the favorite of the world. It is the character of great men. There is a dignity in it which universally commands respect. The latter is poor-spirited, tame, and abject. Yet so it hath happened, that, with the Founder of Christianity, this latter is the subject of his commendation, his precepts, his example; and that the former is so in no part of its coniposition. This (he maintains), and nothing else, is the character designed in the following remarkable passages : “Resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also; and whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain ; love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you. This certainly, says he, is not commonplace morality. It shows at least (and it is for this purpose we produce it) that no two things can be more different than the Heroic and the Christian character."
No two things more different than the Heroic and the Christian character! I will not pause to ask where was Paley's remembrance of those earlier and later martyrs of Christianity, who submitted themselves without flinching to the fury of the lions or the raging of the flames. Was there no heroism there? I will not pause to ask where was his remembrance of Stephen or of Paul, of Ridley or of Latimer, - of Cranmer, thrusting his right hand into the fire that it might be burned to cinders first and alone, because it had offended by writing a recantation of the truth, - or of poor Lady Jane Grey, whose unshaken constancy to the cause of Christ has stirred the sympathy of so many hearts, and drawn tears from so many eyes, during the more than three centuries which have elapsed since her youthful form was laid upon the block. Was there no heroism there? I will not pause to suggest that the profound and eloquent moralist has pressed his contrast to an extreme, in speaking of the Christian character as ever necessarily “poor-spirited, tame, and abject," in the reproachful sense in which those epithets would now be understood. Let me rather ask again, Is this discouraging and fearful contrast one of perpetual necessity? Is it written irrevocably in the book of destiny, that quick and jealous and quarrelsome men, inflexible in purpose, and violent in resentment, are for ever to be the favorites of the world, are always to be the great men of the world? Is it written unchangeably in the book of destiny, that those who figure on the pages of history are to know nothing of religion, to believe nothing of religion, and to be actuated by motives more impetuous than any which religion can excite? I fear that not a few of those who aspire to be the great men of the world, even in this day and generation, may have shaped their course upon such an hypothesis. But have there not been those already, who seem to have risen upto have been raised up, let me rather say - to change the standard of human greatness, and who have changed it, since these passages were composed by Paley, more than sixty years ago ? Are there no figures even in our own American history, which lift themselves majestically before us as we speak, to attest the possibility that there may be such a thing as ingrafting the Christian character upon the Heroic character, and blending them into an harmonious and matchless unity ? Shall we admit that the character of Washington was any thing less than heroic, any thing other than Christian? Was there no union of the Heroic and the Christian character in the youthful Kane, braving those repeated winters of disease and darkness in those "thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice,” ever offering up his little prayer, -“ Lord, accept our gratitude and bless our undertaking," or “Return us to our homes," — and still reminding his despairing comrades how often an Unseen Power had rescued them in peril, and admonishing them still to place reliance on Him who could not change!
Cross the ocean, too, and gather with your Saxon brethren around the tomb of the brave Sir Henry Lawrence, or the lamented Havelock, or the youthful Vicars, or unite in the homage which is everywhere paid to those lovely, living Sisters of Charity, with Florence Nightingale at their head, braving those burning climes, and breathing that tainted air, while they ministered to the bodies and the souls of those dying soldiers, and tell me whether these are not examples which will illuminate the brightest pages of modern history, or of any history; and bear perpetual testimony that the highest heroism is no longer incompatible with the truest Christianity !
Oh, yes, my young friends, it is not too late, - you can still redeem history from the reproach of being only the register of the vices, follies, and quarrels of those who are contending for power. The influence of religion may still, by God's blessing, be sought for and be found, in the councils of princes and even of presidents, in the debates and resolutions of popular assemblies, and even of Parliaments, and of Congresses, - in the conduct of conquerors at the head of their armies, and even of parties in the heat of their strife. The day may still come when the highest illustration of the heroic character will be recognized in the conquest, not of others, but of one's self; - when the greatest heroes will be acknowledged to be those who have won single-handed victories in the unseen battle-fields of their own souls, with no witnesses but God and the angels; and when we shall all realize the truth of that saying which poor Sheridan (seeing and describing the glory which, alas, he could not achieve for himself) has put into the mouth of his Rolla: “ To triumph o'er ourselves is the only conquest where fortune makes no claim. In battle, chance may snatch the laurel from thee, or chance may place it on thy brow; but in a contest with thyself be resolute, and the virtuous impulse must be the victor.” The day may still come, when the Heroic and the Christian character, blended into one, shall be hailed as the only consummation which is possible in this sublunary state, of the cherished idea of a perfected humanity, and when the world shall do willing homage to the men and the women who shall display these hitherto contrasted and conflicting elements in the most complete and harmonious combination.
And you, my friends, have invented or adopted the precise enginery by which this fusion is to be effected, and this glorious change accomplished. Let the great mass of the young men of America organize themselves into associations like that before me, and persevere systematically and conscientiously in pursuing the ends which this Association has proposed to itself, and the time will come when, to their united efforts, will be traced a reformation of manners and morals, of opinion and of practice, of social, of professional, and of political life, compared with which all other reformations or revolutions will have been only so many precursors and pioneers, — only so many voices crying in the wilderness, “ Prepare ye the way of the Lord !”
Our illustrious Franklin, while still a printer at Philadelphia, on the 9th of May, 1731, being then about five-and-twenty years old, recorded the result of his observations on reading history" in the library which he had founded, in the following words: “There seems to me at present to be great occasion for raising a United Party for Virtue, by forming the virtuous and good men of all nations into a regular body, to be governed by suitable, good, and wise rules, which good and wise men may, probably, be more unanimous in their obedience to, than common people are to common laws.” It may have been a fanciful speculation on Franklin's part, and the virtue which he contemplated may hardly have had enough of the Christian element in it to give it consistency or stability. But the idea, in its best interpretation, seems almost realized and accomplished by the affiliated Young Men's Christian Associations which have recently been spread over so many parts of our country and of the world. A United Party for Christian Virtue has thus been organized. More than twenty thousand young men are estimated to have joined it already in the United States alone. It has no personal or political aims. It rallies to no elections. It seeks no spoils or offices. It appeals to no individual or even national prejudices. It looks to no sectional or sectarian triumphs. It raises no flag, blazoned with the emblems of mere worldly, earthly, temporal interests. But taking the Bible, the open Bible, as its platform, and lifting the Cross as its ensign,“ putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet, the hope of salvation,” it goes forth to wrestle with “ the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” And who doubts that God will go forth with such an army, and that “his banner over it will be Love?” Who doubts that, if faithful to itself, and yielding to no temptations to embark in secular enterprises or controversies, it will go on “conquering and to conquer," and that from line to line, from wing to wing, of its marshalled and embattled legions, shall be heard the triumphant song, “ Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Through God we shall do valiantly, for He it is that shall tread down our enemies !”
And shall there be longer a doubt, that a body of young men, numbering hardly less than two thousand in our own city, thus associated, in such a spirit, and for these high and holy ends, shall have the means of securing for themselves every accommodation which they may need, or may reasonably ask ? Shall