"And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not. Am I my brother's keeper?
"And he said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground." Genesis iv. 9, 10.
IT would have made no difference, I presume, in the guilt of this first-born son of Eve, if he had lifted no hand against his younger brother, but had simply slain him by neglect. If, with his heart full of murder, he had found his brother wounded and fainting by the wayside, and had left him there to perish, he would surely have been no less guilty of that spilled life, that cried from earth to heaven for vengeance, than he was when he raised his hand, and took that life by a blow.
I suppose, too, that if a man's soul be of immeasurably more consequence than his body, and if neglect of our brother's soul may leave it to perish, as really, only more hopelessly, than perishes the body, then the guilt of such neglect [3/4] is at least not different, at any rate in essence, from the guilt of Cain. Of course the degree of that guilt will be modified, as it was in Cain's case, by the intelligence and the deliberation with which we act.
I state these points as early and as plainly as possible, lest it should be thought that I have chosen as a theme, language which is inapplicable to us who are here, and which can only be made applicable by a forced and exaggerated construction. If deliberate neglect of another may be murder, and if neglect of another's spiritual part may ensue in the death of that, because of our neglect, then to declare that you and I may be in danger of being guilty of the blood of souls is not straining the language of the text, and is certainly not exaggerating it. And so I venture to use the words, as at least not inaptly introducing the topic of which I would speak this morning.
Three years ago, standing in this place, I said some words of the dangers of social disintegration. What I meant by that phrase was the danger of the growth, in all large communities, and especially in communities where wealth is in creasing rapidly, but not diffusively, of isolation between the rich and the poor, and so, sooner or later, of that spirit of caste, out of which comes haughty and heartless indifference on the one [4/5] hand, and impatience, envy, and finally revolution, on the other.
In referring to this danger, and its increase in our day, I ventured then upon no vaticinations, and refrained from uttering any gloomy auguries. Yet I doubt not there were some who thought the apprehensions then expressed, extravagant, and who saw, as they believed, no serious dangers threatening this or any other Christian nation, in our day, from the process of social disintegration, or the mutual alienation of different classes of society.
Since then, however, events have given us two very startling and striking illustrations of the results of such a tendency, and that in two of the oldest Christian nations in the world. Within the past three years, we have seen France, after having been pillaged and devastated by foreign enemies, fall a fresh victim to the rapacity and destructiveness of her own people. If there is one reflection which can to-day add to a French man's humiliation a supremer poignancy than any other, it must needs be, that the direst ruin which to-day desolates his country's beautiful capital was wrought by the bloody and pitiless hands of her own children. It was not foreign invasion, it was domestic insurrection, that, with demoniac fury battered down beautiful monuments, and burned, and disfigured venerable and [5/6] historic buildings! It was not the legions of Germany that set torch to the Tuilleries and turned the Champs Elysées into a howling wilderness, but the fierce and incontrollable hordes of the Commune. And what did that brutal cruelty and devilish destructiveness mean, if not this: that in days like these, when almost all men read, and whether rightly or wrongly, think, when crude ideas of popular rights and of the liberties of the people, are seething in the minds of that great substratum of society which forms its most numerous class, whether in the old world or the new--that in such days, no ruling or uppermost classes can afford to ignore what is due to the classes below them, not merely in the matter of legal justice, but also and equally, of living sympathy. A few years ago we were wont to say, "What a well-governed city is Paris, and what a firmly ruled nation is France!" It was all smooth, and glittering, and inexorable and soulless. There was the most beautiful precision, the swiftest public justice, and the most profound heartlessness beneath them. Never, in the darkest days that preceded the first French Revolution, was there more military splendor, more of a certain kind of imperial munificence, or more of absolute despotism. The people were still the canaille, to be feared, to be policed, to be bayoneted, to be amused, to be deceived, [6/7] but never to be wisely taught, trusted, sympathized with, and elevated. And so, if any man wonders that, at last, the pent-up fires of the Commune burst their bounds and licked up all before them, if any man wonders that ignorance, poverty, under-paid labor, unrelieved suffering, uncorrected vice, rose up and ran riot in their cruel and vulgar strength, I for one do not. We shall always see such results, wherever neglect, indifference, and mutual distrust have been permitted long to precede them.
But we have lately seen another illustration of the progress of social disintegration in our own mother country. That tendency which an English man of business has lately and aptly described as disclosing itself in England along with the growth of wealth and population,--a tendency to make "the wall of moral separation between the rich and the poor, broader, higher, and more impassable," has become more and more painfully apparent, until I suppose it has been literally true that many of the poor who are, by rapacious landlords, huddled together in squalor and vice in the large commercial and manufacturing towns of England, "have so little personal acquaintance with the rich, that, to many of them, the well-dressed neighbors whom they meet in their daily walks hardly seem to be their own fellow-beings, with one single passion, [7/8] strait, motive or feeling ill common with themselves!" And, yet, notwithstanding these painful facts, we have been wont to smile at the efforts of Communism, or Red Republicanism in England. We have seen no glaring grievances, and we have looked back at Lord George- Gordon and the agitations of the Chartists as only showing the weakness of all revolutionary elements in Great-Britain. But suddenly, through some chance breach of confidence, it comes to light that the most chronic and consistent English conservatism, as represented in some of its foremost nobility and ablest statesmen, has taken so different and' so much more serious a view of the restlessness and impatience of the classes below them as to step down from the distance and reserve of centuries and practically consent to treat with the representatives of English Radicals concerning some of the most fundamental matters of social well-being. And, assiduous as have been the efforts of more than one statesman and nobleman to disclaim any personal association in definite negotiations with the lower classes, the fact remains that the representatives of the highest and most exclusive class in a great empire, have been earnestly engaged in arranging such negotiations and in weighing the question of their results.
And what does this prove, but that such [8/9] statesmen and nobles have read aright, at last, the signs of the times, have seen the perils of the growth of caste, and have resolved at length to reach forth the hand of manly and Christian brotherhood to the toiling millions that are below them?
But it may be asked, at this point: What has all this to do with us? Ours is no despotic, or even monarchical government, with their fixed classes, their titled aristocracies, and their hereditary serfdoms. In a republic there is no room for castes, for all men are there equal before the law, and the rights of the lowliest are as sacred and. inviolable as those of the loftiest. And all this is perhaps true enough until we come to ask more specifically, what are a man's rights? If, by that word, we mean his legal dues, then undoubtedly such rights the Republic guarantees to him. But, in a Christian age and nation, every human being has other rights than those laid down in the statute book. He has a right, if he is weak, to help, if he is ignorant, to instruction, if he is astray, to rescue, if he is abandoned, to reform, and if you ask how he has acquired that right, I answer that he has acquired it by virtue of that humanity which he shares with the Christ of history, and which once for all made man the lasting creditor of all other men's sympathy and succor, when the Saviour of the [9/10] Race, pointing to its poor, its feeble, its imprisoned, its outcast ones, proclaimed, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto Me!" If you admit the authority of the New Testament, that law becomes straightway law for you and me, and binds upon us, each alike, the obligation to pull down, and not build up, the cruel walls of caste.
For just here it needs to be observed in still further answer to the question, what have we to do in this country and community with the dangers of social disintegration, that there may be easily degraded classes, even in a republic, and that there, conspicuously there may be the worst and hurtfullest illustrations of those other so-called higher classes which neglect and ignore the rest. Those so-called higher classes may be the classes that represent culture, and social influence and wealth. Nay, they may be represented by that single class, rapidly increasing, most of all, in a land like ours; whose claim to power is based upon wealth alone. Believe me, if mere wealth continues to increase among us, without a proportionately increasing recognition and discharge of its responsibilities, if luxury and self-indulgence rear higher and higher the walls that separate them from brethren to whom they owe a downright and definite [10/11] debt, if the coarse power of gold, hedged about by no hereditary dignities, and winning its grasping victories amid no obsequious peasantry, only goes on greatening its gains, and wrapping itself round in daintier and costlier raiment, then the day may very easily, and not very tardily come when even in this so-called Republic, revolution will lift its red hand and whelm us in a common ruin! Neglect will bear its certain fruit of discontent, and only give discontent its opportunity and it will inaugurate lawlessness, and plunder, and bloodshed.
But do I state these possibilities merely to appeal to your fears? Do I remind you of those revolutionary tendencies which neglect of the poor and untaught will beget, merely to arouse your instincts of self-protection? However proper such an appeal might be elsewhere, I should be ashamed to use it here. No! I speak of those tendencies, not to urge upon you vigilance for yourselves, but interest and anxiety for others. It is in order to see how we may best lift out of a condition, whose inevitable ending is in rapine, and bloodshed, - those brethren of ours, who because of our unthinking neglect, are drifting towards such crimes, that I have rehearsed these facts this morning. What is the bidding of those facts to us? What is the appeal which they make supremely to those who gather, on such a [11/12] day as this, within the precincts of this Holy House?
For, after all, the whole discussion brings us face to face with the question, What is the duty and province in this whole matter of the Church of Jesus Christ? Can we merely content our selves with telling men concerning a life to come, and have nothing to say to them amid the sorrows, the sufferings, the penury, the sins of this? Can we leave it to the dry mechanism of legislation to lift up the weak, the neglected, the outcast? Is civilization, however brilliant its triumphs,--and shame on him who would belittle them,--is civilization, I ask, to be trusted to re knit the severed cords of sympathy, to quicken the sluggish pulse of selfishness, to open the sealed fountains of charity, in the heart and thought of the wealthy and prosperous of the nation? How plainly not! Christianity, and Christ, and the Church of Christ, are in this world to give it that 'salt' and 'light' which the world itself has not. "If there are great functions which civilized society takes over from the Church, there are others which none but the Church can discharge;" nay, with, without the Church, are lost to mankind. When we talk of the influences of Christianity on society, we use large and vague words, which we are not perhaps always able to explain or develope; but there is [12/13] one form of this influence, which is not too subtle and fugitive for us to grasp, and that is that form of influence, which finds its expression in individual endeavors to put into action the creed of love and brotherhood which we profess. Is the Church of God in this land and among this people,--are we ourselves, doing that? When, the other day, in France, the Commune of Paris murdered its venerable Archbishop, of what was that blind and bloody deed the expression? Certainly not of personal animosity toward a pure and blameless Prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, who had lived, by universal testimony, an unspotted and exemplary life? No! but of resentment toward that thing which called itself religion, of which, to them, that feeble old man was the representative;--a thing which baptized itself with the name of Jesus, and claimed to have come to teach the world the Master's new command of love, but which, as they knew it, had strengthened the reign of ignorance, had neglected the vicious and abandoned, and had cringed and bowed down to wealth and vulgar power. And so these men had reasoned, and reasoned rightly, "If this be religion, we want no more of it! Away with it, and with its lordly and arrogant representatives!" Surely, it is a vital and timely question for us, how much more faithfully is the Christianity, the religion of our [13/14]land, how much more faithfully is the Church of Christ, in this vast and teeming community, fulfilling Christ's commandment, and loving its brother as itself? What are we doing, and are we doing all that we can, not to build up, but to pull down the barriers which wealth, and luxury, and indolence, and selfishness, are rearing higher and higher, between the rich and the poor, the taught and the untaught, the prosperous and the neglected, the respectable and the fallen? Are we tenderly bending down to gather up and re knit the severed arteries, through which should pulsate a great tide of Christian sympathy to. ward the outcast and the ignorant? Are we trying, at all, to make the Gospel freer, and Christ nearer, and brotherhood in Him realler, to the unbefriended and the destitute? Surely, these are living and pressing questions, and never, in all the history of Christendom, were they being urged in the stern language of events, more imperatively than to-day. In our time, as never before, the Church of God seems to have been put upon her trial, and men are asking, "why she exists, and what she is accomplishing?" "Surely," they exclaim, and rightly, "Religion is not a narrow, selfish, mutual insurance-company, existing for the benefit of a favored few. Surely, Christ did not die to teach men to hoard wealth, or only to build stately temples, [14/15] and maintain costly services for the favored few!" "Surely," they demand, and rightly demand, "if yours is a Divine Religion, it ought to be seen running to and fro, in the world, upon divine errands! If there be ignorance it ought to sit down patiently beside it and enlighten it! If there be nakedness, it ought to strive to clothe it; if there be sin and degradation, it ought boldly to rebuke the one, and tenderly lift up the others! And if there are starving souls, as well as bodies, bruised and sorrowful hearts, as well as drooping hands and feeble knees, it ought to open wide the doors of Sanctuaries where a Christ who freely died, may freely be pro claimed!"
I plead to-day for such a Sanctuary. In other words, I plead for that free Chapel, reared through the large-hearted wisdom of my venerable predecessor, which is the daughter of this Church, and whose free ministrations and various charitable operations, are chiefly maintained by the gifts of this congregation. Let me own gratefully, this morning, that those gifts have thus far been both generous and constant; and best of all, that the co-operation which has gone with them has been alike hearty and steadfast. Through the various charitable organizations connected with our free Chapel, we have been able to create, and thus far keep open a current [15/16] of loving and helpful sympathy, between many hearts and hands in this congregation, and the poor of this city. One of these agencies, the Industrial School, brings under the softening and refining influence of ladies with hearts of ready sympathy, and a purpose of patient devotion, nearly four hundred children gathered weekly from the over crowded homes and dwellings of penury. Another Society employs and cares for a large number of poor mothers, and needy single women. Still another, extends its interests, and sympathy, and loving, helpfulness to missionaries and their families, laboring chiefly on our western and south-western frontiers. Another still, is an association composed of members of both sexes, and devoting its energies to the care of the sick and of strangers. Two skilful physicians give themselves freely to its work, and nearly fifteen hundred visits have been made for the care of the suffering, and the distribution of food, medicine, fuel, and other substantial forms of relief during the past year. Of all these various organizations for Christian work, besides others equally important, such as Bible Reading, Mother's Meetings, Sunday-school instruction and the like, our free Chapel, with its fifteen hundred free sittings, open to all sorts and conditions of men, is the centre. To me it is the most blessed and important feature in my [16/17] work as your minister--equally important and blessed alike to me, and to you. Without it, I freely confess, that I could no longer continue to stand in this place. If it should ever come to pass, that, because of your indifference, the work and services of this Chapel should come to an end, I should feel that my pastorate among you was a pitiable failure, and that it was time that that should come to an end also! * * * * * * * ** * * *** For, if the Master were here, this morning, on what, think you, would He look most favorably, on a selfish, exclusive, unsympathetic religion, or on efforts to preach the Message of His bleeding love, even as He preached it, freely, openly, urgently, by deed, as well as by word, to the poor, even more assiduously than to the rich? He reared no splendid sanctuaries, but "He went about doing good," and in that, shall we not imitate Him? Shall we not lift up the brother, fallen among thieves, or going down to death before our eyes? We stand once more upon the threshold of the Master's Advent. Ours be it then, joyfully, by all that we do for those for whom He died, to rear anew the highway for His later, grander coming! Ours be it, by every deed of love and free self-sacrifice to win humanity to Him, and so to open wide the gates for His enduring [17/18] sunshine! For then, ours it may also be, catching the glimpse of that breaking light which heralds His approach, to sing with thankful hope:
"'Tis coming up the steep of Time,
And this old world is growing brighter!
We may not see its dawn sublime,
Yet high hopes make the heart throb lighter!
We may be sleeping in the ground,
When it awakes the people's wonder,
But we have felt it gathering round,
And heard its voice of living thunder.
Christ's reign, ah yes, 'tis coming!
Aye, it must come! The tyrant's throne
Is crumbling, with men's hot tears rusted,
The sword earth's mighty have leant upon,
Is cankered with men's hearts' blood crusted!
Room! for the men of Love make way!
Ye selfish great ones pause no longer,
Ye cannot stay the opening Day;
The world rolls on, the light grows stronger,--
The Master's Advent's coming!"