Project Canterbury


Individual Responsibility to the Nation.










Church Publishers.


BOSTON, December 1st, 1866.

REV. AND DEAR SIR,--The undersigned, in behalf of the Congregation of Trinity Church, request, for publication, a copy of the Sermon delivered by you on Thanksgiving Day, the 29th, ult; and they are,

Respectfully, Yours,




"For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee."--PSALM cxxii. 8.

THE day decrees our topic, defines, measurably, the manner of its handling, and determines, generally, the lessons which the preacher shall inculcate. We might wish, some of us, that this were otherwise. We might wish that from these services the voice of human exhortation were absent. We may be unable to forget how often, elsewhere, at any rate, this day and these services have been seized as an occasion for what not a few have been disposed to account partisan harangues, or unfraternal and unseemly denunciations. And so we might perhaps revert this morning, with something of disappointed longing, to that quaint proclamation issued during the reign of the Sixth Edward; a proclamation which, because of the abuse of the sacred privileges of the pulpit in those days, commanded silence for a space from "all manner of preachers generally," "to the intent," as further reads the decree, "that the whole clergy might give themselves in prayer to Almighty God for the better achieving of the most godly intent and purpose of national reformation." Such silence, we may, many of us, be tempted to believe [5/6] would not ill become a Christian pulpit to-day. There is so much for us, as a commonwealth, as a nation, to-day to pray for; there is (God forbid that we should be so churlish or so ungrateful as to forget it!) so much today to give thanks for, that one might not unnaturally be tempted to wish that some such authoritative restraint, as that to which I have alluded, were laid also upon us, and that instead of giving here any least space, even, in attendance upon human discourse, we might the rather spend these moments in those sublime offices of heaven-dictated prayer and praise and thankfulness, to which the Church's services invite us; busying ourselves with unmixed utterance of our petitions, with unbroken outpouring of our joy and gratitude!

Yet, if there were no teaching appropriate to-day, there are emotions struggling for utterance,--emotions not easy to silence or stifle. We cannot forget that this day is, in one sense, a national religious anniversary, nor divorce it from its now sacred and venerable associations. Our American feast of Thanksgiving,--a feast not writ in any calendar of papal or priestly compilation,--how many tender and precious and inspiring memories does it include; nay, how consecrate to-day are all the thoughts and impulses which we feel to be imbraided with it! In a land like ours, where creeds and worship are as various as the hills and valleys, the prairies and forests, the lakes and water-courses that diversify its natural surface, and where, therefore, our Ecclesiastical Festivals can only bring together in common thought and joy a few scattered [6/7] assemblages here and there; where the Churchman and the Methodist may keep their gladsome Christmas or Easter-tide, but where the Presbyterian or the Quaker know nothing of either; where the Baptist or the Congregationalist may celebrate the birthday of Roger Williams, or the landing at Plymouth Rock, but in unison with a few only, beside; where the Lutheran or the disciple of Rome commemorate, each one, the historic saints and heroes of his communion, but so far as the nation is concerned, must do it quite apart,--there is yet one day when the doors of every sanctuary in the land stand open, and when in homes, whether Jew or Gentile, Roman or Protestant, all over our broad territory, men gather for kindly greetings and the gladness of domestic joy. Nay more, when, in temples as remote and various as the worshiping assemblages which they gather, it has been, always and everywhere, the usage to speak of our history and destiny as a nation, and to be cheered or admonished by our past.

The pulpit cannot, therefore, change or ignore this time-honored custom if it would; and, for one, I freely own that I would not if I could. Until patriotism and the Gospel shall become, somehow, less indissolubly linked together than we have so long learned to believe them,--until a weeping Christ, His tears falling fast over doomed Jerusalem, as already His prophetic eye sees afar the gleaming of imperial eagles, and His ear catches the distant tread of the hostile hosts of Titus, shall no longer stand a Divine indication for the Christian's love of country,--we must needs obey the summons which [7/8] calls us to speak to one another of the prosperity and of the perils which environ us as a people; to commune together of our past and of our present, and to gird ourselves for common prayer and effort, that so the land of our common love and pride may know a yet loftier and nobler future!

And what more fitting language from which to catch the key-note alike of speech and prayer and hope, than the benignant aspiration of the text? "For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee!" It is the outburst of that kingly and undaunted heart, which, writing a little later of Israel's banishment and bondage in a foreign land, could yet sing, even in the darkest hour, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning." And it illustrates to us who are here to-day, dear friends, the true temper of the true patriot,--a consistent and fervent and self-sacrificing longing for his country's highest welfare. May we not aptly see in such language, as in the mirror of inspiration itself, our obligation to the brethren and companions who are our fellow-countrymen; to say, and to seek for, peace within all our borders: not the peace of a tyrannical oppression, not the peace of a dead or decaying civilization, but the free and righteous and enduring peace and order and prosperity of an upright and God-fearing people?

And thus I am confronted with the one thought which, to-day supremely, I would aim to get before you,--I mean the thought of the responsibility of the individual to the nation.

Of this, surely, the pulpit may fitly speak to-day. At other times it is its province to remind you of [8/9] other responsibilities, to God, to yourselves, to the outcast and ignorant and benighted. But inculcating thus much, it has not completed the circle of your obligations. Upon each one of us, in various measure, but always and everywhere with equal emphasis, rests a clear responsibility to our country. To it, as to ourselves, to one another, and to God, we owe an enduring and sacred duty,--a duty which no voluntary remoteness can outrun, no wilful indifference lessen or destroy. '" The eye cannot say to the hand I have no need of thee," nor hast thou need of me.' The obligation is behind and above our wills, in that very Constitution of the Republic which makes us all members of the body politic, -- no class above or below the law, all equally owing allegiance to the nation, and having equally a stake in her organized on-going and welfare. It is the supreme distinction of a nation governed like ours, that it substitutes a moral for a public control. A foreigner, passing through our streets, finds them patrolled by no bristling soldiery. The sound of government is heard neither in the beat of martial drum nor in the tramp of armed men. The government reposes, rather, for its strength in the consent and cooperation of the governed. To a stranger to our institutions, this might seem at first like simple madness; and, verily, confidence in our institutions will be simply madness, unless they are informed and upheld by a lofty moral sense among the people owning its debt to the nation, and doing its rightful share toward salting and leavening the nation's moral life. We may extend the borders of our territory ; we may put down rebellion within [9/10] ourselves; we may push forward the conquests of our civilization into yet vaster and remoter wildernesses, and yet have all the while the elements of ultimate decline and decay within ourselves, unless among the people there is not only a national purse but also a national conscience, a sense of reverence for righteousness, temperance, and truth. And for the healthful activity of this national conscience you and I are in our lot and measure responsible--by voice, or pen, or act, or by all together, to bear our testimony against the encroaching evils that threaten us, and in behalf of law and liberty and love! Says Lord Bacon, "The greatness of a state in bulk and territory doth fall under measure; and the greatness of finances and revenue doth fall under computation. The population may appear by musters, and the number and greatness of cities and towns be shown by cards and maps, but yet there is not any thing among civil affairs more subject to error than the right valuation and true judgment concerning the power and forces of a state. The kingdom of heaven is compared not to any great kernel or nut, but to a grain of mustard seed." [Essays, Whately's (Am.) ed., p. 306.] In other words, as in the chief of all empires, so in every kingdom under heaven, true greatness and prosperity resides in that animating temper or principle which is the heart and life of the whole. What, then, are the dangers which threaten the healthful life, the vital principle of our Republic, and concerning which we need to-day to recognize our separate and sacred responsibility?

[11] 1. I answer, first, a gradual deterioration in the standard of public morals. By this I do not mean that honesty and purity and integrity are greatly less precious to us as individuals, but rather that they seem to be less precious to us as a nation. It is, perhaps, a consequence of our late war, that our sensibilities in some directions may have become blunted. War, in no matter how holy a cause, is sure to be, somehow, deteriorating. Is it not possible that that habit, which we learned during the four years of our sore trial, of summoning men to very high and sacred responsibilities, with very careless and superficial scrutiny of their personal characters, lingers among us in its perilous effects still? Are we as careful as formerly to see to it, all over the land, that the various branches of government, in the State and in the Nation, are filled by pure and upright men? Are there no facts concerning our municipal and other elections in some of the chief centres of our wealth and civilization, which, as we look across the sea, and take note of their impression on older peoples and empires, may well make us blush? Is there no venality in even our most venerable legislative bodies? Are our public servants always and everywhere men who will be sure to resist the power of corruption, and to consult only the highest interests of their constituents? Nay, more, to go behind these evils on the surface to the malady which is their root, do we recognize and discharge our separate responsibility as citizens? Are we careful to make our personal influence everywhere felt: at the ballot-box, in the primary meeting, in our social and political conferences; by all the testimony [11/12] of our daily speech and life? Alas, how large is that proportion of nearly all our great communities, small perhaps in numbers, but large in the power of its influence and example, who, concerning the most vital and sacred interests of their country, are contented to be mere spectators; who shrink from the vexations and importunities, the jostling and collision of more active interest, and thus live as though they had no stake in the common well-being. Verily, there is need that we should, just here, be reminded that if we will indulge this disposition to consult our own ease, there are at hand others ready enough to undertake what we have neglected. And who are they? See them, in more than one of our great centres of political influence, choosing those for their representatives, who, if only numerous enough, will, ere long, turn the council of the nation into an assemblage of ignorant, or, worse still, of unscrupulous adventurers. As yet, perhaps, such evils are local and limited, but who shall say, if the moral sense of the nation shall not be just here awakened, how soon they may not become general and frequent? We boast of our liberal form of government, which derives its authority from the uncoerced consent of the governed, but we cannot afford to be blind to the fact that even such a form of government has its possible perils. Invest the power of government in the hands of an ignorant or merely impulsive multitude, leave the control of that multitude in the keeping of an unscrupulous and self-seeking few, and you have an irresponsible oligarchy, beside whose possible tyrannies the wantonness of a Nero might grow white! For, how can such a people help going [12/13] astray, unless they have men bold and brave enough to tell them the truth? The multitudes annually brought to our shores from foreign lands, invested almost at once with all the privileges and responsibilities of citizens, and those other multitudes scarcely less ignorant, growing up in the seething centres of our vast commercial life, who will speak to them the words of truth and soberness? Some one has said that one chief mitigation of the old ages of despotism was that there was then great freedom of access and great truthfulness of speech to men in power. We have some of us, perhaps, seen Titian's great picture of Charles the Fifth on horseback. It is as bold a delineation of character, as though it had been painted by John the Baptist. Not one iota of flattery is there in it. There are the falling jaw, the complexion full of disease, the scanty beard, and worn countenance. . . . . It is a ghastly grand picture. It could only have been painted by a free man, living, it may be, in a court, but addressing courtiers who were accustomed to see and to tell the truth, and a sovereign who was accustomed to hear it. Who shall be brave enough to tell our sovereign, the people, the truth, and how can we hope for a class of public servants who shall do otherwise than pander to their prejudices or their passions, unless the thoughtful and educated and reflecting element in our communities shall make itself felt as everywhere present and sympathetic--an unobtrusive but positive power in all the on-going of our national life? It will be a dark day for the land, when any class among us, from indolence or a fine scorn of what it calls the vulgar strife of politics, holds itself [13/14] aloof from any just contribution of its interests or its activities to the common welfare. Think what it was to be a citizen of Rome's Empire! It does not require any peculiar learning to apprehend what was the depth and meaning of that citizenship. The most uncultivated reader of the Bible may judge, as he hears the Roman centurion telling the Chief Captain of the guard concerning St. Paul, "take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman," at once of the pervading weight and power of Roman citizenship. And yet, after all, what were either its immunities or its responsibilities compared with ours,--ours, where the will of the people creates the men who rule them, and where each solitary voice is an integral part of the utterance and authority of the State. Remembering this, as so often with pride and exultation we recall it, must we not also remember the deeper obligation that goes with it,--our solitary and abiding responsibility for the welfare of the community, of the State, of the Nation!

2. In view of that responsibility, to turn now to another point. Are there no other perils to the nation of which, to-day, we need to remind ourselves? I think that, at least, the thoughtful and reflecting among us will own those that forever ensue with the incoming of an age of luxury, an age--

When wealth accumulates, and men decay."

We have been vaunting ourselves a good deal upon the ease with which we have borne the burdens of war, and the steady progress which, notwithstanding our costly sacrifices of blood and treasure, the country has almost everywhere made in material [14/15] prosperity. It is worth while, however, to consider whether a state of things which we have been disposed to view with no small complacency, may not have within it the seed of the gravest perils. No one who has looked candidly at the habits and tendencies of our people, can be blind to the growing extravagance and artificiality of our domestic life, and the often unseemly prodigality and ostentation, especially of our great cities. At one single port of entry in the United States, within a month, the foreign importations for a single week amounted to nearly five millions of dollars; very much of this sum being represented by articles of sheer luxury. If it be said, in reply to such facts as these, that people have a right to spend their money as they please, the simple answer is that the proposition, however plausible, is not true. No man or woman has a right to indulge in habits of luxury or extravagance hurtful to the community around them. They are deteriorating the whole body politic by their bad example. And that this is a danger more than imminent among us, who that perceives our present tendencies can deny?--our cities overcrowded with the youth of both sexes, impatient of the less exciting atmosphere of rural life,--our people of all ranks and classes fired by an unseemly ambition to vie, in their personal and domestic expenditures, with the habits of the wealthiest! Our business habits, how often are they those of an unhealthy spirit of speculation; a vain and silly eagerness to be rich by methods that are only by one step removed from those of the gambler or the adventurer. Only suffer such a state of things to spread far enough and deep [15/16] enough in the temper and usage of the people, and it requires no seer to prophesy the end. There are great dynasties that once covered the earth with tokens of their wealth and strength, more splendid, even, than any that greet our eyes to-day. And from out the ashes of their long perished grandeur we may read our possible future. They were not the victims of conquest; they did not perish through internal dissensions,--they simply rotted to death by the cancerous decay of an enervating luxury and extravagance. Go back as far as you will, to the earliest dawn, even, of the now perished civilizations of the East, and you may watch there the encroaching ruin that everywhere followed upon the decay of simpler habits,--the relaxed vigilance of rulers, the declining energy of the people, the corruptions of public and private morals, and finally the impatience of warning or rebuke. With pride and wealth came carelessness and luxury, and, as an Empire, gave itself over to ignoble or shameless pleasures, its people stopped their ears against admonition or reproof. The amphitheatre was crowded with thousands impatient for the horrid excitement of the gladiatorial shows, while the voice of warning wisdom was stifled with angry denunciation. A great historian has written of Rome what tells the story of other nations scarcely less powerful or conspicuous. Says Niebuhr: "The manners and mode of life had now but one aim,--that of accumulating wealth. Already had people become exceedingly immoral. Immense riches, heaped together by fraud or plunder, were squandered in sheer luxury; while the old ways having been, in every thing, abandoned, Greek [16/17] fashions were copied as much as possible." [See Niebuhr's Lectures on Roman History.] We know, now, the rest of the story. How pleasure became sole mistress of the fleeting hours; how national vigilance degenerated into a foolish and vaunting self-confidence; how the vices of the capitol spread slowly, but surely, to all the remotest provinces, until at last, when a vandal conqueror marched with his armies upon one of the chief capitals of the Empire, the most imminent peril of its inhabitants could not withdraw them from the sports of the arena. The shouts of armed hosts without the city mingled with the laughter of its debased inhabitants within; and over the groans of the wounded and dying, who fell making an ineffectual defence, rose the strains of music in the circus. It was the dreary but appropriate ending of a Republic whose senators had been more eager to shelter those things which ministered to their personal indulgence, than to conserve the life of the nation.

I know how remote all this must seem from even our possible future, and under God it is remote. But indifference to our solitary and separate responsibility may make it very near. It is only necessary that you and I, and those who ought to be its best and most vigilant friends generally, should let it be seen that we do not care what becomes of our Republic, into what unseemliness of luxury or extravagance it runs,--only this indifference, I say, is necessary in order to precipitate a ruin, which, if less striking in dramatic incident than that of Rome, shall be as utter and irremediable. Only import fast [17/18] enough the vices and the prodigalities of continental manners, and we may not long have to wait for the ghastly premonitions of decay, which to-day more than one continental dynasty beholds staring it in the face! On the other hand, in the way of restraining and chastening the public temper, you and I may not be able to do a great deal. But we can bear our testimony. We can set to the seal of our unequivocal example; we can lift up in public and in private our warning voice, and so, for the land of our common love, for our brethren and companions' sakes, say now and always, "Peace, peace be within thee,"--that peace and order and righteous serenity which are the fruit of a nation's chastened, virtuous, and simple habits!

For such a peace, is any sacrifice too dear,--any crucifixion of our personal ease or tastes too costly? To-day, supremely, as it seems to me, brings its summons for just such a duty; for to-day supremely are we reminded of other and costlier offerings on the altar of our country's salvation, which bear to some, at least, among us, peculiar and hallowed significance. From east to west, this morning, all over the broad territory where these hours will find their joyous observance, there will gather countless households, eager to brighten anew the common links of love and kinship, and recall the tender ties of home. In how many such circles, alas, will there be dreary and irreparable vacancies, witnesses of sons and brothers and husbands who went forth, never to come back again! In how many other households will such vacancies be not solitary, but twofold, and it may be even more numerous, reminding them not [18/19] only of a missing Joseph, but of Simeon and Benjamin as forever absent also! The mother that gave her first-born will to-day have bitterly recalled to her, it may be, the added sacrifice of her youngest and fairest. Weeping Rachels, striving to hide their tears, will yet be forced to-day to remember that the glad and living voices that once gave chiefest brightness to the home are silent, and that the best beloved shall never come back again. Orphaned children, widowed women, lonely sisters, from east to west, wherever the flag of their hearts' devotion floats, will be constrained to remember that its unsullied whiteness has been purchased with the lives of their own loved ones, and that its crimson stripes have won their richer crimson from the life-blood of their hearts' idols.

What think you, then, would be their message--those who to-day will, even amid the gladness of uncounted homes, be mourned--could their cold lips speak to us of the duty of the hour? Would it not be to bid us to any sacrifice, no matter how costly, if only we might give what they died for, for their brethren and companions' sakes,--peace to our common country, the peace of righteousness, equity, and love? Shall our land be less dear to us than to them? Shall not ours, too, be the song so meetly sung over their ashes:

O beautiful, my country! ours once more!
Smoothing thy gold of war-dishevelled hair
O'er such sweet hours as never other wore,
And letting thy set lips,
Freed from wrath's pale eclipse,
The rosy edges of their smile lay bare,
What words divine of lover or of poet,
[20] Could tell our love and make thee know it,
Among the nations bright beyond compare?
What were our lives without thee?
What all our lives to save thee?
We reck not what we gave thee;
We will not dare to doubt thee;
But ask whatever else, and we will dare!"

In this spirit--a spirit of loving and eager sacrifice for the nation's welfare--let us go forward, at once, to our responsibilities and our opportunities. These last await us, not only in all the ordinary on-goings of the nation's life, but especially in those peculiar and most grave emergencies which rise up to confront us to-day.

May the temper and behavior with which we shall meet them wear always an aspect so unequivocal, that, to the eyes of men everywhere, the clear, consistent language of conduct shall breathe a patriot's prayer: "For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, PEACE BE WITHIN THEE."

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