RECTOR OF GRACE CHURCH, NEW-YORK.
H. & F. J. HUNTINGTON.
This discourse, which was delivered in your church, I beg leave to inscribe to you. The call for it was so sudden, that it has been too hastily prepared to make it an offering of much value. Its publication, however, being demanded, under circumstances which forbid my refusal, I embrace the opportunity afforded of recording my respect and esteem for you my brother, and my affectionate and grateful remembrance of you my friends,--to whom, I can never forget, I once had the satisfaction of standing in the endearing relation of pastor.
Your ever affectionate friend,
JONATHAN M. WAINWRIGHT.
Hartford, August 13th, 1828.
THE doctrine of human perfectibility has often been made the subject of philosophical ridicule; and when we consider the visionary character of some of its abettors, and the extravagance of their statements and arguments, we may reasonably conclude that their theories deserved no better reception. But if, on the one hand, we should place no confidence in such benevolent fantasies, we should not, on the other, give way to the cold and heartless views of such as would persuade us that there is an end of all perfection, and who tell us that as man has been, and is now, so will he continue to be; that to the end of time there will be wars and fightings, ignorance and folly, sin and misery, in the same degree as at present. If we must have a theory, give us the former; for it exhibits bright hopes, it encourages benevolent feelings, it excites to philanthropick exertions. But the better [5/6] course is, to leave the philosophers to their dreams and speculations, and to go at once to the word of God, the predictions of which are truth, its statements realities, and which contains within itself the means of accomplishing what it promises. In this sacred book, we find frequent intimations of a happier and better condition of the world, at some future period, when peace and virtue shall universally prevail. The most remarkable of these predictions is that, of which my text forms a part. The prophet, in highly figurative language, describes the reign of Messiah and its consequences. "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice-den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."
It hardly need be observed, that this passage will not bear, and was not designed to bear, a literal interpretation. The habits of ravenous beasts and poisonous reptiles can never change, while their physical structure remains as it is. The hungry wolf will never have pity upon the timid lamb. The carnivorous lion can never assuage his appetite with the same food that satisfies the ruminating ox. The poison sack will still secrete its venom for the aspic's fangs. But, as the moral dispositions of men are often likened to the temper of wild animals, and the angry man is a raging lion, the deceitful [6/7] slanderer a venomous serpent, the rapacious man a ravening wolf, so the prophets description refers to an improved state of human society. Let us consider then to what extent we may reasonably look forward to this improvement, the circumstances that encourage us to expect it, and the means by which it is to be brought about.
To what degree of perfection the characters of individual men may be advanced, and to what condition of refinement in knowledge and virtue society at large may be promoted, it is impossible to say. We cannot perhaps ever look forward to an age, when every man will be wise and good; for as all men have not the faculties to acquire wisdom, so neither have all tempers, which, under any probable state of circumstances, can be made virtuous. While the world shall endure, there will always be dull and foolish individuals, and also incurably selfish and depraved ones. But this is not the question. Have we a right to expect, that there will ever be a vast predominance of such as will adorn an age by their wisdom, and virtue; when vice will be generally discountenanced, when crimes will be rare, and excite an universal abhorrence; when nations and large communities of men will not be brought into conflict with each other, but will understand that sublime principle of political economy, that the happiness and prosperity of each tends to the advantage of the whole. I see nothing to forbid such a pleasing anticipation. I do not see why there may not be an end of wars and fightings on the earth; and why, in our own country for example, its distinguishing sin of intemperance may not be made to disappear, and falsehood and deception be almost unknown, and many [7/8] other vices and pernicious habits be merely matter of historical record, and the whole community be one of virtue. This appears now indeed an extravagant statement. When we look into any portion of the nation, a large city for example; and see the immense amount of its sins and miseries, it would seem as if no river of benevolence, however mighty, could cleanse away its Augean corruption. But let us examine this position without prejudice, and under the guidance of past experience and known principles. We will not contend that pure benevolence will become universal; that every sin will be utterly banished; and that every man will learn to regard every other man and treat him as a brother. We will only suppose that charity, and integrity, and virtuous and religious deportment, will be so general, that an opposite course of conduct will then be regarded, as we now look at those horrible crimes which sometimes call forth the loud indignation of the community, and its severest punishments. Nor will we imagine this state of things as likely to take place very soon; we allow that ages must first roll away, and that the engines which are now put into operation by the good, must be permitted to have a free and long continued scope, to effect their great designs. There may then at some distant period be an age, when swords shall be beat into plough shares, and spears into pruning hooks, and they shall not hurt or destroy in all the world, which will become the holy mountain of the Lord. If such an anticipation staggers our faith, let us see what has actually come to pass--the improvements that have been made since the world began.
Some there are, who contend that there have been [8/9] no improvements--that human society has been a vast tide, which has rolled on to a certain height, and has then fallen to its ebb--that we have ever had, and ever shall have, an age of light, succeeded by a long night of dreary darkness. And they reason about the question, how long before the sun of present improvement will arrive at its meridian, and begin its descending course, to leave us to the twilight of other middle ages. Would we give way to the opinions of some few desponding and dissatisfied beings, we should have to acknowledge that we are, at the present moment, neither as wise nor as good as our forefathers. With them, the world is ever retrograding, and nothing can be as excellent as what existed in times past. Now, we must acknowledge, that in some respects the world has not improved. It is hazardous enough, to claim for the literature of modern days an equality even with that of ancient times; but to say that our poetry or eloquence surpasses that of Grecian or Roman fame, would be esteemed madness. And when we look at the works of art, and human ingenuity and labour, the ruins of Persepolis, the pyramids of Egypt, the simple majesty and beauty of the Parthenon, or the sublime grandeur of some great Cathedral, raised, in Gothic times, as a temple to the Most High; we must acknowledge, that the labours of modern days sink into comparative nothingness. We must remember, however, that we are engaged in examining the question of moral and religious improvement. Those works are evidences of a state of inequality, and contrasted opulence and wretchedness among men, which could not be tolerated, and could not exist, at the present period. That wealth and those [9/10] talents, which were once devoted to objects, the ruins alone of which now fill us with wonder, are at present employed to produce, in the eyes of the christian philosopher, still greater wonders. We have, at this day, and in our own country, the abilities, and the wealth, and the physical strength, to produce the pyramids, or to rebuild Balbec; but then we must suppose ourselves to be under the sway of an absolute monarch, who governed us by no rule but his own capricious will; we must suppose the whole population, with some very few exceptions, to be ignorant, and degraded, to a condition but one remove above the brutes that perish; and that, feeding like them upon little more than the grass of the field, we could be driven in herds to perform the will of our task masters. In such a state of society, any work of mere labour could be accomplished. But it is one evidence of the improvement of the world, that such undertakings cannot be projected and executed. Any work that will be truly and permanently useful, that will add to the comfort and happiness of the human race, in a degree answerable to the pains and expense bestowed upon it, will even now be accomplished. Would a pyramid answer the useful designs of a water communication, facilitating the distribution of the food and clothing necessary to the comfort of man, its construction would soon be attempted and effected. When we examine the question to what extent the world has improved, we must examine it with this reference. Now, will any one for a moment contend, that we are not immensely in advance of our forefathers, who existed at any period since the world began? When were the rights of man so well understood; when were the principles of a sound philosophy so universally [10/11] disseminated; when was there such a vast proportion of intelligent and thinking beings; when was there ever such active exertion to remove moral evil, and to accomplish, as far as possible, the happiness of every individual of the human family? Never. We have fallen, my brethren, upon happy times,--unspeakably happy, compared with any that have before existed. The idea of a former age of peace, and happiness, and wisdom, called the golden, is all a foolish imagination. There never has been an age, (great as present evils are) yet there never has been an age as wise, as peaceful, or as happy, as the present. And why may not future ages have successively the same advantage over those which preceded them? There cannot be a retrograde motion now, because we are improving upon right principles, and we have only just begun to improve.
Let me here introduce a few observations from the pen of an able christian philosopher of the present day. "There are three agents which will soon be entwined with the issues of all human affairs, and are the very hinges upon which the moral world will speedily turn. The three things, in which the present age excels the ancients, are the Inductive Philosophy, Printing and Universal Education. Education and the press have only been employed to purpose, of very late years. Every year they have been making some improvements upon their former efforts; and as these are instruments capable of an indefinite perfectibility, and as the art of using will enlarge with the use itself, it only requires to increase the number of printing presses, schools, and teachers, to accelerate to any pitch the rate of improvement. These two latter discoveries fit in together, and mutually render each [11/12] other available. Printing, by its unlimited multiplication of copies, supplying materials for universal education; and universal education creating a demand for copies that proceeds without any assignable term. These are the two great means to bring about the moral revolution of the world; and these two powers are gradually moulding governments, and stamping them with the form and pressure of the age." [* James Douglas on Missions.]
When, my Brethren, we enter into such speculations, instead of considering the perfectibility of man a delusive dream, we might be excused for pursuing the thought to almost any extent. Will any one, of whatever profession or occupation of the present day, place any limit to its improvement? Will the physician tell us, that we are to expect no more discoveries, in his benevolent and useful art; that nature has yielded up her whole arcana of remedies; and that science has tried every variety of combination in their employment? Will the civilian declare to us, that the rights of men can never be better understood or defined; and that the enactment of law, or the administration of justice, can never be simplified or rendered more effective? Will the merchant assure us, that the principles of political philosophy, and the true balance of the agricultural, the manufacturing, and commercial interests of nations, are now as well comprehended and as thoroughly acted upon as they ever will be? No. They are all anticipating improvements; they are constantly striving to effect them: nay, they are actually effecting them every day. Now, why is the Christian the only man that is to be stationary? Why is he the only one to be called a visionary, [12/13] for anticipating the rapid and extensive progress of his faith? If the physician hopes to lessen the evils incident to the human body from disease; if the lawyer hopes to enlighten us still more upon the relations of man with man; and the merchant, to extend the knowledge of the true principles of the wealth of nations and individuals; why may not we christians anticipate a like success? Are the principles of our profession less certain; are they less important to human happiness; or have we less attachment to them, and less faith in them? Ah, my brethren, here is the evil. He who doubts about the gospel of Christ and its extension, cannot be a true believer: he who does nothing to promote it, must be a very heartless one.
We cannot for a moment doubt concerning the effect that would be produced in any community, by the general profession and practise of the principles of the gospel of Christ. Look at the operation of this faith upon some individual; how gentle, how true, how humble, how benevolent, he is made; how faithful in the discharge of all his duties; how patient under every affliction; what a pattern of moral dignity. Now, were such characters as general as those of an opposite kind, would not the whole face of the community be changed? Would not vices almost disappear, would not industry greatly increase, would not the noise of strife and contention be stilled, would not offices of good will take place of jealousies and anger? And suppose that several nations, for instance, all those which outwardly profess the name of Christ, were to act consistently with their profession; should we any more be disturbed with the noise of wars, or be shocked with the sight of garments [13/14] rolled in blood? Would not the world be rapidly approaching that state, described by the prophet in such animated language, when the wolf should dwell with the lamb, and the leopard should lie down with the kid? And why should not all this come to pass in the process of ages? What insurmountable obstacle is there in the way? What moral difficulty, greater than those which have been often overcome? Suppose that, in the feudal ages, before the art of printing was invented, when the knowledge of letters was confined to one class in the community, and nobles of the proudest distinction and of unbounded wealth, often affixed their seal, because they could not trace their signature with the pen; suppose it had then been declared, that a period would come, when hardly a serf upon their vast domains, but would be able to read the scriptures as well as the priests, and to communicate his thoughts with the greatest facility with the pen. Would the prediction have been any more wonderful than the one we state? Suppose that some fifty years ago, it had been declared that a new agent would be applied, which should cause vessels to pass through the water swifter than any ship was known to sail, carrying vast burdens and multitudes of people, without the agency of the wind or the tide; and in fact, in direct opposition to these, the usual facilities for navigation: such a prophet would have been ridiculed as a dreamer. Now, shall we christians deny to the gospel of Christ less moral power, than this agent possesses of physical? shall we say, that when men have overcome the obstacles of ignorance and indolence, and can almost universally read, that they cannot also be persuaded to obtain a knowledge of the word of [14/15] God? And has not this word the power of making them wise to virtue and happiness here, as well as to salvation hereafter? Let us not indulge such unworthy thoughts of the efficacy of our holy faith. Let us not be forever talking the language of discouragement, and say, that the anticipations of the general prevalence of peace and the influence of virtue, are encouraged only by visionary and enthusiastic men.
If we will but look into the world, we shall plainly see causes operating, which, if we believe the word of God, must produce magnificent effects. The reign of peace and virtue is to flourish, when the knowledge of the Lord shall fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. This is the mighty agent which is destined to accomplish so much,--the knowledge of the Lord. Now, compare the condition of the knowledge of the Lord at present, with what it was some half a century since. See what has been done by societies organized for its dissemination: see, into how many languages the scriptures have been translated, and how widely they are scattered abroad; and suppose that improvement in an equal ratio takes place for several centuries to come, and what will be the result? The heart of christian benevolence exults at the thought. Imagination kindles, obstacles disappear, the powers of darkness are vanquished; and we feel assured that the words of Isaiah, which we now read as a wonderful prophecy, will one day be the figurative language of historical description. Let me state to you what has actually been accomplished in one obscure quarter of the globe amidst the greatest difficulties, and with comparatively small means within one short year. The account is authentic, it has the testimony of many witnesses, and may be received without hesitation.
 The islands in the South Pacific.--The intelligence of the past year enables us to say, definitively and positively, that the influence of christian missions has driven idolatry entirely from twenty-one islands. Their inhabitants are no more alarmed by the noise of war, nor by the shriek of victims immolated on the altars of demons; and they have been taught to read and write, and to make provision for the necessities, the decencies, and the comforts of life. Some thousands have been introduced into the christian church upon a credible profession of piety. When one island had received the gospel, its inhabitants exerted themselves to send it to another. The intelligence of the past year states, that a missionary society of one group, and that not the largest, contributed in a single year, of the productions of the country, to the value of more than a thousand dollars; that thirty pious natives had gone as missionary teachers to islands and a people, which to them were strange and foreign; and that thirteen missionary stations are occupied by native missionaries alone. [* Missionary Herald.]
Now my brethren, in the contemplation of this, and multitudes of similar descriptions from all quarters of the globe, may we not feel encouraged to place a full trust in the words of prophecy? But what do I say? Trust in the words of prophecy! Dare we distrust them! Whose words are they? Whose spirit pronounced them? Whose veracity is staked upon them? Whose power is put forth to accomplish their execution? No my brethren, we dare not distrust the words of prophecy. As surely as the waters of the ocean reach from pole to pole, and from continent to continent, so surely will the [16/17] knowledge of the Lord make its way to all kindreds and nations and people, and wheresoever it makes its way, so surely will it promote peace on earth, and good will towards men.
Inspired with such sentiments, we shall joyfully and energetically put our hands to every work which can help forward the civilizing and christianizing of the world. We shall not be kept back by the thought that we have already done much, and are united with many associations established for these purposes. When any new project is presented to our notice, the only inquiry will be, is it useful and feasible. Now my hearers, you are assembled together at this time, to hear of one which we think has these recommendations in an eminent degree. A Society has recently been formed, entitled the African Mission School Society. Its name announces its design, which is to prepare missionaries to be sent into Africa. In regard to that injured and neglected country, a great degree of ignorance has heretofore prevailed. We have known as little about its moral and religious capabilities, as about the great geographical problem, the course and termination of its mighty river. But information definite and authentic now begins to reach us; and this information tells the philanthropist and the christian that a boundless field is opened to their benevolent labours, and one which promises as fairly as any missionary ground ever did, to repay, with an abundant harvest, such as will undertake its cultivation. Africa I regard as a region of peculiar interest to us, and one which presents to us peculiar obligations to care for its moral and religious improvement. We are indeed separated from it by an immense ocean, but we have taken [17/18] its children from their homes, we have held them in bondage, we have obtained large portions of our temporal comforts and luxuries from the labour of their hands. We are all, to a certain degree, involved in the guilt of injustice towards this much suffering people. I say we, for I cannot on this point make a line of distinction. I would indeed on every point forever forget the terms north and south, as terms of national distinction, but most assuredly upon this. For here we are under a like condemnation. Slavery once polluted the now free and untrammelled states of New England. And why has it not remained the curse of our land? Because we were wiser, or loved freedom better, than our southern brethren? No, but because the climate of New England was healthful, and the white man could labour beneath its sun, and no pestilence drove him from its marshes. Had the banks of the Connecticut been rice meadows, its uplands the soil for cotton, and its summer climate fatal to all but the African race,--the African race would, in all human probability, still be in bondage among us. And do we not at this very moment, manufacture and wear the cotton of their planting and gathering, and do we not eat of the rice and sugar which the toil of slaves has produced? Let us not then boast of our exemption from responsibility, and from whatever may be the criminality of possessing a slave population. Let us rather look upon the cause as one of common interest, and the question how we are to alleviate the evil, as one of common obligation. Let us have no criminations and recriminations. We are brethren of one family, and the faith of Christ commands us to bear one another's burdens. Let all animosity subside, and let us address ourselves to that [18/19] question, as it presents itself to me, of awful importance, how we are to be preserved from the effects of the gradual increase of our coloured and slave population.
In answer to this, I have sometimes heard it said by persons of our section of the country, let the slaves be emancipated. Let the southern people, by taking this step, show that they are in earnest in their desires to alleviate the condition of Africans. Emancipation is the cry. But it is the language of ignorance. Emancipation at the present day, and to any extent, is an impossibility. Waive all the question about our right to dictate to the southern people, in regard to what the constitution of the United States acknowledges to be their property. Suppose them all willing at any moment to give up their slaves. What is to be done with them; where are they to be sent? Who is to support persons in middle age and advanced life, who have never been accustomed to provide for themselves, but are as ignorant and helpless as children? They could not remain in that country. They would be the immediate destruction of the white population, and the first intelligence we should have would be an earnest summons to go and save our brethren, of our bone and our flesh, from the horrors of universal massacre. Will you send them abroad? Where will you procure vessels and means for their transportation? And where will you find a country prepared to receive them? Here we approach some degree of light upon this gloomy subject. No country is yet prepared, but there is one in a state of active preparation--yes, even the country of their fathers. A beginning has been made; and we have full reason to hope that the country, from which the parents were cruelly torn, may receive the children into [19/20] its bosom. The colonizing of Africa is our only hope. It is the only means by which a drain is to be made to carry off our surplus coloured population. This measure has received the sanction of the wise and good throughout our country. It matters not that some have entered into it with selfish views, and that they would prosecute the colonizing of free people of colour from the southern states, in order to secure a more effectual power over the slaves. This has been urged as an argument against the Colonization Society by many in our part of the country. But very inconclusively, as appears to me. I doubt not that there are selfish and ignoble beings, who are actuated by such motives, and who have no true love of liberty--and no regard to the condition of the poor African. But what matters this, so as the project itself be a good one, and be calculated to effect the object we desire. It should not suffer, because others enter into it with baser motives than our own.
But to make colonization effectual, it is not sufficient that the arts of civilized society be carried to a new country: the Gospel is also needed. I will not insult your understandings and your religious principles by arguing this point. You know, better than I can declare to you, that civilization without christianity is valueless--nay, you know that the former cannot subsist without the latter. To be civilized, a country must have religion, and this religion must be christianity. Now where is Africa, dark, degraded, ignorant Africa; where is it to obtain this blessed gift? How shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall they preach except they be sent, and how shall they be sent except by our exertions? All this has been felt--the appeal has been made--funds have been [20/21] raised and appropriated--and still greater sums could be collected for this noble purpose. But, alas, we cannot use what we now have--we cannot obtain missionaries. The want is universal. It is felt sensibly in Great Britain as well as in our own country. But a short time since, letters were addressed to different persons from the Church Missionary Society, stating that they looked anxiously to this country for missionaries, catechists and schoolmasters--they wished for pious, intelligent, and active men of colour for this purpose, and stood prepared to give them an ample support. The white man, as we are convinced from melancholy proof, cannot endure that climate; and besides, his colour which is associated with the idea of disease, unfits him for usefulness among most of the tribes. The call then is loud for African Missionaries throughout the christian world. Now, to supply this deficiency so universally and so deeply felt, the African Mission School Society has been projected. It is not intended to interfere with any Society already established; nor to take upon itself, in any degree, the direction of missionary enterprises. Its sole object is to select and prepare instruments for them. Its hope is, in the present year, to obtain a few pious and intelligent young men of colour, and to educate them with reference to the propagation of the Gospel in Africa. The leading object in such a plan of education should be, to fit them to become teachers of the Word of God in simplicity and purity. Learned and accomplished theologians are not needed for this work; but pious, humble, devoted men, deeply instructed in the Gospel scheme of salvation, and familiar with the oracles of truth in our English version--such will make useful and effective missionaries. In addition to this, we would [21/22] give them a knowledge of the first principles of the useful sciences and arts; viz. botany, mineralogy, surveying, civil and municipal law, and political economy. Nor should the attainment of an adequate manual dexterity, in the performance of agricultural and mechanical labour, be neglected. These qualifications may be of great importance in aiding the native tribes in their approaches to civilization, and in gaining a desirable influence over them.
If, by the present undertaking, we can prepare a few individuals each year, who can be rendered useful in the great work of renovating Africa, we should think that our society has occupied ground, at present vacant, with a structure, which, however humble, promises to be eminently serviceable to the cause of civilization and christianity.
I have urged upon your notice, my brethren, the claims of Africa as peculiarly binding upon us the inhabitants of these United States; and the selfish considerations which should excite our attention to these claims. Long as I have detained you however, I must in one word more appeal to you as christian men, influenced by no other motives than those you derive from the religion which you believe and love. My discourse was designed to strengthen your faith, and animate your hope in the universal prevalence of this religion. It must prevail,--you are assured it will,--for the Omnipotent God, the God of truth has given forth his promise to this effect. Are you not encouraged then by this consideration; nay does it not lay upon you a most solemn obligation to employ the means and opportunities vouchsafed to you, however limited they may be, in advancing the gracious [22/23] designs of your heavenly Father? Behold then, the sure word of prophecy fulfilling, and Ethiopia stretching forth her hands unto God. Will you, can you be indifferent to her prayers and intreaties? No, you will glorify God, that your eyes have been permitted to behold the day, when gospel light is breaking forth even there. The Islands of the Pacific and the South Sea already rejoice in it, India revives under its blessed influence, and you will resolve that Africa shall no longer dwell in darkness.
As a citizen of this country, I can look at Liberia, and rejoice at the beneficial influence which the prosperity of that colony is destined to exercise upon our coloured population. As a citizen of the world, I can rejoice that another continent will soon be added to the domain of civilization. But as a disciple of Christ, I can infinitely more rejoice that the gospel is there advancing. I see it carried swiftly along the coast of Africa; I see it penetrating the remotest deserts and forests of that benighted continent. I see it demolishing cruel and degrading superstitions, overthrowing the altars of Moloch, and carrying in its progress, peace and virtue and happiness, to regions, where brutal ignorance and vice now bear sway. In this view, I can almost forget my abhorrence of slavery. I can almost feel reconciled to the thought, that our forefathers unjustly and cruelly tore these hapless people from their homes, and brought them to our shores. If we can send them back with the Gospel of Christ, and thus give them, as a reward for their extorted labours and long continued sufferings, the pearl of great price, our guilt will be lessened, and our condemnation will be taken away.
 Let us encourage our hearts and strengthen our hands in this good work. What more worthy our attention? What more ennobling? what more magnificent in its objects, more sure in its progress, more beneficial in its results? All that we do and pray for, in regard to the great work of evangelizing the world, reaches forward into eternity. One soul that may be saved by our exertions will live longer, and enjoy more happiness, than all the united lives of all the men who now inhabit the earth. We can each do something--if we cannot act we can give, if we cannot give we can pray. The very interest we may take in the moral and religious improvement of mankind will bring its own reward; we shall feel more exalted, our thoughts will become more expanded, our aspirations more heaven-ward, and all that belongs to us will partake more, of the sublimity, the purity, the benevolence, the spiritual enjoyment of that world, whose attainment should be the grand object of all our thoughts, and all our labours.