The Importance of Unnoted Influences.
SL PAUL'S CHAPEL, TRINITY PARISH, NEW YORK,
THE REV. JAMES MULCHAHEY, S.T.D.,
AN ASSISTANT-MINISTER OF TRINITY CHURCH
IN PASTORAL CHARGE OF ST. PAUL'S,
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 30TH, A.D. 1882,
THE ANNUAL THANKSGIVING DAY,
THE FEAST OF ST. ANDREW.
PUBLISHED BY REQUEST.
2 and 3 BIBLE HOUSE.
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012
This Sermon, which was preached in St. Paul's Chapel on Thanksgiving day, is printed at the request of some who heard it, on the supposition that its leading thought is worth circulating, to get, as far as it may, a place in the public mind.
"And he brought him to Jesus."—ST. JOHN 1: 42.
This text would not ordinarily be selected for a Thanksgiving Sermon; but it happens this year that the day designated by the civil authority for the annual Thanksgiving is a day which is also of marked importance in the calendar of the Church. The 30th of November has been observed for many centuries as St. Andrew's day, and its place in the calendar is a place of special importance as determining the beginning of the Church year; for Advent Sunday is always the nearest to the feast of St. Andrew, whether before or after.
In recognition of the claim of this feast for commemoration by us as churchmen, therefore, I have been led to select the text. And, with its appropriateness on this account, I think the theme which it suggests will not be found inapplicable to some of the circumstances of our time or incongruous with the special services of the day.
It refers to St. Andrew. He was the first [3/4] called of our Lord's disciples, and on the day next after he had come to a knowledge of Jesus as the Messiah he made it his business to find his brother Simon, "and saith unto him, we have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus." Subsequently, as we all know, Simon became much the most illustrious of the two brothers. But little is known of St. Andrew in the history of the Church. He is said to have preached the Gospel in Scythia, and afterward in Achaia, where he died as a martyr by crucifixion—that kind of cross being used, according to the tradition, which still goes by his name. The instructive point for our consideration now is, that, in the providential course of events, Andrew was the private beginner and his brother Simon the public agent in a great, divine movement in the world—a movement by which the world has been revolutionized and the entire course and destiny of human history lifted upward into a new sphere. Now, in this movement, Andrew was certainly not less influential—to him the Church and the world are not less indebted for the beneficial changes which have been wrought in human society by the gospel, of which both brothers were foremost apostles; but the Chronicles of the world and the Church pass by Andrew with scarcely [4/5] a word of recognition, while Simon occupies a prominent place in the very front rank of famous personages.
Here, then, is our lesson for present consideration; that, in the divine government of the world the real sources of the most useful influences, the influences by which human history advances and the welfare of our race is constantly preserved and enhanced, are not only, nor chiefly, those which are prominent or apparent, but they are rather to be looked for below the surface, and are to be traced from the hidden springs, which, in the divine economy, are made to have their channels through the various relations of life from the privacies of human homes, and through the world from principles which are subtile, undemonstrative, and unperceived.
This is unquestionably true in relation to the sources from which we receive our most indispensable blessings, and, indeed, it is true even of those blessings themselves. The pages of the world's year-book are customarily filled with its noted events to which influences are traced and by which changes are supposed to have been occasioned; but you will seldom find any mention or notice of the organic principles which are always at work in the very constitution of life and of human society, and which are, [5/6] for the most part, the real, efficient sources of the events. So, the elements of social or individual happiness, for the possession and enjoyment of which our oblations of gratitude are most justly due, are not those which dazzle the eye of ambition or please the greed of covetousness, but rather, they are the blessings which come in the perpetual flow of providential beneficence and are of indispensable necessity to our very existence; but, for the very reason that they are perpetual and indispensable, are as unnoted in our consciousness as the simple fact of existence itself. The innumerable conditions, both personal and circumstantial, which combine to keep life simply in its normal state, like the simple existence of life itself, are so essentially identified with ourselves that we cannot without a special effort of discrimination and analysis, think of them as blessings on which we are dependent and for which we are indebted, yet the temporary loss or deterioration of any one of them may change the entire complexion and character of our lot, and introduce disorder and wretchedness into our whole being. "I will lay me down in peace and take my rest," said the psalmist; and we wonder, at first, that an utterance referring so directly to a simple purpose of personal experience should have been deemed important [6/7] enough to have found permanent record in the volume of inspired truth. But, that which follows immediately explains it, and shows it to have been dictated by a true perception of our only security against the lurking dangers of life. "For," he adds, "it is thou, Lord, only that makest me dwell in safety."
Now, dear brethren, it is to a real conviction of just this fact—of our perpetual and inevitable dependence on our Heavenly Father's protecting and preserving care and our consequent never ceasing indebtedness to his All-merciful goodness—to a real conviction, I say, of just this fact that the leading purpose of this day's services is to bring and to hold us. There is no meaning in thanksgiving unless it is prompted by a real belief in our dependence on God and a conviction of our indebtedness to him as the Author and Sustainer of our being.
And, let no one rest in the conceit that the maintenance and assertion of our obligation to this direct faith in God is simply a matter of religion, but not substantiated by fact or related in any practical sense to the welfare or work of every-day life. The truth is, that not only are the interests of religion involved in it, but, not less, all the best elements of the individual character and all the truest interests of the social state. It is not only true that, on the [7/8] theory of Christianity, no soul can be saved without it; but it is also true in the actual history of the world that no people can be really great or permanently prosperous among whom it is not held and maintained. All other effective forces of character fall into a stunted and palsied state when they are not shone upon, kept in warmth, and raised in grade, by a true, genuine, hearty faith in God as the Author and Ruler of life.
For, the true welfare and safety of a nation is determined by the same rule of the divine government as that which we have seen to be operative in general history and in individual lives. The sources of conservative influence are not, wholly or chiefly, in the men who stand out as prominent actors, nor in the enactments or even the institutions of the government; but they are below all these, in the people's private homes and hearts. We recognize and feel, God forbid that any of us should fail to recognize and feel, the beneficent power of a government so constituted and administered as to maintain, with sacred impartiality every legitimate right of every citizen in every section and corner of the national domain. We admit the immense value, to this end, of the great thinkers and doers—the soldiers, statesmen, orators, legislators—by whom, as "mighty men, and men of renown," [8/9] the people in great masses are swayed in their opinions or materially changed and sometimes entirely revolutionized in their condition. But, after all such recognition and allowance, we must still insist upon it as the truth, that the sources of influence are deeper; that far down in the very foundations of the national life lie the principles of character which are to its stable and healthy existence as essential as are the principles of gravitation in the general system of the universe.
We are all familiar with the phrase "the national spirit;" but have we ever considered precisely what it is, and how formed? It includes the tone and temper as well as the moral and political principles which constitute the national character. But where do these have their origin? In the institutions and forms of the government? Unquestionably, these have an immense educational power: but the forms of government in the long run are much more likely to be the outgrowth and product of the national life than an arbitrary or any sort of extraneous imposition upon it. Is it in the great men of the nation? Unquestionably, these too have an immense, and, in certain crises a controlling influence; but they too are more likely to be the products of the national spirit—of which they are commonly the representatives—than the sources whence it is inspired.
 The real sources are the principles of the common life. The nation is composed of individuals, millions in number; and every one of these has, indeed, his own separate individual identity and lives his own individual life, but no one in the nation can be this, or live thus only. Every one is a fractional element in the great body, and his individual life and character make his quota to the national common stock. The process of distribution is constantly going on and the circles of influence are continually widening. First of all, there is the circulation of influence in the home-circle, which makes up the family spirit; thence, in schools and colleges where the youth are trained; thence, in larger social organizations, and through all the multiform associations which exist for the various purposes of life—of pleasure, of business, of instruction, of advantage both private and public, and, lastly, above all, of religious worship and learning—in and through all these channels and by all these modes the principles are circulating and working, which, in the aggregate constitute the national character and determine the national spirit.
Very obviously, then, the most indispensable conditions of national stability and [10/11] prosperity are those which are fundamental and elementary. The question to be considered is, not so much what is the form of government, or, who are its greatest men as soldiers or legislators; nor yet is it, what are the material resources and achievements; but it is rather of what sort, and how effective in influence is the spirit of its families, its schools, its churches! If these be such as are really training the people in habits of purity, truth, honest industry, true loyalty, and genuine piety, it will in the long run be well with the people, whatever its form of government and by whomsoever administered. But, on the other hand, if the spirit generally pervading its families be but the spirit of gain or pleasure, of self-gratification and advancement—if the training of its schools tend to the cultivation of sheer mental sharpness, with no development of the moral principles or religious affections—if even its churches are largely predominated by a spirit of mere worldliness, or are presenting and inculcating but a negative, indefinite, faithless and graceless religion, or, because of the already prevailing ungodliness, are failing to be the sources of any very perceptible or effective influence upon the great mass of the people—then, it will be hard, indeed, to find in any institutions, or in the wisdom [11/12] or might of any great men the power to save that people from wretchedness and ruin. And no matter what may be the form of such a peoples' government, whether nominally a republic like Mexico or France, or a monarchical despotism like Spain, the end will be equally disastrous and direful.
It would be idle, brethren, to deny our consciousness of the fact that this conclusion is one which seems to be pregnant with suggestions for us in our national relations, which are far from cheerful or of hopeful promise. We wish, indeed, most fervently, that the reasons for such inference were not so many and apparent as they unquestionably are. We would welcome most heartily the opportunity, if it might be given us, to call upon you for a joyous, as well thankful recognition of the manifest tokens of enduring vitality and of equitable, well-balanced, universally-satisfactory efficiency in our free institutions on the test of a century of the national existence.
But if, in honest truth, we are compelled to admit that he who writes truly our national history, can "tell no flattering tale," and that he who prophesies its future on the presages of the present, can more easily find ground for warning than for cheerful promise, we would yet infinitely rather stimulate hope than induce despair. [12/13] We are, indeed, trustful that somehow the merciful Providence which has by so many signal tokens from the first, through all the years of the century, extended its hand for protection and blessing upon this great nation, will lead us through all besetting evils, and insure the enjoyment of peace, prosperity, and happiness for many future generations. But, we are free to say that our ground for this hope is not so much a confidence in the infallible excellence of any particular form of government, or in the superior wisdom or ability or administrative skill of any one or more among those who stand out prominently as the leading men, but it is rather in the belief that the national spirit of this people is still essentially sound—that it is not devoid of those principles of "truth and justice, religion and piety," which the Church has always taught us to pray for as the fundamental conditions of peace and happiness. And among our reasons for special thankfulness to-day, we count, not the least, the evident tokens of a healthy public sentiment, or, at least, of growth in this direction, which are appearing in the present stage of our national life. When before was there so general and so true an interest in all questions touching reform, whether social or political? When so universal and so overwhelming condemnation of dishonesty in [13/14] the public servants? When, such a demand on all sides for the redemption of partisan pledges to reform? When, such a repudiation of mere party fealty, in the discovery that the party has come to be but little better than an organized ring for securing public plunder? When, such a demand for new parties—since parties there must be—in whose platform honest administration on the old thoroughly-established ground of moral integrity shall be a first principle? Better still, when was there such a generally-awakening reaction from, and disgust at, many of the radically absurd, sentimental, impracticable, pretentiously hollow, and utterly baseless theories of life, on which no small part of our legislation—both state and national—has, in the past, been founded? And, better still, when, so many apparent tokens of the failure and decline of what Carlyle rightly called "the mud philosophy," and of return to well-grounded convictions of the truth, as well as the need in human nature of that which recognizes spiritual forces and seeks as its highest wisdom the knowledge of spiritual laws? When such general and earnest—even though in many cases it be erratic—"searching after God, if haply" to "find Him"? And, better than all, when such an interest, so universally quickened, in studying the life and trying to get at the real spirit of [14/15] Him whom all Christendom has believed to have lived on earth as God incarnate, and to be now and forever the only Saviour of mankind? [The statistics of church membership and attendance, recently collected, with characteristic enterprise in the Times, are certainly far from satisfactory, and may well occasion grave anxiety. But statistics, however useful for certain purposes, are too superficial to be trustworthy indices of the real power of spiritual influences. Our 19th century philosophers have great faith in statistics, and look for all effective force in demonstrative machinery. But it is, nevertheless, true that "the kingdom of God cometh not with observation:" and the history of all real Christian progress proves that the strength of the Church is "in quietness and confidence," which neither seeks nor attracts the admiration of men, but which is "mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds." The truest workers for God, are ever those who simply do their work without talking about it, and the most effective work is that which is done with the least machinery and the least noise.]
For all these tokens of spiritual good even more than for the blessings of material prosperity, we thank God, and, in thanking Him, take courage.
Oh, that the services of this day, all over this land, may stir up in the hearts of the people a clearer recognition of these principles and a renewed determination to abide by them in all the relations of life.
And, for ourselves, brethren, here and now, let this service do for us precisely that which Andrew did for Simon. Let it bring us to Jesus. Let us yield ourselves willingly and thankfully to its blessed influence, and, through the ways [15/16] wherein it leads, come directly to God incarnate, and apprehend Him, as in very truth, the Word of Life, the support, the sustenance, the bread of our souls, our peace offerer and Divine reconciler, our all-sufficient Saviour for eternity, and yet our ever-present companion and exemplar through all the dangers and difficulties, all the changes and chances, of this mortal life.