Project Canterbury










Printed by Request


Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012

A Prayer

ALMIGHTY God, who in the former time didst lead our fathers forth into a wealthy place; Give thy grace, we humbly beseech thee, to us their children, that we may always approve ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning and pure manners. Defend our liberties, preserve our unity. Save us from violence, discord and confusion, from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Fashion into one happy people the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those whom we entrust in thy Name with the authority of governance, to the end that there be peace at home, and that we keep our place among the nations of the earth. In the time of our prosperity, temper our self-confidence with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.


Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars,
thence will I bring, thee down, saith the Lord.—OBADIAH 4.

THIS solemn warning was given to a nation built on federal lines and presided over by an elective head; a nation, more-over, which, on account of its geographical position, boasted itself impregnable against attack. For the moment, I draw no inference, though an inference easily suggests itself, but instead shall ask you to look at what the prophet saw, and to see it, or try to see it, through his eyes.

Everybody has heard of the ruins of Petra, the wonderful city of rock, situated in a mountainous region to the southeast of the Dead Sea, and not far from the confines of the Arabian Desert. The place has been often visited and often described. In the day of its power, Petra was as unique a city to outward appearance (though in a very different way) as Venice [3/4] is among other historic towns. There was nothing at all like it anywhere, nor has there ever been—our own cliff dwellings in Arizona being, perhaps, the nearest parallel. It has been described as a city with ravines for streets, and caverns for houses. The approach is through a defile edged on either side with red and yellow sandstone, and more than a mile long. A handful of resolute men, armed with modern weapons, could have defended Petra against an army. In the clefts of the surrounding rocks, the eagle found a congenial nest, a nest which, to one looking at it from below, seemed literally set among the stars.

Such, in our prophet's day (some five hundred years before Christ), was the capital of the Edomites, a people next of kin, as we might say, to the children of Israel, seeing that they were of the stock of Esau, Isaac's son and Jacob's elder brother. When we recall the story of Jacob and Esau, we cannot wonder that, between the descendants of the two men, a flame of suspicion should have kept itself continually alive, smouldering at times, [4/5] but at other times flagrant to the point of open and active hostility.

But Israel had this great advantage over Edom, that it possessed a line of prophets schooled to speak the truth of God with frankness and power. The author of our text was such a one. The rock-built splendors of Edom did not affright him. The proud boastings of its "dukes" were wasted on him. Probably he had seen Petra, but though the sight, as his rhetoric suggests, had kindled his imagination, it had not paralyzed his will. A prophet of God, it was not in him to be scared by the brave outsides of things. "Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle," he cried out against Edom, "and though thou build thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord."

No one of us can have listened to the text, I think, without having the chosen symbolism of our own beloved country vividly, nay startlingly, brought to mind. Her emblem is the eagle, her flag is spangled with the stars. Can it be possible, we ask ourselves, that what was true for Edom shall some day be true for the [5/6] United States? Petra's eagle never was so strong as ours; Edom's stars never were so numerous as those that deck our shield. Is it conceivable that disaster should befall a people guarded on either hand, as we are, by "the inviolate sea"? Has America anything to fear? Nothing to fear from the outside, dear friends, let us take that for granted, nothing to fear from the outside, but much to fear from within.

There are certain idols which the house of America has set up in its heart and with the worship of which it will brook no manner of interference. One of these is the public school system. To breathe a suspicion that this is not as perfect as it might be made, to suggest the infusion of a religious element into the teaching, to intimate a doubt as to the competency of our schools, just as they are, to Americanize, in the best sense, the incoming volume of immigration from foreign lands—to do these, or any one of these things, is to call down upon the questioner the disapproval, almost the malediction, of four-fifths of his fellow-citizens. Every people likes to feel that its own ways, just [6/7] because they are its own ways, are perfect. And that is how we Americans like to feel. It is natural,—nothing more so.

Another one of these United States idols at which it will be wise of us to take a good square look, is our boasted secularization of the State. There are few points upon which the average American of today is so clear in his own mind as this—that religion and civil government have nothing whatever in common. To his thinking, the two have been for us, not only legally separated, but absolutely and forever divorced a vinculo.

And yet, my friends, every now and then, as a people, we come abruptly up against some problem clamorous for solution, which it is manifestly quite impossible for the State to settle without some reference to and conference with the representatives of religion. We are confronted by just such a difficulty at the present moment, a difficulty which cannot be dodged, but which will have to be faced. Were such not the fact, I should not be urging certain points upon your attention now. No good would be likely [7/8] to come from a merely academic discussion, in the pulpit, of the mutual relations of Church and State, certainly no personal good, no spiritual aid or comfort to the individual listener. But look ye; a practical issue is being forced upon us, and that is why I am speaking as I do. It is no fancied emergency, no imaginary peril, no trumped-up grievance, in which I seek to interest you this morning; it is a danger, actual, grave, imminent. The institution jeopardized is the family; the possession imperilled is the home. The claim is made, yes, at the capital of the nation, that in a free land (and we are nothing if not "free") polygamy has as good a right to recognition as monogamy; and that for the State to hold otherwise is a violation of the rights of conscience—in short, religious persecution. How can this claim be rebutted, and how can polygamy be permanently put down, unless the State is prepared to accept and to stand by a definite scheme of morals, to the rejection of all other schemes plainly in conflict with the selected one?

Christianity has produced the finest [8/9] type of family life the world has ever known. It has done this by rigid insistence on monogamy as a necessary feature of social righteousness. The Christian conception of a rightly ordered community of human beings pictures such community as an aggregate of families, each one of which clusters about a husband and a wife. These groups of wedded parents with their children collectively make up the nation. Of course, allowance must be made for maimed and shattered families, but this is the standard, this the type of cellular structure, to which, until recently, American society endeavored, in theory at least, to conform itself. To what has this conformity, or attempted conformity, been due? To the persistence among us, I answer, of the ancient Christian tradition brought over here by our forefathers, from the old world. Christian memories, Christian associations, nay, if you choose to have it so, Christian prejudices, have kept us thus far nominally loyal to one conception of what the family ought to be.

But supposing the whole question thrown open, as is now threatened, to free [9/10] discussion upon its merits—what is a thoroughly secularized State to do about it? Where is such State to find its standard? It can scarcely be alleged, far less proved, that science will be able to supply the needed standard. Why should it be held responsible for doing so? History shows that monogamy is by no means absolutely essential to the maintenance of some measure of civilization. Over large tracts of the earth's surface, human society is established under polygamous forms. Mohammedanism has, from the beginning, been polygamous, and yet it developed, in its earlier days, sufficient racial strength to become a menace to Europe and well nigh to compass the overthrow of Christendom. The Saracenic philosophy and the Saracenic architecture rank among the great achievements of human faculty, and both of these coexisted with a polygamous social system. A secularized State, knowing nothing of religion as such, and stoutly refusing to discriminate between creeds, cannot take the ground that polygamy is manifestly and upon the face of it impossible. If it proposes to be impartial, [10/11] it must hold an open court and listen with unbiassed mind to the arguments of both sides.

But is that what we seriously propose to do—we Americans whose parents brought hither, from their home beyond the sea, the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? Are we really meaning to let ourselves be robbed of our birthright as a God-fearing people by secularist shouters who insist that, on no account, must Government commit itself to Christianity? The Government must have some standard in such matters—if it is not to be the Christian standard, which standard shall it be? There are moralities and moralities. A State must choose among them, and stand by its choice. It cannot be neutral as between right and wrong,—else, Why judges and juries?

I frankly admitted just now that society could exist under polygamous conditions; history makes it evident that such is the fact. On the other hand, I was most careful not to admit that free institutions could exist under polygamy. They cannot. There is no instance of their having done so. The social order of Utah and contiguous [11/12] Territories, in so far as it is under the control of polygamists, is notoriously despotic. Mohammedan rule is everywhere despotic, and has always been. When, in polygamous India, has there existed anything approximating to what, in Europe and in the United States, is known as free government? What little freedom India has, it owes to the just and beneficent rule of monogamous Britain.

Let us look the facts of our national situation boldly in the face. In America, today, or, to speak more accurately, in the United States, the institution known as the family is seriously menaced by two flank attacks. Both on the right hand and on the left, it is sore beset, yes, is in deadly peril. Mormonism and lax divorce legislation, plural marriages and marriages dissoluble at pleasure—it is hard indeed to say which of the two the more seriously threatens the survival, on this soil, of that inestimable social blessing, the settled home. Christ utterly discountenanced polygamy, and sanctioned divorce only for one cause. To those who against his edict pleaded precedent and ancient usage, his only answer was, "In the beginning it was not so." [12/13] For the hardness of their hearts (that was his phrase), for the hardness of their hearts, Moses, their great lawgiver, had relaxed the primal ordinance, but it had been only for a season. He, the greater than Moses, reasserted the original statute of the Garden, and brought back the pure espousals of the one man and the one woman.

Such was Christ's attitude towards the subject, such his pronouncement. He did not base his decree upon anthropological researches; he sought not to buttress his position by philosophical arguments; he made no appeal to rabbinical opinions; he simply, in his Father's name, as spokesman for Almighty God, laid down the law. We know what good results have followed even from a sadly imperfect obedience to that law. Society, we are constrained to admit, has been far enough from showing itself that symmetrical congeries of perfect homes which Christian theory requires it to be; but it has come near enough to the ideal to give men at least an inkling of what a perfect social life would be like, and it has succeeded in imparting to the word "home" a [13/14] music and a sanctity to which only a few other words in any language can lay claim.

Dear friends, the duty of the Republic is plain. Let it take Christian ground, and not be afraid to say that it takes Christian ground. Sure footing elsewhere it cannot find; here it may tread firmly and with full confidence. Physiology sounds no certain note. The evolutionists fill whole volumes with statistical information as to the marriage usages of savage tribes, and all to no purpose. Christ's is the only voice that utters itself distinctly and to the point. His is the strong affirmative of One who speaks of what he knows. Let the Republic side with Christ; even though secularists lose their temper, and all Agnostia protests. For, really and truly, it is a question of life and death. Of course, I do not mean that the continent will become an uninhabited desert, or that social order of every sort will disappear, if our marriage legislation goes wrong.

Doubtless there will be a form of government and a population to be governed, even though social usage be debased to [14/15] the lowest point we can imagine. When I called it a question of life and death, I had in mind the sort of life worth living, and the sort of things worth dying for. A land there would still be, were its whole area given over to polygamy and divorce, but it would not be the land that you and I have loved.

O dear Country, listen to the prophet's voice, and be thou wise in time. What guarantee hast thou of perpetuity that other nations have not had, to save thee from decline and fall? Babylon's inventory of wealth reads almost as impressively as thine. The Greek Republics could boast a loftier genius. The Roman Commonwealth had at its command a military prowess no less trustworthy. There is but one salt preservative of nations—the salt of righteousness. For that only sure antiseptic, treasures of iron and treasures of gold, rivers of oil and millions of acres of wheat, are no sufficient substitute. If thou be faithless as Edom, Edom's doom will be thy portion. Yes, "though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord."

A Prayer

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who settest the solitary in families; We commend to thy continual care the homes in which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee, every root of bitterness, the desire of vain-glory and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh; turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers; and so kindle charity among us all, that we be evermore kindly-affectioned with brotherly love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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