The King: A Sermon Preached in Christ Church, Hartford on the First Sunday after Trinity, June 23, 1889 before the Graduating Class of Trinity College.
By William Reed Huntington.
Hartford, Connecticut: Clark and Smith, 1889.
I Timothy i: 17.—The King, eternal, immortal, invisible.
Considering what a monarchial book the Bible is, there looks to be ground for surprise at the strong hold it retains on the confidence of a republican people. Having turned our back on kings as a class, it would seem natural enough that we should also fall out of conceit with scriptures that have so much to say in advocacy of kingdom. But such is not the case. As truly as any people, we speak of and to the Most Highest in terms that breathe the distinct flavor of royalty. His is the “Divine Majesty,” we say, and His the “Sovereignty,” regal words, both of them; and when we come to Him in prayer, we speak of it as “addressing the Throne.”
But are we really guilty of so gross a breach of self-consistency as might appear? Is it true, as a matter of fact, that we Americans have planted ourselves directly in the teeth of a tradition of government almost, if not quite, as old as the world? Do we actually imagine ourselves so much wiser than all who have gone before us that we can, without the slightest apprehension of danger, peremptorily disown the principle of monarchy?
These questions I will try to answer presently, but, meanwhile, join me in an attempt to sift this matter of royalty, and to find out wherein lies the charm of it. That there is a charm in it none can doubt. How many earnest hearts have thrilled at the cry, “God save the king!” How many lives have been laid down, cheerfully, exultantly, on battlefields, on scaffolds, in order that the cry might be made good, the king saved. There must be some explanation of this; there must be a reason for the power to gladden multitudes that lies in such words as, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; behold thy King cometh unto thee.” Why should the coming of the king bring such delight? Because, I answer, because of the longing desire there is in men’s hearts to see affairs ordered as they ought to be. Our minds abhor confusion. When we see threads tangled that ought to be clear, wrongs waiting to be righted, and waiting longer than they should, it breeds impatience in us, and our demand is that someone come forward and act, bring will power to bear, do promptly the thing that needs to be done. This is kingly work, and the man who can do it at a critical moment is the welcome man. Follow up any royal line on earth to its beginning, and you are likely to find there the strong man who had in him the divine gift of leadership. After two or three generations, they begin to talk about “legitimacy,” and “divine right;” but in the beginning it was not so; in the beginning it was sheer ability to lead.
Another charm of monarchy lies in the readiness with which it can take on a paternal character. On the sterner side kingship touches upon judgment, but on the gentler side it leans to fatherhood. Indeed, monarchy had its earliest illustration and embodiment in the family. The head of the household was the first king. The Indians, who themselves are monarchists, call our President “the great Father.” In the Lord’s Prayer the two ideas lie side by side. “Our Father who art in Heaven,” we say, and then in the very next breath, concede to Him the “Kingdom.” And this plea of their fatherhood has been always an efficient implement in the hand of kings. What form of remonstrance so potent with rebellious subjects as the simple address, “My children?”—an appeal misused a thousand times no doubt, but in no case wholly devoid of persuasiveness.
Again, a powerful argument for monarchy is to be found in the simplicity of the idea considered as an idea. There is nothing complicated about the thought. A government where the supremacy is divided, a bit of it put here and a bit there, perplexes the mind; but the mention of one head makes all things plain; we know now where to lay the responsibility. The very symbolism of the human body helps the argument—one head to plan, one mouth to utter what is planned. So evident is this advantage of single headship, that at times when peril threatens the State, there is almost invariably a call, even among peoples traditionally jealous of any infringement upon liberty, almost always a call that some one be made dictator, given absolute and unlimited sway, authorized to save the commonwealth at any cost, and at whatever sacrifice of form and precedent; in other words, made for the time being, king supreme.
How happens it, then, some one may fairly ask, that with all these great advantages on its side, monarchy has failed to keep the almost universal grasp of things it once enjoyed? We might imagine that a principle so strongly entrenched as this one seems to be, so powerfully buttressed by authorities divine, and human, would hold its own to the end of time. And yet the keenest observers assure us that the drift is everywhere, among enlightened peoples, in the direction of democracy; that it is ebb-tide with monarchy the world over, that the days of kings and thrones are numbered. Among the English-speaking peoples of the earth, the movement towards democracy has acquired a force and volume that fill some minds with thankful joy, and some with undisguised alarm, but all with awe. To stand and watch the onward roll of it is as if one looked up helpless at the great wall of water that issued from the broken dam in Conemaugh. In fact, the thing is here. We are no longer concerned with drift and tendency, we are face to face with an accomplished result. The doctrine that the authority to govern is conferred by the voice of the people governed is the accepted doctrine, even in those portions of the English-speaking world where the forms and symbols of monarchy still survive, and not merely survive but are fondly cherished. England herself is, to-day, upon her own showing, more democratic in certain important respects than the United States. Some, I said, are looking on at this resistless movement of the times with the gravest apprehension. To their eyes it foretokens downfall to whatever is most delightful in the landscape of human life. They seem to see the axe laid at the root of every tall tree, and the torch ready for every pleasant picture. Not much longer, they assure us, can there survive anything like delicacy in the relations between equals, or anything like graciousness and loyalty in the relations between non-equals. The social traditions that savor of chivalry and romance are doomed. Bereft of all that is picturesque, time-honored, or old-world-like, we have nothing to look forward to save the supremacy of the commonplace, the overthrow of all dignities, and the final enthronement of “the average man.”
Are these misgivings reasonable, or are they not? Does the incoming of this tide of democracy into the dwelling-places of that race which seems, humanly speaking, to hold the world’s destinies in its hands does it portend the blessing or the curse? It was in the hope of helping you to find a true answer to this question that I chose my text. Called as a preacher to address a graduating class of young Americans about to enter upon the active duties of their citizenship, I could think of no thesis better worth maintaining than this, that democracy is, and must be, beholden to monarchy for permanence, and that consequently our supreme duty as republicans stands in allegiance to the throne. Keep the Commonwealth theocratic,—that is my plea.
Concede a few moments to a quick review of the beginnings of the Hebrew monarchy. The story is crowded with suggestion. Irritated and made envious by noticing certain advantages which their monarchial organization gave to the neighboring tribes, the people came to the prophet Samuel, in his old age, with a clamorous demand for the establishment of a throne. “Give us a king to reign over us,” they cried. The wise old man saw that it was useless to attempt resistance to their wishes, but he gave them distinctly to understand that in his judgment they were inviting a slip backwards rather than making a step forwards by their act, seeing that already, if they could hut realize it, the Lord God was their king. By bringing the human monarchy into the foreground they were running the risk of letting the divine monarchy fall into the back-ground. And so Samuel set up the kingdom, under protest, as it were. Virtually he said to them, “This is a sad blunder of yours, this eagerness for a visible ruler with absolute powers, but since you insist on trying the experiment, try it. Sooner or later, it will plainly appear that for a people to acknowledge no supreme monarch other than God himself is the more excellent way.” And so they crowned their kings, and they set them on their thrones, and they gave them their large prerogatives,—and what came of it all? Is it not written in the Books of the Kings, and in the Books of the Chronicles of kings of Israel and of Judah? One need not have given very careful study to these records of the national life in order to have discovered how little of solid advantage came of the granting of the prayer, “Give us a king and princes.” From all which it follows that, notwithstanding the Bible has so much to say about kingdoms and monarchy, and so little to say about democracy and republics, the real drift of its teaching is in favor of that fashion of social order which has the most of God in it. The nation which fondly imagines that it can live without God in the world may make a brave show for a season; by turns may charm us with its art and scare us with its arms; but the promise of survival runs not to it; the promise of survival runs to those peoples, and only to those, whose sovereign Commander is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; whose supreme court of appeal is the judgment seat of the “King, eternal, immortal, invisible.”
The truth is, it was the giving of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost; the pouring out of the Spirit in unprecedented measure, that first made what we understand by “popular government” permanently possible. Apart from the prophecy, “They shall be all taught of God,” the doctrine of universal suffrage is a delusion and a snare. It is only as an act done in the faith that the prophecy will be fulfilled, and the people actually be taught, that the giving of a vote to every man can possibly be justified. The universal suffrage of an intellectually untaught and spiritually untrained nation cannot, in the final outcome, mean anything less than universal ruin.
We Americans, by putting the head of Liberty on our coinage have assumed a large responsibility, for we have thereby signified our willingness to be judged by “the law of liberty,” which, though thought to be the loosest, is really the strictest of all laws. And, by the way, did it ever occur to you to think what a different sequel that incident of the tribute money might have had, if it had happened on our soil 1 The men who brought the penny to our Lord were able to answer His question about “image and superscription” in a single word. There was no uncertainty as to where the coin had been minted, or by whom. “Caesar” was a living man, and this head stamped on the denarius was his portrait. But, in our case, a certain amount of labored explanation would be necessary. We should be driven to go in search of arguments to justify our departure from ancient usage. “You must know,” we should say, “that, in this country, personal government has no existence. We no longer acknowledge allegiance to individual rulers on the score of hereditary claim. Our government is a government of principles, not of men. We are a free people, never in bondage to any man, and this image on the coin is an ideal picture, not a likeness; a symbol, not a portrait; it is the head of Liberty.” Can we doubt of what sort would be the quiet rejoinder of the Christ? “This is well. There is nothing so good for a man, or for men, as to be made free; only be ye sure of this, that ye best render unto Liberty the things that are Liberty’s by rendering unto God the things that are God’s. His service is perfect freedom.”
My contention is, that here in this country, always supposing that we remain loyal to the theocratic idea, we are more in the line of the development of the Kingdom of God without a visible monarch than we possibly could be with one; for where there is a human head there must always be danger of men’s resting in the symbolism and forgetting to look higher. It is a danger akin to that of seeking the real presence of the Lord Jesus Christ upon an altar, instead of striving in heart and mind thither to ascend whither He himself has gone, before. The Lord’s table is not the objective point for those who are seeking God; rather is it the vanishing point whence we look out into the invisible. It is because Christians are such intense monarchists, knit by every fibre of their theology to the Throne, that they find it in them to take so kindly to a civil polity which refuses to put a mortal man even figuratively or provisionally into the place of God. No sovereignty of earthly origin is anything more than representative. Do its best, it can but shadow forth dimly and insufficiently the governance that really orders all things from on high. Some nations choose to make an individual the accredited symbol of sovereignty, while other nations say, as we do: No; there is danger in this, as experience has proved, and therefore we will make, not any one man, but the whole people representative of the supremacy, and will listen for the message from above, not at the lips of the king anointed with oil, but at the lips of the people anointed with the Holy Ghost. I do not deny that popular sovereignty admits of an atheistic interpretation; nor do I forget that the maxim “The voice of the people is the voice of God” has, at times, been put to the worse of uses; but for this very reason ought we not to be all the more earnest to assert for phrases that are in such frequent use a sense lofty and good? Ought we not to try to find in them, if we can, a clear recognition of the truth that God is King and that His will is law?
That is a fine picture Edward Freeman, the historian, gives us of the manner in which the people of one of the forest cantons of Switzerland do their voting. “It is one of the opening days of May,” he writes. “It is the morning of Sunday. * * * * But deem not that because the day of Christian worship is chosen for the great yearly assembly of a Christian commonwealth the more directly sacred duties of the day are forgotten. Before we have lifted ourselves from our beds, the men of the mountains, Catholic and Protestant alike, have already paid their morning worship in God’s temple. And when I saw men thronging the crowded church, or kneeling, for want of space within, on the bare ground beside the open door, when I saw them marching thence to do the highest duties of men and citizens, I could hardly forbear thinking of the saying of Holy writ, “that where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.’” This, young men, is not the language of a clergyman; it is not an ecclesiastic’s estimate of the sacred-ness that attaches to the discharge of political duty; it is not what some would call the pious talk of a minister, well-meaning but ignorant of economics; the words I have quoted are the words of one of the keenest of English politicians, and one of the most hard-headed of the secular historians of our day. The view he takes of the sanctity that necessarily attaches to popular government rightly understood is sound and just. In fact, a thoroughly religious democracy, if our prejudices will allow us to imagine such a thing, would know itself to be a sort of John the Baptist crying in the wilderness of this world, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
For, after all, when we think of it, there is no sufficient reason for supposing that the final form of human society, the form, I mean, it is destined to take on “when the years have died away,” will be two fold. We say “Church and State”; but the very fact that State and Church find themselves so frequently in conflict over certain disputed portions of territory, each accounting the other an intruder, to be watched, even if not fought, is of itself suggestive of the good that might flow from an undivided sovereignty, were such a thing attainable.
Dream with me, then, a little while, of what may possibly be in store for the human family after that crisis of which St. Paul writes “Then cometh the end.”
That there attaches to our customary distinctions between men’s civil and their ecclesiastical interests a certain artificiality will scarcely be questioned. It is becoming increasingly difficult to stake out holy ground. The mind takes no real satisfaction in seeing the church historians ranged on one shelf of the library, and the “profane” historians on another, the sacred chroniclers grouped in this alcove, and the secular in that. The whole thing has a provisional look, and more and more offends us, the better acquainted we become with the Christian doctrine of the unity of the race. Is there nobody, we cry in our discouragement, large-minded enough to tell us the whole story? For one story it is, say what you will,—the story of man, nay, one battle, the battle of the soul; and on the surface of the chequered earth kings and bishops, queens, knights and pawns, we are all of us working it out together. Why, then, these two forms of organization? Why so arbitrary a cleavage between Church and State? Family life acknowledges only one regimen, why should the life of the larger family be organized under a dual control? Such a partitioning of man’s affairs may be a present necessity on account of the evil that is in the world, but it is incredible that it should continue an everlasting necessity. There must be possible, at least conceivable, a form of social order in which no clash of conflicting duties would ever be heard, no perplexed question of divided allegiance ever emerge.
Faith in this doctrine of the proper oneness of human society is the common characteristic of two such apparently opposite and irreconcilable systems as Puritanism and Ultramontanism. The Mayflower and the bark of Peter sail laden with what is substantially one and the same freight; namely, a deep conviction that in the true and final ordering of things the spiritual element in human life will prove its superiority over the temporal element by survival; or, in other words, that the State will fade into the Church, the kingdoms of the earth become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ, the saints “judge the world.” It is not necessary, in order to account for the failure both of the Puritan and of the Ultramontane schemes, that we should assume the falsity of the principle that lies behind them. Many a truth has come tardily to its triumph because of the clogs and wrappings that were extrinsic to its real self. If the doctrine that a spiritual polity is to be the established one at last, and that the merely temporal polity is destined in due time to fall away and cease, if this be true, the fact that Puritan and Infallibilist blundered about it in their day may retard, but cannot prevent, the coming of that City of God wherein is no temple, simply for the reason that it is all temple.
Just at present no doctrine is more unpopular with the well-informed circles of society. The popular doctrine is that which merges the sacred in the secular, rather than the secular in the sacred; which prophesies the State’s survival of the Church, rather than the Church’s survival of the State. It would be strange if it were otherwise. There must be allowed a reasonable measure of time in which to forget unsuccessful experiments. Nine generations have not sufficed to extinguish the English people’s wrathful resentment against “the reign of the Saints,” as Cromwell’s troopers understood; nor are the Italians likely, in as many generations yet to come, to forget their disgust at “the reign of the Saints,” as Pius the Ninth and his Zouaves understood it. And yet, for all that, “the reign of the Saints” may be,—a hopeful theist will say must be, —the far-off goal towards which the face of mankind is set. Society will never again be ruled by ecclesiastics, it is true, but ruled by spiritual rather than physical force it may be, and it will be, unless we suppose a breach of the grand promise held out by all God’s holy prophets which have been since the world began.
It is the boast of modern state-craft that it has emancipated, or will presently emancipate, civil government from all entangling alliance with religion. We are promised the spectacle of a social system washed clean of the slightest tinge of religious color. And yet the effort to effect a complete severance between things sacred and things secular, while for ever on the edge of success, seems destined for ever to fail. Like the companion effort utterly to sunder the territories of theological and scientific thought, a very fair case seems to be made out up to a certain point, when, of a sudden, the attempt has to be relinquished. There is the question of the marriage relation; there is the question of the education of the young; there is the question of intemperance; there is the question of the rest-day;—have not Church and State a common interest in these? Can either power drive off the other from such debatable ground by so easy an expedient as the setting up of the sign, “No thoroughfare”? Thus Cavour’s much-lauded maxim, “A free Church in a free State” refuses to be more than partially applicable to things as they are. It is discovered that, for State and Church, no matter how free you make them, there is no such thing as a divorce a vinculo. Like interlocked rings, though distinct and separate throughout their whole circumference, they are certain to touch, the moment any serious attempt is made to pull them completely apart.
One hope remains. For border feuds, the outcome of a divided sovereignty, there is one efficacious remedy, to wit: the abolition of the border. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that dreamers many, together with some serious thinkers who would resent the charge of dreaming, should have speculated on the possibility of so unifying Church and State as to do away forever with all occasion for strife.
The dream loses something of its dream-like look, and begins to take on the sober hue of probability, when once we have had our eyes opened to the fact, and a most significant fact it is, that the functions of the State are almost wholly coercive, repressive and negative. Civil government exists for the purpose of maintaining order. The State undertakes to see to it that men do not do the things which interfere with their neighbors’ doing the things they have a right to do. But in a community in which the call for repression has ceased through all men having learned to keep the Golden Rule, the function of the civil government would be vacated; the law, to quote St. Paul again, would die. It is in their anticipation of such a state of things that the Socialists are right. It is in their hope of bringing such a state of things to pass by some master-stroke of legislation that they are wrong. This is “a mad world;” a selfish world; a wicked world; we cannot mend it instanter. The days do indeed come, if the Seer of the Apocalypse saith true, when civil government shall no longer be the necessity it is. But can the day ever come when man’s need of social organization shall cease to be? I trow not. A social being by the very law of his creation, man, to the end of time,—yes, and beyond, must have society. The paraphernalia of the State may vanish quite away, but cooperation in service and cooperation in worship, these abide, and these, be it noted, are what make the very life of the Church of God. In these, as in an atmosphere, the body of Christ moves and has its being. And so, at last, Ultramontanist and theocratic Puritan meet face to face, see eye to eye, in the open forum of the Eternal City. “Urbs Syon inclyta,” is the new song they sing—
“Yes, peace, for war is needless;
Yes, calm, for storm is past;
And goal from finished labor,
And anchorage at last,”
Thus much for the dream, if without impiety that may be called a dream which has behind it the sure word of prophecy. But what now of present needs and present duties? There is clearly no immediate prospect of the sacred society’s absorbing the secular society. We have probably a long time to wait for the fulfillment of the ancient promises. Meanwhile, in what manner, after what fashion, does it behoove us to live out our lives here on the soil of the land that bore us? Does it become us to take on either the whining or the apologetic tone with respect to the state of civil life unto which it has pleased God to call us?
Are we to spend our days repining over the fact that we are not Europeans, beguiled by the absurd fancy that we can in no way better serve our land and people than by efforts to transplant to a new soil social growths which, even in the countries where they are indigenous, seem ready to vanish away? I say, No. I bid you waken rather to the magnificent possibilities, the unmatched opportunity our King eternal and invisible has put within our reach. I thank God, as a churchman, that to George Herbert and to George Berkeley, the one a prophet of the seventeenth, the other a prophet of the eighteenth century, it was given to predict great things for the America to come. Let us upon whom the ends of this nineteenth age are falling take up their hopeful cry, and claim this land for Him upon whose vesture is the name written, King of Kings.
Gentlemen of the graduating class, I have been speaking to you of the Christian Commonwealth. No questions loom so heavily on our horizon as the social questions. Here within college walls you have been studying them in an academic form; but presently, out in that larger world whither you go, as citizens, as ministers of the Gospel, as lawyers, as men of affairs, you will find yourselves grappling them in dead earnest. Every great era of progress in scientific knowledge and of invention in the arts has hitherto shown itself to be the precursor of an era of civil change. Unprecedented discovery lies just behind us; it may be that unprecedented modifications of the social fabric lie close ahead. We cannot tell. We know not even what to pray for as we ought. But I have striven to-night to place in your hands a talisman that shall stand you in good stead, even though, by-and-by, you should hear the sea, and the waves roaring, and find men’s hearts failing them for fear. Hold fast your faith in the monarchy of Almighty God. Be not afraid or ashamed to be known as the subjects of that King. Have no misgivings as to the stability of His throne. Remember that whatever else passeth away? He abides, and that His law of righteousness knows no repeal. Moreover, set your faces towards the sun-rising, and let your voyage be “onward into light.” Steer clear of the sty of Circe, even though she take on the form of an angel. Hold the ship headed towards the blessed isles, even though all men laugh your idealism to scorn. Whatever your occupation in life, forget not that your “calling” is to be inheritors of the Kingdom. So shall you keep a course that by no possibility can fail of its reward. So shall you find even disappointments and reverses touched with a golden light. So shall you come at length to the quiet waters and the sure anchorage of the haven where you would be.