(Every essential fact in this paper is a direct quotation, or exact paraphrase, from American periodicals published about a century ago; the date of publication is indicated in each case.)
A GLANCE at our country and its present moral condition fills the mind with 1827 alarming apprehensions. The moral desolation and flood tides of wickedness threaten to sweep away not only the blessings of religion, but the boasted freedom of our republican institutions as well. Every candid person must admit that if ignorance, licentiousness, and a disregard of all 1828 moral laws prevail in our communities, then demagogues and spendthrifts will sit in the halls of legislation; ambition, self-aggrandizement, and love of power will supplant patriotism, public spirit, and attention to the best interests of the nation. Due to the lack of moral restraint, the very freedom which we enjoy hastens this degrading process. To-day no virtuous public sentiment frowns down upon the criminal to shame him into secrecy. Let another half century pass in our present indifference and inactivity, and existing evils will have attained a strength never to be overpowered.
It is clear that instead of the masses of our people improving they are sadly 1843 deteriorating. Murders, robberies, rapes, suicides, and perjuries are as common as marriages and deaths. Killings appear to have become contagious; no day passes without an attempt somewhere in our country. Lawlessness has so increased that the expense of watching our army of criminals, of tracking and arresting them, and of maintaining them in prison (together with the huge cost of their felonies) is immeasurable.
The wave affects not only the lower classes. In a court in Pennsylvania 1843 John Doe recently pled guilty to the charge of bigamy. As he rose to be sentenced by the judge he interrupted that official’s verdict by handing him a pardon from the governor of that state! And our irreligious clergy! What can be done for the conversion of the many ministers 1828 of the Word who preach error for truth, because they themselves have never known salvation? What will become of churches under such leadership? In ten or twelve counties in Indiana a number of churches recently 1843 voted not to coöperate with any missionary, or temperance societies, or Sunday School associations, since in their present form they are not warranted by the teachings of God’s Word.
And what of our youth! To-day, where one child hails the Sabbath with 1829 delight, as the day for Bible study, one hundred young immortals are growing up in ignorance and sin. The lamentable extent of dishonesty, fraud, and other wickedness among our boys and girls shocks the nation. The army of youthful criminals from the slums is augmented by children abandoned by the shiftless of the working classes, by families wrecked by 1830 living beyond their means, and by wayward unfortunates from reputable families. Large numbers of these youngsters belong to organized gangs of thieves and cutthroats, and are in the regular employ of old criminals who teach them the tricks of the trade. Many such have no homes; some cannot even return to the gang’s 1831 headquarters unless the day’s profit amounts to a stipulated sum. From these thousands of young desperadoes the chief mass of hardened criminals is recruited. Half the number of persons actually convicted of crime are youths who have not reached the age of discretion. Of 256 convicts in the Massachusetts State Prison, forty-five were thieves at sixteen years of age; and 127 had, at that age, become 1833 habitual drinkers. Youthful gambling, accompanied with most degrading language, as in the game of shooting craps, begins almost in infancy. A gentleman passing along the streets of Boston recently overheard a gang of boys shooting craps. The language issuing from their young lips might well have come from Hell, 1833 and even there would almost have shocked the Satanic proprietor himself. And even amid more refined surroundings our young people are everything but seriously minded to-day. At —— University the few 1828 students who profess religion stand, as it were, alone; to attempt to stem the torrent of vice and immorality there would be considered a freakish innovation.
A disregard for all laws, and feverish and foolish efforts to check crime by 1843 profuse legislation, are common. A man in Baltimore was recently arrested for fast driving. This is as it should be. Disastrous consequences of fast driving frequently follow carelessness in observing the traffic ordinances provided against such offenses. Equal heedlessness is shown in our halls of legislation. With us nothing is fixed or permanent. There is a constant hankering for new laws, or for tinkering up old ones; what one legislature does to-day, the next undoes tomorrow. The popular slogan one year becomes an object of derision the next 1843 — and so we run on from change to change in a restless round of experiment. This restlessness shows itself in extravagance in dress. Silk stockings, curiously wrought with 1857 quirks and clocks about the ankles, and interwoven with gold or silver threads, are all the rage. Persons with the smallest of incomes do not stick to have two or three pairs of silk stockings. Time was when one could have clothed herself from head to toe for what one pair of these silk stockings costs.
War has affected the world’s nerves. The military events of the earlier years 1830 of this century were so ex traordinary that it is charitable to forgive those who wish to tell or write about their experiences. We rejoice that this is true. Let the tale be told as often and as vividly as possible! Let it be repeated until everyone shall be impressed with its horrors! Let those who delight in the ‘pomp, pride, and circumstance of glorious war’ explain fully the fascination which lures them on to fill the world with tears — that we may candidly judge of war’s value, and compare it with the sacrifices paid for it.
Do not think that we are so foolish as to maintain that there is nothing worth 1830 contending for. There is much we would defend at all hazards, and which can be enjoyed on no other terms. Personal liberty and rights, the welfare of dear ones, and the independence of our country are to be struggled for, if need be, because without them life would not be worth living. But warlike ambition must receive a check by the establishment of republican institutions in all the civilized world where people are now in the possession of them or are struggling to acquire them. Every day is confirming the 1830 strength of the free governments which exist and brightening the prospects of those which are forming. However, these transformations bring vast unrest, as witness Mexico — just now becoming free from Roman Catholic shackles. The National Assembly has just placed the 1834 priests on the same footing as those in the United States as spiritual shepherds. The President, it is said, will sign the bill, and a mighty conflict will follow.
What the world needs most in its present condition is that the truly in1830 telligent among us rise to new truths; to find the stimuli and coöperation which will fit us for mastery — fit us to become sponsors for a higher intellectual life in our own country, and joint workers with the great of all nations and all time in carrying forward their race.
The true sovereigns of a country are those who determine its modes of 1843 thinking, its tastes, its principles. A condition of society which challenges men to use their noblest reasoning powers is the condition ‘most favorable for the moral and religious development of a nation.’ Such language comes properly from an enlightened man, whose faith in Christianity is not of that feeble kind which looks with dread or misgiving at every intellectual novelty — as if truth could suffer from discussion, or the greatest and most noble of all truths could derive anything but strength from the progressive development of the mind! Religion has been wronged by nothing more than by being separated from 1830 intellect, and by being removed from the province of reason and free research into that of mystery and authority, of impulse and feeling. Hence it is that most prevalent forms of Christianity are inert.
It is singular that, while Christians publish many defenses of Christianity, 1830 they are perpetually charged with infidelity — this allegation being made against some of the Protestant sects, by the others, constantly, and usually on the question of Scriptural infallibility.
Now the Scriptures do not contain the actual communication made to the 1830 minds that were inspired from above; but they are a declaration of those things which were most surely believed among them. The distinction is important; and, unfortunately, derives some consequence because of the earnestness with which it is opposed. The communication was divine; the record was human. The inspired penmen wrote in conformity with the philosophy of their respective eras — in conformity, therefore, with some portions of natural science that were false. How else can you explain the Mosaic theory of the solar system?
The theory of the infallibility of the Bible is unnecessary to the validity and 1830 sufficiency of its message. Shall a man say he will not walk by the light of the sun because it comes to him through so earthly and fallible a medium as the atmosphere? What particular truth in the Bible requires an ‘infallible’ style, or a supernatural influence for its communication? We thus free the Scriptures from supporting a reputation to which they nowhere lay claim — of being in every particular perfect and infallible compositions.