For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. -- HEBREWS xiii, 14.
There are a good many people who, apparently, are never troubled by any speculations arising out of a comprehensive view of things. They are keenly alive to all objects within their sphere; but their eyes are close to the surface, and their experience comes in shocks of sensation, and shreds of perception. They know the superficial features of the world and its conventional expressions; are conversant with its business and its pleasures; with the market, the fashions, the town-talk, the worldly fortunes of their neighbors. Sometimes, a powerful affliction startles them in this smooth routine, and for a moment they are surprised to find how wide the universe is, and among what great realities we dwell. But, usually, their existence is a narrow revolving disc, bringing around the same group of incidents and the same associations, morning, noon, and night. They comprehend Life as they comprehend the expanse of yonder harbor, dotted with shifting but familiar forms, ruffled by a passing wind or bright under a summer sun, and whose tides duly rise and fall. But they little think of the oceanic vastness which it represents; and how its oscillations come from great currents that leap out of the Antarctic, and swell around tropical islands, and sweep the lines of continents, and roll in the Polar Sea.
These, therefore, are not perplexed by questions such as occur to him who, looking beyond his own worldly interests and the area of daily routine, takes into view the scope of being and the profounder phenomena of human life. For such a view will inevitably engender speculation, nor can he rest until he obtains some theory of existence. These very conditions of Humanity in the City, for instance -- these conditions of poverty, and responsibility, and relationship, and privilege, and strife, and toil -- yea, the lessons which come to us from the crowd as it flows through these streets; constitute a great problem, of which every thinking man will seek some solution.
Now, throughout this entire series of discourses -- although I have not deemed it necessary in every instance to make a specific application -- I have assumed that you and I were looking upon these various phases of Humanity from the Christian stand-point, and therefore I could not fitly conclude this work without indicating the Help which RELIGION affords concerning these problems of existence.
I observe, then, that while it may seem very simple to affirm that a theory does not, in any case, alter facts; yet there is often an advantage in laying down this proposition. For this leads us to understand precisely what a theory may do. It does not alter facts, but it throws them into new relations, and presents them in an entirely different light. Materialism, for instance, is a theory of Life; and Christianity -- in which term I include not only a system of Doctrines, but of practical forces -- is also a theory of Life. Now, neither of these gets rid of the great facts of existence. Men sin and suffer and die, whether we adopt the one system or the other. But, surely, when we approach these facts from the side of Religion, they appear in very different lights, and are taken up with very different results, from their appearance and effect when interpreted by the creed of Unbelief. It would be very absurd then, because Christianity does not instantly abolish, or fully explain, all these strange and darker realities, to fall back upon the opposite ground of skepticism. This is only receding from the best solution to the worst -- or, rather, to no solution at all. For I maintain that Christianity gives us not merely the best, but the only solution of these problems. It will be my purpose in this discourse, at least, to show what kind of help Religion does afford for Humanity in all these diverse conditions; and, having done this, I shall leave it to your own convictions to decide whether it is not a great and practical Help; and whether there is any other help. I propose to illustrate the influence of Religion to this effect, first -- as a Conviction; second, as a Working Power; and third, as an Interpretation.
I say, then, in the first place, that religion furnishes great help for man in the various issues of life, when he becomes actually convinced that its truths and sanctions are genuine. In other words, the conception of a moral government, of a directing Providence, and of eternal realities, vividly apprehended by the intellect, kept fresh in the heart, and assimilated to the entire spiritual nature, is a personal inspiration. It elevates the platform of a man's being, so that all things appear in true proportion. It clears his vision to detect principles, and endows him with moral courage. I do not know that I can better suggest its influence as a help here, in the conditions of the city, than by asking you to imagine what would be the state of things in the spheres of toil and traffic -- in all the multiform relations of our humanity -- if men really apprehended and believed it? It, I say -- not some special dogma or institution, but the absolute spirit and truth of Christianity. For I do not think that, generally, this is actually credited. I think that, with many professions of religion, and much outward respect for it, and an extensive circulation of vague conceptions about it, it is not commonly felt and vitalized -- it is not apprehended in its blessedness and power, and absolute excellence. To the habits of the soul it does not represent and mean realities as a written contract does, or a bank-bill -- something that men precipitate themselves upon, and that sways the under-currents of their action. New York, with its Broadway and its Wall Street; with its proud buildings and its bristling masts; is a reality -- but that city of which the text makes mention; that city which good men seek, and which in the Apocalypse of Faith they see; whose splendors glitter through the solemn twilight; nay, which hems them around for ever, and shines down upon them brighter than the noonday sun; to thousands, toiling, sinning, and suffering here, is not a reality. For, I ask you, my friends, if it were realized, could there be so much abject need among us; so much stony-hearted selfishness; so much shuffling in trade, and corruption in politics, and meanness in intercourse, and foolish superficial living? I know, and you know, that one of the greatest evils is -- not merely that men are worldly, irreligious, bound up in sad conditions and narrow conceits; but that they are so, because they do not apprehend the nature and do not feel the reality of religion. For I say once more, that a conviction of its reality must be a great help in adjusting the problems of life. And this, because it acts upon the centre of all the sin, and much of the suffering of the world. This personal application of religion stands before all other remedies for the removal of these evils. Others are attempted -- others are, in a degree, successful; but none go so deep and produce results so sure. It seems to me that the position of humanity in this respect, is illustrated in the narrative of the Demoniac of Gadara. We are told that he had been bound with chains, but in his fierce madness had burst them asunder. And then, again, men had tried various expedients, but they could not tame him. But when the influence of Jesus fell upon his soul, it took hold of it with sweet authority; the legion left him, and the poor, wounded, houseless man sat clothed and in his right mind. So is it with man in society; so is it with some of these social evils. The power of law has been invoked; and it has its legitimate sphere of operation. It checks the purposed violence. It arrests the overt act. It may consistently be summoned to purify all those channels of social action which it assumes to regulate; and, instead of patronizing the wrong, to set its face and hand against it. Thus it may prevent public harm, though it cannot stop self-injury, and remove occasions of temptation, though it cannot impart moral strength. It has no efficacy to change the assassin's heart, yet we call upon it to guard us against murder. We bid it close the den of infamy, though it does not quench guilty passion. And we may use it to stop the sale of intoxicating drinks, though it does not destroy the drunkard's appetite. And this indicates both the function and the limitation of the law. Thrown over the wild forces that rage in the human heart, and that afflict community, it is like the fetters on the limbs of the demoniac. It may restrain for a time; but in some sweep of temptation it is spurned and snapped asunder. On the other hand, we have the expedients of the reformer. He comes with props and palliatives; soothing some cutaneous irritation, or removing some foul condition. And let us recognize the legitimacy of his endeavor. We must approach the human heart through the web of its external circumstances, as well as directly. Nay, often this is the only way by which we can get at it at all. And well may we rejoice over the rescue from specific vices, and commend the zeal and patience which fasten upon some colossal evil to batter and drive it from the world. But notwithstanding such noble achievement, how many have remained among the tombs, or gone back to the wilderness -- demoniacs still! It is an old truth, but I say it as though it were in the conviction of a fresh fact forced upon me by these great problems that heave up in the currents of City Life; it is an unavoidable conclusion that there is only one influence that can make safe, and pure, and strong in goodness, those recesses out of which issue so much social evil, and so much personal suffering. And that is the influence not of the law-giver, nor of the reformer; but of the Redeemer. It is that power which flows through the soul in a practical conviction of the reality of religion. It is the help which comes from its inspiration of divine truth and goodness in the breasts of individual men, turning them from evil, rendering them strong against temptation, and sending out from their lives fresh forces of righteousness and love.
Indeed, I believe that any man who really thinks and feels, and who has much experience of Life, will become convinced of the necessity of Religion. I would leave its claims not to the argument of the Moralist, or the advocacy of the Pulpit, but as they urge themselves upon us here out of the whirl, and weariness, and vicissitudes of the City. Surely, as its calm voice appeals to the sons of men, striving in this heated atmosphere; chasing phantoms that rise out of the dust; absorbed in the fickle game of fortune; borne along for a little while on the top-waves of excitement, and then dying unmarked as a rain-drop that falls into the sea; surely as its voice appeals to these, saying -- "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!" it strikes the deepest chords in thousands of hearts. I will not adopt now any professional argument to prove the great necessity of Religion as a Help in Life. But I would take my stand, in imagination, at some corner of yonder tumultuous street. How multiform the crowds that sweep by me; how diverse the faces; what a kaleidoscope of human conditions! And yet, when you attempt to classify them, how few are the actual types of men -- how many fall into a common group; and when you try them by the profoundest standard -- that of a common experience and common wants -- how marvellously alike they all are! How similar in inward expression, the rich man who walks yonder, to that poor drudging son of toil, who bows his back and strains his sinews until they ache! How similar in effect the burdens which they both bear -- the burden of wealth, and the burden of poverty, in the fact that they are burdens upon the heart and the soul! And are they not both struggling with the realities of life, and moved by quenchless desires, and looking up into the same infinite mystery? Ah! my friends, I hardly think it would be the most effectual way to preach Religion in this church on Sunday, as a matter of course -- but to stand out there on week-days, and strike the deepest chords throbbing unconsciously in the bosoms of those who pass me by. I would appeal to you, O disappointed, almost heart-broken man, who for years have endeavored to earn a competency to lift your head above the sheer necessities of life, but have failed in the chase, and been beaten back, and seen others who have exerted themselves not near as much, not so honorably, perhaps, rise to the very top of the stream and sail clear ahead; -- or to you, O "favorite of fortune," as the world calls you, who find your palace to be only a stately sepulchre, in which all genuine feeling and simple enjoyment lies dead and wrapped in cerements of chilling etiquette -- whose daughter, perhaps, has mocked your fondest plans; or whose son has turned out a miserable weed of dissipation -- a degenerate fopling, a rake, a fool; -- or to you, O butterfly of fashion, sailing with embroidered wings in search of admiration and of pleasure; or still again, to you who have just gathered together the means of enjoyment, and ease, and everything, to make life pleasant, and lo! death has entered, and your hopes are darkened and in the dust; I appeal to you, O types of this streaming humanity, that wears so many masks, yet, carries under all a common heart; and ask you, if there is not some void that no earthly good can fill -- that no finite thing can sustain and satisfy? Can you go on with the common business of the world, discharge all its obligations, control yourself in its excitements, resist its evil solicitations, bear up under its trials, and, finally, reach that period in life when you must ask -- "What is all this worth? -- these years of toil, these eager enterprises, this golden accumulation or unfortunate failure -- what are they all worth, and what do they mean?" -- can anybody well get along with all this, without Religion? My friends, I say to you that, not consciously, perhaps, like the old saints who wrought and prayed and walked with upward-looking faces -- but really, in the deep yearning and the secret gravitation of the soul -- you do confess that here we have no continuing city, and you are seeking one to come. At least, it seems to me that without the Help of Religion, there is only the alternative of moral indifference -- a cold, hard worldliness, or of recklessness and spiritual despair. And is not this the alternative which is exhibited in the midst of all our civilization -- in the midst of this gorgeous materialism of the nineteenth century? Thousands, it is to be apprehended, do exhibit one or the other of those extremes which the poet has so well described:
"For most men in a brazen prison live,
"And the rest, a few,
But, before I quit this head of my discourse, let me say that in order to be accepted as the great Help of Life, Religion must in some way be presented as a reality. It must not be held forth as a mere abstraction -- it must be precipitated into its concrete relations. Parting with none of its sanctity, it must be stripped of its vagueness and technicality, and be spoken in the fresh language of the time. I feel sure that amidst prevalent irreligion, nothing is so much needed as a definite statement of what religion is; and that men should learn to recognize its vascular connection with every department of action. It must be understood that "being religious" is not a work apart by itself, but a spirit of faith and righteousness, flowing out from the centre of a regenerated heart into all the employments and intercourse of the world. Not merely the preacher in the pulpit, and the saint on his knees, may do the work of religion, but the mechanic who smites with the hammer and drives the wheel; the artist seeking to realize his pure ideal of the beautiful; the mother in the gentle offices of home; the statesman in the forlorn hope of liberty and justice; and the philosopher whose thought treads reverently among the splendid mysteries of the universe. I know that some will deem this a secularization of religion -- a desecration of its holy essence by worldly alliances. But they are mistaken. It is a consecration of pursuits and spheres that have been cut off from all sacredness, and devoted to secondary ends. Are not the just, the useful, the beautiful, from God, as well as the good and the holy? And, therefore, is not any practice which serves these, a service of God? It is needed that men should feel that every lawful pursuit is sacred and not profane; that every position in life is close to the steps of the divine throne; and that the most beaten and familiar paths lie under the awful shadow of the Infinite; then they will go about their daily pursuits, and fill their common relationships, with hearts of worship and pulses of unselfish love; instead of regarding religion as an isolated peculiarity for a corner of the closet and a fraction of the week, and leaving all the rest of time and space an unconsecrated waste, where lawless passions travel, and selfishness pitches its tents. O! if religion were thus a diffusive, practical, every-day reality, there would be a marvellous change in the aspects of life and the conditions of humanity around us. The great city, now so gross and profane, would become as a vast cathedral, through whose stony aisles would flow perpetual service; where labor would discharge its daily offices, and faith and patience keep their heavenward look, and love present its offerings. Yea, the very roll of wheels through its busy streets would be as a litany, and the sound of homeward feet the chant of its evening psalm.
But religion is not only a help in and for ourselves; it has a ministration for others -- for this great mass of destitution and suffering that broods in the midst of the city. Christianity is not merely a theory of existence -- it is a working-power. Its precepts are practical, and enjoin not merely states of mind and heart, but conditions of activity. There is an entire magazine of working-forces in that one great law -- "Love thy neighbor as thyself." Hear the words of an apostolical commentator upon it. "If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food," says he, "and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." And wherever Christianity has existed and been apprehended, it has produced beneficent results for humanity. It has gone over the earth like its Divine Author, with healing and with help for the woes of the race. Anybody who takes his stand at the head-waters of modern history, will see that a mighty energy was then poured into the world, whose influence is evident in the truest civilization, in the best results, of ages. In estimating the practical power of Christianity, we must look at the positive phase of things -- we must consider what has actually been done; not merely what remains to be done. We must adopt proportionate standards, not the little measures of to-day and yesterday, in which the tides of human melioration may oscillate, and even seem to flow backward and at the best to make slight headway. But take up the cycle of history that preceded the advent of Christianity, and compare it with the present period; and is there not an entirely different expression on the face of things, so far as conceptions of humanity and influences of philanthropy are concerned? Contrast "a Roman holiday," its butchery and its blood, with a modern anniversary that clasps the round world in its jubilee, and see if humanity has not been helped by religion. Or look back upon Grecian art and refinement, and tell me what oration or poem, or pantheon of marble beauty, is half as glorious as the plain brick free-school; the asylum of industry; the home for the penitent, the disabled and the poor? Ah! my friends, these are such familiar things that we may not think them the great things they really are; and in gazing upon the colossal evils that yet tower up before us, they may seem slight achievements. But they are great: and when I see the poor drunkard return to a renovated home -- the demoniac sitting clothed and in his right mind once more; when I see the dumb write, and hear the blind read, and little rescued children sing their thankful hymns; I think humanity has been helped a great deal since that Divine Teacher walked the earth, and took the lambs to his bosom, and made the foul leper clean, and partook with publicans and sinners, and bade the guilty go and sin no more. I think that currents of love and self-sacrifice, from that heart that was pierced for us upon the cross, have found their way through the channels of ages, through all the impediments of worldliness and selfishness, and inspired and blessed men far more than they know.
But if, turning from the positive achievement, you point to the evils that still exist -- if you lift the coverings of respectability and custom from the ghastly facts that are embedded here in our so-called civilization; if you bid me mark the vice, the poverty, the crime, the oppression, the grinding monopoly, the prejudice, the gigantic materialism and practical atheism that are mixed up with it, and seem to be inseparable parts of it; then I ask you -- how would it be without the Help of Religion? What interpretation should we obtain from the dark creed of the skeptic, what inspiration from the philosophy of annihilation, and of fate? To say nothing of those forces of Love and self-sacrifice which it sheds abroad in the world, and to which I have just alluded, -- Religion, in one single proposition, sends pregnant elements of direction and relief into the midst of these giant evils. That one proposition is the immortality of man -- the priceless spirituality of every man -- the ascription of a nature more glorious and imperishable than a star. Here is the spring of its perpetual antagonism to the world, and to the evil of the world. The latter bases its estimate of man upon outward conditions; estimates his name and his title, his equipage and his parentage, the bulk of his gold, the color of his skin, his apparent success or defeat. Christianity points to that vivid centre of a soul, in whose light all these external distinctions fade, are fused into dross, become comparatively naught. All the evil of the world stands upon the assumption of the former rule -- upon the ground of external and material valuation -- which, as has been well observed by another, is a "method of studying the problems of the universe by fetching rules from the wider sphere (therefore the lower) to import into the higher.... So long as this logical strategy is allowed, the Titans will always conquer the gods; the ground-forces of the lowest nature will propagate themselves, pulse after pulse, from the abysses to the skies, and right will exist only on sufferance from might." On the other hand, I say, Religion, Christianity, starts from the centre outward -- starts with the dignity and sanctity of the human soul -- and in this is the great element of all progress and reform. Out of this have sprung the achievements of modern freedom. Assuming this inward birthright of every man, men have snapped feudal fetters, and broken the seals of ancient proscription, and torn up branching genealogies, and trodden diadems in the dust. It was this fact that inspired Sidney's speech, and Hampden's effort, and Washington's calm determination. It is this that erects itself against majorities, policies, institutions, charters, and will not be beaten down, and will agitate, and will triumph. It is this that sends philanthropy upon its mission; and bids it stoop to the most fallen, and search under the darkest depravity. "Go abroad," it says, "amidst the guilt and misery of the great city. In the rags, the filth, the abomination, there are jewels fallen from heaven. There are souls upon which angels look with solicitude. There are interests for which Christ died. Search patiently, and deeply, and never give up the endeavor to find, to lift up, to restore." Is not all the spring of benevolent effort, then, in this single proposition of Religion? This one great Truth it utters amidst the suffering and injustice of the world -- that men are heirs of one inheritance; possessors of a birthright by virtue of which all outward inequalities fade away. It bases a demand for mutual help and love, upon the fact that we are all on a pilgrimage -- high, low, honored, degraded, master, slave, we go forth together, and these earthly distinctions all drop away. Rich man with rows of real-estate, with money safe in bank, with solid securities walled around you -- you will carry no more away than Lazarus yonder -- in God's eyes you are no richer than he. Because here we have no continuing city. The destinies of our common humanity flow forward into another and more enduring one.
And, if still this problem of human degradation and suffering presses upon us, I say further, that where the constituents of this problem are most prominent, there religion is the most active. The heaviest poverty is belted about by the brightest charities; the hot-beds of crime generate the most radical efforts for its prevention and its cure; and while oppression is at work, setting its dark types upon virgin soil to print off its own shame and condemnation, indignant voices expose it and indignant hearts react against it. And more and more, every day, it is felt and proclaimed that religion is a working-principle -- a practical power. Never was it more profoundly felt than in this very age that men must be confessors of Christianity as well as professors. And in the light of this conception, proffering fresh and willing help, Religion walks abroad; and lo! waste places grow verdant, and the strongholds of guilt and misery sink down, and blessed institutions rise up, and industry takes the place of crime, and cursings are exchanged for songs, and the poorest sees the immortal light, and is lifted up by the grand thought -- that "here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come."
We have thus seen that Religion is a Help as to the fact of sin, when men are convinced of it as a great reality; and a help as to the fact of human suffering, because it is a working-power. But, over and above all this, there are problems that perplex us, and demand some answer; problems as to the How, and the Wherefore, and the End. There are times when our thoughts rise above all specific instances, and we take up humanity and existence as a whole, and ask -- "What means it all?" Sometimes this question starts out of an individual experience. The shock of affliction has jarred our hearts; our expectations have come to naught; bereavement has broken up the routine of our life; or our own souls have surprised us with sudden revelations. At any rate, we find our being here involved with mystery. There is something that our understanding cannot entirely grasp; something that our unassisted eyes cannot see. And the only help for us in such a case is the Help of Religion, presenting us, through faith, with an interpretation of human life -- an interpretation which tells us that what we now experience and behold is only transitional, preliminary, and that we see through a glass darkly, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.
And is it necessary for me to dwell upon the strength which has thus been imparted to sad and wounded spirits, when with perfect trust in Infinite Goodness they have thus realized that they stand only on one round of an upward course -- only in a little segment of the immense plan? I will merely say now, that if, through faith, religion is a help to these by interpreting life in harmony with individual experience, so through this faith does it help the meditative man troubled by the general problem of existence and humanity. The meaning of these various conditions in the city -- the meaning of these sins, and sorrows, and inequalities -- the meaning of this tide of life itself that rolls in endless succession through these stony arteries -- does it perplex you? Accept, then, the help which religion gives by interpreting it as only preliminary and transitional; only a portion of a wider scheme.
We commenced this series of discourses by standing, as it were, in the street, on a level with all these phases of humanity. Ascend now some lofty post of observation; some high watch-tower. The mottled tide flows and dashes far below you. The sounds of strife and endeavor rise faintly to your ears, and are drowned in the upper air. So in the altitude and comprehensiveness of faith, all this that seemed so huge and startling dwindles to a little stream in the great ocean of existence, and all these tumults are swallowed up in the currents of silent but beneficent design. But, in the meantime, the daylight has gone, the night-shadow has fallen, this stream of human life has ebbed away, and all these sounds are still. See, now, how much of your perplexity came from a deceit of eye-sight -- see how the light of this world blinded you to the immensity and the meaning of existence! See! over your head spreads the great firmament. There are Sirius, and Orion, and the glittering Pleiades. How harmoniously they are related; how calmly they roll! And now, O man! fresh from the reeking dust, and the cry of pained hearts, and the shadows of the grave, do not the scales of unbelief drop from your eyes, when you see the width of God's universe, and feel that His purpose girdles this little planet and steers its freight of souls? You were deceived by your standards of greatness and duration. You thought that this material city, with what it contains, was everything. But they have cherished the true view, who in the spirit of the text have interpreted these Conditions of Humanity -- the conditions of those who seek and sin and suffer in the busy crowd; of those who rest beneath yonder gleaming tomb-stones. And, as we read what all wise and good men have virtually said, our mortal term contracts, our immortal career opens, our years seem as ticks of a clock, and the entire sum of our life but a minute-mark on the dial of eternity; and this huge metropolis becomes a dim veil, a perishable symbol of real and enduring things.
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Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully as possible, including obsolete and variant spellings. Obvious typographical errors in punctuation (misplaced quotes and the like) have been fixed. Corrections [in brackets] in the text are noted below:
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But, say you, '["]here is one who is returning to a home of destitution, of misery; where the
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between those great agents of human achievment[achievement] and the living intelligence
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years. Remarkable for brilliant achievments[achievements] in every department of physics, ours well deserves
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the old world without a telegraph, and Columbus found a new one without a steam[-]ship.
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open air and the sovreignty[sovereignty] of the soil. And if this immense intrusion of machinery has
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stream, and chained the fire; and now, [with] with the eye of science and the hand of skill,
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dignity is there in that man who justs[just] accepts his station and makes the most of
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celestial City be these well-known doors -- and thus may we also die at Home!["]
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heaven, whose inhabitants would not make
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and, perpetually descending from the threshold of the Infinite, keeps open an arch-way of mysstery[mystery] and heaven.
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dangerous reasoning, my friends; neverthless[nevertheless], it is reasoning, and shows that the mind of the
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of life and the conditions of humanity arouud[around] us. The great city, now so gross and profane,