Relation of the Christian Ministry to Reform
Edward B. Hall
Berry Street lecture, 1846
delivered before the Ministerial Conference
May 27, 1846
Summoned at a late hour to prepare something for this occasion, I take a subject suggested by the times, but belonging to all time; —the Relation of the Christian Ministry to individual and social Reform; or more simply, the Christian Principle of Reform.
There is no special satisfaction in speaking of that which is on every one's lips, has all variety of definitions, and finds a multitude of advocates or opposers equally confident and mutually distrustful; most distrustful perhaps of any one who takes what is called a moderate course, and what has come to be considered no course at all. But there is a satisfaction in even the humblest endeavor to discern first principles, and keep to them, on subjects where principle is so apt to be thrust aside by passion, and that which is most needed is least in favor— discrimination with decision.
First principles, on the subject before us and all kindred subjects, are to be found in the Gospel of Christ; —a very simple fact, but one important enough, and enough neglected, to stand as the chief position. The present inquiry pertains directly to the Gospel, and the ministers of the Gospel; but if it did not, the position would be the same, and essential. A Christian community may be presumed to come under the Christian dispensation. Every Christian age is to be judged by the Christian standard, as to its government, its church, society, and individuals. It had been better for all, if this rule had been applied to all ages since Christ came. It might have prevented some of their own errors and iniquities, and might at least have saved subsequent ages, and the present, from much of the foolish talk about the character of the age being made the rule, and the only rule of judgment. As if a people, whatever their religion or opportunity, may be as bad as they will, and their very badness shall be the rule by which they are to be judged; a kind of reasoning, that has been made to cover a larger multitude of sins, than the largest charity. But whatever may be thought of the past, we are clear as to the present. The nineteenth Christian century is late enough to make it safe to say, that the Christian law is to be supreme; and that any principle of individual or social action which contravenes that law, is self-condemned. How this is to be determined, in any particular case, is a part of the inquiry which I cannot pursue; except to say, that if individual minds and consciences are not competent to decide, there is not, there never has been, and there never can be, a competent tribunal on the earth. The attempt, in State or Church, to find a tribunal which does not consist of individual opinions and involve individual accountableness, — the idea of an irresponsible and infallible judgment to be found in some body of men, or some one man, near or remote,—is beyond my power of comprehension, and therefore of discussion. I am content to take the simple fact, that the principles which are to guide us, the first, indisputable, and universal principles of Reform, are to be found in the Gospel of Christ.
From this position, common and indefinite as it may seem, important inferences might be drawn. The following are the most obvious and pertinent. That every reform must stand on the Christian basis; that every reformer is amenable to the Christian law; that every individual is bound to use Christian motives and means, for his own and others' highest improvement; that every evil is to be adjudged an evil, according to its violation of the Christian law, or its distance from it, and the obstacles it interposes; that for the removal of all evils, we are required to use Christian means, and forbidden to use unchristian means; that we are personally accountable, to some degree, for the prevalence of those evils, to which we have failed to apply Christian truth and influence, and are not accountable at all, where we have applied them faithfully, however ineffectually.
These several points need not be separately considered. They may be comprised within the general statement, that Christianity proposes the reform of all moral evils; and that our responsibility in this work relates to means and efforts, rather than results. These truths I am the more willing to urge here, from the persuasion that they affect our whole position and duty as ministers, without reference to times or special objects.
Christianity proposes reform; reform, in the Scriptural sense of inward regeneration, and in the highest sense of personal, social, universal progress toward perfection. This is so self-evident, that one would feel ashamed to assert and attempt to show it, but for facts which intimate a forgetfulness, if not a denial, of the statement. Few facts stand out more boldly on the front of Christian history, than a disposition to take men and things as they are, on the presumption that they either need not or cannot be changed. There would seem to have grown up with Christianity itself (though before, it was never wanting) a kind of acquiescence in the evils of society and character, as well as in the events of life. This, as time has advanced, has been confirmed by the very antiquity of evil, and by that reverence for antiquity, which, with all the truth and usefulness that belong to it, often magnifies one part of the Apostle's injunction, "hold fast that which is good,” so as to lose even the thought of the other and the first, "prove all things.” It is not extravagant to say, that that in which all Christians of all ages and sects have most agreed, has been an absolute faith in "necessary evils”; an expression, which of itself is as likely to confound as to convey truth. But our quarrel is not with words. The evils usually covered by the phrase in question will be found, I think, to be nearly all the evils that exist. Sin, in all its Protean forms, with all its direct and indirect effects; the passions and appetites, in every degree of indulgence and violence; human nature, in its total depravity or inordinate selfishness, with every manifestation — wrath, cruelty, revenge, murder, fraud, licentiousness, drunkenness, slavery, and that most, which best expresses, because it creates and comprises all, war; — these all have been specially marked as "necessary.” But these are the very evils, whether as causes or effects, which Christianity proposes to reform, of which it requires the reform, and whose reform it commits to its ministers and disciples as their great work. Have they made it their great work? Admitting all that can be fairly asked, for the high aim of Christians, for the changes which they have actually produced, and for the fact that they are doing the work whenever they preach the Gospel faithfully, there is still room for the question, whether they have commonly proposed to themselves the correction of evils, and the reform of society, as a distinct and commanding object. Nay, more than this; — has there not been, and is there not now, in a large proportion of Christian minds, so far as we can judge, a settled and very easy conviction, that the race and the world are not to be materially changed, in regard to practical and prevalent evils?
In seeking an answer to this question for myself, taking it in its many forms and relations, I have endeavored to separate the true from the false, and be just to each. I know my own tendency, like that of all, to some favorite and exaggerated view. And I come to my brethren, not to inform, but to confer with them, as to this momentous question, which the past and the present are forcing upon our attention, — involving the duty, the practicability, and the best mode of carrying forward that work, for which Christ came and commissioned apostles and preachers — to redeem and regenerate man. In those significant words, "redeem” and "regenerate,” which, all admit, express better than any other words the aim and end of Christianity, I can find no meaning, that does not require me to labor, directly and in faith, for the removal of all actual evils. In this conviction, there is nothing visionary. It has no alliance with new organizations, better institutions, social perfectibility, or man's omnipotence. We need go into no rhapsodies about the intuitions of the soul, or that abused truth, the dignity of human nature. As the child of God, formed in his image, and called to share his perfection, the dignity of man cannot be easily over-stated; and they will never live worthily of themselves or their Maker, who disparage or forget it. But the danger and the depravity of man are to be remembered, as well as the dignity. And it may be, that the whole truth, in this respect, is as well expressed in three lines of the poet Young, as in any entire system, others' or our own.
Revere thyself— and yet thyself despise.
His nature no man can o'errate,
And none can underrate his merit.
Now it is the admission of both these truths, which may best serve to indicate the duty of the Christian minister. All Christians have admitted the one or the other; few, both. The vast majority of Christians have always asserted the depravity of man. But where have they placed that depravity? In his nature, more than in his character; in original more than in actual transgression. Depravity has been theological, far more than practical; general, not specific; universal and total, but not individual, acquired, free, and thus responsible and remediable. Hence the aim has been to correct opinions, rather than conduct; to reform errors, more than practical evils. The powers and anathemas of the Church have been reserved for heresy. Penalty, persecution, excommunication, extermination, have all been visited upon heresy. And in the past and the present, the heretic is in greater danger in most Christian churches, than the knave, the liar, the slanderer, the sensualist, even the open adulterer. True, there is a reason for this, and a professed principle, which we are not to overlook. They who thus think and act, believe that the source of all sin is in the heart, as we know it is. They also believe, that the source of all error is in the heart, and that the error is often the cause of the sin, therefore the greater evil and to be first eradicated. This is the theory. And it is virtually the reasoning of our own brethren, as well as others; at least in regard to the principle of reform. They aver, that admitting, as all do, that Christianity demands reform, it proposes to accomplish it only by the power of truth. It deals with principles. It lays its axe at the root of the tree, and cares not to amuse or expend itself in lopping the branches. Enlighten the mind, purify the heart, and you need not concern yourself with this evil or that crime. Let the soul be regenerated, and then, not before and no otherwise, will sin and evil cease.
Granted. But how is the soul to be regenerated? It is clear enough, that if you make a man Christian, he will be no longer heathen, or vile. Convert the world to Christianity, and reform and reformers will be needless. This has always been known, and always been acted upon. But the world has not been converted. Christianity has been preached at home, and carried abroad. Its ministers and messengers have gone out over the whole earth, and yet little more than a fourth part of its inhabitants are even nominally Christians. And what is still more sad, the small proportion of the really Christian, abroad or at home, seems to cause less anxiety, and to call out less effort, than the extension of the name and the doctrine. The actual sins and known vices remain, and do not seem to be the objects of special regard or reform. The anxiety is still to bring in new converts to the nominal Church, rather than to make the Church itself morally pure, or the community wholly Christian.
It is said by many, that the Church is the divinely constituted agent of reform, the sufficient, and the only proper agent. If it be so, have we not a right to expect some proof of it, to look for results where the trial is fairly made? Are there any results which go to prove, that those churches that rely wholly on their own organization for moral influence, refusing all other associations or aids, refusing indeed to speak or act directly for special reforms, have secured, either for themselves or others, any peculiar share of moral excellence, or even exemption from gross offences? We think not. If indeed it be contended, that the best influences of religion are all unseen, and that outward immorality is no proof of inward corruption, there is little to be said. But if vices are sins, and reform, beginning in the heart, must declare itself in the life, beginning in the Church, must act upon society and the world, it will be difficult to show, that purely ecclesiastical action has done most, or that preaching against sin in general has been as effectual as preaching against particular sins. The greatest moral reforms that have been witnessed in the Church or society, have been effected by definite action on the definite evil. And it is at least questionable, whether the evils which still afflict humanity, retard Christianity, and make the very name of Christian professor to be a scoff to multitudes in our own and Heathen lands, can ever be abolished, or greatly diminished, without the decided expression and united effort of all Christians for the desired and definite change. Let there be that expression and effort, to any high degree, the change will be seen.
Is this romantic? Take a single illustration, pressed upon us by passing events. The most signal departure from the spirit and letter of the Gospel, confessedly one of the greatest and saddest obstacles to its progress, has been War. From the hour that a midday vision, so unlike that of the Apostle, presented to the imagination or ambition of a Roman Emperor the cross of Christ as an ensign of battle and pledge of earthly conquest, is to be dated that union of the Church with the State, which has brought so sad a verification of the words of our Saviour: "If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.” They have fought. Expressly as his servants, in his name, for his truth and glory, they have fought. They have declared it to be right and Christian to fight. Not content with insisting that war is inherent in the fallen nature of man, they have proclaimed it consistent with the new religion of Christ. Nay, they go behind Christ to an earlier lawgiver, and say, as they have often said in so many words and constantly in act, that it is a libel on the God of Moses and Joshua to pronounce war barbarous or unchristian. So far from being regarded as unchristian, it has received its chief countenance and support from the Christian Church, and continues at this hour to have the sanction and employ the energies of the first Christian nations. It is in fact, as before intimated, the first and only element, in which all Christians have cordially united. From the times in which that holy man, of whom Luther said "If there ever has been a pious monk who feared God, it was St. Bernard”— took for his motto, and the incentive of his followers in battle, the bold declaration, — "To be slain, is to benefit yourself; to slay, is to benefit Christ,” — Christians of all names have merged all differences in the covenant of human blood. Refusing to kneel together at any altar of the Prince of Peace, they have welcomed all to the temple of Mars. Excommunicating each other today from the Church on earth, and so far as they may, from the Church in heaven, they will pray and commune together tomorrow, before they march in fraternal bands to the destruction of those whom their Lord commanded them to bless!
This is simple fact, to be used as illustration. Connect with it another fact; that Christians, through this whole period and practice, have been preaching the Gospel, have diffused it among all people at an expenditure and sacrifice only less than those of war, have made its acceptance and observance essential, and declared it to be the power that can and will regenerate the earth, changing even the wolf to the lamb, and the sword to the ploughshare. Let us suppose that this same preaching and evangelizing had been accompanied by a different commentary. Without imagining any extraordinary virtue, we may suppose that Christians were always opposed to war; that, as did most in the first ages, they had continued to this time to say mildly, but immovably, "We cannot fight.” Would this have been useless? Would the Christian or the Heathen world have presented the same aspect that they now wear, in regard to any common evils or great interests? Every one believes the contrary. We know, that according to the very principles of human nature, and through the mighty power of God in Christ, such a protest, calmly and consistently sustained, would have wrought a reform, whose power and blessing every cause and every man would have shared. And so will it be, if Christians will thus speak and act now. Let the Church, or any large branch of it, let one Christian nation, take this position, it will be felt throughout the world. Let ministers, with or without combination, speak and act as consistent Christians in all things, it will be seen whether their power or their present deficiency has been much overrated. If a church believes that it is itself the only proper or needed peace-society, well; only let it show itself to be a peace-society. If a bishop, a pastor, or a brother, feels that he cannot join any association, and cannot willingly preach or willingly hear on the Sabbath of such worldly and vexed matters as war, intemperance, slavery, and licentiousness, well; only let him, in his own way, with perfect freedom, undisturbed and unsuspected, speak audibly and intelligibly, for peace, temperance, liberty, and purity. Show yourself, respectfully would I say to every one, as I would have every one freely say to me, show yourself to be true to your own principles, and to your Master's commission. Let your light shine. Let it be seen where and what you are. This, the Church and the world, especially at this day, have a right to ask. Let it be known that you live. Let it be believed that you are a Christian. Let no man ask —is he for or against Christian reform. Let no large, nor the littlest soul have reason to doubt, whether you care for other souls. Suffer not the sensualist, the defrauder, the corrupter, the revengeful and warlike, to extol your liberality, and quote you as no opposer. Speak the truth; speak it in love, but the truth, and the whole truth, personal, practical, spiritual. Speak as the servant of God, against all that God has forbidden, for all that he commands or asks. Speak as the minister of Christ, gently but fearlessly, and with authority, in behalf of that which Christ's pure and peaceful religion, his regenerating and saving faith, would accomplish.
Greatly shall I be misapprehended and wronged, if in using this language, or any other, I am supposed to be actuated by that spirit of censoriousness, which has become so common that one can hardly speak freely without exciting the suspicion. We may none of us escape the imputation, may we all be kept from the weakness and wickedness of the temper, which is most intolerant when it calls most fiercely for charity and liberty, and in its mode of exercising love betrays a disposition akin to that which engenders hate and war. Our accountableness for that which we say and do, or refuse to say and do, is not to any man, however independent, nor to any number, however associated. There is an accountableness to God, which is quite enough for any one to bear. Of this I would say something, as an important point, and the principal one that I further touch. I view it in its single relation to reform, and the duty of the minister as a reformer.
It will be seen that I use the word, reform, not technically but broadly, as standing for all moral and religious improvement. It is therefore a large and solemn matter, to attempt to measure the accountableness of ministers of the Gospel, in this relation. It pertains to their very mission. It covers their whole work. And one is left to wonder beyond measure, how any human being can presume to judge of the degree of this accountableness for another. Yet this is done, whenever it is assumed that we ought to devote ourselves to this or that work, apart from our stated ministrations, and are guilty and responsible if we do not. It is necessary to say this, in order to put in its true light, and a strong light, our actual relation to those movements, which are commonly understood by the term reforms; a term in which much is to be included, pertaining to ignorance, pauperism and crime, as well as more glaring evils. I hold this relation to be a very important one, but I hold that nothing connected with it is more important, than our duty as well as liberty to judge of it for ourselves, individually, and irresponsibly as regards all but God. This is true of our whole duty, as ministers and men. But it is particularly true of our duty there, where it has been particularly or impliedly denied. There has been, beyond dispute, a new and singular disposition evinced of late, to dictate to ministers their course and their duty, in reference to certain causes and associations. About this and against it, enough perhaps has been said in various ways. I am not inclined to magnify its importance, and am by no means willing that it should divert us, as it certainly does not exempt us, from the obligation to look at these alleged duties earnestly, as well as independently. Yet I am not willing to enter upon the question of duty at all, without a sober protest against all dictation and imputation whatever. There are duties which a Christian community, and those portions of it particularly with which, we are professionally connected, have a right to expect of us as pastors and preachers. But the duties to which I now refer are not of this class. No community, no society, not our own churches, have any right to tell us what we shall do or not do, say or not say, in reference to the social and political questions which agitate the public mind. Our acting and our mode of acting, our speech and our silence, are to be as perfectly free, as those of other men; which is all we ask. There is a sense in which all men are bound to exert an influence in favor of truth and right. But that self-constituted authority, which undertakes to determine for others what truth and right are, and holds ministers in special accountable to itself for their decision and action, often branding them with epithets and imputations offensive alike to human and divine law, is a usurpation as bold, and a tyranny as intolerable, as any that Church or nation or autocrat ever exercised.
But this after all, and at the worst, is a small matter compared with duty. We demean ourselves when we allow folly to be an excuse for apathy. He who does nothing for temperance, because some of its advocates have been intemperate and injurious, or says nothing about slavery, except that many of its opposers are wild and intolerant, manifests in another form the narrowness and error which he condemns. Though you could prove that all abolitionists are madmen, and all non-resistants fools, and total abstinence suicide and murder, it would not be the only truth, nor the greatest truth, in regard to slavery, war, and drunkenness. I suppose our whole duty and responsibility in this province may be expressed by some such affirmation as we made in the beginning, applicable to ministers in common with all; namely, for the removal of all moral evils, we are required to use Christian means, and forbidden to use any other; being personally accountable, to some degree, for the prevalence of those evils, to which we have failed to apply Christian truth and influence, and not accountable at all, where we have applied them faithfully, however ineffectually.
That Christianity not only proposes the removal of moral evils, but that it is able to effect it, and will effect it some time or other, is a common belief. If it be our belief, or if we believe in any social and spiritual progress, it is a primary question —how is that progress ever to be made? Are we ever to possess any other means or other powers of accomplishing the great ends of Christianity, than those now possessed? If not, there is a palpable absurdity in the way in which Christians talk of future advancement and final completeness, while they deny the possibility of removing present obstacles by any use of the highest, even Christian influences. What do we mean, when we pray that the world may be converted to truth and holiness, in God's own time? Do we suppose that He will act differently, or that men will act differently? Is not this God's own time, and will he give any other kind of time, or other kind of men and means? Is the mere passage of time, or the peopling and crowding of the earth, to renovate it? As well expect that the passage of the body through corruption, will work the spirit's incorruption. Our very assertion, that there is to be no further revelation, no higher or better Christ, and our indignant reproof of the opposite assertion, throw upon us a tremendous responsibility, and demand of us, at the least, that we put to full proof our present means, and give our religion free course. Does any man doubt, that this religion can remove the mighty obstacles that now impede it? Does any man believe, that it ever will remove them, except through human agency and fidelity, such as we can use as well as any future generation? There cannot be a question, that if Christian ministers alone, all of them, would put full faith, not merely in the future and possible, but in the present and actual power of their religion, would show first that this religion is having its legitimate effect on their own characters, and then apply it, meekly and charitably, but strictly and thoroughly, to all the vices, sins and evils of society, the effect would be as distinct as it would be sure. Now it is not distinct. The Gospel is preached, but the vices remain. Sin in the aggregate is sufficiently exposed, but it laughs and riots on. There is no change bearing any proportion to that which the Gospel promised, and which we imply as possible in every prayer we utter. The grossest iniquities live in the bosom of the Church, and stalk abroad in the most Christian communities. We preach on year after year, ten, twenty, forty years, and remain morally just where we were at the beginning, if indeed we have not lost. Tell me, brethren, why it is so. I may be utterly ignorant of the cause, and may talk foolishly about the cure, — but I do know the fact, and I feel it in my inmost soul. I feel that there is somewhere a frightful accountableness. We are immeasurably distant from the Christian standard. Not prating at all about degeneracy, nor raising the faintest idea of perfection, we say there
are positive violations of the Christian law, open outrages upon justice and humanity, enormities as opposed to Christ's precepts and temper as night to noon, yet so incorporated with the very life of society, so interwoven with the customs, laws, and institutions of the land, that you are forbidden to touch them, lest you bring down the whole fabric in ruins. Yet more, it is gravely said, you need not touch them. The Gospel does not require it. You may declare the whole counsel of God, but need not disturb the complacency of one of these sins or sinners. And so the ministry goes on, the ministry of reconciliation, the mighty array of apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers, employed in the sublime and safe work of splitting words, defending doctrines, wrangling for forms, creating or opposing organizations, denouncing and devouring one another, and leaving unmoved, declaring immoveable, those moral evils, which make all else seem a pretence and a mockery.
But what would you have, it is asked. Do you demand that we say more of these evils specifically, preach about them often and by name, join those who combine against them, and mourn aloud over the awfulness and accountableness? No, I do not demand this. But I earnestly ask, that all who choose to do this, as well as all who choose not to do it, may be left free even from suspicion of un-worthy motives. The mode of action, or the measure of accountableness, I decide for no one, and no one may decide for me. That of which I feel the want in myself, and believe to be the general and radical want, is first a more earnest conviction, not only of the existence, but of the magnitude and turpitude of these moral evils, and then a religious, resolute purpose of directing to them the whole power of Christian truth and requisition, each in his own way, but a way unequivocal and manly. The constant and evasive question, whether these things really belong to the Gospel, or to the work of the minister, should be settled and silenced by the plain consideration, were there no other, that they stand directly in the way of the Gospel, and mock its purpose and its preacher. If a man feel this, he will not ask, and need not be told, what he is to do: There have been men among us, who were never declaimers nor denouncers, partisans nor fanatics, but whose opinions on every question of right and humanity were clear as the day, and so felt that every one has said —"Were there many like these, Christianity would speedily triumph.” And one characteristic of these men has been their love of their calling, a fidelity to their sacred work, which of itself gave them power for every other. Instead of turning any away from the Gospel and the ministry, the evils and duty of which we speak should hold them the faster to this ministry, and make them cling to the Gospel as the only hope of salvation.
When the good Leighton was once reproved for not preaching up the times, he replied —"If all of you preach up the times, you may surely allow one poor brother to preach up Christ Jesus and eternity.” Yet why need these be separated, as if opposed? We are to preach Christ Jesus, by preaching as he preached, — for the times, in all their defects, iniquities, and demands, — for the times present and to come, in view of a perfect religion, and eternal issues. This is a part of our accountableness, and at this moment a very serious part. We are accountable for our use of this divine energy and this high calling at all times, but most when their influence is most needed. We are accountable, if we give any just cause for the assaults made on the ministry. We are accountable, if we either keep to this ministry so formally and narrowly that we are never felt beyond it, scarcely within it, or leave it so often and far as to make it forgotten or lamented that we have any connection with it. And may I add, that we are accountable, if we suffer our liberal theology and singular charity to render us now indifferent, and now intolerant, of opinion; while all the time we forget or boldly deny those sources of sin and powers of selfishness in the human heart, which have caused all the darkness and desolation of earth. We hold not the first principle of Christian reform, until we feel the absolute necessity of this reform, and discern the seat of the evil, the place for the radical change. Say it who will, and as they may, — is it not true, that as a class of believers, preachers, and actors, we make too little of human depravity? That we believe it is not original or total, but voluntary and individual, is the very reason why we should deal with it closely and anxiously. If it have no root and no apology in our nature, it is verily a gigantic and frightful iniquity. Why is it, that the evils of which we have spoken are so universal, and, as many say, incurable? Why has it been necessary from the beginning, for God, and Christ, and man, to employ such vast ministrations and mighty agencies, merely to restrain men from evil —and so greatly in vain? Let any one go back six thousand years, and stand with the first man in his fair heritage, or come down our thousand years, and stand on the mount of Beatitudes knowing all that the world had already learned, and hearing all that Christ then promised, — would he be able to believe, that at this distance of time not only passions but opinions would predominate, through the best portions of Christendom, in favor of vast systems of iniquity, such as slavery and war, while the lusts that create these, create all other forms of social and political corruption, to a degree that causes wise and calm men to mourn and despair? That Christians can despair, is melancholy enough. That such partial views are taken of Christianity and destiny; that men remain for centuries unconscious or indifferent to monstrous evils, and when they awake to the reality of one, pursue it to the forgetfulness of all others; that in this advanced age, a man may be imprisoned and slain for speaking his own thoughts, or attempting to do to others as he would they should do to him; that scarcely one of Christ's moral laws can be strictly applied to individuals and society, without the charge of interference or extravagance;— all this, and much more of equally common fact, indicate a nature or tendency for which "frailty” seems a very inadequate term, and "depravity” none too strong.
Brethren, if there be any truth or justice in what I have offered, let me ask, if right views and impulses are not to come chiefly from Christian ministers? The subject is linked in with our profession in every way, and commends itself especially to our denomination. I love the profession, I love the denomination. Let me not exaggerate or forget the accountableness of either. Our views of theology and humanity, our hope for society and the soul, connect us (and commit us, if any views can) with the distinct work of Christian reform. Our duty, of course, has conditions and limitations. Of some of these I purposed to speak. But beside the want of time, it is too plain to be more than stated, that accountableness pertains to means and efforts, not to results; that the same law which binds us to use all Christian means, forbids us to use unchristian means, or to spend ourselves in regrets and reproaches, when we have done right in a right temper. It is a mistake which the reformer has always made, that he is to change everything, and finish the world's work. Yet this is a harmless vanity, compared with the egregious and dangerous absurdity, that reformers are not accountable for consequences; that to be a martyr, is a glory worth every cost; that if any will fight against God, we may fight against them, and pursue them at least with all opprobrious epithets and injurious treatment. It is well to consider, that the wicked as well as the good are in the hands of God, and that the good are accountable for the means they use even in reforming the wicked. The faith that is to remove mountains, must be calm and patient, strong in hope, and greatest in charity. Are there any of whom such faith is to be expected, if not of the disciples of Christ, and ministers of his Gospel? They are not insignificant. They are never powerless, except when they stretch or trifle with their power. In numbers alone, taking all names and climes, they are a great army. And could they move in one phalanx, clad all in the armor of God, who doubts that that which Jesus said of the first whom he sent out, would be again and more widely witnessed, "I beheld Satan fall, as lightning, from heaven.”
Our hope is in Christ and the Church. Let us show our love for both, by our reliance on them alone. Let us show that we are Christian ministers, by single and hearty devotion to the Christian ministry. Let us stand up and move on, each in his own place and way, a meek yet mighty reformer, by treasuring and being faithful to the great truth, that Christianity proposes the removal of all evils, but regards as the first of reforms, and the highest good in the universe, a spirit born anew and born of God. And this reform it would accomplish by the instrumentality of the Church. As a brother has well said, in a discourse on "Spiritual Renewal,” —"The Church is the greatest institution on earth, and if it be faithful to its province, it is the benignest and most mighty for good things to mankind.” Earnestly then must we ask — is the Church faithful? This has been often asked foolishly, and answered falsely. But let all that pass, and then let the question come back, and abide with us, — is the Church faithful? Are we, its ministers, faithful even to its great idea of the soul's and the world's renewal? If we were, would that renewal be a dream, or be left as only the possible work of future ages? One thing is sure. No future age will have a heavier accountableness to bear, than this; and no denomination, than ours. This I believe, with a seriousness that makes me tremble. With our intelligence, with our Protestant independence, with our proclamation, if not possession, of perfect freedom and perfect charity, with a real individualism that offers the best of all association and cooperation, with the thrilling ties that bind us to the holy dead, and to the good of every name on earth and in heaven, —if we leave no mark on our country and age, or fail to raise the tone of morals and aim of Christians, in the Church, the state, and society, it may be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for us.