2 Peter in. 4. WHERE IS THE PROMISE OF HIS COMI G? FOR, SI CE THE FATHERS FELL ASLEEP, ALL THI GS CO TI UE AS THEY WERE FROM THE BEGI I G OF THE CREATIO . Christ quitted the world in benediction, and left upon it a legacy of inextinguishable hope. The first mai.'.festation of the hopeful spirit of his religion was in the expectation, confidently held by tLj Apostle!^ and their followers, that within ' that generation ' he would return from Heaven in triumph, gather together a faithful community, exterminate the ills of human life, and become monarch over a renovated and immortal world. Sufferers of every class (and the church had mercy for them all) laid this hope to heart, and stood silent beneath scorn and persecution, believing that the lashes of oppression were numbered now. As the years passed on, and the outer limits of the generation were approached, the flush of expectation became more intense. One after another the Apostles dropped off, without witnessing the desire of their eyes ; till at last the protracted life of John became the solitary and fragile thread on which this splendid anticipation hung. He, too, died, and Jesus had not returned; and the church, unwilling to confess its disappointment, extended the

236 THE GREAT YEAR OF PROVIDE CE. term of hope by a liberal construction of the promise.

Here and there among the communities of disciples there lingered a few aged men whose life reached back to the years of Christ's ministry ; and till they were gone, it was not too late for the Son of Man to come. Expectation became more anxious and feverish every year ; passing events were perverted into auguries of its impending realization ; the rout of an army, the incursion of a new invader, the rumor of an earthquake, the blaze of meteor by night, or a stroke of lightning upon a Pagan shrine, was caught at with breathless eagerness, and watched as a herald to the last act of human things. But as storm after storm passed off and brought no change ; as life after life disappeared, and even rumor could find nowhere a surviving representative of Christ's generation, hope fainted into doubt; and despair broke loose and cried, ' Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.' o brilliant exultation longer cheered the woes of the church and of the world ; they fell back again with their dull weight upon the heart. The Christian mother wept now for her martyred son, whom, in the thought of instant restoration, she had forgot to mourn ; the despised teacher began to cower before the Heathen's or the Hebrew's scorn, which he knew no longer how to answer ; and the irons of the Christian field-slave, to which for years his faith had given a farewell look each night before he slept, grew heavy on his limbs again. Almost eighteen hundred years separate us from -the disappointment of this singular expectation; and the calmness with which we can look back on a


scene so distant, enables us to draw from it a sacred lesson of Providence. Well might God rebuke and disappoint this affectionate but erring hope ; for what did it assume ? That a few years' preaching of a pure religion, and the forcible enthronement upon earth of one who had lived in Heaven, were all that was necessary for perfecting the world, for driving sin and sorrow from the hearts and homes of men, and giving life its final, sanctity. How imperfect was the estimate of this regenerative work, which could assign it to instruments so inadequate, and a process so brief! God has taught us now, that a moral change so various and stupendous, implying the civilization of barbarism, the illumination of the ignorant, the rescue of the oppressed, the pacification of nations, the multiplication of Christ's own spirit of humanity over the globe, is not to be wrought in an hour by Omnipotence itself; is beyond the reach of any mechanical scheme of rule, though conducted by beings of another world ; and must wait on the silent operation of those spiritual laws of the human mind, which neither the individual nor the race can be permitted to outstrip. We look back over the centuries by which we have retired from the fountains of our faith, and learn how solemn is the task of Providence on earth ; for he labors at it still ; and though its progress has been visible to this hour, it seems but starting on its cycle yet. Who will not confess a strong sympathy with the early Christian's delight, in anticipating certain great and divine revolutions within their own generation? That human life is too short to witness the fruits of its own efforts; that it scatters in seed-time, but may not put the sickle to its own harvest ; that its


whole career from infancy to age scarce measures a solitary step in the march of humanity, has always been felt to be an arrangement hard to bear. And there is a peculiar fascination in the thought of personally experiencing the realization of one's social dreams, of quickening a too tardy Providence to the pace of our fleeting years, and finding our race of man give promise of perfection, during our mortal instead of our immortal lives. It is the severest and sublimest duty of philanthropy to toil in faith and die in tears ; to grapple with ills that must survive it, and may destroy; to remonstrate with oppression, and only see its gi'ipe tightened on its victim in revenge. The mistake of the early church is not theirs alone ; it is a human, rather than a theological error. All men have the prime element of such a superstition in themselves; an impatience at the slow step of advancement, an eagerness for some visible and palpable progress in everything which is thought capable of indefinite improvement. Such delusion, is the only way in which the human soul can get into God's everlasting now.' Yet, while really springing from a noble faith, it produces, in its reaction, many an ignoble doubt. This disposition looks, for exexample, at the individual mind; and seeing it become stationary, the dull slave of habit, declares that it cannot be immortal. Or it contemplates the general community of men; and imagining it little superior to some former condition of the world, denies it the hope of unlimited amelioration. This spirit of despondency is especially liable to visit us, when we stand at one of the pauses of our time, — at the end of a season, of a year, of a life, — of any unit that has had a predecessor, and will have a successor, just like


itself: still more perhaps, when we review the progress (ever small compared with our desires) of some benevolent work,* to which, from its magnitude and character, we can see no definite determination. The retrospect of a few years often seems to exhibit to us a sameness the most depressing; to show us how little we have done; to persuade us that, — as if in rebuke of our hopes, — 'all things continue as they were,' and no advent of a better life is heralded as yet. The same evils which met our eye and our pity of old, encounter us this day; and if in any instances they have been cancelled, others, not less frightful, seem ever ready to rush up into their place ; so that, in turning to the future, no visible end appears to the saddening task of Christian mercy. Under the influence of this thought, the mind is haunted and harassed by the image of all things circulating ; whirling in mysterious self-repetition; looking in upon us with the fixed full eye of an ancient fatalism. And we are deluded into the fear that nothinsf is ever to be better ; that our faith in the progress of our religion and our kind must be dragged into the vortex of a wearisome periodicity, and expire in the exclamation, ' Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.' This distressing impression might be relieved, if we could only discriminate, by any rule, between those series of events which are periodical, and those which are eternal; — between those changes in the moral world which visibly complete themselves, and those ?This Discourse was preached iu behalf of the London Domestic Mission, April, 1841.


which at least may be interminable. Change of some kind is the law of the universe; everything which God does is progressive ; and the present question is, whether any of his progressions having reference to human beings appear to run on into infinitude? ow in seeking for an answer to this question, we are encountered by an apparent law of the organized, or at all events of the sentient creation, of a truly remarkable character; — a law which, though discernible only in fragments and interrupted by seeming exceptions, holds with sufficient consistency to disclose the general method of nature ; — viz. that in proportion to the excellence and dignity of any form of existence, is it long in coming to maturity ; that the cycles of things are great, in proportion to their worth. It is needless to say that there is no other criterion of the worth of a being than the magnitude of its capacities, and the number of its functions. In glancing our eye upon the chain of animal races, however difficult it may be to arrange them symmetrically in an ascending series, the outlines of this law are surely sufficiently obvious. The creatures which, by universal consent, would be placed at the lower end of the scale, seem to come into life perfect at once, or if they grow, to grow only in quantity ; as if of an existence so inferior no part could be spared as preface to the rest. The perfect formation of creatures of a superior order divides itself into several distinguishable stages ; and the greater the number of faculties and instincts, the longer is the period set apart for the process of development. The lion has a longer infancy than the sheep, and the sagacious elephant than either. The human being, lord of this lower world, is conducted


to this supremacy though a yet more protracted ascent ; none of the creatures that he rules, have an infancy so helpless or so lasting ; none furnish themselves so slowly with the knowledge needful for selfsubsistence ; — as if to him time were no object, and no elaboration of growth were too great for his futurity. Compare also the different faculties and feelings of the individual human mind. You find them appear in the order of their excellence ; the noblest approaching their maturity the last. Sensation, which belongs to man in common with all other sentient beings, is the endowment of his earliest days. Memory, which simply prevents experience from perishing, which furnishes language to the lips, and preserves the materials of the past for future treatment by the mind, ripens next. The understanding, which makes incursions and wins trophies in the field of abstract truth, which devises measures for the dimensions of space and the successions of time, and the great physical movements that circulate within them, is of later origin ; while the great inventive power which distinguishes all genius, which seems to sympathize with the devising spirit of the Artificer of things, and apprehend by natural affinity the most subtle relations he has established, and anticipate by mysterious intimacy the future secrets of nature, and from old and gross ingredients create the useful, the beautiful, the true, is the last as it is the rarest and most glorious of intellectual gifts. And the moral powers, — so far as they can be regarded separately from these, — are seen and felt expanding later still. The true appreciation of action and character, the faithful and impartial love of whatever things are pure and good, 21

242 THE GREAT YEAR OF PROYIDE CE. the correct and profound estimate of life, the serenest spirit of duty and of faith, are scarcely found till most of the lessons of our mortal state have been read, and the soul has caught some snatches of inspiration from the ' still sad music of humanity.' We may even say, that perhaps all our faculties do not develop themselves here ; and whole classes of emo tions and conceptions may wait to be born beneath other influences. Certain at least it is, that one who dies in infancy, can have little idea of anything beyond sensation ; that one who falls in childhood cannot know the toils and triumphs of the pure reason ; that one who dies in youth has not yet learned the sense of power which belongs to the practised exercise of creative thought, and the sacred peace of disinterested duty long tried in trembling and in tears. Certain too it is, that to the open mind, fresh gleamings enter to the last ; strange stirrings of diviner sympathies ; waves of thin transparent light flitting through the spaces of the aged mind, like the Aurora of the orth across the wintry sky. Even when * maturity ' has been passed, then, we may die peradventure, ignorant of the secret fountains of illumination that may be sequestered in the recesses of our nature ; and when we depart at threescore years and ten, our experience may be as truly imperfect, — as much a mere fragment, — as when we lapse in a mortality called falsely ' premature.' From the individual mind, turn to the successive developments of society at large ; and the same law is perceptible still ; that the superior attributes are of the longest growth. The most rapid of social changes is found in the progress of material civilizati6n ; and certainly it is the least dignified element

THE GKEAT YEAR OF PROVIDE CE. 243 in the general advancement, though essential to the rest. Of the rapidity with which a new art may be perfected, new channels of commerce filled, a new manufacture start into gigantic existence, no age or country affords more striking instances than our own. Let gain supply the adequate motive ; and a few years suffice to reclaim the wilderness, and make the harvest wave where before the forest rose ; or to cover the soil with cities, busy with congregated labor ; or to enliven the sea with traffic, where none had disturbed its solitudes before. How much longer does it require to penetrate the mass of a community with knowledge ; to fill a land with intelligence than to throng it with life ! Even in the long lives of nations, few have arrived at that season, when the demand for general instruction naturally appears, and the truth goes forth, that the people are not a herd of mere animals or instruments of mere wealth, but beings of rational nature, who have a right to their powers of thought; and even where this demand has arisen, scarce a people yet have lived long enough to answer it. The morality of a community cannot be matured till its intelligence is unfolded ; in societies, as in individuals, character cannot set, till reason has blossomed. The pure tastes of virtue cannot be looked for in those who have never been led beyond their senses ; nor even a wise self-interest be expected, where no habits of foresight have been acquired, and the intellect has not been taught to respect the future. I do not even suppose that the moral amelioration of a country immediately follows on ' the diffusion of knowledge.' On the spread of education it may ; but it must be an education which comprises a principle of sympathy as well as of in-


struction ; which has a disciphne for the heart as well as for the understanding ; which remembers the composite structure of our nature, and applies knowledge to no more than its proper office of enlightening the reason, and summons up feelings of right as the fit antagonists to passions that tend to wrong. But slower still than this is the religious civilization of a country ; so that the history of a religion is usually a much longer and vaster one than the history of any people ; a faith embracing many nations, but no nation many faiths. The most sacred ideas attach themselves with the greatest tenacity to the mind ; entwine themselves with the principles of action and forms of the affections ; and being most distrustful of change, are most tardy of improvement. The history of the past confirms these positions. Those countries whose progress has been the noblest and,most durable, have attained their eminence by slow and imperceptible steps. And on the other hand, the oriental tribes that have rushed into sudden splendor, have either stopped with the material or at best the intellectual form of greatness, without rising into the moral and spiritual ; or else, their religion, resting on no adequate substrata of the lower ingredients of civilization, wanted an element of stability ; manifesting the nomadic strength for conquest, and weakness for repose ; and becoming enervated by the arts and opulence and science which it first called into existence, and then could not command. Wherever we look, then, — to the chain of animal existence, to the faculties of the individual mind, or the stages of collective society, — we discover distinct traces of the same general law ; that in proportion to the excellence of any form of being, is its progress


tardy and its cycle vast. Contract the limits of any nature, and its changes become quick and visible ; enlarge them, and its vibrations become slow and majestic. On the surface of a pool, the wind raises rapid billows that would agitate an insect ; on the ocean, mighty oscillations that give a frigate time to think. ' Like tide there is in the affairs of men ; ' and if we think nobly of the great element on which it rides, if we take humanity to be no foul and shallow marsh, but a boundless and unfathomable deep, we shall not marvel that our little life scarce feels its deliberate and solemn sweep. Why, even in physical nature, the more complex and extensive any system of bodies is, the longer is the period of its revolution, and the less perceptible its velocity as a whole. Our single earth, revolving round the sun, soon comes to the point from which it started ; add the moon to it, and the three orbs demand a greatly increased duration to return to the same relative position ; collect the planets into a group, and their cycles of return, when every perturbation shall have had its revolution, and they shall look at each other as they did at first, becomes immense, and, in our poor conceptions, almost coincides with eternity itself; and the solar system, as a whole, is travelling on all the while, astronomers assure us, towards the constellation Hercules. Such are the natural periods of the moral world, in proportion to the grandeur of its parts and relations; such, the tendencies of man and society, considered as a complex whole ; however insensible the parallax of their progression, they doubtless gravitate incessantly to some distant constellation in the universe of brilliant possibilities ; to some space in the future where dwell and move forms of power 21*


and of good, which it is no fable to believe gigantic and godlike. In proportion, then, as we think well of our nature and of our kind; in proportion as we estimate worthily the task of Providence in ripening a world of souls, shall we be reconciled to the tardy and interrupted steps by which the work proceeds. We shall be content and trustful, though our personal portion of the work, and even the sum of our combined endeavors while we live, should be inconspicuously small. Have you resolved, as much as in you lies, to lessen the number of those who, in this metropolis of the charities, have none to help them, or lift them from the darkness wherein they exist and perish unseen ? It is good. Only remember, that if the ministry, which thus dives into the recesses of human wretchedness, and carries a healing pity to the body and the soul, which speaks to tempted, fallen, stricken men from a heart that feels their struggle terrible, yet believes the conquest possible, be really right and Christian, then its slowness is but the attendant and symptom of its worth ; and to despond because a few years' labor exhibits no large and deep impression made on the wickedness and miseries of this great city, would be to slight the work and forget its dignity. When London, mother of mighty things, after the travail of centuries, brings forth woes, how can they be other than giant-woes, which no faint hope, no puny courage, but only the enterprise of high faith, can manacle and lay low. Surely it is an unworthy proposal which we sometimes hear respecting this and other deputed ministries of good, '¦ Well, it is a doubtful experiment, but let us try it for a few years.' If, indeed, this means that, in case


of too small a measure of success, we are to do something more and greater ; that we must be content with no niggardly and unproductive operation, but recognize in scanty results a call to stronger efforts ; that, failing a delegated ministry, we will go forth ourselves into the places of want and sin, and make aggression on them with a mercy that can wait no more ; in this sense, let the mission pass for a temporary trial. But if it be meant, that, disappointed in our hopes, we are to give it all up and do nothing ; that, having once set plainly before our face the beseeching looks of wounded and bleeding humanity stretched upon our path, we are to ' pass by on the other side,' thinking it enough to have ' come and seen where it was,' — then I must say that any work, undertaken in this spirit, has failed already. For my own part, I should say that were we even to make no visible progress, were we able to beat back the ills with which we contend by not one hair's breadth ; nay, were they to be seen actually advancing on us, still no retreat, but only the more strenuous aggression, would be admissible. For what purpose can any Christian say that he is here in life, with his divine intimation of what ought to be, and his sorrowing perception of what is, if not to put forth a perpetual endeavor against the downward gravitation of his own and others' nature ? And if in the conquest of evil, God can engage himself eternally, is it not a small thing for us to yield up to the struggle our threescore years and ten ? Whatever difficulties may baffle us, whatever defeat await us, it is our business to live wuth resistance in our will, and die with protest on our lips, and make our whole existence, not


only in desire and prayer, but in resolve, in speech, in act, a remonstrance against whatever hurts and destroys in all the earth. Did we give heed to the counsels of passiveness and despondency, our Christendom, faithless to the trust consigned to it by Heaven, must perish by the forces to which it has succumbed. For, between the Christian faith, teaching the Fatherhood of God and the Immortality of men, — between this and the degradation of large portions of the human family, — there is an irreconcilable variance, an internecine war, to be interrupted by no parley, and mitigated by no quarter; and if faith gives up its aggression upon the evil, the evil must destroy the faith. If the world were all a slave-market or a gin-palace, what possible place could such a thing as the Christian religion find therein ? Who, amid a carnival of sin, could believe in any deathless sanctity ? or, through the steams of a besotted earth, discern the pure light of an overarching heaven ? or, through the moans and dumb anguish of a race, send up a hymn of praise to the All-merciful ? And are there not thousands already, so environed and shut in, that their world is little else than this ? In proportion as this number is permitted to increase, does Christianity lose its evidence, and become impossible. Sensualism and sin cannot abide the clear angelic look of Christian faith ; but if once that serene eye becomes confused and droops abashed, the foe starts up in demoniac triumph, and proclaims man to be a brute, and earth a grave. As we love, then, the religion by which we live, let us give no heed to doubt and fear. In the spirit of hope and firm endeavor, let us go forward with


the work we have begun ; undismayed by difficulties which God permits us to hold in check, but not to vanquish; and stipulating for no rewards of large success as the conditions of our constancy of service. Our reliance for good results, and our consolation under their postponement, is in the essentially religious elements of this ministry ; were its methods purely economic, addressing themselves exclusively to the bodily wants of its objects ; or intellectual, working at their self-interest and self-will, — I, for one, should despair of any return worthy of much patience. But going forth as we do with that divine and penetrative religion, to whose subduing energy so many centuries and nations have borne their testimony, and continuing only that evangelizing process, before which so much wretchedness and guilt have already yielded, we take our appointed place in the long history of Christianity, and attempt a work for which, like Providence, we can afford to wait. It is human, indeed, to desire some rich success; and each generation expects to gather and taste the produce of its own toil ; but the seasons of God are eternal ; he ' giveth the increase,' not for enjoyment only, but for reproduction; and ripens secretly, beneath the thick foliage of events, many a fruit of our moral tillage, for the sake of the little unnoticed seed, which, dropped on the soil of his Providence, shall spread over a future age the shelter of some tree of life. Be it ours in word to proclaim, in deed to make ready, the ' acceptable year of the Lord.'



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