« Prev Chapter XX. After the War. Next »

CHAPTER XX.

AFTER THE WAR.

WHEN the five years of rending and tearing had passed, in which slavery was dispossessed of its hold upon the nation, there was much to be done in reconstructing and readjusting the religious institutions of the country.

Throughout the seceding States buildings and endowments for religious uses had suffered in the general waste and destruction, of property. Colleges and seminaries, in many instances, had seen their entire resources swept away through investment in the hopeless promises of the defeated government. Churches, boards, and like associations were widely disorganized through the vicissitudes of military occupation and the protracted absence or the death of men of experience and capacity.

The effect of the war upon denominational organizations had been various. There was no sect of all the church the members and ministers of which had not felt the sweep of the currents of popular opinion all about them. But the course of events in each denomination was in some measure illustrative of the character of its polity.

In the Roman Catholic Church the antagonisms of the conflict were as keenly felt as anywhere. Archbishop Hughes of New York, who, with Henry Ward Beecher and Bishop McIlvaine of Ohio, accepted a political mission 352from President Lincoln, was not more distinctly a Union man than Bishop Lynch of Charleston was a secessionist. But the firm texture of the hierarchical organization, held steadily in place by a central authority outside of the national boundaries, prevented any organic rupture. The Catholic Church in America was eminently fortunate at one point: the famous bull Quanta Cura, with its appended “Syllabus” of damnable errors, in which almost all the essential characteristics of the institutions of the American Republic are anathematized, was fulminated in 1864, when people in the United States had little time to think of ecclesiastical events taking place at such a distance. If this extraordinary document had been first published in a time of peace, and freely discussed in the newspapers of the time, it could hardly have failed to inflict the most serious embarrassment on the interests of Catholicism in America. Even now it keeps the Catholic clergy in a constantly explanatory attitude to show that the Syllabus does not really mean what to the ordinary reader it unmistakably seems to mean; and the work of explanation is made the more necessary and the more difficult by the decree of papal infallibility, which followed the Syllabus after a few years.

Simply on the ground of a de facto political independence, the southern dioceses of the Protestant Episcopal Church, following the principles and precedents of 1789, organized themselves into a “Church in the Confederate States.” One of the southern bishops, Polk, of Louisiana, accepted a commission of major-general in the Confederate army, and relieved his brethren of any disciplinary questions that might have arisen in consequence by dying on the field from a cannon-shot. With admirable tact and good temper, the “Church in the United States” managed to ignore the existence of any secession; and when 353the alleged de facto independence ceased, the seceding bishops and their dioceses dropped quietly back into place without leaving a trace of the secession upon the record.

The southern organizations of the Methodists and Baptists were of twenty years’ standing at the close of the war in 1865. The war had abolished the original cause of these divisions, but it had substituted others quite as serious. The exasperations of the war, and the still more acrimonious exasperations of the period of the political reconstruction and of the organization of northern missions at the South, gendered strifes that still delay the redintegration which is so visibly future of both of these divided denominations.

At the beginning of the war one of the most important of the denominations that still retained large northern and southern memberships in the same fellowship was the Old-School Presbyterian Church; and no national sect had made larger concessions to avert a breach of unity. When the General Assembly met at Philadelphia in May, 1861, amid the intense excitements of the opening war, it was still the hope of the habitual leaders and managers of the Assembly to avert a division by holding back that body from any expression of sentiment on the question on which the minds of Christians were stirred at that time with a profound and most religious fervor. But the Assembly took the matter out of the hands of its leaders, and by a great majority, in the words of a solemn and temperate resolution drawn by the venerable and conservative Dr. Gardiner Spring, declared its loyalty to the government and constitution of the country. With expressions of horror at the sacrilege of taking the church into the domain of politics, southern presbyteries one after another renounced the jurisdiction of the General Assembly that could be guilty of so shocking a profanation, and, uniting 354in a General Assembly of their own, proceeded with great promptitude to make equally emphatic deliverances on the opposite side of the same political question.218218   Thompson, “The Presbyterians,” chap. xiii.; Johnson, “The Southern Presbyterians,” chap. v. But nice logical consistency and accurate working within the lines of a church theory were more than could reasonably be expected of a people in so pitiable a plight. The difference on the subject of the right function of the church continued to be held as the ground for continuing the separation from the General Assembly after the alleged ground in political geography had ceased to be valid; the working motive for it was more obvious in the unfraternal and almost wantonly exasperating course of the national General Assembly during the war; but the best justification for it is to be found in the effective and useful working of the Southern Presbyterian Church. Considering the impoverishment and desolation of the southern country, the record of useful and self-denying work accomplished by this body, not only at home, but in foreign fields, is, from its beginning, an immensely honorable one.

Another occasion of reconstruction was the strong disposition of the liberated negroes to withdraw themselves from the tutelage of the churches in which they had been held, in the days of slavery, in a lower-caste relation. The eager entrance of the northern churches upon mission work among the blacks, to which access had long been barred by atrocious laws and by the savage fury of mobs, tended to promote this change. The multiplication and growth of organized negro denominations is a characteristic of the period after the war. There is reason to hope that the change may by and by, with the advance of education and moral training among this people, inure to their spiritual advantage. There is equal reason to fear that at present, in many cases, it works to their serious detriment.

355

The effect of the war was not exclusively divisive. In two instances, at least, it had the effect of healing old schisms. The southern secession from the New-School Presbyterian Church, which had come away in 1858 on the slavery issue, found itself in 1861 side by side with the southern secession from the Old School, and in full agreement with it in morals and politics. The two bodies were not long in finding that the doctrinal differences which a quarter-century before had seemed so insuperable were, after all, no serious hindrance to their coming together.

Even after the war was over, its healing power was felt, this time at the North. There was a honeycomb for Samson in the carcass of the monster. The two great Presbyterian sects at the North had found a common comfort in their relief from the perpetual festering irritation of the slavery question; they had softened toward each other in the glow of a religious patriotism; they had forgotten old antagonisms in common labors; and new issues had obscured the tenuous doctrinal disputes that had agitated the continent in 1837. Both parties grew tired and ashamed of the long and sometimes ill-natured quarrel. With such a disposition on both sides, terms of agreement could not fail in time to be found. For substance, the basis of reunion was this: that the New-School church should yield the point of organization, and the Old-School church should yield the point of doctrine; the New-School men should sustain the Old-School boards, and the Old-School men should tolerate the New-School heresies. The consolidation of the two sects into one powerful organization was consummated at Pittsburg, November 12, 1869, with every demonstration of joy and devout thanksgiving.

One important denomination, the Congregationalists, had had the distinguished advantage, through all these turbulent years, of having no southern membership. Out of all proportion to its numerical strength was the part 356 which it took in those missions to the neglected populations of the southern country into which the various denominations, both of the South and of the North, entered with generous emulation while yet the war was still waging. Always leaders in advanced education, they not only, acting through the American Missionary Association, provided for primary and secondary schools for the negroes, but promoted the foundation of institutions of higher, and even of the highest, grade at Hampton, at Atlanta, at Tuskegee, at New Orleans, at Nashville, and at Washington. Many noble lives have been consecrated to this most Christlike work of lifting up the depressed. None will grudge a word of exceptional eulogy to the memory of that splendid character, General Samuel C. Armstrong, son of one of the early missionaries to the Sandwich Islands, who poured his inspiring soul into the building up of the “Normal Institute” at Hampton, Va., thus not only rearing a visible monument of his labor in the enduring buildings of that great and useful institution, but also establishing his memory, for as long as human gratitude can endure, in the hearts of hundreds of young men and young women, negro and Indian, whose lives are the better and nobler for their having known him as their teacher.

It cannot be justly claimed for the Congregationalists of the present day that they have lost nothing of that corporate unselfishness, seeking no sectarian aggrandizement, but only God’s reign and righteousness, which had been the glory of their fathers. The studious efforts that have been made to cultivate among them a sectarian spirit, as if this were one of the Christian virtues, have not been fruitless. Nevertheless it may be seen that their work of education at the South has been conducted in no narrow spirit. The extending of their sect over new territory has 357been a most trivial and unimportant result of their widespread and efficient work. A far greater result has been the promotion among the colored people of a better education, a higher standard of morality, and an enlightened piety, through the influence of the graduates of these institutions, not only as pastors and as teachers, but in all sorts of trades and professions and as mothers of families.

This work of the Congregationalists is entitled to mention, not as exceptional, but only as eminent among like enterprises, in which few of the leading sects have failed to be represented. Extravagant expectations were at first entertained of immediate results in bringing the long-depressed race up to the common plane of civilization. But it cannot be said that reasonable and intelligent expectations have been disappointed. Experience has taught much as to the best conduct of such missions. The gift of a fund of a million dollars by the late John F. Slater, of Norwich, has through wise management conduced to this end. It has encouraged in the foremost institutions the combination of training to skilled productive labor with education in literature and science.

The inauguration of these systems of religious education at the South was the most conspicuously important of the immediate sequels of the Civil War. But this time was a time of great expansion of the activities of the church in all directions. The influx of immigration, temporarily checked by the hard times of 1857 and by the five years of war, came in again in such floods as never before.219219   The immigration is thus given by decades, with an illustrative diagram, by by Dr. Dorchester, “Christianity in the United States,” p. 759: 1825-35 330,737 1835-45 707,770 1845-55 2,944,833 1855-65 1,578,483 1865-75 3,234,090 1875-85 4,061,278

358

The foreign immigration is always attended by a westward movement of the already settled population. The field of home missions became greater and more exacting than ever. The zeal of the church, educated during the war to higher ideas of self-sacrifice, rose to the occasion. The average yearly receipts of the various Protestant home missionary societies, which in the decade 1850-59 had been $808,000, rose in the next decade to more than $2,000,000, in the next to nearly $3,000,000, and for the seven years 1881-87 to $4,000,000.220220   Ibid., p. 714. We have quoted in round numbers. The figures do not include the large sums expended annually in the colportage work of Bible and tract societies, in Sunday school missions, and in the building of churches and parsonages. In the accounts of the last-named most effective enterprise the small amounts received and appropriated to aid in building would represent manifold more gathered and expended by the pioneer churches on the ground.

In the perils of abounding wealth by which the church after the war was beset, it was divine fatherly kindness that opened before it new and enlarged facilities of service to the kingdom of heaven among foreign nations. From the first feeble beginnings of foreign missions from America in India and in the Sandwich Islands, they had been attended by the manifest favor of God. When the convulsion of the Civil War came on, with prostrations of business houses, and enormous burdens of public obligation, and private beneficence drawn down, as it seemed, to its “bottom dollar” for new calls of patriotism and charity, and especially when the dollar in a man’s pocket shrank to a half or a third of its value in the world’s currency, it seemed as if the work of foreign missions would have to be turned over to Christians in lands less burdened with accumulated disadvantages. But here again the grandeur of the burden gave an inspiration of strength to the burden-bearer. From 1840 to 1849 the average yearly receipts of the various foreign missionary societies of the 359Protestant churches of the country had been a little more than a half-million. In the decade 1850-59 they had risen to $850,000; for the years of distress, 1860-69, they exceeded $1,300,000; for the eleven years 1870-80 the annual receipts in this behalf were $2,200,000; and in the seven years 1881-87 they were $3,000,000.221221   Dorchester, op. cit., p. 709.

We have seen how, only forty years before the return of peace, in the days of a humble equality in moderate estates, ardent souls exulted together in the inauguration of the era of democracy in beneficence, when every humblest giver might, through association and organization, have part in magnificent enterprises of Christian charity such as had theretofore been possible “only to princes or to men of princely possessions.”222222   Above, pp. 259, 260. But with the return of civil peace we began to recognize that among ourselves was growing up a class of “men of princely possessions”—a class such as the American Republic never before had known.223223   A pamphlet published at the office of the New York “Sun,” away back in the early thirties, was formerly in my possession, which undertook to give, under the title “The Rich Men of New York,” the name of every person in that city who was worth more than one hundred thousand dollars—and it was not a large pamphlet, either. As nearly as I remember, there were less than a half-dozen names credited with more than a million, and one solitary name, that of John Jacob Astor, was reported as good for the enormous and almost incredible sum of ten millions. Among those whose fortunes were reckoned by many millions or many tens of millions were men of sordid nature, whose wealth, ignobly won, was selfishly hoarded, and to whose names, as to that of the late Jay Gould, there is attached in the mind of the people a distinct note of infamy. But this was not in general the character of the American millionaire. There were those of nobler strain who felt a responsibility commensurate with the great power conferred by great riches, and held their wealth as in trust for mankind. Through the fidelity 369of men of this sort it has come to pass that the era of great fortunes in America has become conspicuous in the history of the whole world as the era of magnificent donations to benevolent ends. Within a few months of each other, from the little State of Connecticut, came the fund of a million given by John F. Slater in his lifetime for the benefit of the freedmen, the gift of a like sum for the like purpose from Daniel Hand, and the legacy of a million and a half for foreign missions from Deacon Otis of New London. Great gifts like these were frequently directed to objects which could not easily have been attained by the painful process of accumulating small donations. It was a period not only of splendid gifts to existing institutions, but of foundations for new universities, libraries, hospitals, and other institutions of the highest public service, foundations without parallel in human history for large munificence. To this period belong the beginnings of the Johns Hopkins University and Hospital at Baltimore, the University of Chicago, the Clarke University at Worcester, the Vanderbilt University at Nashville, the Leland Stanford, Jr., University of California, the Peabody and Enoch Pratt Libraries at Baltimore, the Lenox Library at New York, the great endowed libraries of Chicago, the Drexel Institute at Philadelphia, and the Armour Institute at Chicago. These are some of the names that most readily occur of foundations due mainly to individual liberality, set down at the risk of omitting others with equal claim for mention. Not all of these are to be referred to a religious spirit in the founders, but none of them can fail of a Christian influence and result. They prepare a foothold for such a forward stride of Christian civilization as our continent has never before known.

The sum of these gifts of millions, added to the great aggregates of contribution to the national missionary 361boards and societies, falls far short of the total contributions expended in cities, towns, and villages for the building of churches and the maintenance of the countless charities that cluster around them. The era following the war was preeminently a “building era.” Every one knows that religious devotion is only one of the mingled motives that work together in such an enterprise as the building of a church; but, after all deductions, the voluntary gifts of Christian people for Christ’s sake in the promotion of such works, when added to the grand totals already referred to, would make an amount that would overtax the ordinary imagination to conceive.

And yet it is not certain that this period of immense gifts of money is really a period of increased liberality in the church from the time, thirty or forty years before, when a millionaire was a rarity to be pointed out on the streets, and the possession of a hundred thousand dollars gave one a place among “The Rich Men of New York.” In 1850 the total wealth of the United States was reported in the census as seven billions of dollars. In 187o, after twenty years, it had more than fourfolded, rising to thirty billions. Ten years later, according to the census, it had sixfolded, rising to forty-three billions.224224   Dorchester, “Christianity in the United States,” p. 715. From the point of view of One “sitting over against the treasury” it is not likely that any subsequent period has equaled in its gifts that early day when in New England the people “were wont to build a fine church as soon as they had houses for themselves,”225225   See above, p. 70. and when the messengers went from cabin to cabin to gather the gifts of “the college corn.”

The greatest addition to the forces of the church in the period since the war has come from deploying into the 362field hitherto unused resources of personal service. The methods under which the personal activity of private Christians has formerly been organized for service have increased and multiplied, and old agencies have taken on new forms.

The earliest and to this day the most extensive of the organizations for utilizing the non-professional ministry in systematic religious labors is the Sunday-school. The considerable development of this instrumentality begins to be recognized after the Second Awakening in the early years of the present century. The prevailing characteristic of the American Sunday-school as distinguished from its British congener is that it is commonly a part of the equipment of the local church for the instruction of its own children, and incidentally one of the most important resources for its attractive work toward those that are without. But it is also recognized as one of the most flexible and adaptable “arms of the service” for aggressive work, whether in great cities or on the frontier. It was about the year 1825 that this work began to be organized on a national scale. But it is since the war that it has sprung into vastly greater efficiency. The agreement upon uniform courses of biblical study, to be followed simultaneously by many millions of pupils over the entire continent, has given a unity and coherence before unknown to the Sunday-school system; and it has resulted in extraordinary enterprise and activity on the part of competent editors and publishers to provide apparatus for the thorough study of the text, which bids fair in time to take away the reproach of the term “Sunday-schoolish” as applied to superficial, ignorant, or merely sentimental expositions of the Scriptures. The work of the “Sunday-school Times,” in bringing within the reach of teachers all over the land the fruits of the world’s best 363scholarship, is a signal fact in history—the most conspicuous of a series of like facts. The tendency, slow, of course, and partial, but powerful, is toward serious, faithful study and teaching, in which “the mind of the Spirit” is sought in the sacred text, with strenuous efforts of the teachable mind, with all the aids that can be brought from whatever quarter. The Sunday-school system, coextensive with Protestant Christianity in America, and often the forerunner of church and ministry, and, to a less extent and under more scrupulous control of clergy, adopted into the Catholic Church, has become one of the distinctive features of American Christianity.

An outgrowth of the Sunday-school system, which, under the conduct of a man of genius for organization, Dr. John H. Vincent, now a bishop of the Methodist Church, has expanded to magnificent dimensions, is that which is suggested by the name “Chautauqua.” Beginning in the summer of 1874 with a fortnight’s meeting in a grove beside Chautauqua Lake for the study of the methods of Sunday-school teaching, it led to the questions, how to connect the Sunday-school more intimately with other departments of the church and with other agencies in society; how to control in the interest of religious culture the forces, social, commercial, industrial, and educational, which, for good or evil, are affecting the Sunday-school pupils every day of the week. Striking root at other centers of assembly, east, west, and south, and combining its summer lectures with an organized system of home studies extending through the year, subject to written examinations, “Chautauqua,” by the comprehensive scope of its studies and by the great multitude of its students, is entitled to be called, in no ignoble sense of the word, a university.226226   Bishop Vincent, in “Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia,” p. 441. The number of students in the “Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle” already in 1891 exceeded twenty-five thousand. A weighty and unimpeachable testimony to 364the power and influence of the institution has been the recent organization of a Catholic Chautauqua, under the conduct of leading scholars and ecclesiastics of the Roman Church.

Another organization of the unpaid service of private Christians is the Young Men’s Christian Association. Beginning in London in 1844, it had so far demonstrated its usefulness in 1851 as to attract favorable attention from visitors to the first of the World’s Fairs. In the end of that year the Association in Boston was formed, and this was rapidly followed by others in the principal cities. It met a growing exigency in American society. In the organization of commerce and manufacture in larger establishments than formerly, the apprenticeship system had necessarily lapsed, and nothing had taken its place. Of old, young men put to the learning of any business were “articled” or “indentured” as apprentices to the head of the concern, who was placed in loco parentis, being invested both with the authority and with the responsibility of a father. Often the apprentices were received into the house of the master as their home, and according to legend and romance it was in order for the industrious and virtuous apprentice to marry the old man’s daughter and succeed to the business. After the employees of a store came to be numbered by scores and the employees of a factory by hundreds, the word “apprentice” became obsolete in the American language. The employee was only a “hand,” and there was danger that employers would forget that he was also a heart and a soul. This was the exigency that the Young Men’s Christian Association came to supply. Men of conscience among employers 365and corporations recognized their opportunity and their duty. The new societies did not lack encouragement and financial aid from those to whom the character of the young men was not only a matter of Christian concern, but also a matter of business interest. In every considerable town the Association organized itself, and the work of equipment, and soon of building, went on apace. In 1887 the Association buildings in the United States and Canada were valued at three and a half millions. In 1896 there were in North America 1429 Associations, with about a quarter of a million of members, employing 1251 paid officers, and holding buildings and other real estate to the amount of nearly $20,000,000.

The work has not been without its vicissitudes. The wonderful revival of 1857, preeminently a laymen’s movement, in many instances found its nidus in the rooms of the Associations; and their work was expanded and invigorated as a result of the revival. In 1861 came on the war. It broke up for the time the continental confederacy of Associations. Many of the local Associations were dissolved by the enlistment of their members. But out of the inspiring exigencies of the time grew up in the heart of the Associations the organization and work of the Christian Commission, coöerating with the Sanitary Commission for the bodily and spiritual comfort of the armies in the field. The two organizations expended upward of eleven millions of dollars, the free gift of the people at home. After the war the survivors of those who had enlisted from the Associations came back to their home duties, in most cases, better men for all good service in consequence of their experience of military discipline.

A natural sequel to the organization and success of the Young Men’s Christian Association is the institution of 366the Young Women’s Christian Association, having like objects and methods in its proper sphere. This, institution, too, owes the reason of its existence to changed social conditions. The plausible arguments of some earnest reformers in favor of opening careers of independent self-support to women, and the unquestionable and pathetic instances by which these arguments are enforced, are liable to some most serious and weighty offsets. Doubtless many and many a case of hardship has been relieved by the general introduction of this reform. But the result has been the gathering in large towns of populations of unmarried, self-supporting young women, severed from home duties and influences, and, out of business hours, under no effective restraints of rule. There is a rush from the country into the city of applicants for employment, and wages sink to less than a living rate. We are confronted with an artificial and perilous condition for the church to deal with, especially in the largest cities. And of the various instrumentalities to this end, the Young Women’s Christian Association is one of the most effective.

The development of organized activity among women has been a conspicuous characteristic of this period. From the beginning of our churches the charitable sewing-circle or “Dorcas Society” has been known as a center both of prayer and of labor. But in this period the organization of women for charitable service has been on a continental scale.

In 1874, in an outburst of zeal, “women’s crusades” were undertaken, especially in some western towns, in which bands of singing and praying women went in person to tippling-houses and even worse resorts, to assail them, visibly and audibly, with these spiritual weapons. 367The crusades, so long as they were a novelty, were not without result. Spectacular prayers, offered with one eye on the heavens and the other eye watching the impressions made on the human auditor, are not in vain; they have their reward. But the really important result of the “crusades” was the organization of the “Women’s Christian Temperance Union,” which has extended in all directions to the utmost bounds of the country, and has accomplished work of undoubted value, while attempting other work the value of which is open to debate.

The separate organization of women for the support and management of missions began on an extensive scale, in 1868, with the Women’s Board of Missions, instituted in alliance with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions of the Congregationalist churches. The example at once commended itself to the imitation of all, so that all the principal mission boards of the Protestant churches are in alliance with actively working women’s boards.

The training acquired in these and other organizations by many women of exceptional taste and talent for the conduct of large affairs has tended still further to widen the field of their activity. The ends of the earth, as well as the dark places nearer home, have felt the salutary results of it.227227   Among the titles omitted from this list are the various “Lend-a-Hand Clubs,” and “10 x 1 = 10 Clubs,” and circles of “King’s Daughters,” and like coteries, that have been inspired by the tales and the “four mottoes” of Edward Everett Hale.

In this brief and most incomplete sketch of the origin of one of the distinguishing features of contemporary Christianity—the application of the systematized activity of private Christians—no mention has been made of the corps of “colporteurs,” or book-peddlers, employed by 368religious publication societies, nor of the vastly useful work of laymen employed as city missionaries, nor of the houses and orders of sisters wholly devoted to pious and charitable work. Such work, though the ceremony of ordination may have been omitted, is rather clerical or professional than laical. It is on this account the better suited to the genius of the Catholic Church, whose ages of experience in the conduct of such organizations, and whose fine examples of economy and efficiency in the use of them, have put all American Christendom under obligation. Among Protestant sects the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, and the Methodists have (after the Moravians) shown themselves readiest to profit by the example. But a far more widely beneficent service than that of all the nursing “orders” together, both Catholic and Protestant, and one not less Christian, while it is characteristically American in its method, is that of the annually increasing army of faithful women professionally educated to the work of nursing, at a hundred hospitals, and fulfilling their vocation individually and on business principles. The education of nurses is a sequel of the war and one of the beneficent fruits of it.

Not the least important item in the organization of lay activity is the marvelously rapid growth of the “Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor.” In February, 1881, a pastor in Portland, Me., the Rev. Francis E. Clark, organized into an association within his church a number of young people pledged to certain rules of regular attendance and participation in the association meetings and of coöeration in useful service. There seems to have been no particular originality in the plan, but through some felicity in arrangement and opportuneness in the time it caught like a forest fire, and in an amazingly short 369time ran through the country and around the world. One wise precaution was taken in the basis of the organization: it was provided that it should not interfere with any member’s fidelity to his church or his sect, but rather promote it. Doubtless jealousy of its influence was thus in some measure forestalled and averted. But in the rapid spread of the Society those who were on guard for the interests of the several sects recognized a danger in too free affiliations outside of sectarian lines, and soon there were instituted, in like forms of rule, “Epworth Leagues” for Methodists, “Westminster Leagues” for Presbyterians, “Luther Leagues” for Lutherans, “St. Andrew’s Brotherhoods” for Episcopalians, “The Baptist Young People’s Union,” and yet others for yet other sects. According to the latest reports, the total pledged membership of this order of associated young disciples, in these various ramifications, is about 4,500,000228228   Dr. H. K. Carroll, in “The Independent,” April 1, 1897.—this in the United States alone. Of the Christian Endeavor Societies still adhering to the old name and constitution, there are in all the world 47,009, of which 11,119 are “Junior Endeavor Societies.” The total membership is 2,820,540.229229   “Congregationalist Handbook for 1897,” p. 35.

Contemporary currents of theological thought, setting away from the excessive individualism which has characterized the churches of the Great Awakening, confirm the tendency of the Christian life toward a vigorous and even absorbing external activity. The duty of the church to human society is made a part of the required curriculum of study in preparation for the ministry, in fully equipped theological seminaries. If ever it has been a just reproach of the church that its frequenters were so absorbed in the saving of their own souls that they forgot the multitude about them, that reproach is fast passing away. “The Institutional 370Church,” as the clumsy phrase goes, cares for soul and body, for family and municipal and national life. Its saving sacraments are neither two nor seven, but seventy times seven. They include the bath-tub as well as the font; the coffee-house and cook-shop as well as the Holy Supper; the gymnasium as well as the prayer-meeting. The “college settlement” plants colonies of the best life of the church in regions which men of little faith are tempted to speak of as “God-forsaken.” The Salvation Army, with its noisy and eccentric ways, and its effective discipline, and its most Christian principle of setting every rescued man at work to aid in the rescue of others, is welcomed by all orders of the church, and honored according to the measure of its usefulness, and even of its faithful effort to be useful.

It is not to be supposed that this immense, unprecedented growth of outward activity can have been gained without some corresponding loss. The time is not long gone by, when the sustained contemplation of the deep things of the cross, and the lofty things in the divine nature, and the subtile and elusive facts concerning the human constitution and character and the working of the human will, were eminently characteristic of the religious life of the American church. In the times when that life was stirred to its most strenuous activity, it was marked by the vicissitude of prolonged passions of painful sensibility at the consciousness of sin, and ecstasies of delight in the contemplation of the infinity of God and the glory of the Saviour and his salvation. Every one who is conversant with the religious biography of the generations before our own, knows of the still hours and days set apart for the severe inward scrutiny of motives and “frames” and the grounds of one’s hope. However truly the church of to-day 371may judge that the piety of their fathers was disproportioned and morbidly introspective and unduly concerned about one’s own salvation, it is none the less true that the reaction from its excesses is violent, and is providing for itself a new reaction. “The contemplative orders,” whether among Catholics or Protestants, do not find the soil and climate of America congenial. And yet there is a mission-field here for the mystic and the quietist; and when the stir-about activity of our generation suffers their calm voices to be heard, there are not a few to give ear.

An event of great historical importance, which cannot be determined to a precise date, but which belongs more to this period than to any other, is the loss of the Scotch and Puritan Sabbath, or, as many like to call it, the American Sabbath. The law of the Westminster divines on this subject, it may be affirmed without fear of contradiction from any quarter, does not coincide in its language with the law. of God as expressed either in the Old Testament or in the New. The Westminster rule requires, as if with a “Thus saith the Lord,” that on the first day of the week, instead of the seventh, men shall desist not only from labor but from recreation, and “spend the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.”230230   Westminster Shorter Catechism, Ans. 60. The commentaries on the Catechism, which are many, like Gemara upon Mishna, build wider and higher the “fence around the law,” in a fashion truly rabbinic. This interpretation and expansion of the Fourth Commandment has never attained to more than a sectarian and provincial authority; but the overmastering Puritan influence, both of Virginia and of New England, combined with the Scotch-Irish influence, made it for a long time dominant in America. Even those who quite 372declined to admit the divine authority of the glosses upon the commandment felt constrained to “submit to the ordinances of man for the Lord’s sake.” But it was inevitable that with the vast increase of the travel and sojourn of American Christians in other lands of Christendom, and the multitudinous immigration into America from other lands than Great Britain, the tradition from the Westminster elders should come to be openly disputed within the church, and should be disregarded even when not denied. It was not only inevitable; it was a Christian duty distinctly enjoined by apostolic authority.231231   Colossians, ii. 16. The five years of war, during which Christians of various lands and creeds intermingled as never before, and the Sunday laws were dumb “inter arma,” not only in the field but among the home churches, did perhaps even more to break the force of the tradition, and to lead in a perilous and demoralizing reaction. Some reaction was inevitable. The church must needs suffer the evil consequence of overstraining the law of God. From the Sunday of ascetic self-denial—“a day for a man to afflict his soul”—there was a ready rush into utter recklessness of the law and privilege of rest. In the church there was wrought sore damage to weak consciences; men acted, not from intelligent conviction, but from lack of conviction, and allowing themselves in self-indulgences of the rightfulness of which they were dubious, they “condemned themselves in that which they allowed.” The consequence in civil society was alike disastrous. Early legislation had not steered clear of the error of attempting to enforce Sabbath-keeping as a religious duty by civil penalties; and some relics of that mistake remained, and still remain, on some of the statute-books. The just protest against this wrong was, of course, undiscriminating, tending to defeat the righteous and most salutary 373laws that aimed simply to secure for the citizen the privilege of a weekly day of rest and to secure the holiday thus ordained by law from being perverted into a nuisance. The social change which is still in progress along these lines no wise Christian patriot can contemplate with complacency. It threatens, when complete, to deprive us of that universal quiet Sabbath rest which has been one of the glories of American social life, and an important element in its economic prosperity, and to give in place of it, to some, no assurance of a Sabbath rest at all, to others, a Sabbath of revelry and debauch.

374
« Prev Chapter XX. After the War. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |