A Sermon Delivered by LUCRETIA MOTT, at Bristol, PA, 6th Month 6th, 1860.
Hallowell, Anna Davis, ed. James and Lucretia Mott: Life and Letters. Boston: Houghton, Miflin and Co., 1896.
This is The Quaker Homiletics Online Anthology, Part 3: The 19th Century.
It appears to have been a great comfort to one of old, that he could say, "I have preached righteousness in the great congregation; lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest;" and it is interesting to learn among these declarations of the ancient prophets, that there seemed to be but one standard of goodness and truth. The Scriptures derive advantage from the fact that we find therein so uniform a testimony to the right; that is, among those who are not bound by sect, or devoted to forms and ceremonies. "Your new moons and appointed feasts, your Sabbaths, even the solemn meeting," were classed as abominations, and for the reason that they executed not judgment and justice and mercy in the land. The injunction was "Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow." If they put away their iniquities, and did that which right, then they should find acceptance, This is the testimony from age to age, as we find it recorded; and it time we should discriminate between those scriptures that conflict with righteous principles, and such as emanate from a spiritual understanding of the requirements of truth. These requisitions of the holy spirit in the mind of man have been the same in all ages, and it needs no learned disquisitions to lead men to understand them. The people know the truth. The time bas come when it is not needed that man should teach his brother, saying," Know the Lord." It is this assurance that all men understand the truth and-the right,--justice, mercy, love, which inspire confidence that we may speak so as to meet a response in the hearts of the hearers; and the more we appeal to the inner consciousness and perception of truth as received intuition, by divine instinct in the soul, and not through forms, ceremonies, and dogmas, the more will there be amendment in the conduct of life. Our appeals would be more effectual, were religion stripped of the dark theologies that encumber it, and its operations will prove more availing when presented to the hearers and to the thinkers free from the gloomy dogmas of sects.
The true gospel is not identical with any scheme or theological plan of salvation, however plausibly such a scheme may be drawn from isolated passages of Scripture, ingeniously woven; it is through the intelligence of the age, the progress of civilization, and individual thinking, that the right of judgment has been so far attained, that there is great daring of thought, of belief and expression, and much shortening of the creeds. A great deal that was demoralizing in its tendency has been separated from them. Still, what remains is so tenaciously held as the only touchstone of religious character, that there is a proportionate lessening of the effect of sound morals, and a lowering of the true standard. While we should feel a largeness of heart towards all religious denominations, at the same time, if we are true to God and the divine principle of his blessed Son, we must ever hold up the blessing to the merciful, the pure, the upright; regarding honesty, goodness, every-day works of usefulness and love, as paramount to all the peace and enjoyment that would follow an adherence to any of the abstract propositions of faith, that are held as the touchstone of sound Christianity. We must be as Jesus was, a non-conformist. That peace which "passeth understanding" comes from obedience to truth, not to sect, for great hardness of heart often proceeds from this; it leads not to love, hut to persecution and bitterness. Unless the faith of the sectarian is worked by a love, not of its own sect merely, but such as can go out beyond its own inclosure, to gather in the outcast and the oppressed, it is not efficient conversion. The apostle Paul believed he was acting in good conscience when he was a great persecutor, and no
doubt many of the persecutors that perform their vile acts towards men, believe they are doing God's service; their acts are wicked nevertheless. Many go so far as to say that if a man does what he believes to be right, he is exempt from guilt. This is a mistake. We have far too much charity for any wrong-doer. What is wrong in itself, is wrong for anyone to do. The truth must be spoken, and the dark conscience enlightened.
Many persons have become so inured to slavery as not to discern its sinfulness. It has been said that "no one in his inmost heart ever believed slavery to be right." We know there is this instinct in man, else it would never have been proclaimed that all men are born equal, and endowed by their Creator with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Many have so seared their minds that the light of the glorious gospel, which is the image of God, does not and cannot shine in upon them. Hence it is that in this day there should be an earnestness in advocating right doing. The people should be so enlightened as to distinguish between mere creeds and forms, and practical goodness.
It is irrational to deny the sinfulness of slavery. "Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbor's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work." "Woe unto those who are partakers of other men's sins." Woe unto them that will not cry aloud, spare not, lift up the voice like a trumpet, and show the people their transgressions." These old sayings show that the requirements of truth are the same in all ages,--to do right, to give freedom to the oppressed, the wronged, and the suffering. Those who have appealed in behalf of these, have not appealed ira vain. Progress attends the work; but nothing can be effected by sitting still, and keeping aloof from the arena of activity; it is by labor, by many crosses, many sacrifices,--brother giving up brother unto death, and even submitting to martyrdom,--that beneficent results are accomplished. And what do we ask now? That slavery shall be held up in every congregation, and before all sects, as a greater sin than erroneous thinking; a greater sin than Sabbath breaking. If any of you are seen on Sabbath day with your thimble on, performing some piece of needlework, the feelings of your neighbors are shocked on beholding the sight; and yet these very people may be indifferent to great sins, regarding them with comparative unconcern, and even complacency. This is what I mean in saying that the standard of religious observances is placed higher than the standard of goodness, of uprightness, and of human freedom. To some, the sin of slaveholding is not so horrifying as certain deviations from established observances. While tile sticklers for these gather together and exhibit great marks of piety, in some instances they are guilty of small acts of unkindness, of meanness and oppression towards their neighbors. It is not enough to be generous, and give alms; the enlarged soul, the true philanthropist, is compelled by Christian principle to look beyond bestowing the scanty pittance to the mere beggar of the day, to the duty of considering the causes and sources of poverty. We must consider how much we have done towards causing it.
The feeling of opposition to war, that has been growing in the minds of men, is not confined to the Society of Friends; people of various denominations have examined this subject, and presented it in its true light. Faith in the efficacy of moral influences has increased, and the possibility of settling disputes without recourse to arms is being regarded more and more favorably. Still, the spirit of war exists, and it is surprising that those who lookup to the Son and adore his sacred name should forget that thr anthem of his advent upon the earth was "Peace on earth, and good will to men." Is this reformation going on? We should see how far we are attending to the practices by which nations become demoralized. In looking abroad we discover a revival of the brutal spirit of barbarous ages, to determine what may be done by single combat; and in our own land we find repetitions of these wicked experiments. Are those who disapprove of these things careful to use their influence in the family circle with their children, that they may not be carried away by this brutal spirit? Mind acting upon mind is of much greater power than brute force contending against brute force, we have been in the dark long enough. The likeness we bear to Jesus is more essential than our notions of him.
The temperance reformation has accomplished almost a revolution in our age, but the movement seems now to be somewhat retarded by running too much into political and masonic channels. Much may be effected by the young men and the young women. How commendable that benevolence which lifts the poor victim from the gutter of degradation, to place him on the rock of temperance, and put a song of total-abstinence in his mouth. This oft-times leads to something higher. I desire that all may be first pure, then actively engaged; that all, in their various religious denominations, and those not belonging to any, may see what their duty is, and neither shun nor disregard it. Let not those be forgotten that are beyond the reach of religious inclosures, for they, the lowly and the outcast, need our aid. Especial attention should ever be paid to that which will exalt the condition of those that are downcast. If we perform our whole duty, we shall give heed to these things, in the spirit of a broad, all-embracing philanthropy, the tendency of which is to equalize society. We should act the part of true philosophers. Some are afraid to hear the word "philosophy "in connection with Christianity. But there is a divine philosophy which should be our aim to reach, and when we have attained to this, we shall see a beautiful equality around us.
The efforts that are making for the elevation of woman, the enlargement of her mind, the cultivation of her reasoning powers, and various ameliorating influences are preparing her to occupy a higher position than she has hitherto filled. She must come to judge within herself what is right, and absolve herself from that sectarian rule which sets a limit to the divinity within her. Whatever is a harrier to the development of her inherent, God-given powers, and to the improvement of her standing and character, whether it be ecclesiastical law or civil law, must be met and opposed. It is of more moment that she should be true and faithful to herself than to her sect.
The more we are disposed to enter this reforming theatre of the world, the greater will be the promise of improvement in the social system, and the nearer-the approach to the true end of human existence. There is much to be done. If we have entire faith in the efficiency of right doing, we shall find strength for it. What is needed is confidence in the possibility of coming into the kingdom now. A great deal of time .and effort has been spent in the sphere of poetic fancy, picturing the glory and joy of a kingdom hereafter; but what is chiefly required of us is to come into the divine government now--and to be pure even as God is pure.
So far from preaching up human depravity, my practice is to advocate native goodness. It was a beautiful emblem that Jesus held up as an appropriate illustration of the heavenly condition in the little child. Had we faith in little children, treating them aright, giving them a guarded education, we might see in the next generation far greater purity than is found at present.
It is essential that we have faith in uprightness, in justice, love, and truth, for these are among the highest evidences of true Christianity. I care not for charges of verbal infidelity; the infidelity I should dread, is to be faithless to the right, to moral principle, to the divine impulses of the soul, to a confidence in the possible realization of the millennium now. We know what we are at present; if we are doing right, acting in accordance with sacred principles, we all know how peaceful and happy we are. And we know how we are brought into torment by violating the right. We should have assurance that if, we resolve to do right, we can do it.
All we can do, one for another, is to bring each to know the light of truth in the soul. It is pure, holy, unmistakable, and no ignis fatuus. Feeling and believing this, I would call you all to it. And we should come to recognize the great principles of justice, humanity, and kindness, holiness in all its parts, in the full belief that the establishing of the dominion of these in the earth is the divine purpose of the Eternal, in sending this essence, as some term it, in sending His Son into the world. What I mean by the "Son of God," is that divine word which is quick and powerful, which is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart; and if any shall speak of it as the "Christ of God," let them so speak, and lay no stumbling block in a brother's way; but have faith in it, never fearing; it will be sufficient for its own work. So believing, I can commend you, my friends, to God, and to the word of His grace, as sufficient to give an inheritance to those that are sanctified; and when we have finished our works here on earth, and are about to be removed from before the eyes of men, I doubt not but there will be a blessed earnest of that which shall appear hereafter, whatever it may be--that there will be au entrance into that which is glorious and eternal.
"To the Christ that was never crucified; to the Christ that was never slain; to the Christ that
cannot die, I commend you with my own soul." (Elias Hicks.)