« AnteriorContinuar »
between preachers. I have listened to sermons which contained many excellent thoughts and irnportant truths, but none were made prominent enough to be remembered. The power of the late George Putnam consisted in his having one important thought in each sermon, which he illustrated and enforced by various arguments, and to which he held from beginning to end.
Therefore you remembered each of his sermons, and its one moral remained with you. Intellectual power consists in a large degree in being able to see what truths are primary, fundamental, and essential, the masterlights of all our seeing. It is to hold these primary truths rooted in the mind as unchanging convictions, solid as the granite foundations of the earth. The mind which has no such settled convictions is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed. Such a mind, unable to grasp any truth firmly, or to arrive at a definite conclusion on any subject, is necessarily a weak one. To hold ourselves in doubt while our opinions are not formed is right; but to still doubt our conclusion after we have come to it and seen it clearly, shows a want of mental vigor. Mr. Emerson once said, “I am a perpetual seeker, with no past behind me.” But he certainly did not mean by this that he was without fixed convictions, for no man has been more constant than he to certain primary truths; no one has had more mental emphasis of thought and utterance than he.
True emphasis in morals consists in laying stress where stress ought to be laid, and making that important which ought to be so. The lives of many good men want emphasis. They are negatively good. Their goodness is not pronounced. They seem to drift rather than steer. But goodness implies, first of all, having a good aim, a good intention, meaning something, aiming steadily at something. Alas! the lives of so many have no emphasis. They do things because others do them, because it is the custom to do them, not because it is right. But how invigorating it is to see those who are a law to themselves, who are ready to do what is right whether other men hear or forbear. These men are the salt of society. They may often seem harsh, severe, intolerant; but their intolerance is better than the weak concession of so many. I would rather be criticised, though unjustly, by a righteous man, than have the commendation of a thoughtless multitude.
In our complex society we need stress laid on right purpose to call our attention to what is good. Therefore we have societies for different good objects, each laying emphasis on some one thing. The temperance societies emphasize temperance, and oppose the indulgence which does so much harm. They call attention to the misery which comes from drink; the woe, the cruel sufferings of wives and children resulting from this awful social
The societies to prevent cruelty to animals
emphasize the right of our poor dumb brethren, whom God has given us to protect, and whom we so often ill treat and abuse. Such a society does what no individual can. It compels the inattentive public to see that animals have rights which we are all bound to respect. It was well when a man in Plymouth was sent to the State Prison for three years for cruelly maiming a horse ; for this punishment will make hundreds of others understand that horses also have the great arm of law stretched out for their protection. If the Abolition Society had not so strenuously emphasized the great wrong of slavery, we might never have had emancipation. Other societies emphasize the rights of children, the rights of the poor, the rights of women to equality before the law. I think we need them all. We need to have our dull attention constantly recalled to these claims. We may think the advocates of some particular reforms extravagant, we may think that what they say is in bad taste, that they lay an undue emphasis on this or that method; but the important thing is to have each and all of these reforms made distinct and clear, to keep men from forgetting them. We ought to be willing to tolerate a little intolerance in a good cause, for the essential thing is to have some one who shall cry aloud and spare not when the community sleeps over an evil. If there is too much steam, it
may easily blow itself off; but at all events let us have enough to make the vessel move forward.
A friend brought to me a day or two since a great curiosity, one of the most precious autographs I ever saw. It was the identical letter written in 1775 by Benjamin Franklin to a member of Parliament who had voted for the stamp act and other oppressive acts of the British Government toward the colonies. It ran thus :
PHILADELPHIA, July 5, 1775. Mr. STRAHAN, Sir : You are a member of Parliament, and one of that Majority which has doomed ny country to Destruction. You have begun to burn our Towns and murder our People. Look upon your Hands. They are stained with the Blood of your Relatives. You and I were long Friends. You are now my Enemy, and I a
There is emphasis in that letter. It gives no uncertain sound.
Why do we keep the birthday of Washington ? We reverence Washington, not merely as the great commander, whose perfect judgment, patience, fortitude, carried the country through the Revolution; not only as the wise statesman on whom the nation leaned during its hours of uncertainty, but most of all as a man whose life was emphasized by conscience. As long as the memory of Washington lasts, we know that there is such a thing as unbending priuciple, unconquerable patriotism. No matter how many great men prove false or weak, we know that there is such a thing as justice and
honor. How wonderful is the power which goes forth from such a life! After centuries have passed, it is still the strength of a people, - the inspiration of national character. If Washington's goodness had not possessed this emphasis, it could not have exercised such an influence.
In religion also true emphasis consists in laying enough stress, and in laying it on the right thing. If there is a God who protects and cares for us, in whom we live and move and breathe, to whom we are accountable, a Father and Friend and Helper, what is more essential in our life than this? It is either nothing or all. Yet continually our religious life tends to be a mere habit, faith shrinks to an opinion; inspiration ceases out of our days; we have no open vision; we live by the memory of a past experience. Therefore we need always to have men and women whose religion has emphasis, who do not think they believe, but speak that which they know and testify of what they have seen. This renews our own life. Blessed be God, who never leaves himself without some such witness of his truth. These persons, in whom religious conviction is no vain repetition of past belief, but a fountain of new life, new love, free as air, fresh as the morning, cheerful as sunshine, solid as the primitive rock, — these are they who make God seem present and real to us also, and immortality close at hand. These are the men and women whom God sends as his