Stacks Image 905


PART II. THE POWER OR EFFECTS OF FAITH IN THE REGULATION OF MAN’S INWARD NATURE.



CHAPTER SEVENTEENTH.


ON THE RELATION OF FAITH TO THE DISCHARGE OF CIVIL AND POLITICAL DUTIES.


Christians may properly take a part in civil and political concerns. Of cooperation with political parties. Of the limitations to be observed in the application of the principles which are proposed. Of the utility of a religious conservative body in the state. Application of the principles laid down to other cases.

THE element of a living faith in the soul adapts itself to every situation. Wonderful alike by its fruitfulness and its flexibility, it furnishes principles of action applicable to all varieties of human conduct, inspiring the duties which we owe to ourselves, to God, and to our fellow men. It has a practical relation, therefore, to civil and political duties, as well as others. It is especially a matter of interesting inquiry, in the present disturbed and conflicting state of the world, to what extent and under what circumstances a person, who professes to live by faith in the Son of God, can properly engage in the discussions and strifes of party politics. Some are of opinion, that such persons ought to take no part whatever in political concerns; and that such a participation, even in the smallest degree, is inconsistent with that entire separation from the world which they have professed. From this extreme opinion, however, we think it the part of truth and wisdom to dissent. We are clearly taught in the Scriptures, that governments, sustained by human agency, and designed to operate upon men, are approved, and are required by the Supreme being. Man, by becoming a Christian, does not cease to be a man; and while, by becoming a Christian, he takes a higher position, and assumes a higher class of duties, he is not at liberty, on that account, to vacate, and to dispense with the duties which belong to him as a man and a citizen. Every man, therefore, is bound to sustain government by personally obeying the laws, by aiding in elevating suitable persons to office, and by countenancing and aiding the proper authorities in the exercise of their legitimate functions. As far as this, every thing seems to be clear. No man will be less religious, less holy, less the subject of a triumphant faith, in consequence of discharging civil and political duties to the extent which has been specified. But it is obvious that this view of the subject does not meet all the inquiries, which naturally arise in relation to it.

2.—The truly difficult question is this, Can a man, who is wholly consecrated to God, and who lives by faith, consistently with such a state of mind, unite himself to a political party, and pledge himself, as a member of the party, to party discipline and party measures To this question, as thus stated, we can have no hesitation in answering in the negative.

We observe in the first place, that in republics, and also in constitutional monarchies, we may reasonably expect, if we are permitted to reason from the past, that there will always be political parties. It is proper for us, as men and as citizens, and not inconsistent with our duty as Christians, to become acquainted with the principles or doctrines of such parties. And we may also, in accordance with the views which we entertain of party doctrines and principles, very properly give the preference to one party over another. But this does not, by any means, make us a party man, in the ordinary and the censurable sense of the expression. The preference which we give is only a general preference, founded on general views. But the obligations of a holy life extend not only to general views and general acts, but to particular views and particular acts, and to all acts, of any and every kind. A party may be right in its general doctrines and practices, and yet be wrong, very wrong, in particular acts. A man, who, in the exercise of faith, walks daily in the light of God’s divine direction, can never knowingly follow his party to the adoption of any wrong measure; and therefore cannot, in the strict sense of the terms, be considered a party man. In a multitude of cases he is obliged, on the principles of rectitude, to dissent from the particular acts and practices of his party, although he prefers its general principles and doctrines above those of any other party. As the doctrine of faith requires him to seek the divine direction in every act, and always to be guided by the Holy Spirit, he may follow his party just so far as they go right, but can never follow them, nor approve them when they go wrong.

3.—But this is not all. It is very desirable, that those, who are aiming at a holy life, should stand aloof from the tactics of party, and whatever constitutes the machinery of party movement. In all ordinary cases it is undoubtedly true, if we wish to accomplish a good end, we may rightly employ all proper means which are subordinate to that end. To abandon the means is, in fact, to abandon the end. But in party tactics and movements, there is generally so strong a bias of self-interest, so much of the busy littleness of human calculation, and so little of broad and generous confidence in God’s providential government, that the man, whose heart is wedded to the Divine Mind, cannot safely or consistently have any thing to do with them. If, therefore, with a view to the accomplishment of the general object, he acts with the party, it must be on the principles of individual movement and responsibility, and not under the pressure of party discipline, and as an irresponsible portion of the organized machinery of political tactics. The general object he has in view may be the same with that of a particular party; but he cannot stoop to any means, which do not commend themselves to the spirit of perfect rectitude, and upon which he cannot ask the divine blessing. Sustained by faith in God, who is the ruler of nations as well as of individuals, he sees no necessity of taking such a course, independently of its inherent viciousness. A holy person, therefore, although he may sometimes act politically with some party in preference to another, is not properly a party man, and cannot be considered as such.

4.—A person, who enjoys, or who wishes to enjoy, the life of faith in God, should avoid all political reading, which is of a mere party character. We do not say
all political reading, which in many cases would be wrong, but all that political reading which is of a mere party character; that is to say, which regards the obligations of party, rather than the interests of truth. Such reading is so full of unjust suspicion and recrimination, in a word, is generally so false as well as violent, that no man, who is true to the claims of holiness, can take any pleasure in it. It is not only in the highest degree unprofitable, but it is positively evil in its effects. It is calculated, in particular, to produce an agitated and restless state of mind, exceedingly adverse to calm reflection, as well as interior peace.

Besides this, a person is liable, by such reading, to become entangled in prejudices, in party interests, in the variety of partial and secular feelings, which so extensively and injuriously prevail. In other words, he exposes himself to the dreadful temptation of getting aside from the true centre, which is God, and of being drawn into the absorbing and destructive vortex of the world. With all such reading, therefore, he is bound, as a man that walks with God, to have as little to do as possible.

5.—But the inquiry will perhaps be made here, Can a person be so useful, politically and as a citizen, who takes this course, as he would otherwise be? To this question we cannot hesitate to answer in the affirmative. History shows us, that in republics, and in constitutional governments of whatever kind, parties are in general very nearly equally balanced. The violence of their antagonistical struggles, also, and the moral recklessness of their strife, when any question of great moment is at issue, are found to be nearly in proportion to the equality of their strength. At such a crisis, when the very foundations of the commonwealth are shaken, how desirable, how necessary is the presence and influence of a conservative body of men, who, in their freedom from passion, can estimate the just claims of truth, and, in the strength of moral and religious principle, will, at all hazards, do what is right. Hence it has generally been found in this country, that, when great constitutional and moral questions have been at stake, the results have been favorable to law and truth, in consequence of the accession, at the precise moment of danger, of those of all denominations of persons, who, in their devotion to rectitude of principle, have declined to recognize the coercions of party discipline. Such persons constitute, if we may be allowed an historical allusion, the genuine “Imperial Guard,” the true “Macedonian Phalanx,” who, unwilling to expend their efforts unnecessarily, strike only at the moment of imminent hazard, and whose moral strength renders them invincible. Is it not usefulness and honor enough to do what God would have us do, and to do it when he would have us do it? Can there be any thing more beneficial or more glorious than to stand, under God’s orders, in the position of perfect readiness, to wait patiently in the exercise of faith for the elevation of the great Commander’s standard, and to move, only at the bidding of His unerring providence? So far, therefore, from being useless, a religious conservative body, not nominally, but really such, not banded together by regulations of human devising, but watchful for the openings of Divine Providence, and guided by the teachings of the Holy Spirit, is the true salt of the land, and is necessary for the salvation of the Republic.

6.—The principles, which have been brought forward at this time, are applicable in many other cases, which have some analogy to political strifes. Contentions often arise, for various causes, in families and neighborhoods, which result in the formation of parties. Let those, who profess holiness to the Lord, have nothing to do with the partizan movements and measures which spring from such unhappy divisions. They are very likely to be stained and polluted with the same narrow views, with the same prejudices and passions, which characterize party contentions on a large scale. We do not mean to say, however, that we are at liberty to be indifferent to them. Far from it. Our meaning is, that we should keep our minds free from the entanglements of party influence, and, irrespective of existing excitements and personal recriminations, do whatever God in his providence would have us do, and do it in him, and for him alone. “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” [Amos 6:3.] There is no strife of neighborhoods, no agitation of communities, no convulsion of empires, to which God is indifferent. He, who notices the fall of a sparrow, cannot fail to notice the fall and rise of men, the overthrow and restoration of nations. God will not relinquish the government of the world, because “the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing,” because “the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together.” And he, who would cast the branch of healing into the waters of disease, he, who would reform men either politically or socially, must have faith in God as the great reformative power, and must act in cooperation with the divine wisdom and agency, rather than in connection with movements suggested in human ignorance and by human passion.