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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 20

Sunday Evening Lectures

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Sunday Evening Lectures.


The following lecture was delivered in the Mechanics' Institute on Sunday evening last, by G. C. Leech, Esq. Reported by Mr E. C. Martin.

In the olden times when the Algerines lorded it over the Mediterranean, those Moslem pirates used to capture and sell into bondage multitudes of Christian men, and many a father, a husband, a brother or son, torn from home and kindred, toiled hopelessly in African fields, beneath the burning sun, or at the oar as galley slaves, labouring under the lash of the task master. To free from this direful slavery those captives, there was formed in Europe what was termed the brotherhood of the "Redemptorist Fathers." In village and in city, in field and in hamlet, the heroic and Christian-like members of the brotherhood gathered alms from the merciful and benevolent, that they might redeem their fellow men from slavery, and soon they enlisted in their numbers men of wealth who gave bountifully of their gold, or lacking gold, gave their lands which were sold. By these means from time to time they sent forth their agents to redeem their brethren. These were sublime and heroic acts; but there are other kinds of slavery, and other bondages than those of the body. There is the slavery of the soul; and to deliver men from that worst bondage of all, there have arisen, in all ages and all lands, brave and unselfish men who have rescued their fellow men from political, social and moral slavery. That man who has helped his brother, and saved him from those evils, who has made him instead of a slave a free man, is in the true Sense a redeemer of earth. History, we are thankful to say, fails not in any cycle of her ages to present noble examples of such, and modern history is pregnant alike with exemplars of men, who not only have delivered their fellow men from bondage, but who have done so willingly at the sacrifice of their own lives; and if not at all times at the cost of their lives, at the sacrifice of wealth, social status and often good name. In a period of the history of old Greece so far back that it melts almost, but not altogether, into the region of myth, a Greek found his nation lawless, without a policy, without any of those great national ties which give strength and cohesion to a commonwealth. He framed for them a code—stern indeed—and to men of our lineage and habit of thought intolerable, but good, wise and salutary to the barbarous people to whom it was addressed. When he had exacted an oath from the assembled nation—that they would observe his legislation until such time as he would release them from their obligation, he turned his back upon his people and deliberately went forth to his death, so that at no future time they should be able to exact from him a release from the laws he imposed. There was too, a time in the history of the great Roman Republic when her people were trodden down beneath the iron heel of oppression. Though a republic in name it was but an oligarchy ruled by a patrician aristocracy. In the ruling powers were concentrated, not only all the authority, but also all the wealth, and the patricians did not disdain to be usurious money lenders to the poor. In prisons deeper sunk than the bed of the Tiber, languished in the cold of winter and festered in the heats of summer the debtors of the patricians. They were only led out in time of danger when soldiers were necessary to defend the state. To deliver those men from their degradation, two patriots arose. They emancipated their brethren, but in emancipating them they paid the penalty with their lives. As long as the name of Rome lives, the names of the Gracchi will be imperishable! Those who are familiar with the Old Testament will find a noble example of self-sacrifice in the history of that man who delivered his people from bondage. Brought up in all the luxury of the Egyptian court, Moses still preferred to be the deliverer of his brethren, to the riches of Egypt, While the names of great and all-powerful despots have long since passed away, still stands as an imperishable monument the name of the great leader of Israel who brought out a great nation from bondage. He was the greatest warrior who ever buckled sword, and never did earth produce a philosopher so sage: yet his true glory rests not in these, but in the fact that while there was an eager demand for his talents, where there were riches and honour as a reward, he rather chose to cast his lot with his oppressed brethren. In later times of our own era, the Swiss patriots were drawn up on their mountain sides against the serried ranks of Austria with nothing but their courage and their true hearts to defend their fields and their mountain sides from the arm of the invader. For arms some poor weapons of husbandry and a few rude arrows were all the patriots had wherewith to defend themselves. The serried ranks of Austrians were formed in dense array, the men in armour clad, armed with long well pointed spears. The poor feeble weapons of the Swiss could not break page break the ranks of their enemies. A Swiss stood forth from his own ranks—he flung from him the feeble weapon in his hand; with a shout "make way for liberty" he rushed upon the Austrian spears, gathered a clump of them into his own bosom and fell prostrate. He thus made a breach for his countrymen, and through it the Swiss broke with irresistible impetuosity—and their country was free. Do not those men deserve, in one sense at least, the name of redeemers of earth? It would indeed be hard if we could not find examples in our own country readily. It is rather an embarrassment of riches that perplexes us than a dearth of great examples, but amidst the great and good we would give the palm to the one who came forth and risked personal liberty, ease and wealth, and all, to test the great question upon which hung the freedom of England, and then sealed his testimony with his blood upon the battle field. The name of Hampden will ever stand preeminent in England's annals. A later example, and the last of this kind we will select, was given on a grand scale. In the last century a nation, made out of the immigrants from the Fatherland, who had established a home across the Atlantic, were taxed without choice of their own and without representation. England, taught by the disasters of the American War of Independence, has never fallen into the same error since. The aristocracy of England thought that out of the earnings of a prosperous community in a rich country they could free themselves from the burthens of home taxation, so they taxed the American colonists without giving them choice or voice in the matter, and there arose, throughout the length and breadth of the land, one long ringing cry of independent men who preferred death to political slavery. These men failed not to find a leader. George Washington brought courage, determination and genius to the altar of sacrifice, and his name will live, not only in the hearts of the people he made a free nation, but in all lands where-ever the spirit of liberty bums and the soul of genius is worshipped. But there is a bondage even worse than political thraldom and that is social slavery. We cannot in our country understand the degradation that grows out of social bondage, but those who have been in India and are familiar with the operation of caste, know full well the degradation into which those bound down by it are plunged. There one man, differing in no way from his fellow man, as tall, as stout of limb, as well proportioned, and often in tellectually higher than those who are counted his superiors, is by the awful result of birth slavery, sunk in hopeless social degradation. Yet India has not failed to produce men who have risen above this nightmare of perstition, who have striven against it, though with little avail as yet, England has done many great and noble things for India, She has delivered it from the dreadful rite of suttee, and has procured increased religious liberty for the people, but that which England with all her courage has not ventured to attempt—the abolition of caste—the great Indian reformer, Chunder Sen, is now essaying to accomplish—a man whom the educated of England do not distain to listen to for instruction. He has, at least, laid the foundation of social and religious freedom in India, if he has not yet brought a vast measure of it about. Him also I would venture to call one of the redeemers of earth. There has been raised in England a cry for universal suffrage, that privilege which Britons have won and not abused in these colonies. A great statesman in England now avers that it is the birthright of the millions of our brethren at home. Yet the man who is morally a slave to evil habits, the man who spends upon his own selfish indulgence that which should buy bread for his wife and Children, is not entitled to the exercise of such a privilege. The man who is a slave so base and so lowly has yet, in order to win his freedom, to show himself worthy of political privileges. He has to be made morally free. Amongst all the redeemers of earth, those who have succeeded in rescuing men from moral slavery, the true teachers of the religion of Jesus, carry away the palm. Into the midst of the great Roman populace penetrated a tent-maker and a fisherman. The vast multitude had sunk into all the three degradations I have named. They were political, social, and religious slaves. They were a vast concourse of idle, listless, degraded men, who had no aim in life, and no thought beyond the present. They had not only sunk to the lowest depths of degradation themselves, but had furnished a demoralising example to other cities of the empire. Every Roman citizen was entitled to a daily dole of bread, oil, and wine, which, in the climate in which he lived, was sufficient for his material wants. In addition to that, the consuls and those whose interest it was to purchase the votes of the citizens, furnished the luxury of a bath, and the sports of the amphitheatre supplied amusement. Thus idleness was pampered, and all inducement to active and independent life removed, whilst the brutal and savage sports of the arena blotted out every tender feeling of pity and compassion. They were sensual and debased, selfish, savage human animals, in whom the spiritual life was almost dead. Inasmuch as man has received immortality from God we believe the soul can never die—we believe in no such theory as annihilation, but the divine fire may burn so low and dim that the eye of God only can discern its presence. The tent-maker and the fisherman addressed themselves to this degraded mass, and to some extent blew up the hardy-living spark into a divine flame, and if the true spirit—that evinced by Peter and by Paul—if the page break true spirit of those who carried forth in the beginning the religion of Jesus had been propagated, instead of metaphysical doctrines and the vain imaginings of schoolmen, the world would have been redeemed by this time—politically as well as morally—for no despot could have held iron sway over a people whose minds were clear, simple, and free from superstition. We should never have heard of the divine right of kings had the teachings pure and simple of Jesus been spread abroad. The best arm of the despot is the moral degradation of the people who submit to his sway. If so glorious and so good were the fruits of the teachings of Peter and Paul,—for the fruit was glorious when they could even partially regenerate a degraded people like the Roman populace—what must have been the tree from which the fruit was taken? Let me tell you that the power of those men was not derived from their own inherent force and genius, but from him who was in reality—in the true sense—the Redeemer of mankind. He brought to his great task, not eloquence, nor what is called genius, nor yet what is still more strange to assert—personal force of character, but he brought that which has prevailed in all times past, and that which will always prevail—the irresistible power and force of love. It was this force of love that drew to him the social outcast, who found in Jesus, though spotlessly pure, a sympathising friend. It was this that gathered to his feet the sinful women and the degraded men of the time, and if it were necessary to present one man above all others, who is, par excellence, the redeemer of mankind, the palm might be given to him who was born in Judea in the days of Herod the King. But, men and brethren, God has many agents. God has wrought out through men and by men, and not by one man but by many men and many agents, the deliverances I have enumerated. Theologians will tell us we were born in sin, that there is no good thing in us, that we have no recuperative power within us, that all the good that is within us is a kind of supernatural presence, that we have nothing to claim for ourselves, but that what good we have is above and beyond our own nature. We deny this, and say there is no analogy to this elsewhere throughout God's government, as in everything there is an inherent recuperative power. Trample with your foot upon a blade of grass and it will gradually become erect again. Bend down the shrub in the garden and it will still have a tendency to return to its natural inclination. Break a bone, and it will knit again, gash the flesh, and it will reunite. The same phenomena are presented throughout the vegetable and animal kingdoms. Then shall it be said that throughout God's universe there is an inherent power of recovery and that the disastrous exception is in the very highest and most noble part of our being? Believe it not. In every age and in every land where men have yielded overmuch to the instincts of their material nature there is within them an inherent power to recover. There are times, no donbt, when the fallen man begins to despair of restoration. Sometimes there comes upon him shadows like the darkness of the gloomiest night, when memories of the past come hovering round him in his present hopelessness. At times when he casts back the eye of his soul upon his past life, and remembers vows broken and promises unfulfilled, he is cast down and distracted, but nevertheless let no man despair, for he is not yet lost—the inherent power of recovery is within him. The first effort made, the first attempt to break the bonds that have bound him, and the worst struggle is over. Each succeeding effort will be more successful than the last and each succeeding struggle less intense. Sometimes upon the bosom of the shoreless deep, from the ship on fire, or fast sinking into the stormy abyss, there puts off a frail small boat. The shore is a far off, the storm is high, the danger is imminent, but do the men in the boat stay to count on the probabilities of some friendly sail appearing and picking them up? Not so. Hoping and trusting in the future they put away from the side of the sinking and perishing ship, and mayhap in the end the haven of security is reached. So is it with regard to the moral fight of life. There may be for a time no prospect of deliverance, but when once an effort is made the next will be more successful, and whether it be here or hereafter, there is no such thing as final, hopeless, and irremediable ruin I In every age of earth, there have been men, who like Jesus of Nazareth and his apostles, have been successful above their fellow men in rescuing their brethren from moral degradation, and let me tell you that neither their mission, nor their desire to redeem, nor their anxious love, ceased at their death. The great and the good, the high and the heroic sons of earth, who have counted their own lives as nothing so that they might save their fellow men, do not, when they pass across the seeming gulf of death, neglect or ignore the world for which they have done so much. Because this is an enduring fact, we maintain that there is in our world a power to receive messages of comfort and of light from the great and good departed of earth. For what qualifications was it that Jesus selected his twelve apostles? When he saw Peter the fisherman at his net, and beckoning to him with his finger, told him in his own quaint language that he should be a fisher of men, when he called Matthew from his tax-gathering table, was it for their learning, their eloquence, or their genius? They had none of these gifts. They were simple Galileans. If they knew anything beyond their own Aramaic tongue it was a little ungrammatical Greek. They were not scholars. Some will say he called them for page break their great fidelity, from their power to comprehend him and his mission. Not so; one of the twelve betrayed him—sold him for 30 pieces of silver, if the narrative be true. Another basely with oaths denied him thrice, declared he never knew him. None of them could thoroughly comprehend the deep and hidden meaning of his spiritual teachings. For what, then, did he call them? Because he discerned in them a certain capacity of being not to be found in other men. He chose them for their organic fitness to receive spiritual gifts; for their ability to quicken the almost dead souls of men—men who were vile, evil, and abominable beyond our power to comprehend. When Jesus of Nazareth saw with prophetic eye the doom that was coming upon him, he gave to his disciples a promise that though departed from them in the body, he would be present with them in spirit, and his promise was fulfilled. The disciples, as I have said, chosen not for their genius or eloquence, did become the partakers of spiritual gifts, and by those gifts they were enabled to allay pain and cure disease, which, until they had the gifts, they were incapable of doing. Jesus made them the partakers of spiritual powers. Now, most of the Churches of Christendom say in effect that the days of spiritual gifts have passed away. Rome, indeed, claims to have the power of working "miracles," as spiritual gifts are falsely termed, but she fails in her proofs. She points to tear-shedding images and eye-moving pictures, but she cannot heal disease or assuage pain, or receive true spiritual wisdom. Now, we hold not only that men can be the recipients of spiritual gifts here, and thus help their fellow men, but that after the physical change called death, the great and good sympathise with us, and are able also to help the world they lived in and loved. I said a little time ago, if it were true indeed that we should be compelled to give the palm to any one man who was, par excellence, a redeemer of earth, I for my part would select Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary; but I believe God has not been so niggard of his gifts as to give him alone as the redeemer of mankind. I believe that in all times and in all lands there have been those, who by their organic constitution have been more fitted to be media than others, who were able to convey divine instruction, and heal the sick, and mitigate pain. I feel that the man who in this materialistic age stands up and confesses himself a disciple of any abstruse doctrine,—one not much understood and still more uncommonly accepted—subjects himself inevitably to no little scorn and contempt. I do not wonder that what is called Spiritualism should have been travestied and ridiculed. But I would ask you, whatever you read or hear, to remember that it is never wise to take a doctrine from the enemies of the system. Let me explain to you the process of those who set about to receive such communications. Imagine to yourselves some dozen—less or more—of men and women seated round or at a table. Suppose that they are persons of whose veracity you have no doubt, who have no earthly interest in deceiving you; some who have wealth and are the heads and representatives of established institutions, having interest in upholding that which to them is their means of life. Take it then for granted—for the purpose of explanation—that the circle of persons have no desire or object in deceiving, but are merely met to investigate the subject. They commence with prayer for wisdom and light with, possibly, a hymn sweetly sung for the reception of pure and spiritual gifts. Then if you saw written words of wisdom and counsel, words of admonishment traced by the hands of persons who have no conception when they write, of what word will next follow, and then find that such communications were such as you would be glad at all times should be addressed to your wives and children, then I ask you—when you have seen all this—not to conclude all at once that the matter is true, but that it is worthy of your investigation. I commenced my discourse by reference to the Algerine pirates and their slaves. Let me conclude with an illustration from the same subject. An agent went over and had concluded the redemption of a number of slaves, but one remained for whose ransom there was no purchase money left. With a sorrowful eye and a downcast look he was being led away, for he had thought that he too would have been redeemed from bondage. The heart of the Redemptorist Father was moved with pity and compassion, and he gave himself a ransom for the worn and broken down slave. "How shall I ever repay you?" exclaimed the liberated man. "In this way," was the answer. "When you return to your home, seek to deliver men from moral bondage,—seek to carry out that which if I were free I would endeavour to effect; it will not be in your power to save the body, but you can endeavour to save the soul." If the Father in his self-imposed slavery heard that the man he had redeemed was not carrying out his wishes, would it not have added to his burthens, and made more bitter the pains of his bondage and captivity? Now, men and brethren, you who hold faith in orthodoxy, or you who are with us in our nobler belief would it not be an act of ingratitude, black and gross, on your part, after all that Jesus and the redeemers of the earth have done for mankind, that you should surrender your nature to that which is sensuous and vile? Fight strongly against every thing contrary to the wishes and teaching of the great redeemers of earth, and then Jesus looking upon the world, which he still so marvellously loves, will see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.

Printed by Messrs J. J. and E. Wheeler, and Published by Mr H. Bamford, Cmaine.