TOTAL ABSTINENCE A CHRISTIAN DUTY.
DELIVERED ON THURSDAY EVENING, JUNE 27, 1850,
BY THE REV. PROFESSOR FINNEY,
OF OBERLIN COLLEGE, U.S.,
AT THE SURREY CHAPEL (REV. J. SHERMAN'S)
"It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak."--Romans xiv. 21.
This is equivalent to saying it is expedient. To say that a certain course, in this sense, "is good," is the same as saying it is best--it is for the general good--it is expedient, and therefore right, that we should neither "eat flesh, nor drink wine, nor anything whereby our brethren stumble, are offended, or are made weak."
In the early ages of Christianity, there were several topics much agitated in the Church, some of which had been referred to Paul for decision. One of the questions from the Church of Rome was, whether it was lawful to eat flesh, inasmuch as it was customary, after animals presented for sacrifice to the idols had been before them for a certain time, to expose them for sale in the public shambles. Many, therefore, supposed that in purchasing meat they might thus, indirectly, favour idolatry, by purchasing some of that which had been offered to the idols. Many, for this reason, abstained from the use of meat altogether, lest, as I have said, they should seem to patronise idolatry. In the eighth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, you will find further reference to this subject; the Apostle concludes by saying, "Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." He told them, in reply to their inquiries, that it was lawful to eat meat under ordinary circumstances; yet, if so doing was an occasion of stumbling to any weak brother, and did more mischief than would counter-balance the good to be derived from it, he would deny himself for that reason. He said, if his eating flesh caused his weak brother to offend, he would "eat no flesh while the world standeth." It was not, in itself, unlawful to eat flesh; yet, he taught, it was necessary to take care lest the eating of it should stumble the brethren.
Having been requested to preach on the subject of Temperance, I will begin:-- I. By defining my position; I shall then, II. Endeavor to establish that position; III. Answer objections to it; And IV. Examine the position of those who make the objections.
The question may be viewed in a great many aspects; it may be argued in a vast variety of ways. It may be discussed, for example, as a scientific question; and, in America, it has been extensively regarded in this light. I do not intend to take up this point to-night; I shall examine simply the religious bearings of the question. I am well aware that the scientific view is extremely important; it is easy enough, however, to proceed to the discussion of it as a religious question, without entering very fully into the scientific department of it. My position, then, is, not that the use of intoxicating drinks in any quantity, and under all circumstances, is necessarily sinful; nor do I take the ground that any use of it is wrong, independently of the circumstances under which it is used, and the reasons which have prompted such use. I do not take the ground that any use of it is wrong, irrespective of the circumstances under which, and the reasons for which it is used; for I can conceive of circumstances under which it may be supposed to be the duty of an individual to drink--even in quantities sufficiently copious to produce intoxication--in order to meet some constitutional emergency. Physicians maintain this ground, and patients may think it necessary; under such circumstances, therefore, it is taken innocently; the thing is right or wrong according to the reasons and circumstances which demand its use. Strictly speaking, nothing is right in itself, but that love which the law of God commands; nothing is wrong, in itself, but the opposite state of mind. But it is not my purpose to discuss this question, but only to say that when we would inquire into the lawfulness of any particular act, such as the use of alcohol, we must understand the circumstances under which, and the reasons for which it is used, in order to understand whether it is right or wrong in an individual case. Again, the question is not whether it may or may not be used as a medicine when recommended by a competent physician. I do not deny that it may be used as a medicine under certain circumstances; nor do I say that it is wrong to use wine at the table of the Lord. The Temperance Question has suffered much from the controversy on this point; for if Christ has ordered the use of wine on that occasion, and as matters are left so that it cannot be positively ascertained whether his wine was alcoholic or not, the question need not be discussed; inasmuch as the quantity used at such times is so very small. Again, Paul enjoined Timothy to "Drink no longer water but take a little wine for his stomach's sake, and his often infirmities." It was lawful, therefore, for him to take a little. The Apostle did not require him to take much; nor is it necessary or usual to take much at the Communion Table, so that this part of the question does not strictly belong to the Temperance Reformation. Again, the question is not whether it is or is not necessary in any case, or whether it is or is not an indispensable article of diet in any case; I would take the negative view, but, at present, I cannot make this issue, as it would carry me too far from my main design; nor do I mean just now to affirm, even, that it is in no case useful to persons in robust health, as is commonly supposed. Neither, since I cannot now enter into the scientific bearings of the question, do I mean to determine whether its use is or is not necessary or beneficial to persons in feeble health. I must make the question one of self-denial for the sake of others. I should like to discuss the question of their real necessity or utility under any circumstances; but I must content myself on this occasion with the assumption that, under some circumstances the moderate use of these drinks is useful. I will take up the matter, then, in this way, Is it your duty to forego the use of these drinks as an act of self-denial for the sake of others? I love to discuss the question in this light; because, if these drinks are useful, it affords the Church an opportunity of manifesting her love for the Saviour by the sacrifice.
I. I SHALL STATE MY PROPOSITION, WHICH IS SIMPLY THIS:--THE MANUFACTURE, SALE, AND USE OF INTOXICATING DRINKS, AS A BEVERAGE, OR AS AN ARTICLE OF LUXURY OR OF DIET--OR TO PROVIDE THEM, AS SUCH, FOR OTHERS--IS NEITHER BENEVOLENT, NOR EXPEDIENT, AND IS, THEREFORE, WRONG.
In other words, that "Total abstinence from the manufacture, sale, and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage, or as an article of luxury or of diet, and from offering or providing them for others, as such, under the present circumstances of the Church, is expedient, and therefore a duty."
Such being my position, I shall now proceed--
II. TO DEFEND THIS PROPOSITION.
In doing this, I shall (1.)begin by admitting, that the abuse of a good thing is not always a sufficient reason for totally abstaining from its use. Food, clothing, the doctrine of justification by faith,--many of the best things are abused; it is, therefore, not a universal rule, that the abuse of a good thing is a sufficient reason for totally abstaining from its use. But I shall have occasion to advert to this admission again; because while I admit that it is not a universal rule, yet, I maintain it is a good rule, and binding on men, under certain circumstances--that it is obligatory upon men, under certain circumstances, to abstain from a thing that may be useful, or that is, in fact, useful--on the ground of its great abuse. Although I admit the rule is not universal, I shall endeavour to show, that the abuse of this article is a good reason that it should be abandoned as an article of luxury or diet.
But this leads me to remark--(2.) Benevolence is a universal duty. All men, under all circumstances, should love God supremely, and their neighbour as themselves; this is a rule of universal obligation. There is no possible exception. But what is benevolence? Benevolence is good-will. It implies a willing of every good, according to its known relative value. There must be no particular stress laid on a certain good, because it is your own, irrespective of its relative value. When your neighbour's good is of greater value than your own, it must have the preference. If, by denying yourself a small good, you can procure for him a greater good, it is your duty to do it. Christ acted upon this principle; in the atonement, the great principle upon which everything turns is this--that when, by sacrificing to self a less good, or taking upon self a less evil than would befal others, or sacrificing a less good than we can obtain for others, the law which requires us to love our neighbour as ourselves plainly points out the path of duty; it is very easy to see that this principle must be the one upon which Christ acted, and upon which the whole plan of salvation turned. He designed, by taking upon himself certain evils, to secure to the universe a good which was greater than the evils which he suffered. It was, therefore, in strict accordance with true benevolence that he acted, in coming forward to make atonement; for the sacrifice then made was an evil of less magnitude, than would have been the consequences of an opposite course. Because of his nature and relations he could magnify the law, and make it honourable, saving multitudes beyond number from eternal suffering, and securing to them an amount of good for exceeding the amount of his sufferings, although they were inconceivably great to a creature. His benevolence led him to make personal sacrifice for the sake of a great good. The apostles also proceeded upon this principle in carrying out the course their Lord and Master had thus begun.
The following facts are admitted by all:--(1.) that intemperance prevails in this land to an alarming extent, far more than people are generally aware of. I have been surprised, since I have been here, to learn how ignorant the masses of the people are with reference to the statistics of the extent to which intemperance prevails in this country; every person, however, knows and admits that it prevails to an alarming extent. (2.) The second fact is, that intemperance is one of the greatest evils which infests society, whether it be regarded physically, morally, or socially. Regarding it in its relations to the health of man, it cannot be denied that it is one of the greatest physical evils, producing more sickness and death than any other evil. Considered morally, it does more to demoralise society, by drawing thousands into all forms of vice, corrupting the Church, and causing it to pour forth some forty or fifty thousand yearly from its bosom. Considered socially, it poisons all the fountains of social intercourse. I could enlarge here as well as upon its political aspects; if I had time I might swell this statement, and adduce such a mass of statistics and facts, which have been gathered and published, both in this country and America, that no man could shrink from admitting that, as an evil in society, viewed in all its bearings, it has no parallel in the history of this nation, or in that of any other nation anywhere. Another fact, (3.) which cannot be denied, is, that the good which results to the Church and the world from its use (admitting, for the sake of argument, as I said before, that good does result), yet it cannot be denied that any such good is indefinitely less than the evil which results. Who doubts this? Admitting that some good does result, who does not know that the evil resulting from its use, is indefinitely greater than the good. (4.) The Christian Church is admitted to be a society whose business it is to reform the world. Its sole business in the world is to enlighten and save it,--all that it does in the world is to be done in subserviency to this. Its grand object--the end for which it lives (or ought to live), and moves, and has its being, is to glorify God, by saving the world from every form of sin. Christ said, "Ye are the light of the world," "ye are the salt of the earth." But again, another fact (5.) is this,--the church is bound to reform the world. Christ has required them to convert the world--not of course in their own strength, but in his--and he has promised to be with them in it; consequently, it is their duty to put away every form of iniquity from the world, and to make disciples of Christ of all the nations of the earth. Christ requires it; he has promised his aid; it is therefore their duty to reform the world. The reform, to which I this evening, address myself, is indispensable to the success of the Church, in its great mission. It is so great an evil, that the Church can by no means be excused form bringing about its removal. Another fact (6.) is, that the Church is able to effect this reform, if united, and if it uses aright its money, time, talents,--if it does this, it is able to enlighten the world, and settle this question for ever, by putting away this mighty evil. Now, if this reform is indispensable to the success of the Church--to secure the end for which she lives--it would follow, of course, if we may judge from the success which has attended efforts made where the Church has been united, that, wherever they will steadily, and in a right spirit, use the right means, persevere in enlightening the public mind, bringing the whole force of their precept and example to bear upon it, they may thoroughly rout this enemy of mankind, and banish it from the world. A multitude of cases which have occurred in America, will show, that even a few individuals, in a Christian community, may exert such an influence as to put certain evils away. But who doubts that if the British Churches were united in this matter, an influence could be brought to bear, which would rout this enemy, and bring about this reformation. Suppose every minister and member of the Christian Church in these realms should frown upon it, and men of all ranks in society, who are professed Christians, should undertake at once, and with all the force of their influence, both by example and precept, to oppose it, how long, think you, would intemperance fill this land with crime, woe, and mourning? No one can doubt, that, in the course of a few months, these vendors' shops would be locked up, and the Church purified. Who that took an opposite course, would then dare show his face in the streets, when rebuked from every pulpit, from every Christian man in every place? Why, the four winds would blow a rebuke in his face! It is easy to put it away, if the Church, whose duty it is to unite for this purpose, would do so. Now, if it can be done by the Church, and it is necessary to be done, and the evil of its remaining is vastly greater than the evil which would result from putting it away, then it is a simple demonstration, that it is the duty of every Christian to do what he can, by precept and example, and every other lawful means, to put this evil away.
But let me say again, it will not be doubted, I presume, by any who have ever examined the question, that, the cessation of the manufacture, sale, and use of intoxicating drink as a beverage or an article of luxury or diet, is a condition of success in this enterprise. While a minister uses it himself he cannot have much influence in staying this tide of desolation. This is generally known and acknowledged in this country; in America it has been shown up to a perfect demonstration. We have tried every ground a Christian could take on the question, and the conclusion we have come to is this, that we must have total abstinence or total failure; this was our final issue. Let any minister continue the use of it and try to reform his congregation. He will find it is a failure. Let any set of men try the moderate use, everybody will hold their views. No drunkard will claim the right to use it in any other degree than moderately--no man will assert that it is right to drink to intoxication--all take the ground of moderation. Moderation! What is it? Intoxication! What is it? Where is the line? Examine this question; and you will find that if the Church is to do anything, it must wholly wash her hands. The Church must take this ground--that as a beverage, an article of luxury or diet, it will not indulge in it. The questions will not now be argued, whether it may or may not be used as a medicine; but, in accordance with the terms of my proposition, I shall endeavour to prove that the law which requires universal benevolence, requires us to aim at promoting our neighbor's good; and if our neighbor is stumbled or injured by what we are doing, even though it may be by his own consent, yet if, after all, the injury to him is vastly greater than the good to us, benevolence demands that we should, for his sake, deny ourselves. Especially is this true, where the difference is very great--where the evil to him is enormous--indefinitely greater than the good to us; and total abstinence on our part, is the only condition of saving him from the evil.
But again, the spirit of the Gospel plainly requires this. I have already said, it is easy to show that the whole plan of salvation turns upon this great principle of Christian benevolence, of one man denying himself of a good for the sake of obtaining a greater good to others--one individual taking to himself certain sufferings, and enduring certain evils, in order to avoid the infliction of greater, though deserved, evils on others. Now, the apostle acted upon the principle of the gospel when he said, that if eating flesh should cause his brother to stumble, he would eat no more flesh while the world stood. He could do without eating flesh--although useful, he could eat other things--although a good, it was not a necessary of life. It was not necessary in such a sense that he could not do without it; consequently, the great abuse of it was a good reason for his abstaining from using it altogether. The same, he said, was true with regard to wine,--"It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, is offended, or is made weak." Now, by "anything," he did not mean to say he must necessarily forego those things which are indispensable to life or salvation; but those things which could be spared--which were not indispensable--we should abstain from the use of all such things rather than stumble our brethren. By refusing to do this, we walk uncharitably--contrary to the spirit of the Gospel.
I remark, again, the intelligence and conscience of the Christian world demands that the Church should proceed to take up this question. It seems now to be called up by the providence of God, and most pressingly urged upon the Church. The public conscience is beginning to awake on this subject in this country, and, to a still greater extent, in America, because more has been said there than has been said here; but I have never been anywhere, since this subject has been so thoroughly discussed, where the consciences of all classes of men--infidels as well as Christians--did not demand at once that the Church should take action. The law of benevolence requires that, not only Christians, but all men, should take up this reform, and deny themselves, for the sake of the good which may result. The Church of God is manifestly under rebuke on this point. I might mention many instances in which the Spirit has been manifestly grieved by this holding back--cases in which ministers of the Gospel have not been successful--where they did not preach with that unction and power which give the Gospel effect--where the Christians have dwindled away in number, while those who remained had decreased in spirituality. I could bring a great many evidences of this, in different denominations of Christians, wherever this subject is neglected, since it has come up in the providence of God. It is remarkable to see the extent to which this has been manifested in America, where the displeasure of the Almighty has been visible towards those who have withstood this reformation.
It does strike me, therefore, that as a matter of self-denial, and a Christian duty, on the ground of expediency and charity, the question is perfectly plain; still, however, there are many objections, some of which I shall now proceed to answer.
Admitting, then, for the sake of the argument, that intoxicating drink is a good; it must also be admitted that it is not indispensable, while it were easy to show that the evils resulting from its abuse are vastly greater than the good derivable from its use; and, therefore, the law of benevolence plainly demands abstinence, because, upon the whole, the use is an evil rather than a good.
III. I SHALL ANSWER OBJECTIONS.
1. Some object, that "Christ used alcoholic, or fermented wines; and that, if benevolence required abstinence, he would have abstained." This needs to be proved before it is assumed as a certain truth. I do not know that he did; and I will not affirm that he did not. The sweet wines were called "wine," as well as the fermented. To establish the fact that Christ used alcoholic wines, it is said that he was accused of being a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber (Luke x.9),--a friend of publicans and sinners, and that he, neither expressly or implicitly, denied that he did use wine; but from his non-denial that he did use wine, it no more follows that he did, than the fact that he did not deny that he was a glutton implied that he admitted it. But even if he had used wine, the circumstances under which he used it not only justified, but might have demanded, its use, in his case. I have already said, that the use of wine is not wrong in itself; it is presumable that, in the case of Timothy, some urgent reason existed for his abstaining from the use of water, and taking a little wine; but observe, in this case, it was enjoined as a medicine, and not as an article of luxury or diet; from which it may fairly be inferred, that Timothy was not in the habit of taking wine in any quantities; for it was but little which he was enjoined to take; while, if he had taken it in any quantity before, this injunction would have been unnecessary. It has been supposed, that, by the apostles, and their coadjutors, nothing was said upon the subject of temperance, and against the use of alcoholic drinks. It is manifest that Timothy did not use it, and that he actually needed the injunction of the apostle to induce him to do so, even as a medicine. Observe what the apostle says:--"It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, or anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak." Is it likely, then, that after such language as this, the apostle himself used it, or recommended it to be used, as an article of luxury or diet, especially where the circumstances were such that its abuse was a great stumbling-block to the Church? No! It is not likely that he would thus contradict himself!
2. Others object that if temperance, in the sense here meant, is a specific branch of the great reformation to be carried out and perfected by the Christian Church, Why did not the Apostolic Church do it? They had very good reasons for not doing it. There were several other important questions as well as the use of wine, such as war and slavery, for instance, which were not raised as distinct subjects; and I know that this fact has been used by some persons, and even by ministers, in such a manner as to lead many persons into infidelity. They say the apostles could not have been inspired men, neither could Christ have been what he professed to be, or he and they would have used all their influence to suppress war and put an end to slavery and intemperance. Let us inquire, for a moment, whether it would have been expedient for them to have done otherwise than they did in this matter. The fact is, that they had a previous question to settle. It was by no means generally admitted that he was the Messiah; consequently, if he had attempted to have exercised authority on this point, had made such reforms a prominent object, he would thereby have diverted public attention from the first great question of his Messiahship. So it was with the apostles. The advent, Divine authority, and resurrection of Christ was the first question to be settled. It is easy to see that it was totally inexpedient to raise any excitement on other points till this was settled. It was necessary, first, to show that their revelation was Divine, that Christ was the Messiah, and that they were his inspired and duly commissioned servants. Suppose, either by precept or example, they had raised the questions before mentioned, they would have left their main position unsustained, and would have left undone the work they had been particularly commissioned to do. Their first great business was to establish the fact that what they set forth was a revelation from God, and not to take any particular branch of reform and raise a question upon that, thereby diverting public attention from their main question. If the question could once be settled that their message was a revelation from God, it would then be in place for the Church to take it up in its details, and apply its great principles to the annihilation of every form and degree of evil. It took Christ and his apostles their lifetime to settle the great question of the true Messiahship of Christ, the Divine authority of the apostles, and to establish beyond controversy the fact that what they delivered to the world was truly the mind and will of God. Now, they no doubt avoided (and wisely)making issue with many points and branches of reform, before the one great question was settled that they were commissioned by God to give to mankind a revelation of his will. They no doubt studiously avoided making such issues either by precept or example; hence it is not strange if they did use wine moderately, as it was the common drink of the country. I suppose they could not well have avoided this without having raised an excitement on the question. I judge this from the fact that the very practice has often provoked vehement discussion as I have sat at table. You cannot abstain without having more or less of this excitement. At some tables where I have refused to take wine, I have been obliged, in self-defence, to enter into a discussion of the question. No doubt this would have been the case with Christ and his apostles; and it might have been--I do not say it was--for this reason, they were unwilling to start a public fermentation on the subject at that time, and under those circumstances. Who does not see, as I have said, that the issue to be first made and settled, was whether or not their revelation was from God. If you look through the Bible, you will find principles which condemn war, slavery, and intemperance as well as every other form of vice. No one, I presume, will accuse the apostles of being warriors, slave-holders, or intemperate men. But mark--Christianity is never to be chargeable with these evils because its principles everywhere condemn them. Nothing is more certain than this, that war, slavery and intemperance, and every other form of iniquity, is condemned by the Gospel of Christ. Let no one, therefore, reject the Bible on the pretence that it sanctions or connives at such evils as these. God has proceeded step by step in his various reforms, as mankind were able to bear them. There is no occasion of fault-finding either with the Bible, or with God's dealings on these questions. I should think that what I have now said on this subject will be quite enough to satisfy men who were willing to be satisfied with regard to the example of Christ and the apostles. Admitting they did use it moderately, the reasons for so doing, that I have named, are, I think, too manifest to leave any stumbling-block, on this score, in the way of any honest mind.
But let me say again--3. Many take this ground--that they manufacture, vend, use, and offer it as indispensable to health. Now, more than 1,000 medical men, and among them, many of the principal physicians, of Great Britain, have testified that it is wholly unnecessary, and may be done without, in perfect safety. In America, I may state, the fact is established in hundreds of thousands of cases. The deacon of the Church to which I first belonged, was an elderly man, and accustomed himself to take alcoholic drinks, in small quantities, before his meals, as his "appetite was poor," and as his "physician had recommended him to do so." Now, soon after my conversion the temperance question came up in the United States generally, and particularly in that neighborhood. As the Church began to examine the matter, they found the influence of this deacon greatly in their way. Many of the members were ready to go through with it, for the sake of the public good; but Deacon Cleary, being an elderly man, did not take up reforms so readily. Finally, some of the brethren ventured to expostulate with him. But he said he was "sure he could not do without it." He was "sure he should die, if he wholly abstained;" but he "would use it moderately, as a medicine." At length, however, he said his life was of no great importance; it was of less importance that he should live, than that he should stand in the way of the reform. He thought the devil was trying to take his life, and he would rather, therefore, give it up, than be a stumbling-block. "You may have my name," said he, "and whatever influence I possess." Now, mark; in a couple of years, his strength was renewed, and he became quite a different man; and, on being asked what he thought of giving up alcohol, "Oh!" he said, "I am renewing my youth; it was the devil who made me think I could not do without it!" This has been the experience, in cases all but innumerable in our country; and, there, I have not heard this argument for years. It is not contended for, as a necessary article of diet, or, at least, it has not been, to my knowledge, for years.
I formerly used it moderately and occasionally myself, but I have now abstained for twenty-five years; and surely I have performed as much labour, I think, as any minister, either in America or in Europe; and I can say that I am better in health now than I was on the day I abandoned its use. I can do more now than I could when I was accustomed sometimes in moderation to use it; and my experience is corroborated in instances beyond number.
Another objection, is--4. That the rights of hospitality demand it. Now, what is intended by this? The rights of hospitality! Has any man a right to expect me to do that which is inconsistent with benevolence as a mere matter of hospitality? No! You think, perhaps, you will be accused of selfishness instead of benevolence, by refusing to provide it. The fact is, that if your reputation must suffer for doing your duty, let it suffer; for the man who is not prepared to do this, is not prepared to go the length of taking Christ and his apostles as his examples. Men, when they bring up such excuses, and accuse others of selfishness, are not even themselves satisfied with their own reasonings; so that while they accuse others of selfishness, and of disregarding the rights of hospitality in not offering it--I cannot believe that they are satisfied with such reasoning as theirs.
But, again--5. Some object that they cannot employ labourers without providing it, or giving them the means; they will have it in some way, and if they don't give it them, they will not work for them. Now, farmers, in our country, furnish their labourers with board almost universally; and people have urged that the men will not work unless they give them alcohol in some form. But if they were to advise their "hands" not to drink it, setting the example themselves; and if they were to give them in wages the amount of what it would cost to furnish them with the article--if they were to do this it would be fair enough; and where it has been done, as far as I know, it has given universal satisfaction. Increase their wages by giving them the worth of the alcohol in money, and how soon will the labourers be not only satisfied, but glad that such an experiment was ever tried! There is no difficulty in getting over this; if Christian men will but persevere in taking strong and right grounds, their "hands" will soon be influenced by them not to take it. Finding they do not really need it, they will be glad to receive the money instead.
There are some who object--6. That teetotalism is made a religion of; and that, therefore, there is danger in inculcating it. Now, I never knew an instance of this kind in my life. We have observed, on the contrary, that when we can get men to abstain, they almost invariably come to a more just apprehension of God, and of religious truth. When we induce them to abstain from these drinks, they see more clearly by far the necessity of a change of heart, and a religious life. It is strange, indeed, to suppose, that after clearing a man's whole system of this abomination, we should make him all the more apt to deceive himself! This danger, therefore, is very small. But there is a good deal of danger on the other hand. Those who make this objection do not seem to understand that there is a danger of being deceived by the spirit of alcohol--a danger of confounding the influences of alcohol, with those of the Spirit of God. Now, every physiologist is aware that there are certain persons, on whose minds stimuli, in certain forms, produce certain impressions, and, in many cases, these impressions incline them to think and talk about religion. For instance, when I was quite a lad, I was teaching a school one winter in a certain neighbourhood, and boarding in a certain house. The head of the family was an intemperate man, and often came home from the public-house in a state of intoxication, so much so, indeed, as to walk in such a manner that they all could see he was intoxicated. Now, when he came home in this state, he invariably prayed with his family; while on other occasions he never said a word on the subject of religion. Such was the tendency of his mind. This is an extreme case, I admit; but I have known multitudes of cases involving the same principle. I have seen men exceedingly fluent in prayer, and flippant in religious conversation, after taking a little alcohol. I knew a minister who never preached fluently unless he was well steeped in alcohol, and when I rebuked him for it, he told me that he would rather give five dollars for a gill of brandy, when he had to preach, than preach without it. He could speak, preach, or pray, after taking alcohol; rob him of that, and he seemed to have no more of the spirit of preaching than a stock or a stone. For years he went on in this way; and when the Temperance Reformation compelled him to abandon alcohol, he resorted to opium as a substitute. There is a tendency in many minds to this. But, in justice, I ought to say, that I am not aware that it has been customary in general for ministers of the gospel in America to take alcohol, in any form, just before going into the pulpit; and never in my life, to my recollection, did I so much as hear of its being kept in the vestry, in any form, for the use of ministers or church officers. But I cannot express my astonishment and grief at this custom as I find it exists, in some cases, in this country. I have sometimes found a man praying with very much apparent fervency; but when I have come near him, I have found his breath smelt of alcohol! Take the alcohol away, and see how he would pray then! If you mean to give him fervency, you must give him alcohol. If you would see that there is nothing in him but spiritual death, deprive him of it.
In America, before the Temperance Reformation, multitudes of such cases occurred. Many years since I was labouring in a town in the State of New York during a revival of religion, and boarded with a deacon who always had a glass full of old cyder on his table. His eyes glistened after partaking of it, which he did in large quantities. I spoke to his pastor as to his general character. He said he was "always in the Spirit--always ready." I told him I was afraid he either was, or would be, a drunkard. The minister was quite shocked. Said I, his speech and general appearance are those of a man who keeps himself highly excited with alcohol. The minister never thought of this.
It was the custom of the temperance men to send lecturers round where there had been revivals; that they might make their appeal, while the public conscience was awake, and men's minds were yielding to truth, and easily won over to the reform. They visited the place referred to, but this reputed good man resisted the Temperance Reformation; and, to the astonishment of every one, it was found that he was a secret drunkard,--that he had often been seen drunk by his family, at different times, extending over some years. He was, of course, excommunicated from the church, as a drunkard. Before this time, it may be, he is in a drunkard's grave! I have seen such results to those who opposed the Temperance Reformation, so many times over, that I have come greatly to fear, that ministers, or professors, who continue to oppose it, will become drunkards.
But this leads me to remark again. Another objection, 7. is, "So many persons have become abstainers," it is said, "and have turned back again." I have very frequently read this, and have been shocked, I cannot tell how much, to hear it sometimes even from professors of religion. Admitting its truth, what does it amount to? Even should they nearly all go back--what then? Is it wonderful they do, while the Church stands aloof, and opposes the reformation? Suppose they should attempt any other branch of reform, and the Church, with its weightiest influence, should oppose them--who would wonder if they became faint-hearted? If the ministers, and nearly all the Church should frown, or, at least, should fail to smile, is it wonderful that the masses should go back, thinking they are wrong? Who does not see that it were almost miraculous that such masses should continue to stand by the reform, under such circumstances? Suppose great revivals of religion should spread throughout the land, and great efforts should be made; but, suppose again, that the ministers and Churches should rise up and denounce it as the work of the devil, and give the whole of their influence against it, discouraging the efforts, and setting their faces firmly against it,--should the converts, under these circumstances, backslide, and then the Church say, "There, you see your revival is good for nothing--half of you backslide!"--would it be thought wonderful that they had backslidden? It is easy to see, then, who is the occasion of this going back; and yet these are the very persons to make this a stumbling-block, and objection to the reformation.
Again, it is objected--8. That "we had better seek the conversion of men to God, and aim at making them Christians, and that temperance will take care of itself." But let me say there are thousands and thousands of persons who never can be made Christians till they abandon alcohol. How can such men be made Christians, when half their time they are under the influence of alcohol? Again, suppose they were converted. Could they be expected not to fall away--ever and anon to backslide, unless they abstained? If such men are to be saved, the proper means must be used, and the stumbling-blocks removed out of their way. I believe the saints will persevere; but I also believe it will be because the stumbling-blocks will be overcome, and removed out of the way. It was supposed, when first our missionaries went abroad, that the question of caste would "take care of itself." It was said the natives were "sensitive on the point, therefore do not attack it. Make them Christians, and caste will take care of itself." But one of our missionaries (whose name I was glad to see in the British Banner yesterday attached to an address on the subject), once told me this--"We have done wrong. We have allowed men to believe that they could be Christians, and yet retain their ideas of caste, supposing that Christianity would remove this feeling. But we find we have thus allowed an element to exist in the Church, which, if it remain, will ruin it." He said that when he went back to India, he should have to "excommunicate a multitude whose spirit of caste had overcome their Christianity, instead of the opposite course, as they had hoped."
But I must pass rapidly over this ground. It is objected--9. That good men have used it. So they have; but good men have also engaged in the slave-trade. John Newton, for instance, did so for some time after his conversion; and Whitefield was a slave-holder; but they were not fully informed on the point. When such things are done in ignorance, the men may be Christians, notwithstanding. But it does not therefore follow that in these days of light men may either hold slaves, or vend, use, or offer alcohol, when the truth has been presented to them, and an entirely different aspect of the question comes up.
Again, some object--10. "I can do nothing alone, and my individual example can do but little, therefore although I care nothing about alcoholic drinks, it is of no use for me, as an individual, to make an effort." Now, the misery is, that there are so many that say this, when, if every man would lay aside this plea, and act, there would be a great army in this enterprise, and no one would think or talk of being alone. Come up each one of you for himself! give the influence of your name and your example. When will this work ever be done while each one stands away and says, "If I come, I must come alone!" But if you are obliged to come alone, come alone, and rid your skirts at any rate of this abomination.
The last--11. objection I shall notice, is, that almost as often as I have brought this subject up in conversation, and other ways, since I have been in this country, I have heard the objection thrown out that the cause of teetotalism has been rendered odious by the imprudence, mismanagement, and false position of its advocates. I have heard the same objection made repeatedly in America, to both the anti-slavery and temperance reforms. It has been common there, for those who withhold their influence from these reformations, to say, "We are in favour of temperance," or, "We are opposed to slavery; but we cannot identify ourselves with the abolitionists," or "We cannot identify ourselves with the teetotalers, because we cannot approve of many of their measures and arguments." I have been in the habit of making this reply. Brethren, show us a more excellent way; come forward and take the lead; we will give you the lead, and shall be glad to follow, if you will come forward and give us the benefit of your wisdom and prudence in precept and in example. Why do you stand back? Why do you leave it for others to go forward, and then complain of their want of wisdom? They would have been glad to have availed themselves of your wisdom and experience, if you would have suffered them to have done so. If you will but be leaders in this enterprise, we should be glad to have you; and if you will not, why do you not? Why do you stand back and refuse to put your hand to the work, because there is not so much wisdom exercised in pushing these reforms as you think you might exercise yourselves? The fact is, it is too bad, for men of the highest influence in society to remain silent till those perhaps of less influence, and less wisdom, are compelled to do something, and go forward according to the best of their judgment, and then for these wise men to excuse the withholding their influence altogether, because, they say, the cause is not advocated in the wisest manner!
I shall now,
IV. EXAMINE THE GROUND OF THOSE WHO OBJECT.
I might assail their position from many points, and examine it in a great many ways; but I prefer, on the present occasion, to present it in the form of what logicians call the argumentum ad hominem. Sometimes we have an argument pressed upon an individual in this way; he admits certain truths, and, admitting these truths, we can present an argument, upon his own grounds, that will have a bearing directly upon him in view of his own premises. This is what logicians call argumentum ad hominem, and this shall be the form in which I will present this part of the argument to-night.
In England, you have settled the unlawfulness of slave-holding. Between yourselves and me, there is no difference of opinion on this subject. You believe, that making, vending, and holding men as slaves, is sinful, and a great abomination in the sight of God, and that it ought to be immediately abandoned. Now, in view of this admission of yours, I remark, 1. That the liquor-trade is as injurious to society as the slave-trade. I can only go rapidly over this part of the subject. For example, who would not rather that his son or daughter, husband or wife, should be torn away, and sent into slavery,--for there he or she might have the use of reason, and, at least, be moral and religious,--than become the victim of drunkenness? I need not say, that I do not, in any degree, sympathise with slavery. My tongue has not been silent against it, nor has my pen been useless. I have used both tongue and pen to rebuke this great iniquity.
One of the features of slavery which has, perhaps, been most complained of, is, its sundering of family ties, tearing children from their parents, and sending its various members to different parts of the country--thus severing them for ever. Now, look at alcohol. Does not that do worse than separating them one from another? Yes, indeed! I had rather have my wife torn away and made a slave, and my family broken up, than that we should become a family of drunkards! Who does not know that there are more ways than one to lacerate the heart, tearing the family to pieces, and effecting domestic ruin? Slavery is bad, but the sale of alcoholic drinks, which ruins thousands of families, is worse than selling them into slavery. The one is bad enough, but the other is still worse. Would you not rather that your own family were sold into slavery, than that they should become a family of drunkards? Slaves are made so by force--drunkards, by their own consent. A man, in being made a slave, commits no sin--a man becoming a drunkard, ruins both soul and body. Both of them appear wrong under the light which the Gospel pours upon them, when they are presented and developed in their proper aspect.
But I remark again, inasmuch as the slavery question is settled in this country, and connexion therewith accounted a great wickedness, I address the question to you in this shape, because you English people admit that slavery is not to be tolerated, and that, however convenient or necessary some may assert it to be, they may not have slaves to be their servants, even if it were impossible to get servants without slaves, as the slaveholders maintain--you will hear no such arguments. I honour you for the ground you take on this question; but I should like to see you take equally consistent ground on the liquor question.
In both cases, the demand sustains the trade. If nobody bought slaves, nobody would raise them: and if nobody used alcohol, it would not be manufactured and sold. More than this; if nobody abused alcohol, though it were a useful article of diet, yet there would not enough be demanded to render it a profitable article of manufacture or sale; it is the enormous abuse of it which makes it so profitable. The sale and manufacture is undertaken upon the assumption of its abuse. I doubt whether there is a single manufacturer or vendor, in Great Britain, who will deny that it is this abuse which renders it so profitable an article of traffic, or that it is made and sold on this assumption.
But, let me say again. In both cases, also, the enormous quantity advertised for sale increases the demand. When once the thing began, its exhibition everywhere increased the amount of temptation, and the demand increased.
Again, it is remarkable to what an extent both these evils are sustained, and defended by the same arguments. They appeal to the Bible, in the same way. Some say the Bible sanctions and sustains it; others are content that the Bible recognises its existence, and does not condemn it. The same course is taken on the liquor question. They say, the evil existed when the inspired men lived, and that men were allowed to use it. The Bible is quoted as conniving at it. But I have not time fully to trace the parallel, or you would be struck with the extent to which these questions are sustained by the same arguments. Intoxicating drink, then, is a greater social, political, domestic, individual, and moral evil, than slavery. It introduces more immorality. It does more injury to the cause of religion, it does more to ruin the bodies and souls of men, than slavery. No well-informed person can consistently deny this.
They are both persevered in for the same reason. Their usefulness and necessity, are pleaded for in the same manner. The spirit of selfishness acts the same part in both cases. In America, we find the same difficulty, in both cases, in the way of getting rid of these evils. Both are so firmly fixed in the habits of the people--so many interests are at stake, so much property is invested, both in ardent spirits and in slaves--there are so many difficulties in the way of getting rid of both--it is astonishing to see to what an extent these difficulties are the same. We find the same reluctance to examine the question on the part of those who are connected with either of these trades. Many pulpits were formerly shut to both these questions. Preachers have refused to give notice from the pulpits of meetings on these subjects. There is the same sensibility of rebuke both from the pulpit, and through the press. Some said, they were not proper questions for the pulpit, especially on the Sabbath.
With reference to intoxicating drink in this country, it is the same as slavery is in ours. In the North of our country, ministers preach, in season and out of season, against both those evils, on the Sabbath as well as on other days; but at first they were sneered at. A great amount of sensitiveness existed, in all classes, against bringing up discussions on these subjects. It was said, it would produce divisions in the Churches. So it did. Nevertheless, it must be done. The same sympathy for those, who are committed to both, has been manifested, under the name of charity. We have been often called upon to be charitable, with regard to those engaged in the manufacture, sale, and use of these drinks, as well as towards the slave-dealer and the slave-holder. The same arguments, in this respect, too, are used in both cases. There has been the same sacrifice of ministerial character--they have, at length, some of them, been banished from their pulpits, for want of sympathising with these reforms. In America, this has been the case, to a lamentable extent. Ministers now begin to take high grounds on both questions.
I wish I had the entire ministry of Great Britain here before me this evening! I would ask them, if they continue to stand aloof, in what light the public will come to regard them? For I have understood that one body of them have actually refused to receive a memorial on the subject, which was presented to them for consideration! Now, who does not know that such persons must suffer in the estimation of those who inquire? When it comes to be considered that 60,000 of your fellow-countrymen annually go down to a drunkard's grave, every year some 40,000 or 50,000 are excommunicated from your Churches for this sin--when the people become fully alive to these and multitudes of similar facts, which might be stated, they will consider it a shame for the ministers to withhold their influence on this question. Yes! The ministers are deceived if they think the people are satisfied with their present position on this question.
I am glad to find that so many of them have already given the weight of their example to this reform, and among them the excellent minister of this place (Rev. James Sherman). I congratulate you, brethren, on this point. Since I have been in this country I have been thrown into the company of ministers, and have been shocked! For years, till I came here, I have not seen a minister drink a drop except at the communion table. I have seen enough in America to demonstrate that there no minister can be sustained by public confidence who withholds the influence of his precept and example from the Temperance Reformation. And if you will continue to use it, and refuse to rebuke it both by precept and example, you must expect to lose the public confidence; and, as certain as God rules the world, you ought to lose it!
I speak this all in charity. I know very well that the time has been, in my own country, when the question was not thoroughly understood. It was used, because it was considered necessary; many, however, though still supposing it to be useful, denied themselves on account of its abuse, and the great evils which arose therefrom.
But let me say again. There is the same tendency to infidelity, resulting from the conduct of the Church, in reference to both these questions. In the United States, it has been common for persons to say there can be no truth in religion, because the Church, and especially the ministry, do not come out and take decided ground on these questions. The same is going on in this country, in respect to the Temperance Reformation; multitudes are losing their confidence in ministers and Churches, in the Bible, and even in religion itself.
I have thus pursued a rapid parallel between the slave traffic and the traffic in alcoholic drinks. I have only suggested points for your consideration. Perhaps I should do well to say that a tract has been written and published in the United States, by one of our best men, pursuing this parallel. I have never myself read this tract, but it made a deep impression, as it well might; for who cannot see that, in every part of society, intemperance is an evil as injurious as slavery? and that, when light is cast upon it, the crime of both is great, if not quite equally so?
It costs the Church more than she can afford, to use alcoholic drinks. The providence of God plainly calls upon the Church now to act. There is a minister in this country whom I have heard openly oppose the total abstinence question, and declare that he has no sympathy with it. Now, I have been informed that this very man's wife is a drunkard; his eldest son, too, is such a beast of a drunkard that he requires some one constantly to take care of him. The rest of his family will probably go in the same direction. Yet he "has no sympathy with the Temperance Reformation!" I myself have seen him drink glass after glass, and that more than once. What infatuation is this! Yet what else could he expect? Let me state that thousands of cases, involving the same principle, might be adduced where persons have opposed teetotalism, until the result has been the ruin of their families, or, at least, of some members of their families.
I once urged a man to become a teetotaler, because I feared he would be a drunkard. He "consented if his wife would go with him." I reasoned for an hour with her; but all in vain. I said, "You will rue this, mark me." She replied, "I'll risk it." "Now, in less than five years her husband became a drunkard! He is now, perhaps, in a drunkard's grave.
But let me say again, I was astonished the other day, while conversing with a brother minister, to hear him say, he was struck with the use I made of Lev. x. 9, which expressly states that priests were not, on pain of death, to take wine or strong drink when going to the services of the sanctuary. "Is there such a passage as this?" "Yes, there is," I said. He could not believe it, so I got up from the table, took the Bible, and pointed out to him. The passage runs thus:--"Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die; it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations."
But again, some say, "I take a little, but don't care about it." You take just enough to prevent your rebuking it in those who take much; for they will turn round and ask if you entirely abstain, and your influence in the matter comes to nothing, or rather it confirms them in their evil habit. If you care so little as you say, what a pity it is you range yourself on the opposite side for such a trifle!
I have been informed by one who was a city missionary, and have been repeatedly assured by those who profess to know, that the managers of the City Mission discourage the advocacy of the total abstinence principle by their missionaries. Now, I cannot vouch for the truth of this; but if it is true, such conduct is worthy of unmeasured rebuke, and may well account for their comparatively small success. What! city missionaries, one of whose principal duties it ought to be, to secure total abstinence among the poor, discouraged from such efforts! If this is so, it is both shocking and abominable. It may be untrue; I would fain hope it is.
Again, do the Churches in England expect a general revival of religion, whilst they resist this reform, and refuse to come up and lay themselves upon the altar? If they do, I am sure they are mistaken. It is perfectly plain that the ministers of this kingdom have not given themselves in earnest to rebuke this sin, and carry forward the temperance reform. I have occasion to know that some ministers and others, who are themselves abstainers, nevertheless provide it for their guests--who do not hesitate to put upon it their tables for the use of others. Some of them seldom preach against it, and when they do, they are in the habit of giving notice that they are going to do so, that those who do not like to be rebuked may absent themselves. Thus they try to satisfy their consciences, either with bearing the silent testimony of their example against it, or, at most, by preaching perhaps once a-year a sermon on the subject. Now, is it not plain, that this is rather an apology for a temperance effort, than anything like laying themselves upon the altar, with a determination to push this reformation? What does it mean? Why do they not, on all occasions, rebuke this as one of the reigning sins and evils of the day, and of the land? Why do they not speak against it, pray against it, write against it, rebuke it everywhere and on all occasions, like men who have resolutely undertaken to put away one of the greatest abominations of the world?
The fact is, the great mass of ministers, by their use of wine and other intoxicating drinks, directly countenance this evil as it exists in society. Comparatively few are abstainers, and those, either because they fear they shall offend their brethren in the ministry, or their churches or congregations, or all these together, do very little, I fear, to promote this great reform, and put away this wide-spread and overwhelming evil. And is this the way for ministers of God to treat one of the greatest, most wide-spread, and most desolating of evils, that ever cursed any country? Why, really it is lamentable to see to what an extent the leaders of the sacramental hosts of God's elect compromise with this evil! If they hold their peace much longer the stones will cry out against them, and society will universally rebuke them. For if this is not so, then those laws of mind that have so strongly developed themselves in every other country, will fail to do so in this. But there is no mistake. The public conscience is beginning to arouse itself, and there is a murmuring, deep and increasing, that will, by and bye, speak forth in accents that must be understood. The time is come for the Church of God and her ministers to speak out, and rebuke this evil everywhere and on all occasions. Will not the brethren come up to the work?
When I was first settled in the city of New York, in 1832, I found that one of the elders of the church was a spirit-dealer. The Temperance Reformation was but, as it were, beginning to excite public attention. I reasoned with him in private, but without effect; I then exposed his business in my public preaching, and when he objected to my doing so, I told him that as often as I went into that pulpit, he might expect that I should rebuke both him and his business, till he either forsook the congregation or abandoned the abominable traffic. I did so, and did not let him rest till he left his seat, and went to another congregation; and his place was filled by a better man.
But I see I have trespassed too long on your time. The subject is so extensive, as to need a course of lectures. I have condensed as much as possible, and endeavoured to present the subject as fully as I could in one lecture; however, I must now leave the subject with a word of appeal to the ladies of England. The female sex are deeply interested in this question. You are wives, mothers, sisters; do you not see the multitudes of husbands, fathers, brothers, going to destruction, through the use of these drinks? and will you not give the benefit of the whole weight of your precept and example against this crying evil? Shall women withhold their influence from a cause that appeals so strongly to the sympathies and the hearts of all classes of men? If the female sex were to unite their efforts, and wholly discountenance the use of alcoholic drinks, and refuse to associate with those who do use them, in one year they might effect a change which would be the admiration of the world. Will they not come up to the work?
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