The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 17/Number 99/The Kingdom Coming

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

THE KINGDOM COMING.

If one looks to the individual for proof of the power of Christianity, he will generally look in vain. Creeds differ; but of persons from the same rank in life, one is, on the whole, apparently about as good as another. If we are virtuous where we are not tempted, liberal in matters concerning which we are indifferent, reticent when we have nothing to say,—in one word, pleasant when we are pleased,—it is all that our best friends have any reason to expect of us. What religion does for a man may be great, and even radical, from his near point of view; but from the world's position it is scarcely visible, and is often wholly lost in the more palpable influences of temperament and circumstance. But when we look at society, we can see that some silent agency is at work, slowly, but surely, attuning our life to finer issues than the Golden Ages knew. The hidden leaven of Christianity is working its noiseless way through the whole lump. Christendom is on a higher plane than Pagandom, and is still ascending. In the stress of daily life, we are sometimes tempted to lose heart, and cry, "Who shall show us any good for all this toil and watch and struggle?"—but in calmer moments, looking back over the Difficult Hills, we cannot fail to see that we have gained ground. The sacredness of humanity is gradually overtopping the prerogatives of class. More and more clearly man asserts himself, the end of every good, the standard by which every change is to be judged. With many an ebb, the tide of all healthful and helpful force is flooding our associated life; and the brotherhood of the race attests itself by many infallible signs.

But they are not always nor only found where they are sought. Workmanship does not show to the best advantage in workshops. The din and whirl of machinery confuse us. We need to see the wonderful engine in actual operation, the beautiful ornament fitly placed, before we can decide finally upon its character. The churches have been the workshops of Christianity. There it has been received, fused, hammered, polished, fashioned for all human needs; but nothing less than the whole world is the true theatre of its activity. Not what it has done for the Church, but what it has done, is doing, and purposes to do for humanity, is the measure of its merit. Not upon the mitre of the priest, but upon the bells of the horses, is the millennial day to see inscribed "Holiness unto the Lord!"

Since, then, the kingdom of God cometh not with observation, we need not look for fearful sights and great signs in the heavens. They are but false prophets who cry, "Lo, here!" or "Lo, there!" when the still, small voice is whispering all the while, "The kingdom of God is within you," Yes, within this framework of society, in the midst of this busy, trivial, daily life, which seems so full of small cares and selfish seeking, the Divine Spirit lives and works, and will yet raise it to the heights of heavenly fellowship. It breathes in the thousand methods devised by ingenuity to lighten the burdens of labor, by benevolence to soothe away the bitterness of sorrow, by taste to beautify the homes of poverty. The little photograph leaves that flutter down into every household in the land are a great cloud of witnesses showing us that science is but the handmaid of God, whose service is to bear to all the blessings once reserved for a class. In the old time it was only the few who could fix for future years the beloved features of a friend. Now every fond mother may transcribe from birthday to birthday the face of her darling, to note its beautiful changes, and every lowliest bride preserve for her children's children the bloom of her budding youth.

The religious world has hardly learned to look for its millennium in the horsecars. Nevertheless, its signs are there, not to be mistaken. The poor sewing-woman feels their presence, if she does not trace them to their source. The humble invalid knows them, the domestic drudge, the ailing, puny child, the swart and stalwart workman, who ride their one or ten miles as swiftly and smoothly as a millionaire, and are set down at shop or home, or among the freshness and fragrance and song of the beautiful country. The horsecar is the poor man's private carriage, as carefully fashioned for his convenience, as tidy and comfortable and comely, as if it cost him hundreds of dollars, instead of the daily sixpence. With a lifted finger he commands his coachman, who waits promptly on his wish. Without care, he is cared for. Without capital, he controls capital. Free society does more for him than the richest despot does for the enslaved people whom the instinct of self-preservation forces him to cajole, and does it, too, without any infringement upon his manhood. We call it energy, enterprise, modern conveniences. It is the millennium.

But these matters are under full headway. Science and self-interest have taken them in hand, and there is no danger that they will not be carried out to their farthest beneficial limits. There is another measure just struggling into uncertain life,—a measure which may be helped by attention, and hindered by neglect,—a measure that appeals less directly to self-advantage, but which is yet so fraught with good or evil, according as it is carefully studied, clearly understood, and wisely managed, or suffered to fail through inattention, or to lead an irregular, riotous life for a few years and then to be abated as a nuisance, that we cannot safely pass it by. I refer to the movement making itself felt in various ways, but aiming always to give more leisure to the working classes. In one phase, it is seeking to reduce the hours of daily labor; in another, it is trying to close the shops on Saturday afternoons. In both, it is a step so radically in the right direction, that we can but give thanks for the opportunity, while we tremble lest it may not be firmly and wisely laid hold of. In planning for human weal, one is met on every side by the want of leisure. Every day and every hour comes so burdened with its material necessities, that the wants of heart and mind and spirit can find no adequate gratification. The work goes on satisfactorily; wealth accumulates; farms are well tilled; mechanism becomes more and more exquisite; but drunkenness, profligacy, stupidity, insanity, and crime undermine the man, for whom all these things are and were created, and to whom they ought to bring wisdom and power and peace. Thus our boasted improvements become our folly. All labor-saving machinery that does not save labor in the sense of giving leisure, that merely increases the quantity or improves the quality of that which is produced, but does not redound to the improvement of the producer, rather contributes to his degradation, has somewhere a fatal flaw. Mind may legitimately fashion matter into a machine; but when it would reduce mind also to the same level, it steps beyond its province. When it fails to continue through the sphere of mind the impulse it communicates to matter,—when its benefit stops with fabric, falling short of the man who stands over it,—it lags behind its mission, and is so far unsuccessful.

The movement for diminishing the number of laboring hours has already been brought before the notice of the Massachusetts Legislature,—has been made the subject of careful and extensive inquiry by a special committee, who have returned a report so able, eloquent, and convincing as to leave little to be said in that direction,—and is now, for closer and more exhaustive investigation, in the hands of a committee whose names are a guaranty that nothing will be left undone to secure a just and righteous decision, for which let all Christian people devoutly pray. In the intelligence and virtue of its workingmen lies the hope of the Republic. If the proposed change shall tend to promote that intelligence and virtue, it will be the part of true patriotism to effect it. Whether this particular means be or be not the wisest for the end in view, the path of the higher life unquestionably lies in this direction. The accomplishment of the greatest results with the least outlay of time and toil is the problem in physical science. With the leisure and strength thus redeemed from lower needs, to build up a royal manhood is the problem of moral science.

The Saturday half-holiday is less an affair of law and legislature, depends more upon private men and women, but is of scarcely less importance. It is not to be disguised that there are difficulties and dangers attending the plan. It is as yet probably regarded only as an experiment, though certain classes of mercantile men have been trying it for years, with what satisfaction their persistence in it indicates. Undoubtedly there are many young men who misspend their holiday, and many more who do not know what to do with it, and who will finally fall into mischief through sheer idleness. The hours drag so heavily, that they half conclude they would about as soon be at work as at liberty with nothing to do. Possibly there are more who abuse their holiday than use it advantageously. But just as far as this trouble extends, so far it shows, not the harm of leisure, but the sore straits we have been brought to for lack of it. There is no sadder result of the disuse of a faculty than the decadence of that faculty. Time is the essential gift of God to man,—essential not merely to providing for his physical wants, but to forming his character, to developing his powers, to cultivating his taste, to elevating his life. Is it, then, that he has devoted so disproportionate a share of that time to one of its uses, and that not the noblest, that he has lost the desire and the ability to devote any of it to its higher uses? Have young men given themselves to buying and selling till they have no interest in books, in Nature, in Art, in manly sport and exercise? Then surely it behooves us at once to change all this. No man can have a well-balanced mind, a good judgment, who is interested in nothing but his business. If, when released from that for a half-day each week, he is listless, aimless, discontented, it is a sure sign that undue devotion to it has corroded his powers, and is making havoc of his finer organization.

It is to be feared that many of our young men do not know what recreation means. They confound it with riot. Fierce driving, hard drinking, violence, and vice they understand; but with quiet, refining, soothing, and strengthening diversions they have small acquaintance. This is very largely the fault of the community in which they live. Do Christian families in our large cities feel the obligations which they are under towards the young men who come among them? I believe that a very large part of the immorality, the irreligion, the skepticism and crime into which young men fall is due to their being so coldly and cruelly let alone by Christian families. A boy comes up from the country, where every one knows him and greets him, into the solitude of the great city. He has left home behind him, and finds no new home to receive him. When he is released from his work in shop or counting-room, nothing more inviting awaits him than the silent room in the dreary boarding-house. He misses suddenly, and at a most sensitive age, the graces and unthinking kindnesses of home, the thousand little teasings and pettings, the common interests, and tendernesses, that he never thought of till he lost them. He is surrounded by men and boys all bent on their several ways. He must have amusement. It is as necessary to him as daily food. What wonder, then, if he accepts the first that offers? And if Satan, as usual, is beforehand with his invitations, what shall hinder him from following Satan? The saloon, warmed and lighted, and enlivened with music or merry talk, is more attractive than the dingy, solitary room; and if his feet do slip now and then, who is the worse for it? He will never write it home, and there is nobody in the city who will discover it; provided he is prompt at his business, no one will meddle with his leisure hours. And if full-grown men are found to need the restraining influences of wife and child and neighbor, and to plunge into brutality whenever they form a community by themselves, what can prevent boys, when cast adrift, from drifting into sin? Genius is supreme, but genius is the heritage of but few; while passion and appetite, love of society and amusement, need of watchfulness and susceptibility to temptation, belong to all. "I don't like wine," said a young man,—"I hate the taste of it; but what am I to do? A lot of fellows carousing isn't the best thing in the world; but I can't stay moping in my room alone all the time. There's my violin. Well, I took it out once or twice, but it was no go. When I could go into the parlor after supper, and mother round, and Bess to sing, it was worth while; but there is no fun in fiddling to yourself by wholesale. Besides, I suppose it bores the rest to have a fellow sawing away." And this was a fine, handsome, healthy young man, all ready to be made a warm friend, a patriotic citizen, a pure and happy man, and just as ready to become a reckless, dissipated, sorrow-bringing failure. And, alas! where were the hands that should have helped him? Alas! alas! what are the hands that will not be backward to lay hold on him?

If any holiday is to be made useful, if young men are to be saved from ruin, saved to their mothers and sisters and wives, saved to themselves, to their country, and to God, Christian people must bestir themselves. Young Men's Christian Associations may be ever so efficient, but they cannot do everything. The work that is to be done cannot be wrought by associations alone, nor by young men, nor by any men. It needs fathers and mothers and sons and daughters and firesides. The only way to keep boys from the haunts of vice is to open to them the haunts of virtue. Give them access to loving families, to happy homes. Nothing can supply this want. No attendance at any church is to be for a moment compared to attendance at the sacred shrine of an affectionate family. But when, a little while ago, a young man, who had been for years a clerk in Boston, was asked in how many families he was acquainted, he replied quickly, "Not one." Yet he was a member of an Orthodox Congregational Church, which, I take it, is to be as good as anybody can be in this world, and a regular attendant upon religious services in one of the most influential Orthodox churches in Boston. Sunday after Sunday he occupied his seat, yet neither pastor nor people—not one of all that great congregation—ever took him by the hand and constrained him to sit by their hearthstones, ever welcomed him to the warmth and gladness and gentle endearments of their homes. What is the communion of saints? If that young man had brought a letter of introduction from some distinguished person, would they have thus let him go in and out among them unnoticed and uncared for? But to church-members, surely, a certificate of church-membership ought to be as weighty as a letter of introduction. A Christian church should be so managed that it should be impossible for any attendant upon its services to escape observation; and it should be so trained to its social duties that every person who takes shelter in its sanctuary should at least have the opportunity to find shelter in its homes. I think it would be well, even, that those who are present at a single church service should be courteously noticed and encouraged to repeat the visit. If the church is indeed God's house, let the servants of the Master dispense His hospitalities in such a manner as befits His divine character, remembering that the world judges of Him through them. Let fathers and mothers be on the watch to speak kindly words to such homeless wanderers as may roam within the circle of their influence. If a stranger is introduced into the family pew, let him be no longer a stranger, but a guest. Let him not remain during the service and pass out at its close without some brotherly or fatherly recognition, without some assurance by word or look or little attention that his presence there gave pleasure. This is a beginning of home feeling.

It would be a fit thing, if every country pastor should give to every boy who leaves his parish a letter of introduction to some clergyman in the city whither he is going, so that there should be no interregnum,—no time when the boy should be utterly unfriended, loosed from restraint, and a prey to unclean and hateful things. But this is not done, and we should not wait for it. The Prince of Evil never stands upon etiquette. He is instant in season and out of season; and those who would circumvent him must be equally prompt and vigilant. The Church should weave its meshes of watchful care and love and friendship so close that nobody can slip through unseen.

A duty rests upon all merchants and tradesmen, upon all, indeed, who employ clerks or apprentices, which is not discharged when their quarterly payments are made. A man is in some sense the father of the young men whom he employs, and he should do them fatherly service. It is not possible to enter into relations with any human being without at the same time incurring responsibility concerning him. How much might be done for young men, if merchants would feel a domestic as well as a mercantile interest in them! It may not be advisable to renew the old custom of making clerks and apprentices members of the family; but surely the pleasantly lighted parlor, with its pictures, its piano, its little sheltered window-nooks, its agreeable daughters, its matronly and dignified mother, may be made a Mecca for the homesick young pilgrim, without any sacrifice that shall seem too great to the followers of Him who laid down the glory which He had with the Father before the world was, for nothing but that He might save sinners. Is it a dangerous thing to introduce strangers into a young family? But is the character that is not good enough for the drawing-room quite safe and harmless in the counting-room? If merchants, master mechanics, and employers generally, would set a premium upon integrity and good manners, those qualities would not long be found wanting. Incalculable is the influence which these civilizing surroundings would have upon a susceptible boy. Only let them come in early. Do not wait till sin has thrown out its more brilliant and showy lures, and then attempt to tear him away from them already half polluted; but while his soul is yet unstained, while, lonely, inexperienced, self-distrustful, he is ready to be moulded by the first skilful touch, let it come from the wise hands of honorable and responsible men whose position gives weight to their opinions, from the gentle hands of motherly women, and merry, guileless girls. Provide,—even if it be at the cost of a little pains, a little sacrifice of the quiet and seclusion of home,—provide for his youth its fitting and innocent delights, that sinful pleasures may not seize him and hold him in their destructive clutch. The good which the merchant does to his clerks will redound to the good of his own children. There is probably as much intelligence and virtue and youthful promise among his clerks as among his sons and daughters; and what the former receive of home the latter receive in variety and relish. The influence of man upon woman, also, is just as healthful as that of woman upon man; for both are in the order of Nature. The brothers and sisters will dance to their mother's playing all the more gleefully for a stranger or two in the set; and Mary will enter with fresher zest into the game of cards, because Mr. Gordon is her partner instead of that provoking Harry. And it is not whist nor dancing that harms young people. It is outlawry. Whist does not lead to gambling. Dancing does not lead to dissipation. It is playing cards "on the sly" that leads to gambling. It is having to get out of the way of ministers, and church-members, and all religious people, when dancing is to be done, that leads to dissipation. It is loneliness, want of interest and amusement, any unjust and unnatural restriction, that leads to all manner of wild and boisterous and vicious amusements, which prey upon the soul. If to a young man, on his first coming to the city, there open only so many as two or three houses, where he can now and then find welcome admittance,—where are two or three excellent women who exercise a gentle jurisdiction over him, who will notice if his eye be heavy or his cheek pale, who will administer, upon occasion, a little sweet motherly chiding, mend a rent in his gloves, advise in the choice of a neck-tie, and call upon him occasionally for trifling service or attendance,—where he can find a few hot-headed, perhaps; but well-fathered and well-mothered boys, who have the same headstrong will, the same fierce likes and dislikes, the same temptations and weaknesses as himself, but who are saved from disaster by gentle, but firm authority, and constant, yet scarcely perceptible influence,—a few bright girls, who will sing and dance and talk with him, and pique and tease and tantalize him,—how infinitely are the chances multiplied against his ever turning aside into the debasing saloon! He naturally likes purity better than impurity. The breath of innocence is sweeter than the fumes of poisoned wine. The interests of a man at whose table he sits, whose children are his companions, whose wife is his friend and confidant, will be far nearer to him than those of one whom he rarely sees and little knows. Something of the atmosphere of home will cling to office-walls, and soften the sharp outlines and sweeten the unfragrant air of perpetual traffic and self-seeking. The society of pure and sprightly girls will be a constant inducement to keep himself sprightly and pure. Reading, studying, riding, singing, driving, boating, with well-bred and high-hearted young friends, will give plentiful outlet to his animal spirits, plentiful gratification to his social wants, plentiful food for his mental hunger; and while he is thus enjoying the pleasures which are but the lawful dues of his spring-time, he will be all the while becoming more and more worthy of love and respect, more and more fitted to bear, in his turn, the burdens of Church and State. And if, in spite of it all, his feet are still swift to do evil, it will be a satisfaction to those who have thus striven for his welfare to know that his blood is not on them nor on their children.

There are other things to be taken into account. The leisure of Saturday afternoon must, it would seem, conduce greatly to quiet Sundays. When young men are confined six long days behind the counter, it is but natural that on the seventh they should give themselves to merry-making. For, let it be remembered, sport is natural, yes, and as necessary, to youth as worship; and in order of human development, it comes first. It is very hard to say to a boy, "You have been writing, and weighing, and measuring all the week. Now the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the flowers blooming, the river sparkling, and boat and horse await your hand, but you must turn away from them all and go to church. You have been boxed up for six days, and now you must be boxed up again. There are no fresh airs, no summer sounds for you; but only noise and dust and pavements all the days of your life." It happens, at any rate, that there is no use in saying this; for young blood overleaps it all, and city suburbs resound on Sunday with the clatter of hoofs and the rattle of wheels; and no one need be surprised, who has any acquaintance with human nature one the one side, or any conception of the irksomeness of continued confinement on the other. It would, indeed, be a very strange, and, I think, a very sad thing, if young people were willing to let suns rise, and stars set, and all the beautiful changes of Nature go on, without an irresistible, instinctive prompting to fly from the grave monotone of the city, and live and breathe in her freshness and her song. If a young man must choose between play of muscle, swiftness of motion, the free air of the hills, and sitting in church to hear a sermon, he will often choose the former; and if he cannot enjoy these things without going in opposition to the best sense of the community, if they cannot be compassed without a certain consciousness of wrong-doing, they will lead to recklessness and lawlessness; for be compassed, they will.

But let the young men have Saturday afternoon for their boating and bowling and various pastimes, and they will be far more disposed to hear what the minister has to say on Sunday,—far more disposed, let us hope, to join in prayer and praise. One very obvious and practical consideration is, that many of them, probably the larger part, can spend on a single holiday all the holiday money they have to spend. So—there will be nothing for it but to stay at home on Sunday by force of the res angustæ domi. But, also, is it too much to believe, that, the half-day having given them that physical exercise, amusement, and change which they need, Sunday will find them the more ready to absorb and appropriate spiritual nourishment? that bodily and mental recreation will prepare them for religious recreation? I have said that sport is as natural and necessary as worship. But, on the other hand, worship is as natural as sport, Very few, I think, are the persons, young or old, in all of whose thoughts it may be said God is not. And if this natural, spontaneous turning to God were not interfered with by our pernicious modes of training and management, we should not become so fearfully alienated from Him. Play and work and worship would be animated by one spirit. Many surely there are who would be more likely to devote a part of their Sunday to the direct worship of God, and to a more intimate knowledge of His works and words, who would be more likely to come under the influence of the Bible and the pulpit, from having had opportunity first to free their lungs from the foul air, and their limbs from the lifelessness, which a long confinement to business had caused. At least let us not tempt any to make Sunday a day of fun and frolic, by giving them no other day for their fun and frolic. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.

Women can do much towards bringing about this holiday, and towards keeping it intact when it is once secured. Let every woman make a point of doing no shopping on Saturday afternoons. A very little forethought will prevent any inconvenience from the deprivation. If a tradesman chooses to keep his shop open on Saturdays, when others of the same kind are shut, let every woman take care not only not to enter it on that day, but on any day. And in order that the holiday may begin as promptly as the working-day, women should not put off their purchases till the last minute before closing. If the shops are to be shut at two o'clock, let no one enter them after one, except in case of emergency. If the clerks have to take down goods from their shelves, overhaul box and drawer, and unroll and unfold and derange till the time for closing arrives, an hour or an hour and a half of their holiday must be consumed in the work of putting the store in order. Let this last hour of the working-week be spent in arrangement, not in derangement. Be ashamed to ask a clerk to disturb a shelf which he has just set in Sunday order. Let the young men be ready, so that, when the clock strikes the hour of release, release may come.

Many of the shops are advertised to be closed on Saturday afternoons through the summer. But there are just as many hours to the day and just as many days to the week in winter as in summer; and the ice and snow and sleigh-bells of January are just as fascinating and as exhilarating and invigorating as the rivers and roses of June. Therefore it is to be hoped the half-holiday will not migrate with the birds, but remain and become a permanent national institution.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.