The Rev. ARTHUR J. PENNELL, New Haven, Conn.
Seek ye first the kingdom of God.—Matt. 6: 33.
A QUESTION often arises in the minds of men whether this country is a Christian country! The status of a notion is determined by its ideals. Ideals are found in the highest aspirations and noblest ambitions of a nation’s leaders. The artist of whatever school is judged not by his first operation in the dusting of the canvas, nor by the mixing of the colors for the dubbing, nor by the first effort of his brush; a Raphael is supreme because of his Madonna. So the test of a people is to be found in their highest conception of conduct as portrayed through life and transmitted by printed page or word of mouth to posterity.
In the days preceding the printing press, man was educated in the deeds of heroism through the minstrel, thereafter by copied pages of historic accomplishments. Now through the utilization of the minerals of the earth and the harnessing of the vapors a power-driven writer presents for man’s perusal and careful study the achievements of men and nations. History is the record of the world’s noblest, and the meridian splendor of the achievement by man was when the sublime manifestation of character was exhibited to mankind through Jesus Christ.
We are brought, therefore, to the conclusion that we can estimate the ideals of a nation by its heroes—those supermen, who in the strain and stress of life’s performances stood unabashed and unafraid before every element which sought to destroy the God-germ within them. Every nation has its heroes: a Kossuth, a Garibaldi, a Napoleon, a Cromwell, a Washington or a Lincoln, a King Albert, or n Foch; but these are, so to speak, limited heroes. The world needs one who transcends limitations, whose country has no physical confines, whose nationality is lost in its broad universalism. Such is the Christ. The record of his life is the newer portion of the world’s greatest historical record now extant—the New Testament—indissolubly bound up with that other volume which in combination forms the Guide Book for human destiny. It if herein that men have ever found their ideals. It is interesting, herewith, to note, that this book, which is the basic foundation of all Christian institutions, the hope of all Christ believing souls, the inspiration of all Jesus inclined mortals, was chosen for use in the recent inauguration of a new President because in the days of yesterday’s great American utilized this time-honored volume by turning to its pages and with sincerity of heart and nobility of purpose pledged himself thereon to preserve the Constitution and to uphold the laws of this youthful republic. Surely, if apostolic succession was ever fulfilled, it was on March fourth last—when the mantle of the first American fell upon the new President, the spirit of our immortal Lincoln and the beauty of the martyred McKinley were recalled in the simple ceremony of the inauguration of the twenty-ninth President of the United States of America. Foundations, whether individual or national, to be lasting must go down deep into the past and be linked to the great minds of by-gone days. The Bible opened before that great gathering in Washington was the book which had been consecrated by the taking of the oath of office by the “Father of his country” and carried in procession at the unveiling of that monument which like a noble character towers to the skies. It was the heritage of that people of whom we are compelled to think when the word America is pronounced.
“Read the Bible—read the Bible, let no religious book take its place. Through all my perplexities and distresses I never read any other book, and I never felt the want of any other. It has been my hourly study; and all my knowledge of the doctrines, and all my acquaintance with the experience and realities of religion, have been derived from the Bible only.” William Wilberforce Early American Statesman and Leader of the movement to abolish slavery
One cannot talk of “American Foundations” without recalling the struggles of the Puritan Fathers, who with their Pilgrim associates fought out the battles of religious freedom, shackled the usurping powers of overbearing government, and “with a heart for any fate” journeyed forth “seeking first the kingdom of God” to launch their project of government where, unmolested by governmental edicts and churchly intolerance, man might live and thrive.
In their native land laws were enacted, limitations were placed, punishments were meted out, restrictive measures were enforced, until the soul of God-fearing man was trammeled, religion became a mockery, and will was but a machine. Hope kept alive in these heroic souls the thought of a newer and a brighter day. Each morning’s sun dawned upon a day of more oppressive measures and firmer determination to wipe out those obnoxious people whose wills were their own. Fleeing their own country, they waited with patience in a land of friends, and for eleven years passed their time in strengthening their organization. Unlike the Huguenots who had fled to Germany, they never contemplated the losing of their individuality or of being absorbed by their surroundings. It was this desire to maintain their separate existence which impelled them to journey to lands practically unknown. At home there was no freedom, abroad there would be no separateness; migration was their only hope.
Westward this band of Pilgrims wended their way, oblivious of dangers, fearless of terrors, undaunted by hardship. These heroes of early American life were buoyed up in their distress with the thoughts of such as Andrew Melville who, on being called in question for a statement made in a public address in which he had alluded to King James VI as “God’s silly vassal,” replied, “I tell you, sir, there are two kingdoms and two kings in Scotland. There is Christ Jesus the King, and his kingdom in the Kirk,[Kirk refers to the Church] whose subject James VI is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member.” And back of Melville was a people fully aroused to the conviction that there is an eternal law of God which kings no less than the meanest subject must obey. This kind grows only on the tree of Bible knowledge and religious freedom. Thus we see that the primal foundation of America is the Bible, for it was this book with these principles which the Pilgrims brought, which they utilized until they welded them into the very fiber of the nation’s life.
“The general diffusion of the Bible, is the most effectual way to civilize and humanize mankind; to purify and exalt the general system of public morals; to give efficacy to the just precepts of international and municipal law; to enforce the observance of prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude, and to improve all the relations of social and domestic life.” Chancellor James Kent author of Commentaries on American Law
A second foundation of the American republic is education. Wherever the Bible is found as an open book there also will be found education for the people. Spiritual and intellectual death stalk in those lands where the Bible is closed. Those heroes of Americanism, realizing that freedom can not survive in ignorance, established America’s two greatest institutions at the same time and place. Wherever the meeting house was erected there also was the school house; and in the early days of this nation’s history most colleges and schools of learning could trace their beginnings to the inspiration of the Church. Wisely our early fathers emphasized the value and importance of mental development. The citizen of to-morrow is the student of to-day. Education enables us through reading and study to utilize the values of the past. Napoleon once said, “Show me a family of readers and I will show you the rulers of the world.” The effect of educational advance has not been confined to the little experiment in free government, but has extended its influence to the uttermost parts of the earth. Through the influence of those far-seeing heroes, penetrating into nations of different ideals, Western education has caused democracy to find lodgment even in lands hitherto uncongenial to it, and to-day the principles of our forefathers are seen in economic life and governmental reform throughout the world. So long as the institutions of learning maintain their proper position in the life of our country, the ideals of the fathers and the principles of our republic can never be lost to mankind.
A third foundation of this republic is equal opportunity. This question has ever been prominent in our history. This foundation was bought for American humanity as dearly as any privilege enjoyed by the human race. If 1776 saw the struggle for the conviction that “divine right” of government resides in the average citizen, we may as truly say that 1861-65 saw the struggle to make plain that in this republic the success of the individual does not depend upon the ability of the few to enslave the many, but that “the laborer is worthy of his hire,” and that no laborer is worthy to be hired unless he has ample opportunity to become all that is possible for him to be. As an institution, then, a false foundation was removed from under the structure of our heritage, and after reconstructing our building in harmony with those higher views, we set forth again upon the course of national life. Again in 1898 we declared to the world that the principles we held must be respected within the radius of our possibilities. The unlimited invitation which has been extended to the world’s oppressed has resulted in the gathering together within our borders of peoples whose ideals and principles are as distantly removed from ours as is the atmosphere of the frozen Arctic from the oppressive heat of the equatorial regions. This strange admixture of alien ideals with American foundations has resulted in much unrest and social disturbance. It has stirred up strife where only the peaceful waters of a summer sea had flowed. It has sometimes turned the honest workman into an avaricious traveler or into a guerrilla of social warfare and a destroyer of national industry.
“I deem myself fortunate,” said the venerable Ex-President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, “in having the opportunity—at a stage of a long life drawing rapidly to its close, to bear, at this place, the capital of the National Union, in the Hall of Representation of the North American people, in the chair of the presiding officer of an assembly representing the whole people, the personification of the great and mighty nation—to bear my solemn testimonial of reverence and gratitude to that Book of books, the Holy Bible. In the midst of the painful and perilous conflicts inseparable from public life, and at the eve of that moment when the grave shall close over them for ever, I may be permitted to indulge the pleasing reflection, that, having been taught in childhood the unparalleled blessings of the Christian gospel, in the maturity of manhood I associated with my brethren of that age, for spreading the light of that gospel over the face of the earth, by the simple and silent process of placing in the hands of every human being who needed, and could not otherwise procure it, the Book which contains the duties and admonitions, the promises and the rewards of the Christian gospel.”
At first glimpse one may possibly find in himself a feeling of pessimism; but think carefully! The foundations of this great nation are deeply rooted and well founded. When he who has been chosen by the multitude of bis fellows exercising their prerogative as citizens and voters in a land of democratic ideals steps forward to take his solemn obligation of service and to vow before God and men his determination to conserve the interests of the people; when with head bared and hand uplifted he stands before the open Bible, the basis of our Constitution, the inspiration of our fathers, the book of life’s principles; when with solemnity and with sincerity the chief executive—with no further ceremony, no pomp and splendor, no pretension or spirit of arrogance, but “with singlemindedness of purpose and humility of spirit—implores the favor and guidance of God, and can say with these, “I am unafraid and confidently face the future”—then Americans all, with one chief executive, one God, one confident hope, can rally, and imploring this same God of our American heritage, found in this open Bible of our inheritance, educated in and through our educational systems, strongly intrenched in the belief of opportunity for all, and, reiterating the injunctions of the past to the present and future, can pledge ourselves ever to uphold those ideals which were written into our life by Washington. We may resolve that the spirit of Lincoln shall ever live in us, and slavery of no race or color shall exist wherever the American flag shall fly; that ignorance shall never encircle the mind of our youth; that the Bible, which has been the spring of education, the spur to freedom of the individual, and has shown the highway to God in man’s search for the higher spirituality, shall ever be in this land an open book.
John Randolph of Roanoke, “I would not give up my slender portion of the price paid for our redemption—I would not exchange my little portion in the Son of David, for the power and glory of the Parthian or Roman empires, as described by Milton in the temptation of our Lord and Saviour—not for all with which the enemy tempted the Saviour of man….” Speaking of Randolph ex-Senator Thomas Benton in his Thirty Years’ View said; “The last time I saw him, which was in that last visit to Washington, after his return from the Russian mission, and when he was in the full view of death, I heard him read the chapter in the Revelation (of the opening of the seals), with such power and beauty of voice and delivery, and such depth of pathos, that I felt as if I had never heard the chapter read before. When he had got to the end of the opening of the sixth seal, he stopped the reading, laid the book (open at the place) on his breast, as he lay on his bed, and began a discourse upon the beauty and sublimity of the Scriptural writings, compared to which he considered all human compositions vain and empty. Going over the images presented by the opening of the seals, he averred that their divinity was in their sublimity—that no human power could take the same images, and inspire the same awe and terror, and sink ourselves into such nothingness in the presence of the ‘wrath of the Lamb’—that he wanted no proof of their Divine origin but the sublime feelings they inspired.”