The secret of all stability and enduring greatness in governments, as with individual men, is to be found alone in the quickening power of the Christian faith.
If there be no great enduring principle of spiritual life, there can be no perpetuity of national existence. If there be no grand, sublime, and imperishable thought, filling the soul of a people with its fire and fashioning their progress after its patter, there can be no sense in which they may escape the inevitable mutations of the world, or avoid the fate of so many that have gone before them.
The most powerful empires of the past have perished because they were wanting in a principle strong enough and spiritual enough to resist the self-destructive energies of human nature. The pagan world could not furnish such a principle as it was neither in their philosophy nor their religion. Nothing short of divine wisdom and power can actualized that principle of spiritual life which not only originates but preserves the substance of social and civil welfare.
Christianity is the divine method of imparting this principle to men and nations, and the only method revealed from heaven for regulating our present state. . .righteousness exalteth a nation, while sin is a reproach to any people and must, if persisted in, pave the way to their final destruction. This divine maxim has been exemplified in all the old seats of human population, and is borne onward in the spirit of prophetic admonition from age to age.
The foundation of political turbulence and corruption undoubtedly lies in the primary assemblies of the people, which for a long period has amounted to little else than a system of chicanery and venality too humiliating to describe. This kind of imposition upon the free action of American citizenship has been carried to such an extent as well-nigh to neutralize the title of suffrage itself and make of the ballot box a mockery of American privilege.
Christian parents must resume the discipline and religious training over their sons and daughters which prevailed in the earlier and purer days of the Republic. All the departments of government must be filled with men who will administer their power for the suppression of whatever is deleterious in its influence. The Church must purge itself of worthless members, who now, through the laxity of discipline, continue a scandal and a reproach, hampering its progress and dragging down its sacred name into the dust.
In the liberal professions and in all the stations of political prominence from which decidedly Christian men have been pushed aside there must be made an earnest and persevering effort to establish the tried and faithful representatives of a higher morality and a more stainless character.
Christian men have been unwilling or afraid to unite upon the distinctive principles of a common Christianity, and have shrunk from the sacrifice, expense, or reproach it might cost, and tamely submitting to be over-ruled by the boldness, the assiduity and energy of the evil-minded who assume to control and dictate the public policy and manners of the nation.
Our very thoughts have been dissolved in the infatuation of personal sovereignty, until oaths and compacts, written charters and constitutions confirmed by the highest sanctions possible to man, are ruthlessly violated, rebellion is inaugurated, and we are brought to this very door of anarchy itself.
Of what avail, then, is it for the enemies of a spiritual religion to attempt to delude us with the vain pretense that the true progress of mankind implies the rejection of the Bible as the divinely inspired Word of God, and the denial of its authority in the affairs of men, and that in the onward march of civilization the dogmas of the Christian church have become obsolete – that the human mind has outgrown its restrictions, and can no longer be controlled by its discipline or instructed by its counsels?
Here still are the great and solemn realities of life, here are the giant evils with which men have to grapple, and which, in despite of all the levities and impieties of an epicurean philosophy, cannot be treated as idle dreams, the vagrant fancies of a distempered mind. And in the effort to ignore both the mischiefs and the remedy of our subverted moral condition by the scoffing infidelity and the specious skepticism of our times, the nation with all its treasure has already been brought to the verge of destruction.
Every intelligent man knows it, every honest man confesses it. And yet the signals of evil omen are not removed. The spirit that humbles a nation before God of heaven and supplies the conditions of the Divine interposition for our salvation has been strangely wanting to the people, while men are everywhere found among us who leave no means unused to bring the religion of our fathers into contempt, and to cut the nation loose from all her moorings in the ancient faith of martyrs and apostles. . .They are likewise the malignant and felonious torch-bearers of infidelity, setting the temple of our American greatness on fire, giving our heritage to the flames, and lighting a mighty people into the abyss of self-destruction.
These words, although they could have been penned today, were written by Byron Sunderland, Washington, D.C., 1863, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, and Chaplain to the U.S. Senate in the 37th Congress. Excerpts of Pastor Sunderland’s introduction was taken from “The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States”