Leonard Bacon (1802-1881) graduated from Yale in 1820. He was minister of the First Church in New York from 1825 through his death. Bacon opposed slavery and supported the Union during the Civil War. This sermon was preached in 1837 in New Haven.
THE PRESENT COMMERCIAL DISTRESS.
THE CENTER CHURCH, NEW HAVEN, MAY 21, 1837,
AND REPEATED, MAY 23.
BY LEONARD BACON.
A few months ago, the unparalleled prosperity of our country was the theme of universal gratulation [feeling of joy]. Such a development of resources, so rapid an augmentation of individual and public wealth, so great a manifestation of the spirit of enterprise, so strong and seemingly rational a confidence in the prospect of unlimited success, were never known before. But how suddenly has all this prosperity been arrested. That confidence, which in modern times, and especially in our own country, is the basis of commercial intercourse, is failing in every quarter; and all the financial interests of the country seem to be convulsed and disorganized. The merchant, whose business is spread out over a wide extent of territory, and who regarding all his transactions as conducted on safe principles, feared no embarrassment, finds his paper evidences of debt, the acceptances and promises which he has received in exchange for his goods, losing their value; and his ability to meet his engagements is at an end. The manufacturer finds the vent for his commodities obstructed,–he finds that his commodities sold in distant parts of the country have been sold for that which is not money; and loss succeeds to loss, till he shuts up his manufactory and dismisses his laborers. The speculator who dreamed himself rich, finds his fancied riches disappearing like an exhalation. Many a laborer who, a year ago, listening to the teachings of those who wanted to use him for their own purposes, felt as if his employers were his oppressors, and s if the rich were the natural enemies of the poor, now finds to his sorrow, that the rich and the poor have one interest, and must prosper or suffer together; and that the impoverishment of capitalists and the ruin of employers is starvation to operatives. The distress already wide-spread, is still spreading; and none, however wise in such things, ventures to predict where or when it will end. Already in many a huge fabric, that but a few days since resounded with the cheerful noise of labor and with the roar of enginery, all is silent as in a deserted city. Already many a great work of public improvement, upon which multitudes were toiling to bring it to the speediest completion, that commerce might rush upon its iron track with wings of fire, is broken off, and stands unfinished, like the work of some great conqueror struck down amidst his victories. Already want, like an armed man, stands at the threshold of many a dwelling, where a few days ago, daily industry brought the supply of daily comforts. Soon, unless God shall send relief, our great cities will echo with human suffering, and then with the rage of men, not only exasperated by finding that which they have received as money, turning to rags in their hands, but driven to desperation by hunger and by the cries of their famishing children. What more may be before us in the progress of God’s judgments—what tumults—what convulsions—what bloody revolutions—we need not now imagine. It is enough to know, that this distress is hourly becoming wider and more intense; and that no political or financial foresight can as yet discover the end.
Amid these present calamities, and these portentous omens of the future, it is not strange that many minds are seeking, and all voices are debating the cause and the remedy. But, in this place, we discuss neither questions of finance nor questions of government. We propose to speak only of the duties connected with the present crisis.
The most obvious of these duties is, devoutly to recognize the hand of God, that brings these calamities upon us. One speaks of the distress as caused by the policy of government; another ascribes it to the measures of financial institutions; another talks of over-production and over-trading. But shall we, in the discussion of second causes, forget that this is God’s judgment upon us—God’s chastisement of our sins? “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?”
There is a peculiarity in this calamity, which perhaps prevents some minds from recognizing the providence of God. We see the springs of industry and enterprise all broken; we see great manufacturing establishments shut up, and the workmen wandering about in quest of employment; we see capitalists made insolvent, and hunger invading the home of the honest laborer; but in all this, we see not the operation of any of the ordinary agents of calamity. It is not war, nor pestilence, nor conflagration, nor tempest, nor the cutting off of the fruits of the earth, nor the drying up of the streams of water, that brings upon us this distress. Yet to a thoughtful mind is there not, even in this absence of God’s ordinary ministers of wrath, a more impressive indication of his presence? We are at peace with all nations; yet here are the commercial embarrassments of war. Health is in all our coasts; yet the laborer leaves his work, and the population of the cities begin to set back upon the country, as if the pestilence were abroad. Our cities stand in their pride of architecture, yet the greatest and richest of them has experienced in the depreciation of lands, buildings, and commodities, losses threefold greater than when her wealth, to the amount of seventeen millions, was destroyed by fire. Our commerce rides upon the ocean in safety, yet every returning vessel brings home, as it were, a freight of bankruptcy. There is a supply of food; yet how many families are there, that see the ghastly visage of famine looking in upon them! Our streams still rush from the hills, and pour through a thousand raceways; but a thousand water-wheels are silent, as if the waters had retired into their caverns. If we see the hand of God in war and pestilence, in fire and tempest and famine,–shall we not much more recognize his presence, when without the intervention of these ordinary instrumentalities, he spreads sudden distress and consternation over all the land?
Another duty connected with the present crisis, is the duty of regarding properly those moral causes which have brought the distress upon us. Attribute this distress to whatever political or financial causes you may, you cannot but believe that it may be traced, directly or indirectly, to certain causes in the moral sentiments and habits of the people. Whatever may be said about excessive importations, or the expansion and contraction of the currency, or arbitrary obstructions in the way of the natural circulation of money, as having occasioned these embarrassments, every thinking man—every man whose thoughts recognize the government of God—must feel that there are causes of entirely another order. He whose providence has permitted these evils to take place, does all things well. It is for the sins of this people, that calamity and fear have so suddenly come upon them.
What are the particular sins which a righteous Providence is now visiting upon this people? There is sometimes presumption in saying, that a particular calamity is sent in judgment for this or that particular sin. When an individual is stripped of his possessions by fire or tempest, or by the fraud or failure of others, we cannot of course point to any particular cause in him, and say, Here is the sin for which God is now visiting that man with these afflictions. When pestilence breathes over some mighty city, and thousands are swept to their graves, we cannot always say for what specific and characteristic sins of that city, God sends his destroying angel. But when we see a manifest connection between the sin and the calamity; when poverty overtakes the gamester or the sluggard; when disease torments the drunkard or the libertine; when the parent, who would not restrain his son from evil, is cursed with a son whose crimes bring down that parent’s gray hairs with sorrow to the grave; who can doubt what sin is the moral cause of the affliction? So when, in some great city of a Christian land, the Sabbath, and the institutions of public worship, and the means of religious instruction and restraint, are openly held in contempt, and the people, comparing themselves with other communities, glory in their bad pre-eminence,–if we see in that city a dreadful prevalence of assassination and robbery, and of all the evils involved in a universal corruption of morals, we need no prophet to show us the connection between the moral cause and the retributive effect. Or if a nation which has poured out its armies upon one peaceful country and another, finds the tide of war turned backward—its own fair harvests trampled under the march of invasion, its armies defeated on their native soil, its homes violated, and its proud capital once and again in the possession of its enemies—we cannot refuse to see that there is a God who judgeth the nations righteously, and who makes himself known in the earth by the judgments which he executeth.
In looking, then, for the moral causes of the present affliction, we are to be guided by the visible connection between the affliction and the moral sentiments and habits of the people. Who can be at a loss in tracing such a connection?
Who doubts, that we are now, as a people, experiencing God’s visitation upon that madness of making haste to be rich, by which we are so eminently characterized? In this country, we have succeeded to a great extent in annihilating those distinctions which in other countries check somewhat the pride of wealth, and the fever of acquisition. True, there is yet in New England, and where New England principles still linger, some deference to intelligence and personal worth; but to how great an extent is it a matter of fact in the United States, that the only distinction sought or envied, is the distinction conferred by wealth. The distinction naturally connected with illustrious parentage, we have not only guarded against abuse, but have diligently abolished. The distinctions which belong to great exploits or noble actions, to profound knowledge or brilliant discoveries, are all assiduously assailed and leveled. The honors of magistracy and government have faded in the eyes of the people, and are no longer objects of desire; office is sought for rather because of its emoluments, than because of its dignities. In the attempt to do away all distinctions, and to force men to one level, we have come near to making riches the only object of competition or desire. Thus it is, that in this country, the love of money, that root of all evil—the fever of avaricious and grasping desires—the recklessness of adventure—and the arrogance of successful accumulation, have attained a strength and predominancy unequaled, perhaps, in all the world besides. To acquire riches, seems to thousands upon thousands the chief end of man. To be rich is, in their estimation, the highest felicity. No endowment of the mind, no skill or knowledge, whether from nature or from education, seems great to them, save as it may be turned to account in getting rich. No attainment or possession is valuable in their eyes, save as it has an exchangeable value in the market.
Naturally, connected with this universal and engrossing love of money, is the desire and hope of acquiring wealth, without helping to create it, and the effort to get possession of wealth by other methods than those of productive industry and skill. By this, I mean what is commonly called speculation, as opposed to honest enterprise. The difference between the traffic of the honorable merchant and the art of the mere speculator, is wide as heaven. The merchant whose business is to transfer commodities from the producer to the consumer, gives an augmented value to the commodities thus transferred, and has an equitable title to the value created by his skill, his capital, and his labor. The mere speculator, on the other hand, renders no actual service to the community. His whole art is to get possession of commodities at one price, and to get rid of the same commodities at a higher price, without any corresponding augmentation of their value. The mere speculator, whose only capital is his acquaintance with the arts of panic and excitement, whose hopes of success depend on the skill with which he calculates the expansibility of a bubble and the chances of its bursting, is twin-brother to the gambler. Now, in what degree the entire traffic of this country, for the past three years, has been prosecuted on the plan of acquiring wealth without aiding in the production of wealth—let others tell. How few there are, who have not paid in the augmented price of almost every article, whether of subsistence or of luxury, a tax for the support of speculation, and for the encouragement of the art of controlling the market—let others tell. It is enough for our present purpose, to remember, that the country has been full of the most extravagant schemes, and agitated with the most extravagant hopes, of sudden and vast accumulation; and that this has necessarily been accompanied with a melancholy (we need not say universal) relaxation of the bonds of integrity. What usurious exactions—what fraudulent negotiations—what conspiracies to swindle—what forgeries before unheard of—has this country witnessed, within a few months past!
Of this reckless haste to be rich, this epidemic fever to be rich by sudden speculation, and the consequent departures from uprightness in commercial transactions, the whole land is now reaping the fruits, in the present visitation of a retributive providence. This is the most obvious of the moral causes of that universal embarrassment, which not only terrifies the capitalist, the merchant, and the artisan, with the stoppage of all business, but threatens the nation and the government with universal bankruptcy.
Another of the pecuniary causes of this common adversity, may be seen in those luxurious and profligate habits of expenditure, which have so rapidly become characteristic of our whole country. As a people, we have gone mad with our sudden prosperity; and, fancying it to be far greater than the reality, we have introduced from older and more profligate countries, habits of luxury ill suited to our republican state of society. To be rich—to seem rich—to live in the style of princely riches—has been the grand objet with myriads of our citizens. In the great cities, among those who are rich, or who would be thought rich, there has been a mode of living in respect to furniture, equipage, apparel, eating, and drinking, and the giving of entertainments, more suited to the character of the idle, oppressive, worn-out aristocracy of Europe, born to consume without earning, and to wear without winning, than to the more honorable character of American citizens, born to no hereditary distinctions, generally beginning life with few resources out of themselves, and compelled to be the artificers of their own fortunes. From that class of families in our great cities, who have learned to spend from $15,000 to $30,000 yearly, the fashion of extravagant living has spread through almost every class, and over the whole land, till we are no longer worthy to be recognized as the countrymen of Franklin. The wealth lavished upon articles of dress, which add nothing to health, to comfort, or even to dignity or beauty of personal appearance—the still greater wealth vested in articles of costly furniture, which answer no purpose of convenience or rational enjoyment—the untold riches which have been consumed in that yet lower form of luxury, the luxury of the table—would go far to relieve the country of its financial embarrassments. The wine-drinking of this country, without taking any thing else into the calculation—the wine-drinking which, with the drinkers, is so often more a matter of pride and fashion, than a matter of sensual indulgence—the wine-drinking upon which money is squandered as if for the mere sake of waste and ruin—is enough to bring poverty upon thousands. Many a man there is, whose creditors would rejoice to see the money which he has expended upon Champaign at two dollars a bottle.
In brief, the whole country has been living not only “up to the means,” but “beyond the means.” The man who was in the midst of his speculations and adventures, has presumed upon his success as if it were infallible—has begun to expend his expected riches in advance—has set up his equipage, and spread his sideboard and his tables with plate, while as yet he was rich only in projects and prospectuses. Old fashioned frugality has gone out of fashion; and the honesty that scrupled about spending money before earning it, is regarded as a narrow parsimony. And in connection with these luxurious and reckless habits of expenditure, there has of course been a rapid deterioration of morals. Not to speak of the tendency of such habits to frivolity, to the destruction of dignified and manly sentiments in the public mind, and to the practice of dishonorable artifices to maintain the style of wealth, these habits of expenditure pervading the country, can no more be separated from the wide prevalence of intemperance and licentiousness, and of a passion for the most corrupting amusements, than the habit of acquiring wealth by adroit or gambling speculations, can be separated from the prevalence of dishonest maxims and practices in business.
Is there any presumption in saying, that for this sin, a righteous Providence is now visiting the country with chastisement? Is not the connection between our present distress and this, as one of the moral causes of the distress, too obvious to be disputed? The Judge of all the earth is teaching us, by a severe discipline, that a far slenderer expenditure for the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is adequate to all the reasonable wants of human nature.
One most alarming feature of the madness which has filled the country in respect to both the acquisition and the use of wealth, is the fact, that the conservative energy of religion has not been exerted as it ought to have been. Indeed, so far as the acquisition of riches is concerned, and the estimation to be put upon riches, religion itself seems to have caught the spirit of the times. You find men of high religious professions, among the foremost in the pursuit of wealth—not merely serving God and their generation in the ways of honest, productive industry, and receiving, to hold and to use as the stewards of God, whatever of gain his providence may distribute to them—but rushing headlong in the wild scramble of speculation, and justifying it all to their own conscience, and to the friends who behold them with fear, by the plea, that thus they are to acquire the means of great usefulness, and to do much for the kingdom of Christ. Nay, we have seen religious institutions of no small name and credit in the religious world—colleges and theological seminaries, of a peculiar adaptedness to the spirit and wants of the age—embarking with all the credit of their sanctity, and inviting thousands to embark with them in the name of God, upon the uncertain sea of traffic in the wild lands, and in the building lots of cities yet to be. So in respect to expenditure, has there not been, on the part of those who profess to shine as lights in the world, a most mischievous conformity to the extravagance and selfishness around them? They have given, out of their abundance, some portion indeed, for great and good purposes; but how much more have they given to luxury and splendor in living. Have they, in practice, borne any energetic testimony against the epidemic madness, of supposing that to enjoy the splendor and the self-indulgence of wealth, is the highest happiness. Alas for the cause of uprightness, purity, contentment, and godliness, when the salt of the earth has lost its saltness. Is it not time for God to appear against us in chastisement, to touch with his power the prosperity that has infatuated us, to dispel our delirious visions, and to scatter our riches, like chaff upon the wind?
Though these are the most obvious among the moral causes of our present calamities, we are by no means, to consider these as all. Is there not also a cause to be seen, in the want of a true and intelligent patriotism?
To multitudes, the mere propounding of this question may seem like an insult upon the public spirit of the nation. What! Are we not a nation of patriots? Bear witness the debates and hot contentions in the Capitol. Bear witness the daily declamations and discussions of the press. Bear witness the rush of eager thousands to the ballot boxes. Bear witness the agitations which, at every election, shake the community as with the throes of dissolution. What is all this but patriotism?
The answer is easy. Of false, affected patriotism, the thin disguise of selfishness and base ambition, there is more than enough. Of blind, misguided, patriotic passion, there is no lack. But what we need, is true and intelligent patriotism,–the patriotism which, rising above all selfish and factious views, seeks, with simplicity of aim, the public welfare—the patriotism which, guided by the same common sense that is ordinarily employed in respect to other interests, is willing to commit the public welfare to men honest enough and wise enough to be trusted; and then is willing to treat them with the respectful confidence due to men of superior wisdom and unstained integrity, in the administration of so great a trust.
Instead of this, the patriotism of the present day is—what? First, the whole country is divided into organized parties, to one or the other of which every citizen is summoned to attach himself, under the penalty of being denounced on all sides as indifferent to the public welfare. Every citizen is to choose only to which side he will attach himself; and thenceforward his political duty is summed up in acting with and for his party. His duty, as invested with the right of suffrage, is to vote for the candidates agreed upon in the party conventions,–candidates, selected not for their capacity or integrity, but with a leading or exclusive reference to their “availability.” Thus citizens in all other respects conscientious, will give their suffrages and their influence to place in high stations, men whom they would not trust with the guardianship of their children, or of their estates; nay, whom they would not admit to the privilege of friendship or society in their families.
Next, it is made an established principle, that whichever party is successful in an election, is to seize immediately upon every office and every lucrative contract in the gift of the government, as their lawful and exclusive possession, sweeping from all places of emolument in the public service, every incumbent who is not a co-partizan with them. No party is ever in the minority, which does not complain of this proscription. No party fails to practice the same proscription, whenever it becomes the majority. And the question in regard to a candidate for any office in the gift of the government, is not simply the question of his fitness or merit, but includes, as of primary if not paramount importance, the inquiry, what he has done, or will do, or can do, for the party? Thus it has become by common practice, if not by common avowal, a part of the patriotism of the day, to use all the patronage of the government, in the nation, in the state, and in every municipality, as belonging to the machinery of political influence,–in other words, for the purpose of political corruption.
Nor is this all. The government, not only in its distribution of patronage, but in all its measures, is expected to be administered, as far as practicable, with a chief regard to the continued ascendancy of the party in power, which is assumed to be the only means of saving the county. Those entrusted with the government, know that their power has been committed to them, not by the people for the public good, but by an organized faction of the people, for the benefit of that faction. They know full well, that every measure of theirs, however wise or patriotic, will of course be misrepresented and opposed by those of the opposing faction; and they have no choice but either to abdicate their power, or to wield it for the uses and at the dictation of the party that gave it to their keeping. Thus, whatever may be the changes of party ascendancy, we are doomed to behold, in the places once made illustrious by the Trumbulls, the Shermans, the Jays, and the Washington of elder and better times, men who, whatever may be their talents or their virtues, are there only as the heads, perhaps only as the tools, of a triumphant faction.
Now, that there is a connection between the present distress and what is called the politics of the country, is admitted, nay, stoutly asserted, on all sides. The question between the parties is, which is to bear the blame,–whether the party of the government, or the party which has labored to expose the measures of the government to odium? It is not for us here to adjust so great a controversy. But let every man who believes that there is a God presiding over the nations, judge for himself, whether that God is not now visiting us for the sin of having perverted the natural and healthy love of country, into the baseness and selfishness of party spirit.
Another of the moral causes of the present embarrassment—and one which ought not to be overlooked—may be sufficiently indicated by a few easy questions. In what part of our country did this distress begin? Where is it felt with the heaviest pressure? Where is it, that the depreciation of all kinds of property has been most rapid and fatal? It is just where the soil, cultivated by the reluctant toil of slaves, yields its abundant products into hands unhardened by labor. It is just where the laborer, contrary to the law of nature, has no interest in the productiveness of his own strength and skill; and where the revenues of successful enterprise, instead of being distributed naturally, and according to the equitable arrangements of God’s wisdom, between the adventurer and the laborer, are all given to the adventurer, while the laborer gets little else than his coarse food and scanty clothing. While the staple of that great region was sold in the markets of Europe and America at extravagant prices, wealth poured in upon the planters like a deluge; and the privilege of participating in that wealth by traffic, begat in other parts of the country a propensity to overlook that grand iniquity. In the hot blood of their prosperity, and provoked by undiscriminating denunciations and unwise proceedings, the people there have announced to their countrymen and to the world, the atrocious determination to uphold their system of slavery forever. They have demanded, that to the maintenance of that system, the liberty of the press, the liberty of speech and discussion, and the liberty of voluntary association for purposes not unlawful, shall be sacrificed. They have demanded, that mobs, trampling down order and law, shall suppress such discussions and associations as bear unfavorably upon that system. And—shame to human nature!—men have been found, who, breathing our free air, and walking among our fathers’ graves, have been ready to give to such demands an approving answer. “This slavery,” we are told, “is no concern of ours, and none among us has a right to speak of it:”—as if we were not “born of woman”—as if the blood in our veins were not kindred to human nature. No concern of ours! Providence is teaching us another lesson. Those who cannot feel the tie of brotherhood, that binds them alike to the lordliest oppressor and the meanest of his slaves, may be touched where they can feel. Ask the merchant and the manufacturer, whose drafts come back dishonored, and who are themselves made bankrupt, because slaves have fallen to one sixth of their last year’s price—ask them, and ask their creditors, if we have no concern with slavery.
There is probably no hazard in saying, that God has now commenced his own measures for the abolition of slavery; and that while he has permitted the violence of the oppressor so to rage as to prove itself stark madness, and while the weakness and hopelessness of mere human endeavors have been strikingly manifested, he, in the slow and silent arrangements of his own providence, has been preparing for the overthrow of the system. The great staple of the slaveholding region, which by its high price has been the sole support of slaveholding prosperity, has suddenly fallen to a price better corresponding with the necessary cost of its production. The first consequence is such a depression in the price of slaves, as cannot fail, if it continues, “to purge out the beam” in the eye of the slaveholder, which has so long made it hard for him “to see clearly” the moral wrong of slavery. Let the present prices continue for a twelvemonth, and the chains of the enslaved will already have begun to fall off. The Judge of all the earth, who might have vindicated the oppressed, and avenged their wrongs, by invasion from abroad, or by disunion and civil war, or by domestic insurrection, seems to be proceeding to the same end, by a gentler, yet perhaps not less effectual method of chastisement. The first strokes of that chastisement fall, as is meet, upon all the land. The merchant princes of Pearl street, and the mechanic princes of New England, share in the adversity, as they have shared in the prosperity and the sin.
This duty, then, of properly regarding the moral causes of our common distress, is among the most imperious of the duties specially connected with this crisis. I have dwelt upon it at greater length, because of its elementary importance. “Shall a trumpet be blown in a city, and the people not be afraid.” In view of the general calamity, whether you feel it heavily in your own affairs or not, inquire before God, what has been your individual participation in the sins that are now visited upon this whole people.
The time will allow us only to throw out, more hastily, some additional suggestions of duty. Patience under the chastising hand of God is not to be forgotten; and the perception of the agency of God in this distress, and the remembrance of the sins for which the distress is sent, are thoughts well suited to arm the mind for patience. One of the greatest dangers of the time is the danger of tumult and violence, the danger that distress may produce exasperation against those with whose agency the distress happens to be associated, and that exasperation may proceed to outrage; and then, that the first act of outrage, the first movement of force against existing laws and constituted authorities, may be the opening of the flood-gates of insurrection and roaring anarchy. Patience under these calamities, as laid upon us for our sins by a righteous God, ought to be the temper of every citizen. Every word of recklessness, every thought that looks towards desperate remedies, must e carefully suppressed. Every proposal to proceed against the laws, either violently or with measures which lead to violence, ought to be met with indignation, as the proposal of an incendiary. We have much to suffer; let everyone beware, lest by his impatience under the hand of God, he do something to augment the guilt for which we suffer, or the calamities which that guilt has brought upon us.
Equally important is the duty of kindness towards those who suffer. There has already been much of forbearance on the part of creditors towards their debtors. This is well, and, so far as it goes, it augurs well for the result. Let this forbearance cease to be exercised, let creditors begin to enforce their claims without favor or compromise, and society might be speedily disorganized. But the exercise of such kindness alone, will not save us. It is easy for bank directors to exercise forbearance towards the merchant, whose notes they have discounted. It is easy for the merchant, in his turn, to exercise forbearance towards those who are indebted to him. But all this does not meet the wants of unemployed laborers and unprovided families. So far as is possible, employment and wages must be given to the unemployed. But employment or no employment, the hungry must have bread. Let all who have any means of relieving the needy, remember, that when business stagnates, and capital vanishes, and enterprise is broken down, the poor are multiplied, and their sufferings must be relieved, or suffering will beget despair.
Another duty connected with these times, is the duty of seriously regarding those undertakings of associated benevolence, which aim at the extension of Christ’s kingdom and the salvation of the world. The enterprising spirit of Christians in this country has engaged, with great zeal and great resources, in works of far reaching benevolence. These works, and the contributions for their support, have expanded from year to year, not indeed in just proportion to the increase of our wealth as a nation, and the expansion of our resources, but with at least so much of a steady progression as seemed to give some good assurance of the future. But now has come a time of trial. Many a man of wealth, who gave his thousands, has no longer his thousands to give. Many a man of comfortable independence finds his income cut off. All feel the pressure which summons them to diminish their expenditures. Retrenchment is to be the order of the day. But where shall this retrenchment begin in your case? With your vanities and your self-indulgencies, or with your charities? With your dress, your furniture, your costly entertainments, or with your contributions to enlighten the ignorant, and to make known the glory of your Redeemer?
I will not say, that this is a time for the commencement of new enterprises, or for the rapid extension of those already in progress. I will not say, that this is a time to make large endowments for the use of future generations, and to build up colleges and institutes at the west or at the east. But I ask, shall the men who, fearless of the perils that awaited them, have gone to heathen nations in the name of Christ, relying on the churches at home to sustain them,–be now compelled to sit down helpless, and see the ruin of their fair beginnings? Shall the men who are reclaiming the waste and wilderness places of our own land, be compelled to retreat for the lack of food and raiment? Shall the young men who, at the call of Christian zeal, have devoted themselves to the work of the gospel, trusting in the churches to bring them forward, give up their cherished hopes and turn back to engage in secular employments? Other enterprises, perhaps, may stand still for a season, if need be, without catastrophe. But one year of the abandonment of these labors, one year of the recalling and disbanding of men once enlisted for life, would be the loss of ground which might not be recovered in a century.
Finally, the great lesson to be thoroughly learned at this crisis, is, that there are better things than riches, and that those are things which riches cannot buy. Health—who would intelligently exchange so common a blessing as health for riches? Health, a mind contented in its own humility, affection, enlargement of soul by knowledge and manly thought, a good conscience, peace with God by the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit, the bright and tranquil hope of heaven, joy in sorrow, glorying in tribulation, life in death—these are things which no wealth can buy. He who has these things, can easily dispense with riches. In comparison with these things, what are all the gold and gems that glitter in the treasuries of kings?
Yet such is the madness of men, that for a little wealth they part with health, with contentment, with the sweetness of pure affection, with multiplied means and opportunities of mental cultivation, with a good conscience, with the love of God, with the friendship of the Savior, with happiness on earth, and happiness in heaven. They lay up their dear-bought riches; and lo! Their wealth dissolves in smoke, and they are poor indeed.
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Trust not in uncertain riches. Godliness with contentment is great gain. No good thing will God withhold from them that walk uprightly.