S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Dr. Thomas Chalmers
Nothing seems much clearer than the natural direction of charity. Would we all but relieve, according to the measure of our means, those objects immediately within the range of our personal knowledge, how much of the worst evil of poverty might be alleviated! Very poor people, who are known to us to have been decent, honest, and industrious, when industry was in their power, have a claim on us, founded on our knowledge, and on vicinity and neighbourhood, which have in themselves something sacred and endearing to every good heart. One cannot, surely, always pass by, in his walks for health, restoration, or delight, the lone wayside beggar without occasionally giving him an alms. Old, care-worn, pale, drooping, and emaciated creatures, who pass us by without looking beseechingly at us, or even lifting up their eyes from the ground, cannot often be met with without exciting an interest in us for their silent and unobtrusive sufferings or privations. A hovel, here and there, round and about our own comfortable dwelling, attracts our eyes by some peculiar appearance of penury, and we look in, now and then, upon its inmates, cheering their cold gloom with some small benefaction. These are duties all men owe to distress: they are easily discharged; and even such tender mercies are twice blessed.
In the wildest anarchy of mans insurgent appetites and sins, there is still a reclaiming voice; a voice which, even when in practice disregarded, it is impossible not to own; and to which, at the very moment that we refuse our obedience, we find that we cannot refuse the homage of what ourselves do feel and acknowledge to be the best, the highest principles of our nature.
I have no sympathy whatever with those who would grudge our workmen and our common people the very highest acquisitions which their taste, or their time, or their inclinations, would lead them to realize; for next to the salvation of their souls, I certainly say that the object of my fondest aspirations is the moral and intellectual, and, as a sure consequence of this, the economical, advancement of the working classes,the one object which of all others in the wide range of political speculation is the one which should be the dearest to the heart of every philanthropist and every patriot.
Oftentimes, in contemplating the history of this empire; the greatness of its power; the peculiarity of its condition; its vast extent,one arm resting on the East, the other on the West; its fleets riding proudly on every sea; its name and majesty on every shore; the individual energy of its people; their noble institutions, and, above all, their reformed faith,we are tempted to think that Heavens high Providence has yet in store for us some high and arduous calling.
There is a set of people whom I cannot bearthe pinks of fashionable propriety,whose every word is precise, and whose every movement is unexceptionable, but who, though versed in all the categories of polite behaviour, have not a particle of soul or cordiality about them. We allow that their manners may be abundantly correct. There may be eloquence in every gesture, and gracefulness in every position; not a smile out of place, and not a step that would not bear the measurement of the severest scrutiny. This is all very fine: but what I want is the heart and gaiety of social intercourse; the frankness that spreads ease and animation around it; the eye that speaks affability to all, that chases timidity from every bosom, and tells every man in the company to be confident and happy. This is what I conceive to be the virtue of the text, and not the sickening formality of those who walk by rule, and would reduce the whole of human life to a wire-bound system of misery and constraint.
Tell us, ye men who are so jealous of right and of honour, who take sudden fire at every insult, and suffer the slightest imagination of anothers contempt, or anothers unfairness, to chase from your bosom every feeling of complacency; ye men whom every fancied affront puts in such a turbulence of emotion, and in whom every fancied infringement stirs up the quick and the resentful appetite for justice, how will you stand the rigorous application of that test by which the forgiven of God are ascertained, even that the spirit of forgiveness is in them, and by which it will be pronounced whether you are, indeed, the children of the Highest, and perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect?
Thousands of men breathe, move, and live, pass off the stage of life, and are heard of no more. Why? they do not partake of good in the world, and none were blessed by them; none could point to them as the means of their redemption; not a line they wrote, not a word they spake, could be recalled; and so they perished: their light went out in darkness, and they were not remembered more than insects of yesterday. Will you thus live and die, O man immortal? Live for something. Do good, and leave behind you a monument of virtue that the storm of time can never destroy. Write your name, in kindness, love, and mercy, on the hearts of thousands you come in contact with year by year: you will never be forgotten. No! your name, your deeds, will be as legible on the hearts you leave behind you as the stars on the brow of evening. Good deeds will shine as the stars of heaven.
That balancing moment at which pleasure would allure, and conscience is urging us to refrain, may be regarded as the point of departure or divergency whence one or other of the two processes (towards evil, or towards good) take their commencement. Each of them consists in a particular succession of ideas, with their attendant feelings; and whichever of them may happen to be described once has, by the law of suggestion, the greater chance, in the same circumstances, of being described over again. Should the mind dwell on an object of allurement, and the considerations of principle not be entertained, it will pass inward from the first incitement to the final and guilty indulgence by a series of stepping-stones, each of which will present itself more readily in future, and with less chance of arrest or interruption by the suggestions of conscience than before.
But should these suggestions be admitted, and, far more, should they prevail, then, on the principle of association, will they be all the more apt to intervene on the repetition of the same circumstances, and again break that line of continuity, which, but for this intervention, would have led from a temptation to a turpitude or a crime. If, on the occurrence of a temptation, formerly conscience did interpose, and represent the evil of a compliance, and so impress the man with a sense of obligation as led him to dismiss the fascinating object from the presence of his mind, or to hurry away from it; the likelihood is, that the recurrence of a similar temptation will suggest the same train of thoughts and feelings, and lead to the same beneficial result; and this is a likelihood ever increasing with every repetition of the process.
The train which would have terminated in a vicious indulgence is dispossessed by the train which conducts to a resolution and an act of virtuous self-denial. The thoughts which tend to awaken emotions and purposes on the side of duty, find readier entrance into the mind; and the thoughts which awaken and urge forward the desire of what is evil, more readily give way. The positive force on the side of virtue is augmented by every repetition of the train which leads to a virtuous determination. The resistance to this force, on the side of vice, is weakened in proportion to the frequency wherewith that train of suggestions which would have led to a vicious indulgence is broken and discomfited. It is thus that, when one is successfully resolute in his opposition to evil, the power of making the achievement, and the facility of the achievement itself, are both upon the increase, and virtue makes double gain to herself by every separate conquest which she may have won. The humbler attainments of moral worth are first mastered and secured, and the aspiring disciple may pass onward, in a career that is quite indefinite, to nobler deeds and nobler sacrifices.
Infidelity gives nothing in return for what it takes away. What, then, is it worth? Everything to be valued has a compensating power. Not a blade of grass that withers, or the ugliest weed that is flung away to rot and die, but reproduces something. Nothing in nature is barren. Therefore, everything that is or seems opposed to nature cannot be true; it can only exist in the shape that a diseased mind imparts to one of its coinages,a mass of base money that wont pass current with any heart that loves truly, or any head that thinks correctly. And infidels are poor sad creatures; they carry about them a load of dejection and desolation, not the less heavy that it is invisible. It is the fearful blindness of the soul.
Every man is a missionary, now and forever, for good or for evil, whether he intends or designs it or not. He may be a blot, radiating his dark influence outward to the very circumference of society; or he may be a blessing, spreading benediction over the length and breadth of the world: but a blank he cannot be. There are no moral blanks; there are no neutral characters. We are either the sower that sows and corrupts, or the light that splendidly illuminates, and the salt that silently operates; but being dead or alive, every man speaks.
It is truly a most Christian exercise to extract a sentiment of piety from the works and appearances of Nature. Our Saviour expatiates on a flower, and draws from it the delightful argument of confidence in God. He gives us to see that taste may be combined with piety, and that the same heart may be occupied with all that is serious in the contemplation of religion, and be, at the same time, alive to the charms and loveliness of Nature.
The brute animals have all the same sensations of pain as human beings, and, consequently, endure as much pain when their body is hurt; but in their case the cruelty of torment is greater, because they have no mind to bear them up against their sufferings, and no hope to look forward to when enduring the last extreme of pain, their happiness consisting entirely in present enjoyment.
The only popularity worth aspiring after is a peaceful popularitythe popularity of the heartthe popularity that is won in the bosom of families and at the side of death-beds. There is another, a high and a far-sounding popularity, which is indeed a most worthless article, felt by all who have it most to be greatly more oppressive than gratifying,a popularity of stare, and pressure, and animal heat, and a whole tribe of other annoyances which it brings around the person of its unfortunate victim,a popularity which rifles home of its sweets, and by elevating a man above his fellows places him in a region of desolation, where the intimacies of human fellowship are unfelt, and where he stands a conspicuous mark for the shafts of malice, and envy, and detraction,a popularity which, with its head among storms, and its feet on the treacherous quicksands, has nothing to lull the agonies of its tottering existence but the hosannahs of a drivelling generation.
The law of habit when enlisted on the side of righteousness not only strengthens and makes sure our resistance to vice, but facilitates the most arduous performances of virtue. The man whose thoughts, with the purposes and doings to which they lead, are at the bidding of conscience, will, by frequent repetition, at length describe the same track almost spontaneously,even as in physical education, things laboriously learnt at the first come to be done at last without the feeling of an effort. And so in moral education every new achievement of principle smooths the way to future achievements of the same kind; and the precious fruit or purchase of each moral virtue is to set us on higher and firmer vantage-ground for the conquests of principle in all time coming.
His eye is upon every hour of my existence. His spirit is intimately present with every thought of my heart. His inspiration gives birth to every purpose within me. His hand impresses a direction on every footstep of my goings. Every breath I inhale is drawn by an energy which God deals out to me.
Dr. Thomas Chalmers: Discourses on Mod. Astron., Disc. III.
In like manner did the King eternal, immortal, and invisible, surrounded as he is with the splendours of a wide and everlasting monarchy, turn him to our humble habitation; and the footsteps of God manifest in the flesh have been on the narrow spot of ground we occupy; and small though our mansion be amid the orbs and the systems of immensity, hither hath the King of glory bent his mysterious way, and entered the tabernacle of men, and in the disguise of a servant did he sojourn for years under the roof which canopies our obscure and solitary world.
Dr. Thomas Chalmers: Discourses on Mod. Astron., Disc. IV.
Amid all that illusion which such momentary visitations of seriousness and of sentiment throw around the character of man, let us never lose sight of the test, that By their fruits ye shall know them. It is not coming up to this test, that you hear and are delighted. It is that you hear and do. This is the ground upon which the reality of your religion is discriminated now; and on the day of reckoning, this is the ground upon which your religion will be judged then; and that award is to be passed upon you which will fix and perpetuate your destiny forever.
Dr. Thomas Chalmers: Discourses on Mod. Astron., Disc. VII.
Tacitus has actually attested the existence of Jesus Christ; the reality of such a personage; his public execution under the administration of Pontius Pilate; the temporary check which this gave to the progress of his religion; its revival a short time after his death; its progress over the land of Judea, and to Rome itself, the metropolis of the empire;all this we have in a Roman historian.
Since the spirit of Lord Bacons philosophy began to be rightly understood, the science of external nature has advanced with a rapidity unexampled in the history of all former ages. The great axiom of his philosophy is so simple in its nature, and so undeniable in its evidence, that it is astonishing how philosophers were so late in acknowledging it, or in being directed by its authority. It is more than two thousand years since the phenomena of external nature were objects of liberal curiosity to speculative and intelligent men: yet two centuries have scarcely elapsed since the true path of investigation has been rightly pursued and steadily persevered in; since the evidence of experience has been received as paramount to every other evidence; or, in other words, since philosophers have agreed, that the only way to learn the magnitude of an object is to measure it, the only way to learn its tangible properties is to touch it, and the only way to learn its visible properties is to look at it.
Dr. Thomas Chalmers: Evidences of Christianity, ch. viii.
That even among the most hackneyed and most hardened of malefactors there is still about them a softer part which will give way to the demonstrations of tenderness; that this one ingredient of a better character is still found to survive the dissipation of all the others, that, fallen as a brother may be from the moralities which at one time adorned him, the manifested good will of his fellow-man still carries a charm and an influence along with it; and that, therefore, there lies in this an operation which, as no poverty can vitiate, so no depravity can extinguish.
Dr. Thomas Chalmers: Sermons on Depravity, Serm. X.