Abram Newkirk Littlejohn.

Individualism : its growth and tendencies, with some suggestions as to the remedy for its evils ; sermons preached before the University of Cambridge in November, 1880 online

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Online LibraryAbram Newkirk LittlejohnIndividualism : its growth and tendencies, with some suggestions as to the remedy for its evils ; sermons preached before the University of Cambridge in November, 1880 → online text (page 1 of 11)
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Cfocse Sermons are ^ffectumatelg






GENERAL aim of these Sermons The status of the Individual in
anfient life His status in modern life The vast change Chris-
tianity preeminently influential in effecting it The three periods
in the history of Individualism Causes which, in our time, have
stimulated the growth of Individualism Diffusion of political
power Advance of knowledge Eapid growth of wealth Enlarged
control of the powers of nature The age one of transition
Consequent instability of popular convictions, and detachment of
the Individual from the settled traditions of the past The
Individual reason lifted more and more into the place of the
collective, continuous judgment of mankind Tendencies (1) as
seen in the character of individuals and in the general character of
the time (2) Their influence on Morality (3) Their influence as it
affects the Faith, Ordinances, Worship and Polity of the Church
(4) Their influence hostile to the Traditions of the race (5) Have
helped to establish the absolutism of Public Opinion (6) In
sympathy with the two leading phases of Modern Socialism (7)
The tendencies of Individualism illustrated by the present con-
dition and prospects of the Art-work, the Art-impulse of the time.

Pages 166.



The duty devolved upon the teachers and representatives of
Christianity The difficulty and urgency of the Church's work in
dealing with the problems presented by the threatened excess of

viii Contents,

Individualism Branches of Christendom disqualified for the task
The teaching demanded must, by the use of Counter Truths, (1)
assail the core of Individualism, its pride and self-sufficiency (2)
Deliver a clearer and stronger message in regard to the value and
uses of purely intellectual power (3) Moderate the cherished hopes
of the time touching the results which are to spring from vast
colonizing movements, the founding of new states and the develop-
ment of industrial and commercial resources &c. (4) Show that
the various forms in which Political power has been and still
continues to be diffused are experiments, whose final issue yet
remains to be determined That the Democratic current has its
hidden rocks and shoals (5) The teaching required to develop and
apply the Counter Truths supplied within the domain (1) of
Theology (2) of Philosophy. Pages 67133.



The more advanced views now entertained respecting the
supremacy of the individual over all external organizations The
prevalence of these views Some of their consequences Organic
life, as existing in the Family, the State, and the Church,
defined The Family as related to the individual Its authority
Its sacredness How it rules and how it serves the individual The
State as related to the individual It has wider aims than those
immediately connected with the individual The development of the
individual not its exclusive object Though political in form and
spirit, the State is an integral part of the world's moral order
Its service for the race The great treasure-house of the results of
human labor in every department of effort The same line of
thought pursued with regard to the Church Its organization not
a mere construction, but an outgrowth from the Divine purpose
Not made by individuals Not a voluntary society Therefore not
subordinated to the will of the individual It has ends beyond the
salvation of the individual Conclusion. Pages 134178.



PSALM vm. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Lord our Governor, how excellent is thy name in

all the earth! When I consider thy heavens,

the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars,
which thou hast ordained ; What is man, that thou
art mindful of him? and the son of man, that
thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a
little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him
with glory and honor. Thou madest him to have
dominion over the works of thy hands ; thou hast
put all things under his feet.

THIS Psalm, in magnifying God's glory by His works
and by His love to man, describes the latter as he
was originally created, and as he will be again when
the Mediatorial work of Christ shall be accomplished.
Though every man's probation may be complete in

L. S. 1


itself, yet the result of it, as exhibited in the average
character of the individual, is still only the prophecy,
not the verification, of his promised oneness with God
and the consequent restoration of his lost perfection.
However far he may be from the final goal, it is
certain that he has grown to be a much larger figure
than he once was, as compared with the bulk of
human life, or with the life of institutions ordained
of God for his guidance and discipline. On all sides
the individual has been so much widened and
deepened as, now and then, to tempt him to ques-
tion the lawful authority of those institutions.

In other times the origin, the mutual relations,
the rightful functions of the Family, the State, and
the Church have been abundantly discussed. But
now there are many circumstances, of which none can
be ignorant, which prove that the time has come
when we must give, not less thought, indeed, to these
forms of organic life, but more to the individual.
His relations to the external powers working upon
him are gradually shifting, and in such ways as to
assure him of a constantly increasing prominence in
the future. It is of moment, therefore, that we
should seek to define, as clearly as possible, his due

Its Growth and Tendencies.

place and influence, to restore where it has been lost,
and to preserve where it still exists, the equilibrium
between his own life and a life larger than his own.

The development of the individual has been at
once a cause and an effect of the progress of the race.
The two facts have been correlative and inseparable.
In %he early stages of society and even in the most
advanced ones of the ancient life there was no true
idea of man, as man. " He belonged not to himself
and had no independent, substantive existence*." The
monarch owned the subject, the father the son, the
husband the wife, the master the slave; and so
absolute was the ownership that it excluded even the
vaguest notion of the jus naturale of the individual,
as we understand it. Everywhere and in all relations
"he was simply the function of another's will, the
appendage to outward authority." If his life or his
property was wanted for any purpose whether of war,
or of peace, or for the altars of religion, both were
taken without a thought of wrong. And when all
might be taken what was left was regarded in the
light of a concession or privilege. The patriarch's
only struggle when about to sacrifice Isaac was with

* See opening pages of Dr Mozley's "Buling Ideas," &c.



natural affection, not with any scruples as to his
right to do so. "That children should share their
parent's guilt and punishment was recognized by the
civil law of all ancient Eastern life as a sound judicial
principle." Sparta did not hesitate to destroy the
infirm infants born within its borders, but considered
itself as having an unchallenged right to do as it
pleased in this and in all kindred matters involving
the disposal of human life. Even Roman law, so
much lauded for its enlightened spirit in dealing with
personal property, never rose above the average pagan
idea in regard to the higher question of the ownership
of man by man. Such was the fact, and the other note-
worthy fact going with it was that no form of the an-
cient life had in itself any available power to make it
otherwise. Neither its religious, nor its social organiza-
tions, nor its political policies formally and consciously
attempted to do so. The last chapters of the old
Asiatic and of the old Greek and Roman civilizations
closed with substantially the same teaching and the
same practice on this subject as had been exhibited
by the earliest. Now if we were required to name
the one most salient and characteristic difference
between the ancient and the modern life, we should

Its Growth and Tendencies. 5

undoubtedly find it in their respective notions as to
the individuality of man. A vast change has been
accomplished, and, whatever other agencies may have
cooperated to bring it about, Christianity, beyond
all question, supplied the principles that originated
it and the most potent of the instrumentalities by
wjiich those principles were enabled, however slowly,
to assert their practical supremacy. To show how
Christianity achieved this greatest of revolutions
would be to describe Christianity itself its view of
man as made in the image of God, the seminal
principle of our substantive, human personality its
doctrine of God in Christ coming in the fulness of
time to recover the lost glory of that image by
making man a partaker of His own life, and so an
heir of immortality its offer of redemption to all
men without respect of persons or of the accidents of
human lot its message of universal brotherhood
resting upon the revealed purpose of God that all
men should be gathered into one fold and under one
Shepherd its declaration of a judgment to come
wherein every man will be judged according to his
work ; and, finally, its own life-power from what-
ever source drawn, incorporated into a visible, historic


kingdom, and through that moving upon the king-
doms of this world and leavening all social and
political institutions : not scattering the truths
entrusted to it at random as winds and waters
scatter the seed thrown out upon them ; but sending
them out from its own heart in well denned and
orderly currents of power, through the lips of duly
commissioned ministers, through offices of worship,
through Sacraments and a positive discipline over
human wills and consciences. It was not the Gospel
merely as truth, or spirit, or energy, or influence, but
the embodied Gospel, Christianity organized, the
very Church of the living God that, in respect of the
great principle of man's individuality, lifted the world
"into another orbit and rolled it along another
course." I emphasize the fact in this connection for
a reason that will be seen further on. The indi-
vidual is no larger to day in the estimation of
Christianity, than he was when it first began to
propagate the principles that, more than all else,
have made man what he is in modern society. For
well nigh eighteen centuries it preached and
laboured to accomplish this, among other and, in
view of eternity, more important results ; but it has

Its Growth and Tendencies.

been only within the present century that our
civilization has accepted it in its integrity, and then
only after revolutions and upheavals which shook
modern life to its centre. This gradual falling into
line with Christianity this slowly developed and
now almost complete accord with the Church re-
specting the intrinsic value and self-centred life of
the individual is now the vaunted characteristic of
the more advanced social and political ethics of our
time. The thought and practice, however, of the
leading races of the world to-day have yet scarcely
labored up to the original standpoint of the Church
of Christ. It is beginning to be seen and to be
generally admitted that the more aggressive, if not
the more highly developed forms of modern life, are
democratic in their tendency. What is yet only a
tendency in England and in most other countries of
the Continent is an accomplished fact among fifty
millions of people across the sea. The genius and
aims of Democracy may, in some quarters, excite
grave apprehension and very justly, because, like all
new forces, it will be inclined to extremes and
develop more or less licence and disorder. But at its
core one great idea is planted, one great impulse is

8 Individualism.

struggling for mastery; and that idea is the majesty
of the individual that impulse is to make the most
of the individual. What history proves to be true of
every principle that has acquired a more or less
durable sovreignty over mankind in any sphere of
life, will no doubt prove true of the Democratic
principle. Long checked, repressed, often crushed by
institutions and organizations which, however un-
wisely administered, always recognized as part of
their raison d'etre the education of man as man, the
individual has at last moved up to the front and is
rapidly advancing toward a position where he will be
strongly tempted to overrate himself, and corre-
spondingly to underrate what is external to himself,
whether it be the truth and grace of God, or the
established institutions of Society, the State and the
Church. One period in the history of Individualism
that of its outgrowth, is now well nigh finished. To
this will succeed that of its exaggeration the period
which, if not coincident with, at least overlaps the
present generation. After this will follow the period
of distortion and abuse running out, at last, into
eclipses of reason and conscience, and into disruptions
and anarchies of every name ; and finally into reac-

Its Groivth and Tendencies.

tions toward a recovery of the lost balance between
the personal and impersonal, the subjective and
objective, the individual and the organic body
whether social, political, or ecclesiastical. Now if it
be true that our time is to witness the exaggeration
of the relative importance of the individual, it is of
grave moment that we should watch closely this drift
of the age, and examine under the best light we have
not only the evident symptoms of its power, but also
some of the more unwholesome fruits which it has
already produced : and then if we can, indicate the

Whatever these fruits are, we should not be
surprised at them. Their growth has been neither
sudden nor mysterious. Causes have been at work to
produce them which lie out on the surface of life.
What wonder that the individual should be tempted
into undue self-assertion, when we consider how many
things have helped to exalt him in his own esti-
mation. The wider and wider diffusion of political
power has taught him that the ballot is mightier
than the bayonet and that rulers and parliaments
can no longer permanently resist his will. Know-
ledge has rapidly advanced, and the misfortune is

io Individualism*

that he has just enough of it to engender pride and
not enough to teach humility. Wealth, too, has grown
so fast as to breed a greedy lust for the power which
it creates, as well as a passionate thirst for the
comfort and ease that follow in its wake. While
physical science has turned over to him without
reserve or qualification its own immensely enlarged
control of nature's powers. But stronger, perhaps,
than anything else working in this direction is the
now popular view of the age as one of flux and
transition. Apparently, nothing is sure of continuing
long in one stay. It is said that we are breaking
away from the old anchorages, and that the new
ones have not yet been found. A "thaw", we are
told, has begun in Theology which threatens to relax
its joints and to resolve its positive elements into
a shifting vapour of sentiment, replacing, as its final
result, all definite beliefs with certain vague aspi-
rations after a truth about God and duty that will
be so large and free as to spurn the trammels of
formula. Not a few, too, as we have been reminded,
of the old religious and ethical traditions, which we
had supposed to be so permanently imbedded in the
consciousness of mankind, as to be lifted above the

Its Growth and Tendencies. 1 1

eddies of change, have been summoned to the bar of
inquiry, and questioned in a way that implies a
distrust of their supremacy, and a disposition to
modify, if not overthrow their influence. Indeed,
there are certain leaders of the thought of our day
whose speculations have acquired a singular charm
over - the popular mind, who, either out of charity to-
wards our weakness, or courtesy toward prejudices that
have not ceased to be respectable, tell us that, amid
the attempted reconstruction of the very foundations
of human knowledge now going on, these venerable
heirlooms of faith and duty are destined to take their
place among the exploded conceits of the race. And
then, as part and parcel of the same drift, we are told
that not only do the Family, the State, and the
Church exist for the benefit of the individual, and in
his advancing power and glory, find the only power
and glory which they can legitimately claim : but, what
is a far more radical and disturbing idea, that they
have no divine and unchangeable principles of organi-
zation; but, like all lower forms of corporate life, are
to be dealt with as the accidental and ever mutable
embodiments of the social instincts of man. And,
further, coupled with this drift, nay, as an inevitable

1 2 Individualism.

effect of it, there is the notion that the only court
of appeal, in determining the character and extent of
these revisions and amendments, is not the collective,
continuous judgment of mankind, nor any standard
above and outside the individual ; but each man's
reason working out the problems for and by itself.
It matters not how this new gospel reaches the
masses, whether as science or philosophy, as poetry
or fiction, as the culture that dilutes our God and
Father into "a power that makes for righteousness,"
or as the barren visions of agnostic dreamers, the
effect is all one way. The individual emerges more
and more as the central figure. At first, dazed some-
what, it may be, by so flattering an estimate of his
capabilities, he seems a -little chary of accepting the
proffered honor with its inseparable risks. But pride
has never yet failed to get the better of humility
in the average man. The temptation to play the
sovereign in the world of intellect, and in the yet
higher one of morals and religion is too alluring
to be resisted: and in a sense not dreamed by the
poet his self-confidence will soon learn to affirm with
easy complacency,

Nil mortalibns arduum est.

Its Growth and Tendencies. 13

But however imperfectly I may have accounted for
the Individualistic tendency of the day, the fact
of its increasing prominence will not be questioned.
Interesting as it may be to explain the fact, it is
of more importance to trace the evidences of its
power, to sift the good from the evil in the mixed
hq.Test to be reaped from its sowing, and to ascertain
what are the available safeguards against its excesses.
(I) And first let us note how this tendency works
itself out, in a twofold way, in the character of indi-
viduals and in the general character of the time.
Both exhibit traits which, though widely contrasted
on the surface, are the offspring of the same causes.
If I accept the current judgment of the most eminent
critics, I must speak of them, on the one side, as
unheroic, easily drawn into compromises and weak
assents, as full of moral and intellectual indecision,
as without stability or earnestness of convictions,
and, in the most serious and profound concerns of
life, as lethargic and indifferent. And they are so
because their thinking is of the same tone : and
what else could be their thinking when it is so
widely the feeling of men that there is nothing sure
but doubt, nothing certain but change, nothing real

14 Individualism.

but what the senses can discern, nothing of value
that does not tell upon the welfare of the individual ;
and, further still, what else could be the dominant
feeling when the individual mind finds in self-
guidance, self-sufficiency, self-laudation, self-pleasing
the chief articles of its faith. Moral greatness cannot
thrive in such an atmosphere. The first condition of
growing heroic souls is forgetfulness of self. The
self-conscious man is cursed with the feebleness of a
low, as well as a narrow motive. The energy that
moves him may be intense, but it is the energy that
exhausts itself on the aims of the ambitious schemer,
the money maker, the pleasure seeker, the worldling
of any and every name. This, however, is no more
the energy that lifts souls into the higher life
whose doing and suffering are recognized as the chief
treasures of the race, than water is blood. The cne
is quite equal to the task of making, but not to
the task of bearing the cross. This is the one side.
If now we look at the other side, we shall find the
average character of the individual and of the age
exhibiting qualities so opposite to these, that, at first
thought, we can scarcely credit their existence. We
have only to shift the point of view and the doubt

Its Growth and Tendencies.

vanishes. The same character, that, looked at from
one direction, seems to be lacking in heroic impulse,
to be vague of purpose, weak in will-power, careless,
unenthusiastic, at peace because there is nothing
important enough to quarrel about : regarded from
another, is found to be headstrong and belligerent in
pushing its rights, aggressive and even revolutionary
in its theories, protestant and inquisitive in its litera-
ture, disquieted and restive in temper as though a
very fever were raging in its blood, and abounding in
rapid transitions and continual surprises.

Now the mystery of the contrast, if not the
contrast itself, disappears, when we trace it to its
source. Here, again, Individualism comes to the
front. Its power tells on both aspects of character,
as well in what it does, as in what it leaves undone.
On the one hand, it chills and impoverishes character,
robs it of fervor, depth, decision, sympathy, trust;
and does it in, at least, these two ways by detaching
man more and more from the contact and sway of
organic institutions framed to give due scope and
poise to his faculties, and next by subjecting his
inherited ethical and religious beliefs to the unstable
and often capricious handling of the individual

1 6 Individualism.

reason. On the other hand, it inspires character
with the spirit of unrest and belligerency by teaching
man that himself individually considered, should
be the sole object of solicitude in Society, in the
State, and the Church; that he has more rights than
he has ever claimed ; that among these is the yet
only half asserted right to frame his own ideal of
what the world ought to be in its relations to himself
and to regard the non-fulfilment of that ideal as
a personal grievance to be redressed by incessant
agitation and attack upon the existing order of
things: that it is part of his duty to be on the
watch for something to strike rather than for
something to defend; that unless he would let the
true spirit of manhood die out of him he must be
somewhere and in some form an avenger and an
iconoclast ; that it is treason to his future as well as
a base veneration for the dead past to seem to be
satisfied with what is. Thus it is the tendency of
Individualism to unsettle the foundations and to mar
the symmetry of character. Under its sway character
so far from being what it ought to be the balanced
and orderly result of the means provided by Divine
Wisdom and by the long ages of human experience

Its Growth and Tendencies. i 7

for the training of man, dwindles gradually into
a lopsided embodiment of the reigning theories, the
master passions, and the ever-shifting aims of the

It is the supreme purpose of Christian discipline,
as the crown and perfection of all culture, to build
up character into completeness, not so much by
displacing the outward law of righteousness, as by
clothing character with the unity and steadiness, the
strength and continuity of the law itself. But it is

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Online LibraryAbram Newkirk LittlejohnIndividualism : its growth and tendencies, with some suggestions as to the remedy for its evils ; sermons preached before the University of Cambridge in November, 1880 → online text (page 1 of 11)