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F. D. (Frederic Dan) Huntington.

Human society; its providential structure, relations, and offices. Eight lectures delivered at the Brooklyn Institute, Brooklyn, N. Y online

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go about in men's clothing. The relative proportion
of the sexes is exact beyond all expectations that
would be raised by the conjectures that are ap-
plied in anticipation to the individual specimen.

It is no new phenomenon for fjillacious attempts
to be made to abuse facts by arraying them against
truth. Facts of the character here cited are no
more to be made a support for the notions of ma-
terialists or fatalists, than are the traces of order
and law in the physical creation. The first aspect
of a newly discovered law often startles us into
an atheistic suspicion ; but a riper acquaintance with



52 SOCIETY A LIVING INSTRUMENT

it deepens the confession of our faith/-' It is true,
the liberty, the sudden self-determination, and the
wild inconsistency of the human mind, do greatly
aggravate the difficulty of detecting the laws, when
we pass from passive realms of matter into the
sphere of social humanity. But when they are
actually found, and thoughtfully studied, they afford
as clear signs of the living God, and as powerful
an aid to devotion, in the latter case as in the
former. Nor shall we find in the one, any more
than in the other, an occasion to question the
presence of a sovereign and gracious Disposer, be-
cause we catch glimpses of the occult method and
the subtle regularities by which he limits the way-
wardness, balances the individual caprices, and gives
uniformity to the mixed results, of the responsible
agents whom he forever controls.

It is an interesting incident in literary histor}'",
and an evidence of the practical penetration of a
mind chiefly known to the world by its specula-
tive excursions in the transcendental philosophy, but
before statistical science had attained its present

* The use or abuse made of this law of average statistics by Mr.
Buckle, in his recent "Introduction to a History of Civilization in
England," naturally throws some suspicion upon it. But its applica-
tions, like those of the principle of free agency, or of cause and effect,
or of chemical reactions, are as capable of being reconciled with faith
as with " Positivism."



OF DIVINE THOUGHT. 53

degree of maturity, so long ago as 1784, Emanuel
Kant, in an essay entitled " Idea of a Universal
History in a Cosmopolitical Point of View," wrote
as follows : " Whatever be the metaphysical concep-
tion of the will, its phenomena, human actions, are
determined, like all other natural events, according
to universal laws of nature. It is to be hoped
that history, when it contemplates the play of the
liberty of the will on a large scale, will discover
a regular course in it ; so that what seems irregu-
lar and capricious in individual cases shall appear,
as regards the whole species, as a continually pro-
gressive though slow unfolding of its original tenden-
cies. Thus marriages, births, and deaths, as the
free will of man has so great an influence on
them, seem to be subject to no rule according to
which their number can be previously determined
by reckoning; and yet the yearly tables of them
in great nations evince that they happen just as
much according to constant laws of nature as the
equally inconstant rains whose happening cannot be
determined singly, but which on the whole do not
fail to maintain the growth of plants, the flow of
rivers, and other dispositions of nature, in a uni-
form, uninterrupted succession."

I. The first fact in social science is the re- *
ciprocal relation between society and the individual :



54 SOCIETY A LIVING INSTRUMENT

not now, observe, between one individual and an-
other or a particular number of others, but between
each and that aggregate of influences, examples,
powers, persons, to w^iich, as if it were a unit,
we give the one name. Society. A study of our
owai interior composition is enough to show us that
by living alone man will finally become unfit to
live at all, — •dwarfing humanity, insulting nature,
and practically denying God. The absolute segre-
gation of a single specimen from his kind gradually
shortens the scope and altitude of his capacities,
and distorts his symmetry. Occasional solitude has
an unspeakable moral value. Perhaps the loftiest
moods are fed from the fountains that spring in
its cool and shaded elevations. " Enter into thy
closet, and shut the door." The grandest spirits
of the w^orld have girded themselves for their he-
roic works by seasons of lonely retirement : Moses
at the mount, with the awful alternations of thun-
der and silence ; Elijah in the cave of the desert,
with the wind, and the fire, and the stillness ; David
in the sheep-cote and the mountains ; Paul, three
years in Arabia; Luther in his cell; Alfred in the
isle of marshes ; Columbus, Mohammed, Washing-
ton, — all ordained in solitude. Nay, of the Lord
and Head of the Race himself, the brief ministry
and the eternal redemption must begin with forty



OF DIVINE THOUGHT. 55

days in the wilderness. But notice that in every
one of these cases, the solitude is the preparation,
not the life. Its very efficacy is in its solemn bap-
tism for the human labor and sacrifice that come
after. Through that holy portal of meditation the
saints, the heroes, and the Lord passed straight on
into service for man. Just there, every species of
monasticism fails fatally. It takes the exceptional
and makes it normal. It cuts off the uses which
mount and desert and closet were ordained ex-
pressly to make ready, and renders the gracious hour
of prayer to Heaven an indolent and protracted false-
hood against the world. He cannot be the true de-
votee to God who is infidel to man, nor can he honor
the Saviour who denies society. In the morning
Christ came down from the mountain to the multitude.
Those hermits' caverns that bored the mountains
of the East into rocky honey-combs, often became
tombs that buried the withered limbs of the Church,
not chambers nor oratories that refreshed its ener-
gies. The lean jaws of asceticism gnawed out se-
pulchres for truth, but no living home. Even the
social lusts and vices were not escaped; for, in
idleness and reverie, the morbid imagination threw
its doors wide open to their corrupting images, and
they who fled from the mammon of the market-
place, were sometimes tormented by fiends more



56 SOCIETY A LIVING INSTRUMENT

fiendish, and devils more devilish, in the clois-
ter.

It has been said that only men's moral senti-
ments unite them; that the passions are divisive.
But this implies a superficial definition of the word
passions. The passions are not an army of aliens
or border ruffians, encamped on the territory of the
soul, to besiege it with eternal and irreconcileable
hostility. Human nature admits no absolute con-
tradictions. What we call the passions in a bad
sense are the unprincipled excesses, the guilty
abuses, of propensities the Creator planted in us
for social safety, harmony, and utility. At the
Fall, man fell through his passions not into them.
Anarchy was provoked within him. The truth is,
every unperverted faculty in us either terminates
in or at least harmonizes with social tendencies.
You neither enjoy, nor want, very long, except in
connection with others. You must impart or dis-
]3lay what you have ; — you must search out, and
earn, or borrow, or beg, from others, what you de-
sire : social acts.

Now, in the animal economy, physiologists tell
us, it is an established principle that the eleva-
tion of the type is attended by an increased va-
Tiety in the specific organs ; i. e., the nobler the
kind of creature, the more complicated the specific



OF DIVINE THOUGHT. 57

parts, yet all embraced under a greater unity and
simi^licity of plan. Witness a polyp and man, —
the extremes of the animal kingdom. A corre-
sponding rule prevails in the kingdom of Society.
The more exactly fitted the members of a commu-
nity are to fulfil the common ends, and to adorn
the commonwealth, the more diversified will be their
several private capabilities. That will be the no-
blest people, not where there is the tamest unifor-
mity, but where there is the most striking variety,
— as to gifts, dispositions, occupations. Hence, as /
Society approaches its perfection, there will be more
and more developed that " tendency to individua-
tion" which Mr. Coleridge j)ronounces the true idea
of human life.

So, a thoughtful and comprehensive writer on
civilization* makes it consist of two elements, and
live on two conditions ; viz., the melioration of the
social system ; and the expansion of the individual
mind. " Wherever the exterior condition of man
becomes enlarged, quickened, and improved, and
wherever the inteUectual nature distinguishes itself
by its energy, brilliancy, and grandeur, — wherever
these two signs concur, there man proclaims and
applauds civiHzation." Everything, as he goes on
to show, supports this remark, — common sense, the

* M. Guizot.



58 SOCIETY A LIVING INSTRUMENT

nature of both the elements in question, and his-
tory. "What, at the origin of societies, have the
founders of religion, the sages, poets, and philoso-
phers, who have labored to regulate and refine the
manners of mankind, promised themselves ? What,
but the melioration of the social condition; the
more equitable distribution of the blessings of life?
We know that if men were persuaded that the
melioration of the social condition would operate
against the individual mind, they w^ould almost op-
pose and cry out against the advancement of So-
ciety. On the other hand, when we speak to
mankind of improving Society by improving its in-
dividual members, we find them willing to believe
us. Hence we may affirm that it is the intuitive
belief of man that these two elements of civiliza-
tion are intimately connected, and that they re-
ciprocally produce one another."

Again, it is undoubtedly true, that individual
strengtli, purity, integrity, are all put in peril by
an excess, or by a corruption, of social mixtures.
And it is because man's lower nature can act
through the social spirit, as well as the higher.
Among its awful prerogatives. Society has it in its
power to make men w^orse instead of better than
they are, — to tempt, to mislead, to seduce, to de-
grade. There are vices that get an easier access,



OF DIVINE THOUGHT. 59

and take a more desperate hold, by social excite-
ments. So, the dominant temj^er of a social class,
or clique, may tend to repress individual freedom,
to cripple personal force, to substitute fashion for
conscience and imitation for originality, to tone down
every heavenly aspiration, to criticise nature into a
conventional, Pharisaic propriety, and to razee every
fresh, spontaneous moral energy into a respectable,
polished stupidity. People ask then, not what is
right, true, beautiful; but, what will our set say?
This, however, is not the fault of Society, but an
outrage upon it. There, certain low-bred, vulgar
instincts have usurped the apparatus of social life,
meant to be a free vehicle for sincere feeling, and
turned it into a non-conductor. Society is indis-
pensable ; these are its prostitutions. Society is
the appointed agent of joy; there are its infidelities
and sins. Society is meant to quicken men by its
demands, to nourish them by its sympathies, to
call them out to their several best achievements by
its opportunities ; — but these are the perversions of
its power by souls too small to be expanded or too
stiff to be moulded to manliness and womanliness
by its plastic spirit. Where it is permitted to do
its unobstructed work, there it will always be seen
striking and preserving just this beautiful balance
between the popular and the personal welfare, — be-



60 SOCIETY A LIVING INSTRUMENT

tween public combination and individual peculiarity,
between the general and the private virtue. There
you will see it tempering each of the personal
vices with a social grace, — self-love with compassion,
avarice with generosity, breaking up a morbid intro-
spection by spreading out the broader scenery of
other men's ex|)erience, cheering gloom into laugh-
ter, brightening despondency into humor, genializing
misanthropy into good nature, calling us oil' from
petting and nursing our own whims to relieving dis-
tress and helping the neighborhood, goading sloth
to enterprise, bracing indecision to action, guiding
economy between prodigality and miserliness, train-
ing insubordination and arrogance to obedience, pour-
ing into the shrunk veins of prudence the fresh blood
of enthusiasm, giving to fidelity a grander field, and
lifting cowardice to heroism. All these are the
regular, gracious, yet half unconscious education that
Society is ever giving to our souls ; and they show
it to be an august Priesthood to man's personal
Humanity, And all this is a Law of Society, — a
thought of God.

II. Again, Human Society is a grand theatre for
the operation of the principle of moral and spir-
itual reactions; — another Divine idea. Moral pos-
sessions increase by being given away. Accumula-
tion proceeds by distribution. The more we giA^e



OF DIVINE THOUGHT. 61

out, for man's sake, the more we take back.
Every affectionate act amplifies the heart, and in-
tensifies its power of loving. Without efforts to
bless and convert somebod}^ besides yourself, your
own soul's convictions dwindle and its circulations
stagnate. Obviously, it is onl}^ a social nature that
makes this principle possible.

In the realms of jDhysical being we meet no
traces of it, or, at best, but hints and approxima-
tions. There is reciprocal benefit, in order and
beauty."^ One thing is set over against another,
like the rhymes of song, each in its place and
season. Even the material creation protests against
injustice, against monopoly, against interference ;
her every product has its use ; every particle its ser-
vice ; every form or fibre its task or its loveli-
ness. But there she stops. Light emanates and
is reflected ; but neither sun nor star is brighter
for shining. Vegetation gives out and takes in, by
its generative and respirative processes, but its fine
equilibrium is never emancipated into voluntary and
at the same time self-fertilizing benevolence. The
rose is no sweeter for the fragrance with which it
perfumes the morning; nor the stream fuller for its
liquid gift, — its " cup of cold water," — to the
meadows. Among animals, such dumb and sponta-

* See Lecture IV.



62 SOCIETY A LIVING INSTRUMENT

neous attachments as unite tribes and families, the
likings of the mother bird and of the more com-
panionable brutes, are bound fast by the old limits
of instinct; they rarely rise to the dignity of
sympathies, and they nowhere reveal the moral
grandeur of growing stronger by a conscious, prin-
cipled exercise.

The moment w^e ascend, however, to social
man, the tokens of this noble law stand forth in
splendor. There light is made more lustrous by
scattering its beams, — none growing wise so fost as
they that teach, every intellectual perception sharp-
ened by imparting knowledge, every will fortified
by effort, every heart made better by beneficence.,
They that do the most, are the most, — the quan-
tity of being ever multiplied by the uncalculating
generosity of its bestowment. That manhood, or
womanhood, is the richest, which spends most for
some unpaying interest of humanity. Find out
that pair of eyes which look abroad with unobtru-
sive mercy into the domestic distresses of the
brotherhood; find out that pair of hands which are
ever busy working the thing that is good for some
needy or troubled neighbor, and you may be sure
they belong to some Good Samaritan or Sister of
Charity, who, whether prosperous or unsuccessful as
the world judges, is affluent with more than the



OF DIVINE THOUGHT. 63

wealth of " barbaric pearls and gold." Piety itself
often gets diseased for want of this energy in com-
municating itself. Natures that incline more to
reverie than to work find their religious progress
unsatisfactory. Many believers, sincere enough in
their convictions, as sincere as anv inactive believer
can be, are mischievously hindered in the true pro-
gress by the mistake of supposing that Christian
duty terminates in self-improvement. Faith is soon
but a withered root, unless it bears flowers and
fruits. None of us are appointed to walk to
heaven alone ; and it is doubtful if any of us will
ever get there who do not, somehow, help some
other soul thither. The best nurture for personal
religion, after prayer, is an effort to spiritualize
some child, house-mate, acquaintance, or heathen.
If you draw back your hand, when it is invited
to a beneficent task, the spiritual muscles are
gradually paralyzed. If you tightly close the fin-
gers over the mouth of your purse, when there is
a fair opening to give something to extend the
kingdom of heaven, by a book, a church, or a
missionary, then you pinch, at that moment, the di-
mensions of your own soul. " Give, and it shall
be given unto you."

As this is a principle which has its purest ac-
tivity in the highest, that is, in the spiritual part



64 SOCIETY A LIVING INSTRUMENT

of man, we must naturally go, for instances and
illustrations of it, to the spiritual plane, and ihe
organization that specially represents that part,
which is the Church. All the revolutionary move-
ments that have extended the kingdom of Christ,
disturbed formality, and dethroned dogmatic error,
sweeping across slumbering communities, have been
accompanied by intense missionary zeal, either do-
mestic or foreign, by immense and willing sacrifices
of money and comfort for the Gospel's sake, by
earnest and enthusiastic aggressions on practical un-
belief, sensuality. Paganism. Whatever sect pre-
sumes to take a place as a member in Christ's
body without this activity does . not " abide in the
Vine," and must expect to be cut off as a dead
branch. The Head of all these members has im-
pressed it on the whole organization, that whatso-
ever limb does not give, to that it shall not be
given.

Seek illustrations in the actual history of the
Church. Whatever jirevailing form Christian faith
has taken, activity from the centre outward has
been the uniform condition of success, and the in-
variable sign of life. When the Church has been
doing most outside of itself, it has had most vigor
within itself Its periods of self-sacrifice have been
its periods of glory. Such is the reactive force



OF DIVINE THOUGHT. 65

of spiritual industry. In the apostolic age, the
brightest and most wonderful ecclesiastical era, al-
most the entire work of the Church was of this
sort. The genius of Christianity then, having
planted and established a church in any place,
could hardly afford to stop to watch over it, —
but flew on, from country to country, from island
to island, from city to city, eager to kindle
new fires in every seat of darkness. Those brave
and ardent men not only gave a part, — they gave
everything, — houses, property, reputation, comfort,
blood, — they gave themselves. Thus, while they
gave without stint, " it was given to them with-
out measure." Later, the mediaeval church, in the
midst of its errors, was strong at home, just in
proportion to its zeal abroad. Read the history of
Jesuit missions in South America, in Canada, in
India, and all the East. When Protestantism came,
it was as a missionary cause that it advanced and
triumphed. Since that time, there has always been
a most significant and providential coincidence be-
tween the waking up of religion into practical power,
and its endeavors to extend itself to the destitute."
It is unquestionable that when the spirit of mis-
sions broke forth in Protestant England, the religion
of England was saved from impending extinction..

* See Examples in "The Great Commission."

5



66 SOCIETY A LIVING INSTRUMENT

There is even reason to believe that had a single
heathen never been converted, the inijinlse given to
Christianity at home by the movement, and all its
generous inflnences, would haA^e justified the entire
expenditure, because no other expenditure of the
same means could have accomplished the result so
effectually. The dull monotony of preaching and
worship was at once broken up, all over the realm.
The slackening bonds of union and sympathy be-
tween churches and ministers were forthwith tight-
ened. Mutual suspicions and jealousies were scat-
tered. Discords were healed. The whole religion
of the country became practical, pure, and substan-
tial. Under the general invigoration, a cluster of
kindred philanthropies sprang into being; for it is
the nature of no real beneficence to live alone.
We may say Avhat we will of charity beginning at
home, the historical fact is found to be that most
is done at their own doors, by those who stretch
their arms the widest, — for the very palpable rea-
son that a beneficent spirit, when kindled, works in
all directions. When we hear the celebrated An-
drew Fuller telling of that period in his ministry
when he sought by every means to remove the
clouds of darkness and doubt that had settled down
on his parish, but sought in vain, till suddenly
ihe interest of the new movement for heathendom



OF DIVINE THOUGHT. 67

seized on his people, — and then how the women
began to collect money, and the men to take conn-
sel, and all to work and pray, so that before they
were aware every complaint ceased, " the sad be-
came cheerful, and the desponding calm," simply
because " God blessed them while they tried to be
a blessing ;" when we learn from the record of
the earliest British Baptist missions, how, when the
cause became popular, religious indifference gave
place to righteous living, backsliders were restored,
fears were dispelled, and peace and strength were
renewed, — we begin to see how true it may be
that even Macedonia, Nestoria, and Labrador, by
only lifting up their supplication for help, may be-
come apostles that reconvert a declining Christen-
dom to Christ.

So in particular local bodies. There is no pro-
moter of parish life, or peace, like liberal sacrifices
to extend the cause, and build up new parishes.
The social law comes in to bind, as well as to
build. The church that shuts itself up in its own
privileges, contents itself with occupying its own
pews on Sunday, lounges on its own cushions, and
takes an epicurean satisfaction in its own culture,
or choir, or opinions, or architecture, or preacher's
reputation and eloquence, is smitten and accursed,
in its violation of this law. The contribution-box



68 SOCIETY A LIVING INSTRUMENT

becomes a kind of siDiritual thermometer. If Prov-
idence were to resuscitate one of our sleek, well-
fed, fashionably dressed, self-righteous congregations,
dying of ecclesiastical luxury and rhetorical surfeit,
he would turn it out into the lanes and homes
of tlio poor, invigorating its dyspeptic faith by
earnest works of charity.

In all the operations of this reactionary power
we see one of the most majestic proofs that in
the highest interests of man, his social nature plays
a leading part, and that this particular action of
that nature is a design of God.

III. There are, furthermore, certain great moral
ideas of God's own Being, which he has evidently
created Society to work out into visible shapes on
earth. They reside in his own perfect Life. They
are also the Divine glory of Humanity. They
form the essence of all we know of Moralit}-. A
brief reference to these will serve our immediate
purpose. They are Right, Truth, Love, Liberty.
We may take these either as principles for man,
or as atti-ibutes of God. Society is a means God
uses to set them forth, and put them into practical
power on earth.

1. The first, by its radical importance to the
very existence of Society, has always been repre-
sented by an actual institution, viz., Government.



OF DIVINE THOUGHT. 69

Logicallj, the basis of Government is the need of
Justice between inan and man. But practically,
you say, the actual Government often turns out
the foe of justice. Nevertheless the Government
is still, and evermore, the struggling, aspiring, and
persevering endeavor of the people to realize Right.
From the beginning. Society has been working to-
wards that end. Logically, the Kuler should be
the justest man of the nation. Practically, he may
be a military conqueror, like Nimrod, Tamerlane,
Bernadotte, Napoleon I. ; — or he may be a petty
diplomatist and imitator, like modern Kings and
Presidents, too many to mention ; — or he may be a


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Online LibraryF. D. (Frederic Dan) HuntingtonHuman society; its providential structure, relations, and offices. Eight lectures delivered at the Brooklyn Institute, Brooklyn, N. Y → online text (page 4 of 17)