Joseph McKee.

Responsibility as applied to the professions and callings of daily life. A sermon preached ... in ... Newark, N.J. ... [also a sermon from The American National Preacher v. 30. an address to the young online

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Online LibraryJoseph McKeeResponsibility as applied to the professions and callings of daily life. A sermon preached ... in ... Newark, N.J. ... [also a sermon from The American National Preacher v. 30. an address to the young → online text (page 3 of 7)
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if, like Jesus, you strive to do, not your own will, but your Father's
will — if like Him you put forth a brave trust in providence — if
like Him you grapple with the trials, and toils, and duties of life,
as the ordained instruments of sphitual strength and perfection
— if like Him, though you could " call down legions of angels,"
you go calmly to the dungeon, rather than give again blow for
blow, or railing for railing, or " controlment for controlment,"
heaven will be around you, for the heaven of love and trust will
be within you. Wear this yoke. Yes, wear it. And the pro-
mise is, " you shall find rest unto your souls." Eest then is
the reward of wearing it. And what a blessing and what a
reward it is ! Ask the sick man what it is ? Ask the thought-
worn scholar, who has toiled till his brain has become hot and
his pulse fluttering, what it is ? Ask the seaman battling for
his life with winds and waves, and the'terrible phantoms of death
striding along the boiling waters, what it is? Ask the con-
science-haunted man — the man around whom the ghosts of re-
membered wrongs glide awfully silent, ask him what it is ? Ah !
it is rest — rest the sick man wants — the seaman wants — the sin- "
ner wants. It is rest we all want ; rest from toil, rest from
sin, rest from temptation, rest from the wrongs and evils of
others. It is the cry of the human, We are weary! We
are burdened ! We are unhappy ! Rest ! Eest ! Eest ! We
want rest ! And it is, and it will be the cry of the human,
ringing and reechoing for ever through all realms and through
all ages, until it is found in God and obedience to His will.
" Bear this yoke," ye youth, " for a while, when you are young,
that you may be free when you are old, that you may walk
through life unmanacled by passions, unchained by lusts, spurn-
ing the lash of Satan, and deriding the bondage of sin, that you
may come to that holy and happy land where no yoke is borne,
where the souls of just men are illumined with amazing glory,
and compassed round about by the holiness of God."* In the
language of Gilfillan, in his Third Gallery of Portraits, " Almost
all the powers and elements of nature, combine in teaching man
the one great simple word, ' bend.' ' Bend !' the winds say it to
the tall pines, and they gain the curve of their magnificence by
obeying. ' Bend,' gravitation says it to the earth, as she sweeps
in her course round the sun, and she knows the whisper of his
ruler, and stoops and bows before the skyey blaze. ' Bend,' the
proud portals of human knowledge say it to all aspirants ; and
were it the brow of a Bacon or a Newton, it must in reverence
bow. ' Bend,' the doors, the ancient doors of heaven say it in
the music of their golden hinges, to all who would pass therein.
And the Son of Man Himself, although he could have prayed to

* Sidney Smith.


His Father, aud presently obtained twelve legions of angels, had
to learn obedience, to snffer, to bow the head, ere as a king of
glory He entered in. ' Trust thyself.' No ! Christianity says,
mistrust thij self— trust God. Do thy humble duty, and call the
while on the lofty help that is above thee."

May God bless you all, young men,* and help you to wear
Christ's yoke which is easy, and to bear his burden which is





" Am I my brother's keeper ?" — Genesis iv. 9.

Man is a social being. An isolated state is an unnatural state.
The life of the solitary and the hermit is a moral solecism in the
history of society. We are bound to each other by many a mys-
tic tie. Sever but one of these ties and the soul is unhappy. We
can hardly conceive of a more pitiable object, than that of a man
who feels himself an outcast from the sympathies and regards of
his fellow-men — an outlaw from the love of God and the friend-
ship of men. It is not good for man to be alone. God hath
made his human children brethren. He hath made every man
his brother's keeper. This is a most cheering and consolatory fact
in the moral organization of society, but it is also a fact of the
most imjDressive character. This relationship of soul to soul and
heart to heart does involve responsibilities and issues, awing and
deep as the depths of eternity.

The moral constitution of man and of human society most im-
pressively tells us, that God will not hold Jiim guiltless who work-
eth injury or hurt to his brother, for though the earth may hide
and cover up that wrong, that injury, that evil deed — be it what
it may — hide in the deepest depths of secresy every mark of that
deed, yet is there an eye that looketh ever into that man's face,
and a voice that ever calls to him, " Where is thy hrother — lohat
hast thou done unto him .^" His sin finds him out. It drags him
a guilty, fear-haunted man before the tribunal of immutable and
eternal justice. We may not and cannot evade the correspond-
ing obligations, which the moral and social relations that bind us
to each other, do impose upon us.

* Preached before the youDg men of Rev. Dr. Scott's Church, Newark, Nov. 18, 1855.
\ Preached in the Allen-street Presbyterian Church, New York, Jan. SO, 1848.


Ill the struggle of life, the august Euler and Judge of human
actions has Tinked the great army of humanity shoulder to
shoulder, and rank to rank, by mutual helps and mutual wants,
so teaching us we should be mutually useful and helpful to each

And either helpful or harmful we are. No one stands so com-
pletely alone as to be without power over others for good or for
bad. And no one stands so far removed from the influence of
others, as to receive neither benefit nor injury from their influences
over himself. We cannot live without influencing others, and
others influencing us. Human society is a vast network of reci-
procal influences. Every body acts, and is acted upon in turn.
Every man helps to mould and fashion the character and destiny
of every other man within the sphere of his attractions. It is
this power of action and reaction — this reciprocity of moral in-
fluences that makes every man, to some extent, his brother's

I am not made a ruler and an overseer over my brother's house-
hold, or over his business. I am not responsible for the preser-
vation of his health, or the integrity of his estate. These ihust
depend upon himself, and on the great general laws over which I
have no control. I have nothing to do with them. But I am re-
sponsible for the influence I may exercise over the health of his
soul — of making or marring his condition in that vast and solemn
future that lies in its awful stillness before us. I am responsible
for the good or bad I have taught him, by my example, my con-
versation, and my daily walk and life. 1 am responsible too, for
whatever of evil in his person, character, or estate, he may have
sufifered directly or indirectly from me, through the instrumenta-
lity of others.

I shall endeavor to unfold these views of human relationship
and responsibility.

I. And first : I remark that this law of spiritual influences —
this reciprocity of action and reaction in the moral world is uni-
versal. It is an admitted law in the psychology of our spiritual
nature, as certain and invariable in its workings as the laws of
matter and motion in the material world. Every effort of the
mind we put forth has in it an energy which may be felt by other
minds, numbers without number, reproducing itself in endless and
ever widening circles of action.

There is a moulding process going forward in churches, in fam-
ilies, in schools, in all the busy places of trade and commerce, in
the very streets — a play of moral aflinities between mind and
mind, and heart and heart, invisible, it is true, as the aflSnities
that preside over chemical changes and phenomena, but equally
sure in working out its legitimate results. When I throw a stone
inio a quiet lake, it produces a series of concentric circles, widening


as they depart from the centre, until the disturbing force seems
lost or spent by the resistance of the water. But when I can no
longer detect these circles, is that force spent or annihilated ? 'No
such thing. Feeble as it seems, it goes on and on to increase the
momentum of the waters of the lake. This is intelligibly and
plainly illustrated by that law in physics, entitled the hydrostatic
paradox, according to which, any force, however small, impressed
upon any confined mass of water, however large, is communicat-
ed to every drop in that entire mass, each acting and reading on
each until the whole is in motion. You lay your hand on ocean.
Its pressure affects every drop of that world of waters. You
wave your hand in the air — that motion disturbs the entire atmos-
pheric mass. True, you are not conscious it is so. You cannot
see these wavelets or circles. They are no objects of your senses,
but where the senses fail to aid you, you can bring the higher
instruments of analysis and enquiry to their assistance — instru-
ments which exhibit to us results both wonderful and impressive.

A distinguished savant in making experiments on the Lake of
Geneva, for telegraphic purposes, found that the blow of the
hammer of a bell, struck under water, put in motion the entire
water of the Lake, a weight equivalent to three hundred thou-
sand millions of pounds of water, every drop of which moved in
its turn — each acting and reacting on the other, and that too with
an energy sufficient to affect a thin iron plate connected with his
instrument, on the other side of the lake, a distance of twenty-
seven miles, and so as to cause it to sound.

Indeed, if the doctrine of permanent impressions, as expounded
by the author of the Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, be true, every
impulse communicated by a man's hand to the ocean, or the earth ;
nay, every undulation of the air, occasioned even by his voice,
produces a succession of waves which nothing short of the an-
nihilation of matter can stop.

Kow, we say a similar law obtains in the statics of the soul.
Every man's moral nature presses on every other man's moral
nature with a definite intensity. Our actions and influence are
not confined simply to those immediately around us. They
travel on to infinity. They affect others we have never seen —
others who are to live long after we are dead and forgotten by the

The liberty, laws, and institutions of this country, are, for ex-
ample, the results of the thoughts and lives of men we have never
seen. We inherit their thoughts. We are what they have made
us as a nation. The same too may be said of the youth of a family,
of a school, and of a neighborhood. Their characters, attain-
ments, and conduct are, to a large extent, the worked-out results
of the companions and circumstances with which they are sur-
rounded. And what is true in this limited case is true the world
over. The words spoken by a man in a public lecture room or


the newspaper paragraph he indites, may affect hiindrecls of minds
in China, in India, in Africa, or the Isles of the Sea. It may set
in train a series of actions that will travel on, and on, and on,
for ever ! It is this that invests a man's actions and character
with a significance both awing and limitless. This truth, indeed,
sometimes stands out before the world's eye in gigantic propor-
tions. Every age produces some master mind — some man " in
shape and gesture proudly eminent," influencing for good or evil
the destinies of millions of his race. Moses for example was one
of these men.

And when the imagination stretches itself away back into the
shadows of the past, that venerable sage, standing with his rod by
the rock of Horeb, or coming down the rugged steeps of Sinai
to the congregated hosts of Israel, amid the awful thunderings
and lightnings, and the still more awful trumpet voices that ac-
companied the delivery of the moral law — that venerable sage is
the most commanding figure which the past presents to the
mind's eye — a prophet, a warrior, a poet, a legislator — the only
man of all our race that talked with God, as friend talks with
friend — a teacher of religion, who though dead, still speaks to us
of chaos, and creation, and the world wide flood, that swept away
the elder brothers of our race.

Hume was another of those men that have " towered with
Atlantasn shoulders" far above their fellows. But he stood
among them as the fabled Java tree, beneath whose shadow no
creature can live, and round and about which the bones of the dead
lie bleaching in the sun-light. Those irreligious trains of thought
he set in motion, are drifting, and will drift for ever, through
thousands of minds in many lands, peopling them with spectred
doubts and deep fixed scepticism. The man may die out of the
memory of men, but the trains of thought he has originated and
set in action, possess a vitality and a momentum coordinate with
his being. And every man is, in his place, a Hume or a Moses
to some other man — a guide to the better world, or the moral
Upas — the poisoner and the destroyer of the spiritual health
and beauty of some other soul. It is true, the influence one
man exerts over another man may not, and does not, always lie
open to human observation. Still every man is as a city set upon
a hill. He will be observed. He will be imitated by some sub-
altern or other in the school of good or bad morals. He will
model some other mind. He will give to some other mind its
peculiar moral physiognomy. And whether we can mark that
moulding process or not, it does not escape the burning search
of the Omniscient, in adjusting the moral value of the lives of

II. The good or the evil a man does lives alter him. Each indi-
vidual, living, self-conscious soul is a centre of moral power, a
radiator of spiritual forces, either good or bad ; for nothing is


neutral, nothing indifferent, or trivial, which helps to fashion souls
and takes hold on the vitalities of our inner life, and thought, and
feeling. Go where we may ; do what we will ; assume what-
ever style and stamp of character we choose : place ourselves in
every j)ossible social condition, high or low, rich or poor, we do
throw off from us, and draw after us, and receive upon ourselves
in return, trains of influences, which are infinite in their num-
ber and consequences, influences which mould and modify char-
acter, and therefore determine immortal destinies. The out-
worked results of this law we cannot estimate now, either with
respect to ourselves or others. Not until the day of the revela-
tion of all secret and hidden things, shall we know the full amount
of good or evil, which had its starting point in the moral workings
of our own lives, or of the lives of those who made with us the
journey of life. We have no means of analysis or observation,
by which we can solve the problem.

JSTow the workings of this law of mutual influences, we cannot
evade, because such is the moral and social constitution of our
nature. The human soul is so plastic, its susceptibilities so deli-
cate, its sympathies so subtle and acute, that one mind cannot
come in contact with another mind, without both giving and re-
ceiving influences of some sort or another.

We cannot be thrown into the society of our fellow-men by the
calls of business or pleasure ; we cannot be united to them by
the ties of kindred, and family, and friendship, without leaving
our moral mark after us — the godlikeness we have caught by re-
flection from the life of our Saviour, or the dark shadows and stains
which sin, and pride, and passion, have cast upon our moral

This machinery of moral causes, ever in active and unceasing
play in forming character, is truly inexplicable and wonderful.
The very thoughts that are now rising up and struggling for ex-
pression in my own mind — the thoughts, too, that are rising up
and drifting through your minds now, in your seats, as you sit
here, all calm and unexcited, may produce the most important
results on other minds in other ages. Like those rivers that some-
times sink and disappear, running for a time in concealed and
under-ground channels, gathering force as they go, and then gush
up to the sunlight again in irrepressible fountains of living water,
scattering themselves in a thousand directions over fields far away
from the place where they disappeared ; so may our thoughts
and doings this day, and all the days of our lives run under
ground, as it were, and come flashing up after long intervals in
multiplied and manifold forms of virtue or vice, of beauty or de-
formity, of worship or impiety.

For example. If under the impulse of a holy and generous
thought you do this day make the resolve to live a better and
more consistent Christian life, and if you do actually express that


resolution in action, by repressing the uprisings of anger, pride,
passion, and every form of sin. If you chasten your spirit into
obedience. If you mould your life and conduct after the divine
model of the Lord Jesus Christ, then you will set in action
through your family and through your neighborhood, unacknowl-
edged it may be, and undiscoverable by human eyes, but spread
you will, the vital forces of a godly and spiritual life — forces
that are destined to make the pulses of many a soul to beat hope-
fully and happily with the excitement of devout thoughts ; nay,
more, that shall make some other soul the spring and source of
blessed influences to others, onwards and around, in an endless
progression of usefulness and goodness.

You cannot live and die a good man, even in the lowliest and
humblest walks of human life, without leaving your moral like-
ness struck into the memorj'' of some one, who has seen and re-
cognized in you, the beauty and divinity of goodness. Your ex-
ample shall wake up the aspirations of some other soul, and that
shall move another, and that other one shall send the accumulated
moral movement on, and on, and on, to some other soul, what
soul you know not, I know not. It may be the strong athletic
soul of a second Washington, or the earnest and dreamy spirit of
some future Bunyan, or the mighty and majestic mind of another
Milton, speaking as with the tongue of an Archangel, of chaos, and
night, and creation ; of man, and sin, and redemption, until he
commands the audience and the homage of all nations and of all
times. Yes, those very mental and moral characteristics of your
life to-morrow, originated and produced by your to-day resolves,
may run along the nerves and tissues of a hundred generations,
and, for aught you know to the contrary, be worked up into the
moral texture of another Washington, or a Bunyan, or a Milton,
or a Yoltaire, or a Danton, or a Napoleon, or a Robespierre.

My hearers, we are all too inconsiderate here. We think too
lightly of our own individual personal influences on each other.
The greatly good, the awfully wicked and profane, the powerful,
the learned, the wise, the mighty, the rich, we say have influence.
But we, W6 are too weak, too insignificant, too busy, while we go
the daily round of our obscure and common lives to do either
much good or much harm to our fellow men. Our faults and
follies will die with us, and our virtues, if we have any, will soon
perish out of the history of the race. But it is not so. Each
does act alone, and by himself, and powerfully too, in modifying
the lives and characters of others. We have, indeed, of late
put so much confidence in collected associated efforts for the good
of mankind — so accustomed ourselves to the heavy machinery of
social benevolent movement in the church and elsewhere, that we
have come to regard this, as the only lever by which the moral
world is to be moved. This is a gigantic error. Wo all know
that the most vigorous public efforts in the direction of virtue and


humanity fail, when the heart and life of the doer are not in them
nor in harmony with them. We often see the personal, well known
character of an individual exerting a secret influence for mischief
and evil, and much more powerfully too than any good influence
he can exert, through the instrumentality of the most eloquent
and able speeches. We must know that the sentiments that the
man utters are the honest expressions of his own moral life before
they can influence us. If his life and his precepts are in marked
antagonism, he is as a teacher of morals powerless. It is the life
and not the lip, the every-day home character and not the stage
performances of the man, that go down the deepest into the heart
of social life for good or evil. It is not the mere force of collect-
ed public effort, but the individual, personal influence, each giving
the right tone to these efforts that must regenerate society.

III. But while I say this, I admit that the many associated and
in many cases, the well directed labors of societies for the suppres-
sion of vice, and the amelioration of human wretchedness are
among the boast and glory of the age. One association after an-
other lays about it manfully. This one belabors that vice, and
that one some other. Still comparatively little is accomplished.
The blows of each tell upon the social wickedness of any given
period, nearly as much as the blows of the Geologists' hammer
upon the stability of the mountain rock. The error lies here.
We are all in too great a hurry to reform others before we
have thoroughly reformed ourselves — before we have acquired
such a conception of right and duty as will spread itself with a felt
omnipresence over the entire field of human responsibility. The
world is not to be made morally better by mere associated labor
companies, as one would drain a marsh or clear a forest. A work
profounder, deeper, and more earnest than all this is needed. Each
must be the actor and the subject, the reformer and the reformed,
before the great heart of tlie world can be cleansed. Did every
man realize for himself that his conduct is not narrowed to the
sphere of his individual movements, but that it takes hold on all
time, on all place; nr.y, more, that it passes forward into all
the ages of the future, strengthening the moral discipline of
some soul, confirming those habits of order, reverence, and self-
government, that will fit that soul to strike a seraph's harp
with a seraph's devotion, or sink it into a deep and yet a lower
gulf of misery, thrust in upon its own unhallowed thoughts,
and surging passions, amid the hauntings of conscious guilt and
the agonies of hopeless despair ? Did every man realize this, how
soberminded and blameless each would strive to be in his deport-
ment and intercourse with all around him ?

Did every man but realize this one solemn truth, My thoughts,
my example, my actions, are all indestructible and eternal as my
soul — I say, did every man but realize this, our world might blow
the trumpet of jubilee for its ransomed captives, and the whole
universe of mind break forth into singing and gladness. Then


would every man feel that a stain upon his own or his neighbor's
soul was not like a breath stain upon glass, or a finger-stain upon
a book — a temporary obscuration of its brightness — an accident
that can easily and hastily be remedied, but as a guilt stain and
a hurt which nothing can either remove or heal but the power
of Kedeeming Love, the all-sufficient and cleansing virtue of the
blood of the Lamb of Calvary.

Finally, if this be so, and it is a fact every man can easily
prove or disprove by his own observations, our human life is not
to be gauged merely by great deeds done, or by bold and promi-
nent traits of character. The most effective energies of nature
are all noiseless and gentle. The power, for example, that binds
atom to atom, and world to world, and wheels the planetary sys-
tems of this vast universe in their appointed paths, is yet so gentle
as to roll together the dew-drops and poise them each glittering
on its own blade of wheat in the sunshine. It is not the fervid
heats of the summer sun, nor the loud-voiced winds, nor the
heavy rain-storms, nor the electric fires, leaping from cloud to
cloud, that carry forward the vast interests of terrestial life. But
it is the low, soft breezes, and the gentle showers, and the warm,
kind sun, and the quiet dews that clothe the earth with verdure

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Online LibraryJoseph McKeeResponsibility as applied to the professions and callings of daily life. A sermon preached ... in ... Newark, N.J. ... [also a sermon from The American National Preacher v. 30. an address to the young → online text (page 3 of 7)